Buying a New RV in Five Steps – before you start, stop and think

Buying a new RV is a major investment. This buying a New RV in Five Steps article helps resolve issues early on. Following its advice saves later heartache:

  • Is the RV lifestyle right for you?
  • Will you miss family and friends?
  • What home comforts can you not do without?
  • What type of touring will you be doing?
  • How many will be travelling?
  • How many drivers?
  • Is everyone in your travelling party committed to the RV lifestyle?
  • Do you intend to drive off-road?
A Peak Diplomat Double-Decker (UK) from 1951 Pic: From ‘Free to Roam’ by John Sworder

Buying a new RV in five steps – step one

Camper trailer, caravan or motorhome?

Camper Trailer Pros – small, lightweight, easy to tow, low cost, some are suitable off-road. Low depreciation. Many resell for their original buying price.

Camper Trailer Cons – if a pop-up or folding long canvas top, that top can take 30 minutes or more to erect. Furthermore, wet canvas (and adjacent items) rapidly gets truly smelly at all times.

Caravan Pros – more spacious, no canvas, can take more essentials and accessories, the tow vehicle is usually comfortable and can be used when not towing

Caravan Cons – medium-sized, heavier, harder to tow, more expensive than a camper trailer. Low depreciation. Can also be used a spare bedroom or study when not away from home. The larger can be used as permanent homes. The stronger purpose-made caravans can be used off-road, but require a large and heavy 4WD to do so. Very few are seen seriously of-road.

Motorhome Pros – no towing involved (unless towing a small car behind), everything in ‘one box’

Motorhome Cons – most expensive, truck suspension, inflexible as transport at the destination. Major depreciation. Driving licence will need upgrading if laden weight exceeds 4.5 tonnes.

Buying a new RV in five steps – step two

Make a ‘needs’ list

When buying a new RV in five steps, start by discussing the basic issue with your proposed fellow travellers and work out what your RV needs are in general terms. Where, when and how often? Large or small, a weekender or an extensive tourer, easy to set up for short stays or long stays in one place? The number of beds, the facilities you cannot do without and whether additional transport or sports equipment (boats, kayaks, surfboards, fishing rods?) are needed at your destination.

Do not seek a large kitchen, most travellers find cooking and eating habits change. Many move to doing most cooking on a portable stove outside. Furthermore, that rarely used large kitchen results in less space elsewhere.

Most caravans have a very limited (legal) ability to carry more than basic requirements – this is particularly so when water tanks are filled. Most single axles have a mere 250 kg. The water maybe 80-100 kg of that. Twin axle caravans typically have 350 kg, less water. (Water weighs 1 kg/litre).

Buying a new RV in five steps – step three

Choose your RV type and budget

Based on your likely needs, decide in principle which fork in the road you wish to go down – caravan or motor home? This decision is not irreversible at this stage, but it helps to narrow down the number of RVs you will need to look over in the early stages.

Agree on your RV budget, not only for purchase but also for running costs and depreciation. Make sure that your purchasing budget includes any options that you feel are necessary but are not included in the base price of the RV.

If your budget does not stretch to a new RV, then decide what compromises you are willing to make in terms of age and facilities to get the RV you can afford. Then look at used RVs.

Buying a new RV in five steps – step four

Do your research

Spend as much time online as possible looking at manufacturers’ websites, online brochures and videos. Go to RV shows, look, ask questions, but don’t buy yet. If possible, find other people who own an RV and seek their advice, always bearing in mind that the RV they own is nearly always the best.

You could even go to a local caravan park and talk to owners there (with the permission of the park owners). RV owners are almost always happy to talk to other prospective RV owners. And read books (particularly this one) and magazines, including those available for free in libraries. See also the many constantly updated Articles here. From your research, make a shortlist of three or four RVs.

Get behind the wheel, in the beds and ideally underneath each RV on your shortlist. Compare the cost, comfort, facilities and ease of use of each one, and see if a preferred candidate emerges.

If one does, move on to Step Five. If not, then keep researching, talking and comparing until your clear favourite steps forwards.

Buying a New RV – step five

Decide and buy

In buying a new RV in five steps, this is the fun part. Head off to the seller and buy the RV that you now know will come closest to meeting your needs. Don’t hesitate to ask for a discount – if you don’t ask you won’t get.

Buying at a show does not necessarily get you a cheaper price. Discounts are generally lower than in the passenger vehicle sector due to smaller sales volumes. If the price does not move, or moves but not as much as you’d like, ask for one or more accessories or services to be included at no extra cost.