Buying an RV Guide Table of Contents
Buying an RV shouldn’t be a spontaneous decision. It’s a process. From research to purchase, RVs live up to their reputation of freedom and open road adventures. Camping next to cascading waterfalls or towering mountains. Visiting iconic destinations. Staying for extended periods of time while deciding whether to travel to Alaska or the beaches of Brazil. Buying an RV is an exciting event. So whether you’re buying new or a used RV you’re not just buying some random camping vehicle you’re buying a lifestyle. Which is more than just buying an RV, but before you buy your membership to “RV life” let me help you to learn how to buy an RV so you don’t buy the wrong RV.
RV Life is filled with tradeoffs. Do you want a cheap used RV or a high tech modern expensive RV? With slideouts, satellites, outdoor kitchens, and waterslides? Are you thinking of towing or driving your RV? Remember gas prices when buying an RV or you may end of with buyer’s remorse every time you go to the gas pump. Buying an RV means becoming a plumber, electrician or mechanic to do your own maintenance instead of taking it to a costly professional.
Buying an RV is an adventurous long-term investment that may not be suitable for everyone. So if you’re considering buying an RV, let me help you select the right RV by preventing you from buying the wrong RV in this RV/Motorhome buying Guide.
Buying An RV Guide
When I was 20 I jumped off the “RV” cliff and fell right into the RV Lifestyle. Never looking back again. Now I’m 40 years old and have owned 5 different RVs. Class A, Class B, Class C, Travel Trailer & Truck Camper. Which is pretty common for most RV owners because of family sizes, destinations, needs and wants all change over the years. Most people’s first RV was just a cheap introduction to get them hooked on RV Life.
For me, it was a desperate attempt to delete the bills I couldn’t afford, but that’s a story for another time. Before buying your first RV there are some things you should know and questions you should ask. So a smooth-talking salesman won’t be able to misguide you into buying an RV based off commission tiers with their slick videos, sales pitch or deceptive floorplans.
You see, most people want to do more than just say they own an RV. They buy an RV for a specific purpose. So the more you understand what you need and want from a motorhome the less likely you are to buy the wrong motorhome. Notice I’ve said the wrong motorhome twice now because most people buy an RV for the wrong reasons, and end up with the wrong motorhome. Buying an RV is not like buying clothes. It’s a process that requires a method to ensure you don’t regret it later. It’s a lot like buying a house, and how many first time homeowners do you know with regrets? Click here to Read about my first RV.
Avoid Rookie buying RV mistakes
To buy an RV the right way it should be a process because buying an RV is not an easy decision. Before you open up the internet, browse the classifieds, set budgets or even step on the RV lot the first thing you should do is ask yourself some pre-buying RV questions. You don’t buy an RV based on features or amenities. You buy an RV based on the lifestyle you want to live you want to purchase the right RV. So what are these magical RV buying questions?
1. What are you going to use your RV for?
- Will you be boondocking in remote locations or staying mostly in RV parks? Campgrounds generally charge about $400 a month, but I have come across two campgrounds that charge more than $9,000 a month. Most people think they can get away with temporary workable compromises like folding the bed up every morning which is fine for 8-12 day trips with your hunting buddies but easily become unbearable annoyances over the course of a 120 day trip with family.
Do you require special storage needs? Ski’s, snowboards, mountain bikes & wakeboards don’t seem like much sitting in your garage but try finding storage for them in your Class B RV. If you plan on pulling a small trailer for your gear you need to know the towing capacity before buying an RV. Towing capacities range all over the board. Knowing how much you need to tow is not something you want to figure out after buying an RV.
- **What are you going to use your RV for is the most important factor when buying an RV!**
2. Who are you going to use your RV with?
- Most RVs can handle 2 occupants with ease, but some are designed for more while some are designed for less. Knowing the number of travelers will help you determine if this is an important consideration when buying your new RV.
- Who will roll with the punches, and who will become frustrated in the small living quarters? Have you considered who will be doing the driving? If you’re planning on sharing driving responsibilities than before buying an RV you need to consider motorhomes that will be easy to drive for everyone.
