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A Beginner's Guide to Buying an RV

by Kendra Clapp OlguínJun 23, 2020
A Beginner's Guide to Buying an RV

To buy or not to buy

It may seem obvious, but you should decide whether you genuinely want to purchase an RV. Know that there are many RV rental options nowadays that might be a better fit for you if you aren’t looking for a long term commitment. Not only that, but there are also a variety of ways to camp that Campspot can book for you like cabin or yurt rentals. Jot down some ideas of the experiences you’re looking for, talk with your partner or family, and make a pointed decision of what will work best for you and your loved ones.

Yes, I want to buy one. Let’s do this.

Great! Before looking at the types of RVs or campers to get, calculate a budget that works for you and your lifestyle. Determining an amount you’re comfortable with will help decide what kind of RV to purchase based on its price and its operating expenses.

The different kinds of RV’s include:

  • Class A Motorhomes
  • Class B Motorhome
  • Class C Motorhome
  • Travel Trailer
  • Fifth Wheel Trailer
  • Pop-up Trailer
  • Truck Camper
  • Toy Hauler

Here’s an easy trick: all classes of “motorhomes” have, well, a motor in them. With these options, you choose whether you want to fuel up with gas or diesel. All of the other types of RVs require a tow vehicle to pull it. In these circumstances, pay attention to the amount of weight (GVWR) your vehicle can tow. If you do not have a vehicle that can pull the RV you are purchasing, then you’re going to have to purchase a tow vehicle as well. 

Class A Motorhomes

Class A motorhomes are the boxy, larger RVs that have the ability to tow a vehicle in the back. Most have “slide outs” in which a portion of their sides expand for more space when parked. 

Benefits of a Class A motorhome can include:

  • They contain more space and have a more residential aesthetic on the inside.
  • They have a longer battery usage when disconnected from a power source (one can simply turn the motorhome on to charge the battery). This is useful for people that might be dry camping.
  • They can have more amenities. Some of the newer motorhomes have dishwashers, multiple bathrooms, and even fireplaces.
  • They usually sleep more people due to their larger sizes

Disadvantages of a Class A motorhome can include:

  • It tends to be the most expensive RV option.
  • Its larger size means that it won’t fit into some campgrounds or parks. When booking your campsite, you’ll see that they note what size of RV they can accommodate. 
  • Unfortunately, you’re not going to find a fuel-efficient RV, but out of all of them, the Class A motorhome guzzles the most gas due to its size.
  • Because the rig has a motor and engine, you’re going to have to do maintenance to it, as you would any other vehicle.

Class B Motorhomes

The smallest option of all RVs, Class B motorhomes are campervans. You’ve probably heard of Vanlife, right? Campervans have made quite the comeback in the most recent years but have been around for a while. There are a variety of options on the market if you’re able to live in a small space. 

Some benefits of a Class B motorhome include:

  • Because of its smaller size, Class B motorhomes can fit in a variety of places and maneuver through various situations other RVs can’t. Many people like the Class B’s ability to drive into cities, more urban landscapes, as well as rougher terrain.
  • It is more fuel-efficient than other RVs.
  • Robust chassis allows you to go more places and do more things that you might not with a larger rig.
  • Easy to set up and pack up at camping spots.

Some disadvantages of a Class B motorhome might include:

  • Its small size can be somewhat limiting to many. Most have a wet-bath, a bathroom that also functions as a shower. It is worth noting that in the most recent years, they have begun making Class B motorhomes with slide outs, giving you more room within your rig. This and the pop-up trailer (see below) have the least amount of storage of all RV options.
  • They are not cheap. Expect to pay over $100,000 for a new one. You are getting a well-engineered, thought-out, and packed RV whose cost reflects all that goes into it.
  • Lack of additional vehicle: your rig is your vehicle. While other options give you the ability to tow a car behind you or have a car tow your RV, Class B RVs do not. This can be something good or bad, depending on how you see it, how often you need to drive, and how you get around.
  • Engine and vehicle maintenance.

