5 Questions to Ask Before Buying Your First RV 34854

Before we bought our first RV in 2014, I had no idea what the heck I was doing. I didn’t know the difference between a Class A motorhome and a Class C motorhome. (Hint: one has a big windshield and one typically has an overhead bed in front). I didn’t know what to look for in used RVs. And I didn’t know it might better to find an RV with more mileage versus less (the former typically means it is well-maintained instead of sitting still).

Buying your first RV is an intimidating and exciting process. We were pumped to buy an RV and hit the road, but we were terrified of making the wrong decision on something so expensive and important.

So, if you’re just now thinking about buying your first RV, I wanted to share five questions to ask before buying your first RV.

1. Do you want to buy used or new?

new vs used rv

Buying either new or used has pros and cons.

One pro of buying a new motorhome means that you’ll have at least a one year warranty. This way, when things break (as they do) you’ll be covered without the stress of paying out-of-pocket for service.

One con to a brand new RV is that you may have to deal with a number of small build-quality issues that manufacturers aren’t always able to identify before the RV goes onto the lot.

As an example, one of our skylight vents was installed backwards, so it flew open while we were driving! This was an easy fix, but since most American RVs are assembled by hand (at least in part), there are occasionally human errors like this on new RV models.

We bought our first motorhome used for two reasons:

  1. We had never traveled in an RV before and had no idea if we’d enjoy it.
  2. Between us, we didn’t have enough money to buy anything else.

After our research, we purchased a 1994 Leprechaun Coachmen for $11,500 on Craigslist and then promptly remodeled the interior since it would be mine and my wife’s full-time home for the first year of our marriage.

inside a used rv

Buying a used RV allowed us to taste test the RV lifestyle with less skin in the game. If our RV fell apart as soon we hit the road, we’d only be out $11,500 (better than a new coach).

Also, because the previous owners had little kiddos and were responsible, they kept the rig in immaculate condition and still had all the previous service documents.

Here’s a full list of things to consider before buying a used RV.

Fortunately, our 20-year-old RV held up during our first year on the road (with only one breakdown). We drove it over 20,000 miles, visited national parks all over the US, and crossed 48 state lines.

travel in a used RV

We loved RV life and our first motorhome so much, we decided to keep living in it after our first major road trip. After 18 months of living, working and traveling in our Class C motorhome, we sold it for $9,700 (only $1,800 less than we’d originally paid).

Note: This doesn’t include the $500 of renovations we put into the interior and the maintenance costs during our 50 state road trip (you can see those in this blog post). But hey, $1,800 to live and travel in an RV for 18 months isn’t bad!

2. How much room do you need?

watching football class a rv

We don’t always watch football on our massive TV, but when we do it’s the Cowboys and there is a lot of salsa involved.

Something we hear all the time from fellow RVers after they’ve spent time on the road: “I wish I would have bought a smaller RV.”

I think one of the reasons many RVers wished they’d gone smaller is accessibility. The smaller rig you have, the more remote places you can visit. Some of the most beautiful boondocking opportunities (aka wild camping) are off the beaten path, and the bigger RVs have trouble getting there.

That being said, if you’re traveling with a big family and a couple pets, this changes things. You’re likely going to sacrifice accessibility to some of these epic views so you can have more living space. Although, we do have some friends who travel with their family of six in a 23-foot RV, larger trailers or fifth wheels are the norm for families.

And just because you buy a bigger RV doesn’t mean you can’t still visit beautiful destinations. We have a 33-foot Class A RV and our all-time favorite boondocking site is on national forest land outside of the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

rv grand teton national park

This is a free campsite and you can stay there up to two weeks. We had to drive a mile down a dirt road in order to have this view, but it was definitely worth it.

3. What kind of RV travel do you want to do?

rv boondocking travel

Some of our RV friends never stay in RV parks.

You can find them camping out in remote BLM land or in places far away from everyone else.

