Welcome to the wonderful world of RVing! Purchasing an RV can be an exciting yet daunting process, especially if you’re a first time buyer. This comprehensive beginner tips for first time RV buyers covers everything you need to know as a beginner – from understanding the different RV types, setting your budget, and inspecting models, to negotiating with dealers and securing financing.
Whether you plan to live in an RV full-time or use it for family vacations, follow these RV buying tips to find the perfect rig for your needs and avoid rookie mistakes. Let’s get started!
- Determine the RV type (motorhome, travel trailer, camper van, etc.) and features you need based on your budget, lifestyle, and trip plans.
- Shop used RVs to save money, but budget for any repairs needed.
- Inspect the RV thoroughly yourself and/or hire a professional inspector before buying.
- Negotiate the best possible price using pricing guides and sales tactics.
- Understand RV loan terms and shop financing rates to get the lowest monthly payment.
Understanding RV Types
With so many RV options on the market, it can be tricky to decide what type of RV is right for you. Here are the most common RV types for first time buyers:
Motorhomes (Class A, B, C): Motorized RVs built on a vehicle chassis – range from van conversions to luxurious homes on wheels.
- Class A – Largest type, bus-like build.
- Class B – Van conversions. Great for maneuverability & MPG.
- Class C – Medium motorhomes with an overhang above the cab.
Travel Trailers: Towed RVs ranging from small camping trailers to spacious fifth wheels. Lightweight and affordable.
Fifth Wheel Trailers: Towed RVs that connect in the truck bed via a fifth wheel hitch. Very spacious. Require a pickup truck.
Camper Van/RV: Small camper vans built out on a van chassis. Maneuverable and fuel efficient.
Truck Camper: Slides into a pickup truck bed to convert the truck into a miniature motorhome. Highly versatile.
Toy Haulers: RVs with a ramp door and cargo area for hauling motorcycles, ATVs, etc. Luxury amenities.
When deciding on an RV type, consider your budget, tow vehicle capabilities if needed, trip plans, and group size. For example, motorhomes work well for frequent travelers but cost more. Camper vans are ideal for solo adventurers wanting to explore off-grid sites. Fifth wheels provide generous living space for full-timers. Think about how you plan to use the RV and identify the must-have features before shopping.
Budgeting for an RV
Creating a realistic RV budget is crucial for first-time buyers. Account for all potential expenses: purchase price, insurance, maintenance, travel costs and more.
Brand new RVs range from $60,000 – $500,000+ depending on the type, size, and luxury features. Even smaller camper vans can run $80,000+ new.
Used RVs generally run $5,000 – $250,000, with an average around $30,000 for a pre-owned travel trailer or motorhome in good condition. Older or private seller RVs may cost less.
I recommend first-timers start with a used RV to save money. However, inspect it thoroughly and budget for any repairs needed.
Factor ongoing maintenance costs into your RV budget. Expect to allocate around $1,000 annually for a used RV’s upkeep. New RVs will be less initially under warranty.
Costs may include:
- Oil changes, chassis service
- Generator service
- Water system winterization
- Freshwater tank sanitation
- Air conditioner/heater maintenance
- Roof resealing
- Appliance repairs
- Electrical and plumbing repairs
- Slideout and leveling jack service
- Propane tank refills
- Battery replacement
The average RV insurance costs $1000 – $3000 per year depending on the RV’s age, value, location, and your driving record. Get quotes from providers like Good Sam, National General, and GEICO to find the best rate. Some offer discounts for membership groups like Good Sam Club.
I recommend full replacement cost coverage in case the RV is totaled. Also get coverage for personal belongings, emergency road service, and liability. Deductibles typically run $250-$1000.
