The Ultimate Guide to Buying an RV: Everything You Need to Know
Written by Carolyn Jackson
Table of contents
You give us 10 minutes; we’ll give you a game plan and peace of mind
Thinking of buying an RV? You’ve come to the right place. After too much coffee, many late nights, and some old-fashioned hard work, we’ve created the ultimate guide to buying an RV.
After you read this guide, you’ll know:
- What type of RV is right for you
- How much to pay for your RV
- How to finance your RV
- The pros and cons of buying new vs. used
- How to get the right deal
- And much more…
Ready to jump in?
Let’s start from the beginning, the verrrrrry beginning: what is an RV?
An RV stands for “Recreational Vehicle”
This is a broad term, but it is the one we landed on to describe these awesome mobile homes. If you think about it, in a way, we have been RVing since people first stepped foot on this continent! What would you consider a covered wagon? Rv-ish, for sure. An inspiration for the sophisticated machines we call RVs today.
RVs are used for different reasons:
- Full-time living
- And More!
An RV is a great option if you want to travel around an area that is accessible by driving, making stops along the way to view and experience new sights, cultures, foods and people. A lot of people enjoy the RV lifestyle for the simplicity (you just can’t have as much stuff if you live out of an RV) and for the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want, with the comforts of home surrounding you all the while.
If you’re looking to buy an RV for the first time, read our guide to full time RV living to ensure you’re prepared for your new lifestyle.
What are the different types of RV classes?
There are seven types of RVs, and each has its own unique features for your needs.
What is a Class A motorhome?
A Class A Motorhome, usually referred to simply as Class As, are the iconic RV you probably thought of first when I said the word RV. These are essentially rolling, luxury homes that feature every amenity you can think of on four wheels. They are ideal for long distance travel, a sizeable amount of passengers, and living in style.
These rigs are often outfitted with all the luxuries of a family home: a living room with a large sofa, a dining table, one or more large TVs, a complete kitchen with granite countertops, full-size refrigerator, oven, stove, microwave, and even a dishwasher. I know people who don’t have all of this in their stationary home!
If you step into the back of these Class As, you are likely to find a cozy, complete bathroom with a full stand-up shower (complete with a massaging head) and fully functional toilet. Many Class A Motorhomes also offer the option for a washer and dryer. These RVs even have a ‘master suite” with a large bed and plenty of closet space.
But wait! There’s more!
Class As can have up to five slide-outs, which create extra living space when parked, sometimes they are called a ‘pop-out’, too. However, these slide outs definitely increase the price of the RV and add a lot of extra weight (up to 1500 lbs!).
Class As have lots of below deck storage as well, providing all the room you might need for a long vacation or for full-time living.
No surprise, Class A motorhomes are the most expensive type of RV you can buy, with prices generally starting at about $60,000 for a basic model to custom beauties that sport price tags well over $1 million.
Interested in a Class A Motorhome? See available pricing with GoRollick.
What is a Class B motorhome?
Class B Motorhomes are commonly referred to as Camper Vans. These beauties have many of the features and craftmanship of a Class A, but they are in a smaller, more maneuverable (cheaper) package.
Using a full-size van as its foundation, a Class B motorhome can provide you with many of the comforts of home such as a compact bathroom, small kitchen and a TV. Ideal for 2 to 3 travelers and suitable for multi-week trips, the Class B is akin to driving a large SUV.
Interested in a Class B Motorhome? See available pricing with GoRollick.
What is a Class C motorhome?
Class C Motorhomes are a hybrid between a Class A and a Class B. These are a very popular unit to buy and to rent out for a long cross-country trip.
These rigs are fairly easy to drive, and they have more space than a Class B, ranging from 20 to 40 feet in length. Best of all, the Class C Motorhomes have a much smaller price tag than Class As. Although they don’t have all the bells and whistles of a Class A, they come with all the features you could ask for, a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. These RVs are easily spotted by their overcab sleeping area, which increases the amount of space within the RV.
Interested in a Class C Motorhome? See available pricing with GoRollick.
What is a travel trailer?
Travel trailers are a diverse and convenient type of RV and are the most widely purchased type of RV. They are known for being lightweight and sturdy, which makes them towable by standard pickup trucks, SUVs and even some minivans.
Travel trailers range vastly in size, from a teardrop unit, which is about 12ft, all the way up to monstrous 33-foot triple axle. These RVs offer many of the conveniences of a Class A, B or C motorhome, but without the drive-in cab. They often have luxurious interiors with slide-outs, space-saving bunk beds, built-in generators and TVs with cable.