Class C Motorhomes

Although they are Class “C,” their size tends to be between that of Class A and Class B RVs. In recent years, many RV companies have done a great job figuring out ways to fit all sorts of amenities into 19-23″ Class C options. Many have slideouts to accomplish this. Additionally, you can tow a vehicle with the Class C option.

Some benefits of Class C motorhomes include:

  • More cost-effective than both Class A or B options.
  • The smaller size still gets you into tighter spaces or camping spots.
  • It has amenities like a full kitchen and bath.
  • It can tow a vehicle.
  • Most RVs of this category include a bunk bed above the “cockpit” area.

Some disadvantages of the Class C motorhome include:

  • Like other motorhomes, you still have to expect engine maintenance.
  • This size motorhome and sleeping capacity might not be a large enough size for families.
  • Not very fuel-efficient. 

Travel Trailer

These RVs pull by an automobile, usually an SUV or truck. Their sizes range from 15 feet to 33 feet, so there is a lot of variety in this category. If you decide to go the travel-trailer route, you would need to weigh your options again. Travel trailers have extremely cost-effective options, with some being pretty inexpensive compared to other RVs. Yet, similar to Class A motorhomes, some get pretty pricey the more space and amenities you add. Many travel trailers have built-in bunks, making it an excellent option for a family. Without a motor, you don’t have to worry about engine maintenance. You will, however, still have maintenance, but can be more manageable than other RV options.

With different brands having options at various price points, travel trailers are the most popular choice for RVers. Additionally, with its lack of an engine, older models hold their values. Many feel more comfortable buying an older travel trailer than they would an older motorhome.

The inside of travel trailers can vary, but most have a full bath, kitchen, and many have slide outs to expand the living space. 

Towing a travel trailer might intimidate many that might not have experience with hauling. These concerns can be addressed by practice or getting a smaller sized travel trailer.

Benefits of travel trailers:

  • Due to the wide variety of travel trailer types, there is something for everyone.
  • They include less expensive options.
  • They hold their value if maintained well.
  • Without a cockpit, they offer a variety of different layout options.
  • They come in a range of sizes.

Disadvantages of travel trailers

  • They require you to have the correct towing vehicle. If you already have it, great! Yet, if you don’t, it can be quite the headache and might burst your budget.
  • Less of a battery life than Class options, although you can connect to solar power options in most models.
  • Can have less storage space than other RV types.

Fifth-wheel Trailer

Fifth-wheels look like a hybrid of Class A motorhomes and travel trailers in that they tend to be large and boxy like Class A’s, but pickup trucks tow them like many travel trailers. To have a fifth-wheel, you must have a pickup truck with a large tow capacity and big enough bed to put in a special hitch designed for fifth-wheel towing. You can identify fifth-wheels by their larger size as well as their living space that extends over the pickup truck bed, usually a “second story” bedroom within the RV. 

If you’re comfortable with towing big rigs, have a big truck, and want your RV to feel like a residential home, this option might be best for you. With their grand size, this category of RVs provides amenities like multiple full baths, a washing machine, and a fuller, residential-style kitchen with an island. They often have slideouts to expand their luxurious living spaces. 

Because of their size and amenities, you are looking at one expensive rig. Fifth-wheels are often cottages people park at a specific location for an extended time. It’s a tiny home.

Benefits of a fifth-wheel:

  • They are spacious with a variety of amenities.
  • Some prefer towing with a fifth-wheel hitch, saying that it gives them more control and less sway than towing a travel trailer. This, of course, can be compensated with the right towing gear equipped to your RV.
  • They can accommodate a family.

Disadvantages of fifth-wheel RVs:

  • Tend to cost a pretty penny.
  • Due to its larger size, you’ll have to pay attention to where it can and, more importantly, cannot fit.
  • Your tow vehicle has to be pretty powerful to tow a fifth-wheel. These types of pickup trucks are expensive and big. Unlike other hitch options for RVs, you must have the fifth-wheel hitch installed into the bed of your truck and those hitches aren’t cheap.

