Buying an RV is a big investment, and if you’re like our family, you want to make sure you get it right! We purchased our first RV last year, and here’s a list of 19 tips that we recommend following to have a smooth and enjoyable buying process.
Here's a quick selection of my top 19 tips for buying a new RV -
- Know Your Purpose
- Drivable or Towable?
- Search RV websites
- Study Different Floor Plans
- Consider the Length
- Attend RV shows
- Choose your Must-haves
- Network with other RV Owners
- Go On a Practice Trip
- Get a Third-party Inspection
- And there's more...
Keep reading for more tips - and more explanations. This might sound like a lot of information, but I’ll break it down into easy-to-follow steps, and explain the considerations for each topic. After going through this checklist, you’ll feel more comfortable making your first RV purchase.
List of Tips For Buying an RV for the First Time
There are many factors to consider whenever you make a large purchase. With the growing RV industry, you have more options than ever before. It’s important to remember to take your time, do your research and make the choice that fits you and your family best.
As you read through the list, some tips might be ones you can take action on quickly. Some you may already have answered for yourself. Others may take longer to figure out, but the more you can hone in on these tips, the easier it will be for you to buy an RV that you will enjoy for many years to come.
Tip #1: Know Your Purpose
This is the most important thing for you to consider, and you will keep coming back to this in the decision-making process. The more focused you can be on your purpose for owning an RV, the more you quickly you can answer the other following points.
Do you want to own an RV for an occasional weekend getaway? Are you interested in living in your RV for extended lengths of time? Will you be covering long distances in your RV? Will your RV be used for hosting friends and having BBQs, or will it be a cozy family nest?
There are so many reasons people choose to purchase an RV, but if you can clearly determine how you and your family plan to use it, other considerations will easily fall into place.
Tip #2: Choose Drivable or Towable RV
There are two main categories of RVs: ones you drive and ones you tow. Drivable (or motorized) RVs are often called motorhomes or camper vans, and can be categorized into Class A, B and C. Towable RVs are trailers you attach to the back of a tow vehicle. Towable RVs include travel-trailers, 5th wheels and pickup campers.
There is a wide array of RVs out there today, but the main decision you will have to make is, do I want to drive my RV, or tow it? To see the pros and cons of each type of RV, check out the article, What Types of Recreational Vehicles Are There?
Tip #3: Search RV Websites
There is no shortage of information out there for prospective RV buyers. Take advantage of all the tips you can find on different websites: comparing models, locating dealerships, virtual tours of RVs and much more!
Look for websites that have their information organized in a fashion that’s easy for you to locate what you need. Also try to stay away from brand-specific websites, which will point you towards their models only. Generic RVing websites will give you more non-biased options.
Tip #4: New vs. Used
For most of us, this is a very important question to answer, since money is usually a limiting resource. It’s tempting to think that buying used is always the cheaper option. While initially, that may be true, a used RV can also cost more money in the long run.
When buying new, you have full manufacturer warranties, modern floor plans and accessories and a clean, fresh start of your own. However, new RVs will cost you the most initially.
When buying used, you can save a lot of money up front and get to rebuild features that you might prefer in your RV. If you are mechanically inclined, this might be a better option. If you choose to buy used, here is a complete checklist of things to look for.
Tip #5: Study Floor Plans
RVs with front living areas, back living areas, kitchens with islands, and bunkrooms in the front, rear or middle of the RV are all available to today’s RV shopper. There are floor plans to meet every need, in more modern and open designs each year.
Take your time to again, determine what your needs are for your RV and research the many floor plans that are available.
For our family, we knew that we needed a bunkhouse floor plan for our 3 young children. That factor helped us rule out a lot of otherwise very appealing floor plans.
Go back to your purpose, and stick to what your family wants to use the RV for. Don’t be afraid to eliminate choices that don’t have what you need. There will be a floor plan to suit your needs best.
Tip #6: Research Brands
Your choices abound when looking for a reputable RV brand name. Some RV companies have been around since the industry began, while others are newer. There are good things about each brand, and no brand is perfect. Be discerning when you read customer reviews about various brand names.
Over time, you will find yourself being drawn to certain brands, but try not to rule any RV brand solely because of a bad review you may have read.
Tip #7: Attend an RV Show
An RV show can be a great place to get familiar with some RV companies and brand names. Shows are typically set up with various models of one brand displayed together in one section. This makes it convenient to check out different companies. You can get a feel for the overall brand and the customer service from the salespeople and models at an RV show.
Although there can be good deals at an RV show, I wouldn't feel pressure to need to purchase your RV at an RV show. Especially at your first RV show, use that time to ask lots of questions, tour many RVs, write down notes and take photos to add to your research.
Once you’ve narrowed down your brand, model and done your homework on pricing, then you might consider buying at an RV show. It’s smart to wait until the last day, when salespeople might be more motivated to move inventory. However, our experience is that “great deals” at a show can also be found at dealerships at most other times, so don’t feel pressure to make a decision on the spot.
Tip #8: Go On a Practice Trip
Before we purchased our RV, we were fortunate to have friends who were willing to let us borrow their travel trailer and take it out for a trip to see how we’d manage it. This trip was invaluable to us in learning how to pull an RV, getting comfortable with the space, figuring out how to connect all the hoses and of course, dump the sewer tanks.
If you don’t feel comfortable taking a friend’s rig out for a practice trip, there are rental RV companies that can help you rent different types of RVs for a weekend or longer trip. Doing this can really help you determine which kind of RV will fit your family’s needs best before you make a big investment.
