Buying an RV: Everything You Need to Know

Considering buying an RV? Here’s everything you need to know, including where to buy, new vs. used, how to care for an RV, and more.
buying an rv

Road trips are woven into the fabric of America.

From Route 66 to our nation’s expansive National Parks system, the U.S. is a large country with so much to see — if you’re willing to drive to get there. That’s part of why RVs are so popular — around 11% of American households own some sort of recreational vehicle.

If you’re considering buying an RV, there’s a lot to think about. Buying an RV comes with all kinds of choices and considerations, and for such a major purchase, you’ll want to do your homework before taking the plunge.

This ultimate guide offers everything you need to know before, during, and after the process of buying an RV.

Jump to…

Considerations before buying an RV
Types of RVs to choose from
Where to buy an RV
New vs. Used RVs
Buying an RV: cost and financing
Costs of owning an RV
Consider renting instead of buying
The best RV models and brands
Looking for more affordable RV storage?

Considerations Before Buying an RV

Before you buy an RV (or even make the final decision to buy one), there are many considerations to take. Ask yourself these questions to get a better idea of whether buying an RV is the right move — and if it is, how and where to start your search for the right RV.

Why do you want to own an RV?

First, think about why you want an RV in the first place. Is it for you? For your family? To take trips with groups of friends? What kinds of places do you want to go to in your RV? Do you envision weekend trips or longer vacations? Do you want to spend any time living in the RV?

Asking yourself these questions now will help you prepare to answer other important questions before buying an RV.

What does your RV need to have?

Next, think about what you need (not want, that comes later). How many people does your RV need to accommodate? What kinds of amenities will it need to have for the lifestyle you envision or the kinds of destinations you plan to visit?

This is also a good time to start thinking about size. RVs come in a wide range of sizes — from smaller, towable “campers” all the way up to 30-foot Class A motorhomes, which can have interior space up to 400 square feet.

How often will you be using the RV (or how many seasons)? 

Early in the buying process is the right time to start thinking about how often you plan to use your RV. This may help determine what type of RV is best for you, but it also has important budget implications. For example, if you only plan to use your RV for a season or two, or for the occasional trip, but it’s important to be realistic so you can properly plan for the cost of storing your RV when it’s not being used.

What towing features do you want or need?

Do you intend to tow your camper or pop-up trailer? Do you want an RV capable of towing a vehicle behind it? Do you want an RV you can simply drive, no tow necessary? Some RVs (like larger motorhomes) can be driven and even tow smaller vehicles with a hitch behind them. This may be important if you plan on taking other motorized vehicles with you on your RV trips. For smaller campers and pop-up trailers, you’ll need to consider the fact that these will need to be towed by another vehicle powerful enough to tow a lot of weight.

So,o if you don’t currently own a truck or vehicle with sufficient towing capabilities to support the camper you want, it’s vital that you take this into consideration early on.  If your RV or vehicle can support the towing capacity you need, but doesn’t currently have a proper tow hitch, you may need to buy and install one that perfectly accommodates your towing needs.

What’s your budget? 

There are financing opportunities for RVs. But when considering your budget, you’ll want to think about many factors related to financing and not. Can you make a good down payment? How much of a monthly payment can you afford? Is it worth it to take a loan and pay interest on the purchase? Will your credit rating qualify you for a good interest rate?

When thinking about your budget, don’t neglect to leave room for all the extra expenses of RV ownership: storage costs, fuel, camping fees, maintenance, licensing, insurance, and more (we’ll cover costs in more detail later in this guide).

Types of RVs

There are four main types of RVs to choose from:

Class A motorhomes

Class A motorhomes
Class A motorhomes are what many people envision when they think of RVs. These are large, bus-shaped, drivable vehicles that come stocked with all kinds of amenities. Class A motorhomes can include bathtubs, washing machines, and full-sized kitchen appliances and sleep eight or more people. Many of them have slide-out sides to increase the interior space.