3. Where are you going to use your RV?
- Urban boondocking environments & rural boondocking environments both have unique benefits as well as challenges. Ever try to turn a semi around, or parallel park a school bus? Parallel parking becomes a factor when buying an RV if you plan on seeing the sites of major cities. Accessibility becomes a consideration when buying RV’s over 20 feet. Its ok to run a generator on privately owned land out in the middle of nowhere. But how do you think Walmart is going to react to a generator idling in their parking lot?
- Campgrounds are wonderful. Full RV hookups. Great place to meet other RVers and travelers. Safe & conveniently located to area attractions. But RV Campgrounds can also be expensive, noisy and crowded depending on the time of the year.
- If you’re going to camp on public lands(also known as boondocking), which is amazing by the way, you need to factor in tank size, power options, water supply, food storage & possibly cell service or even entertainment when buying an RV. Where your going to use your RV will most likely decide what type of RV you’re going to buy? You’re not always going to stay in RV campgrounds or Casino parking lots. Might want to consider how practical or comfortable you’d be towing a 40 ft travel trailer down a jacked up dirt road. Or driving a 40 foot Class A motorhome into the backcountry of America. Maybe I am the only one that drives their RV over logs, rocks & rivers.
4. When are you going to use your RV?
- It would be wise to know when buying an RV if you plan on using it in the summer or winter or both. Just because your RV has insulation, heat & A/C doesn’t mean it was meant for both climates. Some RVs are better suited for different climates. Winter package RV means they have flexible water pipes, heat tape & various other options. Desert option RVs mean they have outdoor showers, solar panels & larger water tanks.
Who wants to use an outdoor shower while on a ski trip in December, or go on a desert camping trip with no A/C? If you plan on storing your RV for the winter or migrating to warmer climates than maybe winter capabilities isn’t a concern for you when buying an RV. However, to narrow down your needs and wants in your new RV you should consider where you’re going to use your new RV camper/motorhome. Don’t be the couple I met last week who are trying to live at a ski resort during the winter in a canvas-walled popup trailer.
5. What are you going to do with your RV when you’re not using it?
- In the RV world, this is the most neglected concern when buying an RV. Most people think they can just park their motorhome in the backyard or driveway when not using it, but did you know in most cities this is illegal? Most police officers will resort to education instead of ticketing first-time offenders, but parking an RV in your driveway could result in fines or liens on your home!
- Besides the police, image the difference in storage costs between a pop-up tent trailer and a 40-foot diesel pusher. To overcome the sticker shock of RV storage rates. You need to do your research and make a plan.
Shooting from the hip to find solutions for RV storage at the last minute costs more money and usually not very convenient or secure.
6. Why do you need an RV?
- A lot of people think this is the same as the first question, but “what are your going to do” is different than “why are you going to do it”. If you think you need to buy an RV for a 4th of July family camping trip once a year there are better ways to spend $10,000! After storage fees, weekend supplies, campground rates, insurance & gas your reason for why you need an RV needs to justify these camping expenses.
Ski season? Family vacations? Full-time RV living? Road trip? Don’t be afraid to be specific! Remember when working these things out this is YOUR RV, YOUR vacation, YOUR motorhome, YOUR life, YOUR DREAM! Drill down and make sure why you want an RV justifies the expenses of buying an RV.
You owe it to yourself to answer these types of questions before buying an RV to ensure you don’t buy the wrong RV. So, later on, you won’t be saying things like:
- I wish it had…..
- Yeah, I love it but……
- There’s no…..
- The floor plan…
- I wish I knew “….” beforehand
- Why does it….
- Who thinks of …
- I didn’t realize….
- I learned from my other RV…..
- It’s too small
- It’s too big
- We paid too much
- We barely use it
- It doesn’t….
- RV Winterizing….
- RV Storage………
These are great conversation starters at campfires around the country, but I hope you’re not trying to buy an RV just so you have something to talk about with strangers. This RV buying guide is to help you avoid buying an RV you’ll regret later, and the goal of these questions is to narrow down the entire world of RV choices into something that will work for you. The more thought you put into how you are going to use your RV, who you’re going to use your RV with & where your going to use your new RV will save you a lot of money and headaches down the road.
Types Of RVs
Now that we’ve started along the process of buying an RV let’s look at the different types of RVs you can choose from. There are 7 main styles of RVs which are separated into three main categories: motorcoaches, towables & slide-ins.
