First Time RV Buying Guide: Advice to Know Before you Buy an RV

Last Updated on July 26, 2022 by Christina

A family camping by the water in a travel trailer.

Campfire coffee in the morning and sleeping under the stars at night. The freedom to go wherever, whenever. Adventure-filled RV getaways. Families living full time on the road. Images like these shared widely on social media make RV ownership seem like a dream come true. But they leave out many of the realities of RVing: mapping out campgrounds, emptying tanks, and regular maintenance. Of course RVing is an incredible way to make new memories, but there are several things to consider before you buy an RV.

Thinking about buying an RV? Read this advice first.

If you’re just beginning your RV adventure, you’re not alone. More than 72 million Americans plan on taking an RV trip in the next year. There’s no right or wrong way to go RVing but the majority of people buy an RV to explore and travel in comfort.

Traveling near or far, to national parks or RV resorts, there are many options for you to have fun. Your RV can take you to new places for hiking, kayaking, fishing, or other outdoor activities. Or simply relax in the great outdoors and get away from the city. The possibilities are endless, you just have to first decide if RV ownership is right for you. To help you do that, we’ve compiled this list of all the most important questions to ask yourself before you buy an RV.

How will I use my RV? How often will I go RVing?

When you consider purchasing an RV, you need to understand how much you will realistically use your RV. Things like work, school schedules, or other family commitments may affect how often you can get away.

Many RV owners use their RV primarily for summer vacations with family. Avid RVers may camp more consistently throughout the season (or extend their travels into fall) while more causal campers plan mainly weekend getaways and short trips.

On the other hand, a lot of people who are called “snowbirds” use their RV to escape the winter months. These RVers “migrate” away from the cold by staying in the warmer southern states. Their RVs serve as a secondary home and they may stay in the same location for weeks or even months at a time.

RV owners can also be categorized as adventure seekers. These RVers want to explore the world every chance they can and they use their RV to do just that. These individuals take every moment they can to plan trips filled with outdoor activities.

You might even be considering full-time RV living. Full-time RVers work on the road and embrace the nomad style of living 365 days a year. These RVers may stay in one area for a couple weeks or months, but they never truly settle down in one place.

Who will I go RVing with?

A family roasting marshmallows around a campfire with a travel trailer behind them.
Camping is a great way to spend quality time with your family.

Who you are traveling with will also greatly impact your decisions when it comes to choosing an RV type and floorplan. If you plan to travel solo, there are many great small RVs for single person camping. If you want to camp with your family, you’ll need a family-sized RV. Consider how many beds and how much room you’ll need to be comfortable. Cramped camping wears on a family. Pets are also very important members of your family to consider when choosing an RV. Big dogs need room to stretch, so a popup camper or teardrop trailer may not the best RV choice in that case.

What’s my camping style? Where do I want to camp?

A woman sitting around a campfire near her Class B motorhome that is overlooking a mountain range in the distance.
Boondocking in the mountains is a popular way to camp.

After you have an idea of how often you will be camping and who you might be camping with, ask yourself how you want to be camping. This will help you figure out what features or amenities are must-haves vs. nice to have in your RV.

Are you a rustic camper who wants to take the road less traveled? Boondocking is best done with an RV that offers more maneuverability to reach remote destinations. You might also consider adventure-ready RVs equipped for off-road roaming. RVs with solar power options and larger water tanks can help you stay off grid longer, too.

Perhaps you’d rather feel like you’re staying at a world-class hotel during your RV travels. Luxury Class A diesel RVs might be perfect for you, and you’ll want to park yours at an RV resort. RV resorts offer full amenities and plenty of activities to do throughout your stay. They are equipped with modern conveniences and everything you need to enjoy a glamping vacation.

Would you like to experience more of the outdoors while still having access to basic amenities? Many public campgrounds and parks offer a variety of amenities including hookups for electricity and water so you can go camping without completely roughing it.

The bottom line is this: There are a lot of camping styles and even more RVs to choose from, so being conscious of where you could be camping can help you choose which RV is right for you.

What activities will I be doing while RVing?

