Buying a House on Wheels
If you’ve ever dreamed about vacationing in a recreational vehicle (RV), now might be a great time to start your adventure. When it comes to making your purchase, a little legwork can go a long way toward helping you find an RV that’s both affordable and right for your needs and how you plan to use it.
In some ways, buying an RV is much like buying a car: RVs are available both new and used, prices are negotiable, you can use a loan to buy one and you’ll want to consider things like gas mileage, engine and transmission specifications and warranty. But in other ways, buying an RV is like buying a home: you need to consider how many people might need to sleep in it, how many bathrooms you’ll want and what other amenities will make your stay in an RV a pleasure.
Here are some guidelines to consider on your journey to finding the right RV.
Start by deciding what type and size RV will work for you. According to GoRVing.com, RVs are commonly categorized in the following classes based on size, amenities and whether you can drive them or need to tow them:
Class A – The top-of-the-line in motorhomes, Class A RVs are designed to live in comfortably for long periods of time, allowing you to drive during the day and sleep in luxury at night. They offer home-like features such as kitchens, bathrooms and living areas, as well as multiple slide-outs to create a larger living space. Class A RVs can range in size from 21-45 feet, and new models average between $100,000 and $300,000.
Class B – The smallest drivable RV, Class B models are easy to park and maneuver. They’re designed around a van or panel truck shell, and offer bathrooms and kitchens; sleeping areas are often created by folding out the seating area. Class B RVs range in size from 16-21 feet and new models average between $95,000 and $150,000.
Class C – Distinguished by their over-the-cab sleeping area, Class C RVs are built on an automotive frame with a wider body section attached to the frame. This design allows for a larger living area than a Class B, as well as the option of slide-out sections to create even more space. These units also offer sleeping, kitchen and eating areas, with easy access to the driving area. Sizes range from 25-35 feet and new models average between $80,000 and $120,000.
Conventional travel trailers
Pulled by a vehicle with a standard hitch, conventional travel trailers offer all the comfort and amenities of a motorized RV and range in size from 20-35 feet, with prices for new models average between $25,000 and $30,000.
Offering the same amenities as conventional trailers, fifth wheels have a raised forward section that provides a bi-level floor plan. These are designed to be pulled by a pickup with a fifth-wheel hitch; they range in size from 21-40 feet, and new models range average between $43,000 and $63,000.
A cross between a hard-sided travel trailer and a folding camper, the expandable trailer has ends that pull out to make sleeping room, and help give campers the feeling of sleeping outdoors. Sizes range from 8 to 16 feet, and prices for new models average between $9,000 and $15,000.
Also called pop-up campers, these trailers are appealing to buyers on a budget because they offer an easily towable option that expands to create a living space with cooking, bathroom and sleeping areas built in. These trailers range in size from 15 to 23 feet and new models average between $5,000 and $25,000.
Assess your needs and how you want to travel
Think about your travel style and how close you want to feel to nature. Will you be tailgating at football games? How much do you want or plan to cook? Your experience will be more satisfying if you have spent time planning how you will travel and your desired RVing style. Here are some examples of things to consider when choosing an RV.
Children may enjoy their own sleeping space, such as the over-the-cab area in a Class C. You may also want to look for an RV with outside access to the bathroom for when kids need to go in a hurry.
Sports fans will enjoy an RV with full-feature outside entertainment centers, pullout awnings and outdoor cooking centers. Outside access to the bathroom can also help keep living spaces clean and private.
You don’t have to compromise your kitchen if you’re a gourmet cook. Today’s RVs offer wood cabinets, granite counters, double sinks and convection ovens for travelers who would rather not cook over the campfire every night.
Will you be on the road for long stretches of time? If so, you may want an RV with slide-outs that increase your living space, as well as plenty of underneath storage for supplies and luggage.
If you want to explore cities a more compact RV may be in order. If you love feeling like you’re sleeping outdoors consider a pop-up/folding trailer that has sleeping spaces with screens to get that great outdoors feel.
Maybe you like to travel with your horse, or you’re into ice fishing, hunting or skiing. If so, there’s an RV for that, so look for models that are designed for these special uses.
RV manufacturers can modify floor plans and amenities to accommodate wheelchairs or other special needs.
If buying used, check the RVs history and research pricing
Buying a used RV is much like buying a used car – you’ll want to know the vehicle’s history and value. You can purchase a vehicle history report online for about $25 at rvchecks.com. You’ll need the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to order the report, which will include the manufacturer’s specifications and any recall notices, and may also include information on whether the vehicle has ever been damaged, rebuilt or stolen.
Another resource for assessing an RV’s value is the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). You can use the estimating tool at nada.com to find out the fair market value of an RV based on its make, model year and other details. While the pricing guidelines set by the NADA are also used by lenders and dealers to determine book value, you may be able to do considerably better on price, especially when you are buying used.
If buying new, know what you want before you start negotiating
If you’re in the market for a new RV, it's worth your time and effort to look at a variety of manufacturers and to shop multiple dealers. RV shows are a great place to do this because you can easily compare features and floor plans side-by-side. You can find an RV show in your area at goRVing.com.
Remember, prices are always negotiable. When negotiating the price, be familiar with the warranty, know the features you want, and be prepared to ask for upgrades or other incentives. Purchasing your RV during a sale or promotion may also help you get more bang for your buck.
You may also want to talk to your CPA tax preparer to find out how buying an RV may impact your taxes. In some instances, you may be able to deduct interest from your RV loan from your taxes, much as you would if you purchased a vacation home.
Find the right financing
When buying an RV, you can benefit not only from sales offered by a dealer, but you may also be able to save by locking in a great interest rate from your lender, and through other promotions the lender is offering. Be sure to look for loan terms that are most beneficial to you, such as flexible loan terms and no pre-payment penalty.
United Federal Credit Union offers flexible RV loans, along with Boat and Other Recreational Vehicle Loans. You can apply for a loan today here at United.
The RV community is diverse and far-flung, with enthusiasts of all ages located – and traveling – all across the country. Online communities are a great resource for learning about RVs, discovering new places to travel, finding new and used RVs for sale, and getting insider tips on where to stay, how to maintain your rig and just about anything else you might want to know. Here are a few web sites worth checking out:
Rvforum.net – the self-described “friendliest place on the web” for RV enthusiasts, with links to rallies, a library of information about stocking and maintaining your RV and much more.
Rvtravel.com – links to a weekly newsletter, resources for parts and accessories, and a travel blog.
Frugal-rv-travel.com – insider tips on affordable RV adventures across North America.
GoRVing.com – comprehensive source for learning about RV types, locating dealers, and learning about where to go and what to do on the road.
Good luck and enjoy the road!