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Once you start looking at recreational vehicles you will feel overwhelmed. There are way too many choices out there! And the prices are just as varied as the RVs.

If you are going to become a Full-Time RVer and give up the stick-house, then price may not be a concern. But if you owe a great deal on your home or rent, you may not have the money to put into your new home-on-wheels. Payments on used RVs are much lower than newer ones.

Used recreational vehicles are good starters. Most RVers live by the “trading up” rule – always hoping to upgrade to something bigger and better in a few years. Although, with recent fuel increases and more people (even us homeless nomads!) trying to downsize, many RVers are discussing downsizing their Big Rigs for something smaller – even truck campers and pop-ups!

With a used RV, you can get quite a discount, especially on a really nice Class A or motorcoach. The only problem with this is, you’ll have a great investment, yet some campgrounds are really starting to buckle down on the rig-age. By that I mean, many “RV resorts” consider rigs 10-15 years old “old”. They want modern rigs, not quite frankly, those funky-looking 60s trailers. Nothing wrong with older rigs, many (esp. GMCs!) are in really great condition and most have been rebuilt and remodeled by their current owners. It is just that certain parks want to maintain that “new” image. Another thing to consider is that parks that do not mention this in their Park Rules, may still have a “we have to right to refuse any guest” policy. A quick look out the window toward your older RV may cause the “no vacancy” sign to go up.

Discrimination? Well, I say the same thing when we pass a 55+ Park! If they are private campgrounds or parks they are allowed to have their own rules – even silly ones. If they don’t want older RVs and you have one, you wouldn’t want to be there anyway, right? It would just be a miserably place to live as the people are hung-up about age!

But don’t let an older used RV discourage you. The majority of campgrounds don’t care what age your RV is. Age isn’t always a factor though. Many campgrounds will not allow “homemade” campers. Now you’re scratching your head at this… ever see a school-bus turned into a camper? They don’t want stuff like that. Some of those homemade campers are really neat, but under the circumstances, I wouldn’t want to be camped by one either as too much can go wrong. I would feel safer with a camper that had been under inspection at a factory and manufactured by people who knew what they were doing. A homemade camper make look great – but I don’t know that the thing won’t catch on fire or blow up! So you can’t blame campgrounds for not wanting homemades or “conversions” as they are sometimes called. So keep this in mind when you are shopping for a used RV.

Another thing to keep in mind is the overall structure. If it is a private seller – why are they selling? Has there been damage? Was it in an accident? How has it been stored? Like stick-houses, moisture and mildew can be nightmares in a RV. Find out what the reasons for selling are. Are there blemishes or blistering in the outside finish? Any noticeable dents or scratches? Don’t be afraid to climb the ladder rack and look at the roof. Roof damage is not something you want! Check the flooring in all the outside compartments. Has the thing been flooded? You joke – but if you’ve ever had a water pipe break in a camper (I did!) and have it flood (3 inches!), you’ll understand that your carpeting is slowly rotting away even if you got it dried-out quickly!

And don’t be afraid to drive a RV dealer nuts with questions as well! Make them earn their commission and seek out the answers you want. Also let them know that you aren’t afraid to open cabinets or compartments. Shop around as this is a “home” purchase!

Another thing to ask is how far has the camper traveled? Does it have a lot of mileage (if a motorhome)? If it has had engine repair, who work on it? When? What was the problem? Do they have paperwork on it? If you don’t know anything about engines and you are looking at a motorhome, motorcoach or van – definitely seek out your trusted mechanic or a friend who knows about these things. When your home is on wheels and it is the main “wheels”, if it requires repairs in a shop – you have to live in a hotel or some other accommodations while it is being fixed! So if it starts up and a puff of smoke comes out – don’t reach for your wallet just yet! Repair bills on larger motorhomes can be major wallet drainers. And don’t forget the tires, brakes and other essentials.

