DIY RV Buyers Guide: Buy an RV for the Right Price for the Right Model

buy-a-rv-guide

Welcome to the DoItYourselfRV’s RV Buyers Guide. This guide is intended to be a ” how to buy an rv” resource for a RV newcomer or someone who hasn’t been through the process in a several years. I feel there is a shortage of unbiased(and thorough) resources available to sort out the principles of RV buying. Its not intended to cover everything you ever needed to know about RV’s, but to give you a foundation of understanding so you can move the needle substantially forward on your RV purchase decision. You will not find any brand recommendations or sales pitches here. Only the facts for which you can build an understanding and begin to make what will hopefully be a wildly enjoyable decision on how to spend either your free time or your retirement.

“Its like buying a car, only harder”

Harder in the sense that for most people this will be the second to third biggest purchase in their life after their home and car. Even more than the house in some cases! Regardless of the type or price of the RV there are other considerations that are not always unique to RV’s but certainly need to be considered. Aside from the asking price of an RV, its important to look at the “hidden” costs in addition to the sticker price:

  • Maintenance – The bigger the RV the more things that can go wrong! RV’s seem to require more maintenance than the average car. Unless your handy then this can be a considerable expense.
  • Insurance – The bigger the RV the bigger the bill for RV insurance. You will find that insurance will be more expensive than its passenger commuting counterpart.
  • Fuel/Oil - The RV world is still waiting on a Prius motorhome. Until then expect to get fuel economy between 8-20 MPG depending on the RV you choose.
  • Towing – If you will be towing either your RV or a vehicle behind your motorhome you need to consider if you have the vehicle or equipment to do so.
  • Place to Park Your New Ride – Many homeowner Associations don’t allow for RV’s or there is no space to store them. You may need to store them a at a fee elsewhere
  • Where will you Stay- Safe to assume that you may take your RV places that charge rent for you to stay at a RV park or Campground.
  • Meals – Will you have the option of making meals in your RV or will you have to eat out on your trips?
  • Connectivity – Mobile Internet (Our Guide), Wifi Booster, GPS, Satellite TV,  Netflix etc.  Are you interested in having these perks on the road?

Before you get started you may want to look over a Glossary of RV Terms

Step 1: Start Looking – Which Type of RV is Right for You?

In this section using the “Click to Reveal” link will show detailed information about that type of RV.

Class A Motorhome

Class A RV buying Guide
The class A is what most people think of when they hear the word motorhome. Class A motorhomes are generally the most popular, largest, self-contained, and full featured motorhomes available. They tend to have the look of a better equipped bus and typically come with a gas engine or a rear diesel engine (known as a diesel pusher).  Class A motorhome’s are manufactured by an array of companies and the configurations are endless.  You will find that all motorhomes are built upon a chassis that was originally designed for a bus or large truck.  The Class A style motorhome price range is a wide one. With new models starting around $60,000 and can get north of $1 Million.  It all depends how much you want your house on wheels to feel like home. The options on some models are quite literally endless. There are entertainment systems, lighting, custom cabinets, flooring, etc to choose from. You can expect 99% of them to come with a pair of captains chairs, living area, kitchen, bathroom, shower, and even a dining table. Many feature what is referred to as a “slide out” or “pop out”, which provides for extra living space that is created as the walls of the RV push out while parked. Modern motorhomes typically have at lease one and I have seen models that have as many as 5.  Class A’s offer some of the more generous storage options as many come with a RV basements that looks much like the luggage compartments at the base of buses. Great for storing all your necessities for life on the road.

Class B Motorhome (Camper Vans)

Class B RV buying Guide
A Class B motorhome is similar to the Class A only it is built using a full size van and specially designed for mobile living. You will find the Class B to be quite familiar in terms of handling and gas mileage to a conventional car or SUV. It can continue to be used as a family car which is one of the factors that people enjoy. Much like its larger cousin the Class A, some models still come with many of the creature comforts such as bathroom, television, kitchens, etc. The Class B is the smallest of the motorhome family but is still a great option for 2-3 people seeking better MPG, handling, and ways to navigate tight areas with ease.

Class C Motorhome

Class-C RV-buying-Guide-
The Class C motorhome is the offspring if Class A and Class B found love. Its a hybrid motorhome that tends to bring several of  the benefits of both. The feature that gets alot of press is the over cab sleeping area. Ironically many people just use it for storage.  Class C motorhomes usually come with gas engines and as you can see from the picture they have a van front end which is where the engine is housed.  Most of them are built on GM or Ford chassis but some manufacturers have started using big rig chassis (example) which make them look much different and they typically cater to the luxury RV crowd. The big rig Class C’s are also some of the best haulers available.  You will find that Class C’s vary in length from about 20ft to 40ft. The longer variations rivaling the Class A in terms of space and usability.  Newer Class C’s also incorporate slide outs which gives a little more room while parked. You will notice in general that the Class C motorhome tends to be tighter on space than a Class A but has much more than the Class B. The space over the cab is often ideal for families needing to maximize sleeping arrangements.  Many in this class will drive much like a large car or SUV but you do lose some cab function over the Class A, in particular the seats in the front of a Class A swivel to face the living are but you will find that most in the Class C arena do not which takes away from seating usability.

