The Best Guide for Buying an RV 

The Best Guide for Buying an RV 

Buying an RV can be quite an undertaking! There is no question that the types and models of RVs are growing exponentially. Every year, there is a new style, model, or features designed to surpass whatever the latest and greatest thing was the previous year. The decision can be overwhelming, so how do you decide what RV you should buy? 

While there is no such thing as “the perfect RV,” there are RVs that will work better for you in your current situation or season of life. Here are some things to think about when narrowing down your choices. 

The first step is understanding the different types of RVs and the potential pros and cons.

Buying an RV: Which one is right for you?

How do you plan to use it? 

Will you be a weekend warrior or plan to be in the RV for a few weeks each year on family vacations? Will you be going full-time, or will you be doing a hybrid lifestyle where you spend months on the road at a time in between breaks at a home base?

Related: How to Find the Perfect RV for Full-Time Travel

What climates will you be in?

Are you planning to always be in warm or hot climates? And if deciding on those, remember to consider humidity levels. Perhaps you like to ski and will seek out winter destinations. Also, decide if you’ll generally be at lower elevations near a coast or scaling mountain roads at higher elevations. 

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What size do you need?

Are you traveling with your family and need plenty of bunk space the whole time? Or maybe you’re a solo traveler who likes to have friends or family visit you at different locations. What if you work remotely and need space for your job?

There’s a concept with buying an RV that talks about the 90/10 plan. That means you buy an RV that meets your needs 90 percent of the time, and the other 10 percent can be dealt with. We’ve seen too many people buy oversized rigs, so they have plenty of room for visitors and then only have visitors infrequently. 

Also, remember that many national parks and some state parks have severe size limits. That means buying a 45-foot behemoth for its outstanding living space won’t do any good if you can’t use it to visit the national parks you’ve always wanted to see. 

What truck do you need, or what car can you tow?

If you buy a travel trailer, you must tow it with something. The bigger the trailer, the bigger the truck you’ll need. Some cars and SUVs can tow smaller trailers. Larger trailers need full-sized vans or trucks. And the big fifth-wheels require a much heavier-duty truck. 

If you’re buying a motorhome, is it small enough to drive it around wherever you want? If not, you’ll need to consider hauling a towed vehicle with you. If that’s the case, you need to consider the size of the vehicle you want to tow and whether your motorhome can be set up correctly. 

What can you afford?

Buying an RV has to include a budget, unfortunately. Generally, the larger the rig, the larger the price tag. But certain manufacturers will give you sticker shock on new rigs, even if they are on the smaller side.

On the other hand, “you get what you pay for” is true in the RV world, and paying more often means better quality. If buying used, you’ll find that some brands hold their value longer, which means more money upfront but a better investment in the long run. And if you’re buying a renovated RV, the original manufacturer and the quality and style of renovation will affect the price significantly. 

Read Next: 23 Budget-Friendly RV Makeover Ideas

Where will you store it?

If you’re not planning on living in the rig full-time, you’ll need somewhere to park it for days, weeks, or months at a time. That’s when the size of your trailer or motorhome will become a huge issue. If you don’t have room on your property or live where HOA guidelines prohibit RV parking, where will you keep it? A smaller rig is easier to tuck away somewhere. A larger rig means needing more space. That often translates into paying more for storage

How mechanically minded are you?

There’s a saying that defines RVing as “Fixing things in beautiful places.” Often, that’s truer than most RVers would like to admit.

Newer rigs still need work until you get the bugs out of them. The advantage is that these items often are covered by a warranty. But getting into an RV repair shop can take months, as can the wait for repairs. If you’re buying used, you could likely need to replace items as they wear out due to age.

No matter what age or type of RV, you’ll essentially be putting your home on wheels through a hurricane during an earthquake every time you travel down the road.

Tips for buying an RV

Visit local dealers and walk through lots of RVs

As we said, there are a lot of RVs to consider. Online research can help narrow down some of your choices, but nothing can help you decide more than seeing RVs up close and in person. RV dealerships can help you focus on certain brands and models. Use manufacturer websites to find the closest dealer selling the brands you love.

Go to an RV show

If you want to see a lot of RVs all at once, an RV show is the way to go. Be warned that this can become quickly overwhelming.