Tip #9: Consider Length
Another important consideration for an RV is how long you want it to measure. This is tricky since the number often listed as the length, is not always the actual length of the RV.
For most of us who want to use our RVs at campgrounds, RV length is an important factor. Many state and national campgrounds have limits on how long an RV can be to fit inside their designated campsites. If you know that you want to camp inside national parks, go for a shorter RV. However, if you are happy staying mostly at RV parks, which are set up with longer rigs in mind, length may not be as much of an issue.
Tip #10: Network With Other RV Owners
If you are thinking about buying an RV, chances are that you know someone already who owns an RV. Take them out to coffee and ask them about their experiences, the good and the bad. Other RVers are usually very excited to talk about their hobby and what they’ve learned as an RV owner.
There are also many online RV discussion forums you can join or just follow along with. You can join a forum specific to a brand you’re interested in, or a group specific to the type of camping you expect to do.
Tip #11: Determine Your Must-Have Accessories
Is an outdoor kitchen essential to your purpose of entertaining friends at your RV? Do you need auto-leveling features? Will a fireplace be needed for cold winter nights? What size refrigerator will accommodate your family best? The options and accessories are endless, and it can be fun to explore all the new gadgets that are available.
It’s unlikely that you can find every single option in the exact floor plan that you want. However, if you can determine the top 2-3 accessories that you either need (or very strongly prefer), you can probably locate them. Try to prioritize your needs and go from there to find which rigs offer the most of your must-haves.
Tip #12: Calculate The Weight
This tip is particularly important if you’ve decided to purchase a towable RV, such as a 5th wheel or a travel trailer. If you're towing your RV, you need to make sure the vehicle you’ll be pulling it with has the power to tow it safely.
Even though some RVs are now listed as “ultra-lite” don’t take the salesperson’s word that any truck can pull it. Keep in mind that once the RV has full tanks and all of your food, and possessions inside, it’s going to weigh more. The last thing you want is to be stuck on a mountain pass and do damage to your tow vehicle, RV or passengers because your load was overweight. Always err on the side of having more pulling capacity than you think you need, and you’ll have more peace of mind.
Tip #13: Decide On a Tow Vehicle
If you plan to be a motorhome owner, this tip is for you to consider. Many owners of large motorhomes choose to tow a second, vehicle to use while their RV is parked at the campground.
It’s impractical to use your motorhome as the main way to get around once you’ve set it up at a campground. No one wants to take their motorhome on a grocery run, and some rural or mountain roads will not accommodate vehicles over a certain length. Depending on where you want to drive on your RV trips, you’ll need the flexibility of having another vehicle to help you get around.
Different towing systems can be attached to the back of your motorized RV where you can pull a towable vehicle, often called a “toad,” safely until you get to your destination. Research the towing vehicle and towing system that’s best for the type of RV travel you plan to do.
Tip #14: Negotiate Your Price
Once you’ve narrowed down the brand, model and year of the RV you want to buy, you should have a good idea of the range of prices you’re in. However, there are some guidelines about how to determine a good price.
30% off of MSRP is a guideline that many people follow when naming their price. It’s an average figure, but a good place to start negotiating down from the inflated dealership price. Don’t be afraid to start low, and see what the dealer says. Once they see that you know your numbers, they'll waste less time negotiating with you. If they won’t come down to the price you want, you can always find another dealer.
Tip #15: Be Willing to Travel
Especially if you are interested in purchasing a used RV, you can find some great deals in different states. Many people have found rigs online through used RV dealerships or through RV interest groups on Facebook. Many times the discount that they can give you is worth the money that you’ll spend to go out and get it. Driving it home could be a fun way to take it out for that first test run.
Tip #16: Locate Dealers Who Sell Your Brand
If you know which brand and model you are ready to buy, find out which dealerships are the big players with the brand. Who sells the most of these in the area? These dealerships are usually going to be able to give you better deals, since they have more inventory than other dealerships.
Tip #17: Buy at the Right Time
You can benefit from making your purchase at a dealership near the end of a monthly or quarterly schedule. Salespeople have quotas to meet and might be more motivated to make deals with you at these times.
Another time to consider buying is when next year’s models are released. Dealers don’t want old inventory sitting on their lots with newer rigs to sell. If you have time to wait, this strategy could save you money and get you the rig you want. There are more details in this article about timing your RV purchase.
Tip #18: Plan for a Service Provider
No one wants to think about their RV needing repairs. But problems with any car or RV are sure to come up. Even if you have a brand new rig, things can go wrong those first few times you take it out. Plan ahead of time for service shops near you that will provide repairs for your RV when you need it. Know who will do warranty work in your area. If there is no one close by who can service your new RV, you may want to reconsider the brand or the dealer you’ll purchase from.
Tip #19: Get a Third Party Inspection
This is a tip that you won’t regret. After all the work you’ve put into financing the rig and choosing the one that’s best for you, you want the peace of mind knowing that you were sold an RV that is in good working order. If you don’t have a mechanic who can do this for you, visit the National Recreational Vehicle Inspectors Association (NRVIA) to locate an RV Inspector in the area where you purchase your rig.
Even if it’s a brand new RV, an inspector can go over each point thoroughly and make sure there are no factory defects. It's a hassle to find a problem, but much easier to deal with at the dealer, than later down the road.
Enjoy Your New Rig!
Congratulations on your journey into RV ownership! Now that you’ve been through the process of buying the RV, you’re over the hardest part. The only thing left to do is plan your first trip, get out there and enjoy your new home on wheels!