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How should you go about choosing an RV for your needs? You should ask yourself if you’re going to use it full time or are you going to just use it occasionally (vacations, summers, sporting events). Think what your needs are for an RV.
My wife and I are transitioning from summer campers to full-time RV life. The first camper we bought was a Mallard by Heartland, M-28 travel trailer. It was, and is, a great camper for the seasonal campers but since we have gotten it we’ve decided that to go full-time we need to upgrade from a travel trailer to a 5th wheel camper.
When it comes to choosing an RV for full-timing, few full-timers get it right the first time.
It takes many miles of travel before you know for certain what RV is best for your full-time lifestyle.
Sometimes we don’t get it right on the first go around, that’s OK. Don’t get discouraged. If you know this is what you were made to do then you will just have to hit the reset button and get RV ready, set and GO.
Now, with that being said. Sue and I are leaning for a bigger 5th wheel due to the fact this will be our living space for years to come. We’re looking for something with an extra room so we can make an office out of it since she works from home full time. Weather it’s a bunk room or just an extra room, either way, we can install a desk and call it our office.
Choosing an RV
What to be aware of:
Don’t just shop at one dealership, in fact, visit many different dealerships. The more you know the better you’ll get at not getting pushed around by a overbearing salesman. You need to be strong and let them know right off the bat that you’re looking at other places, as well. Also. let them know that if you like what you see, you will most likely be back. Tell them you want a good experience or you won’t be back at all. Let them know that you know the general prices of the RV and you know what you are going to pay. Don’t show your cards and give them the specific info, though! Make them sweat a little bit.
Many dealerships mark up the price up to fifty percent! You always have room to negotiate.
How much room do you need in your RV?
Some people may say that you shouldn’t buy the biggest RV you can find and some say you should buy the biggest RV you can find. It’s mostly on you and your budget. I, on one hand plan on getting a bigger RV because it will be our full-time home on wheels. If you buy a new house don’t you want to buy the best house you can afford? Of course you do. Just think, no more lawn to mow. 🙂
Consider how many people your RV will house. Just you and a spouse? Kids? How many? Will you have many overnight guests or grandkids travelling with you, on occasion?
Do you need room for an office or hobbies?
When choosing an RV, size may matter, after all.
What about maintenance?
With a new RV you shouldn’t have many repairs but you should know how to do some basic maintenance. For example, how to drain and flush your sewer system, how to winterize (if you won’t be full-timing it), how to test and replace batteries, how to replace blown fuses and top off fluids in various systems. You don’t have to be a professional RV technician to successfully maintain your rig. but knowing some basics will carry you a long way (figuratively and literally!)
Even if you aren’t “handy”, as you spend more time in your RV, you’ll begin to pick up new skills and learn as you go. As a plumber, I have no problem maintaining, diagnosing and repairing our water and sewer systems. Electric and appliances, however, took me a bit of time to master (and I’m still learning!).
Many RV repairs are fairly simple to perform and YouTube and Google are your friends! One of our favorite YouTube channels is the RV Geeks, who, for over fifteen years have been creating how-to videos on simple RV repairs, upgrades and customizations. It’s usually more convenient (and almost certainly cheaper) to do most RV repairs yourself.
The RVing community is very helpful and supportive so you won’t have to look far to find someone willing to help you out. There are dozens of online forums and social media groups with genuinely friendly and helpful fellow RVers. And, nearly every campground or park that you travel to will have an experienced RVer who will be eager to assist (and sometimes even help) you with a repair or maintenance question.
If you are in over your head or there’s no one able to help, you can usually find a local or mobile repair person to perform needed maintenance or repairs. You may also wish to consider purchasing an extended service contract to cover your RV for repairs outside of the manufacturer’s warranty period and help limit repair costs. (You may need to do this when you buy your RV as few dealers will allow you to add this once you’ve driven it off the lot).
Before You Buy
When you decide that you are ready to choose an RV to purchase, be cautious not to grab the first deal from the slickest salesman. An RV purchase is an investment. Next to your house, it is probably one of the most expensive purchases you will ever make.
Take the time – before you ever step foot on a dealer lot – to research everything: brands with a reputation for quality, floorplans, features and, especially, which models you can tow with your intended tow vehicle.
Take plenty of notes along the way.
RVing Planet is a great resource for comparing makes, models, quality and dealer buying experiences.
Consider whether purchasing a new RV is right for you or if you can get a good deal on a used unit.
There are dozens of RV brands and manufacturers and probably hundreds of floorplans and models out there.
- Use the internet to help you compare each make and model you are considering as well as the suggested retail prices.
- Scour RV forums and see what current owners of those models are saying about them.