The refrigerator is another major expense. If not properly stored a closed refrigerator can smell for decades! So check it and if dealing with a private seller, ask to come back when the refrigerator and freezer is plugged in. You can usually tell by the shelving and drawers whether it has had much use. Same with the stove, oven and microwave. Many recreational campers (1-2 weeks a year) never use their camper oven. It’s a shame really as there is nothing better than a little turkey or even a birthday cake from a camper oven! You’ll be able to see signs of use. The microwave will undoubtedly be the most used item. If it is a combo oven/microwave, make sure this works as they can be expensive to replace.

Look around every faucet, vent and “hole” (where pipes and wires come through) for signs of water or other damage. Sometimes you can see repair work you wouldn’t have noticed if you didn’t look for the signs.

Hot water heaters can be fixed, but can set you back some money, especially if you are on the road when you realize it doesn’t work. Make sure they demonstrate everything for you. If they won’t – find another dealer or seller.

The air-condition unit and furnace are other costly repair items. Again, make sure these things work. If they can’t demonstrate the furnace (or stove/oven) because they have no propane – then tell them you’ll come back when they get some!

If the camper has an awning, make sure you see it pulled down. Notice if it is difficult putting up or down and if there is too much slack when they put it up. Also note if there are any holes in it as new awnings generally run $1000 and up.

Where is the fuse box? Is it easy to get to our do you have to crawl in a closet? What about the holding tanks? Do the tank sensors work? If the camper has been in storage and there is sewer odor… well, I guess I don’t need to tell you about that!

Older RVs, especially ones in storage, may not have the newer propane valves… stations won’t service older tanks! New tanks range from $40 on up depending on the size. So see if the propane tanks meet current standards. Most RVs have two propane tanks. If there is only one, question that!

I am not trying to stop you from buying a used RV, I just want you to be aware that you’ll rarely find one that was “only driven on Sundays by a sweet old grandma”. Some RVs get a lot of wear and are wore out well before you come along. If this is going to be your home, even for a short-while, don’t cheat yourself with never-ending repair bills or part replacements.

If you are dealing with a private seller and you don’t have the proper tow equipment for a fifth-wheel or travel trailer then you will have to figure how much extra you will end up paying elsewhere. Fifth-wheels and travel trailers require special hitches and brake controllers and in the case of trailers, sway bars. If the private seller doesn’t have these to include in the deal, that’s more money out of your pocket. And you will have to have the fifth-wheel hitch installed by a professional – as well as the brake controller, unless your pickup truck has a built-in tow-package.

If you purchase used through a RV dealer, they will often throw in the hitches (and even brake controller) free just to get a sale. If not, at least try to get a discount or package deal out of them on these items.

If you are a non-smoker and looking at a smokers (or just plain smelly) RV, there are ways to take care of that, but it will cost you unless you do all the work yourself. But it is possible to get that new-camper-smell again.

Notice the coloring of the seat cushions, carpet and drapes. Has the camper been opened up to the sun? Is there discoloration? Is the fabric on the stages of rotting? Are the seat cushions so wore they will need re-upholstered? Cause if you plan to leave in it full-time, you will have to have it replaced or purchase some sort of covering for it.

Dealers who offer warranties on used RVs are ones you should keep in mind. Things go wrong with RVs – new and used. As I have mentioned before – no matter what a dealer tells you – they are not made to live in year-round. So be prepared to have some issue – whether it be blowing out a fuse cause you didn’t understand the whole 30-amp speech the dealer gave you or your TV antenna crank breaks in your hand. Something will happen – just like it does in a stick-house.

A used RV can be a good thing, especially for the money involved. But be aware that cheap is not always a good thing. If it looks too good to be true, it most likely is!

When you decide to make the move from a stick-house to a recreational vehicle, there are many things to consider. Prices vary on RVs, but most are very affordable with the majority being much, much cheaper than stick-house! If you buy used, chances are you can have low payments (or even pay for it in full). The only problem with used is that you have to be very careful and look for things you’d take for granted with a new one. But I’ll get into that later if you decide on used. For now, lets consider things that should help you narrow down that perfect home-on-wheels.