Pop-up Trailer

The most cost-effective, pop-up trailers are expandable rigs with “soft walls” expand up and out when parked and set up. They are the lightest of RVs, allowing a wide range of vehicles able to tow it. They are for the person or family that will be spending most of their time outside at a campground, don’t mind using campground bathrooms and facilities, and like tent-like sleeping quarters. Not quite as “glamorous” as other options, they still provide a great camping experience. Their light-weight nature and smaller size allow them to manage rough terrain and fit into tighter spaces. They are more fuel-efficient than other options and are the perfect fit for a person looking only to use it during the summer or when conditions are mild.

Benefits of pop-up trailers can include:

  • They are the least expensive option of all RV types.
  • You don’t need a big pickup truck to tow these rigs.
  • They encourage you to spend most of your time outside.

Some disadvantages are:

  • They are pretty tight on space.
  • They do not provide as many amenities as the other RVs, leading you to be more dependent on campground facilities.
  • You can only use them when temperatures are moderate due to their soft walls. 

Truck Camper

Speaking of rough terrain, this type of rig can handle whatever you throw at it as it snugly fits on top of a pickup truck bed. This style is often chosen by those that like to dry-camp, move around often, and don’t mind the tight living quarters. They are a less expensive option than other options; however, you are not getting the amenities you might enjoy otherwise. Depending on the truck you have, you might have to do some coordinating in terms of size and fit, as well. They are, however, a shorter length than other options, making them easy to maneuver, and its lighter weight means fewer trips to the gas pump.

Some benefits of a truck camper are:

  • This option is a favorite of those who like to camp off-the-grid as trucks, without a tow, can drive through rugged terrain.
  • They come in different sizes.
  • They are significantly less expensive than other RV types.

Disadvantages of a truck camper can include:

  • The RV has a limited amount of space and amenities offered.
  • This option might not be suitable for those who have physical disabilities.
  • Depending on whether or not you unhitch, the trucker camper might not fit into tighter spaces when traveling through urban areas.
  • They require you to have a certain type of vehicle.

Toy Haulers

Toy haulers are fifth-wheel trailers with the ability to stow away a “toy,” like an ATV, motorcycle, golf cart, scooters, or other types of fun vehicles. This option is great for people who need space to tow adventure gear. 

Some benefits of toy haulers are:

  • The most obvious advantage of this RV type is that you can bring your favorite outdoor vehicle or adventure gear.
  • They are fun and might include a variety of playful amenities like a lounge area, bar, and grill.

Disadvantages of toy haulers can be:

  • They are expensive.
  • They require a very powerful and larger tow vehicle.

-Due to their size, they might not fit in smaller campgrounds or parks.

Decision time

With a better understanding of what RV options there are and what they can offer, you should now eliminate any that don’t fit your lifestyle or budget. Hopefully, one stands out to you more than the others. Once you have a few options of what you are looking for and a determined budget, you can now focus on whether you want to buy your RV used or new.

Used or new

New RVs have the clear advantages of a warranty, more modern amenities, fewer miles, less wear, etc. However, different types have a higher depreciation than others. Do your homework and do some online research comparing new models to their older versions. Like cars turned in at the end of their lease, many RVs are only two or three years old, turned in because their owners opted to upgrade to a newer model after their warranty ran out. That doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong with them, just that they can afford and would rather have something newer that was covered by a warranty. Some earlier models with lower prices have the potential for a renovation, allowing you to allocate a portion of your budget toward making it yours. A time to opt for a newer model is when you require more modern technologies such as solar paneling or a tankless water heater that might make their hefty price tag worth it. Of course, it will come down to the delicate dance of what you are looking for and what you can spend.

Although overwhelming due to its expansive options, the process of purchasing an RV is well-worth it. There aren’t many traveling options that provide you with the experience that an RV does. While many are small in size, they give you the comforts of home. Lastly, RVs come with the freedom to travel wherever your heart wishes to go and it’s hard to put a price tag on something like that.