Why You Need to Check the RV VIN When Buying Used

Don’t learn the hard way! You should always check the RV VIN before buying a used RV. Here’s why.

Is that used RV you have your eye on safe to drive and legal to own? 

You may think that you are doing everything right, like checking Carfax. However, some used RV retailers are selling unsafe RVs to unsuspecting people. 

There is good news, though! There are legitimate ways to check out used RVs before purchasing them. 

Keep reading to safeguard yourself from a bad purchase. 

Wild Creek Casino RV Park, Atmore, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A real RVer who learned the hard way

I recently read a horror story Christine shared on Facebook. She bought a 2011 Tiffin and thought everything was fine since Carfax said the vehicle’s VIN was clear. Little did she know that it was not fine and she ended up with a $57,000 loss!

Here is her story: 

In March 2019, she and her husband purchased a 2011 Tiffin Allegro Bus from a company called Northern Kentucky Auto Sales. It took about nine months for them to get the title to the vehicle which occurred right before their leaving to go to Florida for the winter. 

The title was issued in Pennsylvania even though the RV was originally purchased by the sales company in Texas. The couple went through several legal processes to secure the title and Indiana would not title the vehicle. The Indiana Attorney General denied the titling. 

Leaf Verde RV Park, Buckeye, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why would they deny it, you ask? 

The RV was sold at a Texas auction in Texas and was only supposed to be used for parts!

This was particularly upsetting to the couple because despite the rig being unsafe to drive, the couple had been driving it all over Alabama. They had already put 15,000 miles on the rig!

Once the couple discovered that it was not allowed to be driven they stored it in Florida and hired an Indiana attorney to get their money back. They wanted what they paid and to give the RV back to the seller. 

In the end, the dealership took the rig back but only paid a portion of what it was sold for. Overall, the couple lost $57,000 in the deal and learned some important life lessons. 

Christine shared this on social media to warn other people from doing the same thing. 

Do not find yourself in the same predicament. The following are ways to ensure that you are buying an RV with a clear title and one that is safe to drive. 

Rio Bend RV & Golf Resort, El Centro, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to check the RV VIN on a used rig

Buying a used RV can be much more affordable than a new RV but it is riskier. It’s difficult to really know what you’re getting unless you know how to vet it properly.

So, here’s what you need to know about checking the VIN on an RV.

Jekyll Island Campground, Jekyll Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is a VIN and how to find it on your RV?

A VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is a unique 17-digit number that every road vehicle made after 1977 has. The VIN usually comes as a mix of letters and numbers and can be found somewhere on the vehicle. 

The VIN may be located on a sticker or as an engraving on the vehicle’s metal. 

VINs are assigned to every road vehicle such as cars, motorhomes, trailers, fifth wheels, and any others you can think of. The vehicle sold is recorded on the title associated with that VIN. 

Locating a VIN isn’t always easy but it’s typically found in one of two locations.

Many vehicles have the VIN located inside the driver’s side door and can only be seen when the door is ajar. 

Many RV VINs are located on the lower-left-hand corner of the dashboard in front of the steering wheel. You can look at the number through the windshield on the driver’s side of the vehicle. 

If you do not find the VIN in those two spots you can also try looking in front of the engine block or on the tongue of the trailer. 

You can also consult the owner’s manual if it is available. 

Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Google “Free VIN decoder”

Good ol’ Google is a great place to start. There are multiple free resources to look up VINs you can choose from.

Simply google “free VIN decoder” or “free VIN lookup” and a list of free resources will populate. You can get an instant report that usually outlines the manufacturer, brand, make, model, body style, engine size assembly plant, and model year.

This information allows you to double-check that the VIN matches the vehicle you’re looking to buy. Some also provide a full vehicle history report.

That’s what Christine did when her title was denied. When she googled the VIN she found out about the Texas auction sale. 

Check the RV VIN at the DMV

Another way to check the VIN is to go directly to the DMV. The DMV can often run the number for you to let you know if the vehicle is legally open for purchase. 

Finally, you can use a free online VIN check. You input the VIN and the site will return a history report to you. 

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get an RV inspection before you buy

I also strongly suggest you get an RV inspection before you buy a used RV. This is highly recommended whether you are buying from a dealer or a private seller. 

This inspection can verify that the RV is in the condition described and may uncover any issues that the seller was unaware of (or trying to hide). Just like you would get a house inspected before buying it, it’s smart to do the same for an RV to protect your investment. 

You can easily find a certified inspector through the National RV Inspectors Association of America (https://nrvia.org). If the seller doesn’t want you to hire a third-party inspector, that’s a huge red flag.

You can also try “RV inspector near me” on Google.

Hilltop RV Park, Ft. Stockton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Should you trust Carfax? 

While Carfax offers a great service, it should only be used as a starting point in your search for a reliable used vehicle. The downside to Carfax is that it only contains information that was reported. A vehicle with a clean Carfax report does not mean it is truly safe and can be properly titled. 

There is nothing wrong with using Carfax. Just make sure it is not your only source of information in a used vehicle purchase. 

Worth Pondering…

Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple.

—C.W. Ceran