If you want to be totally off grid in your RV, you’ll need to find an RV that can support this kind of camping. For instance, many of the newer RVs come pre-installed with solar or come solar-ready. Having a great solar and battery set up could cost you a couple thousand dollars upfront, but it will offer you the most flexibility in the places you can stay.

Here’s a great article to read if you’re on the fence about whether or not you need solar.

In addition to solar for dispersed camping, you should look at the size of water tanks in your future RV. If you’re unfamiliar, most RVs come with a black tank (toilet waste), grey tank (used shower water, sink water, etc.) and a fresh water tank. The larger water tank you have, the longer you can stay out in the middle of nowhere, doing whatever people do in the middle of nowhere.

If you see yourself mostly staying in campgrounds or RV parks, it’s not as pertinent to have a great solar set up as you can hook up to electricity and water. We typically stay in RV parks when we travel so we can have access to electricity and water.

rv park siesta key florida

Our campsite at Fiesta Key RV Resort in the Florida Keys.

4. Do you need slide outs?

slideouts on an rv

I’ll help you answer this one. The answer is yes, you most likely want slide outs.

Slide outs are walls inside your coach that expand and offer more living space when you’re stationary. Our first RV didn’t have slide outs and I found myself constantly wishing we had the extra room. Our current rig (a 2016 Winnebago Brave) has two large slides and it makes a world of difference in living space once we’re set up.

The only reason I’d go back to an RV without slide outs is if we were traveling very quickly (meaning staying places no more than three nights at a time). Not having slide outs was more convenient when we were constantly moving because it was one less thing to pack up before leaving our campsite.

5. Do you want a motorhome, fifth wheel, truck camper, or another kind of RV?

When we first started shopping for an RV, we fell in love with truck campers.

We loved the idea of being able to take it anywhere and also having a truck to use when exploring new places.

However, we weren’t in love with the ridiculously small space. Once we learned that we could buy an affordable and used Class C motorhome for roughly the same price and  have a lot more room, we loved the truck camper a little less.

It wasn’t until after we hit the road in our motorhome that we realized the true value of having our home and vehicle be all-in-one. We love the ability to travel throughout our motorhome on travel days. If Alyssa needed to grab a snack or make coffee during our drive, she can just stand up and walk to the back. We really liked this versus the alternative of having to park a vehicle and then walk to the back of a separately attached RV.

As a result, when it was time to upgrade to a newer rig we decided to stick with a motorhome and not buy a towable.

Some of our friends love their fifth wheel or trailer and swear by them. Something we’ve learned when it comes to selecting your RV is that it is very subjective. If you ask ten different RVers why they chose a particular kind of RV, you’ll likely get ten different answers.

If you want to see a full overview of all the different types of RVs with pros and cons, price range and more, you can check out this blog post by my wife comparing each type of RV.

Ultimately, buying an RV is a stressful process, but so rewarding. You have a million questions about the make, year, and model and yet you’re excited to just hit the road.

My last piece of advice is just to talk with as many RVers as you can. There is no wheel that needs to be reinvented during the search process. Join RV centric Facebook groups, engage with fellow owners, read books about RVing and try not to let the search process loom over you.

At the end of the day, RV life has a way of working itself out. Even if you make the wrong decision, it can often lead to some really great stories.

Heath Padgett Contributor
Heath Padgett is a writer and filmmaker who left his job in software sales to pursue a more adventurous career. Combining a love of travel and his career transition, he decided to go and work a job in all 50 states. Four days after his wedding, Heath and his wife Alyssa hit the road in a 1994 RV and toured across America while they fulfilled two bucket list items—filming a documentary and visiting all 50 states—all within their first year of marriage. Their story has been shared on CNN, CBS, Fox and Friends Morning Show, Huffington Post Live, Business Insider and The Daily Mail. Follow their story at heathandalyssa.com. Heath is the co-founder of CampgroundBooking.com, his software startup for campgrounds.

20 Comments

    1. We just purchased our first motor home. 31 ft class C. It was a 2001 with 30,000 miles We paid 24,000 dollars. We’ve had it out a few times and spent a week each time. We love it more every time. Now looking for a tow dolly for future road trips.

