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Updated on Friday, September 6, 2019
Ever dream of buying an RV? You’re not alone — about 10 million households in the United States already own an RV.“The popularity of RVing is at an all-time high because of the freedom and flexibility RVs offer,” said Kevin Broom, director of media relations at the RV Industry Association (RVIA). “With the same RV, people can take an array of trips, spend time having adventures with friends and family and form memories that will last a lifetime.”
When shopping for a unit, you’ll need to consider what type of RV suits your needs, how much time you plan to spend in the RV, whether you want to buy a new or used unit (or lease an RV) and how you plan to pay for it. This article will explain the costs of owning an RV, as well as how you can get your best price.
The costs of an RV
RVs have a huge range of prices, which vary depending on size, style and other factors, said Broom. As of the date of publishing, here are some estimates for a variety of new RVs, according to the RVIA:
- Folding camping trailers: $6,000 to $22,000
- Truck campers: $6,000 to $55,000
- Conventional travel trailers: $8,000 to $95,000
- Fifth wheel trailers: $18,000 to $160,000
- Type B and C motorhomes: $60,000 to $150,000
- Type A motorhomes: $60,000 to $500,0000
You may be able to save some money by opting for a pre-owned RV instead of a new one, added Julie Bennett, who, along with her husband Marc Bennett, authored the book “Living the RV Life: Your Ultimate Guide to Life on the Road,” and run the RV Success School.
“We have met people who spent less than $5,000 on their RV, and others who spent over $1 million,” said Marc Bennett. “Most of the people we have met that do extended travel in their RVs typically spend between $50,000 and $150,000 on their RV setup, which includes the cost of the truck and trailer, or a motorhome plus the vehicle that they tow.”
You generally don’t need a special license to drive or tow an RV, said Broom, but it’s not a bad idea to look into the laws in your state, especially if you’re buying a very large trailer or motorhome.
The RV, as well as the truck and trailer if the RV needs to be towed, is just one of the costs to consider. You’ll also need to budget for maintenance and repairs, taxes, insurance, vehicle registration, fuel and storage. These expenses can vary from state to state.
There are also an array of optional (though potentially desirable) add-ons, like roadside assistance and extended warranties, that can increase the bottom-line costs of RV ownership.
“RV dealers will try to upsell you on things like paint protection and other options you may not really need,” said Marc Bennett. “You’d be surprised how much all of this can add up, so do your homework in advance and know what you are getting yourself into before committing.”
What kind of RV should you buy?
One of the first things to consider when figuring out which type of RV you should buy is how often you intend to use it.
“If you only plan on RVing a few weeks a year for short vacations, it really doesn’t make sense to spend a whole lot,” said Julie Bennett. “If you’re planning on using your RV for extended travel or even live in it full-time, then it’s easier to justify a bigger investment.”
Here are some other questions you should ask yourself when shopping for an RV:
- Who will be traveling in the RV? A couple of retirees who are OK roughing it on the road might opt for a travel trailer, while a large family with pets may be better off with a camper van or motorhome.
- Where do you plan to take the RV? Julie Bennett suggests that potential RV owners think about whether they want to stay in campgrounds with hookups for electricity, water and sewage, or camp off-grid in more remote places, and find an RV that fits those needs.
- Do you need a special license for the RV? Large trailers or motorhomes may require a special license in certain states, said Broom.
- What “toys” are you bringing in your RV? You may need to splurge on a larger RV or motorhome if you plan to take bikes, ATVs, kayaks and other recreational gear on your adventures.
- Does the RV have a floor plan and layout that makes sense for you? “Pay attention to the things you will use most often,” advised Julie Bennett. “Is there sufficient counter space in the kitchen for making meals? Can you fit inside the shower and wash your hair?”
- How far will you take the RV? If you want to keep costs in check on long-haul trips, you might need to pay more attention to things like the weight and aerodynamics of the RV. You should also consider whether you want a diesel or a gas engine. Gas engines generally don’t get as much power or as efficient mileage as their diesel counterparts, but they tend to be less expensive.
Should you buy a new or used RV?
Every future RV owner is faced with one big question: Should you buy a new or a used RV? Here are some pros and cons to consider.
Pros and cons of buying a new RV
- You know the history of the RV. Buying a new RV means you don’t have to worry that a previous owner cut corners on care and maintenance.
- You can personalize the RV. “Some may like that they can choose their floor plan, layout, decor, color scheme and options, and some may want the latest technologies,” said Marc Bennett.
- You can avoid potential allergens. Does your child have a severe peanut allergy? There’s no guarantee a used RV doesn’t contain peanut residue from a previous owner, so you might be safer buying a new one.
- You’ll probably pay more. “Not only will you pay more for new, you will also see the sharpest dip in depreciation as soon as you drive it off the lot,” said Marc Bennett.