A man unloading a bicycle from the back of his travel trailer.
Even small RVs can hold plenty of gear

Relaxing getaways and sightseeing are great activities that don’t require much storage space or equipment, but if you plan to go kayaking, fishing, or take your favorite 4x4s or dirt bikes on the trail, storage is key to camping comfortably. Understanding what you want to do while you RV will help determine your needs – whether that’s a toyhauler RV with a garage or a motorhome with towing capacity.

Another thing to ask yourself is if you will be working from your RV while you are on the road. Many RVs have floorplans with convertible office space areas. It’s also important to set clear expectations with yourself and your RV style because if the sole purpose of buying your RV is to get away from work life, working while on the road can quickly diminish your enjoyment of camping and RVing.

Which RV is the best RV for me?

A group of people sit around the fire with a teardrop trailer and class B behind them.
The main two types of RVs are towable and motorhome

Types of RVs

Once you understand your style of camping, the next step is to figure out what type of RV you want to camp with. It may seem like there are a million different options and types of RVs, but the first thing to ask yourself is if you want to tow your RV or drive your RV.

You can learn more about RV types and some of the best uses for each type in our RV Guide articles.

To help you further narrow down your search for the best RV, you should also ask yourself what you’ll physically be able to set up. Some people breeze through setting up pop-up campers, but they require some assembly and strength. Height and storage is also a big factor in some taller RVs. Fifth wheels have sprawling storage, but for shorter people, some storage is just too high without a step ladder. These things are often overlooked, but understanding what you might struggle with in an RV will help determine what RV you don’t want and the headaches that could potentially come with it later.

Which RV brand is the best?

After familiarizing yourself with the types of RVs and which ones best suit you, it’s time to research RV brands and floorplans. Learning about special features and benefits some RV brands offer over others will help narrow down your RV search. For instance, NeXus RV specializes in Class C, Super C – Diesel and Class B+ motorhomes. On the other end of the RV brands, Xtreme Outdoors specializes in the compact teardrop trailers. A lot of RV brands offer a huge variety of floorplan options with features unique to them.

Attending an RV show is a great way to learn about RVs and brands. You’ll be able to see RVs in person and walk through the floorplans to understand if the RV fits your needs. RV shows are inexpensive to go to (in fact, many are free!) and offer great learning opportunities. There are RV dealers, campgrounds, and experienced RVers there to chat with and ask questions. If you’re thinking about attending an RV show, check out how to make the most of a show and tips that will help you prepare for an RV show with confidence!

Looking at online forums and blogs about the RVs you are interested in is a good way to get honest reviews. A ton of bloggers and forums offer input on the things they love and hate about their RVs which can help guide your decision on if that RV is best for you, what you want to do and where you want to go. The RV community is full of wonderfully helpful and honest individuals.

Additionally, joining a Facebook group will let you connect with other RVers who are knowledgeable about the lifestyle. Groups will oftentimes post discussions about RVs and even how to buy or sell an RV. There are a variety of groups for specific kinds of RVers like snowbirds or specific types of RVs. This is a great way to learn more and make friends.

Budgeting for Buying an RV

How much does an RV cost?

A used motorhome is parked to the left of a new motorhome.
A used RV next to a new RV

Figuring out how much you want to spend and a monthly payment you’re comfortable with will determine which RVs you can afford. Once you understand your budget, it will be easier to narrow down your choices and what features are most important to have.

New RVs can cost anywhere from $10,000 to over $200,000 for modestly priced towables and motorhomes. Diesel motorhomes can cost upwards of $300,000 for a high-end coach with residential features. Generally speaking, the upfront costs and maintenance expenses of motorhomes are more expensive than travel trailers, so budget accordingly.

If you are considering a towable RV, understanding your vehicle’s towing capacity will narrow down your search in an RV. Towing an RV that is too heavy can cause:

  • Heavy strain on your vehicle’s engine and transmission
  • Accelerated wear on your brakes
  • Less control of the RV which can lead to fish tailing and trouble steering
  • Tires can overheat and wear quickly, causing blown tires

Finding an RV that your vehicle can handle will help prevent accidents on the road. It will also keep your vehicle out of the shop and on the road for more RV adventures. If your vehicle cannot tow an RV that you have in mind, be conscious of upgrading your vehicle and how that will affect your RV budget.