But if you’re torn between types of RVs and not just brands or models, an RV show is a great way to narrow things down quickly. Nearly every area of the country has RV shows. The two largest are in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and Tampa, Florida. But smaller shows may give you a better shot at choosing without being overwhelmed by the choices. 

Rent an RV

Consider renting instead of buying an RV, at least initially. This isn’t cheap, but in the end, it may be worth it to make the best long-term investment. Just keep in mind that spending a weekend in a rig won’t really tell you how it will work out on longer trips, but it does help you narrow down things that you know won’t work. 

Talk to other RVers

RV shows, online social media forums and groups, and campgrounds are great places to find people who own rigs you might be interested in. Getting to know what people like or don’t like about their rigs can be a huge benefit. But remember that what works or doesn’t work for some people may not be what works or doesn’t work for you. Opinions are subjective, but they can be insightful. 

Financing for buying an RV

Unless you’re paying cash, you’ll need to finance the purchase with a loan. If that’s the case, remember the following things:

  • Expect a lot of depreciation. You’re already losing money as soon as that new, shiny RV leaves the dealer’s parking lot. It won’t continue depreciating at that rate, but it does happen for a while.
  • Pay attention to your interest rate. Shop around at different banks to see what they’ll give you. Sometimes dealerships have relationships with financial institutions that let them get better deals, but sometimes, it’s better to arrange financing ahead of time.
  • Pay as much cash as possible. The more you pay upfront, the less money you need to finance. The smaller the loan, the less you’ll pay in interest over time. 
  • Prepare for a credit check. Regardless of the type or cost of the RV, it’s likely that the bank or credit union will run a credit check on you to see if loaning you money is a risk they want to take. 
  • Don’t forget to consider additional expenses. There’s more to the cost of an RV than the sales price. You have to calculate taxes, fees, licensing, and more. And don’t forget all the “must-have” and “nice-to-have” accessories you’ll need to add to it before you hit the road. 

Budgeting for buying an RV

It’s not just the cost of the RV to consider but also the things you’ll need to plan for on top of the original purchase. 

Maintenance and Warranties

You may want to consider an extended warranty, which could save you money in the long run but needs to be budgeted for initially. We highly recommend this on newer RVs.

Regardless of warranty coverage, routine maintenance is still something you need to cover. On a motorhome, that includes an engine on top of the RV parts and vehicle parts found on motorhomes and trailers.


This is a big one to shop around for. And ensure that your insurance company has experience with RVs. In addition, you’ll need to think about various coverage levels and whether you’ll be guaranteed enough replacement costs for a catastrophic loss. 

RV park fees/lot rent

RVing can be cheaper than paying a home mortgage or apartment rent, plus utilities and property taxes. But that isn’t the case if you opt for the fanciest RV parks in a community with all the amenities. Still, you will have some cost for campsites and hookups, even if you stay at state or national parks. You can camp for free on BLM land if you head west, but you will still need to find a way to refresh your water and waste tanks regularly. 

Want to dive into RV life full-time? This is the best book on how to live in an RV.

Other travel costs

Fuel is a major budget line option to consider.

If you travel frequently, you must budget for gasoline or diesel costs. Settling in somewhere for longer periods can keep that cost lower. (As a bonus, booking a stay at a private RV park for at least a month may get you a discounted rate.)


There are “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” for RV accessories. But the “must-haves” really are things you need to have before you hit the road. The costs can add up quickly if this is your first RV. 

Shop RV Essentials like toilet deodorant and sewage hoses.

Buying an RV: where and from whom?

If buying an RV means shopping only for used rigs, you’ll need to make one more decision: where are you buying your rig? 

Private Seller?

