Buying an RV: Here’s What You Need to Know

If you’re new to RVing but eager to start on your own new RV adventure then here are a few tips to consider when buying an RV.  These five tips may help you avoid making a costly mistake.

  1. Don’t be in a rush
  2. Know what you really need and like 
  3. Do your due diligence 
  4. Expand your search beyond the local supply and consider both new and used RVs
  5. Don’t let anyone pressure you into a premature buying decision 

Don’t Be in a Rush

We get it. RV shopping can be confusing!  There are so many different types of RVs and models within those types, and different sizes, and floorplans and prices, how are you supposed to choose the right RV for your needs?  The best advice when you’re buying an RV is to slow down.  Because the process is confusing, and involves a whole new vocabulary, you can become overwhelmed and over sold easily. 

The first step is to understand the different types of RVs and what makes them unique.  The major breakdown of RV types are RVs that can be driven, and RVs that must be towed. In addition to these two main categories, another type of RV rides on the back of a pick-up truck.  The drivable RVs are Class A, B, B+, C, and Super C, motorhomes. The towable RVs are 5th wheel trailers and travel trailers, (which includes hard sided travel trailers, and pop-up or soft sided trailers). Finally, the type of RV that is transported on a pick-up truck is a camper.

Make sure to research the right RV for you.

All of these types make up the whole set of recreational vehicles, but the words are often misused. It’s not uncommon to hear people refer to a travel trailer as a camper and there is some confusion about the differences between Class B+, Class C, and Super C RVs. Although drivable RVs are all some type of motorhome, that phrase is most often applied to Class A RVs and not B or C RVs.

To add further confusion to these categories, within these broad RV types are a wide variety of brands, sizes, floorplans, and price ranges.  RV’s range in price from a low-end of $10,000 to a high end of well over a million dollars. It should be your goal when buying an RV not to get tunnel vision about the price, so you can investigate all the different types, models, and floor plans to determine which will best meet your needs. 

Of course, the cost of an RV is one of the important elements you will need to consider but every type of RV has a wide range of prices and getting the right RV for your needs is more complicated than just the economic impact of the purchase. 


You don’t want to be like a couple we know who bought 5 different types of RV’s in the first six years of their marriage.  To their credit they were able to weather that storm and are still married, but buying the wrong type of RV, or the wrong size, will be a costly mistake if you need to trade it in for a different type. We have met numerous RVers that wished they had done more research before they bought their RV because as soon as they started using it, they realized it was too small, or too large, or had the wrong floor plan.  Many new RVers move too quickly without really taking the time to assess their own needs and preferences which leads to a disappointing outcome.

Know What You Really Need & What You Want

Some new RVers are locked into a fantasy of what RVing should be like.  They see themselves sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows with their van (class B RV) or pop-up trailer in the background.  They think RVing is about being outdoors, to enjoy hiking, kayaking or any number of outdoor activities, and all they need the RV for is to provide a sheltered place to sleep and to haul their gear.  This fantasy can lead to the purchase of an RV that is too small for their actual needs. 

Inside of RV

Make sure you know your needs before you go shopping for an RV.

The reality is that tiny RVs do provide a sheltered sleeping area but have very little room for anything else. The smallest RVs have virtually no extra room (or carrying capacity) for camping gear.  But the very nature of their size requires more “outdoor” activities (cooking, eating, recreating, etc.) but these outdoor activities also require more gear and the smallest trailers just don’t have any extra room for coolers, chairs, grills, and folding outdoor shelters.  The smallest trailers and campers have limited kitchens and cooking functions, small refrigerators, limited holding tanks, and many have no toilet or shower. 

If all you really need is a sheltered sleeping area, these small rigs will meet that need, but what would you do if you’re like a Canadian couple we encountered on the Oregon coast?  They had a small tear-drop trailer to support their outdoor adventure, but it rained continually for the week they were camped near us.  This couple sat in their trailer part of the time and the rest of the time they were in their car because the rain was unrelenting, and it was cold and windy outdoors.   