Self-powered RVs with their own engines are considered motorcoaches. Rigs that require a separate vehicle to tow them for obvious reasons are considered towables. While slide-ins, as their name implies requires a truck for them to, well, slide in/on.
The difference between these three categories is critical for a variety of reasons. For example, you can’t access any of the amenities of a towable or slide-in until you stop driving for the day. Depending on the size of the rig in some states you may be required to obtain various other license certifications to drive your RV. While motorchoaches, on the other hand, allow your fellow travelers access to the amenities while driving. One of the disadvantages of motorhomes though is local transportation once you reach your destination. Which is why you see so many RVs towing vehicles behind them because it’s not very practical to use an RV as a commuting vehicle. Slide-ins try to bridge this gap as much as an RV can, but there is no such thing as a perfect RV. But let’s dive into the types of RVs a little bit more so that you can get a better idea of the perfect RV for you.
With all the amenities and features that can be built into or left out of an RV, for now, I am just going to focus on the outline perception of the 7 main styles of RVs. Which means this section is NOT going to cover wish list item RV wants & needs (RV counter space, 2 door camper refrigerator, stand up RV shower/bathtub combo, outside camper kitchen, king size RV bed, 30 amp, 50 amp, solar power or anything else that you might want). This next section is a basic generalization of each type of RV. Think broad strokes –Shape, Bed/s, Kitchen, Bathroom, and Storage.
Self-Powered RVs also known as Motorhomes, Motorcoaches or RVs
Class A RV
You’ll have to overcome some serious sticker shock at the gas pumps when fueling up these mobile penthouses. Depending on the year, make, your gear and driving environment some of these rigs get as little as 6 miles per gallon. With that said, a Class A RV is built for luxury & accommodation.
Class A RVs technically don’t need a destination like a campground or RV park, but they aren’t very stealthy. Generally speaking modern Class A RVs will include a master bedroom, guest bedroom options (bunk bed, murphy bed, etc), at least 2 more temporary bed options (fold out bed, fold down table bed, etc), full kitchen, full bathroom, lots of storage and full-size living room.
The easiest way to determine if an RV is a Class A RV is its flat front end. Read about my Class A RV experience it’s one of a kind!
Class B RV
The most popular RV on the road today is most likely a Class B RV. These guys are designed for the active adventurer, and a whole lot easier on the wallet than a Class A motorhome. Known as camper vans they don’t have the spacious interior of travel trailers, Class A RVs or even some Class C RVs. They come equipped with a small kitchen, bathroom, bed and minimal storage. They are very manageable to drive and allow you to access campsites other RVs can’t. There’s a community of RVers living out of Class B’s that have nicknamed their lifestyles #VANLIFE, and you can find them all over Youtube.
Class B RVs don’t need a destination like a campground or RV park and are probably one of the stealthiest RVs you can own. Generally speaking, modern Class B RVs will have 1 permanent bed, 1-2 temporary bed/s(fold out couch, fold down table, etc), small kitchen, wet bath(toilet & shower head possibly a small sink), and minimal storage.
If I were to choose another RV to live in full time for my RV lifestyle I would consider a Class B RV with living room slideout and solar power, but my heart is set on a Class C. The bed over the cab offers more storage options and “real” bed for guests if need be. The easiest way to determine if a motorhome is a Class B RV is to look above the driver’s seat. If there is no bed or sleeping area directly above the driver’s seat than it’s probably a Class B or A RV. Want to read about my Class B RV experience?
Class C RV
Class C motorhomes are easy to drive, come with plenty of storage, more fuel efficient and still come with all the amenities. Class C RVs are geared more towards comfort and convenience. They are not as luxurious as the Class A’s, but they are also not as restrictive. Class C RV’s come in a variety of lengths, styles & designs. The most common length for Class C RVs is 28 feet, but they can range from 18 feet to 45 feet. They will come with a full-size kitchen, full bathroom, bedroom, living space, and storage.
Class C RVs don’t a need destination like an RV park or campground but aren’t as stealthy as Class B RVs.