Travel Trailer

Travel-Trailer RV-buying-Guide

This option offers the most flexibility and is the most popular pick among tow able RV’s. They are available in an array of weight and lengths.  Chances are you may already own a vehicle that can tow one. Depending on the size, many can be towed by ordinary trucks, SUVs,  or even minivans.  One of the features that keeps the Travel Trailer popular is its lightweight, which is a boon for gas mileage. They vary in length from 12 feet to around 33 feet. The larger the trailer the more amentities and creature comforts become available. In turn the price can start on these around $7000 and creep up to around $50,000 for the larger variety with upscale options.

If you opt for a larger trailer you may need to upgrade your vehicle to accommodate the higher weight. You will find that the designs and features of a travel trailer can be very similar to the Class A and C motorhome at a fraction of the cost. One of the downsides to a travel trailer is no passengers are allowed in it during transit which is a huge benefit if your traveling with a family.

Advantages of a Travel Trailer vs Fifth Wheel: Less height for clearance, fits on a standard ball hitch, and can be attached and detached with ease.

Fifth-Wheel Trailer

Fifth Wheel RV buying Guide
Fifth Wheel travel trailers offer more living area for each foot of length when compared to other types of RV. These trailers have a gooseneck looking front end that connects to the bed of a truck when being towed. Many RV owners use traditional pickup trucks to pull them while others purchase larger flat bed trucks(MDT) and even tractor trailers (HDT). This added benefit of tow capacity and safety means that your vehicle to get around and explore will be a HUGE truck. The fifth wheel trailer traditionally features a split level floor plan that has the living are with extra space and the master bedroom up over the truck bed.

Many people go back and forth on whether a Class A motorhome or Fifth Wheel trailer is a better option. That debate will not be settled here, but it is good to know what other RV buyers consider. The consensus is that a fifth wheel trailer and a tow vehicle is generally cheaper to maintain, purchase, and service than a comparable sized motorhome.

You can find fifth wheel trailers in sizes from 25 feet to all the way above 45 feet. They come in a dizzying array of floor plans with all the modern amenities of home (if that is what you want)

Pop Up Camper (Folding Trailer or Fold Down Camper)

Fold Down Camper RV buying Guide

The runt of the litter also happens to be the most compact in size, lightest in weight(around 2500lbs), and the  lowest price entry point of any on the list.  You can own a folding trailer for as little as $3000.  They are remarkably easy to tow compared to the travel trailer and fifth wheel.  They also are the easiest to park. Once you arrive at your destination, in minutes the pop up camper transforms into a extravagant tent with a rigid skeleton. It offers a multiple beds as well as  showers, toilets, kitchen etc if you opt for the upgrades.  They come in lengths from 8ft (folded) to a max of 25 feet (unfolded)with an inside height of up to 8 feet depending on the model. Great all purpose camping RV. Designed mostly for weekend trips or occasional RV’ing. If your thinking of spending a lot of time in an RV this may not the best choice for you.

SURV Trailer (Toy Hauler)

Toy Hauler RV buying Guide

The SURV trailer  or Sport Utility RV are tow-able RV’s that generally offer a garage area in the back of the trailer (also offered as an option on Class A motorhomes). Designed for motor toys and personal water craft. This area can be separated from the rest of the RV by the use of a wall and door so that you can get into the garage without living the interior of the RV.

When the toys are removed this area can also be converted into a bedroom or for storage. Most feature a built in ramp that makes loading a breeze. Consider the extra weight of your toys and the capacity of your tow vehicle when considering this option.

Truck Camper

Truck-Camper-RV-buying-Guide-
A truck camper is a RV that fits in the bed of a truck and many times can be easily removed and used without the need for the truck. The truck camper is designed to fit in most standard truck bed sizes. Many truck camper buyers tend to be solo (or couples)travelers.

It is common to see a truck camper owner towing a trailer while carrying the camper in the truck bed. This allows for bringing along dirt bikes, utility vehicles, and many other items on your trip.Truck campers are very popular among the off-road crowd. Installing a one in the back off an off road truck ensures that your RV can go pretty much anywhere your truck can go. Though the living space is compact, they traditionally feature a toilet, shower, cooktop, and electrical system.

RV Buyers Guide: How to Buy a RV Tip

Hopefully you have a better idea what your looking for so you can start the search for your ideal RV.  Yet, the struggle often comes from the option of an engine and not the size. Please have a look at these articles if your wondering whether to choose a Motorhome or a Trailer.

