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Stef and I have a lot of interaction with our readers and YouTube viewers, and we like it that way. We enjoy sharing our knowledge of RVs and fitness. But when we find ourselves sharing the same knowledge over and over, that tells us that many of you have the same questions. And when lots of people have the same question, one-to-one email isn’t the best way to handle it. We get a lot of our best ideas for posts this way – it’s like taking a pulse and then acting on it.
Which brings us to this post. Our site has grown to the point where I now get several emails per day like this:
My wife and I are planning on buying an RV about a year from now and doing some traveling. Can you tell us what features are absolutely necessary for us to have in our RV, and which ones are “nice to have?” We’ve done some research online, and are interested in models from 18 to 36 feet in length, and we’re gravitating toward either “Brand A” or “Brand Nothing At All Like A”. You’ve seen a lot of models, can you compare those two manufacturers and give me a list of pros and cons for each?
Thanks for doing all this free work for the RV community,
Prospective RV Buyer
And so, in response to these queries, I now present to you
My 8 Step Program
I’ll make a couple of assumptions here, and the first is – if you’ve found this site, you’re primarily interested in smaller motorhomes. By this, I mean either Class B or small Class C RVs. The following may be good advice for purchasing a larger RV, but since we’ve never done it, I can’t say for sure.
The second assumption is that you’re looking at models from what I’ll call mainstream manufacturers. These are the names you’ll find on my Class B Manufacturer List, for example. RVIA members. This advice might not apply to one-off custom shops, or to self-build enthusiasts.
And finally, I’m going to assume you’re interested in buying new. There are a lot of other considerations that come into play when purchasing a used vehicle. There are also a lot of other considerations that come into play when purchasing a used house. Buying a used RV combines the two, and that’s just too much to tackle in a blog post.
Well, now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s on to
Step 1: Stop thinking about RVs
At first, you shouldn’t be thinking about specific models, or manufacturers. You see, nobody buys an RV just to own an RV. (Well, OK, maybe some people do, but I can’t help them.) People generally buy RVs to do something. And that’s what you should think about first and foremost. What do you want to do with your vacation time? How are you planning to use an RV to achieve that goal? In software development, we call this a use-case. And while it may seem academic, if people would start here, it would really help them narrow down what’s important, and prevent them from looking at the wrong RV.
Examples of the kinds of questions to ask yourself at this step are:
- Will you be staying mostly in RV parks, or in remote locations (boondocking)? The capabilities of RVs vary widely in this regard, from getting there to staying there.
- How many travelers will you be bringing? While most small motorhomes can handle two seat-belted occupants, many offer more, and you’ll want to know if this is a consideration for you.
- Who’s going to drive the vehicle? If you’re planning on sharing the driving, you had better look at models that both of you are comfortable driving.
- Will you be taking longer trips (3 weeks or more) or shorter trips (2 weeks or less)? Things that might be workable compromises for 10 days (like composing a bed out of seat-back cushions every night) can become unbearable irritations over the course of ten months.
- Will you be traveling year round, or in the cold? Cold weather capabilities of RVs vary a lot as well. If you plan to follow the warmth, or store the RV for the winter, perhaps those things don’t matter.
- Will you be taking the RV into an urban environment? If you plan to see the sights in the heart of a metropolis, something like the ability to Parallel Park takes on a whole lot more importance.
- Do you have any special storage needs? Stef and I travel with expensive bikes that we like to keep inside. This one requirement seriously limits our choices in RVs. Dog kennels, trade-show supplies – all these can come along in the RV, but it works out better if you’ve bought the RV with those in mind in the first place.
- Are you planning on pulling a trailer? Stef and I avoid it at all costs, but we know of other small motorhome owners who pull trailers for kayaks, bikes, or just general camping supplies. The towing capacities of small motorhomes vary greatly. Knowing how much you need to tow is not something to figure out after you’ve bought the motorhome.
And that’s just a partial list. Depending on what your answers to those questions are, there are obviously lots of follow on questions.
When working these things out – don’t be afraid to be specific. This is YOUR motorhome, YOUR vacation, YOUR dream! Spell out exactly what you want at this stage. Maybe someone makes such an RV, and maybe they don’t, but now is not the time to limit your thinking with model years and manufacturers. You owe it to yourself to have these types of questions answered before you reach out to someone for help, because these are things that ONLY YOU can answer.
Once you feel like you’ve got a solid handle on what you’d like, it’s time for a reality check with
Step 2: If you’ve never owned an RV – rent one!
I’ll be honest here – renting RVs is kind of expensive. It’s one of the reasons Stef and I wound up buying one. But the cost of renting an RV is just a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of buying one. And this is an absolutely essential and worthwhile step.
You see, there are things you won’t know about RVing until you’ve actually done it, at least in some form. And it’s not important at this stage that you rent the exact type of motorhome you’re thinking of buying. Class C RVs are easy to find and rent, while Class Bs are more difficult to find on rental. But it’s important to just get out there and rent something – anything – and RV.
