As a first time RV buyer, you have a lot to consider. There are thousands of different models on the market. With so many options, it can be difficult to know which motorhome is right for you. There are pros and cons to every question you might have, so we’ve put together this guide to make it easier for you to find your perfect RV.
Before You Start Shopping
Purchasing an RV is far more complicated than purchasing a car. Before you start looking at RVs, take a moment to answer the following questions:
- What are you planning to do with your motorhome?
- Will you be staying in RV campgrounds, national parks, or a mix of both?
- How many times per year are you going camping?
- Do you have a place to store your RV?
- What features can’t you live without?
- What other creature comforts would you like?
- What’s your budget?
After you’ve answered these, it’s time to go shopping for your first RV!
How To Choose A Motorhome
Identifying how you intend using your RV and the type of camping you will be doing is something you will refer to frequently when deciding which RV to buy. This will help prevent buying an RV that is too large, too small, or one that doesn’t have the amenities you need.
Below, we categorized each type of RV and highlighted their strengths and for which type of camping each model is best suited.
Class A Motorhome
Class A Motorhomes, which are generally between 26 and 45 feet in length, are considered the ultimate in luxury RVing. A large diesel or gas engine located in the rear powers the motorhome. Class A motorhomes are best suited for travelers who plan to spend a good amount of time on the road. Keep in mind, they tend to command a high price given the plentiful amenities including a kitchen and bathroom.
Class C Motorhome
The Class C Motorhome is characterized by its sleeping or storage area above the cab of the driving space, giving it a ‘C-shape’ appearance when viewed side-on. Amenities are similar to those found in a Class A motorhome, but in a more compact layout. They are best suited to small families who travel often, but want a more budget-friendly option than a Class A. They are generally between 24 and 32 feet in length.
Class B Motorhome
More streamlined than Class A and C motorhomes, Class B RVs are better suited for daily driving due to their smaller size. They are typically an ideal option for couples and some models can even handle light off-road duties. Class B RVs are built on a van or small truck chassis making them much easier to maneuver and store. They are generally between 21 and 24 feet in length.
Fifth Wheel Campers
The name fifth wheel refers to the unique type of towing connection located in the cargo bed of the pickup used to tow it. Their slideout sections, high ceilings, and extended length make them extremely desirable. The extra storage space similar to that found in a Class C motorhome makes them a popular choice for large families. They are generally between 25 and 40 feet in length.
Toy haulers can be found in several configurations, but their defining characteristic is their garage or large cargo area at their rear, complete with large heavy-duty doors that double as ramps to make loading and unloading equipment easy. This gives travelers the ability to take their golf carts, kayaks, or motorcycles on holiday with them. They are generally between 21 and 40 feet in length.
Travel trailers are the most common type of towable RV you will see on the road as they are easy to unhitch and set up. They come in a huge variety of floor plans and configurations. The weight and size of a travel trailer can vary greatly. Travel trailers are easy to retrofit or modify to suit your exact camping needs. They are generally between 13 and 40 feet in length.
Also known as ‘teardrop campers’ because of their unique shape, tiny campers are essentially a bed and kitchen on wheels. If you are new to the RV lifestyle a tiny camper is the easiest and most cost-effective way to get some experience. Recently, people have begun to modify their tiny campers for a retro look, preferring style oversize. They are generally between 8 and 10 feet in length
As their name suggests, pop-up trailers are compact trailers that expand or ‘pop-up’ to provide extra living and sleeping space. They are the lightest, most compact, and most affordable type of camper on our list and ideal for young families or couples who enjoy camping but don’t want to sleep in a tent. They are generally between 8 and 16 feet in length.
New Or Used?
Once you’ve decided to go RV shopping, it is understandably tempting to head to your local RV dealer and browse new models. However, there are some compelling reasons why a second-hand model might be a better option for you.
Like new cars, new RVs depreciate quickly. According to Camperreport.com, the average value of a new RV drops by up to 21% as soon as it leaves the dealership. After 10 years of ownership, an RV will have lost almost 60% of its original value.
On the flip side, it’s not unusual for older RVs to need a little TLC. As RVs age, the stress of movement and exposure to the elements can weather seals, making water damage a real possibility. Of course, you can repair and replace seals. However, if you are considering buying a used RV, even if it has extensive service and maintenance records, the sensible thing to do is to have it checked out by a professional which brings us onto our next point.
Get A Professional Third Party Inspection
Spending a little money to get a pre-purchase inspection on an RV you want to buy could potentially save you thousands of dollars in repair bills. An RV is not only a vehicle, but also a living space and some serious problems could easily be missed to the untrained eye.
Common problem areas include:
- Leaking water lines
- Worn out water pump
- Toilet issues
- Clogged air conditioners
- Worn shock absorbers
- Battery failure
- Window and roof leaks
- Structural rust
An RV inspection can take anywhere from one to three hours, depending on the size of your RV. Most mechanics will be happy to take a look at the engine, transmission, and driveline, but you’ll need a company that can inspect the entire RV, including the plumbing and electrical systems.
Attend An RV Show
Even if you’re not in the market for an RV yet, RV shows are a terrific way to compare and get some hands-on experience with the different types of motorhomes, as well as comparing manufacturers. Touring the inside of an RV can give you a better sense of what it will be like to live in one when you’re on the road.
You’ll also meet vendors who make camping accessories and those in the RV service industry such as campground representatives. Not only will you get to see the latest gear on display, but often, you’ll get a chance to test new products!
Size (And Weight) Matters!
It’s all well and good having an RV with more space than you will ever need. But, if your vehicle can’t tow it safely, or you aren’t comfortable driving something so large, your dream holiday can very quickly turn into a nightmare.
A common issue that can trip up new RV owners is forgetting the weight of the RV once it’s loaded with all camping equipment, and in some cases, water. The worst time to realize this is when you can’t quite make it up that mountain pass, so here are our tips to ensure you don’t get stuck on the road:
- Carefully consider your vehicle’s tow capacity: The towing capacity of your vehicle is the maximum amount it can potentially tow. It doesn’t take into account weak spots like the towing capacity of your tow hitch and tongue, or how worn your tires and suspension are.
- Consider the terrain: Weather conditions, atmosphere, and elevation changes can have a dramatic effect on your vehicle’s induction system and turbocharger. If you’re driving through mountains, your tow capacity could be reduced as much as 20%.
- There are no modifications that will increase tow capacity: Upgrading or modifying suspension, fitting stiffer coils, or heavy-duty springs, will not increase the towing capacity of your vehicle, which is calculated according to your vehicles axle ratings. The only way to increase your towing capacity is to get a different vehicle.
So, what is the easiest way to calculate the maximum weight your vehicle can tow? If you don’t want to calculate the total weight of your loaded RV (don’t forget to include passengers) or if your car brakes or suspension are not new, the common thought is to not exceed 80% of your vehicles towing capacity. However, this is a fairly old school way of approaching safe towing capacity. Most people today are more comfortable doing the math and figuring it out for themselves. For an excellent rundown of how to accurately calculate your vehicles maximum towing capacity, check out this video from the YouTube channel, Keep Your Daydream.