Choosing The Right RV; 7 Must-Know Details Before Buying An RV for the First Time

couple hugging with new rv in background after buying an RV for the first time

Buying an RV is an exciting time. 

Are you buying an RV for the first time? You may feel as though you’ve gotten in over your head. Not to worry, we’re here to help you understand how to choose an RV, so you can get the perfect rig for you and avoid bad situations. 

When shopping for an RV there are five key considerations to keep in your mind to avoid future problems, headaches, or buyer’s remorse. The considerations are as follows and should be processed in this order.

  • intended use
  • financing
  • engineering
  • manufacturer support
  • value (instead of price)

Many people who don’t fully understand how to choose an RV only consider some of these elements and often in the wrong order. They go to an RV show and start looking at the prices of various RVs, then base their purchasing decision solely on these price comparisons. 

The result? Shoppers who inadvertently purchase RVs with low quality components and questionable engineering, rigs of the wrong style or size, and/or a camper that doesn’t satisfy any of their camping objectives.

#1. Type

To correctly begin the RV shopping process, you need to ask yourself what type of RV will best meet your needs. This can be tricky if you’re buying an RV for the first time, so be sure to research the types of RVs available to you. 

You might need a fifth wheel or you might feel more comfortable with a pop-up trailer. Some find a class A motorhome is for them and others go with campervans.Only you will know which style RV will satisfy all your specific needs.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you prefer a towable or driveable RV?
  • Can your current vehicle tow a trailer safely?
  • How much effort are you willing to put into setup and tear down? 
  • Are you able to maintain another engine?
  • What appointments are needed in the galley (refrigerator, stovetop, microwave)?
  • Is a wet bath (toilet and shower) necessary?

The answer to these questions should inform your purchasing decision. If you rush out and buy the wrong RV, you may be trading it in on a different RV in short order. We know a couple who had 5 different types of RVs in the first 6 years of their marriage.

Be sure to find out what type of RV fits your needs before buying.

#2. Size

Once you know what type of RV you want, you’ll need to figure out what size you’d like to go with. This will affect how many people you can bring along, how much you can pack, and how difficult the rig is to drive and park. 

It will also determine where you are able to park the RV. For instance, a campervan can fit into pretty much any campsite or parking space out there and can easily blend in with other vehicles. Meanwhile, a fifth wheel will not do so well in smaller parking lots and you’ll even find that some state and national park campgrounds cannot accommodate the biggest rigs. 

Questions to ask yourself to determine how big or small your RV should be include:

  • How many people will need to sleep in the RV?
  • How much storage is needed for your RVing lifestyle?
  • What kinds of campsites do you intend to stay in?
  • What size rig are you comfortable driving?

Use your answers to figure out a size range that is most comfortable for you before buying an RV for the first time. 

Be sure to find out what size and type of RV fits your needs before buying.
Many factors can effect your RV loan.

#3. Financing

Another consideration is your financial situation. Many people can’t buy an RV outright so they need financing, but some restrictions apply, and you should be informed about those restrictions.  

For example, the age or mileage of a used RV may limit your ability to obtain financing. Additionally, your creditworthiness, the condition of the RV, and your intended use may also impact your ability to secure financing. Finally, a 20% down payment and the impact on your monthly budget must also be considered.

#4. Engineering

There’s a huge difference between being show-room ready and road-ready in terms of the engineering of an RV. Just because an RV looks great at the RV show doesn’t mean that it is well engineered. This is a consideration you’ll need to investigate during your RV shopping on your own in forums, buyer’s guides, and by talking with other RV owners. 

Don’t rush this process. Take your time to fully investigate all the engineering aspects of various models. I would also recommend talking to RV technicians who routinely service a wide range of models and manufacturers. Poor craftsmanship and poor engineering will lead to years of frustration, and costly repairs, and could even be dangerous. 

We know a family whose 5th wheel caught on fire in the first month of their ownership. Fortunately, they all escaped unharmed, but the RV was badly damaged, and both the dealership and manufacturer were reluctant to take responsibility for this narrowly avoided disaster, which brings me to the next major consideration, manufacturer support.

#5. Manufacturer’s Reputation

All RV manufacturers are different, even though the industry is consolidating into just a few mega-manufacturers. Some RV brands are well known for their customer support and others are just looking for a quick sale. Many of the latter offer low priced RVs and they’re counting on volume sales (not satisfied repeat customers) to sustain their business growth. 

To learn more about which brands stand behind their products, you can get some insights by reading RV buyers guides and through online research and forums such as or brand specific forums. Also, talking with RV owners and service techs will quickly reveal which brands have a good reputation.

Newmar, Tiffin, Airstream, Winnebago, and Pleasure-way are all brands that have maintained a good reputation for decades. But you will need to do your own due diligence during your RV shopping process regarding the brands and models you are considering. The year, model, and manufacturer may all be variables that impact the functionality and reliability of your next RV. 

Shop carefully for good engineering and reputable brands with a history of customer satisfaction. Not all RV manufacturers are customer service oriented. Do your own research before choosing an RV brand.

Not all RV manufactures are customer service oriented. Do your own research before choosing an RV brand.

#6. Age

Quality is an important part of how to choose an RV, but age is also a key factor that should be considered when choosing an RV. Obviously, there is the option of buying new, but in our opinion, because of depreciation, this is never the way to go. Instead, it’s best to buy used, but never too old. 

What is considered too old in the world of used RVs? Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid RVs that are getting close to the 10 year mark and we actually recommend staying pretty far from that line. In our opinion, anything between 2 and 5 years old is worth checking out. You will, of course, want to make sure the rig is in excellent condition and keep both age and condition in mind when deciding what you’re willing to pay. 

#7. Price vs Value

The final consideration when shopping for an RV is the price of the RV. But instead of thinking about just the out-of-pocket purchase price, you need to consider the lifetime expense of RV ownership. The sticker price is a fraction of the overall cost which may include warranty costs, insurance, roadside assistance, storage, maintenance, and repairs over the life of your ownership. Price and value are vastly different considerations.

Value is defined in this formula. Value = benefit – (cost + hassle).

This formula applied to the purchase of an RV would read as follows.

The value of your RV is equal to your total benefit (or enjoyment of the RV) minus the combined sum of the purchase price plus all the hassle you encounter as a result of that RV ownership.

The bottom line… if you pay more for an RV but it’s virtually hassle free, your enjoyment is increased and so is the value of that purchase. On the other hand, if you have to take your RV to a mechanic after every outing, to get some new problem fixed, that hassle lowers your benefit and consequently it lowers the value of your RV.

When you’re buying an RV for the first time (or for the 10th time), figuring out how to choose an RV can be overwhelming. However, if you consider these 7 factors and you’re committed to purchasing a well-engineered RV from a reputable manufacturer, the RV you purchase should provide years of enjoyment and you will enjoy the real value of your investment.

National Vehicle has a wide selection of used RVs to choose from.

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