How To Buy an RV

Investing in an RV is not a decision to be taken lightly or rushed. It is a serious investment and requires a great deal of thought, consideration of all the pros and cons, and shopping around to make a solid purchasing decision. 

Purpose of Buying an RV

Most people are interested in buying an RV because of what it promises.  It promises you a fun, on-the-road lifestyle.  It promises that you can hit the road and travel, meeting new people and setting up camp to enjoy nature and create memories.  It’s a home away from home that allows you to pick up and move to the next location, setting up camp quickly and comfortably.

What Type of RV is Right for You?

The best determining factor of an RV purchase is how it will fit into your lifestyle.  That’s why it is critical to determine exactly how you will be using the RV. 

If it’s just for camping or boondocking and you’ll be outdoors most of the time, perhaps the comforts of homes and additional bells and whistles are not such a big deal.  However, if you spend more time in the RV and you are using it as a home base, something with all the amenities and feel of a home would probably suit you better.

Determining the primary use of the RV will also help establish how big it needs to be, in addition to ease of driving and docking.  If you are setting up camp in one location for longer periods, you’ll need to consider your need for power (generator size and output), storage, appliances, space, holding tanks, heat, and lighting. 

Start by making a list of all the why’s, pros, cons, wants, needs, and budget.

Other Factors for Consideration

After understanding how the RV will be used and reviewing your detailed list, you can then move on to asking even more questions:

  • What size RV do you need for its primary use?
  • Do you want a larger motorhome or smaller truck camper model? 
  • If you get a towable model, can your vehicle safely handle it?  How comfortable are you with towing?
  • Do you want a brand-new RV or would you consider a used model?  In the very beginning, maybe a full-size motorhome is something for down the road, so to speak. 
  • How often will you use the RV? 
  • What are the short-term and long-term plans?
  • What type of RV are you looking for to fulfill your plans?
  • What things do you need it to have?
  • What things would you like it to have?
  • What is the budget?

Perhaps it would make better sense to ease into the RV lifestyle first with a pop-up or smaller travel trailer.  By starting small and building from there, you can better determine if you want to upgrade to a bigger model.  If so, you should have a much better understanding of what features you need such as more storage, power requirements, and space.

Starting from and working off this list will pare everything down to a manageable place from which you can make a better purchasing decision.

When Would a Used RV Make Sense?

There is no question that there are benefits that come along with the purchase of a brand-new RV.  For one, you know you are getting the latest in features, benefits and any technological advances.  Additionally:

  • You need not worry about any damage, maintenance or repair problems. 
  • You may qualify for an RV insurance discount. 
  • You are covered by a manufacturer’s warranty. 
  • You get to customize the RV in terms of color, design and get it delivered hot off the manufacturer’s assembly line. 

However, the purchase of a new RV does not come without its own set of issues.  For one, it’s more expensive up-front and depending on the features and benefits you want, the price tends to escalate quickly. 

  • Some manufacturers do not offer customization, so you have to pay for extra features as an after-market expense. 
  • A new model may be out of stock or delivery/shipping is not available, incurring additional up-front expenses for pick up or short-term storage.
  • Insurance may cost more or more coverage may be required. 
  • Brand new RV’s, much like a regular passenger vehicle, depreciate in value quickly.

Benefits of Buying Used

  • Buying a used RV can save you a lot of up-front money.
  • Ability to remodel/restore the RV the way you like it with the extra savings.
  • May be able to get an older model more easily than waiting for a brand new one.
  • Insurance rates may be less.

There are also drawbacks to purchasing a used RV, such as:

  • Since the RV may be sold through a private party or other third-party seller, you never know for sure what issues may come up now or down the road.  Buyer beware. 
  • The value of the RV is significantly less.
  • May be investing more money up front for repairs and upgrades not covered under insurance or warranty.
  • Potential of being a victim of a scam.

When looking at a used RV, be sure you get to see exactly what you are buying.  Ask the seller to turn on the lights, run the engine and show you all the features and make sure they work.

Check out the exterior of the RV including the roof to inspect for damage, loosely fitting parts or outright visible damage.  Ask for the seller to provide a history, preferably in writing so have as much information as possible.

New or Used?

Since there are upsides and downsides to each, it will be a decision to be weighed and considered carefully. 

If you are a newbie to RVing, it might be wise to start out with a used model.  Purchasing a used RV from a dealer gives you more protection than buying from an unknown third-party seller.  Buying a used RV lets, you get a feel for it, determine what you like or want to change, and have the funds available to customize, upgrade and change.

Potential Discounts

  • Pay attention to special financing rates from RV dealers and banks.
  • Leave your name and contact information with dealerships and ask them to keep you in mind when a good deal comes along.
  • Buy at the end of the month when clearance sales are more likely or better yet, at the end of the RV season.
  • Look at different incentives or pricing packages that give you most of what you need/want for the financial investment.
  • Be bold; don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  • Attend RV shows and take advantage of special show discounts.
  • Check Craigslist, Facebook, RVTrader, RV Finder and join RV communities to get the inside track on when new RVs go up for sale.  It’s possible to set up alerts by email or phone to receive notifications on new items.
  • Don’t limit yourself to your local area.  Expand your search to out of state or out of the nearby area to give yourself more options.  Sometimes driving out of state can get you a great deal on a used RV.

Additional Costs to Consider

In checking new RV prices, you can appreciate that buying an RV is a decision with a big initial investment. 

Aside from the purchase price, consider other costs that come in the form of learning DIY maintenance, how to drive or tow it, and other expenses for upkeep.  When budgeting, keep these other RV expenses in mind:

  • Insurance / Registration / Licensing
  • Maintenance/Repair expenses Not just for the RV itself, but also to replace or repair items such as air conditioners, refrigerators, stoves, water heaters, etc.
  • Cost of gas for trips
  • Parking/Camping fees
  • Propane, gas and other fuel expenses for living on the road
  • Refrigeration/Stove/Appliances for cooking
  • Fresh water
  • Bathroom facilities
  • Cable/Internet/Charging Solutions for electronic devices
  • Living expenses during longer trips

Financing Options

If purchasing from an RV dealer, there are financing options already in place.  It’s a matter of working with an approved lender who is willing to work out the details of the contract terms.  Another possibility is to obtain a personal loan from your bank or other lending institution.

Financing options are based on your credit history.  Your credit rating will determine how many or how limited your options will be.  A good credit score and down payment amount are just two of the factors to secure financing.

It’s important to set a realistic budget from the beginning and stick to it.  Do not be influenced by fancy RV designs, technology or beautiful interiors.  Pay for what you can realistically afford.  You can always upgrade later.

Remember that you can start small, customize and build up over time. 

In the beginning, there are costs, fees and expenses you will need to cover to get to the point of saving money on RV vacations and over-the-road trips.  After a few years of continuous use, your RV investment will pay off handsomely.  Enjoy the journey.