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 NRVIA (National RV Inspectors Association) 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 many 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 your garbage disposal, 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, one 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 inspection, 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, another inspector, or some other specialist 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. This list is, by no means, complete. These are just the ones that are most important.
|My rule of thumb is, “Never trust an attached roof ladder.” (See my 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. Furthermore, you can’t really test the stability of a roof ladder, without a secondary ladder to use, while testing the attached ladder. So bring your own.
The first rule in buying a ladder is, “Buy only an ANSI rated ladder.” An EN131 rated ladder is good – it just doesn’t have to be as good as an ANSI rated ladder.I use a 15.5 foot Extend and Climb ladder (Model 785P) that collapses down to about 36 inches. In the bottom photo, I left the top rung up to show the size of the tubes. The top tubes are about twice the size of the largest part of most attached roof ladders. That alone should tell you something.
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 top photo and next to the ladder in the bottom photo, showing how they’re notched out.)
|Wheel Chocks ($29)|
|For safety, you want to chock the wheels of the coach, before you climb up on the roof.|
|Manometer (Gas Pressure Gauge) ($51)|
|If the coach has propane on it, then testing for propane leaks is critical. However, if you are not a trained RV inspector, plumber, or otherwise trained to do gas leak testing, you should probably leave this to the professionals. Just sayin’…||
|Large Inspection Mirror ($37)|
|A large inspection mirror (8-plus inches in diameter, with a 3-foot handle) is what you will use to examine the underside of the coach, including the suspension and frame.||
Large Inspection Mirror
|Small Inspection Mirror ($10)|
|A smaller, pocket-sized mirror (about one inch) is used for looking behind obstacles inside the coach.|
|Very Bright Flashlight ($40 incl. batteries)|
|A bright flashlight is needed all around an RV. But for looking under the coach, even in daylight or in shadow, inside the engine compartment, you need an extremely bright flashlight. There are a plethora of flashlights that claim to be bright, though not all are equal. I recommend a 10,000 lumen TFCFL brand flashlight. If you choose a flashlight that uses Li-ion batteries, then you will need a charger for those batteries. I highly recommend the Nitecore D4 4-Bay Smart Charger, for charging Ni-Cd, Ni-Mh, and Li-ion batteries. That’s another $32.||
10,000 Lumen Flashlight
(Requires 4-18650 batteries)
|Bore Scope ($36)|
|A bore scope is good for looking inside those places where even an inspection mirror won’t work.
I use a bluetooth bore scope that has a set of blue tinted LEDs around the lens, with a control to adjust the brightness. The blue tint of the LEDs is to help increase contrast.
|Thermal Camera ($350)|
|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 (see image).
FLIR One Pro
Image Taken with a
FLIR One Pro
|Contact-Type Moisture Meter ($70)|
|One of he most common of major problems in an RV is leaks. The most accurate type of moisture meter is the contact-type meter. It has two probes that you can insert into a component part that you believe 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.||
Contact and Non-Contact Moisture Meters
|Non-Contact Moisture Meter ($44)|
|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.|
|Induction Trivet ($20)|
|If the coach has an induction stovetop, you will need an induction trivet or any other induction cookware, for testing the induction stovetop.|
|Three Types of Thermometers|
|Refrigerator Thermometer ($5)|
|A refrigerator thermometer is used for what its name implies. Just 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.||3 Types of Thermometers|
|Probe Thermometer ($12)|
|A probe thermometer is used for several things. It’s used to measure the exhaust and return temperature of the air conditioners (the delta-T test). It’s used to measure the temperature of a cup of water, before and after being placed in the microwave for one minute. It’s used to measure the temperature of the hot water coming from the sink spigot.|
|Laser Thermometer ($23)|
|A laser thermometer is also used for several things. It’s used to measure the temperature of the convection oven fan grill after five minutes at 350 degrees. 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.|
|Lockout Box/Bag ($27)|
|A lockout box or lockout bag is for your protection, while examining inside electrical panels. You should 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.||
(Above and to the left of the label is the cable port.)
