Complete Guide to Buying an RV

Buying Tips - Complete Guide to Buying an RV

Complete Guide to Buying an RV

RV ownership is a great option for those with a passion for travel, leisure and adventure. Some owners use their RV’s everyday. Other’s only on special occasions. They can be towed or driven. They can offer all the amenities of home or simply a way to transport you and your stuff to a remote location. None of this information is probably news to you but it does beg the question. How do you plan on using yours?

If you’re looking to buy an RV, a good place to start is to determine who you are and how you will plan to use it. RV’s are very diverse in their costs, size and intended use. As such, figuring out what will be most important to you will ease your decision and likely create a more enjoyable ownership experience. The whole point of RV ownership is enjoyment so the more honest you are with yourself the more likely you will be happy with your purchase. After all, who knows more about your happiness than you?

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying an RV

When considering RV ownership there are five things to ask yourself. They include the five interrogative questions:

 WHO

Thinking about who will be using the RV will help to give you a sense of the size and amenities required for your intended usage. For example, if you have a large family with young kids you may want to consider a larger used RV versus a new one.  That way you can accommodate everyone comfortably.  It also helps to not ruin your trip when young Timmy draws on the wall of your shiny new RV with a crayon. Conversely if it’s only a couple of people using the RV, you might be better off allocating your budget towards something smaller and nicer versus a lager RV that offers less amenities.

WHAT

What will be your intended use? Knowing what your plans are will greatly aid in determining what will be the best type of RV to consider. Will you be using it off road or exclusively at RV parks? Do you need to haul additional items such as motorcycles, boats or trailers? Do you need it to fit at specific location that has a secret fishing spot? These are just a few things to consider but once you visualize what you’re planning on doing with the RV it will help guide you towards the right RV for you.

 WHEN

 A significant aspect to consider with a RV purchase is when you plan on using it. If you live in an area that is not conducive to regular use, it may make sense to purchase something that is easier to store or doesn’t become a financial burden during the months that it simply cannot be used. If you’re a full-time RVer it may make sense to stretch the budget as it will be something that gets used everyday. It’s also helpful to determine when you are using the RV in terms of the amenities necessary. If your primary usage is in the summer months then adequate air conditioning is must. If you’re planning on using it during the winter months, you’ll want something that is easy to operate during inclement weather.

WHY

 The “why” question may be the most obvious but it should be thoughtfully considered to determine which RV will be best for you. The three primary reasons to buy an RV are for recreation, vocation or residence.  There are substantial differences between something you buy as a toy versus something for work or to live in. If it’s a toy, you can choose using your heart because the sole purpose is enjoyment. If it’s for work or a residence, things such as reliability and durability take priority. In addition, the ability to transport your RV will have an impact on your decision. For example, if it’s a residence a trailer may be your best option versus recreational use, which usually requires something that is easily transported.

HOW

How are you planning on acquiring the RV? Will you be paying cash or financing? Paying cash will simplify the transaction but it can limit your choices, depending on how much cash you have allocated for purchase.

How you plan on paying for your RV can also have impact on what type of RV makes the most financial sense. For example, if you’re able to buy a used RV below current market value you could use the RV for some time and sell it with minimal depreciation. In some cases, you might even be able to sell it for more than you paid for it. If you’re financing, it may make more sense to get something newer as it may allow for lower rates, less money down and longer terms.

What Type of RV is Right For You

Once you’ve answered these questions, the next step is to determine which RV’s are best suited to your needs. The two distinct different types of RV’s are either towable or motorized. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.  A good understanding of your intended use will help determine which would be the best fit for you.