Most travel trailers can sleep up to six people, and pricing ranges anywhere from $7k up to $70k. If you are interested in a travel trailer RV, you need to ensure the vehicle you have to tow the RV can safely pull the unit plus all your luggage and gear for the trip. A huge plus for a travel trailer is the freedom to use your towing vehicle for smaller, more accessible day trips when on the road.
Interested in a travel trailers? See available pricing with GoRollick.
What is a Fifth-Wheel Trailer?
A fifth-wheel is just what it sounds like; a travel trailer with a hitch pin that attaches the RV to a special mount in the bed of a heavy-duty truck. Yes, you have to have a traditional pickup truck to haul a fifth wheel, no other type of vehicle will work. It makes hauling more stable than a travel trailer because the RV is mostly above the truck’s rear axle as opposed to hanging off a trailer hitch behind the truck.
Many fifth-wheel trailer hitches can pull vehicles that are 24,000 pounds and up, so you certainly get a lot of leeway. Of course, this weight total does vary by manufacturer and hitch brand. All fifth-wheel hitches can pivot, so they can adjust to changing road conditions such as bumps, curves, and potholes.
Fifth-wheels are an awesome option for long distance travel. They can range in size from 18 feet to 40 feet. A fifth-wheel price point is also very variant, but much lower than a Class A, B or C motorhome, ranging from $15,000 up to $50,000. Fifth-wheels are a great option for full-time RVers as they offer a lot of living space, storage and all the comforts of home for a smaller price tag.
Interested in a fifth wheels? See available pricing with GoRollick.
What is a Pop-Up Trailer?
A pop-up trailer is the smaller, lightest member of the trailer family, as well as the more economical to own with pricing as low as $4,000. These trailers can often be towed by a minivan or SUV and can sometimes sleep up to 6.
With the smaller size, you sacrifice some amenities, like a living space, dining space, closet space, a bedroom, and a sizable kitchen. Although some pop-up trailers are equipped with a small kitchen. Most travel-trailers do have a shower and toilet, but not all.
These are a very no-fuss way to enter the RV world, although you lose some of the comforts of a larger RV, you gain more freedom and flexibility to travel to some places that aren’t fit to house an RV. It also requires less preparation, maintenance, gas and storage space. They are also a good option for shorter trips.
Interested in a pop-up trailer? See available pricing with GoRollick.
What is a Toy Hauler?
Toy Haulers get their name because of the garage-like space in the rear of the RV. This space is most commonly used for hauling motorcycles, ATVs, and personal watercraft, and is separated from the rest of the trailer by a solid wall and an access door.
This space can often by turned into extra living or sleeping space when the toys are removed for use.
Keep in mind the weight of your toys and the towing capacity of your vehicle when considering an RV for purchase.
Interested in a toy haulers? See available pricing with GoRollick.
Do you need a special license to drive an RV?
Great question! The answer is that it depends. A special license to drive a motorhome is required in some states. Usually, even in the states that do require an RV license, it is only for motorhomes upwards of 26,000lbs or towed vehicles over 10,000 lbs.
What Are the Best RV Brands?
There are literally hundreds of RV brands, and each brand offers many different options, types of RVs, layouts, personalization and more. It can be difficult to wade through the sea of options in the RV world. There are a few standout brands we can recommend, though.
- Forest River
- Grand Design
All these brands are established in the marketplace and carry high quality, popular RVs. You can rest assured you’re buying a top-quality vehicle (and getting easy access to Instagram worthy photos).
Best in Class: Travel Trailers
- Type: Travel Trailer
- Length: starting at 30 ft 11 in
- Weight: Starting at 7,956 lbs
- Price: Starting at $32,052
- Sleeping Capacity: 4-10
- Type: Travel Trailer
- Length: Starting at 21 ft 5 in
- Weight: Starting at 3,307 lbs
- Price: Starting at $16,762
- Sleeping Capacity: 4-8
- Type: Travel Trailer
- Length: Starting at 23 ft 4 in
- Weight: Starting at 3,888 lbs
- Price: Starting at $26,613
- Sleeping Capacity: 4-10
- Type: Travel Trailer
- Length: Starting at 25 ft 5 in
- Weight: 4,455 to 8,835 lbs
- Price: Starting at $20,719
- Sleeping Capacity: 6-11
Best In Class: Fifth Wheels
- Type: Fifth Wheel
- Length: Starting at 35 ft 4 in
- Weight: Starting at 10,159 lbs
- Price: Starting at $53,267
- Sleeping Capacity: 4-10
- Type: Fifth Wheel
- Length: Starting at 28 ft 1 in
- Weight: Starting at 6,945 lb
- Price: Starting at $45,179<
- Sleeping Capacity: 4-6
What Are the Differences in Size and Weight of RVs?