|A Volt-Ohm Meter (VOM) ($51)|
|A VOM is useful for many things. But the big thing is performing a hot skin test. VOMs come in a variety of models. I use one with a clamp-on feature. But just about any VOM will do, in most cases.|
|Minimum 50 Foot Extension Cord ($17)|
|You will need at least a minimum of 50 feet of wire, to perform a hot-skin test. I find that an extension cord works well for this and can be found for a lower price than plain wire. However, in order to use an extension cord, some sort of adaptor must be made, to pick up the earth ground signal and send it to the VOM.An advantage to using an extension cord for this is that it can be used for other purposes, when not being used for the hot-skin test. I choose to use a longer, 100 foot cord, since an outlet may not always be close to the coach.|
|Plug-In Outlet Tester Including GFCI ($10)|
|Every electrical outlet in the coach should be tested for proper polarity. Moreover, those outlets within 6-feet of water, in the basement, or outdoors, should be tested for GFCI compliance.|
|On-Board Diagnostic (OBD2/HD-OBD) Code Reader ($180)|
|If the coach is motorized and later than 1996 for a light truck or later than 2010 for a heavy truck, an OBD code reader is required for checking historical engine check codes. 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 one I use handles both.|
|Test Smoke Aerosol ($17)|
|When you test a smoke detector, by pushing the button, all you are doing is confirming that the battery is good and that the circuitry is good. The only way you can test the actual smoke detection module, is with real smoke (not a good idea) or aerosol spray smoke.
You can get this on Amazon or at Grainger Supply stores around the country.
RV Detector Test Kit
|CO Test Aerosol ($20 for about 7 tests)|
|When you test a CO detector, by pushing the button, all you are doing is confirming that the battery is good and that the circuitry is good. The only way you can test the actual CO detection module, is with carbon monoxide. Due to the danger of breathing CO, it is sold only in small test cans of 0.07 ounces (2gm), which are good for about 7 tests. Since this test uses a very small amount of CO, over a period of time, a container that is slightly larger than the detector is required. This container is to be taped or otherwise sealed to the wall around the detector, while testing.|
|Fireplace Lighter ($4)|
|If the coach has a propane oven, you will probably have to light the pilot. Also, if the coach has any propane on it, there will be a propane detector and a butane lighter can be used to test a propane detector. After all, the butane propellant in many hair sprays is what often creates false alarms in RV propane detectors.|
|MUTT (Mobile Universal Trailer Tester) with Battery ($153)|
|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.||
RV Running Light Tester
|7-Pin Connector Tester ($9)|
|If the coach is motorized, then you need a way to make sure that the 7-pin connector will output the correct signals to the trailer. You can do this with a VOM, but it’s a hassle and takes a lot of time. You can also test the signals by hooking up a trailer. But that’s even more of a hassle and takes even more time. For testing the 7-pin connector, this little dongle is the device you need.||
7-Pin Connector Tester
|150+ psi Air Gauge ($17)|
|This one is obvious. You need to make sure that the tires are properly pressurized. If the coach is a towable, then a lower pressure air gauge will suffice. However, it is advised that the maximum pressure of the gauge be at least 10 PSI higher than the maximum tire pressure that you expect to measure. If the coach has a tandem axle, then the gauge must have dual heads, as shown in the photo.||
Double Head Air Gauge
|Assorted screwdrivers, pliers, and other small tools|
|These additional tools may be used for removing the various smoke, propane, and CO detectors, to check the manufacture date. You’ll also need a screwdriver to to remove the front of the breaker box panel. Also, since you’ll spend a lot of time on your hands and knees, it’s not a bad idea to have a pair of non-marring kneepads. You might also find a drop cloth useful, as well.
There are lots of other small tools that are not mentioned here. For example, even though it costs almost nothing, a piece of sidewalk chalk may be used to highlight the printing on the side of a tire, to make it easier to read. Then, of course, you’ll need a tool box to carry most of these things. The point is that if I included every little thing I carry, this article would be three or four times as long as it is.
Certainly, few people other than RV inspectors will need to buy every tool on the above list. If you did, the cost to purchase every tool on just this limited list would be well over $1,400. But to determine what it would cost you, for your purpose, I’ve included the lowest prices I could find for each item. So just go back through the list and total up what it would cost you to purchase the tools that you would need to do an inspection on the specific type of coach you are planning to buy. 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.
John Gaver is an NRVIA Certified Level 2 RV Inspector and owner of RV Inspector Pro. While John’s degree is in electronics, he also has experience with engines, generators, and air conditioning systems. He inspects all sizes of RVs, but specializes in large Class “A” and Class “C” coaches. He can be contacted at Pro@RVinspector.pro.