Welcome to “Ask an RV Expert,” the advice column where RVillage experts answer your questions about common RV maintenance problems.
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Dear RVillage Expert: I’m buying my first RV. Do you have any advice on what to look for? —Luis C.
So, you want to buy an RV? At this point, you’ve hopefully rented or borrowed a rig, or participated in RVing activities in some other capacity, to confirm that this recreational lifestyle is right for you. If you haven’t, take a step back and try it out first. While owning an RV can be a lot of fun, it’s not for everyone—and that’s okay.
The last thing you want to do is go through the entire process of purchasing an RV, only to find out that you don’t enjoy camping or that it’s not something you want to do regularly enough to justify the cost and maintenance of owning your own rig.
Now that we have that settled, let’s talk about a few things you should do before and throughout the RV buying process.
Budget. Before you start touring rigs and talking to dealerships, set your budget and research what types of RVs fall within that category. This way, you can start your search with a more concentrated approach and the confidence to stand your ground when it comes to discussing pricing with dealers or private-party sellers.
RV type. Outside of rig size and floor plans, you need to determine whether you want to tow your RV or cruise around in a driveable. If you want a driveable rig, you’ll need to choose between a Class A, B, or C as well as gas or diesel. For towables, you can go from something as small as a teardrop trailer to a 45-foot fifth wheel. RV shows are a great place to tour a variety of rigs and get a better understanding of which RV type you prefer.
Lifestyle. Think about how you’ll be using your RV and who will be accompanying you on your trips. This will help you figure out what floor plans and features will meet your needs. If you’re traveling with kids, you might want more sleeping space and storage. Or, maybe you need extra cooking space or an outdoor entertainment area. Determine how you’ll utilize your rig the most, and research features and models that will be conducive to your lifestyle.
Travel expectations. From weekend warriors and full-time RVers to boondockers and overlanders, there are numerous ways to travel and camp in a rig. Do you plan on staying at campgrounds with full hookups and amenities or do you need a rig that’s equipped for going off the grid? Do you need a remote working area and strong WiFi or just something for quick weekend trips? Determining your primary travel schedule and camping style will help you further focus your shopping efforts.
New vs. used. There are pros and cons to buying both new and used RVs. While new RVs give you peace of mind knowing there were no previous owners, they’re typically more expensive and require longer wait times to obtain. Used RVs can save you money and even come equipped with aftermarket features and add-ons that new rigs don’t offer. However, if poorly maintained, you could end up taking over unwanted maintenance issues and costly repairs. There’s no right or wrong answer to buying new or used; as long as you stick to your budget and your RVing needs, you’ll be able to find a rig that checks all the boxes.
Financing. After you’ve found the right rig, it’s time to think about your financing options. If you’re buying directly from a dealer, they will often have financing available, similar to purchasing a car. However, these interest rates can be much higher depending on your credit score, location, your RV’s value, and your loan term (which can be up to 240 months for more expensive RVs). You can also choose to go through a bank for financing. If you’re buying a used rig, there might be fewer financing options available to you, especially if the RV is more than 10 years old.
Shop around before you settle on a lender or financing plan to find the best options and rates, and don’t forget to negotiate pricing with your dealership or private seller. Oftentimes, they will be willing to reduce upfront costs and fees.
Inspections. Your dealership or private seller should walk you through all of the features and functionalities of your RV before you drive it off the lot. At dealerships, this is called a dealer walkthrough, and while this is a helpful step in the purchasing process, it shouldn’t be the only “inspection” you do before taking your rig home.
New or used, you should consider using a third-party, certified inspector to examine your rig. This person will provide you with a detailed report that addresses any issues or concerns to consider before signing off on your purchase. Not only can these inspection reports help you make a more informed decision, they can also assist with negotiating pricing and repairs.
Insurance. Before you drive or tow your new RV, you’re going to need insurance. You’ll want an insurance policy that can cover all of your potential losses and liability for damage to other vehicles, structures, or people. Most major auto insurance companies offer RV policies, as do some RV clubs like Good Sam and Explorer RV. Just like your financing options, you’ll want to shop around for an insurance policy that covers the things you need at a price you can afford. No matter who you choose, make sure your coverage date starts the day you take possession of your RV.