How to Buy an RV: What You Need to Consider

Traveling in your very own RV is a dream for many people.  Having the freedom to drive the open road, stopping off here and there to explore, is the ultimate way to experience the country.  But before you jump into buying an RV, there are some things you should first consider – especially if you have never owned or driven an RV before!  From our experience growing up with RVs and buying our own RV, here is our top advice for people wanting to know how to buy and RV and what they should consider before taking the leap into RV travel & lifestyle!

Types of RV’s to Consider

Growing up with a big family who all owned RVs, I’m quite knowledgable when it comes down to the different types of RV options that are out there.  Plus, my parents have owned a number of RVs over the years and have shared with me some great insight into what people should consider.  The key is to really know what your needs are, and why type of vehicle will suit your needs – because everyone is different!

  • Camper Vans
  • Truck Campers
  • Travel Trailers
  • Fifth Wheels
  • Toyhaulers
  • Motorhomes

There’s a lot compare / contrast between these, so we created a whole blog post about the different types of RVs, campers and trailers!

Features of RV’s to Consider

There are so many different features out there to RVs, that it can actually be a little overwhelming!  The key is just taking the time to go out and do some RV shopping (which is quite fun actually) so you can get a feel for different layouts and features that you like best.

In the end, you need to find the right balance between all your needs vs. your wants & also your budget.  But another consideration is the convenience — the real reason you are buying your RV.  Is it just for a weekend getaway in the mountains, or are you wanting to actually live in your RV for an extended period of time?

RV slide outs really increase the living space inside your vehicle!

These differing needs will help you decide on the different features of an RV that you want most.  Again, there are a LOT of features to RV’s – so instead of taking up this whole post to explain ALL the details, we actually wrote a whole post on RV features here.

But if you don’t have time to read the whole RV features post, here is a super quick list of some of the main features you should consider when looking to buy an RV:

  • Beds: Number & Types
  • Seating:  Types, Arrangement, Size
  • Kitchens, Appliances & Storage
  • Bathroom
  • Entertainment Systems (Inside & Out)
  • Slide-Outs
  • Electricity / Re-charging capabilities
  • Propane
  • Running water / tank
  • Waste holding tanks / cassettes
  • Hot water heater
  • Air-conditioning
  • Retractable awning
  • Automatic leveling system or manually level with blocks
  • Back-up camera & monitor
  • Fireplace
  • Clothes washers and dryer
  • Dishwasher
  • Basement storage
  • Window coverings
  • Flooring options

** If you want to read more details about these different features & the pros / cons to consider, read our post “Features of an RV:  What Do You Really Need”.

Balance What Works for Your Needs & Budget!

The key thing to keep in mind is balancing size, budget, and necessity for your lifestyle.  Obviously, the larger and more luxurious the RV, then the more expensive it will be!  Even if you have the money to afford that big fancy RV, remember that depending on your travel lifestyle, bigger RVs are not always better.

Large RVs are gas-guzzlers (ours gets about 7-8 miles per gallon), and big RVs are more difficult to maneuver – especially in urban areas or tight mountain roads.  If you like to camp more in the wilderness and get off the main roads, then you will probably want a smaller more versatile vehicle.

I can’t tell you how often we research great camping spots only to realize they have a maximum allowable size.  So you would be real bummed if your RV was too big to go where you want to take it!

We have a 30 foot RV, and luckily it can actually fit a lot of places.  But still, we’ve run into issues booking places where they only have a 24 foot max.  Simply speaking, the large bus-type class A RVs can’t go many places except for RV parks.  That’s disappointing for someone who would rather be closest to nature!  And that just adds to the cost…because RV parks are significantly more expensive than camping in the woods.

Shopping for the Right RV

When you find the right RV, you will know it.  But you have to get out and look at a lot of them before you really get a feel for what will work for you and your family.  We love going to RV lots, like Camping World, and just browsing around. Even after buying this RV we have now, we still go looking at RVs just for fun.  My parent’s say “you are always looking for your next RV.”  They should know, they’ve upgraded like 6 times now!

Even if you aren’t ready to buy and RV yet, still you should definitely start looking.  Get in there, test it out.  Look in the cabinets, lay in the beds, sit in the seats.  Imagine what it would be like to stay in there.  After a while you will start to get a feel for what layouts you prefer.

Lastly, while doing out browsing, think about how your family spends their time and how you will all use the space.  Then of course, and consider the different features that are a must or just nice-to-have.  And of course, look at the prices and get an idea of what your budget will be.

Once you are ready to buy and RV, you may choose to purchase from a big lot or you can buy privately from another owner (definitely a more economical way to go).  There are also some good websites too, like RV Trader (similar to Auto Trader), but you may find RVs that are quite a distance away from where you live.

Budgeting and Paying for an RV – It’s Different Than a Car!

During your time RV shopping, you should start to get an idea of the price ranges.  As always, it’s finding a balance between the RV you want, and how much you have to spend.  But the thing to keep in mind is that an RV is NOT like a car. 