    2. Money wise, here it is. We own a home and we are both retired. Staying at home in upper state of New Hampshire, it cost us approximately $3500 to 4200 in the winter months. Once we disconnected the Phone, the internet, dish Network, turn our heat down to 36 degrees to save on heating oil consumption and no propane for our stove or hot water heater, we also disconnect every electrical outlets. With all of that turned off, it helped us tour the U.S.ofA. and our cost was approximately $4500 per month. Most campground will include all your needs, including wifi and no matter where you are, at home or on the road, you have to eat. If you do State or National campgrounds it’s a lot less expensive and limit you outing to restaurants. You can enjoy yourself and visit numerous national parks across this beautiful country of our if your frugal, I know some people did it for less than we did, and a lot for a lot more than we did. Hope this help in your decision making, we have no regrets.

      1. Thank you for your input. We are selling our house and going into an Rv we are 70yrs. Old and are going to fulfill our bucket list we have been looking but nothing yet we are looking for a 30ft. Or less

  1. We bought ours used but had never been lived in. Husband of the couple was diagnosed with cancer and they sold it back. Warranty doesn’t transfer to second owner. Learned that the hard way. If you live in one full time like we did, bigger is better. I have yet to talk to someone that wished they had went smaller.

    1. Do you have trouble finding a space to camp with a larger RV? We are looking at a 38 1/2’ fifth wheel.

      1. When I bought mine I had to go big also. The campgrounds differ from campground to campground. Most I have found will have room unless it is a smaller ran campground. Our salesmen JD at Camping World of Statesville was awesome at helping us find the fifth wheel that more than met our needs especially on our budget and campgrounds that we are traveling to as we speak. Not sure how he gets the prices down so low, but we have sent 4 other couples who we camp with to see him and he has taken care of everyone of them. Not sure how many RVs he has sold because of us, but we should get a check. Just joking!! I highly recommend him if you are looking for a new RV.

  2. I want to retire and get a Class A used about a 36-38 footer. My wife is high end if you know what I mean. This article is great for me and the wife. Thanks

  3. No one mentions fuel mileage. Does anyone have an approx. on a Class C mpg? Also I have a new truck and can’t find any rv dealers to trade for RV Class B or C. Any ideas?

  4. A new and strong suggestion that must be reviewed by the camper owner and diesel powered user. In MN, the blended fuel update will be B20 or 20% Bio in the diesel fuel. Consult your owner’s manual and the manufacturer of the engine. In specific cases, engine damage can result from improper selection of fuel. Minnesota is going to limit your selection. Their department of tourism needs to get a hit.

  5. An innocent comment made 18 months ago regarding RV’ing and now we are on the road. We selected a 31 ft Class C, 2017 used with 1800 miles. Have only had one issue with LP alarm going off, relaxed sensor and now fine. Pulling a Smart Car and hook-up cost $2500, but well worth it only takes minutes to hook and unhook. Have traveled over 6,000 miles in 3 months and enjoying every minute. Best advise listen to other RV’ers learn from there mistakes. Love your articles

  6. This has been my dream for a small C class motorhome. Not getting any younger and need to do it soon. I would like two or three years of travel. I am a single women raising a 14 yr old niece. Is this worth persuing. Your thoughts.

    1. Hello I’m Diane and I am pursuing the same but Me with my dog . There’s a woman blogger on YouTube gives good advice. I can’t remember her name. Search for “Don’t be afraid/discouraged to go RV alone being a woman”. I’ll look for her but may lose you on here

  7. Hi Heath, liked your article. I too would like to purchase an RV yet don’t know where to start. Is there a website or magazine you recommend for purchasing new and/or used Rv or trailers? Thanks.

  8. Can anyone give advise ?
    I am a non US Citizen / Resident.
    Need advise on how to register and Insure the RV .
    My starting point will be Colorado or Oregon .
    Interested in a class A up to 30 Feet .

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