Is the road calling? Are you ready to explore the beauty and wonder of America from the comfort of your very own RV.
While the phrase "recreational vehicle" usually brings the iconic image of a luxurious motorhome to mind, there are actually seven types of RVs to choose from, each suited for different needs or uses.
So, when buying an RV you should ask yourself these six questions in order to choose the right one for you:
What Type of Camping or Travel Will I Do?
For many, a camping adventure can be as brief as a weekend, while others will opt for a few weeks at a time. And for the more enthusiastic (and fortunate) "full-timers," a real road trip is nothing less than several months…or forever!
Other considerations to keep in mind are who will be traveling with you and how many "essentials" you'll be taking
What Kind of RV Should I Get?
Once you've determined what kind of camping or travel you plan to do you can then figure out which type of RV to buy. Here's what's available:
Class A Motorhomes
What most people think of when they think of motorhomes. These palatial rolling estates feature just about any amenity you can imagine and are ideal for long distance travel, a sizeable family and living in style.
It's not unusual to find these big rigs outfitted with captain's chairs in the cockpit, a living room with large sofa, dining table and HDTV, complete kitchen with granite countertops, full-size refrigerator, oven, stove, microwave…even a dishwasher.
Further back, there's a complete bathroom with real shower and flushing toilet. And many units also offer a washer and dryer. At the rear is the master bedroom with queen size bed and plenty of closet space.
Many Class A's come equipped with as many as five slide-outs…those extra rooms that electrically extend from the street and curb side walls to give you even more space. Plus, there are cavernous storage compartments below deck (often called the "basement") that provide enough room for anything you might need on a l-o-n-g vacation.
No surprise, Class A motorhomes are the most expensive, with prices generally starting at about $60,000 for a basic model to custom beauties that sport price tags well over $1 million.
Class B Motorhomes
More commonly known as Camper Vans, Class B motorhomes offer many of the features and craftsmanship of Class A's, just in a smaller, more maneuverable package.
Using a full-size van as its foundation, a Class B motorhome can provide you with many of the comforts of home such as a compact bathroom, small kitchen and a TV. Ideal for 2 to 3 travelers and suitable for multi-week trips, the Class B is akin to driving a large SUV.
Class C Motorhomes
A cross between Class A's and Class B's, you see a lot of Class C rigs rolling around the country during the summer as it's a popular unit to rent.
Generally easy to drive, yet with enough sleeping room for the family, the C class can range from a petite 20 feet to an ambitious 40 feet, putting the latter in the same league as the Class A but with a smaller price tag. Plenty of features, including some with slide-outs, make it a good choice for a long weekend or weeks away from home.
A big advantage of travel trailers is their lightweight but sturdy construction that makes them towable by standard pickup trucks, SUVs and even some minivans.
Travel trailers range in size from mini "teardrop" units of about 12 feet, to 33-foot triple axle giants. The newest generation models offer much, including designer-grade interiors, slide-outs, bunk beds for the troops, built-in generators…even satellite TV.
Most in this class can sleep up to six, and prices range from $7,000 to nearly 70 grand. A big plus for the travel trailer: you can leave it at the campsite and take the tow vehicle out to explore.
One important consideration is to make sure your tow vehicle can safely pull the unit you decide on (including all your gear), because there's nothing sadder than not being able to pull your new rig over the next hill.
The fifth-wheel trailer gets its name from the large hitch pin that attaches the trailer to a special mount in the bed of a heavy-duty pickup truck. This arrangement makes the fifth-wheel trailer more stable to pull than a comparably sized travel trailer, since a good portion of the fifth wheeler is above the truck's rear axle as opposed to hanging off a trailer hitch behind the truck. The fifth-wheel trailer is also easier to back up into a campsite than a conventional travel trailer.
Excellent for long distance travel or a run to the local mountains, fifth-wheel trailers can range in size from 18 to 40 feet long. And because of their generous size, it's critical that your truck be able to pull the load safely.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from Class A motorhomes is the elfin-sized pop-up or folding trailer. Small in size (although some can sleep six), the pop-up is the smallest, lightest member of the trailer family, and the most economical to own, with prices starting as low as $4,000.
The smallest versions can be towed safely with a minivan and are the easiest to park.
A pop-up trailer doesn't actually pop up. Rather, the hard roof rises on telescoping metal legs and then the bed trays, with canvas sides attached, slide out from the front and back. Amenities can include a small kitchen, shower and toilet.