New vs Used RVs
The choice between buying new or used comes down to budget, repair skills, and preference for the latest features. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons:
- Under factory warranty (1-5 years)
- No past damage or wear
- Modern construction and features
- Custom ordering available
- Higher purchase price
- Greater depreciation over time
- Lower purchase cost
- Often well-maintained by previous owner
- Ability to buy fully loaded & upgraded models for less
- No warranty coverage
- Potential for undiscovered issues
- May need repairs and upgrades
Inspect any used RV thoroughly to identify needed repairs upfront. Check for water damage, test appliances, and look for signs of neglect. Run a vehicle history report to check for accidents or title issues.
While used RVs make great deals for savvy buyers, new RVs give peace of mind. Weigh the pros and cons based on your budget and repair skills.
RV Features To Consider
Evaluate these key RV features during your search to find the model best suited to your lifestyle:
Size and Layout
Match the RV’s interior floorplan and exterior length to the number of people traveling. Measure bed sizes, aisle width, storage space etc. to ensure the layout works.
Consider your camping style – families with kids need bunk beds and room to play, while couples may want a master bedroom. Test different layouts in person.
Figure out which appliances and features you require vs. extras you can live without. Most RVs have a kitchen, bathroom, furniture, entertainment system and residential appliances.
Prioritize needs like a full bathroom, residential fridge or washer/dryer if staying long term. You can add TVs and other gear later.
If towing a travel trailer, the RV’s weight fully loaded must be below your tow vehicle’s capacity. The rule of thumb is max towing capacity should be double your RV’s weight.
Refer to the RV’s GVWR and your vehicle’s tow rating data plate. A heavy duty pickup truck is ideal for larger fifth wheels and trailers.
Where to Buy an RV
Use these insider tips to score the best deal when buying your first RV:
Benefits of buying from a dealer include:
- Large selection of new/used inventory
- Ability to see models in person
- Test drives available
- Financing assistance
- Trade-in program for your old RV
- Full mechanical service department
Downsides are higher prices and pressure for add-ons. Come prepared with pricing knowledge and resist impulse purchases.
I recommend starting your search at local dealers to see models, then expand your online search for better deals. Cast a wide net.
Buying from a private owner can potentially save you thousands, but takes more research.
Search sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, RVTrader.com and forums for sellers in your area. Have the RV inspected before purchasing.
Discuss maintenance history, damage, upgrades, and mileage with the seller upfront. Request all records and ownership docs for verification.
Major RV retailers offer used inventory online via easy search tools and buying processes.
Try sites like CampingWorld.com, Lazydays.com and RVOneSuperstore.com which offer virtual tours and overnight test options.
Arrange financing ahead of time through your own lender so you can move quickly on the right RV.
Inspection Before Purchase
A thorough RV inspection by a qualified technician can identify issues that are dealbreakers or give you leverage to negotiate the price.
Hire an RV inspection company like RV Inspector or BOSS RV to examine all systems. Cost is around $400-$500 for a full report. Worth the peace of mind.
Ask them to focus on the roof, slideouts, appliances, plumbing, electrical, generator and overall coach integrity. Big flaws can be showstoppers.
Self Inspection Checklist
If hiring an inspector isn’t feasible, download RV inspection forms online and go through the RV methodically yourself. Take extensive notes and photos. Bring tools and supplies needed for testing.
- Exterior condition – dents, cracks, leaks, undercarriage rust
- Roof and seals
- Windows, doors, hatches
- Welds, frame
- Appliances – test all modes
- Plumbing – check for leaks
- Slideouts – test multiple times
- Generator, battery
- Electronics, lighting
Don’t get emotionally attached before making an offer. Be ready to walk away from RVs with undisclosed issues or damage history.
Negotiating the Price
Follow these tips to negotiate the lowest price when buying your RV:
Research Fair Market Value
Use NADA RV pricing guides or tools like RVT.com to estimate the RV’s value based on age, condition and equipment. This gives you justification to counter inflated asking prices.
Get Pre-Approved for Financing
Having financing already lined up strengthens your position in price talks. You can move quickly if a good deal presents itself.
Point Out Any Flaws
Highlight any issues found during inspection to request the seller lower the price accordingly. Quantify repair estimates.
