Shopping for an RV

by Jim Thompson | Last Updated: February 5, 2021

An RV is a fun experience, but are you ready to take to the trails? Before purchasing one, do some investigating. Follow these RV purchasing pointers to assist you in finding the best motorhome for your needs.

Do Your Homework

The first part of the research process is to learn the language so you can be well-informed and more confident when speaking with a salesperson. For example, the term “motor home” frequently is used interchangeably with “RV.” “Motor home,” though, is an informal expression used to refer generically to an assortment of leisure and recreational vehicles. On the other hand, “recreational vehicle” (or RV) is a technical and legal term used to describe vehicles that meet a prescribed list of criteria.

The U.S. Department of Transportation categorizes RVs by class. Take this into account while selecting an RV as each class has different construction and capabilities, weight and size standards, and differences in licensing requirements for operators.

USDOT uses three classifications in their descriptions—

Class A Recreational Vehicles

“Class A” recreational vehicles are motor homes converted from a school or commercial passenger bus or constructed on a bus chassis. A Class A RV may feature the addition of “slide-outs,” extra living spaces that can be extended when the vehicle is stopped for camping. Class A RV’s are commonly the largest and most luxurious mobile homes available. These RVs feature solid bodies, an all-encompassing front window, sections that transform to living room or dinette areas, and full bathroom facilities. To operate a Class A RV, the driver must possess a Commercial Drivers License (CDL).

Class B Recreational Vehicles

The “Class B” designation is given to campervans. Campervans are traditional vans with raised roofs (either “pop up” or “fixed”). Campervans are built on regular or extended van chassis and may include a space extending above the driver. They frequently have small kitchens with refrigerators and cooking surfaces.

Larger models can have a water heater, heat and air conditioning, a portable toilet, or an internal shower. (Smaller models usually have a compact toilet and an outside shower, which can be used with a canopy to guarantee discretion.) The holder of a standard license can operate class B recreational vehicles.

Class C Recreational Vehicles

Unlike a Class A vehicle, which is built on a single chassis, a Class C vehicle is connected to a truck and towed behind. These vehicles are sometimes referred to as “5th wheels” and are characterized by a distinctive alcove that extends over the truck cab. Depending on the configuration, this space can be used for storage, as a sleeping compartment, or as an “entertainment” section, outfitted with a TV and video games.

Like a Class B RV, a Class C RV can be operated with a standard license but, due to the configuration, maneuvering the vehicle requires considerably more skill.

Before hitting the showroom, decide which manufacturers and brands you trust by searching online, reading brochures and customer reviews, and attending factory tours or local RV shows. Research and study the variety of options available and balance each manufacturer and brand’s pros and cons.

Decide if an RV is More than You Need

Beyond the three certified classes of RVs, there are additional types of recreational vehicles or motorhomes. It could be that one of these smaller, less expensive options may fulfill your needs nicely.

Truck Campers

A modular space, usually designed for not much more than sleeping or food preparation, made to fit in the bed of a pickup truck.

Pop-up Campers

Campers that collapse for towing behind another vehicle outfitted with pull-out compartments and extendable canvas walls.

Travel Trailers (occasionally called “caravans”)

Non-collapsible, light-weight trailers with simple amenities, designed to be towed behind a vehicle.

While you’ll sacrifice some room by choosing one of these options, you’ll have the advantage of being able to disconnect the trailer from your vehicle upon arrival at your destination. With an unencumbered vehicle, you have the freedom to explore the area or run to the store for supplies.

Try Before You Buy

Give your dream-home-on-wheels a whirl before you make the purchase. Owning and maintaining a recreational vehicle can require a considerable amount of effort. Consider renting a motorhome for your next vacation and determine if RV vacationing is suitable for you.

What Options Would You Like?

An RV or motorhome comes with a hefty price tag, so you want to ensure the layout meets your needs. Take a good look at different floor plans and the varying options of an RV before purchasing. Do a little research as RV’s and motorhomes may have features and floorplans of which you aren’t aware.

Options to consider include:

Choose the Right Dealer

Seek out a dealership that will stand by its sale, one that is worthy of your business and trust as a consumer. Ask the dealership about their warranty policy, their service offerings, and their ability to perform routine maintenance and repairs. A dealership that will keep your RV running for the long haul will make you feel more comfortable when it comes to purchasing from them.

Go for a Spin

Once you find the RV that suits you, take it for a drive! If you typically drive an automobile, you may feel a little intimidated behind the wheel of a large motorhome. Make sure that you can drive your RV with confidence. Pay attention to how it drives and handles to ensure that it performs to your satisfaction.

Once You’ve Bought It, Protect It

Purchasing a recreational vehicle is a significant investment. Consider paying for an extended service contract that offers coverage beyond the duration of the factory warranty. Also, check into RV insurance. This insurance will differ from a regular auto insurance policy, but this specialized coverage will come in handy if you ever have an accident. Finally, research the costs associated with registering your RV. You cannot skip this expense if you plan to take your motorhome on the open road.

Which Kind is Right for You?

Take into account your lifestyle and budget, then determine what type of motorhome will best suit you because RVs come in many shapes, sizes, and prices. Are your desires leading you to just the essentials or a ride that is in the lap of luxury? Do you want a truck camper, a towable motorhome, or a motorized RV? Another thing to consider is if you want to purchase a new or used one. Write down your primary purchasing parameters before reaching the sales lot.

More questions about RVs? Check out our guide to all things RV.