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve met several families who bought large 5th wheel trailers because they thought their kids needed all that extra space for clothes, toys, educational activities, and play space.  They quickly learned that they didn’t need an RV that large, and they also discovered that it was difficult to tow and to park the large 5th wheel.  We also met one couple whose RV was so large they needed to hire a heavy hauler (a commercial RV mover) to move the RV to the next place where they wanted to camp.  

When you are assessing what you need in your RV, think about who will be using the RV and how many people will need to sleep in it.  Will you use it occasionally or do you plan to use it frequently? Will you use your RV year around and in inclement weather? Will you be recreating with one or more pets in your new RV and if so, how will you accommodate the pets?  Do you need a limited or full galley (kitchen)?  How about the shower and toilet, will you need those features in your RV? 

RVs can be purchased with multiple bathrooms, a fireplace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, convection oven, built-in Wi-Fi, solar panels, and side by side residential grade refrigerators. But the question is what do you really need in your RV, and what other features would make the whole experience even more pleasant?  

Do Your Due Diligence

Once you fully understand the differences between various types of RVs and you have a vague idea of what type will work best for you, and what size and features you’ll need, it’s time to drill down on brands, floor plans, and prices.  This is the best time to start reading forums and looking at all the on-line RV publications like this site here at National Vehicle or RVTrader

Read, read, and keep reading, to learn about brands and models and what real RV owners are saying about their experiences with various models.  You can learn about features that are included on some models but not others. There are features you might never have thought to ask about, but once you know they are available they might be added to your “must have” list.  For example, some RV models offer an all-weather feature that includes weather proofing and insulation on the underside of the RV to prevent pipes from freezing and to help keep the RV warmer in the winter.

If you intend to camp in cold weather this might be a “must have” feature on your new RV.   In your research, perhaps you’ll learn that numerous RVers have had endless problems with the low-end models of a particular brand, but the more expensive models are fine.  You can read the pros and cons of all kinds of RV related issues, like new vs used RVs, or diesel vs gas motorhomes, buying an extended warranty or not, converting the battery system to lithium, and on and on.  The forums are an endless source of real time information from other RVers.  

Talking about buying RV

There are tons of resources out there to help inform you on RV buying!

When we bought our first RV in 1999, none of these on-line resources were available so we visited campgrounds and talked directly with many of the RV campers in the campgrounds.  We needed inside information from real RVers, not what the salespeople were telling us.  That is as true today in 2023 as it was before the turn of the century, but now you don’t have to drive to a bunch of campgrounds (unless you want to).

You can get this same candid information on the internet.  I can’t stress this enough.  The more time you spend investigating brands, models, and floor plans, the less frustration you will experience because you bought the wrong RV. Take your time and do your due diligence.

Expand Your Search

Historically (before the internet) when you were buying an RV you just looked at the inventory that was available from the RV lots near where you lived.  Dealerships knew selling you an RV would result in a long term service relationship and they knew there wasn’t any other way for you to see available new and used inventory rather than visiting other RV dealerships or consignment lots. 

However today, you can see virtually every RV for sale in the country, by searching the internet.  You can see both new and used inventory for every brand, model, size, and floor plan. It takes time to review these online resources but not as much time as visiting all the RV lots. 

Additionally, if you have narrowed your search criteria to your preferred type, brand, and size, it’s much easier.  However, if you haven’t spent any time in an RV it may be hard to imagine what they are like just from pictures, so you should still go to a few RV shows and dealerships to experience the actual size and comfort of various floor plans in real RVs.  Some floor plans might look great in pictures, but they are much smaller than they seem and just don’t resonate with your personality.  

Work from home RV

Expand your RV search and be open to different options!

