Buying a recreational vehicle (RV) is a huge financial decision. You’re essentially buying a home–and sometimes buying a car attached to it as well. That means you’ve got quite a bit to consider, especially if this is your first RV. To help you make the right choice for your needs, our review team put this RV buying guide together.
This guide will take an in-depth look at the different types of RVs available and give you tips on how to get a deal on the best RV for you.
RV Buying Guide: What To Consider Before You Start Shopping
While browsing the world of options available to you is one of the more fun parts of buying an RV, there are a few things you should consider before you start shopping.
Number Of Passengers
RVs come in different classes, and one of the major differences between these classes is size. Some RVs can only sleep two people. Others can comfortably fit up to 10. Consider the maximum number of people who you plan to travel with and make sure you purchase an RV that can accommodate them.
Are you buying an RV for the occasional weekend road trip to campgrounds? Or are you looking to go full time, covering thousands of miles and driving cross country to explore national parks? This can help you determine what amenities you’ll need in a camper as well as how important things like gas mileage are in your decision.
Drivable Or Towable
Other than size, the major split between types of RVs is whether they’re drivable or towable. Drivable RVs, like Class A, Class B, and Class C motorhomes, come attached to van or truck chassis. These cost much more than towable campers like fifth-wheel RVs and toy haulers, but you don’t need a separate vehicle to tow them.
Do you already have a vehicle with adequate towing capacity for a camper you’d want to own? Since it’s often easier to get a car or truck repaired than an RV in most places, think about whether you’re comfortable with the uncertainty of owning a drivable RV.
Just like with cars, RV brands have different reputations for quality and customer service. Build quality and reliability are certainly important, but RVs are notorious for having issues. No matter what RV you buy, you’ll probably run into problems at some point. This means that how a company helps owners of its campers solve these issues is critical.
There are huge variations in price across the RV spectrum. On one hand, you can find small, entry-level towables for under $4,000. Luxury Class A campers, on the other hand, can easily surpass $1 million.
It’s more difficult to finance an RV than a car or home. If you need to finance, you’ll likely need more cash up front and the ability to pay a higher interest rate. We’ll take a deeper look at how to finance a camper later on in this RV buying guide.
Different Types Of RVs
As we mentioned earlier in our RV buying guide, the two major classifications of campers are drivables and towables. Within those categories, there are several subcategories of RVs. Understanding the differences between them can help you narrow your options down in your search for the perfect camper.
Class A Motorhomes
Length: 25–45 feet
Average price range: $50,000–$200,000
Good for: Full-time traveling families or groups
The largest RVs in the drivable category, Class A motor coaches are the luxury liners of the RV world. They’re also typically the most expensive.
You can expect a Class A motorhome to come with large living spaces–courtesy of expandable slide-outs–and top-of-the-line amenities. Features like a wet bath, a large bedroom, and a well-equipped kitchen are standard for this category.
Class As are the closest you’ll get to a true home on wheels with drivable RVs. That said, their huge size can make them difficult to get in and out of smaller RV parks and campsites.
Class B Motorhomes
Length: 17–24 feet
Typical price range: $80,000–$140,000
Good for: Full-time solo travelers or traveling couples
Typically built on top of a commercial van chassis like a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or Dodge Ram ProMaster, Class B RVs are nimble drivables that pack in enough amenities to make full-time RVing comfortable for one or two people.
Many Class B RVs feature a wet bath and a plumbed kitchen. You’ll also typically find at least one large bed, often cleverly worked in as convertible furniture. A number of these vehicles also have pop-up tops to create more vertical space or even a bunk area.
As the popularity of “van life” has grown, RV manufacturers have paid more attention to this category. As a result, RVers in 2022 have a lot of options to choose from within the class. You can find Class B RVs designed for off-roading and off-grid living, with robust four-wheel-drive systems and solar panels and batteries.
Class C Motorhomes
Length: 21–41 feet
Typical price range: $50,000–$100,000
Good for: Small families traveling full time
Despite the name, Class C motorhomes are actually larger than Class B RVs. They’re also smaller than their Class A counterparts. That means they’re often the “goldilocks” solution for smaller families or even couples looking for a little more room.
You can expect to find similar amenities in Class C RVs as you would in Class As. However, since Class Cs are smaller, you won’t find as many of them. Still, Class C RVs are extremely liveable, with large bedrooms and bathrooms. Most also feature functional kitchens.
Length: 25–45 feet
Typical price range: $25,000–$125,000
Good for: Full-time RVers with their own towing vehicles
Known in the RV community as “fivers,” fifth-wheel campers are the largest RVs in the towable category. The name “fifth wheel” comes from the locking mechanism that attaches the RV to the bed of the truck for towing. This design allows a surprising amount of maneuverability for its size.
With RVs in this class, you’ll find similar features and amenities to Class A and C RVs, just in a towable package. Their design allows for a loft space that hangs over the bed of the towing truck–a space that’s often used for a spacious master bedroom.
As a towable, a fifth-wheel RV allows you to unhitch the camper and use the towing vehicle on its own. That can translate to huge savings in fuel costs if you plan to explore beyond your base camp.
Length: 12–35 feet
Typical price range: $18,000–$75,000
Good for: Weekend RVers and full-time traveling couples
A travel trailer is a step down in size and amenities from a fifth-wheel RV. While you’ll still have a comfortable place to sleep, cook, and relax, you won’t find features like kitchen islands or full-size closets in these campers.
But that doesn’t mean travel trailers are without their advantages. Their smaller size and fewer features make them more maneuverable. That means these RVs are easier to get in and out of campgrounds. They also can go places larger fifth-wheel campers can’t, making them more suitable for boondocking.
