1. What type of RV are you looking for?
During the research phase, you will need to figure out what kind of RV you want, what type is in your budget and how you want to travel. First things first, what type of RV are you looking for? It’s important to know that there are a few types of RVs, all with their corresponding pros and cons. When it comes to types of RVs, there are two main categories: motorhomes and trailers.
Motorhomes: Motorhomes are considered the drivable RVs. Motorhomes are classified as either Class A: the flat-fronted, bus option; Class B: similar to a large van; and Class C: often built on extended truck frames with a loft above the driver and passenger seats. Motorhomes are great because you always have access to everything, even while driving. However, with a motorhome, you may have to tow an extra car, maintain two engines (RV and car) and they typically have a higher price point, depending on the model and size.
Trailers: If you are looking for a trailer, the two most common types are bumper pull trailers and fifth-wheel trailers. A bumper pull trailer is attached to the bumper of your truck or SUV, and uses a two-inch hitch and ball. These trailers can range from small teardrop campers weighing less than 2,500 pounds to 30+ foot campers weighing over 10,000 pounds. Fifth-wheel trailers are attached with a hitch installed in the bed of your truck. These, like bumper pulls, have a wide variation in size and weight. Trailers offer a lower price point because they do not have an engine to maintain, but you could be stuck driving a big truck around town, even when not towing (unless you choose to travel with two cars, and trust me, there are people who travel this way too).
2. What are some key features to look for?
When we were shopping for our first RV, we considered what we currently had in order to figure out what would work best for us. For example, we did not have a big truck or SUV that could tow a trailer, so we started looking into Class C motorhomes that could tow our small car. Not having to hitch and unhitch was also appealing because it meant we could get on the road and onto new adventures much quicker.
We also had to consider our passengers. Having kids and knowing the kind of travel we wanted to do (which, at the time, was just traveling over weekends and long holidays), we opted for a Coachmen Class C Freelander. This model had designated bunk beds for our boys and extra sleeping space for friends and visitors. The storage was also perfect for our family of four.
As you research, think about what features are important to you and how you will be using the RV. Do you have a large family or like to camp with a group of friends? Are you planning on working on the road? Do you always need a washer/dryer with you? We recommend separating your needs into three categories: must-haves, nice to haves and deal-breakers. Understanding these requirements will help you narrow down your search.
You may be completely overwhelmed with all of the options and have no idea what you are looking for yet, and that is okay! Like buying a house or a vehicle, there are so many options on the market to choose from. If this is you, we suggest grabbing your walking shoes and hitting up a few local RV shows or dealerships and seeing them in person. Not only is this fun for both the adults and the kids, but it also gives you a pretty good idea of the types of RVs out there.
3. Should you buy new or used?
When it comes to buying new or used, there are few variables that may determine what will work best for you. Budget is probably one of the biggest components to consider. And just like buying a car, there are a few areas of caution. When buying new, we suggest looking for dealerships that come recommended by family, friends or fellow RVers. However, if you decide to buy used, a private sale can save you a lot of money. For both new and used units, make sure to get the vehicle title during the sale. And definitely get the RV fully inspected by an RV tech or someone certified before making the final purchase. One of the biggest issues across many different RVs is water damage from leaking roofs. With an inspection before sale, you can avoid any potential water issues and save yourself the extra cash later.
4. What are some red flags to be aware of?
As mentioned above, water damage is a very common issue. As RVs age, and without regular maintenance, the roof seals can break down and allow water to get in. This can be expensive to fix if not caught in time and, additionally, can lead to health issues, like black mold. Soft spots in the floors and walls, and warped cabinetry, paint or wallpaper could all be signs of water damage. Be sure to open every cabinet and look under every mattress when you’re evaluating an RV. Even new RVs can be susceptible to water damage.
It is imperative that you also receive all legal paperwork and vehicle ownership documents necessary. Regardless if you are purchasing from a dealer or from a private sale, do some research in your state to know the expectations of what is needed for registration, insurance, different driver’s licenses, etc. Some states don't have titles on small trailers but others do. Some states require documents for vehicle registration that others may not. Also, your state may require a special driver’s license for a certain weight of RV. Joining online camping groups or local RV communities is a great way to speak with people who have gone through the process before and may be able to share helpful information.
5. What’s the deal with extended warranties?
Our final piece of advice pertains to extended warranties. Do you need one or should you pass on the extended warranty altogether? For us, we have always bought one, especially with our used RV. There are a few warranty options when buying from a dealer, but always research third-party options as well, as those may be a better fit. Purchasing an extended warranty outside of the dealership can sometimes be cheaper and provide a better service. If you join any RV memberships, such as FMCA, they often have partnerships with extended warranty companies and can provide member discounts.
Our final thoughts.
To wrap this up, buying an RV can feel a bit overwhelming. So, what we recommend—and what we have heard from other RVers—is to pick an RV that meets most of your needs. You may not find the perfect RV, but finding one that is suitable for your current arrangement and checks most of your boxes will get you on the road sooner rather than later. Choose a rig that you can start making memories in now. And then, once you have traveled and driven on the road for a little bit, you will have a pretty good idea of what you need or want in your next RV.