Size and weight vary between RVs in each class, and within the same class. This is something RV owners should be conscientious about as it affects their towing capability, their gas usage and their travel experience as a whole.
Pro Tip: You do not have to stop at a weigh station on the side of the highway in your RV. These stations are only for commercial vehicles that are hauling freight.
Something incredibly important to consider is the difference between dry weight and hauling weight. Dry weight is how much your RV weighs when its tanks are not filled and it has no gear in it. You can add as much as 1,500 lbs in weight once all these items are loaded into the RV.
Weight is important because it is the first question you need to ask if you are going to haul your RV. You need to know how much your vehicle can tow, and then find an RV that fits within those parameters.
According to Jim harmer of The Camper Report, a truck or other vehicle that advertises it can tow 7,200 pounds is adequate for towing most trailers under 24 feet.
There is no blanket statement about RV weight, length, width or height because the different types of RVs vary in size so drastically. So here is a breakdown by RV type and some very middle of the road averages to give you an idea of what you might be getting yourself into.
Class A motorhomes
- Average Length: 33 feet
- Average Width: 9.5 feet
- Average Weight: 34,500 lbs
- Average Height: 10 feet
Class C motorhomes
- Average Length: 28 feet
- Average Width: 9 feet
- Average Weight: 11,000 lbs
- Average Height: 10 feet
Class B motorhomes
- Average Length: 20 feet
- Average Width: 8.5 feet
- Average Weight: 15,000 lbs
- Average Height: 8 feet
- Average Length: Under 20 feet
- Average Width: 8 feet
- Average Weight: 5,500 lbs
How to Determine Which Type of RV is Right for You?
If you are interested in an RV, much like if you are interested in buying anything of significant value, you need to ask yourself what you need it for. Why do you want an RV? What do you want to do with it? Depending on your needs and wants, there is an RV out there for you. The hardest part about buying an RV is picking just one.
Simply put, you need to figure out what your goals are.
Do you want to full time RV?
Consider a Class A or Fifth Wheel
Do you want to take long vacations with family?
Consider Class C or a Travel Trailer
Do you want to go on short weekend getaways?
Consider a Pop-Up or Class B
Do you want to travel from place to place to ride your wave runner or ATV?
Consider a Toy Hauler
Amenities play a huge role in why people are so attracted to the RV lifestyle. They offer almost all the luxuries of home, but with the mobility of a vehicle. Home can literally be anywhere.
A decision you will have to make when purchasing an RV is which amenities are essential to fulfill your needs. Do you have 3 small children and absolutely need a washer and dryer? Cool, that narrows down your search a lot.
Do you really, really need a full-size fridge or two TVs or a larger living space, or a garage for that motorcycle? These are all questions you need to sort out in order to narrow down your search. RVs can have it all. And when I say, “it all”, I really mean it. I mean there is literally an RV that has a “sky lounge” complete with a cocktail bar and rooftop terrace. The sky is the limit! Well, really, your budget is the limit.
The things you pay for with an RV are space and weight. The more space you get, the more expensive an RV will cost. Likewise, the heavier an RV is, the more it will cost. Think about the difference between a hardwood floor and laminate flooring. Yes, both look nice, but we all know which one is significantly more expensive.
Likewise, if you have a shower, you will need a water pump. You’ll need extension cords to plug into the power in the park. Amenities are awesome, but the more you have, the more you pay. Here are some of the more popular amenities people often search for in an RV:
Popular RV Amenities:
- Slide Outs
- Spacious bathroom
- Spacious kitchen with storage
- Flat screen tvs
- Outdoor entertainment set-up
- On-board laundry facilities
- Separate master bedroom
- Natural light
- Power generator
- 4 door refrigerator with freezer
- Ice maker
- Water filter
- Sleeper sofa
- King sized bed
- Closet space
- Privacy shades on windows
Pro Tip: Aside from driving, sleeping will be your most time consuming activity in your RV! And the quality of that sleep will impact your next day. Look for a quality and comfortable mattress with a zippered covered for easy removal and cleaning from a company like 2920 Sleep.
2920 Sleep works with full-time travelers and professionals to meet their home and vehicle sleeping needs. Their 10” mattress is made in the USA, exceeds indoor air quality standards, comes with a 10-year warranty and free shipping, and is conveniently shipped directly to you.
How Much does an RV Cost?
