Which RV Should I Buy?
So you are considering becoming a proud member of the Glamping Nation, or maybe you already own an RV, or recreational vehicle, but are thinking of an upgrade? You will be glad to hear, there is a multitude of options on the market today to choose from; the key is finding the best fit for you, your budget, and your style of camping.
I will attempt to summarize some of the things to consider as you look into upgrading your camping domicile. I will not hit everything here, or it would be like trying to read the entire Lord Of The Rings trilogy in one sitting. My main points revolve around cost, weight, functionality, and travel preferences. We have also included some Pros and Cons by RV type throughout this post as well for your viewing pleasure!
My first tip, try to avoid the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. I would suggest you focus on your needs and the needs of your family first and worry about showing off the latest and greatest second. It is your BBQ, and it tastes good, so I am by no means telling you how to live your life, but just because your neighbor wants to live payment broke doesn't mean you have to. There is nothing more frustrating than cramming your budget into a costly RV only to find you have no money left to take it out and enjoy it.
Additionally, as emotionally engaging as it is to get a new RV, sitting down and logically working out your budget so you know what you can comfortably afford before heading out on the hunt is key to avoiding a spendy impulse purchase.
One thing to take into account is fuel costs. MPG can add up quickly so do your homework here. Tow vehicles get different MPG than motorized RVs, and diesel motors get different MPG than gas motors. Rule of thumb...the more horsepower and torque you need, the less MPG you get. Additionally, keep in mind maintenance costs, tow hookups like hitches and brake controllers, and the insurance to protect our beloved RVs should be taken into account as well.
RV Rental Or Buy Used
Also, don’t be afraid to look at used either. Some used RVs are in great shape, and many folks like to buy older models and fix them up as their budget allows. What about motorhomes? Some challenges with motorhomes are setting up your "toad" (vehicle being towed) for towing can be expensive, there are maintenance costs for the motor, transmission, and other vehicle-related costs, and in the case of a Class A, require specialty mechanics in some cases which is expensive. They also basically use semi-truck tires which are expensive to replace.
If you have no idea what is going to work for you, go out and rent various types and see what fits your preferences the best. Then you are only dropping a few hundred dollars to sample the goods versus spending thousands on something which may not work for you. This is also a good option for folks that only plan to use an RV a couple of times a year or less. Why make a monthly payment on something that is seldom used when you can just pay per use?
RV Towing Weight
Similarly on the topic of cost and bleeding over into the weight category, how are you going to get your RV from point A to point B? Do you currently have a vehicle which can tow the RV fitting your needs? If not, can you afford a new RV payment and vehicle payment at the same time?
Let’s say for the sake of conversational ease; you have an SUV with a V6 much like our 2009 Grand Cherokee. It only pulls and stops so much weight safely as measured by its GTW or Gross Trailer Weight. All the hope in the world does not turn the 3.6L under the hood into a 6.0L diesel nor the factory axels into 1-ton beasts.
It is what it is, so we looked into trailers it could safely move and stop based on its GTW of 3500lbs. You can also use the GCWR or Gross Combined Weight Rating, and subtract the weight of the vehicle when it is empty. Our Grand Cherokee has a GCWR of 8100 lbs but has a curb weight of roughly 4600lbs (depending on whose numbers you use), which gives us approximately 3500 pounds to play with.
Things to consider when figuring out the weight. Figure out what the total weight of your prospective RV will be when completely loaded for bear, not when it is sitting there empty. How much does your gear weigh including clothes, pots, pans, chairs, fishing tackle, and what have you? Also remember, water weighs roughly 8.34lbs per gallon, so a 40-gallon water tank full weighs…wait for it…almost 334lbs plus the weight of the tank itself! If you are looking at RVs that are on the heavy side, be prepared to need a vehicle with some heft and some pulling power. Oh and remember, it is not just what your vehicle will tow; it is what it will tow safely.
If you think a Class A or Class C Motorhome is more your speed, and are planning on towing a vehicle behind it, some of this math still applies. Make sure you know how much your motorhome can tow and how much your toad weighs. You also need to know how your toad can safely be towed.
For example, our Grand Cherokee due to its traction control system and lack of a transfer case means it has to be towed with all four tires on a trailer. Other vehicles can be towed as long as the front tires are on a dolly. Flat towing (all four tires on the ground) these vehicles can cause some costly damage so beware and do your research. Additionally, once you get to camp with these two options, you either have a dolly or a flatbed trailer to find a home for so keep that in mind.
A side note on flat towing though. Several states require a secondary braking system on the vehicle being towed which can dip into the checkbook a bit. All of that said, researching on the front end will let you know if you can work with what you have, or if you are looking at purchasing something different to meet your needs.
Let’s switch gears and talk functionality. What do you need, and what do you want? This area is why some models of RV have multiple floor plans. Much like getting 20 people to agree on pizza toppings, not everybody wants or likes the same things.
