Buying an RV is not the same as buying a car. We answer your top 10 questions about buying an RV, camper or trailer.
Choosing the great outdoors is easy – it's great, and it's outdoors! But choosing how to get there is more difficult.
1. What's the difference between a camper, trailer or RV?
According to the experts, sometimes, the names are confused among dealers and manufacturers, making it confusing for shoppers. Ultimately, an RV, or recreational vehicle, is the main term to describe a unit on wheels helping you get on the road to adventure.
- Camper/trailer: Towed unit that varies in size and can include minimal or luxurious amenities.
- Truck camper: Attaches to a vehicle, sliding over the bed of a truck. Often includes toilet, kitchen, shower.
- Popup trailer: Light, easy to pull, expandable. Can include kitchens, shower and toilet.
- RV: Range of classes: A – C (A is the largest). Recreational Vehicles are stand-alone vehicles and have an incredible range of amenities.
The main take-away is to decide your must-have list. Like any purchase, there are always features you keep and some you do away with. Start with an everything-you-could-ever-want checklist, highlighting your top features, then go from there. Writing it down will help you and your family determine what's necessary and what can go.
2. Are you a glamper, camper or boondocker?
Now is the time to be honest with our camping selves: glamping, camping, or those that like to get off the grid? Think back to your wilderness retreat. What did you like? What did you dislike? If all you want is a comfy mattress – the rest is getting back to nature – then perhaps a small trailer will allow you more flexibility. If getting away from it all includes getting out of harm's way from the mosquitoes, bathroom included, then maybe an RV is more your style.
3. Does size matter?
Yes, and for multiple reasons:
- Price. Like many things in life, the bigger the RV, the more spendy the RV.
- Pullability. Do you plan on trailering with your truck? If so, time to brush up on towing weights and measurements. A great place to start: check your vehicle's manual for its towing capacity.
- Parking. See no. 7.
Take stock of who will be spending the most time in your outdoor vehicle. Is it you and your partner, or your partner, kids, grandkids and four dogs? Be sure that you have enough room for its anticipated use. Remember that it's your expense to buy, maintain and store.
4. Does gas cost a lot?
- Towing: Gas mileage on your towing vehicle decreases from pulling additional weight, and chances are you save compared to less-efficient larger RVs.
- Small RV: Fuel efficiency of a small RV is similar to that of a large, personal truck often used to tow trailer or campers. You may enjoy the all-in-one features in the top-to-bottom RV, while others enjoy using their own truck with a camper.
- Large RV: The bells and whistles of a large RV are enormous. Also enormous? The fuel bill. Be prepared to track down diesel fill-up stations (truck stops are your friend), as well as carry two methods of payment. Your credit or debit card is often programmed to authorize for so many dollars at a gas station, up to a certain dollar limit per stop. Some larger vehicles may exceed that limit on fill-up! Be prepared to need two methods of payment.
5. Is RV insurance different from car insurance?
The price of the insurance is just like the price of your car, and dependent on a variety of factors – your driving history, where the RV is stored, the type of RV you buy. Your RV policy is a separate policy from car insurance, although many insurance companies offering bundling discounts when adding the policy in with your current insurance policies.
Also, consider this: You are either insuring a separate vehicle altogether (stand-alone RV), or a piece of equipment that is being hauled behind a vehicle (camper trailer) – two entirely separate entities. You'll want to speak to an insurance professional to get an idea of where you'll land on monthly cost, and ballpark that into your monthly budget.
6. Do you need a special license to drive an RV?
No, anyone with a driver's license can drive an RV. The Class A and B vehicles can be large and challenging to park. Understand that it will take practice, but, like all challenges in life, once conquered it is mighty fun! And, don't be afraid to ask the dealer to take a test drive (or three).
7. How do you park an RV?
The small ones are easy to pull into any spot – just like parking a regular truck. When towing a camper, you'll need to be aware of your additional length, and find the back or side area of a parking lot for the additional parking room you might need. That same tip also applies to the larger Class A and B RVs. A lot of stores, such as grocery stores, accommodate RVers.
8. Where do I store an RV?
If you live on a half-acre with space to spare for an RV, you're all set. But what about the retirees living in their down-sized condo? The family in their HOA-restricted neighborhood? Or the single guy enjoying apartment living in the city? For many, the financial aspect of an RV isn't the challenge, it's finding where to put it.
Creativity, research and money is often necessary:
- Rent from a local storage facility
- Rent from a storage facility in an inconvenient, but cheaper, location
- Rent from a recreational parking lot (lots advertised just for boat/RV storage)
- Park at a family or friend's home in exchange for the homeowner's use of the RV
- Park at a family or friend's property and pay cheaper rent
9. Is it better to buy a used RV?
There are positives and negatives to buying new: A new RV or trailer is yours to break-in; no messes or accidents have yet to be had. Also, it's a bit different in a car – unlike people sitting in a normal sedan, families spend entire vacations in an RV, sleeping, eating, cooking. They even use the facilities.
You can get a great price on a used vehicle, and even a warranty on used – plus, plenty of people do not drive their RV as much as they planned, and there are plenty of great deals to be had. It just depends on how comfortable you are buying used, and settling for the features and benefits you find, rather than can order exactly to your specifications.
10. How do you finance an RV?
Negotiating your way into a major purchase like a recreational vehicle requires more than a paragraph of info – check out this handy article on tips and tricks when handling the big purchase. Key takeaways include knowing your interest rate, knowing your budget that you want to spend (including insurance and storage estimates), and coming prepared with your “must-have” shopping list before you buy.