When it comes to RV’s, there is certainly no shortage of choices. In fact, it can be downright overwhelming if you are new to the industry and trying to decide on the first rig for your family. Do you want to tow it? Do you want to drive it? Do you want a trailer? Do you want a 5th wheel? Class A? Class B? Class C? Gas? Diesel? Tiny house? Ok, not so much on the tiny house, but they are an option now and I’ll admit I do enjoy the show on tv.
You can see why buying something that is supposed to bring fun and entertainment to your family can drive someone nuts. And this doesn’t even touch on floor plans and options yet. So where should you begin? Rent one! That’s right, don’t jump head first into the deep end until you are sure this is a purchase that makes sense to you, your family and your finances. Storage yards are littered with buyers remorse RVs rotting from under use and neglect. For many people, the thought of owning an RV turned out to be a better experience than actually owning and using it. It is a sad waste of money and time when this happens.
For our first family road trip, we rented the RV and it was the best thing we ever did. It allowed us to have the experience without the financial pressure of buying and making payments. Unless you hit a tree! Don’t do that! Most importantly, it helped us realize how much we loved driving around the country seeing sights and staying in different places. It validated that purchasing our own rig would not be in vain personally or financially.
Once you are ready to make that purchase here are your options:
1. Travel Trailer – Upside; A low cost option if you have a vehicle to tow it with. They are easy to maintain and great for a small family or families with small children. You can go pretty much anywhere without restrictions. Downside; limited space and available options.
2. 5th Wheel – Upside; You get a lot for your money. There are plenty of options with many floor plans to choose from. Most models have slide outs to expand the living space. These RVs are easy to maintain and like the travel trailer you can pretty much camp anywhere without restrictions. Downside; they can get pricey. You must have a vehicle that is capable of towing one of these beasts. You might also need a special endorsement on your license if the length of your vehicle and the 5th wheel together exceed 45′ total length, depending on where you live.
3. Class C – Upside; The price is good for entry level buyers. You don’t tow your home because you are driving it. Maintenance is about the same as a regular vehicle. There are options for everyone from size to interiors. Some models have small slide outs to expand the living space. Everything you need is in one place. Just load it up and roll out. Downside; Depending on the size of your family and the RV, it can get cramped. You will get to know your family’s personal habits quite well. While there are a lot of options, its not always the best quality. Make sure you do a very thorough inspection before you take delivery. You also might need to tow a vehicle if you are looking to explore the area outside the campground.
4. Class B – I admittedly don’t know a dang thing about Class B RVs. They look like delivery vans with a bathroom. If I had to guess, the Upsides would be; Price and easy mobility. Maintenance is probably no different than a car. You can go anywhere and park anywhere without restriction. Downside; Space space and space.
5. Class A (Gas) – Upside; Large price range and options for everyone. You will have many models and floor plans to choose from. There are usually multiple slide outs to expand your living space and more modern conveniences and gadgetry. You will have plenty of storage for all of your camping needs, but it fills up fast. This class can typically fit into any campground without restriction. Downside; Maintenance starts to get a little more expensive with more mechanical parts. The rigs tend to be a little loud inside while driving because the engine is up front. You also might want to consider a tow vehicle because you will not be tooling around national parks in this RV.
Beware! You get what you pay for in this group. Be prepared to look over your new rig from top to bottom the day you take delivery and make sure things get fixed before you leave the dealer. More on this later.
6. Class A (Diesel) – Upside; The sky’s the limit. If you want it and can pay for it, you can have it in this group. This is the upper echelon of RV’ing from high end assembly line rigs to custom built estates on wheels. New coaches usually start at $250k and go up from there with no real limit. You get all of the amenities of modern life and you can go to the highest end possible in every aspect of the rig. Diesel power is unmatched on long trips and the ride is smooth, quiet and enjoyable. These are also the most reliable RVs on the road. Diesel engines are expected to go 1 million miles in their lifetime. When gas engines are hitting their breaking point, diesel engines are just getting broken in. You will never suffer from lack of storage inside or outside. Downside; Price (obviously) and maintenance. Maintaining one of these rolling estates can get expensive. Nothing is cheap when it comes to diesel and hydraulic repairs. Some states may require you to get a Class B non-commercial license with an air brake endorsement to drive it. (Not mine, thank goodness!) Once you get over 40′ you could have trouble getting a space in campgrounds and will always need a 50 amp outlet to hook up to, unless you don’t mind only using half of what you paid for. Also, you will not be staying inside most national or state parks due to size restrictions. You will need a tow vehicle for obvious reasons.
As you can see, the options are robust and there is something out there for almost every budget. However, I wouldn’t be doing my readers justice if I don’t mention something that personally irritates me.
There is a disturbing trend in the RV industry relating to quality of work. In the automobile world, when you pay a premium price, you expect premium craftsmanship to come along with it. This is not how the RV world works! There are some manufacturers that are more concerned with volume and their quality completely stinks. We paid just under $100k for our first RV and we loved traveling in it. But the thing was built like crap and turned out to be a money pit. You don’t expect your bedroom door to fall off while driving or a window to almost shatter because it wasn’t installed properly when you have paid that much money. In many respects, you truly get what you pay for in this industry.
Now don’t get me wrong, every new RV has its issues to work out and some manufacturers are great, while others are downright terrible. But it’s the type of problems you have to deal with and how they deal with them that tells you the quality of the manufacturer. In my personal experience, this equates to a missing light cover vs. a broken door swinging around like a demolition wrecking ball while driving down the road. One is aesthetics and the other is very dangerous. Also, the good manufacturer didn’t just overnight me one replacement light cover, they sent me five whole light fixtures, “just in case”. Whereas the bad manufacturer had trouble understanding how my son almost getting crushed by a flying door was a problem and why they are responsible for it to be fixed, even while in the original warranty period!
It is extremely important that anytime you purchase an RV, you take the pre-delivery inspection very serious. There are some dealers that want to rush you through the process and push you out the door. They can wait! This is your opportunity to look over your rig and address any problems. These problems should also be fixed before you leave the lot. If there are major issues visible, do not take delivery and don’t fall victim to the old “take it and we will schedule you to bring it back” scam. They only want you to take delivery so they can get paid. Also, once you take delivery and bring it back, it will almost certainly sit there forever because it’s now warranty work. The dealers don’t like doing warranty work because they don’t get paid commission on it. By not taking delivery you have now incentivized them to get it fixed or get nothing.
This part of the process, and typically the first months of working out the kinks, is the worst part of owning an RV. Buying used is also a way to save some money and bypass these issues. However, the same rule applies. You need to do a thorough inspection before taking delivery so you can rest assured you didn’t just pay a low price for someone else’s problems.
I hope this helps some of you that are in the market now or considering jumping in later. The RV life is a wonderful one, but the beginning can be confusing and stressful. Once you get past the initial frustration, it all becomes worthwhile with great adventures and family fun.
Are you planning on buying an RV in the future? Leave a comment and I will be happy to answer any questions.