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.