RV shopping….this feels like a lifetime ago to us, but we definitely learned some lessons along the way. There is SO much to consider, and everyone’s situation is unique. I hope these general considerations help you if you are starting to shop for a RV for full-time RV life.
1. Don’t spend too much time in the theoretical
Tim and I are researchers, about almost every purchase we make. We watched tons of YouTube videos, read so many forums – it was complete information overload. At some point you have to stop the madness of countless hours researching on the internet and go out and physically step inside some of the RV’s you are interested in. Don’t be surprised if this doesn’t magically lead to clarity, though. We still struggled with what to pick, even after visiting multiple RV dealers. We also knew that ideally we didn’t want to buy from a dealer – we preferred a private party sale, which is what we ended up doing.
I’d suggest that you go to an RV expo (we went to the Pittsburgh RV show), because you can walk through a hundred or more units in the same day if you want to. We also went to 4 different dealers. One in Pittsburgh and we drove to Akron, OH for the rest. Pittsburgh doesn’t have many RV dealers. We also told the salespeople at each one exactly what we were looking for, which they took down on paper along with our e-mail address and phone number. None of them ever called us back. I think this is common, but a huge missed opportunity on their part. We would have definitely considered buying one from a dealer if the right one came in through the doors. One of the dealerships in Akron – I think it was Camping World? – leaves all of their RVs unlocked and you can just go walk through them. I preferred this to having a salesperson following us around, but either way, you need to physically go see these RV’s in person. Sadly I have zero pictures of the RV expo or RV shopping…boo!
2. Go in with a firm budget
It’s not surprising that any RV used for full-timing is going to be expensive. It’s one thing to spend $5,000 on a small popup for weekend camping, it’s a whole other thing to buy a motorhome or truck/fifth wheel combo that costs as much as your house. Luckily, there are plenty of options in between. Choose a budget that you’re comfortable with and stick to it. Trust us…it gets very easy to start to think “Oh, $90k doesn’t sound like THAT much” when our original budget was half that. When these RV’s are marked at $200k, $150k, etc – $90k starts to sound cheap, even if it is double what you wanted to spend. And RV dealers know this. Their pricing is a big game. You start to lose perspective quickly. They will also pressure you to put in an offer on an RV the day you see it, because if you don’t, someone else will buy it. Is this true? I don’t know. But also remember that this is a common sales tactic and to not spend more than you wanted to simply because someone is pressuring you.
The cost of the RV is only one piece of the budget puzzle. We spend more living life in our RV than we did in a house. Gas, insurance, staying at RV parks – it all adds up to be a lot more expensive than we thought. So take into consideration that unless you are mostly stationary, RV life is expensive. And save a couple thousand dollars in the budget for all of the gear that you need to buy just to hook the RV up to power, water, and sewer. You want to be able to enjoy your travels, not worry that all of your money was spent on the RV itself.
3. Consider what you already have
One large consideration in the “which RV is right for us” puzzle is looking at what you already have. Do you already have a heavy duty pickup truck? Maybe a fifth wheel or bumper pull trailer is right for you – after all, your only cost would be the trailer itself + the mounting hardware (not that this is cheap…). We did not have a pickup truck, and the ones that are robust enough to haul a large fifth wheel or trailer are expensive. So by the time we looked at a truck + trailer, the cost was high, and we already had two cars, so we’d have to sell one. We also found out that the one car we have (2012 Ford Escape) is towable behind a motorhome, eliminating the need to purchase yet another vehicle. So, I think if you already have a car that can be towed 4 wheels down (this is also called dinghy towing), this would be a pro for considering a motorhome. If you already have a heavy duty truck, that would be a pro for considering a towable.
4. New vs Used
This is always a consideration with a car, and a RV is really no different. You will find people on both sides of the fence, but do your research on this topic (trust me, there is a LOT out there) and go with what feels right to you. We decided pretty quickly that we would only consider used units. The depreciation factor on a new RV is crazy high, and new doesn’t necessarily mean without issues. From what we read, used RV’s tend to have the kinks worked out by the previous owners. The minute a brand new RV rattles down the road, stuff breaks. This is just a factor of life in an RV – they aren’t built well, first of all – and second of all, no matter what kind of build quality there is, the prolonged periods of shaking down the highway at 60mph eventually causes things to break.
I’ve also read that getting any work done under warranty is incredibly difficult and involves months of waiting, which I knew we’d never have time for considering our RV is our house. Lastly, we found new RV’s to smell terrible. It’s the chemicals and glues that the RV is held together with (yay particle board) off-gassing. There are ways to speed up this process, such as leaving your RV in the sun (the heat speeds up the offgassing) but we wanted one that didn’t smell. So “Used” quickly became the obvious choice for us, but plenty of people feel differently.
5. Your first won’t be your last
In all likelihood, your first RV will not be your last. Very few people pick “THE ONE” the first time. It’s impossible to know exactly what you want in an RV until you live in one for awhile. There are things you just can’t anticipate until you get on the road. So don’t bend yourself out of shape trying to find the perfect RV. I’d say do your research, go see them in person, find a price point you’re comfortable with, find one, get it inspected (ugh..we have a bad story about this…PLEASE find a RV shop you can trust), and go for it. There can definitely be an “analysis paralysis” factor with this decision if you don’t pull the trigger sometime. We would definitely change some things about our RV if we could, but are they deal breakers? No. They’re more in the “nice to have” category. We had many people tell us that it’s really hard to get it 100% right on the first try and we could always choose a different one, which was comforting when making a big decision. You do the best you can, knowing that it doesn’t have to be forever. We still have envy over Airstreams and some fifth wheels. It’s all good – keep dreaming, right?