MOTORIZED

Motorized RV’s are available in multiple sizes and designs. They are based on buses, trucks and vans and do not require a separate vehicle to transport them. As the name would imply, they have their own engines and will require all of the maintenance that would be performed on any motorized vehicle. Due to their motorized capability, they are also usually able to tow items such as a trailer, boat or car. Some items to consider are:

PROS:

  • Tow vehicle not required
  • Occupants can have access to amenities while driving
  • Can be easier to park
  • Can take less space to park

CONS:

  • More maintenance
  • Can be more expensive to register and insure
  • Higher purchase price

The following is a list of the type of Motorized RV’s:

Class A

This type of RV is usually based on a bus chassis. The front end is usually flush with the windshield. Most class A motorhomes are usually the most spacious, luxurious and expensive varieties. Class A motorhomes are a popular choice for full time users and people that want an RV experience that will rival a conventional residence.

Class B

Class B RV’s are usually based on van chassis and are the smallest of motorized RV’s. Their advantage is in their smaller size. This type of RV is a good choice for people that have space constraints in either storage or use. If your plan is to use the RV for tailgating, parking in conventional parking spaces or ease of use, the class B can be a great choice

Class C

Class C RV’s are the most common RV choice. They are usually based on a truck chassis and have a front end that looks like a pick up truck with an interior bed overhanging above the cab. Most rental RV’s are class C’s due to their combination of size, ease of use and value. They run a wide variety of sizes and can be scaled up or down to accommodate the buyer. Class C’s are a good choice for a variety of buyers in that they offer a good compromise of the things that most RV owners are looking for.

Toter Home

Toter homes are motorized RV’s that are designed to haul items such as race cars, off road cars, powersport vehicles and other large items. They come in two varieties. The first is an RV that has a rear liftgate that can be lowered in order for the item being transported to be placed inside. The other version is an RV that has been modified to haul a large capacity trailer. These are very popular with people involved in motorsports as they can bring everything needed to the track and stay at the track in comfort. They are also a good choice for people that want to bring large items with them without a need for a separate trailer.

TOWABLE

Towable RV’s require an additional vehicle in order to be transported. Like motorized RV’s, trailer based RVs come in variety of sizes and designs. Their intended use can also differ considerably. They are generally less maintenance intensive due to the fact they do not require the service required for the vehicle portion of a motorized RV.

PROS:

  • Less maintenance as there is not a vehicle drivetrain
  • Less expensive to register and insure
  • Can be left at camp site and owner has a vehicle to drive
  • Generally lower purchase price

CONS:

  • Requires additional tow vehicle
  • Unable to occupy the trailer while driving
  • Pulling a trailer can be more tedious to transport and park
  • Parking requires space for tow vehicle and trailer

The following is a list of Towable RV’s:

Travel Trailer

Travel Trailer’s are the most common form of towable RVs. They are attached to the tow vehicle via a trailer hitch and can be easily detached for storage or at the camp site. Often travel trailers will provide the most “bang for your buck” as they can provide all of the amenities of a motorized RV at a less expensive price point.

Fifth Wheel

Fifth Wheel’s are similar to travel trailers in that they are towed behind another vehicle and offer the amenities of a full size motorized RV. The difference is in how they are attached. Whereas a Travel Trailer attaches to the back of a tow vehicle via a trailer hitch, a Fifth Wheel attaches to the inside of a truck bed via a permanently attached receiver. The advantages of Fifth Wheels are that they allow extra space of the trailer to be placed over the bed of the truck and they are generally easier to transport and park.

Toy Hauler

A Toy Hauler is a type of trailer that allows the back portion to be opened in order to transport large items such as a Motorcycle, ATV, UTV etc. in the trailer while attached to the tow vehicle. Most Toy Haulers have a rear wall that can be lowered like a drawbridge in order for other vehicles t be rolled or driven inside. As a result the interior and furniture tend to be more utility oriented so they can be moved to accommodate whatever is being transported inside. An additional advantage of Toy Haulers is that they allow covered storage of the vehicles inside while not being used.

Horse Trailer with Living Quarters

As the name would imply, Horse Trailers with Living Quarters are a combination of RV and horse trailer. Not to worry, your equine friends will have their own area divided by a wall from your living quarters. Budget allowing, these trailers can be surprisingly luxurious and are an excellent way to transport horses while providing all the amenities of a conventional RV.