  • Remember that the unit may be overpriced because they have fond memories or sweat equity invested in it. Or it might be underpriced, indicating a potential problem you’ll need to discover. Either way, feel free to negotiate what you believe is fair based on market research. 
  • As noted for underpricing, consider what might be wrong with a rig that a private seller may not want to tell you. Consider getting a professional RV inspector to give it a once-over before you buy the rig. It will cost you a few hundred dollars, but considering what you may be paying for the rig, it’s usually a great investment. 
  • Title/lien complications can slow down the purchasing process. Before you proceed, ensure the owner has a clear title, which means that if they financed it, the owner would also need a letter from the financial institution canceling their lien. If you don’t have that, you likely won’t be able to re-title the rig or even get a registration and license plate. 
  • Purchasing from a private party means securing your own financing. You should probably research this for rates even if you plan on buying from a dealer, so finalizing the loan is just one more step on that research journey. 
  • One benefit of buying an RV from a private seller is that they probably know the RV inside and out. This can come in handy when it’s time to pick it up and you need a walk-through of its features. We have purchased and sold RVs privately, and in both cases, we were a great resource for the new owner after the sale, and we were afforded the same courtesy from the folks we bought a rig from. Having a friendly person to contact if you have questions about your rig after purchasing it can be a huge benefit.
  • If you’re buying on the private market, you’ll probably have an easier time finding a remodeled RV. We even have this entire website dedicated to that! 
  • A former owner may toss in some expensive “must-have” accessories we discussed earlier. Even if they’re used, having some of those accessories to at least get started can help you defray some initial costs. Depending on the circumstances of the sale, you could get even more. We’ve known several people who purchased RVs and drove away fully stocked, including everything from bed linens to kitchen utensils. 


  • Most dealerships are not likely to sell renovated RVs. Instead, check out online marketplaces like ours.
  • Dealerships have the advantage of being able to offer extended warranties. They aren’t always a good deal, so tread carefully. But some of the better warranties do make sense.
  • Dealerships often have relationships with banks and credit unions so they can offer financing in-house. We still encourage you to shop around for the best rates, but going through a dealership can sometimes make things easier. 
  • Dealerships deal, which means they may be more willing to negotiate a price than a private seller. Of course, dealerships also are notorious for marking up the price a lot, assuming you’ll come in with plans to talk them down. 


  • Buying an RV long distance may mean being able to find the exact model or specifications you’re looking for. But it also means you can’t necessarily drive over and look at it before purchasing. 
  • Try to find a similar model locally that you can walk through. Pictures and videos are nice, but nothing beats standing or sitting in an RV to get a feel for the space inside. 
  • Make sure you have a professional RV inspection completed on the unit before purchase. And if it’s a motorhome, consider having the engine and drivetrain inspected by a local mechanic. 
  • If possible, try to pick up the rig yourself. That means you can see your investment personally before handing over the cash. We have friends who did this and, at the last second, backed out on the deal because they caught a major problem that even the RV inspector missed! 
  • RV shipping options are available if you can’t pick up the rig. You could have someone else go pick it up. You could hire a professional company to pick up and deliver your rig. Or you might even work out a deal with the seller. We once sold an RV and delivered it to the buyer. They paid our full asking price and covered our return travel expenses to make it worth our while. Get creative, and don’t be afraid to toss ideas around with the seller. 

What to look for in a used RV

If you’re interested in buying a used or renovated RV, there are certain things to check out that might help you avoid headaches down the road.

Major damage:

  • Water damage: This is the most common and expensive problem with used RVs. Look for signs of leaks, mold, mildew, soft spots on the floor or walls, and warping. Check the roof, around windows and doors, and near plumbing fixtures.
  • Roof damage: The roof is your shield from the elements, so make sure it’s in good condition. Look for cracks, punctures, loose or missing seams, and signs of wear and tear.
  • Structural damage: Check for cracks in the frame, sagging floors, or other signs of structural problems.

Mechanical systems:

  • Engine and transmission: Have a mechanic inspect the engine and transmission for any leaks, unusual noises, or other problems. Check the mileage and compare it to similar RVs.
  • Brakes and tires: Make sure the brakes are in good working order and the tires have plenty of tread left. Don’t forget to check the spare tire, as well. Ensure the tires are not older than 5 years old. Also look for uneven tire wear, which can indicate a suspension or alignment problem.
  • Appliances and systems: Test all the appliances, including the air conditioner, heater, refrigerator, stove, oven, and plumbing system. Make sure everything works properly. Electrical cables shouldn’t be frayed or worn. This includes in the engine compartment for motorhomes and at the RV’s battery connections on motorhomes and trailers.
*All photos courtesy of Ari Adler and


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February 21, 2024

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