You will only know that if you sit in the RV and imagine using it on a camping trip.  But when it gets down to really shopping for THE RV that you want to buy there’s no substitute for searching on-line.  First of all, there’s no salesman in your face trying to rush you into a premature decision.  On-line you can compare multiple RVs that meet your requirements even if they are across the country from each other. 

When we replaced our 1999 motorhome in 2019, we already knew we wanted another Class A motorhome and we had narrowed the brand down to two.  We were undecided on the option of a gas or diesel engine, but we knew if we bought a diesel pusher then it would have to be a used motorhome, because that’s what we could afford.  We also knew what our budget was, what colors we preferred, and what interior features we wanted in our new RV. This made shopping on-line much easier. 

Finally, we were not willing to compromise on the feature of an escape door on the motorhome.  This was a safety issue that was non-negotiable. Our criteria narrowed our countrywide search down to two RVs that met all our criteria.  There were over 160,000 RVs listed in all the on-line inventory, at that time, and we were able to narrow it down to two RVs. One was on the West Coast in San Diego and the other was near Orlando on the East Coast. 

Admittedly, our search was a little more straightforward than that of someone brand new to RVing, because we already had 20 years of RVing experience and by 2019 we were full-time RVers with over 120,000 miles traveled in an RV. We knew exactly what we liked and what we needed, but a person new to RVing might not be able to be that definitive. 

That’s why the first tip when buying an RV is to slow down because the whole process takes time. And online shopping is time consuming.  Use National Vehicle’s countrywide listings for used RV that are for-sale-by-owner or use RVTrader for new and used RVs for sale by dealerships. You can read all about every RV and see the pictures, but it’s still easy to get confused.  Fortunately, using on-line publications allows you to bookmark the RVs that seem right.  Keep going back to your bookmarked selections and take off the RVs that no longer satisfy your criteria so you can work toward a short list of potential target acquisitions. Take your time, let your mind clear for a day or two, then get back to it.  Just keep working through the on-line inventory until you have identified two or three possible purchasing options.

Don’t Let Anyone Pressure You

When you go to a dealership or an RV show to experience various RVs don’t get sucked into the deal of the day.  Of course, the salesperson will want to sell you something from their inventory and they have all kinds of incentives, discounts, bargains, and there’s always other interested shoppers looking at that very same RV.  These are all tactics to pressure you into making a buying decision, but don’t get sucked in.  There is no scarcity of RVs for sale anymore, so if you don’t buy the one they have on the lot, there are others, and a careful examination of the on-line inventory will probably show you two or three of that same model and floor plan that are available somewhere else, possibly for less money. 

The on-line inventory also gives you a bargaining chip if you do decide to buy a dealer’s RV.  If they know that you can just drive or fly to a different location and save 6 to 10 thousand dollars on an identical RV, it’s a great incentive to negotiate for a better price from the local dealer, plus they’ll probably gain a service customer for years to come.

Bonus Tip – Rent RVs to Confirm or Refute Your Fantasy

Buying an RV is a confusing process, at best, and an overwhelming challenge, at the worst.  But if you take your time, educate yourself about everything RVing, read everything you can about RVs on the forums and in RV publications, and check the reality of your RV fantasy, you will eventually be able to sort it out.  After you’ve narrowed the types of RVs to one or two that you think will be perfect for you, it’s time to compare the reality with the fantasy, by renting those types of RV for a few camping trips.  I strongly recommend this final step when buying an RV.

If you take the time to rent a few RVs you might avoid being one of those new campers who regrets getting an RV that is too large or too small or is missing some key feature you just can’t camp without. Renting is easy with on-line resources, and it will give you the real life information you need to confidently finalize your choice.

About Peggy Dent

Peggy Dent is an author, writer and full-time RVer, currently traveling in the US and Canada. She's driven a motorhome more than 130,000 miles and learned the secrets, delights, and pitfalls of RVing through her own experiences. She shares her knowledge and insights in numerous RV industry publications. You can contact her through her website at