Whether you want to explore national parks or wish to brave the wilderness for some boondocking, RV life has an unmistakable draw. But, it’s important to understand how to buy an RV and prepare for the RV lifestyle to avoid biting off more than you can chew.
Up next, you’ll find details on everything you need to know about how to buy an RV – from planning for your purchase to hitting the road on your first RV trip. Consider the following eight tips as you compare models from the best RV brands to find the right rig for your situation.
1. Set Your Goals And Budget
If you’re wondering how to buy an RV, the first step is to set your goals and your budget. Why do you want to get an RV? Are you going to be RVing full-time or just on the weekends? What kinds of appliances and amenities do you want?
As you answer these questions, it’s also important to set a realistic budget. When you go to dealerships and RV shows, you might be dazzled with top models and state-of-the-art capabilities. Try to keep emotion out of the shopping process and stick to a budget and finance plan that you can afford long-term.
Keep in mind that the price tag is not the only thing you’ll pay when you buy an RV. To have a fulfilling RV travel lifestyle, you should be confident you can handle breakdowns, maintenance, and upgrades.
What To Know Before Buying An RV
As you educate yourself on how to buy an RV, get familiar with performing maintenance and repairs. These may include trailer lights, basic plumbing systems, electrical systems, and interior and exterior trim. Expect to make repairs even in the first year. Also, be aware that RVs cost more to own over time than cars and trucks.
How Much Does It Cost To Buy An RV?
Entry-level travel trailers can start at $10,000, while fifth-wheel trailers generally start at around $25,000. Motorized Class B and C RVs can start at around $60,000, while a mid-tier Class A motorhome can cost $100,000 or more. A new Class A diesel pusher can have a price tag of more than $200,000, and luxury RVs sometimes exceed $300,000 in cost.
How Much Does An RV Cost To Own?
You should expect to spend at least $1,000 on tools, spare parts, and accessories after you purchase your first RV. In addition to monthly payments on a loan, you should also budget $500 to $1,000 per month on average to pay for storage, repairs, camping and park fees, upgrades, gas, maintenance, insurance, and occasional renovations.
2. Decide If You Want A New Or Used RV
Once your budget is set, decide if you want to shop for a new or used RV. Both options have pros and cons, so let’s take a closer look.
New RV Pros And Cons
A brand-new RV hasn’t been used or lived in, which means you don’t have to worry about wear and tear on its different systems. Of course, buying a new RV is more expensive than buying a used one. You’ll spend even more if you work with the manufacturer to customize the right RV for you. It may be worth it, though, to create the perfect RV that checks all your boxes.
Keep in mind that new RVs don’t necessarily have fewer problems than well-maintained used RVs. It’s just the nature of RV life that you’ll come across problems occasionally.
Used RV Pros And Cons
The main benefit of buying a used RV is money savings. You can embark on the RV lifestyle with much less capital. Depreciation is highest in the first year of ownership, which means you can find a lightly-used RV at a reasonable price.
Even so, you can never know the history of a used RV with 100 percent certainty. Some wear and tear from prior use is inevitable. If you buy from someone on Craigslist or another private owner, consider having the RV professionally inspected before purchase.
What To Look For When Buying Used
When shopping for a used RV, take a good look at the following:
- Axles: Axles should curve slightly upward when the RV is unloaded. If they are straight across, that’s a sign that overloading happened in the past.
- Frame: Check for areas of rust and make sure the frame looks straight.
- Water damage: Look inside and out around seals, windows, doors, plumbing fixtures, and slides. Push on the walls for mushiness. Watch out for delamination on the outside and warped or bubbly fiberglass panels.
- Roof: Get on the roof or take a video of it to check for cracks.
- Electrical: Check switches, plugs, appliances, lights, and the breaker box.
- Appliances: Assess the functionality of the air conditioner, water heater, refrigerator, stove, heating systems, and other appliances.
Remember, it’s like a home on wheels. RVs have almost as many systems as a home, so be sure to make sure everything works.
Watch Out For The 10-Year Rule
If you’re buying a used RV, keep in mind that many RV parks and campgrounds have a 10-year rule. This means it’s harder to get a reservation for an RV that is more than 10 years old.
You can still find places to park your RV, but you’ll likely have to reach out to the park host beforehand and send photos of your rig. If it’s in good condition, the host is likely to let you stay. But if it looks old and worn, you might be asked to reserve a spot elsewhere.
How To Buy An RV From A Private Seller With A Loan
Make sure you trust the seller and perform an inspection of the RV. If you want to take out a loan, give the inspection results to the bank as you apply. If the seller already has a loan on the RV, you’ll have to get an exact payoff amount. Meet them at their bank to pay off the loan and secure the title.
3. Choose Your RV Type And Floor Plan
There are many different types of RVs and floor plans from which to choose. After you set your budget and decide if you want a new or used RV, look into these options next. Choosing a size and style is a big part of how to buy an RV.
