Buying An RV: 5 Tips For Purchasing An RV
When it comes to RV tips and hacks, starting off on the right path is essential.
It can be a little intimidating when buying an RV the first time … I know it was for us!
We looked at pop-up campers and travel trailers till we were dreaming about them in our sleep!
Now, we are in the early stages of purchasing our fifth RV because life is changing and so are our needs.
This time the buying process is fun and we are excited about the next chapter in our RVing life!
Psst we’re compensated…see our disclosures.
5 Tips For Buying An RV
Buying an RV is an easy process and can actually be fun IF you start by answering 5 simple questions!
#1. WHO – Who will be using your RV?
You will need sleeping, storage and living space for the people and pets who will be using your RV.
- Single person
- Pets (don’t forget they need to eat, sleep, bathe and go potty too. Personally, finding a good place for our kitty litter box is one of our on-going challenges … no matter which RV we have at the moment.)
- Guests, how often will they visit and how long will they be staying in your RV?
We have a post that is filled with camping storage ideas that will help you to answer the question about who will be using your RV and how storage space is impacted by your RV buying decision.
#2. WHAT – What do you plan to do in your RV?
Camping, traveling or living? Camping on weekends, vacationing road trips, seasonal living, full time living … you need to really understand how you plan to use your RV because these things matter:
- Refrigerator/freezer and closet/drawer storage space
- Connectivity for internet and TV
- Full functioning kitchen or BBQ grilling and campfire cooking
- Fresh and waste water capacity
- Electrical capacity of batteries (and if you need solar panels or a generator)
- Towable or driveable (if you buy a Class A or Class C, once you arrive at your RV camping destination, will you need a vehicle or do you plan on using an alternative mode of transportation to get around?)
- Security and structural soundness. If you are traveling alone or with valuables, you will want a sturdy RV that protects you from the elements and the bad guys. Check out our tips on camping security for more help.
- Do you plan to travel a lot or typically stay in one location? Generally speaking, the “bigger” the RV, the easier it is to setup and teardown. If you want to push a button to extend your electric slides and awnings, you need to know that. Smaller campers usually require more manual work to set up … like our hybrid that I will talk more about in a minute.
Personally, we like camping in remote areas where we are self-contained … so … we have portable solar panels that provide an on-going supply of power to our RV batteries to meet our power needs.
#3. WHERE – Where do you plan to take your RV?
Where you go with your new RV plays a role in the type of RV that is best for you. Consider these things:
- RV parks with no size limitations and full hookups
- National Parks and older campgrounds with size limitations and no hookups
- Boondocking on rough roads without any services
We save A LOT of money and avoid a lot of crowds by dodging campgrounds and RV parks … choosing to stay in free camping locations instead.
We like boondocking because we are not on a schedule and we can always find a spot that is beautiful and quite.
You will see what that “looks like” later in this post as I discuss our “Must List” we are using as we shop for our next RV.
#4. WHEN – When will you be using your RV?
Most RVs are notorious for having very little insulation … whatever the weather is outside … it is almost the same as the weather inside!
- How often do you plan on traveling, for what duration, in which climates, during what times of year?
- Summer heat with need of air conditioning?
- Winter cold with need for heater and polar package? Even in the warmest climates, most RVs are not equipped for winter living. Here in Phoenix, we see Snowbirds buying space heaters just to stay comfortable when the overnight temperatures drop.
If you are buying an RV to use in cold climates, you should check out our Winter RV Camping Tips post for more information.
#5. WHY – Why are you buying an RV and how are you paying for it?
Some people hate talking about money when it comes to buying an RV but it is necessary to consider it in your decision making process. Ask yourself these questions:
- Will this RV be a toy/hobby? Do you need to calculate how much it costs to take it out 3 times a year? That is a different calculation than living in it full time and replacing a house payment with a vehicle payment and house insurance with vehicle insurance.
- How many years do you expect to own the RV you are buying?
- Financing an RV or paying cash? Know your budget and understand that RVs are just like any other vehicle … they depreciate. Brand new RVs take a price hit as soon as you drive off the dealer’s lot. Used RVs can save money if they are in good condition BUT it is not always easy to find a clean, well maintained used one with the exact features you have on your “Must List” so you might have to be a little flexible.
- Consider acquisition and operating costs. For example, diesel pusher motorhomes are substantially more expensive to purchase than an equivalent motorhome with a gas powered engine. The fuel economy between both rigs may be similar, but the diesel pusher will handle steep grades more effectively than its gas powered cousin. You need to determine which RV will be most cost effective in the long run based on your travel needs.
Our personal experience: the first RV we bought was a used hybrid trailer … the one you see pictured in our last minute camping post.
If we camped in cold weather, we would keep the sides stowed to try to keep some heat in the camper and we made the table into a bed for sleeping.
It was cramped, small and uncomfortable … even with only two of us. My husband and I are tall people … but … even if we were short, I don’t think it would have been much better.
Even though this trailer was definitely an upgrade from a tent … it was not like a regular RV … but that was one thing I really LIKED about it.
I still felt like we were “camping” in the woods with the screened sides.
BUT, on one really rainy camp trip, the canvas sides were not able to keep out the heavy rain … our bedding got soaked and we were freezing.
After that trip, we carried extra tarps and heavy moving blankets to throw over the top of the canvas sides when the weather was cold or wet.
It was a nice starter RV that we could pull with our Honda Ridgeline.
Eventually, we upgraded to a regular travel trailer and a Ford F350 diesel truck.
