Angie's LIST Guide to
RV Sales & Service
Buying an RV
An RV provides the freedom to travel at your own pace and avoid the hassle of hotels, but purchasing an RV is a sizable financial commitment. If you’re thinking about buying an RV, you should first ask yourself the following questions: What will I use it for? Do I plan on using it for semi-regular camping trips or vacations? Do I plan on living in it full time?
Another key decision is determining how much space you need. RVs and other types of RV equipment like travel trailers come in a wide variety of sizes, and you’ll almost always spend more money for larger vehicles. Settling on how much space you’ll need and what kind of style vehicle you prefer will go a long way in setting your RV purchase budget. Renting an RV before you buy can help answer these questions and help reduce the chance you’ll be disappointed with your choice later.
Your next decision is choosing to buy a new RV versus a used one. Like buying a car, you’ll almost always find better deals on a used RV rather than buying new. One caveat when purchasing a used RV is to be wary of low miles. Low miles don’t always mean the RV is a good buy, as the vehicle may have been sitting unused in a driveway for a long period of time.
Don’t forget that you’ll need a place to store your new RV when it’s not in use. If you don’t have sufficient space on your property, you’ll need to find a storage facility. You’ll also need RV-specific insurance, another important consideration.
Finally, you should definitely test drive the RV before purchasing it. The living amenities inside the RV are a large component of the purchase, but if you can’t drive it comfortably, it’s unlikely you’ll get the full enjoyment from your recreational vehicle. If you are considering selling your home to live in an RV full-time, you should spend some time in the RV, at least one month, before committing to living in one full-time.
Travel trailers can range from under 10 feet in length to around 40 feet, but all require a tow vehicle with an appropriate towing capacity. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List members Suzanne M. of Indianapolis).
RV and trailer classes
You have several classes and styles of recreational vehicles to choose from, and the type of RV or travel trailer you purchase will have a significant bearing on other considerations such as driving comfort, passenger and sleeping capacity, insurance and convenience of storage.
The largest size of motor home or RV, Class A units are typically 30 to 40 feet long. In most cases, Class A motor homes are built specifically on a custom chassis and resemble an interstate passenger bus, such as a Greyhound, or a tour bus.
Since they are the largest class of RVs, they are typically also the most expensive and also require advance planning for storage when not in use. Class A RVs also typically offer the most creature comforts, including fully equipped bathrooms and kitchens and major appliances like dishwashers, microwaves and washers and dryers.
The B class of RVs refers specifically to motor homes that have been built on a modified van chassis. Whether a full-size van or a minvan, Class B RVs are typically much smaller and therefore offer less living space and fewer amenities. While a Class B RV may have bathroom features, such as a shower and toilet, they may rely on smaller water supplies than their Class A counterparts.
Class B is typically the most affordable class of RV and one of the most convenient since a van-based RV can fit in an average-sized driveway and doesn’t require special storage considerations.
RVs that fall into Class C are vehicles that have been built upon a truck frame. These RVs can reach up to 30 to 40 feet in length, offering many of the same amenities as a Class A home, albeit on a smaller chassis and with a smaller living area. Depending on the size of the unit, Class C homes may require special storage considerations.
Travel trailers, towable campers and other RV units
If you’re searching for an RV, you may also want to consider a travel trailer or other types of RV-style units. Offering many of the same amenities as full-size motorhomes, travel trailers can provide nearly all the comforts of a “home on the road” but with the added convenience of having a tow vehicle that can detach from the unit.
Fifth-wheel campers are the largest of RV trailers or travel trailer, measuring from about 20 to 40 feet in length. Because they’re almost as large as or larger than some RVS, these trailers can offer many of the same amenities including fully operable kitchens and bathrooms. Towing a fifth-wheel trailer requires the installation of a special fifth-wheel hitch in the bed of the truck that will be towing the vehicle.
Travel trailers can range in length from under 10 feet to around 40 feet, so they are a large variety of floor plans and amenities to choose from. Travel trailers are generally divided into two classes: those weighing more than 4,000 pounds and those weighing less than 4,000 pounds. Rather than a special bed-mounted hitch, these trailers can be towed with the more traditional frame-mounted hitches at the back bumper of the tow vehicle.
Pop-up or folding camping trailers
Pop-up campers are typically far less lengthy than travel trailers, and lighter too. They are designed specifically to as compact as possible when being towed or stored. Folding trailers can fold out extensions to add to the height of the living space and pop-up camping trailers often feature wings that increase the living space.
Pop-up or folding camper trailers are typically the least expensive RV trailer but they’re also typically the smallest trailers on average.
Truck campers offer many of the same amenities you’ll find in a smaller trailer but in a shell that’s mounted on top of a truck’s bed. Although they’re fairly small compared to other RV classes, truck campers can fit a surprising number of amenities. Because they mount to an existing regular size truck, they’re easy to maneuver, can make access to areas where larger RV can’t go possible and leave the trailer hitch free for other uses. They’re also easy to store due to the fact that they can be easily removed and their relatively small size.
How much does an RV cost?
Many RV loans are for $100,000 or more, which can be a 15- or 20-year loan. Some finance companies offer a deal known as a "buy down" that requires a lower interest rate but charges several thousands of dollars more for the RV selling price. This can end up costing more than paying a higher interest rate and getting a lower selling price.
Search for the fair market value of the RV to avoid overpaying. If the vehicle is used, consider the mileage and any upgrades that the vehicle will need before making an offer.
RV insurance varies, so finding the policy best suited for you depends on various factors, such as living in it full-time and driving history. If your current automobile insurance company does not insure RVs, the company usually can give you a referral to another company or find one through Angie's List.
Rules of the road
A commercial driver's license (CDL) is not required for most RVs, but some states require a CDL for RVs longer than 45 feet or if the RV, trailer and towing vehicle have a combined weight of more than 26,000 pounds. Check to make sure a RV park has the space for your RV. If you have an older model, make sure the RV park does not have limits on the age of RVs in the park.
RVs usually have separate batteries for the cab and the living area, or an inverter to run lights and appliances, but the system only provides limited power. If you parked on a campground or other area that did not have access to electricity, you'll need to buy a generator.
You can add several accessories to an RV that should be included in the cost. For example, a satellite dish or trailer would require additional costs. If you don't intend to live in the RV, figure in the price of storage. Some neighborhoods have regulations on parking seasonal or oversized vehicles for long periods of time, so you may have to store the RV in a storage unit and, depending on the area and the size of the vehicle, RV storage units can be expensive.
Clean the roof once a week during periods of heavy traveling to prevent damage from dust and debris. Check appliances, lights, batteries, tires and generator before and after each trip. Electrical problems, suspension problems and other more serious problems can take one week or longer for repairs.
For maintenance, the RV should be taken to a certified RV mechanic, in addition to receiving general upkeep. Always check Angie's List for the mechanics with highest recommendations.
About one vehicle-owning household out of every 12 in the United States owns an RV.
The average age of an RV owner is 45.