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Most RV owners are coming to the realization that any RV, new or used, should be thoroughly inspected before purchase. After all, for most RVers, their coach is the second largest purchase they will ever make.
I’m not going to try to convince you that National RV Inspectors Association (NRVIA) certified inspectors are the only people who are qualified to do such an inspection. In fact, I’m sure there are a lot of people who have been RVing for decades and maintaining their own coach, who may know as much or more than some certified inspectors. But a lot more than just knowledge is required.
Maybe you’re a retired RV technician. Maybe you’re a mechanical engineer, who has experience fixing everything from kitchen sinks to the space shuttle. In fact, there are some RV purchasers out there, who are really smart.
If you’re one of those people and are thinking about doing your own inspection or you know someone like that who has offered to inspect your prospective RV, the question you need to be asking is, “Do I (or that other person) have all the necessary tools?”
As an NRVIA Level 2 Inspector, I arrive at the site of an RV, with the bed of my truck more than half full of tools for the job – most of which are tools that most people don’t own and many of which, only an RV technician or another inspector would even be able to readily identify.
So, I thought that I would take a few moments to share with you what some of those tools are and how they are used, in the event that you’re planning on doing your own inspection. There just isn’t room here, to go into every too that we use. But this list will give you a very good start.
An extendable ladder
My rule of thumb is, “Never trust an attached roof ladder.” (See my previous article on roof ladders.)
After some examination, you may find that the attached roof ladder is both properly attached to the coach and strong enough to support your weight, with of course, strength to spare.
But RV roof ladders are notorious for being less than exceptional and you can’t really test the stability of the roof ladder, without a secondary ladder to use while testing the attached ladder. So bring your own.
I use a 15.5 foot Xtend & Climb Model 785P that collapses down to about 36 inches. I use sliced large pool noodles to wrap it, near the top, to protect the coach. (See the blue pool noodles, attached with Velcro, in the photo on the right.)
The ladder retails for $235 at Amazon.com.
Manometer gas pressure gauge — If the coach has propane on it, then testing for propane leaks is critical. I use the Yellow Jacked Model 78060 manometer, which retails for $53 on Amazon.
Large inspection mirror — A large inspection mirror at least 8 inches in diameter, with a three-foot handle is what you will use to examine the underside of the coach, including the suspension and frame. You should be able to pick one up for $37.
Very bright flashlight — A bright flashlight is needed all around an RV. But for looking under the coach, in daylight or in shadow, inside the engine compartment, you need an extremely bright flashlight. I recommend a 10,000 lumen flashlight. They can be purchased for about $40 including batteries.
Bore scope — A bore scope is good tool for looking inside those places where even an inspection mirror won’t work. These tools retail for about $36.
Thermal camera — A thermal camera alone won’t confirm a problem in a coach. But it will often identify areas that require further examination. I have had a thermal camera identify moisture in the walls, air leaks, loose wires in a breaker box, and blockages in air conditioner ducts, to name just a few things for which this camera is useful.
I find the FLIR ONE Pro, for iPhone, to be the best choice, since it has both a visible light camera and thermal camera. That means that you can combine the two images for better detail. It also allows me to swipe between the visible and thermal images, so as to give me and the client a better idea of what we are seeing. It sells for $335.
Contact-type moisture meter — One of the most common problems in an RV is leaks. The most accurate type of moisture meter is the contact-type meter. Simply press its two probes into a component part or material you suspect may be wet.
This moisture meter is great for testing plywood, either below carpet or exposed inside a cabinet or under a bed. But it’s not good for everything, since it leaves two tiny pinholes. I use a FLIR contact-type moisture meter, which can be found for $70.
Non-contact moisture meter — A non-contact moisture meter is the easiest-to-use moisture meter. It has the capability of detecting moisture through the wall, without damaging the wall. This type of meter leaves no pinholes, but is susceptible to false readings that could be triggered by metal braces, water pipes, or wires behind the wall.
