How to identify if your rv has water damage or an active leak

It’s every RV owners nightmare to discover a water leak on their RV. Not only are they expensive to repair, but they can cause extensive damage to the RV. Unfortunately, RV water leaks are more common than any RV owner would like to accept, especially amongst older RV’s. We knew the risk of finding water damage when shopping for our current rig, which is a used class C RV and tried to take every precaution possible to make sure we weren’t buying an RV with a water leak or water damage. Unfortunately, our efforts went unrewarded. After starting the renovation we discovered there was an active leak, and some water damage in our RV slide. We want to help you avoid this issue at all cost, so we’re showing you how to identify water damage or possible water leaks on your RV so you can identify a potential problem, avoid it if possible, or repair it as quickly as you can!

It’s important to note: any RV can have a water leak, and water damage can happen quickly. Many think water damage is only a big concern in used or older RV’s, but new RV’s are just as susceptible to leaks and the terrible damage they can cause. We have owned two RV’s and have experienced a water leak on BOTH. One was a brand new fifth wheel and the leak happened within the 1st year of owning the RV. Luckily it was covered under the manufactures warranty or it would have cost close to $4,000 to fix.

Another important note: a lot of the times the leak can be hidden. It can take weeks, months, or possibly years before signs of water damage start to show – especially if the leak is slow but steady. Often times this makes it challenging and is the reason many owners are unaware they even have an issue.

feel for soft spots

If there is water damage on your RV, there is also likely wood rot and mold. Both of which break down the plywood or particle board and cause it to be soft to the touch. To identify this you need to touch the wall, roof, or floor to feel for a soft spot. If you do find a spot where the wall feels soft and spongy instead of hard and firm investigate it further. Some common spots to check are below and around windows, on the roof (pretty much everywhere), the bathroom, and floor. To be super safe – just check everywhere. Soft spots won’t always be present even if there is an active leak. We had a leak and had 0 soft spots because we caught it before the wood rotted away. So keep in mind, this is not always an indicator you can trust.

Look for wet spots or pooling water

Okay, this one is pretty obvious, but it needs to be mentioned. You probably have a water leak if you see water or feel water. We first figured out there was an active leak on our RV when we noticed water coming in from our slide near the floor during a rain storm. It rang the alarm and let us know that we needed to find where the leak is happening asap. If you feel a damp carpet, rug, or see any signs of water droplets or puddles – chances are, you have a leak. 

look for signs of delamination

Delamination is when the outer layer of an RV begins pulling away from the underlying shell or substrate of the RV. It can look like cracking or bubbling under the exterior paint or fiberglass of the RV exterior. there is water damage on your RV, there is also likely wood rot and mold. Both of which break down the plywood or particle board and cause it to be soft to the touch. To identify this you need to touch the wall, roof, or floor to feel for a soft spot. If you do find a spot where the wall feels soft and spongy instead of hard and firm investigate it further. Some common spots to check are below and around windows, on the roof (pretty much everywhere), the bathroom, and floor. To be super safe – just check everywhere. Soft spots won’t always be present even if there is an active leak. We had a leak and had 0 soft spots because we caught it before the wood rotted away. So keep in mind, this is not always an indicator you can trust.

look for water spots

This may seem obvious, but some RV owners especially if they are looking at a used RV will see a water spot and assume it’s an old leak. When we found water spots on the plywood below our RV couch (which was hidden under carpet) we assumed it was from an old leak that was likely addressed already. We felt the plywood and it seemed firm and dry, so of course it was taken care of, right? Nope.

If you see signs of water spots investigate further. It very well could be an active leak that needs to be addressed so further damage is not incurred. 

does it Smell musty, moldy, or feel damp?

Have you ever walked into a place and been hit with a smell of must? Being native Floridians we know the smell and feel all too well. When mold is present, especially if there is a lot, you can smell it and feel it. The moisture and dampness in the air, the slight odor indicating microbial growth. Sometimes you can see evidence of mold, in the form of a soft spot or discoloration. But not always. We didn’t see any visible signs of mold, and our RV didn’t scream “moist” when we walked in. Then again – it’s Florida, and honeslty every RV you walk into kind of feels that way.

signs of extreme rusting

This was a red flag for us — but we didn’t consider it a red flag at the time. There was only one notable rusty spot which was on the exterior of our slide. We chalked it up to being exposed to the elements and being an nearly 10 year old coach. We shouldn’t have discounted that fact, because it’s exactly where our leak had been draining to. The extensive rust damage was directly related to our leak. After removing the couch, carpet, and front wooden piece from the slide we saw the underside of the slide also had rust. Rust is a symptom of a bigger issue – a water leak!

how to never miss a water leak again

You can inspect for water damage yourself or pay for licensed inspector to conduct a formal inspection for you — but know that a visual inspection can easily miss hidden damage. You only know to inspect further if there are visible signs. Our inspector missed this leak because there were no signs he could see. One of the only ways to ensure you don’t miss a potential problem is by using a moisture meter. We did not have one, nor did our inspector and so we left it at that. It’s a tool that measures moisture in the air and can identify if there is trapped moisture in plywood, particle board, or elsewhere when it’s hidden to the eyes. There are super expensive water detection meters that cost thousands of dollars, and cheaper versions that have less accuracy but cost anywhere from $35 – $100. We would never buy another used RV without using a moisture meter and wish we had done it this go around.

We also suggest looking at the sealant around the RV. Check for any potential cracks, openings, or light getting through what should be sealed. Sometimes it can be the smallest, tiniest, sliver of an opening – but that’s all water needs to intrude right into your RV. Our leak was caused from the window being put into a hole that was cut too big. The sealant ended up being the only thing holding it together. After several years the sealant started to crack and water started to get in. Be proactive about checking the seals and resealing if necessary.

Tips for avoiding buying an rv with water damage or a water leak

  • Look for visible signs of potential water damage and investigate any “red flags”.
  • Inspect the RV on a rainy day.
  • Use a moisture meter to help you detect if there is any hidden moisture issues lurking behind your walls, floor, or roof.
  • Be proactive and look for potential leaks often.

We hope you never have to encounter a water leak or experience the cost and hassle of water damage on your RV. Remember to be pro-active with your RV. Inspect it after heavy rain, look for any signs of potential leaks often, and if possible inspect using a moisture detection device. Here’s to a leak free RVing experience!

 

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Liz & Dennis

Liz & Dennis

ESRV Team

We’re two travel-loving, real estate investing, foodies exploring North America as full-time RV’ers. This blog is where we share our lessons learned, tips and tricks, and favorite places to eat, see, and RV across North America! We hope it helps you find your wanderlust, plan and prepare for RV life, and get out on the road!

 

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