Travel trailers also offer much better fuel efficiency than fifth-wheel RVs. If you plan to travel long distances with your RV, that cost difference can add up very quickly.
Length: 7–18 feet
Typical price range: $12,000–$80,000
Good for: Outdoor sports enthusiasts
Toy haulers are often within the same range of size as travel trailers, but they serve a different purpose. Unlike travel trailers or fifth-wheel campers, toy haulers have a “garage” space that allows travelers to haul small vehicles or large outdoor sports equipment.
This makes toy haulers ideal for people who include other outdoor activities in their camping trips. Toy haulers offer enough space to pack items like surfboards and snowboards or even small vehicles like dirt bikes, snowmobiles, and ATVs.
In recent years, manufacturers have improved garage designs to add more functionality. Many toy haulers have the option to easily convert your garage space into a deck or screened-in porch. For people who truly love the outdoors, this category should be a first consideration.
Length: 8–10 feet
Typical price range: $5,000–$20,000
Good for: Solo or couple campers
The smallest and least expensive category of RVs are teardrop trailers. Named for their distinctive shape, these trailers are designed to pack a comfortable sleeping space into a lightweight, aerodynamic design.
Still, you’ll find a comfortable, secure sleeping setup and storage space in even the cheapest teardrop trailers. As you go up in size and price, some teardrops offer more livable space and more features.
Their small size and low weight offer several advantages over other categories. Teardrops are much more maneuverable than other RVs. You can also tow many of them with a small SUV rather than a truck with a large engine. That means you may not need to buy another vehicle to tow a teardrop trailer. This can give you huge savings on fuel costs.
Should I Buy A New Or Used RV?
RV buyers have plenty of both new and used options. The overall advantages and disadvantages of each option are similar to buying a new or used car, but there are some key differences.
New RV Pros And Cons
Pros of Buying a New RV
Cons of Buying a New RV
Easier to finance
Depreciates in value quickly
Untested problem components like
Used RV Pros And Cons
Pros of Buying a Used RV
Cons of Buying a Used RV
Usually no included warranty
Doesn’t depreciate as quickly
Parts may need replacing
Previous owner may have solved “off-the-lot”
Harder to find replacement parts for older RVs
Where To Buy An RV
Once you’ve figured out what kind of RV you’d like to buy, it’s time to start shopping. Get quotes from a few sources if you can. While demand for RVs is high, you don’t need to rush your decision.
The traditional way to buy an RV, much like a car, is to buy it at a dealership. RV dealers may represent a single brand or sell multiple brands. And while visiting dealerships can be time-consuming, they offer a few advantages.
Many dealerships have service centers attached. This can provide a reliable option for getting your RV repaired. You can also see an RV up close and do a walk-through at a dealership. This is invaluable as you try to assess things like build quality. In the case of drivable RVs, you may get an opportunity to test-drive one.
Some dealerships offer in-house financing. While this loan option usually comes with a higher interest rate than you’d find at a bank, dealerships are usually more lenient with credit and more likely to offer loans.
Between RV marketplace sites and dealerships with online inventories, buying an RV online is the best way to see the full range of options available to you. It’s also a good way to get some of the lowest prices.
Online RV shopping has a few other benefits. When you shop for RVs on the internet, you can easily compare models and prices while reading reviews from RV owners to get a better idea of how a camper performs. You can also easily compare prices and features without having a salesperson in your ear.
However, limiting your shopping to the internet prevents you from getting an in-person experience with an RV. Most RV companies offer detailed floor plans and 3D and video tours to help you see inside the models, but there’s no substitute for seeing and feeling the craftsmanship up close.
If you’re looking for a used RV, searching classified listings online and in places like local newspapers can be a good way to score a great deal. This option lacks the institutional support of buying an RV from a dealership or online vendor, so it may be a little harder to finance your purchase. But there are still advantages to going this route.
If you buy an RV from the owner, you’ll have a chance to ask about the vehicle’s history. This information can be extremely valuable. Knowing what has broken in the past and what might break in the future can help you make a more informed decision. If you do buy the RV, you’ll have a better idea of what to prepare for.
How To Finance An RV
Depending on your financial situation and the RV you want to buy, you may need to finance your camper. It’s important to know that this is fundamentally different from financing a car or a house.
Most people’s first option is to use a traditional lender, but you can’t use a regular auto loan to purchase an RV. You also can’t use a home mortgage loan. Some lenders offer specialty RV loans, but these often come with much higher interest rates and more strict lending criteria. There are several online lenders that specialize in RV financing, so it’s worth checking with them, too.
Many RV dealerships offer their own in-house financing. While dealerships tend to be a little more flexible with their loans than other lenders, they usually charge higher interest rates. When you’re buying something that can cost as much as a house, even one-tenth of a percentage point can make a huge difference over the lifetime of a loan.
RV Buying Guide: How To Buy The Right RV For You
Buying an RV is a major financial decision and an extremely personal one. Most people want an RV to help them get out and explore the world around them. Everyone has their own way of doing that. This RV buying guide should help you come to your own conclusions about what you need.
Here’s a quick recap of the process:
- Assess your needs and travel goals.
- Decide which type of RV best fits those needs and goals.
- Choose between buying a new RV and a used RV.
- Shop for an RV in person or online.
- Compare offers.
- Find financing if you need it.
Finally, remember that buying an RV is about having fun and creating new experiences. It’s worth taking your time to find the best deal on the right RV to help you get on (and off) the road, especially if this is your first time buying an RV.