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Guide for First Time Purchase of Recreational Vehicle (RV)

Updated on March 28, 2021
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Tony and Sammi work in the IT field and purchased their first travel trailer (New) in April 2018 after a lot research.

Tip #1 - Develop a realistic budget and then stick to that budget.

Cost is a very important factor. A buyer's realistic budget may or may not get a buyer what he or she is dreaming of in a recreational vehicle (RV). This may lead to stretching an already tight budget too thin.

By going over a realistic budget a buyer might find themselves unhappy with the inability to maximize the enjoyment of owning their RV.

Owning an RV requires investing a lot of money. There are two types of budgets you should create. One for the purchase and one for after you get your RV.

Top ten things to consider when creating your purchase budget are:

  1. Purchase price
  2. Tag, Tax and Title (watch for seller fees like document fees)
  3. Insurance
  4. Tow vehicle
  5. Tow package (hitch and stabilizer/sway bar)
  6. Parking/storage fees
  7. Setup (Think one time buys to get your RV ready to stay in or needed to use the RV like bedding, leveling/chock blocks, surge protectors.)
  8. Costs to pickup/move RV
  9. Initial Repairs if RV is used.
  10. Improvements/Upgrades (Solar panels, batteries, washer/dryer, appliances or other big-ticket items that for your experience is a must from the beginning such screens, canopy or larger propane tanks)

Buyers should be aware that there are costs that may not be anticipated when setting up their budget. Many RV owners have experienced costs they did not expect which caused them debt they did not want or could not afford.

When developing the after-purchase budget consider everything not just mandatory bills (i.e. campground fees, gas/diesel, electric/water). Additional costs may include snacks, holiday expenses, birthdays, Dr visits while away from your home base, clothes, shoes, new electronics, dishes, bicycles, phone service, Internet, cell signal booster, upgrade to tow vehicle or tow package. Do not forget to budget for regular maintenance for upkeep such as roof sealant, washing/detailing, tires and parts (things do break!).

Once you think you have a budget that you can live with reduce it by 10-15% to give yourself a little more breathing room. If the increase in expenses feels too tight then it probably is. Owning an RV is a much more enjoyable experience when you are not stressed with the financial burden.

Check out where we took our camper in 2018

Harbor Cove, Coldwater, MI:
632 Race St, Coldwater, MI 49036, USA

get directions

Candy Cane RV Park, Steelville, MO:
Candy Cane RV Park & Campground, 11 State Hwy M, Steelville, MO 65565, USA

get directions

Birch Cove, Barnsdall, OK:
Birch Cove Rd, Oklahoma 74002, USA

get directions

Thousand Trails, Gordonville, Texas (Lake Texoma):
209 Thousand Trails Dr, Gordonville, TX 76245, USA

get directions

Thousand Trails on Lake Conroe, Willis, Texas:
11720 Thousand Trails on Lake Conroe, Willis, TX 77318, USA

get directions

Tip #2 - Selecting the right RV size

Size matters is an understatement if you are actually towing and parking the RV often. A few things to consider about the size RV you need:

  • Where will you store the RV when it is not in use?
  • Additional costs at parks and storage facilities for accommodating larger RVs.
  • Will you be able to back it up? If not a lot of parks do have pull thru sites. Keep in mind availability might be limited plus some parks charge premium rate for this type of site.
  • Some national and state parks cannot accommodate larger RVs or have only a small amount that are booked weeks or months in advance.
  • Don't forget to figure out total length including your tow vehicle, vehicle being towed or storage boxes attached to bumpers. Typically, we get asked for length from bumper to bumper when connected by the park we are booking for campsites.
  • Include width and height as this may hinder your ability to visit some locations.
    • For width do not forget to count slides and a little space between them and your connections/trees/tables or other items surrounding where you will park the RV.
    • For height do not forget to include the tallest item attached to the roof. Also, if measuring make sure tires are fully inflated and you are on as flat of a surface as possible. Most manufacturers will provide in specs if no changes were made that effect the height.

How do you want to use a RV?

If you are looking to purchase or recently purchased your first RV. What is the primary purpose of the RV?