Class A motorhomes are pretty much plug-and-play, since they come with everything you need to get started. But they can also be very expensive, and might be bigger than some people need.

Class C motorhomes

Class C motorhomes
Class C motorhomes have a lot in common with Class A — they’re drivable, they may have slide-out sides, and they can usually accommodate a lot of people and a lot of amenities. But they’re a little bit smaller and a little bit more affordable. Class C motorhomes are distinguished by their classic sleeping space built over the cockpit.

Class B motorhomes

Class B motorhomes

Considering the recent popularity of the #VanLife trend, you’ll probably recognize this type of RV: Sleeper vans. These are vans that have been modified to have living and sleeping space and amenities. They tend to be better for solo travelers or couples who need less space. The types of amenities they offer can vary, but RV companies have been getting in on the van life trend and building out seriously luxurious camper vans.

Travel trailers

Travel trailers

There are many different types and sizes of RVs that would fit into this category, which comprises all RVs that are towed behind another vehicle. These can range from foldable camping trailers to huge, luxurious fifth-wheels. Whatever you need in an RV, if you have a vehicle to tow it, you can probably find it in a trailer.

How to Buy an RV

When it comes to buying your RV, you have a lot of options.

If you’re set on buying a new RV, you might want to head straight for a dealership that offers the type of vehicle you want to buy. You can also shop on manufacturers’ websites, which might be the right path if you want to customize your RV with specific amenities or room layouts.

On the other hand, if you plan on getting a used RV, you might be able to find it at a dealership, but may have more luck online, where you can search multiple lots and sites for an RV that fits your specific wants and needs. There are many websites where you can shop for used RVs, but focus on sites that allow you to filter the available RVs by different specifications so you can narrow down your search to what you want and need.

One option you may not have considered is going to an RV show. This can be a great option for shoppers who aren’t 100% sure what they want. A show allows you to see many different offerings from different companies all in one place, which makes it easy to compare things like amenities and prices. Shows can also offer great deals you won’t find elsewhere.

Should you buy new or used?

An important consideration when you reach the buying stage is whether to purchase a brand new RV, or shop for a used one. There are pros and cons to each.

Should you buy new or used rv

Buying a new RV appeals to many people because it’s a brand new toy, all for them! Buying new also gives you the option to customize a lot about your RV, including its size and some of its amenities. New RVs typically come with warranties, which can add peace of mind for new owners.

But buying a new RV is typically much more expensive than buying a used one. RVs are vehicles, which means the depreciate in value — they even depreciate significantly the moment you drive a new one off the dealer’s lot. In fact, most new RVs will depreciate 60% of their purchase price within five years. The other downside to a new RV is that these vehicles can often come with “bugs” or quirks straight from the dealer. The first year with a new RV is often spent working out small kinks to get it in perfect shape.

Buying a used RV, on the other hand, will typically cost much less up front. They will also usually have all those little “bugs” worked out, and may have fun customizations that were installed by their previous owner.

The downside to buying a used RV, of course, is that you’re more limited in what you can get. You can only buy what you can find on the market, which means it’s harder to get the exact specifications you’re looking for. Used RVs can also have problems brought on by their age or misuse. Very old RVs may be difficult to camp with, as some campsites have limits on how old an RV can be to stay there.

How Much Does an RV Cost to Buy?

The cost of buying an RV varies depending on the type and features you’re looking for. A moderately appointed camping trailer that you tow behind your car or truck might start at around $10,000. A drivable motorhome will likely start around $100,000, and for the newest model with the latest technology and amenities, the cost can climb up to $300,000 or more.

Of course, those are costs for brand new RVs, and you can save significantly by buying a used one.

Most RVs can be financed using a vehicle loan, through a dealer, your bank, or a third-party lender. Financing options will vary depending on how much you plan to put down, your credit score, and other factors. If you’re able to finance through your own bank and have good credit, you can get a lower interest rate. Third-party lenders are likely to charge higher interest rates.