When we were looking for our first pull behind, we needed a balance of weight, cost, and space. Having a family of four plus a dog meant some of the hard sided trailers which were light enough to pull, didn’t have enough space to our liking. A bit cramped if you will. We opted to trade the convenient setup and tear down of a hard sided trailer for the space, weight, and lower cost of the pop-up when it was all said and done.
Also, the pop-up had an outdoor kitchen, heated mattresses, an oven, a dinette slide out, and a hard-sided collapsible indoor shower for $17K. The trade-off was again a less convenient set-up and tear down process when we reached or left our destinations and much smaller holding tanks. First world problems I guess.
RV Type Key Questions
Furthermore, know which style of RV has the functionality you need. Some folks like the 5th wheel toy hauler due to the fact you can load side by sides or quads in the back without needing an addition trailer. If you do not have toys like that then maybe looking for one with garage space is not the ideal selection for your situation.
How many kids do you have? At some point, even the highest strung offspring sleep, right? Not when you want them to perhaps, but sleep eventually they will. You are going to need beds. Are you good with converting the dinette into a bed, or do you need bunks?
Do you need a full-size fridge, or would a smaller one work? Do mom and dad need separate sleeping quarters with a door, or is an open living situation okay?
Lastly, how much time are you going to spend in it? Are you a couple times a year camper or full-time travel the country type folks? It comes down to personal space, sleeping arrangements, and storage for clothes, food, and gear based on your preferred activities.
This leads us to travel preferences. Now I do not pretend to know every law in every state, but the rule of thumb is plan on every occupant needing a seat belt on when in motion. Typically this means in a tow behind situation; the whole family is tucked into the tow vehicle while traveling to the next destination with no access to the RV area.
This works for many people; and to that point, the pull behind RV is still the best seller on the market compared to other RV types. However, some folks prefer a motorhome set up better for traveling as they have seat belts in the dinette or couches which gives everyone space while cruising down the road as well as the ability to play a card game at the table or the like. You also have access to the bathroom after pulling over which saves time looking for rest stops. Same can be said for many pull behind RVs.
Some RVs like our aforementioned pop-up, however, do not allow for access to the bathroom without setting up the entire camper. Granted, even if you were tent camping you would all be crammed into the vehicle while on the road and have to find a rest stop, so there is that.
I would also mention the larger the RV, the more challenging it is to navigate and park. Some locations limit the size of the RV which can stay there so don’t wait until you reach your destination and have the person at the gate tell you “You shall not pass!" Call ahead first.
There can also be storage challenges when your RV is not in use. Where are you going to park a 40-foot behemoth of an RV? Sort out if there are places in your area that will allow you to store your RV there when not in use and how much it will cost (there is that word again). Feel free to break out the old measuring tape of justice and see if your prospective RV will fit where you think it will, i.e., the side of your house. Also, make sure you can get your RV to the area which you are measuring. Much like a Christmas tree, RVs seem to get bigger once you get them home.
Types of RV Camping
Additional things to consider is if you only stay in parks, or do you prefer to find your spot with no amenities to camp. This is known as boondocking, dry camping, leave me alone camping, etc. (I made that last one up I think). If you are always going to stay where there are full hook-ups, then you need not worry as much about how much your storage tanks hold.
Our pop-up for instance only had a 20-gallon freshwater tank, and 11-gallon grey and black water holding tanks. Our Class C has an onboard generator, a 40-gallon freshwater tank, and 32-gallon grey and black water tanks. Which one do you think would be better to take for camping off the grid? There are some RVs with far larger tanks than we have as well and you can take other RVs types out boondocking not just motorhomes. Just know you will need a generator or solar for power if you want to use your 120v power outlets. If not, only your 12 volt systems will be functional in most cases.
My last thought on travel preferences to consider is what does your typical itinerary look like? For years, and I mean years, we would find a beautiful state park within two to three hours of the house, head out for three or four days then head home. Our pop-up was ideal for this as it had all the amenities we needed and ultimately only had to set it up and tore down once in a four day period.
Dreams change, however, and now we prefer traveling for multiple days and moving around to various locations, which is a very different scenario. This is where the convenience of a hard side comes in handy because we can spend more time traveling or enjoying the outdoors and less time setting up our camper for the night. Granted, we went from a $17k High-Wall camper to a $60k Class C which brings us full circle back to cost. Ta-da!
In closing, there is an unbelievable number of options when it comes to choosing an RV, so there is just about one for everyone. There is nothing wrong with being picky and wanting the right set up for you. Again, also keep in mind there is no way without writing a novel, for me to cover everything. These were just some 30000-foot level considerations to help readers get some ideas and start thinking about financial constraints, how much they can tow, what they need their RV to have and do, and how they plan to travel when they go glamp it up!
You want to know some basic items you will need for your RV? Check out this post! -> RV Camping Basics - Must Have Items For Your RV Camping Adventure