What to look for when shopping for the perfect RV

August 18, 2020

Learn what you should look for when buying the perfect recreational vehicle

An RV driving down a tree-lined road

What do you picture when you think of the perfect RV? Your answer is sure to be as unique as you are! There are gigantic RVs meant for year-round living — and small RVs, intended for short trips. There are exquisite luxury RVs meant for "glamping," and rugged, utilitarian RVs meant to get you from point A to point B. Understandably, that can make the buying process for an RV a little complicated. So what should you look for when shopping for the perfect RV? To help you narrow it down, there are a few questions you should ask yourself. Let's take a look!

What type of recreational vehicle do you want?

People think of different things when they think about an "RV." Some people may imagine a towed trailer while others imagine a fully drivable vehicle. What you choose will depend on your personal needs. Do you want to be able to have everyone in the same "room" as you travel? Or do you want what is essentially a mobile house hitched to the back of your vehicle? Full RVs are more convenient, but also more expensive. Some aspiring nomads and infrequent travelers begin with a hitch and later upgrade to a full RV.

What type of traveler are you?

There's no single type of "RV traveler." Some people want to be able to live in their RV full-time. Others want to take elaborate vacations. And still others want to take rugged, outdoor camping trips. The type you are will inform the kind of RV you want to look at.

The more time you're going to be spending in your RV, the more you're likely to want "quality of life" motorhome improvements. You'll want a larger, luxurious RV with more comfort features. But the more you're traveling in your RV — driving from place to place — the more you'll be looking for something smaller, more maneuverable, and more lightweight.

How many people will be along for the ride?

Size is one of the most important factors that determines the cost of your RV, so you should settle on size very early on. Size is usually based on the number of people who will be in the RV, or the number of beds available. If you have one or two people, you can choose pretty much any RV out there. If you're going to be traveling with five people and a pet, you're going to need a larger RV.

Consider that the accommodations may need to suit this amount of people for some time. For example, with more passengers comes more equipment, so storage is incredibly important, too. Some RVs say they sleep a certain amount of people, but it's important to understand exactly what that means. Are they full beds, bunks, or pull-out sofas? Remember, you don't want to take shortcuts when it comes to long-term comfort. 

Lastly, if you're looking at an RV that you can tow, it's important to understand what your vehicle is capable of. No matter how powerful your truck may be, it has a towing weight limit. Before you decide on a size, make sure you know if you'll actually be able to move it!

What features do you want, and what do you really need?

Once you've thought about what you're doing with your RV, where you're going, and who you're going with, make a list of your "needs" and your "wants." You might need three beds for sleeping but want a kitchen. What are your deal breakers? What could you simply not go without?

At this point, you might find it helpful to speak to friends or family members who have RV experience. If you don't know any RV owners, there are a number of online communities that can be a wealth of information. Whomever you speak to, ask them which features of their RV they found to be most useful, and what they found they could live without. Some of the best features of an RV include:
  • Dinette areas and office spaces. If you're a digital nomad who works and lives in their RV, these creature comforts make it a lot easier to do so.
  • Mounted televisions and other electronics. Spaces like this make the RV a lot more like a home — and make long drives more bearable for companions.
  • Built-in shelving and storage. When space is at a premium, you need to make use of the space you have: built-in storage and multi-use furniture help.

What's your budget?

Now it comes down to perhaps the most important consideration: budget. You know what you want, but how much of what you want can you get? When calculating your budget, consider your list of "needs" and "wants" and look for places you can cut back if needed. If you need a little extra wiggle room, you may consider taking a loan out to purchase an RV. Just like taking a loan out for a car or home, people often do the same with an RV in order to spread the cost into monthly payments. You may find that this can help you get the right RV for your needs without compromising.

But consider this as well: You can often save a lot of money by purchasing an RV used. Of course, that also means you may need to renovate it, improve it, or otherwise repair it. Either way, it's important to know how much you can spend before embarking on your hunt for the perfect RV.

New, or used?

Buying a new or used RV carries with it all of the complexities of buying a new or used car, and perhaps a little extra. A new RV is going to have all the current bells and whistles. It may be safer and will be more predictable. As with most things, however, a steep price tag is sure to follow. A used or preowned RV can be more like a big question mark: You're going to get a deep discount, but you may not know its complete history.

If you're looking for a new RV, consider buying a prior year's model. Just like cars, it's always the newest-of-the-new that will be the most expensive. By purchasing a previous model, you can usually get an RV that is functionally similar to the cutting edge without paying the associated cost. Looking at online reviews for various models can help you narrow down the selection before walking on the lot.

Warranties are also another consideration to keep in mind. Your new RV should have a warranty attached, but make sure you understand exactly what is covered before you drive it off the lot.

If you're looking for an older used RV, try to find one with a maintenance history that is complete. Ask about which parts have been replaced, and what may need replacing in the future. Either way, you'll likely want to budget some money for repairs. It can also be helpful to look up your specific model online to learn about common points of failure and regular maintenance.

Always take a good look and inspect it for interior and exterior damage. While some minor interior cosmetic blemishes aren't much to worry about, damage to the exterior could indicate structural problems down the road. If you're not confident in your ability to spot such damage, consider having a third party assist with the inspection. This is especially important if you're buying a motorhome with all of the issues that come with having an engine.  

Getting an RV is an exciting first step towards the adventure of a lifetime, but choosing the right one can be an involved process. Think about where you'll be going, who you'll be going with, and what model will help you make the most of your journey. Take your time and review different models, consider your budget, and determine whether you'll look at a new or used RV. 

An RV driving down a tree-lined road

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Read more: There's a lot to know about RVs - and even more to know about auto insurance! Read our blog and learn everything you need to know about auto insurance in Texas!

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.