The short one is that there is no one best kind of RV, just the one that works best for you. It’s the truth, but this isn’t the answer people are looking for when they ask the question. They want someone to be able to point definitively to one brand or style or model and go “that one.” And some people on the forums will do that, reply stating that the RV they have is the best, no ifs ands or buts.
They may do this because they honestly feel theirs is best, but be careful. It could be that they feel the need to validate their decision by pushing it off onto others. The more people they can get to agree that theirs is best, the better they will feel about having bought that one over another. I’d pay more attention to those who reply saying that their own isn’t best, because they’re more likely to be truthful.
But back to the original question, how do you find the best one for you? A fair bit of research I’m afraid, but doing the work now will pay off when you purchase a RV that that works well for you.
If you don’t know the differences between the various types of RV, that’s the first step. I’ve written about them before, Motorhomes are here, and towables are here. These articles also give some positives and negatives for each type. There isn’t a single type of RV that doesn’t have a disadvantage of some sort, but some you’ll probably be more willing to deal with some disadvantages over others.
This is usually the point when people post on forums, unsure of where to go. They’ve learned the basics about the different options, and now they’re looking for informed opinions. Some perusing of these topics can be helpful, but no one is going to be looking for the exact thing that you are. Instead of asking which kind is best, you might try asking the people who already own a RV what they like and what they dislike about it.
By this point, maybe you’re leaning towards one type of RV, or debating between two. Whether you are or not, the thing to do from here is to get out as see as many different kinds of RV as you can. I can guarantee you that the pictures that you’ve been looking at on the internet do not do the real thing justice. Find the closest RV dealership to you, and make a trip out to see the goods. Even if you’re pretty sure you want one kind, do yourself a favor by walking in at least one of every kind.
There are several questions to think about as you walk through the RVs. How many sleeping spots do you need? Is there enough room to be comfortable in every part of the RV? (as in, beds are long enough, shower tall enough, etc). Where will your belongings fit? And think about the weight of your belongings too, just because the RV has enough cupboards doesn’t mean it has the carrying capacity to fill them all up.
You might think about making a list of the features that are important to you before you start looking, because it may be hard to remember all of them once you get on site. You’ll probably also continue to add to the list as you start seeing things in person and figure out what you like and don’t like.
Then once you’ve picked a type, it’s time to contemplate layouts. Again, the best way to get a feel for them is to see various ones in person, diagrams of floor plans online are a poor substitute to go by. For some, a walk around bed is key, and different RVs will place bedroom, kitchen, and living area in different spots. The more you go see, the better idea you’ll have of what you’re looking for.
After a type and floor plan is decided on, the next question is which manufacturer to go with. If you have the money, go for one of the higher end ‘full-timing’ quality brands. Most RVs will have the same amenities and features, and the vast price differences that you see while shopping come in the build quality. The average consumer will look at the price differences, see that the two RVs offer the same layout, appliances, etc. and turn to the cheaper option as it is outwardly the better deal. The thing is a RV is a house, a house on wheels that undergoes what amounts to earthquake like forces every time it gets moved. It’s really not surprising that the number one killer of RVs is leaks. The joints and seams undergo a lot of stress, and paying the extra money for a better built RV pays off in the long run. Especially if you want to travel in it full-time.
If you don’t have the money for a high build quality RV, that doesn’t mean the journey is over before it starts. It’s a good plan to have money set aside specifically for repairs and maintenance whether you get a high quality one or not, just plan to set more aside for an older or lower quality rig. And actually, if you’re mechanically inclined and like building and tinkering with things, you might enjoy a RV that needs some work to be made road worthy. Or if you really want to go for gold, you might consider a vehicle like a bus or van that could be converted into a RV.
My Casita falls somewhere in the middle when it comes to build quality. I spent $9,000 for him at 13 years old, I could have gotten a more traditional ‘stick built’ RV with the same length and gross vehicle weight rating for that price that was much newer, but there is little in a Casita that can rot, and no seams to take care of. He’ll last a lot longer than the average RV. Now if I’d had the funds, I probably would have tried looking for a Oliver, also a molded fiberglass style trailer but they have no wood at all, and not even any rivets to maintain – all the inside furniture is a second fiberglass shell, it’s all one piece.
Which brings me to another hot topic,whether it’s better to buy new or used. Like the larger ‘which is best’ question there are arguments that can be made on both sides.
A new RV gives you the opportunity to order exactly what you want. It’ll also have a warranty, but although everything will be new, that does not guarantee that there will not be problems. Most people who buy new RVs still encounter issues with them within the first year, but again, you’ll have a warranty. And then you shouldn’t have to worry about having to buy another RV for a good long time.
That being said, if this is going to be your first RV, I highly recommend going used. For starters RVs depreciate very quickly, in 5 years time most RVs will be worth only half of what they are new. So you could still get a reasonably new RV for significantly less than what it would cost brand new, and after 2 years or so, the previous owners would have probably worked out all the initial new RV problems.
The second reason is a bit saddening after all this effort you will have gone through, but it needs saying. Even with all the research and planning and imagining, very few people stick with the first RV they they buy. It’s impossible to know exactly what you’ll want in a RV until you have one and have experienced it for yourself. Better to buy a used one as a first RV, in case it turns out RVing isn’t for you after all, or after being on the road for 6 months you discover The One. This way you’re out less money on trading it in, because of the depreciation rate.
Some people will say to buy your second RV first, by which they mean buy a bigger and nicer RV than you think you want to avoid having to trade up later, but this mentality makes me nervous. Because again, I don’t think you can know exactly what you want until you’ve tried it for a while. Yes, most people who go on to buy another RV look for something bigger and nicer, but not everyone. I know of at least one couple (Nina and Paul at Wheelin It) who bought a 40 foot class A, and they’ve said that if they had to do it again, they would have gone with something smaller, since they discovered that they liked boondocking and staying in more rustic campgrounds where fitting a 40 footer in can be difficult. I’ve only been on the road for three and a half months, but so far I’m very happy with my small RV, and I couldn’t see getting something bigger for how I like to travel.
Another big reason to buy used is to avoid debt. You’re buying a RV because you like the freedom it offers. Don’t temper that freedom by chaining yourself to a monthly payment, that’s not freeing at all. Some people will disagree with me on this, but I can say from experience that the whole financial viability for me of full-timing has been made much easier by the fact that I only need to earn enough to keep me on the road. Gas, food, and entertainment expenses can be easily modified to suit how much money I have coming in, but loan payments are a fixed thing. They will be there whether your able to land a job at a new destination or not. Not having them makes the whole thing less stressful.
And that wraps it up. As always, comments and questions are encouraged if there is anything you’d like me to elaborate on. And for those who are already out RVing, if there is anything else you’d like to add to help wannabe RVers, feel free.