Generally speaking, modern Class C RVs will include 2 permanent beds (1 in back, 1 over the driver’s seat), 1-2 temporary bed/s (fold out couch, fold down table, etc), full-size kitchen, full-size bathroom, plenty of RV storage and living area. The easiest way to determine if an RV is a Class C RV is it will have a sleeping area directly over the driver’s seat.
Want to read about my Class C experience?
Towable RVs Also Known As Travel Trailers, 5th Wheels & Pop-ups
Travel trailers are cube-shaped trailers with no universal set of features, amenities or even floor plans. These campers can range from 8 feet to 60 feet in length, but like the Class C RVs, the most common length is 28 feet. Unlike previous RVs, a travel trailer requires a separate tow vehicle. Depending on the size and model travel trailers can be towed with everything from a small car, hefty SUV, midsize truck or in some cases require a 1-ton truck.
Travel trailers come in so many different lengths, styles, models & designs there is no “universal” guarantee for amenities, appliances, features or even a bed. Let me take that back. Every travel trailer will have walls, windows, floor, ceiling, door, plumbing & some type of electrical power source. That is where the similarities stop.
Every travel trailer design has a specific focus. Large living space, luxurious bathroom, gourmet kitchen, just a bed, storage, outdoor kitchen, private bedroom, maneuverability, gas mileage, weight, climate, basic essentials or hauling vehicles. Because of this your answer to question #1 at the beginning of this RV Buying Guide will narrow down the massive amount of choices a travel trailer brings to the table.
Travel Trailers *NEED* a destination like a campground, RV park or private land. I’ve unhooked mine in a parking lot and explored the town with my vehicle, but I would never consider that situation for more than a day or two. Generally speaking, modern travel trailers will include a master bedroom, living room, bathroom, kitchen & storage. The size and capability of these features will depend greatly on the year, make & model. The easiest way to determine if an RV is a travel trailer is it will have a trailer tongue at the front that attaches to a normal bumper ball hitch. Want to read about my Travel Trailer experience?
Somewhat like the travel trailer, 5th wheels are these oddly shaped trailers with no universal set of features, amenities or even floor plans. 5th Wheels can range from 15 feet to 80 feet in length, but the most common length is around 35 feet. These type of towable RVs require a special 5th wheel attachment in bed truck-tow hitch to be installed on your vehicle so that you can tow it down the road. You will not be able to tow a 5th wheel with anything other vehicle than a FULL-SIZE truck!
5th wheels also *NEED*a destination like a campground or RV park. They are the opposite of stealthy. These RVs focus on one thing and one thing only – SPACE. 5th wheel RVs are spacious, luxurious & modern. Generally speaking a modern 5th wheel RV will include 2 permanent bedrooms, full size kitchen, full size bathroom, full size living room, excessive storage, modern technology, 2-3 temporary beds(fold out couch, fold down table, murphy bed), full size outdoor kitchen, full size outdoor entertainment setup & possible washer/dryer combo as well as an RV dishwasher.
To determine if an RV is a 5th wheel it will have 2-3 axels (wheels on each side), and the hitch will look like something for a semi-truck. The hitch will be located under the front overhang compartment of the RV.
Popups are considered by many to be campers not RVs. Popup campers are basically a tent on steroids that can range from 3 feet to 20 feet, and the most common length being around 15 feet of fuel economy freedom. Popup tent RVs are made for couples, small families & short weekend getaways. These RVs are the gateway to RV life. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I would be willing to bet that over half of the RV community got their start with a popup trailer. Their mobile, lightweight, can be towed with anything including a motorcycle. Check out the how much each pull behind popup camper weighs.
They come equipped with all the basic needs for a weekend adventure. Small kitchen, bed, and storage. The basic concept behind a popup is, well just that, they popup. There are hard sided popups out there, but majority of the popups are made of a canvas material. To keep the weight down, and make them more versatile.
Popup tent trailers don’t require a destination, but they’re not functional unless you pop them up. Which makes them NOT stealthy. The most common sentence popup owners make: “Buying a pop-up camper was the worst and best decision we ever made.” From what I gather it’s because Popup tent trailers allow exposure to the RVing “lifestyle”, but because of the limitations of popup trailers you’re not able to fully submerge yourself into this wonderful & adventurous lifestyle. Generally speaking a modern pop up tent trailer will include a small kitchen, 2 beds, and some basic storage. To determine if an RV is a pop-up tent trailer it will have a collapsible roof & a trailer tongue that fits on a normal bumper ball hitch.