Mention Other RVs You’re Considering
Let the seller know you’re looking at similar RVs priced lower. Have examples ready. This creates FOMO.
Make a Lower Cash Offer
Open with an offer below asking price, but not insultingly low. Reference pricing data. Explain you have a firm budget.
Request Free Extras
If the seller won’t come down enough on price, see if they’ll throw in extra gear, paid warranty, or free delivery.
Walk Away If Needed
Don’t get pressured into overpaying in the heat of the moment. Stick to your budget and be willing to walk away from a bad deal. More RVs will always come up for sale.
Savvy negotiation can potentially save you thousands. Enter talks armed with pricing knowledge, financing, and competitive options.
Understanding RV Financing
Financing makes an RV affordable by spreading out the upfront cost into manageable monthly payments. Here are some tips for getting approved:
Pre-Qualify with Multiple Lenders
Shop lenders like your bank, credit union, and RV financing companies. Compare loan term lengths (10-20 years), APR ranges, and monthly estimates.
Good credit scores get the best rates. Those under 700 may pay higher APRs.
Choose your top lender and complete their formal loan application. This shows sellers you’re qualified and ready to buy.
Ask About Down Payment Assistance
Some lenders offer low or no down payment options if you don’t have cash saved up, sometimes requiring trade equity only.
Compare Loan Terms
A loan term of 15-20 years keeps payments lower, but you pay more interest over time. Shop shorter terms to save total interest paid.
Watch out for lender fees like loan origination and acquisition fees. Paying points for a lower interest rate only saves money long term if you keep the RV loan until maturity.
Check Early Payoff Penalties
Ask if paying off the loan early results in a penalty. This affects refinancing or selling the RV.
Read the Fine Print
Scrutinize the loan contract before signing. Make sure the APR, fees, loan length and other terms match what you agreed on. Get help deciphering the legalese.
Shopping lenders is key to getting the best rate and terms for your financial situation. The offer letter locks in the loan details once you find the RV to buy.
Closing the Deal
Follow these final steps when you’re ready to close on the RV purchase:
Schedule a Final Walk-Through
Do one last thorough inspection before completing sale papers to ensure no new damage has occurred. Test drive if possible.
Review All Sale Documents
Don’t rush to sign hastily prepared sales contracts. Read documents closely and fill anything out in advance. Clarify terms you don’t understand.
Complete Loan Application & Sign Papers
Submit any final paperwork required by your lender. Sign loan closing docs if financing. Bring valid ID and initial down payment check.
Pay & Accept RV Title
Provide the agreed sale price payment via certified check. Review the title transfer paperwork before accepting and signing the new title.
Collect User Manuals & Records
Request all owner’s manuals for appliances, operating guides for accessories, and maintenance/repair records from the seller before departing.
Complete Insurance Paperwork
Provide the signed title and other evidence of ownership to your insurance company to add the RV to your policy before driving it.
Make Copies of All Documents
Keep copies of the signed sales contract, ownership paperwork, warranty info and other relevant documentation for your records.
By staying organized, taking your time, and reviewing everything in writing, you can have a hassle-free RV purchase! Then get ready to hit the open road in your home on wheels.
Conclusion of Beginner Tips for First Time RV Buyers
Buying your first RV is an exciting milestone! Following this RV buyer’s guide will help you select the right rig at the best price to match your travel dreams. Take time to research different RV options in your budget and inspect any used models before purchasing. Shop multiple dealers and private sellers to compare deals and negotiate the fairest price. Secure affordable financing for the lowest monthly payments. Before long, you’ll be making memories in your new home away from home on wheels! Happy trails!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some common mistakes to avoid when buying an RV?
Some rookie errors to steer clear of when purchasing your first RV include:
- Not measuring your vehicle/home to ensure the RV fits. This includes garage height, overall length, and driveway clearance when parking.
- Overlooking ease of driving. Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels can be challenging for beginners to maneuver. Consider a smaller RV.