If you are buying an RV for the first time, you should check out our post: RVing Tips For Beginners: Enjoying The Maiden Journey that has lots of information to help you have a totally successful first trip in your new RV!
I Don’t Want To Discourage You!
Buying an RV can feel overwhelming … but it does not have to be.
We absolutely LOVE camping in our RV and I want other people to have the same love of the experience that we do.
I share our personal experiences so other people can learn from our adventures … the good … the bad … and the ugly.
If you know what you want … great.
If you don’t know what you want … it is probably best to rent before you buy. I’ll talk more about that in a bit.
Tips For Buying An RV That Is Right For You
Once you answer the 5 W’s about buying an RV, it’s time to do some research. The easiest way to know your options is to visit RV shows and dealerships.
Create a “Must List” To Purchase An RV
Take notes and create a “Must List” which should include features you MUST HAVE and those you MUST NOT HAVE in your RV.
We are currently in the research process of buying an RV we plan to live in during the summer months.
We are going from the travel trailer weekend camping/annual vacation stage of our RV life … and … moving into the 5th wheel semi-full time, seasonal aspect of RVing.
(We are going to use it like a mobile cabin in the summer and commute to work from the mountains because it is just too hot here in Phoenix in August LOL).
Here is an example of my personal “Must List” which will give you an idea of the types of things to consider when making your own list.
- Must be able to make the bed while standing next to it (bed must not be immediately next to a wall so I have to sit on top of it in order to put sheets on it)
- Refrigerator/Freezer must be able to run on propane and electric … and large enough to handle meals for 2 weeks
- Living space must have a lot of windows
- Interior and exterior storage must be abundant enough for seasonal living
- Must be able to access bathroom and refrigerator when slides are in
- Floor plan layout must have acceptable space to permanently store kitty litter box
- Fresh and wastewater capacity must be sufficient for 2 weeks of boondocking
- Flooring must have minimal carpet, preferably none
- If fifth wheel, length must not exceed 35 feet, preferably 30 feet
- The RV’s specifications must not exceed the towing capacity of our current towing vehicle
- Can be a new one (but does not have to be) if we find a clean used RV that has been well maintained
Considerations When Buying An RV
Consider the pros and cons of buying an RV that is new versus one that is used.
PROS to buying an RV that is NEW
- Get exactly the features you want in your new RV
- Warranty/service plan
- Latest technology
- No hidden wear and tear or damage
- Convenience of shopping
PROS to buying an RV that is USED
- Not afraid to put the “first scratch” on it
- Modifications previous owner paid for
- Lower purchase cost/depreciation hit already taken
- Lower insurance costs
- No sales tax in states that charge it (if purchased from a private seller)
CONS to buying an RV that is NEW
- Higher purchase cost/depreciation hit
- Higher insurance costs
- Sales tax in states that charge it and dealer fees
CONS to buying an RV that is USED
- Possible hidden wear and tear or damage
- No warranty/service plan and expensive repairs
- Inconvenient shopping, various dealerships and private sellers
Rent Before Buying An RV
If you have the opportunity to rent or borrow before buying an RV, you should take it!
There is no better way to determine what you like and hate about an RV than actually using it.
People are different and their needs are different … here is our personal example.
We rented a Class C Motorhome years ago and I’m soooooo glad we did! We decided we would NEVER want to buy one because of how we used the vehicle.
We had 2 couples staying in it for a 10-day vacation where we visited 3 National Parks (Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion).
We traded beds in the middle of the trip so one couple did not get stuck in the “coffin bed” above the cab for the entire trip.
My husband and I were in the “coffin bed” first … it was terrible.
BUT, halfway through the trip when it was time to switch beds, we were disappointed in the main queen bed too.
It was jammed in the corner of the RV.
It was next to impossible to make the bed AND I had to crawl over my husband in the middle of the night to use the restroom.
The refrigerator was too small to accommodate food for the entire trip so we had to use coolers for additional cold storage.
Because we “live outside” when we are camping, we didn’t care too much about the interior layout for sitting or eating inside … UNLESS … it was raining, windy, hot or cold and we needed a place to take cover.
Luckily, we had great weather for most of the trip because the interior of this rental did not comfortably accommodated all of us.
In fact, we decided it was not comfortable enough for a single couple that camps the way we do.
See what I mean … people are different and their needs are different.
Buying an RV is a very personal exercise.
Mistakes When Buying Recreational Vehicles
The single biggest mistake people make when buying an RV is getting overly excited and making a purchase out of impulse rather than out of logic.
The second biggest mistake is not “really” knowing what you really “want” and “need” before purchasing an RV.
Attending an RV show is great because you can easily compare floor plans for the type of RVs you are considering.
You can walk through them and feel the difference between a travel trailer and class A motorhome.
You can also talk with RV full timers who have valuable experience you can’t find anywhere else.
You will be able to find the perfect RV but make sure you don’t get trapped by the single biggest mistake we mentioned above … DON’T cave to the “the show price goes away tomorrow” line when considering an RV from a dealer at a show.
Take your time to make the right decision … it is your hard-earned money you are spending.
Buy An RV That Is Right For You
So, take your time … do your homework … sleep on it … and when it comes time to pull the trigger to buy your RV, you’ll be level-headed and won’t regret your decision.
Then, you will enjoy every trip in your RV rather than saying “I wish I would have known this before buying an RV!”
We’ve been RVing for a long time and have accumulated tons of camping tips we like to share!
Let us know if you have any tips you’d like to share with us by leaving a comment below.
And, don’t accidentally damage one of the easiest things to overlook on your new RV. See how to keep RV awnings from flapping in the wind and rain with this really simply DIY hack!
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