Slide-In Truck Camper
The most unique RV campers are the slide in truck campers also known as backpacks. Which slide into a truck bed and features over cab space for sleeping. Slide in truck campers range from 5 feet to 16 feet, and the most common length being 10 feet of creative unique living space. Slide in campers require a truck, NO destination, and one of the stealthier RV options on the market today.
Truck campers are a cross between a towable and a motor coach. Their mobile, but restrictive. You can’t access any of the amenities while driving, but there’s no sticker shock at the gas pump to recover from. They’re equipped with a bedroom, kitchen, living room, bathroom, A/C, and heat. But storage can be limited. There’s an endless number of designs, layouts, features & amenities. But they have to fit your truck’s dimensions. When you want to upgrade to a more luxurious model you simply upgrade your vehicle.
Truck campers can be stored in garages, yards or driveways without violating city codes or laws. Slide in truck campers also don’t require license plates, tabs, registration or titles. Unlike other RVs, the options to upgrade your RV engine to go further off road is extremely costly or impossible. Whereas for a truck camper you just buy a different truck. The bigger the truck the bigger the camper. The bigger the truck the more features and amenities it will have.
Some truck campers consist of bed, table, bench, sink. While others have 3 slide outs, a center island kitchen feature, Jacuzzi tub, guest beds, master bedroom, and waterslides. Ok, maybe they don’t have waterslides or a jacuzzi tub, but I wouldn’t be surprised. To determine if an RV is a slide in truck camper it’s in the shape of an upside down “L”, has no wheels & slides into the bed of a truck. Generally speaking the average modern slide in truck campers will include 1 bedroom (located over the cab of a truck), living room, small kitchen, small bath & limited storage. Read about my slide in Toyota Tacoma truck camper experience.
Buying an RV Review
If you’ve made it this far it means you’re serious about buying an RV. So let’s move on to the final step of the process of buying an RV. There are sooooo many features or amenities that can be included or left out of an RV you need to prioritize what you need from a motorhome so that you buy the right RV the first time. It’s a lot like buying a house you need to create a wish list, must have list & can’t have list.
Don’t worry about putting them in order. Just brainstorm things that would make your life more comfortable or at the very least be compatible with your lifestyle. Who knows after doing so there may be an RV out there that hits all the checkboxes. We’ll find out. This is my must have, can’t have, wish list. Copy it, use it for guidance or completely ignore it. But keep in mind I ski 150 days a year and can live off peanut M&M’s and beer for 6 months. Just saying.
- Bathroom with toilet and shower
- Kitchen with sink, at least 2 burners & fridge/freezer combo
- Living area ~ Bench with table
- A/C & Heat
- Under 27 feet
- Counter Space
- No odd shaped cabinets
- Mold, water damage or rot
- No storage
- No bedroom
- No Bathroom
- No Kitchen
Wish List – list below has clickable links to things I have bought
- Slide in Cutting board (love cutting vegetables & making stir fry’s)
- Solar Power
- Water purification/filter system
- Storage for clothes
- Washer/Dryer Combo
- Slideout/s(1 is fine but 2 would be awesome)
- Electrical outlets with USB options everywhere
- Windows that open
- Vents with Fans
- Outdoor Kitchen
- Direct sink & shower drains
- Big Flat screen TV(a lot of movie nights during ski season)
- Skylight would be cool
- Doggy door (Kota gets 1 vote :D)
- Water heater
Buying an RV is Supposed to be FUN
I think that’s all, but don’t worry if you didn’t think of everything. And don’t try to think of everything. Paper towel holders are like $3, and where a manufacturer would put it is not where you would. So just try and think of the big picture items. Plus the knick-knacks and paper towel holders of life are what makes things yours. It’s fun to add those things or put them where you want them, but those are things you bring in after buying an RV. You definitely want to think about them when you’re out looking and comparing RVs, but they don’t need to be on any of your lists.