Truck Camper

A Truck Camper fits over the bed of a truck and normally hangs over the roof as well to provide additional space. Truck Campers primary advantage is in there space savings. Since no trailer is required, they can be parked easily and can be transported to remote locations for the serious adventurer. Another advantage is that they can be removed (although generally not easy) in order for the owner to use the bed of the truck.

New vs. Used RV

Once you’ve decided what type of RV buy to buy the next step is to determine whether to buy new or used. As to be expected, there are advantages of each but probably not as straightforward as one would expect.

One obvious advantage of a new RV is that it will come with a warranty from the manufacturer. The warranty is absolutely a nice thing to have as new RV’s are rarely perfect even when new. The RV is built with a number of systems that are engineered to be a compromise between transportation and residence and can be very complicated. New RV’s rarely have significant issues but usually will require some “sorting” once they have begun being used. Having the manufacturer stand behind your purchase is a nice peace of mind particularly if you are new to RV ownership.

As to be expected new RV’s generally cost more than a used RV. When considering a new purchase, the time of ownership should be considered. New RV’s tend to depreciate faster that a used RV. There are exceptions, but if your plan is to own the RV for a limited time, the depreciation at the time or resale should be taken into consideration.

If your goal is long term ownership, a new RV can be a great option. Particularly in the later years, you will have confidence in knowing the service history and nuances of operation. This will help to ensure that your RV experience be as worry free as possible for miles to come.

A used RV can be a great choice. Not only is the price lower than a new RV but the reduced depreciation can make ownership more flexible. A well maintained used RV usually depreciates slower than a new one. As a result, it can be sold without the loss normally associated with the sale of a recent purchase.  If you are concerned about whether you are selecting the best RV for your use or planning to own the RV for limited amount of time only, a used RV may be a better option than new.

If the lack of warranty is a concern on a used purchase, most used RV’s will qualify for a service contract to guard against mechanical and electrical failures. Buyers should check out the companies offering such agreements to ensure that the company backing the agreement has a good reputation for integrity and prompt payment of claims. When possible, look for the “A.M. Best” rating of the insurance company backing the policy as well. A.M. Best focuses on an insurer’s claims paying ability and the credit quality of its obligations.

A good idea with any used RV is to get a pre-purchase inspection. This inspection should be performed by a reputable third party not associated with the seller. Whereas an inspection does not guarantee that a problem will not occur, it does minimize the possibility. In addition, the inspection is likely to uncover an issue with the RV that will facilitate getting a repair done prior to the purchase or a reduction in the sales price. In some cases it will prevent you from buying an RV that has significant issues such as water, structural or mechanical damage. 

Buying From an RV Dealer vs. Private Party

Now that you have decided what type of RV to purchase and whether to go new or used, the next question is where to buy? When buying a new RV, the dealership (or manufacturer) is the usually the only option but when purchasing a used RV, you will have additional options. The two primary resources are via a Dealership or Private Party. Each have their advantages but they may not be as clear cut as one would expect.

Most people would think that the advantage of buying an RV from a dealer is that the purchase will be more secure. The assumption is that the dealership will warrant the condition of the RV in the event of a problem. The other assumed advantage is that the buyer will receive better future service as a result of the dealership’s appreciation for the sale. These both can be valid points however there are many dealership transactions that have left buyers frustrated as dealerships have simply not lived up to the expectation of the buyers. Buying from a dealership does not necessarily guarantee that you are buying a RV that has been thoroughly checked out. Nor that the dealership will stand by the sale.

The key with a dealer purchase is to make sure that all perceived services are provided in writing. Whether it is a warranty or a discount on future parts and services, having everything in writing will give you the confidence to know that your expectations will be met.  If you’re happy with the condition and price of the RV, the dealer option can provide some additional value and reassurance especially for first time RV’ers.

Buying from a private party has advantages as well. The primary advantage is the ability to buy an RV at a lower price than a dealer would charge. That is not always the case however.  It is possible to pay too much when purchasing from a private party. Like any major purchase the only way to really know if you are getting a good deal is to do your homework and shop.