As with any loan, the interest will add significant costs to the total purchase price of your RV. In addition to making sure you can make the monthly payments, carefully consider the total cost of financing an RV, and make sure you’re OK with the financials before you sign the paperwork.

How to get a better price for an RV

There are some ways you might be able to get a better deal on an RV.

  • Be open and flexible. If you’re looking for a very specific model or set of amenities, you might have to pass up a great deal on an RV that’s close to what you want, if not quite exact.
  • Keep an eye on auto financing rates at your bank. If rates dip, it might be a good time to buy.
  • Shop for RVs in the fall or winter. It’s easier to get a good deal in the off-season than in spring and summer when demand is high.
  • Ask your salesperson for a better deal. The worst they can say is no.
  • Be patient. You may have to wait a while to find a really good deal, but they come along from time to time. The cost savings will make the wait worth it.

Total cost of owning an RV

In addition to the purchase price, there are many other costs that come with owning an RV.

  • Insurance, registration, and GAP coverage. Insurance will typically be higher for a brand new RV than for a used one that’s a few years older.
  • Maintenance and repair costs. In addition to winterizing and dewinterizing your RV each year, you’ll need to factor in the cost of oil changes, engine maintenance, cleaning, and more to keep your RV in good shape, free from wear and tear.
  • Gas, propane, and fuel. In addition to fuel for cooking appliances, heaters, and more, you’ll need gas to drive you RV. Most RVs have extremely low fuel efficiency, so gas will be a major cost for any long-distance trips you take.
  • Access to cable and internet, if you want these amenities in your RV.
  • Parking and campsite fees. Depending on where you travel, fees to park and hook up your RV can get steep, especially during peak travel months in spring and summer.
  • Whether you plan to eat out or cook in your RV’s kitchen, food costs will be another significant part of your budget for RV trips.
  • Storage during the off-season. If you live in a place with harsh winters, you’ll likely want to look for covered or indoor storage for your RV to protect it from the elements, and that can be expensive. Outdoor RV storage is also possible, but will require extra steps to protect your RV.

To get an idea of the ongoing and hidden costs of RV ownership, look at this sample budget. And note that all these costs are estimates, and will vary depending on your own use case, location, and more.

Total cost of owning an RVIn this example, let’s say you take five RV trips per year. After adding up the per-trip costs, that would make your annual cost of ownership more than $13,500 — and that’s without some of the major costs of RV ownership, like paying for a tow vehicle, or covering damage or a break down.

Consider renting an RV instead of buying

If you’re only planning to use an RV occasionally, it might not make financial sense for you to purchase your own RV. The costs of ownership add up, and may not be worth the investment if you only plan to take a trip or two each year.

If that’s the case, you might consider renting an RV instead of buying one. This has a few benefits. There are the financial benefits — even though RV rentals during peak travel times can cost up to hundreds of dollars per day, the cost of a rental will likely pale in comparison to the purchase price of an RV plus all the costs of ownership that add up over the course of a year.

And if you’re new to the RV lifestyle, renting an RV can be a great way to test drive the lifestyle, or try out a certain model or type of RV before you commit to buying one.

If you’re set on buying your own RV but don’t plan to use it too often, another option is to rent out your RV to others. This can help offset the ongoing costs of ownership.

The Best RV Models and Brands

According to Mr. RV, these are the top RV brands to consider if you’re in the market to buy an RV. If you’re looking for a reliable RV at a fair price, you might want to start your search with one of these reputable and well-known brands:

  • Airstream
  • Dutchmen
  • Forest River
  • Jayco
  • Newmar
  • Northwood Manufacturing
  • Oliver Travel Trailers
  • Pleasure-Way
  • Winnebago

You’ll Need Affordable RV Storage. Use Neighbor.

One of the costs that shouldn’t break the bank is storing your RV. That’s because Neighbor can connect you with trustworthy people in your community who have space to store an RV — for an average of 50% less than traditional self storage.

Neighbor is safe, affordable, and brings communities together. Check out RV storage available near you to see for yourself.

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