Once you think you have your list now it’s time to prioritize it. For example, at the bottom of my “wish list” I have a water heater, and when you read it you might have asked yourself why didn’t he say tankless water heater? An endless hot shower has a lot of appeal for someone that spends 150 days in the mountains during the winter, but how practical is an endless hot shower when I only have a 20-gallon freshwater tank? It’s an amenity that would be cool, but not practical.
RVs are full of these type of shiny object trap amenities. Unless you’re going to be staying at RV parks & Campgrounds with water hookups maybe you should reconsider how important a tankless water heater is when you’re buying an RV. The same thing goes for solar panels. If you’re going to be staying majority of the time in places with full hookups than solar panels may be a waste of money in your case. Maybe you live in Texas and couldn’t ever imagine spending a weekend in an RV in the Texas heat. A winter model may have just moved up your priority list for buying an RV.
Recon RVs before buying an RV
Some of you will have a hard time creating your lists because first time RV buyers don’t know enough to even know what they don’t know. If you feel this is the case there is an easy solution to this. Go look at RVs and ask questions. Instead of cleaning out the garage this weekend take a field trip to your local RV dealership. The bigger the dealership the better.
Go look at all the different models, designs, features & floor plans. Ask about the windows, countertops, cabinets, flooring, RV tires, plumbing, tank sizes, electrical, mattresses, faucets, gas mileage, heater, A/C, storage, emergencies, warranty, appliances, manufacturer, upgrades, base model, awnings, fabric, slide outs, towing, driving, registration, insurance, solar, drains, walls, insulation, pipes, circuit board and whatever else you can think of. The only dumb question is the question never asked.
Now that you have answers & information make your lists. Keep in mind what you learned on your field trip to help you prioritize them. Most likely you’re not going to get everything you want in an RV, but knowing this upfront makes it easier to compare when buying an RV. This is the fun part of buying an RV which is why most people start here. It’s like skipping straight to dessert, but this is also why most people buy the wrong RV. Because they didn’t ask themselves any questions.
They just looked at shiny new floorplans, sat on unique beds and tried out comfy couches without thinking does a box of cereal fit in this cupboard? Can I stand in this shower without banging my elbows? How would I wash a pan in this tiny sink? Where do my clothes go?
It’s easy to become paralyzed from all the choices when buying an RV, but your answers will become the crutch that guide you through the RV buying process. Keeping you focused and on track when you’re out comparing RVs, and when you get to the point it’s time to buy an RV. You can do so with confidence.
Rent an RV before Buying An RV
You’ve got your information! You’ve got your questions! You’ve got your answers! You’ve got your lists! You’ve got your priorities! You know the different types of RVs!
You couldn’t be more ready to buy an RV than you are right now, but there’s one last step to ensure you buy the right RV. If you’ve never owned an RV or used an RV – then RENT AN RV! A couple hundred dollars spent renting the wrong RV is better than spending thousands buying the wrong RV. Browsing RVs on showroom floors or from private owners can only answer so many questions, but renting an RV can answer all of your questions.
It’s not cheap renting an RV, but think about it like this. How many apartments did you rent before you bought a house? How much did you learn from each apartment about what you wanted in your house? How many wrong houses did you buy before you bought your dream house? What did each wrong house teach you about what you wanted in your dream house? Looking at an RV and using an RV are two different worlds.
By renting an RV you can confidently answer:
- Did splitting the driving work or did your wife drive it for 15 minutes and refuse to touch the steering wheel ever again?
- Was the 30-foot motorhome easy to drive or do you need to look at smaller sizes? Were you able to take it to a place you would likely take yours? Was it difficult to maneuver into the campsite? Do you just need more practice or is just too big?
- How was the living space? Acceptable or annoying? Did you feel cooped up?
- How was getting out of bed in the middle of the night? Did you have to strategize how to exit without waking up your partner? Have to butt scoot to the exit point? Did you have to climb over someone? Any workable compromises that were acceptable for the test run trip, but are they practical to do for long term trips?
- Speaking of bedrooms, did you find out that you prefer two beds or a floor plan that closes off the bedroom and the living space by more than a curtain?
- What about the outdoor grill? Did you even think of using it? How about the outside TV? Stereo? Great features, but did you even think about using them? Are they worth the extra money?