First of all, banks will not finance you the same for an RV as they do for a car.  In fact, it is more difficult to get financing because they consider RV’s a luxury item.  So your rates and the amount you need to put down on the RV could be surprising if you were using auto-payment calculators online.

We found this out first hand when buying our RV last year.  Josh and I have pretty non-standard jobs, and while we could easily buy a car anywhere, we discovered that it wasn’t so easy to actually buy our RV.  We ended up having to track down a lot of paperwork to prove our income (due to our unique situation) and we had to finance it a different way than what most people do.

In the end, it worked out fine for us (and probably better than what we were initially going to do).  But still, it was a surprise because we assumed it would be just like buying a car!

More Than the Sticker Price…Can You Afford to USE It?!?

Lastly, you need to think about the entire cost of actually using the RV!

RV’s are not cheap to buy, maintain, park, or drive.

What’s the good in buying one if you can’t afford to take it out of the driveway?!?  Factor in how many trips you may go on, and what the cost of gas may be (keeping in mind larger vehicles may get worse gas mileage).

Also, think about the type of travel you will do and where you will want to stay.  If you like to stay in more rural areas, camping in the wilderness or on forest service land, then the cost is quite affordable.  But if you want full hook-ups and amenities at RV parks, then you could expect to pay anywhere from $30 per night to $100+ per night!  Lastly, get some estimates on insurance for the RV because it’s different than auto insurance rates.  Overall, we found that insurance was fairly affordable compared to our car (because it’s driven less).

Then there are the maintenance and storage fees…which I’ll talk about next.

Other Considerations for Buying an RV

Parking When Not Using It

One of the other key considerations before you buy and RV should be where where will store it.   If you have a lot of parking around your home, that’s great!  But unfortunately, some HOA’s don’t even allow RVs to be parked on property!  Crazy, I know.

For us, we actually live in the city and there just isn’t room to park the RV at our house (there’s barely room to park our car!).  So we had to rent a spot in a storage facility to park our RV.  We were lucky to find the last available 30 foot spot at a facility which is only a few minutes away from our house, and it’s actually affordable compared to some places we researched.  But still, another monthly expense that we had to factor into the cost.

Owning an RV is Work

Even though traveling in an RV is a lot of fun, you should also be the type of person who is ready for work…because an RV is work!  You will need to learn about how everything works, and how to maintain it.  From preparing it for the winter (if you live in a cold climate), to knowing how to trouble shoot if the fridge stops working, to understanding how to hook up your sewer connection!

You gotta be a bit handy if you want an RV, and you need to be able to research and learn how to do things yourself.  While there’s some things you can pay for, such as winterization each year, you will have to know how to hook up your sewer & fill it with water!

Josh hooks up our RV to the water, electric and sewer…and Hana supervises!

RV Maintenance

Lastly, be prepared to spend some cash to maintain the RV.  Even though my parent’s have had RVs for years and love them, they told me RVs are basically a money pit.  And, they were right.  You will have all these ongoing maintenance expenses and special (and expensive) RV accessories you need to buy PLUS the cost to actually use the darn thing! While our RV has been great, it always seems there are little things we have to work on or replace.  Currently we are on the first trip after winterization, and there are all kinds of things that need fixed.

While the RV will be worth something when you sell it, you won’t get out what you put in.  So again, be sure you have the finances to support surprising RV costs…because they will come up!

Buying and RV vs. Renting an RV

If you aren’t sure that you are ready to purchase an RV just yet, then renting an RV is a great way to test the waters!  There are many websites online right now where you can book RV rentals.  Outdoorsy is one option that we really like.  They are kinda like an Airbnb or RVs – where individuals rent them out.  What we like about them is that you have a lot more options to choose from, and they have insurance for you.  Plus you aren’t driving around with a giant billboard painted on the outside of the vehicle!

And if you have never used an RV before, don’t worry – you will get a tutorial on how everything works before you take it out on the road.  While it is expensive to rent an RV versus driving and getting a hotel, it’s the RV experience that many people are looking for.  Plus, it’s just more fun sometimes!  But overall it’s much less expensive than buying an RV outright.

** And who knows, we may be putting our own RV up for rent on Outdoorsy in the future too, so definitely check them out!

Are Your Ready to Buy and RV?

I hope this has helped you think about some of the considerations when it comes to buying an RV.  For us, we knew that we wanted a class C motorhome that was around 30 feet in length.  While we love the space, there are times we do wish it was a little smaller.  But we definitely drool over some of the big beautiful ones too!

Our layout is quite unique from many of the ones we’ve seen (and we’ve seen a lot of RVs).  This layout suits our needs perfectly…which is why we bought it so quickly.  We’ve only taken our RV out on a couple trips, and already we’ve had some unexpected repairs and frustrations.  But still, we wouldn’t trade it in because it fits us and our lifestyle perfectly right now.

In fact, I’m writing this post as I sit on our patio under the awning of our RV, look out at Big Bear Lake here in California.  It’s a beautiful day, and I love being able to take our “home” with us wherever we want to travel.   

Check Out Our Complete RV Travel & Lifestyle Guide!

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