Even so, with judicious use, this type of moisture meter can provide very accurate moisture information. The General Tools MMD7NP sells for about $40.
Induction trivet — If the coach has an induction stovetop, then you will need an induction trivet or induction cookware, for testing to ensure that the stovetop is heating properly. A simple, but effective device will cost about $20.
Lockout box/bag — A lockout box or lockout bag is for your protection while examining inside electrical panels. You should always unplug the coach from shore power before doing any electrical work. When you do, you should place the loose plug inside the lockout box/bag and lock it.
This is done so no Good Samaritan comes by, mistakenly thinks it has become unplugged by accident, and plugs it in for you. Of course, Murphy’s Law says that if this happens, it will happen at the exact moment when you’re touching a hot wire. At $27, a lockout box or bag is worth the peace of mind that comes with it.
Three types of thermometers
- Refrigerator thermometer — A refrigerator thermometer is used for just what its name implies. Sticking your hand in the refrigerator or freezer is not going to tell you if the refrigerator is cold enough to keep your milk from spoiling or your freezer is cold enough to keep ice cream from melting. You need a thermometer. The good news is that they only cost about $5.
- Probe thermometer — A probe thermometer is used for several things. It’s used to measure the exhaust and return temperature of the air conditioners, which is referred to as the delta-T test. A probe thermometer is used to measure the temperature of a cup of water, before and after being placed in the microwave for one minute. It’s also used to measure the temperature of the hot water coming from the sink spigot. They cost around $12.
- Laser thermometer — This tool is also used for several things. First, it measures the temperature of the convection oven fan grill after five minutes at 350 F. It’s also used to measure the temperature of the dryer fan grill, in the middle of a drying cycle. If the coach has an induction stovetop, the laser thermometer is used to measure the temperature of the induction trivet on each stove position. A good laser thermometer will cost around $23.
A volt-ohm meter — This tool is useful for many things, such as measuring when a circuit is hot and whether batteries are producing enough power. But the big thing a volt-ohm meter can do is perform a hot skin test to ensure that the electrical system is grounded properly. Otherwise, if you ever touch an RV that has not been properly grounded, you could be electrocuted. These devices can be purchased for $50.
On-board diagnostic (OBD2/HD-OBD) code reader — If the motorhome was built after 1996, an OBD code reader is required for checking historical engine check codes. When you see the check engine light come on, that warns you there is a problem with the engine. The OBD code reader tells you specifically what caused the light to come on. For light trucks and vans, the reader must conform to OBD2 (16-pin), while the reader for heavy trucks must conform to HD-OBD (9-pin). The tools cost about $180.
Minimum 50-foot extension cord — You will need at least 50 feet of wire to perform a hot-skin test. I find that an extension cord works well for this and can be purchased for a lower price than plain wire. However, in order to use an extension cord, some sort of adapter must be made to pick up the earth ground signal and send it to the volt-ohm meter.
An advantage to using an extension cord for this test is that the cord can be used for other purposes, too. I prefer to use an even longer 100-foot cord, since an outlet may not always be close to the coach.
Mobile universal trailer tester (MUTT) with battery — If the coach is a towable, then you need a way to be able to test the clearance lights, running lights, turn signals, and license plate light. It’s not a good idea to test an unknown trailer it with your own vehicle, in case there is a short somewhere that blows a fuse on your vehicle. A MUTT provides its own power and will automatically recover from shorts. A Light Ranger MUTT sells for about $150.
Certainly, few people will need to buy every tool on the above list. But keep in mind that even this list is not complete. There are many more tools not listed here that are just as important.
But even so, just go back through this list and total up what it would cost you to purchase just those tools that you would need to do an inspection on the specific type of coach you are planning to buy with just the tools on this list. The chances are very good that you’ll find the cost of a professional inspection, by an NRVIA certified Level 2 inspector, to be a much better deal.
For a more complete list of RV inspection tools, read the longer version of this article at www.rvinspector.pro.