One of the main advantages with a private party purchase is that you will get to meet the owner of the RV and make an assessment of how they have maintained and treated the RV. They will also be able to discuss all of the nuances of ownership. They can let you know some of the tips of their experience with the RV and hopefully have maintenance records available. Another advantage is that they might be willing to include items with the sale that you would otherwise need to purchase separately. These include things like receiver hitches, chemicals, lights, linens, grills and dishes. You can get mor more information on private party RV purchases here.

How Much Do RVs Cost?

Once you’ve identified a prospective RV, the next step is to make sure that you are getting a great deal. As with any large purchase it makes sense to do your homework before committing to buy. Before comparing prices it’s helpful to consider the value associated with the RV. Information is the key and the more of it you have; the more likely you will get a great deal.

The best way to start gathering information is to check the pricing on the NADA Guides website (www.nadaguides.com). This is a free website that will list the year, make and model of most RV’s available. There are some exceptions however. Custom RV’s and low volume manufacturers are not usually reported in the NADA Guide. Once you’ve found the RV that you are considering in NADA, you will need to add the options as well. The website will then give you a low retail and average retail value. Condition will be the variable that dictates where the RV you are researching should fall in the value range.

The NADA evaluation is only part of establishing the value however. NADA is a good resource but there are many examples of values that have been too high or too low relative to actual sales prices. In order to get a more complete idea about pricing, you should also get comparative pricing or “comps” for similar RV’s being sold in your region. It will be important to find RV’s that are the same year, make and model with similar mileage and condition. Once armed with an online evaluation and a good sample of comps you will have a solid understanding of how much you should pay.

However, there are additional things to consider. Value is not only based on the RV.  Once you’ve decided to purchase the RV there are expenses that you should consider. These include registration, maintenance, accessories and in some cases, transportation costs.

For example, it is possible to find two RV’s that are the exact year make and model. One might be priced higher; however it’s condition, maintenance history, mileage and accessories may make it a better buy. Items such as tires may seem like a trivial expense that would be easy to offset with a lower price until you learn that a set of tires could run into thousands of dollars. Again, being armed with information will give you the confidence to make a great deal.

Finance or Pay Cash?

Often the decision to pay cash or finance comes down to resources.  For those who need to finance the decision is easy. For those whom have both options available there are some things to consider before buying the RV.

The advantage of paying cash is obvious. You won’t pay any interest and you don’t have the inconvenience of making monthly payments. Both are good attributes however there are some advantages to financing.

The first advantage is that financing brings in the lender to help scrutinize the transaction. The lender will have a vested interest in the value of the RV. For example, if the lender requires a larger down payment on a specific RV you will know that they think the price is too high. This can lead to extra negotiating power with the seller when you inform them that your bank will only lend a certain amount for the RV they are selling.

The lender will also ensure the integrity of the seller’s ability to transfer ownership efficiently and legally. If there is a challenge with the seller’s documents, the lender will let you know what is required for a smooth transfer of ownership. In most cases the lender will help you avoid paperwork headaches, additional fees or most importantly, prevent a regrettable purchase.

Another advantage of financing is tax related. You will need to confirm any tax options with your CPA but generally speaking, the interest on RV loans is tax deductible. Not every person will have a tax advantage with an RV loan but many people have been able to take advantage of the deduction.

The Fun Part

Whether you’re paying cash or financing, buying new or used, from a dealer or private party, the most important thing is to get the RV that you want. Once you’ve done your homework, you will know what to buy, where to buy and how to buy it. At that point the heavy lifting is done and you will have the confidence of being a well informed buyer.

The only thing left is to pick one. For most, an RV purchase is a reward for their hard work and sacrifices during the work week.  A way to enjoy life, relax and recharge. The RV that you select should be something that puts a smile on your face and brings your family and friends together.

Yes, an RV is a significant purchase, but you’re worth it. Buy with confidence and find the RV that best fits you. Use it regularly and share the experience.

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