- Failure to match the RV’s weight rating to your tow vehicle capacity. Overloading leads to safety issues.
- Neglecting to thoroughly inspect either a new or used RV. Don’t miss dealbreaker flaws.
- Not budgeting operating costs for insurance, gas, maintenance, campground fees, etc. Include all expenses.
- Buying too quickly without comparing multiple options and pricing. Take your time to find the best deal.
- Getting swayed by emotions or sales pressure. Stick to your budget and must-have list. Be willing to walk away.
What should I look for when buying a used RV?
Key things to examine closely on a pre-owned RV are:
- Water damage – stains on ceiling or walls. Test for soft spongy floors.
- HVAC roof unit – inspect seals, ducting, furnace ignition.
- Level of wear on upholstery, carpeting, cabinetry finishes.
- Cracks or peeling exterior fiberglass/seals. Check for leaks.
- Plumbing leaks – turn on faucets, jiggle toilet. Look under sinks.
- Electrical issues – test all lighting, outlets, and appliances.
- Slideout operation – test opening multiple times looking for hesitation or unevenness.
- Tires – inspect tread depth, sidewall cracks, age from DOT stamp.
- Generator hours, roof condition, welding cracks. Test all accessories.
How can I finance an RV purchase with bad credit?
If your credit score is under 650, here are some tips for getting approved for an RV loan:
- Work to improve your credit before applying – pay down debts, dispute errors on your report.
- Save a larger down payment of 20% or more to offset credit risk.
- Find lenders that work with bad credit like MyAutoLoan, Auto Credit Express or Complete RV.
- Bring in a creditworthy cosigner with good income and credit score to co-apply.
- Provide strong proof of income documents from current employer.
- Expect a higher interest rate – compare options to get the best possible rate.
- Consider a smaller, older RV model to reduce the loan amount borrowed.
What are some essential features to consider when buying an RV?
When evaluating RVs, keep these key features in mind:
- Sleeping capacity – Calculate number and size of beds/bunks needed.
- Bathroom – Full bathroom ideal for long trips. Shower size.
- Kitchen – Fridge, stove, oven, microwave all useful. Storage space.
- Furnace & AC – Test functionality. Duct placement. Thermostat controls.
- Electrical system – Review fuse box, wiring, shore power hookup.
- Freshwater & grey/black tank capacities – Estimate needs.
- Slideouts, windows, doors – Test all thoroughly for smooth operation.
- Backup/tow camera system – Useful for driving visibility.
- Generator – Test operation. Runtime. Fuel source.
- Storage – Measure exterior compartments and interior cabinets and drawers.
What questions should I ask when buying a new RV?
Questions to ask the dealer when purchasing a new RV:
- Is there a warranty? Get warranty terms in writing.
- Can existing equipment be substituted for other options? What are the costs?
- Are there any fees if I need to make changes to the order?
- When will the RV be delivered if ordering? Can you guarantee the timeline?
- What is your policy if defects are found upon delivery?
- Does the advertised price include preparation fees? Get full pricing breakdown.
- Do you provide complimentary first-year roadside assistance?
- Can existing equipment be substituted for other options? What are the costs?
- What type of training will be provided on how to operate the RV upon delivery?
- Is there an owners club I can join for support? Are rally events offered?
How much should I expect to pay for an RV?
RV prices vary widely, but here are typical price ranges:
- Small travel trailers – $6,000 to $22,000
- Mid-size travel trailers – $13,000 to $35,000
- Fifth wheel trailers – $20,000 to $85,000
- Class C motorhomes – $50,000 to $150,000
- Class B camper vans – $60,000 to $125,000
- Class A luxury motorhomes – $120,000 to $500,000+
- Folding camping trailers – $8,000 to $25,000
- Pop-up tent trailers – $5,000 to $15,000
- Truck campers – $10,000 to $30,000
- Toy haulers – $30,000 to $140,000
Get quotes from multiple dealers. Consider a used RV to save money. Research fair prices using NADA RV pricing guides before negotiating.