What to Avoid When Purchasing an RV – How to Make a Wise Choice

Purchasing an RV - what to know and what to avoid

Purchasing an RV (Recreational Vehicle) is the second largest purchase most people will make in their lifetime. When you make a decision to spend that kind of money it’s important you make wise buying decisions. I have witnessed many poor buying decisions during my time in this industry and I would like to offer some pointers on how you can avoid some of these RV buying pitfalls.

First on my list is making a hasty RV buying decision. What I mean is purchasing an RV without doing any research. Hasty RV buying decisions are common in a high pressure selling environments. It’s easy to see why, you get caught up in the moment, especially when a salesperson tells you the price is only good for today, or once this model is gone we can’t get another one like it. Lots of people buy at RV shows where there is a lot of excitement, only to discover the RV is the wrong type, too big, too small or too expensive. Regardless of the circumstance, it is a costly mistake.

You need to do your research before you buy. There are lots of RV brands and RV manufacturers to choose from. You want an RV dealer and a manufacturer that stands behind the product after the sale. Before purchasing an RV, you can research RV manufacturers on the internet, request brochures, take factory tours and attend local RV shows to learn more about all of the options you have.

And you want to buy from a reputable RV dealership. A reputable RV dealer will have a reputable, professional staff. Don’t be afraid to ask for a tour of the facilities. Look at the service department. Do they have certified technicians? Do they have the capability and facilities to perform routine maintenance and warranty work on the units they sell? Do they offer a good selection of parts and accessories? Do they have a good selection of RVs to choose from? How long have they been selling certain manufacturer brands? How long have they been in business? A reputable RV dealership can make your RV ownership experiences much more pleasurable.

Truck towing RV trailerThat leads me to the next mistake lots of folks make. When I sold RVs it was common for new buyers to be a little intimidated by the size of RVs. The thought of towing a 30-foot trailer makes you nervous, so you purchase a 22-foot model instead. I always explained to folks when you tow a trailer you don’t really notice a difference between a 26-foot or 30-foot trailer. Sure it is heavier, but with the proper tow vehicle and proper hitch components the length of the trailer alone is not something to base the buying decision on. This is true of motorhomes too. I can’t tell you how many times I saw people buy an RV and after driving or towing it come back to the dealership and want something larger. This is another expensive proposition.

Next on my list is buying the right type of RV to suit your needs. RVs come in numerous types, sizes and price ranges. It’s important you purchase the type RV best suited for you and your needs, and one with a price that fits your budget. Consider how you plan to use the RV. If you like to explore the back roads or go camping in state parks a 40-foot motorhome is a bad choice. In this situation a pop-up, truck camper or smaller travel trailer makes better sense. On the other hand if you plan to travel cross-country in the RV a 5th wheel or motorhome would work well. Think about how you plan to use the RV, how many people will be staying in the RV, and what your budget is prior to selecting the type of RV best suited for you.

Speaking of budget, you want enough money left over each month so you can use and enjoy the RV. Before you purchase your RV factor in the monthly payment, RV insurance and upkeep and decide how much you can afford to pay without getting in a bind. If you buy an RV and don’t have any money left in your budget to use it the RV will be nothing more than a large lawn ornament sitting next to your house.

RV floor plan

After you know what type of RV works best for you, and you establish a budget, consider the RV floor-plan, and what options you want on the RV to meet the needs of you and your family. Do you need one bedroom or two, and is the bed big enough? Would a split-bathroom work better than a walk-through bathroom? Is there enough counter space? Is there enough storage space? Do you want the kitchen in the middle, front or rear of the RV? Is the shower big enough? Are the holding tanks large enough for the type of camping you plan to do? Do you need a generator for the type of camping you plan to do?

Sit in the RV and envision what it would be like on a camping trip. Do you like the layout? Would this RV work on extended camping trips with the number of people that will be in the RV? It’s a good idea to review brochures to see what comes standard on the RV and what is optional. You might need optional equipment like heated holding tanks or a larger furnace for the type of camping you are planning. You might need to order RV and wait for it to be built, but having it equipped the way you want is important.

If you purchase a travel trailer or 5th wheel trailer it’s extremely important the tow vehicle can safely handle the weight of the trailer. I always tell folks to find the trailer you want first then purchase a tow vehicle capable of handling the weight. If you already own the vehicle you plan to tow with you need to base the size and weight of the trailer on that vehicle. A quick and easy method I suggest for matching a tow vehicle and trailer is to find a trailer with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) less than or equal to the vehicle’s tow rating. In this case, even if the trailer is fully loaded to the maximum GVWR, the tow vehicle is still rated to handle the weight.

On the other hand if you plan to purchase a motorized RV drive it before you buy it. Driving a motorhome for the first time can be a little intimidating, but it’s important that you test drive it before you buy it. You want a motorhome that you feel comfortable driving because you will spend a lot of time behind the steering wheel. Check out all of the controls, the view, and the mirrors to make sure it performs the way you expect it to.

And finally, after you purchase the RV protect your investment. You might want to consider an extended service contract that can help protect your investment. These contracts extend beyond the manufacturer warranty period. There are numerous plans available so shop around for the best deal. Get specialized RV insurance coverage too. It’s different from your home and automobile policy. When you need specialized RV coverage you’ll be glad you have it.

All of these RV buying tips are important considerations because the end result is you being happy with the RV you purchase. Remember RVs are designed for fun and relaxation; nothing will spoil the fun more than a hasty RV buying decision or not researching the best type of RV for you that fits in your budget.

For more help on making the best RV buying decisions possible check out our RV buying guides

and our Introduction to RVs DVD.

Happy Camping,
Mark J. Polk,  RV Education 101
YouTube, Facebook

5 Responses

  1. Avatar Jane

    Your tips on buying an RV well thought out and helpful. I would like to add one more…..if you have never owned one….buy an older, used i expensive (cheap!) model first! Take it out on short trip over night, then a little longer one….see if you will like the life style. Take your experience with you when you head out to find your perfect RV!

    • Thank you for your comment Jane. You might also consider renting an RV to get the feel of it to be sure it’s the right choice for you!

  2. Avatar Mark Rasmussen

    Very good article. My wife and I are working on selling our home and going RVing full time. I’ve been looking at 5th wheel toy haulers. Like the extra room. My thoughts are to keep it 40′ or so. Saw a lot of toyhaulers around 45′ and just seems like you’re getting a bigger garage is all. I just need the garage to haul my motorcycle, so we have a 2nd vehicle. So I’m staying with about a 10′ garage. Found some late model ones around the country. I really don’t have any interest in older units. Just more things to have to fix. Only concerns I have about full time RVing is having decent health insurance, and finding a part time job to help supplement things. Was thinking about workcamping, but have heard that that’s not the greatest deal either. Guess we’ll have to see. What’s your opinion on toyhaulers?

  3. In a situation like yours, wanting to take a motorcycle along for a second vehicle, a toy hauler is the perfect RV. You have the space to haul the motorcycle when you are traveling and when you arrive at your destination the garage area converts into additional living space. My biggest concern with a toy hauler is weights. It’s important that you calculate the fully loaded weight of the toy hauler and purchase or have a vehicle capable of safely towing that amount of weight. The way I like to do it is to have a tow vehicle that is capable of towing the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the trailer you are purchasing. Now, even if the trailer is loaded to its maximum capacity the truck can still tow the weight. Good luck with your RV purchase and happy RVing.

  4. My husband and I are looking to buy our first camper. We will be sure to avoid making any hasty decisions. I’ll make sure that we do research to see where to look.