Pop-ups are a terrific way to get your feet wet in RVing without putting out a lot of money. They're also great for weekend trips and occasional longer trips by determined families.
The newest member of the trailer family, the Sport Utility RV is often referred to as a "Toy Hauler" because of the garage area built into the rear. This space can be used for hauling motorcycles, quad runners, and personal watercraft, and is separated from the rest of the trailer by a solid wall and an access door.
Once your "toys" have been unloaded at your site using the built-in ramp, the garage can then be used for storage or as additional sleeping space.
Keep in mind the weight of your toys and the towing capacity of your vehicle when considering an SURV for purchase.
It's the ultimate in mobility for travel where motorhomes and trailers can't go.
A truck camper slides into the bed of a standard pickup bed, yet offers many of the comforts of home—at the fraction of a motorhome's price tag.
A favorite of outdoorsmen because it can be hauled over rough terrain and steep grades, then offloaded at a campsite and left behind, a high quality truck camper offers many great features. Among them you'll find a bedroom over the truck cab, plus small kitchen, toilet and even a shower.
What Else Do I Need to Consider?
There's more to figuring out when buying an RV. A lot more, such as:
- Maintenance: Rule of thumb—the bigger the RV, the more that can go wrong. Unless you're handy with a screwdriver and a wrench, maintenance can be expensive.
- Towing: Whether you'll be towing your RV or another vehicle behind your motorhome, make sure you have the right vehicle and equipment to do so (such as a trailer hitch).
- Miles Per Gallon: Except perhaps for the pop-up trailer, most RVs excel combining weight and wind resistance. Meaning that you can expect to get fuel economy between 8 and 20 MPG depending on the RV you choose.
- Where to Park: Many homeowner associations don't permit RVs or you have no space at your house. You may need to store your rig at a storage facility for a monthly fee.
- Cost for Camping: Although the Bureau of Land Management has places where you can camp for free, these are usually out past the boondocks. So assume that you'll be camping at places that charge a fee. And in some cases, the daily rate varies according to the size of your RV.
- Meals: Hungry campers have to eat. Does the RV you're considering offer kitchen options? Will you have to cook over the campfire? Or does your camping crowd like to dine at restaurants outside the campground?
- Insurance: Same as with maintenance, the bigger the rig the larger your insurance bill. You should check several insurance companies for the best rate and service BEFORE you buy.
- Connectivity: If you want to stay connected, you'll have to make sure the RV you're considering can be outfitted with Mobile Internet, Wi-Fi Booster, GPS or Satellite TV.
- Purchase Prices: Buying an RV is like buying a car—you fall in love with all the features until it comes down to price. Brace yourself for sticker shock.
Where Should I Look when buying an RV?
RV Shows are an excellent venue for your search. Usually staged during spring, summer and fall throughout the country, the shows offer the opportunity to see the different styles all in one place to help you determine the best fit for your needs. Also, manufacturer and dealer representatives are on hand to answer your questions.
RV Dealers are plentiful and usually have a good variety of examples on hand. And like car lots, the salespeople are out in force to greet you. So keep your guard up and don't let yourself get pressured into buying immediately.
Manufacturers have their own websites, with plenty of literature that you can download or order free of charge.
Should I Rent Before I Buy?
Definitely! If you've never driven a Class A motorhome or towed a 30-foot travel trailer, the time to find out your comfort level is before you buy. Find a dealer who rents out the type of rig you're interested in and take one for a weekend adventure. Just make sure there's a campground nearby and that you can get a space first.
What About Financing?
If you're like most RVers, you'll probably be financing at least part of your purchase. Check with your bank or credit union and see what type of loan you can obtain before you go shopping. Then there's no pressure for you to use the dealer's bank.
TAX TIP: Because virtually every motorhome and many trailers feature beds, kitchens, sinks, and bathrooms, the IRS considers them to be homes. And that means that the interest on your loan may be tax deductible as a home mortgage.
And there you have it: everything you should consider when buying an RV that's right for you, so that all of your camping adventures are happy ones.
Reserve a campsite.
Jeff Adams is a California-based freelance writer, contributor to ReserveAmerica.com and an avid camping enthusiast. He's been dragging his trailer and willing family around the western U.S. for over a decade.