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What to Consider When Buying a New RV

Joan PabonDec 11, 2017

If you’re thinking about purchasing an RV, you may be wondering which type of motorhome is right for you and how much you can expect to pay for one. Before purchasing a recreational vehicle, consider your needs, the use you have in store for your new dwelling, and how much time you plan to spend on it.

Cost and Space

Because of the versatile nature of recreational vehicles and the home-like amenities they often feature, the purchase price and maintenance costs of an RV will be much higher than those of a conventional automobile. Remember that even if you select a smaller, older or more affordable RV model, the purchase will entail a considerable investment. If you’re new to RVing, there are many other considerations to keep in mind, like how you are going to finance your vehicle, how much it will cost to store it if you don’t have enough space to do so in your property, and what you can expect to pay for gas and campground fees. Create an estimated budget, research different financing options and have multiple alternatives at hand. There will be pros and cons whether you finance your RV through a dealership or bank, so read your loan terms thoroughly, learn about interest rates, and find out how much of your loan payments will be applied to your principal loan amount. For additional pricing information, verify the National Automobile Dealers Association's NADAguides.

Other factors that will impact the cost of your RV is how much interior space you would like to have and what amenities you want to have included. Are you looking for an outdoor experience or do you want to maintain the same level of comfort you have in your primary residence? Will your RV serve as your home base for 180 days or more out of the year? If so, you may want to opt for a recreational vehicle equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping quarters for a comfortable extended stay. Also, consider your motorhome's towing capacity and the total weight of the personal property you plan on taking with you. These questions will come up again when you research licensing and insurance requirements, so determining your needs early on will significantly simplify the selection process.

Types of RVs

Recreational vehicles are motorhomes or trailers equipped with living quarters and other amenities typically found in a home. These vehicles are mostly used for recreational purposes such as long-distance travel and camping, yet a good segment of RV users are full-timers who live in them for six or more months out of the year. You will find a table with estimated price ranges and some details about each model below, yet actual prices will vary depending on the state in which you reside and the financing option you choose. Speak to other recreational vehicle owners and visit RV shows and online forums to get a better feel of what purchasing a RV typically entails, there's nothing better than direct feedback from other savvy, experienced full-timers.

Motorhomes

As the name suggests, motorhomes are recreational vehicles with full living quarters built on a motorized chassis. They are classified as Type A, B or C, depending on the size of the unit and its design specifications. Class A motorhomes, for example, often feature luxury components and expandable rooms for added comfort. These are the most expensive types of motorized homes, ranging from $50,000 to a couple million dollars for models with lavish amenities and state-of-the-art gadgets like flat screens, hot tubs, fireplaces, and decks.

Towable RVs

Towable RVs are travel trailers or campers designed to be towed by a vehicle such as a van or a pickup truck. One benefit of owning this type of mobile dwelling is being able to unhitch the trailer and leave it behind while you take off on the towing vehicle. Travel trailers tend to range from $6,000 to $55,000 for truck bed campers to almost $170,000 for Sports Utility RVs. Each type comes in a variety of sizes and styles, yet they will invariably require a companion vehicle with sufficient capacity to haul the trailer safely. That means you will either have to buy a trailer that your current vehicle can tow or purchase a new vehicle that can be paired with the mobile dwelling you want to purchase.

Motorhomes Space Price
Class A
  • Spacious and luxurious
  • Multiple slide-outs
  • Sleep up to six people
  • Ideal for large families
$50,000 – $1 million
Class B
  • Known as van campers
  • Full van foundation
  • Sleep up to four people
  • Ideal for 2 or 3 travelers
$40,000 – $130,000
Class C
  • Amenities like Class A
  • Sleeping space over cab
  • 20 to 40 ft. in length
  • Sleep up to eight people
$60,00 – $200,000
Travel Trailers Space  Price
Conventional Travel Trailer
  •  Multiple floor plans 
  • Homelike amenities
  • 25 to 46 ft. in length
  • Sleep up to six people
$10,000 – $60,000
Fifth Wheel Trailer
  •   Spacious floor plans
  • Slide-out sections
  • Need tow truck & hitch 
  • Sleep up to six people
$18,000 – $160,000
Pop-up & Expandable Trailers
  • Foldable for easy towing
  • Expandable sides 
  • Light and affordable
  • Sleep up to eight people
$8,000 – $30,000
Truck Campers
  •  Mounted on truck bed
  • Extendable legs for trailer support
  • Haul other vehicles
  • Sleep up to four people
$6,000 – $55,000
Sports Utility RVs
  • Known as toy haulers
  • Garage space for "toys"
  • Separate living quarters
  • Sleep up to eight people
$10,000 – $170,000
Park Model RVs
  • Towable house or resort
  • Multiple styles
  • Occasional relocations 
  • Sleep up to ten people
$20,000 – $80,000

Main Purpose

Besides monetary considerations, your RV selection should primarily depend on the use you plan to give the vehicle. Those looking for a grittier camping experience may enjoy a pop-up or expandable trailer, which tend to be cheaper and much lighter than other types of RVs. Larger families or those traveling with pets may want to opt for a type A, B or C motorhome, as most travel trailers require heavy-duty tow trucks with less interior room for passengers. Also, consider your destination and the level of comfort you want to get from your new motorhome while on the road. Those thinking about purchasing a travel trailer should also keep in mind that it’s illegal to travel inside a trailer in most states and there may also be trailer size restrictions and additional safety equipment requirements.

New vs. Used Vehicle

There are numerous pros to buying a new RV, like getting a vehicle with full manufacturer warranty right off the assembly line. Purchasing a new recreational vehicle means you won’t have to worry about damage or wear and tear issues right off the bat and you’ll get to customize your motorhome with the room layout, color, and finishes of your choice. Some downsides, however, are their hefty price tag and high shipping costs if there are no RV dealerships in your area or the model you want is out of stock. Used recreational vehicles also pose their own unique problems like higher insurance rates and potential difficulties finding replacement components if the manufacturer has long gone out of business.

To avoid having to shoulder costly repairs when buying a used RV, inspect the vehicle thoroughly before signing on the dotted line. Know what to look for beforehand and make a checklist of common problems recreational vehicle owners are likely to encounter. If you’re considering a unit with laminated fiberglass sidewalls, use a coin to tap on the sides of the unit and listen for a dull thud indicative of water damage. Bubbles, bumps, and creases on exterior side walls are also a sign of delamination, which can be very costly to repair but easy to prevent with a periodic resealing of walls, windows, and roof seams. The coin trick won’t work on aluminum-sided RVs, but you can look for signs of water damage and mold on interior walls. Feel the walls and the back of kitchen cabinets and look for creased wallpaper, pockets of moisture or a pervasive musty smell. Make sure all slide-outs work properly and check permanent attachments and appliances including HVAC systems. Finally, go to the systems monitor panel and verify that tank readings are accurate, as they may otherwise need to be recalibrated.

Other Factors

Other elements to consider before purchasing a motorhome or travel trailer are insurance and licensing requirements for both drivers and vehicles. Before hitting the open road, insure your mobile dwelling with coverages suited to your recreational vehicle needs. If you plan to travel long distances, cross national borders or become a full-time RVer, you will likely need comprehensive or specialty coverages. You should also contact your state’s DMV or search their website for recreational vehicle licensing requirements, as you may need to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or non-commercial Class 2, A, B, C, E or F licenses depending on your state of residence and your motorhome’s gross vehicle weight rating. And last but not least, remember the importance of proper storage and routine maintenance, which may initially seem costly but will keep your RV in top shape for years to come.