The Only Guide You Need to Buy an RV

Everything to consider when buying an RV for the first time

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••• Ready to buy an RV? There's nothing like that new car smell. ATU Images/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Buying an RV isn’t an easy decision to make. It’s more than just buying an RV. It’s learning how to drive or tow it. It’s learning how to do your maintenance and when to take it to the shop. It’s learning how to overcome the sticker shock of gas prices versus mileage.

Buying an RV is a long-term, adventurous investment that isn’t right for everyone. If you’re considering buying an RV, this is the guide you need to understand the big picture that comes with that investment.

What to Consider When Buying an RV

When you're ready to make the plunge, you must consider the following before budgeting for an RV:

  • Why are you buying an RV?
  • Who are you buying an RV for?
  • Where do you plan to travel with the RV?
  • Do you prefer to tow a trailer or drive a motorhome?
  • What features do you need?
  • What features do you want?

It's important to narrow down exactly what you need as opposed to what you want before you buy an RV. One of the biggest benefits of owning an RV is that you can customize and add features to it down the line, as you would a home or condominium. This means options you might wait to invest in are projects for the future, which will save you money when budgeting now.

What Type of RV Do You Need?

There are two things you need to consider before buying an RV: What type of RV do you need, and do you want a new or used RV? There are motorhomes and towables.

Motorhomes can be driven and towables, well, they need to be towed by a separate vehicle. Depending on your comfort level, towing can be as expensive as buying a motorhome. It comes down to the towable you opt to buy, such as a fifth wheel RV or a travel trailer.

If you want to tow, that'll require you to invest in a towing vehicle, such as a truck or SUV. If you don't already own a vehicle capable of towing an RV, this is an added expense to factor into your budget. If you do own a towing vehicle, then it's a matter of getting comfortable with driving while towing.

Pop up campers, truck campers and small travel trailers are often the best way to ease into the RVing lifestyle. For those looking for more room, investing in a mid to large travel trailer or fifth wheel RV is the way to go.

While most towables from campers to fifth wheel RVs offer the same functionality and features, sometimes it’s all about the size of the trailer or RV due to the comfort level of those traveling and using it.

Read more about RV types with our expert guide here.

Financing an RV

Once you’ve settled into what type of RV you need, you’ll need to work out your budget and financing. Most RV dealers offer to finance through a variety of lenders. You can also take out a vehicle loan from your bank or a third party to help finance it.

Depending on your credit score, how much you’re willing to put down for a down payment and other factors, financing may be easier said than done.

If you can finance through your dealer, you’ll get interes rates closest to what your bank would offer with good credit. If you finance through a third-party lender, you’ll often pay a higher interest rate. It’s important to make sure you can afford the monthly payments on an RV or trailer, along with looking to pay it off early whenever possible.

Read more about RV financing with our expert guide here.

What You Should Know About Buying New RVs

When buying a new RV, you're getting a model that's between a few weeks and a couple of months off the assembly line. In some cases, you may even be getting an RV or trailer straight from the manufacturer. This means that the RV is brand new with the features or customizations you chose at the dealer. This is the most expensive option for buying an RV beside building one from the ground up through a manufacturer.

Pros of Buying a New RV

  • You get a brand new, top of the line RV off the assembly line
  • Full manufacturer warranty starts the second you make the buy
  • You don't have to worry about damage, wear, and tear or issues when driving off the lot for the first time
  • Custom options, such as color choice, room layout, and more are available
  • Can get exactly what you want for the price you want off the line

Cons of Buying a New RV

  • Can be expensive depending on the features you want
  • Not all RVs and trailers are customized through the manufacturer, requiring more expenses in the future
  • May have to go out of your way to having a trailer or RV shipped if local dealers don't have one in stock
  • Insurance premiums will be higher
  • May have to invest in a towing vehicle

What You Should Know About Buying Used RVs

When buying a used RV, there's no telling how long it's been since production. The wear and tear on a used RV can cause issues you have to fix. Buying a used RV is done through a dealer or a third party, such as on Craigslist or a private seller. When you buy a used RV, it is buyer beware because you never know for sure what might be wrong or what you'll have to fix in the future. These fixes can add up.

Pros of Buying a Used RV

  • You save a significant amount of money
  • Can opt to rebuild, redecorate and restore the RV to your liking
  • May be able to find the exact RV you want that's not currently in production
  • Insurance will be cheaper for a used RV
  • Can take the time to customize, repair, and upgrade components

Cons of Buying a Used RV

  • You never know what might be wrong with the RV
  • You may not be aware of how depreciated the RV is in value
  • Damage may not be visible, which means you'll invest more repairing the RV with or without insurance deductibles
  • Often the manufacturer’s warranty has run out
  • Can spend a considerable amount of money on upgrades

Read more about avoiding scams with used RVs with our expert guide here.

Should You Buy a New RV or a Used RV?

New RVs and used RVs both have their place for RVers. When starting out, it's cost efficient to buy a used RV. You're safer if you buy a used RV from a dealer than a private buyer, but you can still run into issues that are a pain to deal with. When buying a new RV, you're covered by the manufacturer's warranty and any extended warranty you buy through the dealer. If something goes wrong, you have a safety net. That's not always true when you buy used.

Other RV Expenses to Consider

Keep in mind that buying the RV itself is only half the battle. There are a handful of extra expenses that come with buying an RV, such as:

  • Insurance and gap coverage
  • Maintenance and repair costs
  • Insurance and registration
  • Gas, propane, and fuel
  • Access to cable and the internet
  • Where you’ll park during trips
  • How you’ll make meals

How to Get the Best Price on an RV

Want the best deal on an RV? Consider these nine tips for negotiating a better price on an RV at the dealership:

  • Leave all your options open when looking at RVs
  • Watch auto finance rates from your bank and dealers
  • Be patient and wait for the right deal to come along
  • Consider an RV show to find a once in a lifetime deal
  • Buy at the end of RV season or the end of the month
  • Be friendly with your salesperson
  • Take risks when asking for a better deal
  • Find the right incentives that make the price tag more worthwhile

Read more about negotiating the best price on an RV with our expert guide here.

What's RV is Right for Your Travels?

When you get started RVing, it can come at a high price: Sticker shock. RVing is expensive. It's not just buying a new or used RV. It's also parking, maintenance, repairs, insurance, and everything between. It's food for on and off the road. It's entertainment once you park.

For some families, this may not be possible, and that’s why buying used might save them money. For others, they’re ready to invest upfront and take advantage of the savings down the line.

RVing is a long-term investment. If you go into the buying process understanding that you’ll be able to make the right financial choice for you and your family. While RVing will save you up to 50 percent in the future on vacations, you’re going to need to put a significant amount of money upfront to get started.