See results

Tip #3 - Take the time to make the right selection

Failure to allow time to research and find the RV that will meet your needs at the best price has great potential to leave you frustrated with the process thus unhappy. This should be a pleasant experience full of excitement and joy.

Window shop a lot. Check out those RV shows and YouTube videos!

Savings from shopping around can save you thousands as well as providing that level of comfort you deserve when making a large purchase.

It doesn’t matter if you are purchasing from private individual or large dealership a buyer should know what they expect and relay that to the seller(s). Be honest and upfront with your expectations with price as well what you want included.

Decide before you seek that purchase what is a must and what is just a nice to have. Look at these examples:

  1. Solar power
  2. Black/Grey tank size
  3. Battery type/size
  4. Your vehicle’s tow capacity/cargo limits
  5. Sleeping/office space
  6. Toy hauler
  7. Bumper pull, 5th wheel or motorized
  8. Backup camera prep/package
  9. Storage bays
  10. Residential refrigerator

Consider if you plan to be dry camping or always at parks with full hookups. What value do these items bring to you weighing the pros and cons of what those items mean to you.

If you are going to be dry camping/boondocking a lot those larger tanks, batteries and solar power options may be a must whereas if you will just be going the occasional weekend to a full hookup site this might not mean as much to you.

Rushed decisions leave some concerns unaddressed that may make the entire experience regretful.

A guide to living in an RV

A Beginner's Guide to Living in an RV: Everything I Wish I Knew Before Full-Time RVing Across America (RV Travel Books Book 1)
A Beginner's Guide to Living in an RV: Everything I Wish I Knew Before Full-Time RVing Across America (RV Travel Books Book 1)
This book helped me think about things for living in an RV. Very helpful to get another person's perspective that has done it already.

Try it before you buy it!

Consider renting before buying when you have little to no experience RVing.

Tip #4 - Identify the RV style for you

There are many types or styles of RVs. For simplicity we are only going to look at motorized, bumper pull and 5th wheel in this section however you should know there are a lot of various options out there.

Before you go shopping watch some videos on different models to get a feel for what RV style you would like.

Build yourself a comparison table with pros and cons.

Example Comparison Table

Bumper Pull Trailer
5th Wheel Trailer
Faster set up and take down
May be longer, harder to find parking
Able to pull with smaller vehicles, SUV vs truck
Requires more time to set up or take down
More features than a bumper pull such as bigger tanks and storage capacity.
Usually requires a larger truck to pull
Better weather resistance
Some models might require a CDL in some states
More affordable price, insurance and tags.
Weight restrictions may limit cargo
Easier to connect than a bumper pull
Need to find 50 AMP sites
Mobility within vehicle while movinng
May need to tow a vehicle or have bicycles to give additional local transportation.
Many size, shape and layout options.
Sway on the highway even with sway bars can be bad in high winds
Better self leveling options and less sway on highway
Costs more to purchase and pull.

Here is an example of what this might look like. Remember when building yours to put items where you feel it should be. I might feel like finding parking is an issue due to what type of travel we will be doing but this might not be an issue for you.

We want to know what RV style you prefer.

What is your favorite type of RV?

See results

Tip #5 - Specific Features to Consider

  1. RVs come with either 50- or 30-AMP electric hookup. Here are some considerations to help you decide which you should get.
    1. RVs with only a 30 AMP hookup can only handle one air conditioner. In a smaller RV this may be sufficient or if you will only be using the RV in areas with mild temperatures.
    2. Some campgrounds may not have 50 AMP hookups available or charge a “premium” rate for them. You can use an adapter to use 30 AMP but you might blow the breaker or be unable to run everything you normally can on 50 AMP.
  2. Fresh, grey and black tank size and quantity are very important if you are ever going to stay in a place without full hookups (sewer included).
      1. Consider more than just how much the gallon limits are. Being able to have 60 gallons of fresh water is wonderful but the weight it adds should not take it over what is allowed for the vehicle(s) GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating).
      2. Multiple grey or black tanks means you have to empty them. Do some research on this because accidents can easily happen that will impact your love of RVing as well as storage space for hoses and other required equipment/supplies.
      3. Tank flush questions to ask: Does it have a built-in flush for black, grey or both? What side of the RV is it on?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Starr


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