- What about the bathroom? Does that style of toilet work for you? Did you have enough hot water for a full shower? Or were you rushed to finish? Were you able to brush your teeth? Did you need to take turns? Did you fall out of the shower when trying to wash your feet? Do you have bruises on your elbow from washing your hair? Did you even use the shower, or did you use the campground shower house? Why?
- What about the kitchen? Did you use it? Honestly, did you use the oven? Did you try washing dishes? What about the fridge? Was it enough space? Did it keep your items cold?
- For me, storage is a massive factor when buying an RV. How was your RVs storage? Did you have enough? Too much? Did everyday things fit into spaces or cupboards? Did you bring things you never used, but took up storage space?
- What about destination? Did you plan 7 days at a remote campsite, but had to leave after 5 days because your tanks were full or empty? Or batteries died and ran out of solar power? You become more efficient with water and energy from experience to help you extend these things, but everyone has different habits and requirements. So maybe tank sizes need to be a higher priority or a larger solar system.
- What time of the year did you use your rental? Was it the same time of year you intend to use your RV in?
- Did you play with gauges? What did you do with 20 gallons of human waste? Did you have enough propane?
- How about the furnace—was it warm enough? Was the A/C cold enough? Were they needed?
Comparing RVs Before Buying An RV
Now comes the fun part of buying an RV. You’ve done all your homework, research and now it’s time to buy an RV. What do you do? From your recon, research & renting you’ve most likely created a short list of candidates you want to buy. Now it’s time to narrow it down to the right RV for you. You could be spending a lot of time in this RV so you want to mimic and envision some of the ways you will be using it in your new RV life.
- If you’re looking at motorcoaches hop into the driver’s seat, both of you. Were you able to adjust it to where you needed it? Was it still comfortable after 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 20 minutes? Was it comfortable at all? Could you sit in that seat for 2,500 miles? How did it work getting out of the driver’s seat and going into the RV? Did you almost knock yourself out from the low overhang? Trip over the seat belt? Have to adjust the steering wheel to get out of the seat? Did you have to go outside to go back inside through the RV door?
- Sit on the toilet. Could you close the bathroom door? Did you hit your knees on the shower door, or sink or RV cabinet?
- Can you stand up in the shower? Will you be able to wash your hair without banging walls? Can you reach your ankles without falling out of the shower? Is the showerhead convenient to reach? Where will you put your shower supplies?
- Lie on the bed. Was it long enough for you? Would you hit your head on something if you got up wrong? Is it possible to get up without disturbing a partner?
- Was the fridge, stovetop & sink proportionally spaced for cooking? Is the fridge too high? Too low? Did you bring some items to see how they fit in RV cupboards or camper fridge?
- If you’re looking at a model with slides did you put them in and out? When you travel the slides are in would that affect the things you thought you could pack? Would your RV still be functional if you couldn’t put the slides out?
- Was there a TV or entertainment area? Sit down for 10 minutes on a chair, couch or bench. Was it comfortable? Was it at a good viewing angle? Did your legs fall asleep?
- What about the exterior storage? Where they accessible for you? Was it a normal movement for you to access them? Did you hit your head on the storage door or slide above? Did you pinch your fingers holding it open?
- What about interior storage? Where cupboards and drawers in logical places? Did you bring a pan or other items to see how they fit? Where would cleaning supplies go? Where would a broom, mop or garbage can go? Where do band-aids, toilet paper & mouthwash go?
- Did you look for electrical outlets? Were there any on the same wall as the dining room table? Any near the couch or chairs? Were there any in the bedroom? Bathroom? Kitchen? Where will you plug in the laptops, cell phones, shaver, toaster, blender, electric toothbrush, alarm clock or TV?
- Where will you put the camera? The clothes? The food? Keys? Change? Lighters? Bug spray? Dog Food? Coats? Shoes? Fishing rods? Gas Cans? Sheets? Towels?
There are lots of things that can go into an RV and many more to personalize it, but all of those will be governed by what’s truly important to you. The type of RV life you want to live will determine your personal list of tests & questions.
Buying an RV.