- You still may need to make repairs. Just because you’re buying a new RV doesn’t mean it will be trouble-free. “RVs are very complex, and built by hand in relatively low-tech facilities,” he added. “Once new RVs leave the dealer’s lot, they tend to need more repairs and fixes — much like a punch list on a new house build.”
Pros and cons of buying a used RV
- You’ll probably save money. The older an RV is, the more of an effect depreciation will have on its price tag, said Julie Bennett.
- It’s already broken in. The problems associated with a brand new RV may have already been taken care of by a previous owner, which could save you time and money on repairs.
- It might come with extras. People often include extra items when selling their RVs, said Julie Bennett. You may luck out with an upgraded suspension, RV gadgets or kitchenware at no additional cost.
- It comes with risks. If the previous owner didn’t maintain an RV properly, it may need new parts or repairs.
- You may need to renovate it. If an RV’s aesthetics are dated or simply unappealing, it’s on you to fix it up.
- It probably won’t have a factory warranty. You may need to shell out for repairs right away before you can drive the RV, said Julie Bennett.
Where can you buy an RV?
There are a variety of places to buy an RV — and according to Marc Bennett, you may need to travel far to find the right one at the right price: “We traveled thousands of miles when buying our first RV. Opening up geographically allows for much more selection,” he said.
Here are some of the places you can start your search for an RV:
- New RV dealerships: Looking to buy a new RV right off the lot? Then shopping at a new RV dealership might make the most sense. “Buying from a respected dealership might provide some peace of mind that they have checked the unit and it is ready to go,” said Marc Bennett.
- Used RV dealerships: Used RV dealers might not know as much about the history of a particular unit as its original owner. However, you may be able to purchase an extended warranty for some added protection.
- RV shows: RV shows offer the opportunity to see a wide variety of models in one place. Should you find the unit of your dreams at an RV show, you may be able to score special discounts.
- Private sales: Buying a used RV directly from its owner allows you to learn more about its history, maintenance and unique quirks, said Marc Bennett. “An owner will be able to share much more detailed information about the specific RV than a dealership,” he added.
- Online marketplace: Do you already know exactly what you’re looking for in an RV? An online marketplace could help you find it quickly. RVTrader.com and Craigslist are popular places to find private RV sales online, said Broom.
How do you get your best price on an RV?
The price tag on an RV can give you serious sticker shock. Luckily, there’s lots of room for negotiation, and you should not plan to pay the asking price, noted Marc Bennett.
“There’s no hard and fast rule about how much discount you can get on an MSRP [manufacturer suggested retail price],” he said, “but it is not uncommon to buy a new RV for 15% to 30% off the MSRP.”
Going into the negotiation armed with knowledge can help you get your best price on RV, added Julie Bennett.
“Get a few price comparisons on the RV you want to buy,” she said. “Know what questions to ask, know [what’s] a fair price for the RV you want, and keep an eye out for deals at certain times of year,” also noting that you may be able to get the best price when a dealer is clearing out old models to make room for new units.
If you can’t afford to pay cash, you may be able to take out an RV loan or secure other financing to make the purchase. Here are some ways to finance your RV:
- Dealership financing: Dealerships may offer financing through lending partners (such as a bank or credit union), or offer in-house financing. This is convenient, as you can get your RV and your loan all in one place. However, dealers may use this type of financing to bolster their bottom line, so if the rate offered isn’t competitive, you might find a better offer somewhere else. Additionally, dealership in-house financing, which is usually offered to people struggling to find financing elsewhere, can carry high interest rates.
- Banks, online lenders and credit unions: You may be able to secure an RV loan from an online lender, credit union, bank or other financial institution. Since dealers may not have partnerships with lenders you’re interested in, you may need to seek out quotes directly from the institutions themselves. Make sure to shop around to compare offers. Though credit unions may have lower rates, you’ll need to become a member.
- HELOC or home equity loans: You may be able to use a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or a home equity loan to secure the funds for an RV. With both of these options, you’re borrowing a portion of your home equity. Keep in mind that you’re putting your home on the line with this type of financing, so make sure you’re on firm financial footing before moving forward. However, because the loan is backed by collateral, interest rates tend to be lower. With either option you’ll also need to pay closing costs, a process that can take several weeks or longer.
The bottom line
RVs offer the freedom to travel the country on your terms. Whether you dream of a life on the road or you’re just looking to spend a couple of weeks in the great outdoors every summer, you can get an RV to make it happen.
Remember: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to finding or financing the RV of your dreams. Do your homework, know what you’re looking for and don’t be afraid to walk away from a bad deal. The right RV is out there waiting for you — and with enough legwork, you’ll find it.