  1. Motorhome vs Trailer
  2. How To Choose The Best RV For You: Trailer vs. Motorhome
  3. RVers CHOICE: MOTORHOME OR TRAILER?
  4. Motor homes vs trailers
Where to Look?
  • Rv Shows – A great place to explore all the options and see for your self not only the different models but speak with representatives from manufacturers and other RV’ers. Visit this link to see if there are any shows near you.
  • RV Dealers – Find a dealer near you. Just like a car shopping be sure to take your time and if you feel pressured rest assured there is another dealer close by that probably wont make you feel that way. Be sure to take a look at something like this preference worksheet to get an idea of the type of things dealers are looking for to help assist you.
  • Contact Manufacturers - Offers to search by name or type of RV. Offers phone, address and website information.
  • Online – There are many resources online. Click a button or link below to see the sites that have simple functionality and are easy to navigate.

RV Review Websites:
What should you be looking for:
  • Type of RV you like
  • Floorplan (Harder than you may think)
  • Storage (Do you travel light or do you need ladders, tools, plates, towels, etc)
  • Options (What do you want in your RV-Microwave? Beds? TV?)
  • Fuel Economy
  • Livability and Usability (How often will you be using the RV)

How to Buy a RV at the Right Price and Develop a RV Budget

One of the most important considerations that you should go over in detail is your budget for your RV. Its vital to figure out how much you can afford to spend on your RV and also how much you can afford to spend monthly on your RV including all the related expenses (fuel, storage, maintenance, etc)

1. Amount you have to spend or “Total Available Cash”

Total Available cash is made up of two things:

  • The cash your RV payment will buy you.
  • Any money you contribute to a down payment.

Use the calculator at the link below to determine your “Total Available Cash”.

        Available Cash Calculator from dcu.org

If you don’t spend more than your Total Available Cash you should be very comfortable as long as your assumptions on what you could afford are reasonable. This will keep you in a much better situation and avoid financial woes over your RV because you overspent.

2. Related Expenses (as covered earlier in the article)
  • Maintenance – The bigger the RV the more things that can go wrong! RV’s seem to have more issues than the average car. Unless your handy then this can be a considerable expense.
  • Insurance – The bigger the RV the bigger the bill for RV insurance. You will find that insurance will be more expensive than its passenger commuting counterpart.
  • Fuel/Oil – The RV world is still waiting on a Prius motorhome. Until then expect to get fuel economy between 8-20 MPG depending on the RV you choose.
  • Towing – If you will be towing either your RV or a vehicle behind your motorhome you need to consider if you have the vehicle or equipment to do so.
  • Place to Park Your New Ride – Many homeowner Associations don’t allow for RV’s or there is no space to store them. You may need to store them a at a fee elsewhere
  • Where will you Stay- Safe to assume that you may take your RV places that charge rent for you to stay at an RV park or Campground.
  • Meals - Will you have the option of making meals in your RV or will you have to eat out on your trips?
  • Connectivity – Mobile Internet (Our Guide), Wifi Booster, GPS, Satellite TV,  Netflix etc.  Are you interested in having these perks on the road?

RV Buyers Guide: How to Buy a RV Tip: Be sure to consider all of these things in relation to the RV your choosing to be confident that you wont put yourself under financial strain after your purchase.

The Age Old Question: New or Used RV?

A highly debated question and one that this RV Buyers Guide will not put to rest. This controversy will live on long after you have made your decision. You can find discounts and great deals on used as well as new RV’s. Sometimes the best places to look  are for new RV’s that are a year old.

Used

The advantage of buying a Used RV is most often the price. Autos and RVs share this characteristic as they start depreciating as soon as you leave the RV Dealers lot. Many people find the used RV to be a far better value but they also could bring higher maintenance costs and could be more difficult to finance. There is a HUGE used RV market as many RV’ers trade in their RV’s for newer models every few years.  Unfortunately regardless of price , with a used RV you never know what it has been through. Be it bumpy roads, water damage, or infrequent maintenance; the person before you could have traded this RV due to any array of undesirable reasons.

Further Used RV Purchasing Resource: What to look for when buying a used RV.

New

Getting a brand spanking new RV typically means you will have less maintenance issues initially and you will also receive some type of warranty from the manufacturer of the RV.  The downside to purchasing new is that RV’s tend to depreciate at a more rapid pace than cars. I cant argue however with the fact there is something special about driving off the lot with a brand new RV that is yours and yours alone. But used RV’s allow for the previous buyers to take the hit on the depreciation allowing you to get more bang fo your buck when you make your decision.

Further Thoughts and Information on this issue:

http://www.rversonline.org/ArtNewUsedRV.html

Pricing Guides

RV Values: How Much Is My RV Worth for Trade In, Used and New

National Automotive Dealers Association (NADA)

Comments

  1. Robert Genn says

    Could you go into the safety ratings some? I understand that there is a lot to consider with the class A for instance. Thanks for all the good info.

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