RV Vs. Camper
The biggest difference between RVs and campers is that you drive some types of RVs, whereas you can only tow campers. RVs come in three classes: A, B, and C. Campers can include travel trailers, fifth wheels, and truck bed pop-ups. In the broadest sense, all of these are recreational vehicles.
|Type of RV||Size||Motorized||Appearance|
|Class A||25.0 to 45.0 feet||Yes||Looks like a big bus with a flat front|
|Class B||17.0 to 24.0 feet||Yes||Built on a van chassis and looks like a tall van|
|Class C||20.0 to 30.0 feet||Yes||Has a truck cab separate from living space behind and over the cab|
|Fifth Wheel||25.0 to 45.0 feet||No||Front hitch sits inside pickup truck bed|
|Travel Trailer||13.0 to 40.0 feet||No||Can be a small teardrop shape or a giant 40-foot RV|
|Truck Camper||6.0 to 8.0+ feet||No||Can fit snugly in a truck bed or pop up and expand out with slides|
Which RV Is Right For You?
Do you want a motorized or non-motorized option? This is one of the most important questions in how to buy an RV. If you’re going to tow your RV, the tow vehicle you have will dictate the maximum size and weight you can tow. RVs usually specify the dry weight, but you have to take into account the weight of the RV with all of your equipment, accessories, and baggage.
The Class A motorhome is the biggest of the bunch. It’s the best option if you want all the comforts of home and plan on living in the RV full-time. Many Class As come with one or multiple slides that can expand the living space inside. Of course, nicer Class A models can cost as much as a small home, so that’s something to keep in mind.
The Class B camper van is a good choice for a couple or small family looking to have more weekend getaways and road trips. Class B RVs usually have wet baths, which means the toilet and sink are located inside the shower stall. Although you lose space, you gain driveability.
This is the most common type of motorized RV. It has a truck-style cab that is separate from the living area behind it, which includes an above-cab bunk or storage area. Class C RVs are easier to drive than Class As and offer more space and amenities than Class Bs.
Fifth wheels are towable RVs that can be almost as long as Class A models. They come in a range of sizes and layouts. The hitch that connects a fifth-wheel RV to a truck sits inside the truck bed. This offers better stability while driving and also makes it easier to maneuver around corners. Fifth wheels can handle more weight than travel trailers and are taller both inside and outside.
Many first-time RVers choose to go with a travel trailer. You can simply hook one of these up to the hitch below your truck’s bumper and hit the road. Travel trailers can be tiny teardrop models, small RVs, or huge toy haulers with space for your ATV. They can also range from $10,000 to $100,000 or more in price. Keep in mind that your options are limited by your vehicle’s towing capacity.
A truck camper sits squarely in the bed of your pickup truck. You can choose between hardtop models or pop-up campers that expand with soft walls or tents. You can also get models with slides that expand out the sides or back.
Popular RV Floor Plans
When choosing a floor plan, consider the importance you give to entertainment, sleeping, cooking, and bath facilities. Do you want to cook gourmet meals no matter where you are? Or, do you prefer to fit as many nieces and nephews on board as possible? Here are a few popular floor plans that apply to larger trailers and RVs.
- Rear bedroom
- Front bedroom
- Rear kitchen
- Opposing slideouts
- Rear toy hauler
- Rear entertainment
4. Shop Manufacturers And RV Models In Your Budget
Now that you have an idea of the type of RV you want to buy and some other basics on how to buy an RV, you can compare similar manufacturers and models within your budget.
This is the time when you’ll go visit RV dealerships and RV shows. Plan on spending at least a few months seeing RVs in person. Don’t feel obligated to stick to one dealership right from the beginning, either. Compare all the options you have on the market.
While shopping for manufacturers, do some research into the company’s final inspection process. Some but not all manufacturers are known for having a great inspection process before the RV hits the market.
What Is The Best RV To Buy?
There is no one “best RV” since needs and budgets vary by the shopper. That said, the Forest River Georgetown 7 Series 32J7 is a leading Class A option, having won a Type A Gas Motorhome Of The Year award from RV News. Beyond that, the Leisure Travel Serenity is a good Class B option, and the Gulf Stream Coach Conquest is a solid pick for Class C.
What Is The Best Travel Trailer To Buy?
The Grand Design Reflection fifth wheel is a solid selection with modern interior styling. Another great choice is the Winnebago Hike, which won a top-10 award for 2021 from RVBusiness and starts at under $30,000.
5. Choose Your Ideal Dealership
Along with shopping for the manufacturer and model, the process for how to buy an RV involves finding your ideal dealership. After all, there’s a good chance you’ll have to go back to the dealer for repairs at some point.
If you’re going to be on the road full-time, you might want to choose a nationwide dealer with hundreds of locations. On the other hand, you can go with a dealer close to your house if you are just planning on using the RV for short camping trips.
When looking for the right dealer, consider how the company treats its customers. Read reviews about service and repair after purchase, not just the buying process.
Also, check into the dealer’s RV delivery process. Some companies provide a detailed tutorial of your RV and allow you to stay in your RV on their lot for a night, while others only offer a short walk-through and send you on your way.
