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RV Buying 101: A Step-by-Step Guide to Buying an RV

Published on May 17th, 2023 by Chelsea Gonzales

Looking to buy an RV and join the RVing world? You’re in for a treat! RVers are some of the kindest and friendliest people out there, and RV travel is an absolute blast. But don’t jump into a sale just yet. Here are some things you’ll want to know before you start shopping for an RV. Read our Buying an RV guide to ensure the process goes smoothly and get you on the road as soon as possible. 

Below is a step-by-step guide to buying an RV. Follow these steps and you’ll be the proud owner of the perfect RV before you know it!

Step 1: Determine Your Budget When Buying an RV

Before you do anything else, you need to figure out how much you want to spend on your RV. Consider how much monthly payments will be, and be sure to include RV financing interest costs in your math. You’ll also want to take the cost of insurance and storage into consideration, as this could affect your buying budget.

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Remember, it’s always a good idea to budget less than you can actually afford. Give yourself plenty of cushion (and retain extra funds for adventures in the RV). Once you know about what you want to spend, go to your bank and get pre-approved for a loan. This will make the buying process easier down the line. 

truck and Small trailer boondocking in  rugged terrain.
First, figure out what kind of RV you can afford to buy.

Step 2: Choose the Best RV for You

Once you have a budget in mind, the next step is to figure out exactly what you’re looking for. This can be tough for beginner RVers. There are many, many different kinds of RVs on the market, and everyone has a different idea of what they want from their RV. Knowing what you want will help you narrow down your options as you shop and will help ensure you are happy with the rig you buy. 

  • First, think about the type of RV you’d like to own. Do you want a drivable RV like a motorhome? Or is a travel trailer a better pick for your needs?

If a travel trailer is appealing, do you know the size of camper your vehicle can tow? Or, will buy a truck to pull your trailer? Keep the vehicle’s towing capacity in mind when buying your RV.

Here’s a list of RV types (also called “RV Class”) to help you choose the best RV for you.

Class A Motorhomes

This is the largest type of driveable RV on the market. The typical class A looks much like a bus and tends to be the most upscale (and sometimes the most expensive) option. 

Class A Motorhome RV illustration
Class A Motorhome RV

Class B Campervans

Also known as a campervan, the class B is the smallest motorhome option. These tend to sleep 2–4 people and have very basic amenities. 

Class B RV Campervan illustration
Class B Campervan example.

Class C Motorhomes

The class C RV style is shaped a lot like a commercial moving truck. They usually have cab-over bunks and range from 19 to 33-feet in length. 

Class C RV illustration
Example of Class C motorhome

Travel Trailers

Bumper-pull travel trailers are towed from the back of your vehicle. They are usually hard-sided and sometimes include slide outs. That said, lighter-weight pop-up trailers, hybrid trailers, and A-frame trailers can also fall into this category. 

Travel trailer RV drawing
Example of a travel trailer RV

Fifth Wheel Trailers

Some of the biggest RVs out there are fifth wheels. These hitch to your truck bed, making them a bit easier to tow than a travel trailer. They are ideal for full time travel as they offer more space and amenities in some cases. 

Fifth wheel RV trailer example.
Fifth wheel RV trailer example.

Step 3: Consider RV Floor Plans and Amenities

After deciding which type of RV you want to buy, the next step is figuring out things like:

  • What floor plan might work best?
  • And what amenities do you really need to have?
  • Also, consider how many people will be sleeping in the rig, and whether you need to have a dedicated sleeping space for each person.

Start a list of must-have features and add to it as you shop around and see what is out there. 

If you can make it to an RV lot or RV show, locate any rigs you can that match your ideal floor plan. Once you see them in person, pretend to carry out tasks like cooking and using the shower in each one. This will help determine whether or not that floor plan will work for you.

Step 4: Is Buying an RV New or Used Better?

Okay, now you know how much you can spend, and what type of RV you’re looking to buy. Next, you need to decide whether you’d like to buy a brand-new rig or if a used RV might be a better pick. 

New RVs are nice because you can buy knowing nobody has broken anything. Additionally, they tend to include a warranty, and buying from a dealer can make financing a simpler process if you choose to finance through the dealer. 
However, we still think it’s best to buy a used RV. You will get a better bang for your buck when buying a pre-owned RV from a private party. While you likely won’t get an RV warranty, you will get an RV that has all of its “new RV kinks” worked out, something that can save you a lot of headaches.

If financing is keeping you from buying a private party RV, know that your bank or credit union can give you a loan to buy directly from a seller. In most cases, the interest rates offered by your bank will be better than those offered by a dealership. 

Step 5: Search for the Right Rig

Knowing what you want in an RV is only half the battle. The next piece of the puzzle? Actually finding that RV.

This step requires some patience, but with time you will almost certainly find a rig that checks all of your boxes and fits into your budget. 

Having trouble finding the right RV? Look outside of your hometown. Being willing to travel out of town or even buy an RV out of state will make it a whole lot easier to find what you’re looking for.

Step 6: Get an RV Inspection

Finding the RV you’re looking for can feel like finding a needle in a haystack, and it can be tempting to buy right away. Don’t do this. 

Before you agree to buy, you absolutely must have the RV professionally inspected. An inspector will help you spot potential problems that you might not even know exist. They can point out water damage from leaks, signs of pests, and other big issues that could be deal breakers.

Yes, an RV inspection service is definitely worth the extra time and money. 

Lady walking into an Airstream trailer
In many cases, banks offer better RV loan interest rates than RV dealers.

Step 7: Negotiate The Price

So you located a rig you want and had it inspected. Now you need to negotiate the price. Sure, you might be fine paying the price the seller is asking, but many private sellers are willing to go a bit lower. This is especially true if any minor issues were found during the inspection. It’s well worth attempting to negotiate the price before you finish out the buying process. 

Step 8: Close the Deal

Once a final price is set, the only thing left to do is close the RV deal. If you were pre-approved for a loan earlier in the process, this should be incredibly easy. Just go to your bank to get the loan and pay the seller. Sign all of the appropriate paperwork, secure your RV insurance, then head to the motor vehicles department to register the RV in your name.

RVer Insurance Exchange logo

Not sure where to begin searching for your dream RV? National Vehicle has tons of awesome gently used RVs to choose from. Not only that, they will also help you through the buying process, ensuring you are in your new-to-you rig and having a great time as soon as possible!

Need to sell your old RV before buying a different home-on-wheels? National Vehicle can help you with the selling process too, ensuring the whole transfer from one rig to another goes off without a hitch.

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