1) Driving – Are you okay with driving/towing? Can you back up? If not, you may consider contacting your local RV dealership and see if they recommend a driving school (or perhaps they offer lessons) for a newbie RVer. If that isn’t an issue, than you need to consider other driving issues such as a tow vehicle. If you decide on a fifth-wheel or travel trailer (and, of course, a truck-camper) then you will need a good pickup truck to tow your RV. If you decide on a motorhome (Class A, Class C or a van) then you may require a vehicle to tow behind (either on a trailer or tow dolly). And consider very carefully if you choose not to have a tow vehicle – especially if you decide on a larger motorhome. Everytime you require groceries or supplies, you’d have to pack up everything and drive your “home” into town. Unless you have other options – motorcycle, bicycle, hiking – to get to a nearby town, you should consider having a “vehicle”. Another driving factor to consider is that your family can drive it. If something happens to you, could your spouse or travel companions drive it?

2) Size – What size of RV do you need? It depends on if you are going to be Full-Timers or Seasonals, as well as how many people are living in it. If you are going to go full-time, then everything you own will be inside. That means you need storage, as well as enough room to function. We have a two-bedroom fifth-wheel. Everyone has their own “space” – no crowding, no struggling to store things. Smaller rigs may seem to small for you, but don’t forget, the more slides you have, the larger the rig becomes. And driving-wise, how big of rig can you handle? Quite honestly, some roadways (especially in the mountains) are just not made for larger RVs. We recently towed our rig (about 53′ in length with the long-bed pickup) through Death Valley National Park and you talk about having a death-grip on the steering wheel! So keep in mind that although bigger is roomier, it is a lot more to handle on the road and even inside smaller campgrounds.

3) Price – Can you afford new? New is a better option for those who can’t handle any repairs that may come their way. Face it, RVs weren’t made to live in yearround (no matter what the dealer tells you). If the refrigerator goes out – you just can’t walk into Sears and buy one. No, it needs repaired at a dealership. Minor things do happen to new RVs. Rarely do I hear anyone not having a few problems within the first year. Like a stick-house, RVs require maintainance. The other good thing about new is that you can get one ordered as you like (colors, extra features) for either no extra money or just the “extras” you add to it. So if you love blue and want it blue – you can have it that way. Just talk to your local dealer about it. Used are a great way to get into Full-Timing and often you can get a rig that would cost a great deal of money for less. A great example is a Rexall which can cost $200,000. You can get used ones for around $40-50,000. Sounds like a lot, right? Walk into one and then you won’t bulk at the price. 😉 The only drawback from used RVs is that you just don’t know what is going to happen and what the previous owners did. If you have a mechanic or friend who knows about RVs, you may ask them to help inspect any used one you are considering buying.

4) Storage – Like size, this depends on if you are going Full-Time. If everything you own is in the RV, then you need storage. And I don’t mean sticking your frying pans in an outside compartment. I mean real, functional storage space. There are extra things that will eat your storage space before you even get it home. Washer and dryers are the worst. Yes, there is some benefit to having a washer and dryer if you don’t mind shutting down everything to run them AND the noise doesn’t drive you out of your rig. Moisture is another issue with them… but it’s things like this you should consider. Washer and dryers are placed in a storage closet – if you add them – you’ve lost valuable closet space. The majority of campgrounds have laundries (that work much faster and more quiet than yours would) so don’t feel pressured to get a washer and dryer in your rig. Dinette booths versus tables is another space saver. Sure, dinette tables look nice in RVs, yet booths allow under-seat storage! I could spend all day on storage; however, I think this is enough information to make you realize you need to be aware of storage areas.

