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What to Know Before Shopping for an RV

After so much time dreaming of exploring new places, embarking on adventures, and making delicious s’mores over a campfire, you’ve finally decided to pursue your RV dream. But how do you actually get started? Even before researching and buying a specific RV, there are a number of things you need to consider. Especially if you’ve never purchased an RV before, it can be an overwhelming process.

To help smooth the ride, we hosted a Facebook live Q&A on March 18, 2021 at 1PM ET about the RV buying process. You can access the Facebook Q&A here. Additionally, we’re putting many of those tips right here on the blog. Before shopping for an RV, here are three steps you need to take:

Build Your Wishlist.

Before shopping online or in-person for an RV, you need to think through the kind of experiences you want to have and what features would be required to achieve them. To get started, we commonly ask new RVers questions like:

  • Where will you be taking your RV? 
  • Do you plan on finding yourself on a solo adventure, or is the RV a memory-making machine for family and friends? 
  • Will you need amenities to replicate the comforts of home, or are you looking to rough it out in the wild?

The experiences you aspire to will determine what you look for in an RV, so building a wishlist of features is an essential first step. Here are some things to consider as you craft your RV wishlist:

  • Sleeping space: Think about how many people you want to be able to take with you on trips.
  • Storage space: Figure out how much stuff you feel will be essential to take on any trip, and then add additional space for the extra items that always ends up along for the ride.
  • Living space: Honestly reflect on if you’re willing to spend most of your time outdoors, or if you admittedly need space to spend time inside as well.
  • Kitchen space & appliances: If you’re not prepared to cook every meal over a campfire, even in the rain, consider how much space you’ll require to prepare meals.
  • Where you want to travel: Does your RV need to be able to navigate tight city streets or take to the interstate highways, and do you feel capable operating larger RVs on long-haul trips?
  • If you require electricity, heat/AC, running water, Wi-Fi, etc.: Again, you need to be honest with yourself about what amenities you can and cannot go without.
  • If you’ll have pets travelling with you: Think about if an RV will provide enough room for your pet, and if you’re prepared for any damages a pet may cause to the RV.
  • If you’ll drive through city streets or narrow roads: Once more, you need to consider how comfortable you are operating your RV down any road you may come across.
  • If you’ll need to haul extra toys: If you’re preparing for high-adrenaline adventure, figure out if an RV has the capacity to haul your dirt-bike, PWC, or other items

Determine Your Budget.

You’ll obviously want to purchase an RV that is within a reasonable price range for your individual financial situation. To know if an RV is going to fit within your allotted budget, it’s important to consider the total cost of ownership for the RV, not just the sticker price. Here are three things to remember: 

  • The down-payment: You’ll obviously have to pay a percentage of the price to the dealer up-front. This can vary by the RV you’re buying, dealership policies, and the financing you’re able to obtain.
  • Recurring expenses: Unless you pay the full cost of the RV all at once, you’ll have monthly payments to make, as well as bills for RV insurance. As you drive the RV, you’ll need to buy fuel, and some people will also have to pay for storage if they cannot keep the RV at their own residence.
  • Maintenance and repairs: It won’t be every month (hopefully!), but from time-to-time you’ll have to pay for preventative maintenance to keep your RV safe and operational. It’s also likely that at some point during your ownership of the RV, you’ll have to pay for unexpected repairs, which always seem to happen in the most inconvenient times — so be ready for those expenses!

New RVs will cost more than used RVs, of course, but keep in mind that used units come with some risk of needing additional unexpected repairs. When calculating the total cost of ownership, especially if you’re buying a new RV, you should also consider how you can sell your RV as a used unit once you’re done with it or want to upgrade, helping you recoup some of your money.

Choose Your RV Type.

There are so many different types of RVs out there. It will be important to research each type of RV to determine which type would be the best fit for you and your lifestyle. Keep in mind how you want to use the RV, your level of expertise, and your price range. The main types of RVs include: 

  • Class A Motorhomes: These RVs are the largest and roomiest RVs on the road, typically ranging from 24 ft. to 45 ft. in length, and are either diesel or gas-powered.
  • Class B Motorhomes: These RVs are typically referred to as camper vans and are built on a standard full-sized van chassis, but still have amenities and a raised roof for upright walking.
  • Class C Motorhomes: These RVs are a compromise between Class A and Class B, with more space than Class B RVs, but easier to drive than Class A RVs.
  • Travel Trailers: These RVs are towed behind a truck or SUV. Also known as “campers,” they’ve become increasingly popular because they’re more affordable than drivable RVs.
  • Toy Haulers: These RVs are towable travel trailers with a built-in ramp and space that can be used for a small garage, along with a kitchen and living quarters. 
  • Fifth Wheels: These RVs are large trailers towed by a pick-up truck. They can be bigger than drivable motorhomes, but allow for the option of detaching the truck for easier travel to and from the campsite during a trip.

Once you have built your wishlist, determined your budget, and chosen your RV type, you’re ready to begin your RV shopping experience. For tips on that part of the process, you can check out our companion
article about researching and buying RVs. And if you’d like to really take a deep dive into any of these topics, don’t forget to check out our Facebook Live Q&A!


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Emily Sullivan
Emily Sullivan
Emily Sullivan is a Content Curator for Trader Interactive, serving the recreational brands RV Trader and Cycle Trader. Her mission is to provide thoughtful, practical content to those who are always on the hunt for their next adventure.

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