6. Negotiate Price And Buy Your RV
Negotiate the price down as far as you can, especially for new RVs. Salespeople expect to negotiate in this business. If you’re looking at a $40,000 RV, a discount of $1,000 or $2,000 off the price isn’t very big. Don’t be afraid to negotiate for a good discount or walk away and compare prices from other dealers, too.
After you settle on a price, you’ll make a payment with cash or through a dealer or bank loan and then sign the paperwork. At this point, you’ll set a delivery date for picking up the RV. This can be a month or more after signing. Alternatively, if you bought a used model, you can drive it off the lot after purchase.
It’s important to know you can’t use an auto loan to finance an RV. Instead, you have these options:
- Personal loan
- RV loan from a bank or online lender
- RV loan from a large dealership
A personal loan may be the easiest option for a low-cost RV since you can probably get one at your bank. Banks and online lenders also offer RV-specific financing options, but you’ll need a credit score of about 700 to avoid using your RV as collateral on the loan. You’ll also need to put between 10 and 20 percent down to secure one of these loans.
Some large RV dealers have their own finance departments with varying credit requirements. It’s important to consider the total cost of financing the RV with each option available to you. Compare interest rates and term lengths to find the best deal.
7. Prepare Yourself (And Your Wallet) For RV Life
When considering how to buy an RV, keep in mind it is not like buying a car. When you get a new or barely used car, you don’t expect to do much maintenance in the first few years besides changing the oil and filter. This is not the case with an RV.
Think about it: An RV is built for someone to drive it down the highway at 70 miles per hour. It’s like a home that endures regular earthquakes. Things are bound to break, even in the first year.
Factories make RVs largely by hand but not in a boutique or luxury way (for the most part). Walls can be an inch-and-a-half thick. Small screws that hold up trim pieces come loose from vibration. Electrical connections can jostle apart over time.
This is not a bug but a feature. RVs need to be light to be towable or driveable with your things inside. They are sturdy to a point but don’t expect to go a year or two without issues. The good news is that most of the issues you’ll encounter are minor or cosmetic. With a bit of knowledge and elbow grease, you can have a rewarding life with your new RV.
Don’t Go Back To The Dealer For Repairs Unless It’s Necessary
If you have a serious problem with the electrical system or drivetrain, go back to your dealer and have some warranty work done. But try to fix small electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and cosmetic issues on your own if you can. Dealers usually have a backlog of RVs they are servicing, and parts are often back-ordered. It can take weeks or even months for the shop to get to your repair.
This is why it’s so important to have some basic knowledge of mechanical and electrical repair, plus all the tools necessary. And if you’re RVing far away from civilization, you don’t want to make the trek into town if you can avoid it.
RV Must-Haves For Newbies
From emergency preparedness to electrical maintenance, a wide range of must-haves are necessary for RV newbies. Below is a non-exhaustive list of items to get you started. Keep in mind that you should have everything you need to survive in your RV and fix mechanical problems.
- General items: Mechanics tools, impact drivers, household tool set, wheel stabilizers, caulk, sealants, glue, tape, assorted screws
- Electrical: RV system surge protector, assorted power cords, extra fuses for your RV and truck, extra bulbs for brake and sidelights
- Emergency: Traffic cones, assorted batteries, tie-downs, multitool, water purification tablets, flashlights, safety vest, fire extinguisher, emergency weather alert radio
- Plumbing and water: Holding tank treatment, sewer hose supports, extra gaskets and nozzles, gloves, water softener
The type of insurance RV buyers must purchase depends on the type of RV they choose. States require motorized RVs to have the same coverage as other vehicles on the road. The most common requirements are bodily injury and property damage liability insurance, while some states can also require uninsured motorist coverage or medical coverage.
You also have the option of getting full coverage insurance by adding collision and comprehensive insurance. These options protect your RV if you are the one who causes an accident or if you run into a stationary object.
If you have a trailer, fifth wheel, or camper, you can acquire specialized RV insurance from large companies such as Geico. Different options can cover your RV against damage on the road or from environmental events. However, states don’t require a minimum type of coverage for towable RVs.
RV insurance costs vary significantly. You might find RV insurance to be cheaper or more expensive than a standard auto insurance policy.
8. Take Delivery Of Your RV Purchase
After all the research, negotiating, preparing, and waiting, you can finally go to the delivery location and pick up your RV. Most dealers will spend a bit of time with you and walk you through the features of your RV. Take this time to do a full inspection of every switch, appliance, light, and fixture.
When a dealer sells a new RV, they often have a punch list of items to accomplish before handing over the keys. This may include fixing slight defects from the factory or doing small customizations for the customer.
We recommend you do not pick up your RV before the punch list is complete. The dealer may call you and say they are just waiting on one small part but that you could come and take the RV anyway.
Don’t do it. Once you drive the RV off the lot, it’s much harder to get the rig back in for timely service. The salesperson may not honor the entire punch list, either. It’s best to wait until the dealer completes the list before taking delivery of the RV.
When it comes to how to buy an RV, there’s only so much you can learn from reading or watching videos. If you have your finances in order and purchase the necessary tools and equipment, you’ll learn along the way how to get the best out of your new RV.