5) Slides – Slides are probably the second-best invention of my time (spray butter being number one!) and the more you have, the more room adds on to your rig. Yet they have major downfalls. Number one is that most campgrounds (even those that advertise Big Rig Friendly) aren’t slide-friendly. You may find that your slide(s) can’t go out because of trees, utility posts, cement barriers and other campground obstacles. This can be quite frustrating, especially if you have wide and/or large slides like we do. Another thing to consider with slides is that they aren’t as heavily insulated as the rest of your camper. So if you are going to a colder region, you need to keep in mind that you may need to leave your slides in to stay warm. Which reminds me – slides don’t have electrical outlets or furnace/air-condition ducts. Keep this in mind if you are in a hot-cold region. Slides can also be a pain if you can’t put them out. If you are traveling down the road and need to use the bathroom, can you even get to your bathroom? Some slides block off areas of your rig and you can’t use them. So keep in mind what your rig would look like with the slides in – could you get to your bathroom? Bedroom? Stove? Refrigerator? If you were boondocking (or dry camping) a few days with the slides in, could you still live in your camper? These are things to keep in mind when RV shopping.

6) Travel – How far are you going in your rig? Will you drive it across the country or will you just drive it a few states away? Make sure you can handle it and that your routes (like mountains) are something your rig can handle. We’ve driven down roads that have brought our curtains down and broke the jar of dill pickles. If you are going to take your rig down the road make sure the cabinets and refrigerator has good locks, that sliding doors have snaps, etc… Also, if you travel to a colder region (or even if it gets colder in a warmer region) that your rig is well-insulated and that you have the means or the “extras” as far as it goes to protecting your pipes/hoses from freezing. Many RVs have “polar packages” that you can upgrade and get tank heaters, etc… Well worth the extra money.

7) Extras – Most salespeople will push whatever they have on the lot, but if they know you are interested in a new one (especially custom-built) they will push the extra features. You don’t need most of them, yet there are a few that you should consider. A generator is a must in my opinion – especially a propane one. It will cost extra money, but you’ll find it money well spent during your first major outage. No smelly gas tanks to drag around – just regular propane which you’ll use in your RV anyway! And make sure you get a switch to turn the generator on from inside your RV. Those stormy or cold nights you are without power, all you have to do is crawl out of bed, flip the switch and your generator is on. No fuss and anyone can do it! Another extra is the polar package (if you are traveling far or in colder regions). Flip a switch and your water tank will be heated! No wrapping hoses or dripping faucets. The central vacuum feature sounds silly, but believe it or not, it’s actually quite handy. I am amazed at how much cleaner our carpets stay. It is noisy running it, but that’s only for a few minutes at a time.

That’s some of the things you should consider when looking for a RV. As I mentioned, if you are considering used, there are some additional things to look for and I’ll get to that a bit later.

Meanwhile, think of things you’d like to have in your perfect RV. Do you like TV and movies and want to sit and watch them from a sofa or a recliner? Do you like plants? They have optional greenhouse windows in RVs… Entertain? They have wine racks and mini-bars… Think about what you NEED and what you would LIKE to have and write them down. Make a check-list for each RV you visit that way you see how close it comes to your perfect RV.

Slides can be an issue

Slides can be an issue

They next step of living the life of a Full-Timer requires some thought as to how you will earn an income. Actually, this isn’t as difficult as it may seem! Many places are in need of temporary help and some of these jobs pay a great deal of money or a modest amount with a bonus (if you stay until your commitment date). If you don’t mind moving on every couple weeks or months then this might be an option for you. If you need a job where you have benefits, no problem! There are many places (even KOA) that will have additional benefits like health coverage and insurance if you stay for an extended period. Some places, especially theme parks, have their own health clinic that work-campers qualify for the first day they start. And these are just seasonal positions. There are steady positions (even government jobs) out there that require at least a year stay and offer full-benefits.

How much do you need? What skills do you bring to the table? What do you be willing to do? What would you not be willing to do?  These are things you need to ask yourself. The very minimum you should seek at a work-camp-type position is full-hookups. That is your “free living”. Additional perks to ask for include Cable TV or SAT TV, WiFi, propane discount (or allowance) and laundry allowance (if not free). Many businesses that hire work-campers already understand this and most often will have these extras listed with the compensation package.  Seasonal bonuses or even mileage allowance is another great way to add money to the kitty.

