What Type of RV is Right for You?
Take your pick! There is a tremendous range of prices, sizes, floorplans and features.
Price and value: The best way to get the most for your money is to buy a pre-owned RV, because they depreciate just like furniture, sporting equipment, boats and other personal items. Just be careful when you buy to have it inspected or buy from a dealer who sells lots of pre-owned RVs and has been in business a long time with a good reputation. Look at the dealer's Better Business Bureau rating online.
The equipment in an RV ages like the systems in your house and car. And the structure is not the same as either one. If an RV had the structure of a house, it would be too heavy to travel. So you are thinking about that 20- or 30-year old RV you saw at the side of the road with a "For Sale" sign on it? It may be cheap, but it is likely to require much more maintenance. That could be ideal for the do-it-yourselfer who enjoys projects and gets a sense of accomplishment out of extending the life of something the most people would give up on. There is a website for people who are into old RVs, www.GoodOldRVs.com.
If you are not a mechanic, electrician and plumber you should buy the extended service agreement that the dealer offers. Usually, the extended service agreement offered by a dealer at the time of sale of a pre-owned RV will be more comprehensive than one that you could buy at any other occasion.
Size: The largest, most luxurious coaches often have no more seating or sleeping accommodations, or functional living features than a much smaller, basic one. The first thing to look at is seating if it is a motorhome. Look for the seat belts. There needs to be enough seat belts for every passenger, because you don't want bodies flying around inside (or through a window) in the event of a crash! Most modern motorhomes have enough seat belts for the number of passengers that they are rated for sleeping (example: "Sleeps 6" has seat belts for 6). However, older motorhomes often only had seat belts for the front seat passengers. It is not an easy job to add more seat belts, because they must be bolted to a strong structure of the vehicle. The second thing to carefully consider is the sleeping accommodations. Picture you and your spouse in that bed. Large people probably won't want a corner bed. Adults who are claustrophobic or have a hard time climbing probably won't want an overhead bunk. However, kids often love the overhead bunk because there is sufficient space for them and their toys and games without being in anyone's way. Sure, some kids can sprawl almost anywhere on the floor, but think about the safety of someone tripping over them going to the bathroom at night! Pay attention to the arrangements for privacy if there will be more than just one couple in the RV. Look at the doors that separate the bedroom, toilet and shower areas. Fold-down dinettes and jack-knife couches may not be long enough for tall people to sleep comfortably, nor wide enough for a couple…even though the RV manufacturers rate such a bed as being for two people.
Floorplan: Look at the arrangement and number of closets, cabinets, and drawers. Is it enough for what you plan to take with you? If you plan only weekend trips, you won't need as much clothing and food storage space as someone who lives in it full-time. Consider the kitchen counter layout: do you plan to make elaborate meals or serve lots of people? It isn't your family home, and unless you are planning to live it in for months at a time, you don't need so much space. On the other hand, spaciousness gives a feeling of luxury. If you plan to frequently entertain several people in the living area, then the extra space of slide-outs will make a big difference. The amount of space you need is a personal choice.
Type: It is so much easier to shop for an RV when you know the lingo! And you'll wow your friends with your knowledge! The first major division is between motorized and towable. This is easy: is it a trailer that you pull with a car or truck, or is it a motorhome that you drive? Which one is better? Different strokes for different folks! Here are some reasons that people chose one type over the other:
Benefits of a towable RV:
It is much less expensive to maintain a trailer because there is no engine, transmission, radiator, and dash air conditioning system which require fluids changes and other maintenance. If you have a very limited budget, then chose a trailer that can be towed with the vehicle that you already own. Or, if you plan on buying another car or truck for daily use, then coordinate the selection of that vehicle with the selection of your towable RV. However, check the towing weight and trailer frontage size limitation (if applicable) of the car or truck that you plan to use for towing. Don't even consider going beyond the maximum tow rating of the car or truck! Please refer to the separate section about "Towing".
You can unhook from the trailer when you reach your destination and use the car or truck for transportation at your destination to go sightseeing, shopping, to attractions, etc.
If you don't plan to use your RV regularly, so that it would sit unused for months at a time, a towable would require less attention to things that are prone to go wrong from prolonged periods of being parked. The hydraulic brake systems and the fuel systems on any motorized vehicle are subject to trouble if the vehicle is left parked for many months at a time, especially in humid climates or where there is a lot of precipitation.
The initial purchase price of a towable RV is much lower than a motorhome that has similar useful space. However, both types will depreciate rapidly in early years, so buying a pre-owned unit is definitely a smart financial choice.
Some people feel more comfortable driving a car or truck than driving a motorhome, and are happier having a trailer behind them. Other people don't like having a trailer behind them, especially when it comes to maneuvering in a tight spot or backing up. It's a matter of what you are comfortable with.
Negatives of a towable RV versus a motorhome:
A trailer will cause some jerking, bouncing or swaying sensations in your tow vehicle under various conditions, which may be annoying on a long trip. Fifth-wheel trailers cause much less of these sensations that tongue hitch trailers, but hitch systems are available that help distribute the weight and reduce sway. Hitch systems can range from a few hundred dollars for the lightest trailers, to a couple thousand dollars for all the bells and whistles.
Most trailers bounce a lot going down the road, because most of them have very simple suspensions and no shock absorbers. Therefore, it is common to find that your possessions have bounced, and maybe even broken dishes and other fragile items from traveling. Of course, you aren't riding in a trailer so you don't feel how hard it is bouncing back there.
Backing up can be very challenging for many people because of the pivot between the vehicles, and the fact that you have absolutely no view of one side of the trailer in your mirror when the trailer is at an angle to the towing vehicle.
Towable RVs seem to have a higher rate of incidence of blown tires than motorhomes. Part of the reason may be the cheap tires that come as standard equipment on many towable RVs, and part of the reason may be that trailers often sit unused for longer periods of time between rolling the tires. Tires that sit for a long period of time seem to be much more prone to failure than tires that are rolling regularly.
Benefits of a motorhome:
Passengers can have access to the living features of the RV while going down the road, so you can (carefully, of course) go the bathroom, get food from the kitchen, access many of your possessions, and change seating positions.
When you stop, you don't even have to get out of the RV to be able to go to the bathroom, prepare a meal, go to bed, watch TV, etc. That's handy if the weather is bad outside. Motorhomes almost always come equipped with a generator, so you can use all of the systems without having to find a place to plug-in. Air conditioning, heating, microwave, television, lights, etc. can all be used on generator power. A generator is optional on some models of trailer.
Negatives of a motorhome versus a towable:
Most people with a large motorhome want a separate car for transportation while at their destination. This is because of the lack of suitable access or parking at many restaurants, attractions, downtown districts, etc. In most cases you can find a place to park, but you may have a long walk from where you can park to where you are going. The solution is to rent a car when deemed necessary at a destination, or purchase the appropriate equipment to enable towing your car or truck behind the motorhome.
The hydraulic brake systems and the fuel systems on any motorized vehicle are subject to trouble if the vehicle is left parked for many months at a time, especially in humid climates or where there is a lot of precipitation.
Motorhomes usually have more tires and more expensive tires than a towable RV, so when it comes time to replace the tires there is a larger expense.