RV shopping is the funnest shopping one can do, it really is, but before you spend a small fortune on your new toy you should consider these 8 important factors.
1.Towable vs. Motorized
Towable trailers are cheaper, lighter, versatile and they come in a wide range of lengths and weights. You can disconnect them at the campsite and use your vehicle freely for trips to town or an afternoon drive. Also, you’ll likely need a portable generator as most travel trailers don’t come with them.
Motorhomes are great for a getting more people down the road, also more comfortable while traveling, setup at your destination is minimal and the inboard generator is ready to fire up at the flip of a switch. You can even tow your boat, jet-skis or another vehicle.
For most, this decision will simply come down to price. A new motorhome can easily creep in to the upper 5-figures and go as high as 7-figures. Don’t forget the mandatory insurance policy and maintenance that any motorized vehicle would require.
If you have a mid-sized pickup or full-size SUV, you can stretch your money in the travel trailer class of RV’s. For $35k or less you can match or beat the spacing and features of most motorhomes.
Pro-Tip: Rent an RV for a camping trip or two before committing to buying one. Try a motorhome for a trip then try a travel trailer and see which one works better for you and your family. Click here to browse RV rentals
2. Off-Road vs. On-Road Camping
Do you prefer off the grid, rutted up dirt road camping or are you an RV park, full hookups and amenities type of camper? I wont judge either way but you’re not going to coast down those old logging roads in a diesel pusher with 8 inches of ground clearance.
If you prefer the “camp anywhere” backwoods camp spot then it might be a good idea to shop for a high clearance travel trailer with meaty tires and good suspension. I owned a Jayco JayFlight Baja Edition travel trailer just for this purpose and I’m confident it would have made it anywhere my truck could have gone on it’s own.
As for the “easy rider” camping goes, I’ve done plenty of that too and this is the perfect place to take your standard clearance RV’s. They typically don’t make larger bumper pull travel trailers with high ground clearance either.
If you want a large towable trailer with decent ground clearance you’ll likely have to shop for 5th wheel trailers that mount in the bed of your pickup over the axles.
Here’s where all those hidden costs start to catch “newbie” RV owners off-guard. If you live in a neighborhood with an HOA then there’s a good chance you can’t store your RV at home. I live in a neighborhood with an HOA and unfortunately and I’ve paid many fines trying to be the neighborhood rebel. (The fines get bigger and bigger, trust me..)
If you have some land and aren’t burdened with an evil HOA, great! Go for that that 53′ triple axle 5th wheel and park it on the front lawn in all it’s glory!
All jokes aside, depending on how long your RV is and if you want covered or uncovered storage, it can range anywhere from $60 – $200 per month to store. Start making friends with the farmer down the road, it could save you a thousand bucks a year to keep the rig at his place.
When shopping for an RV keep in mind that it’s an obvious liability that will tank in value year after year. The cold hard facts show that most RV owners will never use them more than 2-3 times a year. There are ways to turn this bleeding liability in to an asset which I will explain in a moment.
First, if you plan on buying and financing a brand new motorhome you better plan on having it for the long haul. Trying to unload a motorhome that you still owe money on is next to impossible and you really only have a couple options. Rent out your motorhome on RVShare or Outdoorsy to cover your cost and pocket some cash or or simply hope someone will come a long and buy it.
Travel trailers offer a bit of hope in the resell market but there is a sweet spot. The bigger and heavier the trailer, the longer it will sit for sale but the smaller and lighter travel trailers are the easiest to sell and seem to have the most active resale market. Heck, I’ve made some extra pocket money buying and selling smaller travel trailers buying and selling at the right times.
Best time to sell RV’s? Mid-March to end of May at least in Colorado. The best time to buy is late summer or during the off-season when the demand is low.
5. Other Costs
You’re all hooked up, pulling off the RV lot and man it looks great behind your truck but you’re not done spending money yet! Aside from the obvious essentials needed for a week at the lake it’s time for a trip to Camping World or Walmart to outfit your new rig. It’s not hard to spend $500 on accessories sprucing up your new home away from home.
If you buy a travel trailer you’re going to need a generator if the campsite doesn’t have utility hookups. You can get a heavy, loud generator for about $350 at Harbor Freight or you can spend $1500 on a quiet and lighter Honda generator.
Do you need a tow hitch installed on your truck before you pickup the new RV? There’s $300-$400.
Are you going to have to pay to store this thing? There’s another $700 a year at a minimum.
License plates? Depending on how much your new rig was this can easily be over $1000.
What about protective covers for your roof vents? Another $300
The point is, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to plan for an additional $2500 in expenses right off the lot.
6. Rentability: Renting your RV on RVShare or Outdoorsy
Renting out your RV can turn it from being an endless money pit to actually paying for itself and becoming a simple business with tax write offs. Keep this option in mind when shopping for a new RV as this won’t work with some types of RV’s.
If you buy a motorhome you can easily rent it out all summer for $250/night on sites like RV Share and Outdoorsy but it will likely take 3-5 years to pay it off before putting any money in your pocket. I’ve rented out my motorhome on RV Share for the last 4 years and I’ve done well over $60k in rental revenue.
But where the the real opportunity is, is with smaller used travel trailers that can be towed by a wide range of vehicles. For example, my Jayco Jayflight was light enough to be pulled by mid-sized SUV’s and I charged $140/night on RVShare and Outdoorsy. It was booked pretty steady from mid-may until late September bringing in just over $10k in rental revenue.
Even better, I paid just $9500 for the trailer, used it a few times myself, then sold it for $8500 all in under a year. Not a bad little side hustle but it will only work this well if you buy a used unit for the right price and it needs to be a light unit that can be towed with a wide range of vehicles.
And that’s how you win in the RV ownership game. Keep in mind if you buy a big heavy 5th wheel or travel trailer that can only be towed by big diesel trucks it narrows down your pool of potential renters considerably and renting may not be a viable option.
7. Buying Out of State
This is how I saved over $12,000 on my motorhome. I hopped on a flight down to Texas and bought my motorhome from a GIANT RV dealer and drove it home. The unit I wanted was $12,000 cheaper than it was in Colorado.
Do your homework and don’t be afraid to search dealers outside of your home state. Texas, Florida and Arizona have some of the biggest RV dealerships in the world and can typically beat any price near you.
Keep in mind, buying out of state doesn’t keep you from paying local taxes in some states. I nearly had a stroke when the lady at the DMV told me what I owed to get my license plates.
8. Kids or No Kids
Have kids or plan to in the near future? Keep that in mind when shopping around. Some of the best memories I have are from riding in the motorhome with my brothers and sisters on our way across the country. It’s a lot easier to have more space now and grow in to it as your family grows than it is to take a loss selling and then buying something new.
For you kidless campers, I’m kind of envious because there are a ton of very cool compact campers on the market that will go just about anywhere. Small and compact though doesn’t mean cheap, some 2-person tear drop campers are as much as $40,000.