I haven’t mentioned price at all in this post because this is a guide on how to buy an RV, and because what I think is cheap or expensive may be different than what you think is cheap or expensive. But this wouldn’t be much of a guide to buying an RV if we didn’t talk about the cost of an RV or where to buy an RV. For me personally, I’ve never bought a brand new RV. I’ve purchased every one of my RVs off craigslist, and two of them I hopped on a 1-way flight to go buy. I’ll browse rvtrader or some of the other RV websites out there, but 90% of the listings are dealerships trying to sell trade-ins or last years inventory at prices I don’t consider deals. In fact campers on RVtrader are usually marked up by as much as 50%!!!! I bought a Class C RV in Virginia for $4200 that was listed for $9,900 on RV trader; just saying.
Craigslist, on the other hand, is a double-edged catch 22 sword. Half the listings on their people don’t know what they have and are just giving them away. While others have so much sentimental attachment they value them galaxies above what they are worth. Then you have the whole unknown of how did they take care of their camper or maintain their RV. Craigslist creates another set of concerns when buying an RV, and the best RV advice I can give you is be very proactive, observant & inquisitive. But trust me there are some crazy amazing deals on Craigslist.
I scored a $100,000 RV for less than the cost of a flight from NY to Paris. A lady in San Francisco who was all set to sign papers and buy an RV from a dealership in CA when she found the exact same RV in Montana for $28,000 less! I know a friend that scored a $50,000 travel trailer for the cost of a shitty one because the owner was going through a spiteful divorce and didn’t have a truck anymore. There are some amazing deals on craigslist, but there’s always an RV deal on craigslist so don’t rush into anything. You could set up a business flipping RVs from Craigslist if you wanted. There’s always a deal and sometimes its flight away, but THERE’S ALWAYS A DEAL!!
When you’re buying an RV off of Craigslist do your research, do your due diligence, ask your questions & reach out to RV forums. Make sure you know more about what you’re buying then the guy selling it. When people ask me for advice on buying an RV off of Craigslist. The first thing I ask them is, “Did you do your homework?”
When you’re buying an RV from a dealership your concerns are features & amenities, but when you’re buying an RV from Craigslist you need to be concerned with its past as well as your desires. Most of the time you can define its past from its price point.
Buying an RV for under $3,000 may or may not be a massive project. It may just be old, but reliable. On the other hand, it may leak when it rains or require a transmission to be rebuilt. There’s a lot of good quality reliable used RVs at this price point, but there is also a lot of project RVs at this price point. When buying an RV for under $7,500, but above $3,000 you better know more about what you’re buying then the guy selling it. This RV price range attracts everything and everyone. From massive money pit RV projects to amazing deals this price range has it all.
Buying an RV for over $7,500 you will find fairly modern, well taken care of and reliable motorhomes. Most RVs in this price point are being sold to get something bigger or liquidate assets. Anything over $20,000 should be in perfect working order. Your only concern should be features and amenities instead of its past at this price point.
Buying an RV Guide
I’m sure when you started reading this “how to buy an RV guide” you didn’t think it was going to take an hour to read or be more focused on makes & models. Instead of a process of questions and methods. Maybe you thought I was going to break down all the amenities and features of the RV world, but if you give a man a fish he eats for one day. If you teach a man to fish he eats for life. I hope that when you’re buying an RV you realize the best RV advice anyone could give you is to ask questions. Even after you buy your RV ask questions. RV owners are a friendly bunch, and they love to showcase their knowledge.
The internet is filled with information and RV groups to answer your questions. Facebook has tons of private RV groups that are focused on specifics like brand, age or even location. Some RV manufacturers even have ambassador programs where owners have agreed to share their experience of a particular make & model over the phone or in a personal meetup. Simply call the factory to inquire if they have any ambassadors near you, or if they even had an ambassador program. Not all manufacturers have an ambassador program, but the big boys of the industry do.
It’s finally time to head out to the dealership or open up the internet and wrap things up. It’s time to buy the right RV for you! You’ve done your homework. Answered the questions. Taken possible suspects out for a test run. You aware of how to find alternatives for a better price, and what each price point generally means. You won’t have any nagging doubts about your choice. It won’t matter if a new model is released after your purchase. You won’t be anticipating the release of next year’s model. You’ll feel good about buying an RV within your budget with your wants and needs on board. Which is what I hope we accomplished with this RV buying guide.