It’s every RV owner’s nightmare to discover an RV water leak. Or worse water damage. Not only are RV leaks expensive and difficult to repair, but they can cause extensive damage to the RV if they go untreated for a long time.
Unfortunately, RV water leaks are more common than many think. And can happen no matter the age or condition of the RV. We knew the risk of finding water damage when shopping for a used class C RV. Even though we tried to take every precaution possible to make sure we weren’t buying an RV with a water leak or water damage; our efforts went unrewarded.
After starting the renovation we discovered there was an active leak and some previous water damage. We want to help you avoid this issue at all costs, so we’re showing you how to identify water damage or possible water leaks in your RV.
RV water leaks
Many new RVers think water damage is only a big concern in used or older RVs. But new RVs are just as susceptible to leaks and the terrible damage they can cause. We have owned three RVs and have experienced a water leak on all three. One was a brand-new fifth wheel. And the leak happened within the 1st year of ownership. Luckily it was covered under the manufactures warranty or it would have cost close to $4,000 to fix.
A lot of the time 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.
If there is water damage on your RV, there is also likely wood rot and mold. Both of these 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, in the bathroom, and floor.
To be super safe, check everywhere. Soft spots won’t always be present even if there is an active leak. We had a leak and had zero soft spots because we caught it before the wood rotted away. So keep in mind, this is not always an indicator you can trust.
Wet spots or pooling water
This one is pretty obvious, but it still needs to be mentioned. You probably have a water leak if you see water or feel the 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 as quickly as possible.
If you feel a damp carpet, or rug, or see any signs of water droplets or puddles. There’s a good chance you have a leak.
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. If you see this, there is guaranteed water damage on your RV. There could also be wood rot or mold. Both of these break down the plywood or particle board and cause it to be soft to the touch.
To look for delamination do a walk around of the RV. If you see a spot where it looks like the wall is bubbling or detaching, that could be a red flag.
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 the 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.
Must, mold, and dampness
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 with a slight odor indicate 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 honestly every RV you walk into kind of feels that way.
Rust should have been a red flag for us. 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 a nearly 10-plus-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.
Water pumping running frequently
Another sign you could have an active water leak is if your water pump is randomly cycling when you are not using the water. We had this issue with two of our RVs now. And both times we discovered a leak. This could happen every 10 to 20 minutes, or every few. Clearly, the more frequently it happens, the bigger the issue is.
How to never miss a water leak again
If you are looking to purchase an RV and want to avoid buying an RV with an active leak or past water damage. There are ways you can inspect and assess the vehicle. Do a thorough walk around looking for the signs mentioned above. Turn the water pump on and leave it on during your inspection or tour of the vehicle. Use all the water spigots (including the shower). And if possible do the inspection just after or during a rain shower.
You can also pay for a 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. But if we did this again we’d buy this tool. It measures moisture in the air and can identify if there is trapped moisture in plywood, particle board, or elsewhere when it’s hidden from the eyes.
There are super expensive water detection meters that cost thousands of dollars. As well as 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 by 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 them 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 are 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 proactive 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!