The price of an RV can fluctuate vastly depending on which type of RV you are interested in. First, consider the type you want; Class A motorhomes will be the most expensive whereas a pop-up or travel trailer will be on the less expensive end. Then you need to consider if you are buying new or used. A new RV will always be more expensive than a used RV.
Manufacturer reputation also plays a part in the price, brands like Keystone, Thor or Jayco will use their reputation and popularity to boost the prices of their products as opposed to lesser known brands like Starcraft or Heartland. Lastly, the more features and amenities you add, the more expensive an RV will be. When you are shopping online, the MSRP prices you see are all baseline prices and do not account for any customizable extras, like floorplans, décor, high-end equipment, etc.
Average Costs for New Motorhome Types:
- Class A — $50,000 – $100,000+
- Class B — $40,000 – $80,000+
- Class C — $50,000 – $80,000+
- Travel Trailer — $11,000 – $35,000+
- Fifth Wheel — $50,000 – $150,000+
- Pop Up — $3,000 – $7,000+
- Toy Hauler — $12,000 – $80,000+
What Other Expenses Should I Be Aware of When Buying and Owning an RV?
The cost of ownership doesn’t end with the purchase of an RV. Yes, you will likely finance your vehicle and have a monthly payment affected by interest, but there are also ongoing maintenance costs associated with RV ownership, much like home or car ownership.
There are 7 key costs associated with owning an RV:
- The RV itself $10k – $200k+
- RV Insurance $500 – $1k/ year
- Gas $60 – $600/each tank
- RV Maintenance – $100/ month
- RV Parks and Campsites – $35 – $100/ night
- RV Utilities – $100 – $300/ month
- RV Storage – $30 – $100/ month
Read our RV Total Cost of Ownership article to get more details on each of these items.
How Do I Finance an RV?
Like I said, it is very likely you will have to finance your RV as most of us do not have 10-100 thousand dollars of disposable income. This means you will need to get a loan and make a monthly payment (plus interest) on your RV to pay it back over a set amount of time.
The most important piece of information we can give you when thinking about financing an RV is to shop around for the best interest rate. Interest rates vary widely based on your credit history, income, debt, and the institution you make an inquiry with. Your best tool for getting a good rate is comparison and research. Do not settle for a rate you are uncomfortable with, and please, stay within your budget!
We have good news though. We’ve created the Definitive Guide to Financing an RV, and if your credit isn’t great, we have the Definitive Guide to Getting a Loan with Bad Credit.
How Do I Insure an RV?
Typically, the same amount of liability insurance that is required for a car is required for an RV in most states. There are some cases where RV insurance is absolutely necessary, and then there are some cases where RV insurance is optional, although we still recommend it.
Insurance Is Required:
- RV is Class A or B (eg: it is a motorhome).
- Look into getting a tax cut for owning this type of RV!
- You do not own the RV (eg: you had to take out a loan to finance the RV).
- Your RV is rented.
Insurance is Optional (still recommended though!)
- The RV is towable, but not drivable.
- Class C, Travel Trailer, Fifth Wheel, Pop-Up.
- Liability insurance is generally extended from your car insurance policy to your RV when you are towing it.
- You own your RV outright with no financing and live in a state where RV insurance or liability insurance is not required by law.
Think of the devastation of a fire, crash or theft if you are uninsured.
Regardless of whether or not insurance is required, think carefully about the consequences of going without RV insurance. RVs are susceptible to storm damage, the outside elements, vandalism, theft and a plethora of other potential risks. If your RV holds a great deal of value, make sure to purchase full coverage RV insurance to protect against potential loss.
When you set out to purchase an RV, factor in the cost of insurance into your initial budget along with the cost of the RV, gas, maintenance, parking and storage, etc.
RV insurance averages $550 annually for a motorhome and $350 annually for a towable.
Can I Buy a Used RV?
Buying used is a great way to break into the RV lifestyle with a little less monetary commitment than starting with a brand new model.
When is the best time to buy a used RV?
The fall and winter are great times to purchase a used RV because people have finished their summer traveling and are ready to part with their vehicles.
The first step is to figure out what you want and what you need. This will help you narrow down your search. You can use sites likes RVT.com, RVzen.com and CampingWorld.com to look for available used inventory. You can also use GoRollick.com which has not only used inventory, but upfront, transparent pricing to ensure there are no surprises.
Once you find the right RV you need to determine its value. Use the NADA RV Guides to determine an estimate of the vehicle’s current fair market value. All you need to do is enter the make, model and year. However, keep in mind that other factors influence the price other than the make, model and year such as how eager the seller is to offload the item.
For a fee of about $25, you can purchase a vehicle history report on rvchecks.com. You will need the RV’s 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The report may include information on any damage to the vehicle, if it has been stolen or rebuilt, as well as the manufacturer original specs and any recall notices.