If you work for a campground or RV park, most often they will have you work so many hours to “pay” for your site. In a way, this is a barter of sorts. If the business wants to consider your site “pay” (for tax purposes), then you need to find another place to work for. You want campgrounds or businesses that give you a note stating you were required to furnish your own housing (RV) and were required to live on site. That way you don’t have any crazy tax issues. If you don’t mind complicated taxes, then by all means, keep those other options open.

Even if you have a nice pension and/or social security coming in, you can’t rely on that to stretch far in today’s economy. So many folks with outside incomes RVers work as Camp Hosts or work at campgrounds and RV resorts for their campsite and utility fees. Many places, especially state and county parks are in need of Hosts. Some even offer a daily or monthly stipend. Time commitments vary by location, but most involve a month to three months with extensions available. Hosting is pretty simple and requires little, if any, training. Usually the biggest requirement is to be able to deal with the public. People skills are definitely a must.

Can’t believe there are jobs for people in RVs? Face it, our economy isn’t at its best right now. The job market is changing and people stuck with stick homes are in a position where they can’t get to these jobs. This is creating a shortage of workers in areas that need them – folks can’t sell their house to move to areas that need help and they certainly can’t afford to drive long distances regularly with current fuel prices. But we can! And once the position is over… hookup and head out!

Now there is more than just campground work – and actually we have a better term for this if you are thinking “Oh no, I’m not putting campground work on my resume!” – it’s called “Outdoor Hospitality”. Sound better? This covers campgrounds, RV parks and all types of resorts. And please don’t think of campgrounds as some trashy place (although there are those!) to live. Some travel resorts we have been to have more amenities than fancy housing communities – Cable TV, phone hookups, golf course, pools, jacuzzi s, spas, clubs (from bowling to computer), classes (crafts, French, yoga, etc…), fishing lakes and ponds, cabin rentals, villa rentals, restaurants, cafes, expresso bars, ice cream parlors, churches (non-dom), tennis courts, horseshoe pits, volleyball courts, basketball courts, shuffleboard, Petanque (Boules) courts, video rentals, ATMs, postal stations, grocery stores, camping stores, Bingo or Rec halls, game rooms, libraries and the list goes on. Many bigger ones have seasonal activity directors that even organize day trips to nearby attractions and casinos. So they aren’t all like what you’ve seen on the movie RV or NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION.

Many other places require work-campers such as theme parks, auto sport events, festivals (Ren Faires, the New Mexico Balloon Festival, etc…), hotels, ranches, casinos, wildlife sanctuaries and more. You can find work anywhere – it’s there! From picking apples in Washington to directing sugar beet trucks in South Dakota to working in shipping at (in Nebraska) to selling pumpkins or Christmas trees in California. There are jobs for all skills or no-skills. There are jobs that are easy and jobs that will leave you sore for a week.  Many pay good wages, some pay incredible wages and some offer bonuses or commission packages.

You can live free or next to it! All you have to do is think things through. There are several places online that you can start searching for work-camp jobs – people who specifically target Full-Timers. The biggest one around (that most everyone uses) is The Workamper News . If you are seriously considering this, order a trial issue. Read every ad – you’ll be amazed! And very surprised at the different jobs available and the benefits they offer. A few don’t even require a RV – they will put you up in their own cabin, cottage or villa. A great way to get your foot in the door and try it before you commit to buying a RV.

If you do want pursue this lifestyle and have no experience with RVs – I recommend you rent one for awhile and see how you like it. You don’t need to go far – find a campground a few hours from you – far enough that you can’t force yourself to drive home for something every hour. See how you like it!

If you have experience with RVing, but not for extended periods – then you need to re-learn RVing… Why? Well, there’s a difference in short trips versus living in one! I’ll tell you some things to look for when searching for a Full-Timer’s RV (or “Rig” as we all call our home-on-wheels).

IN MY SITES: A Campground Mystery (Book #4)

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