Used RV prices vary. The year, make, and condition of the RV greatly impacts the price. One of the risks of purchasing a used RV is that there may be damage that’s not easily visible. Asking how often the RV was used, cared for, and stored are telltale signs of a good or bad RV. Before buying a used RV: make sure everything works, thoroughly check for signs of damage like water spots inside and outside, and ask for a test drive if you’re considering a used motorhome. These are good things to double check whether you are purchasing from a private seller or even from an RV dealership to make sure you are getting a reliable RV.

How will I pay for my RV?

Some people pay for their RV in cash but many others finance their RV purchase. If you fall into the latter group, you’ll want to understand your financing options to stay within your budget. Many RV dealerships work with national and regional banks as well as credit unions to provide financing options. It is important to do your research to make sure you are getting the best deal possible. Putting a down payment on an RV can help lower your monthly payments, too.

How will I insure my RV?

Having RV insurance is a must for RV owners. After all, your RV is your home away from home and disasters can happen. Similar to homeowners insurance, RV insurance helps protect you against the unexpected. However, it is important to note that RV insurance is more specialized than standard home or vehicle policies. Choose a reputable insurance agency and licensed insurance agent to help you create a policy that’s tailored to meet your needs.

What should I expect when it comes to RV maintenance?

RV maintenance is another cost that you must factor into your budget when buying an RV. Just like a house, RVs require regular preventative maintenance as well as occasional repairs. RV brands provide a schedule for recommended preventative maintenance services; this is typically found in the owner’s manual.

Additionally, there are other factors to consider. If you are only using your RV during the warmer months, you’ll have to add in costs of winterization for the off season. If you need service on your motorhome and must leave the RV at a shop for repairs, you’ll need a place to sleep or game plan if it is going to take a few days if you are living in your RV full time or far away from home. These are just a few examples to help you plan and budget.

How will I store my RV?

Investing in proper RV storage is also crucial if you’re not using your RV for long periods of time or for the winter months. Proper storage prevents wear and tear on your RV, extending its lifespan. Storing your RV can get pricey, especially if you want a temperature controlled, covered storage area for it. If that’s out of your budget, it is best to store your RV under an RV cover or covered parking spot. RV covers can prevent harsh Mother Nature from damaging your RV with sun, rain, snow, and other natural events. You may also want to invest in a hitch lock or wheel lock for protection against theft if you are storing it in a storage lot.

Where will I buy my RV?

Dealerships are a great way to purchase an RV. RV dealerships have greater inventory options compared to private sellers. Most dealerships carry new and used models, but dealerships will not carry every brand of RV. You’ll want to do some research before you visit the dealership lot to make sure they carry the brands you’re looking for. Additionally, an RV dealership can provide a comprehensive demonstration of how to use your RV before you take it home. This is a great opportunity to learn your RV and how to troubleshoot problems you might encounter while camping. Plus, RV dealerships often offer RV parts and accessories for sale and service facilities so you can bring your RV back for preventative maintenance and repairs. This can be very convenient for RV owners.

Private sellers are another option for purchasing a used RV. While you can save a significant amount of money, there is some risk involved. Consider it a red flag if the seller does not have records of their maintenance or provides little information. There may also be damage that’s are not readily visible and can be costly later on. The RV market is very hot right now and keeping an eye out for the perfect listing can be challenging. Patience is key to finding a quality RV from a private seller.

RV shows are a great way to find the perfect floorplan on the newest RVs. An RV show is a great opportunity to get the newest models at special prices. You might feel pressured to buy at an RV show because everything is so fast moving and fun, but if you are not 100% certain about the RV then don’t buy it. The prices are great, but if it’s not the right RV for you there are always other opportunities.

Ready to begin your RV adventure?

Once you’ve asked yourself all these questions and are certain the RV lifestyle is right for you, it’s time to begin your adventure! Browse thousands of RVs for sale in our Virtual Showroom or visit a General RV dealership near you to explore RV options. If you have any questions, our friendly team is here to help.

Happy exploring!