Here’s a buying a used RV checklist of questions to ask:
- How many previous owners?
- Are there maintenance records?
- Is there any damage?
- How many miles are on the RV?
- Ask for a test drive
- Ask for an inspection
What Are the Pros and Cons of New vs Used?
Pros of Buying New
- Everything is new!
- Everything is clean and you are the first one to use it.
- Manufacturer’s usually provide quick service
- You get the exact RV you want
Cons of Buying New
- Investment lost in depreciation
- Most expensive option
- Higher insurance
Pros of Buying Used
- Saving money
- Lower insurance
- Can haggle price in private sale
- Potential for previous owners to have made upgrades
Cons of Buying Used
- Damage/wear and tear
- More maintenance
- Less clarity on fair market price
- No warranty
- Limited selection
- Previous owners (could have had pets or smoked)
Read our New vs. Used RV buying guide to learn more about the differences between buying new and used.
Do Manufacturers Offer Discounts and Deals on RVs?
Customer incentives are offers from the manufacturer that are directed at consumers and will typically include things like cash-back rebates, low-interest financing offers, and other awesome perks. The goal of these offers, of course, is to make buying these vehicles more affordable, and they will vary depending on your region or dealership. That said, it is much less common than it is in the automotive and the powersports industries. You can read our guide to manufacturer incentives to learn more, and you can always check out the latest available incentives here.
You may qualify to receive special offers like low APR and financing deals, cash back rebates, military discounts, and more. Just remember to be patient and read the fine print so you can understand what you qualify for.
How Much is My RV Worth?
To get an idea of how much your RV is worth, go to NADA guides and enter in the make, model and year of your RV. NADA will give you a comprehensive report on that RV, including its base price, floor plans and all the manufacturer specifications.
What to Know When Buying an RV from a Dealer
- Dealers typically offer discounts to MSRP. With GoRollick.com, you can see the upfront pricing before heading to the dealership.
- Research financing before heading to the dealer to ensure you’re aware of all of your options.
- Research your credit history to ensure you understand what type of financing is available. You can use sites like Credit Karma or Free Credit Report to understand your credit.
- Find the right incentives that make the price tag more worthwhile
- Time your purchase
- Consider winter or end of month to buy an RV
- Take a test drive
- Do research on add-ons and make sure you understand what you’re purchasing
Where Can I Park My RV?
Believe it or not, there are many places around the US where you can park your RV legally, safely and temporarily at no cost.
First thing is first: Safety.
When you park your RV, make sure you avoid places like back alleys, industrial plants or country roads as they all leave you vulnerable to criminal activity. There is no protection, no neighbors, and you are at risk.
The first place to check for free and safe parking is business lots. Oftentimes business lots are RV friendly, and some even set aside spaces for this purpose and have security. To park at a business lot you need to ask permission and purchase something from the business. Remember, do not literally set up camp in their lot, and do not dump any tanks on their grounds.
Some examples of businesses are Walmart, Camping World, many Casinos, Pilot/Flying J and other truck stops usually will let you use their area most of the time.
Another option to consider is small town venues like fairgrounds, city parks and county parks. Some of these places will have hookups and designated RV campsites. To find these sites, check out freecampgrounds.com.
If you are going to a major state park, like Yellowstone or Yosemite, it may be necessary to schedule a spot to park your RV ahead of time. Keep in mind that the Bureau of Land Management or the Army Corps of Engineers, they possess thousands of acres of land to use for recreational purposes.
Bear in mind that the rules and regulations for parking your RV on public land vary. For example, the rules for a national park might be different than the rules for a national forest or state park.
If you’re heading on a road trip, check out our guide to the 10 Best RV Parks in America. And make sure to research some RV games for the road because we know entertaining the little ones is a full-time job.
Buying an RV is fun but can get expensive. You need to seriously think about what you need and want out of an RV, and you need to set a budget and stick to it. Make sure you do your research from which type of RV you want, to the market value, to negotiating with your dealer and lender. You biggest asset when shopping for an RV is knowledge, so be sure to use this guide and all resources available to you to ensure you are happy and confident with your purchase. Then get out there and enjoy the open road!
GoRollick Buying Experience
When you’re ready to find your perfect RV, be sure to check us out at GoRollick.com. You can:
- See nationwide inventory, specs, and incentive information
- Get an upfront, transparent price on your desired vehicle
- Receive special offers on both the vehicle, as well as additional accessories
- Shop at one of our Certified Dealers who are committed to providing an exceptional buying experience