- Visit RV shows to view the latest models and features.
- Request brochures from manufacturers.
- Ask current owners.
A note on RV shows: While RV shows are terrific to learn about new products and RV models, don’t rush into making a purchase at an RV show unless you have done your homework, in advance, and know exactly what you want and how much you are willing to pay. RV show salesman are trained to close deals and you don’t want to experience buyer’s regret for having rushed into a decision.
Perform due diligence. Do research on them, find where they are located and drive to look at them if they are within driving distance. We have gone through many sites looking at RV’S. Don’t settle. Find one that has all of what you are looking for.
Choosing an RV: What to Consider
Just like buying a house or a car, you need to determine what you can afford and are willing to spend on an RV. RV prices (for new units) can be as low as $10,000 for a small, lightweight travel trailer to hundreds of thousands for a Class A motorhome.
If you shop first and then figure out your budget, you are likely to be disappointed when you learn that you can’t afford your dream RV.
We highly recommend getting pre-qualified for your RV loan before you start shopping. Even if you plan on using the proceeds from selling your home to purchase your RV, know what you are willing to spend before you shop.
2. Towing Capacity
Whether you are towing a travel trailer or fifth wheel, make sure that you know your tow vehicle’s maximum tow capacity. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH! Don’t rely on the RV salesman to help with this. He is only concerned about making a sale and we have heard dozens of stories about RV salesman giving them the wrong info just to make a sale.
Once you know the tow capacity of your towing vehicle, use that info to help you choose an RV. If your truck has a maximum tow capacity of 12000 lbs. and the fifth wheel you have your sights set on has a GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weigh Rating) of 16,000 lbs., you are out of luck.
The GVWR, by the way, is the total weight of the RV when loaded including equipment, body, full water tanks and everything else, but does not include your personal belongings (you’ll need to leave yourself a couple thousand pounds to account for this).
You’ll also want to ensure that the hitch on your tow vehicle can safely pull something with that GVWR. If your truck can, but your hitch won’t, you’ll need to replace the hitch before you buy.
3. Size and Floorplan
Ok, so by now you should know your budget and what weight your tow vehicle can safely tow. It’s time to narrow your choices down.
First, consider how many people will be living in your RV. For us, it’s just my wife and I, so we won’t need bunk rooms for guests, but we will need office space.
We also need plenty of storage so a loft or other interior storage is needed. We also loved the outdoor kitchen in our travel trailer, so having one of those in our fifth wheel would be a bonus.
Do you prefer your bedroom in the rear or front? We prefer ours in the front, but that’s just a personal preference.
Do we need a full-size refridgerator? Yes, we like to cook (and eat!). Do we need three couches? Probably not.
Other features, such as ceiling fans, fireplaces and more can be added as upgrades to most models, so you don’t need to worry about that, just yet.
4. Brands and Manufacturers
You know the old saying, noses are like opinions – everyone has one? Well, that certainly applies here. If you ask ten people what the best RV brand is, you are going to get ten opinions. There are so many different manufacturers and even more brands made by those manufacturers.
We loved our Heartland Mallard, but know of others who didn’t have a great experience with them.
Again, do your research. Look for the highest quality/best value RVs for your body style (fifth wheel, travel trailer, etc.). RVing Planet publishes and updates lists on RV quality regularly, so they are a good, non-biased resource.
Once you choose a manufacturer that you are comfortable with, you can select a floorplan from that manufacturer. Alternatively, you can select your floorplan and then choose the best quality RV that builds that floorplan. (This is the method we used as we knew exactly the floorplan we wanted).
This is the fun part! Just like building a new house, you can choose the features and upgrades that are important to you. There are probably hundreds to choose from! From upgraded cabinets to ceiling fans and from mattress upgrades to shower heads. Keep in mind, that in some cases, it may be better to buy the RV with the base package and add your own customizations. For example, you can choose to have televisions included in your RV package but you can probably buy them cheaper at Walmart and install them yourself. Do you really need someone to plug in your television and affix it to a mount?
Have fun, and, like everything else that comes with choosing an RV, do your research!
Choosing an RV is one of the most personal decisions you can make. It’s like buying a home. What is important to you, may not be important to your friend or neighbor. What features (and floorplans) you like won’t appeal to everyone. Your budget won’t be the same as your brother’s.
Do your research. Be prepared and be sure to dream big. You can always modify as you go through the process.
When you purchase yours, send us a pic to email@example.com! We’d love to see it and maybe feature you on our Instagram page!
RV Ready Set Go!
Mike and Sue
Choosing an RV is just the first step, however. Once you have one, you’ll need to carefully maintain it to avoid hassles and keep your rig running smoothly.