Obviously, it’s a good idea to capture as much of your use-case as possible with your rental. But, you know, if your dream is to spend 3 years touring all of North America, that’s not economical from a rental perspective. But do rent for something longer than a weekend. Stay a while. You’ll learn a lot. And I mean things like:
- Is that 24 foot motorhome on a truck chassis easy to drive, or did your significant other drive it for ten minutes and refuse to get behind the wheel ever again? Do you need to rethink your plan for splitting the driving?
- How did it go getting along in a small space for a week? Stef and I do fine here, but hey, it’s not for everyone.
- Did you realize that one of you gets up early, and you need a floor plan that can close off the sleeping space from the living space – with something more than a curtain?
- Speaking of getting up, how was getting out of the bed? Did you have to climb over your partner? Or get out of bed at the head or foot of the bed? Those things can be difficult. Imagine doing them for weeks at a time.
- Did you watch that outdoor entertainment system with the subwoofer and the 28 inch TV, or not? How about the oven? Sure, it seems cool, but did you use it?
- How did it go with the bathroom? Would a split bath arrangement work better for you? How about showers? If your rental RV had a shower, did you use it? Or did you find yourself using campground showers? Why?
- Did you have enough storage space? Did you have too much – and wound up bringing many things that you never used? Storage is a big differentiator in RVs, so this one is important.
There are lots of other things you’ll find out as you try out RVing. And you’d be doing yourself a pretty big disservice if you bought an RV without knowing them. So please, don’t skip this step. There’s just no substitute for the experience, especially if you’ve never had it before.
And one final word here. If this really is the first time you’ve tried RVing, you may be intimidated by learning to use the RV systems. (Like – what am I supposed to do with 33 gallons of human waste?) This is completely normal, and would happen with ANY RV. Don’t let it cloud your judgement. And the good news here is that RVers are generally a friendly bunch, so just ask for help. Most of us would be thrilled to help out a newcomer.
And with that experience under your belt, It’s time to move on to:
Step 3: Now, you can think about specific features
Notice, I said “features”, not “models”… yet.
RVing, like most things in life, involves compromises and trade-offs. LOTS of them. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of features and compromises in a single RV. So if you start comparing models before you have a solid list of what features you want or need, it’s easy to get off track. The idea here is to get your “must”, and “must not” out on paper.
There are lots and lots of features that can be built into or left out of RVs. Based on your use case from Step 1, and your experience from Step 2, list out all the RV features that you need, want, or even just like. Don’t worry about putting them in order yet. Also include things you’ve realized you can’t abide, maybe on a second list. Just brainstorm and get them all out. Here are some examples of the kinds of things you might think about at this stage:
- Tankless Water Heaters – yes, the ability to take an endless shower is completely cool. But how cool is an endless shower with only 22 gallons of fresh water for drinking, cooking, and showering? If your use case doesn’t have you in RV parks with water hookups, maybe this is something you can skip. And if the 6 gallon water heater in your rental did the job just fine, you can make this call from experience.
- Solar panels – If you ran out of battery power in your rental, this may have worked its way up your list. On the other hand, if your use-case has you with full hookups most nights, it might be a waste of money.
- Sleeping arrangements – How did that go for you with the corner bed in your rental? Do you both need access to an aisle for mid-night breaks? A twin-bed floor plan, though unromantic, might suit your needs here. And was sheeting and un-sheeting the bed every day a hassle? If so, you’ll want “permanent bed” on your list of must haves.
- Tank sizes – Did you want to take your rental to the lake for five days, but broke camp at 3 because you ran out of water? Some of that, you can learn to work around by using your water more efficiently, but to some extent – you are who you are. Do larger tanks figure into your list of features?
- Winter-ready – maybe you got to try this and maybe you didn’t. Maybe after RVing for 4 days in Texas in August, you can’t imagine ever RVing in the heat again! If this is (still) important to you, get it on to your list.
- Length or maneuverability – You should have tried (with your rental) to go to someplace you would typically like to go. Were you able to get the rental in and out without too much difficulty? Was your rental so small you felt cooped up? From these experiences, you should be able to get a rough idea of what length of RV you would like.
To make a probably poor analogy, I like to think of this as the “ingredients” bit of ordering dinner. Every item on a menu is composed of the same, limited set of ingredients. They’re just combined and arranged in different ways. Personally, I can’t stand raw tomatoes (they’re evil). And I love nuts in all shapes and sizes. So when I look at a menu, I automatically filter it with my mental list of ingredients and immediately drop from consideration anything with raw tomatoes. That’s what you’re doing here – figuring out your nuts, and your raw tomatoes. Then, it’s time for
Step 4: Put that list of features in order
Yes, I know this seems pretty academic as well, but here’s the deal. I can guarantee you that you’re NOT going to get everything you want in your RV. You are most definitely going to have to make compromises. Having your list ordered will let you know – quickly – what you’d be willing to trade off for what. If you know this up front, looking at different models and choosing one becomes much easier.
Let’s say you really want a large black tank. Like over 30 gallons large. And let’s also say that you’ve also decided that you desperately want to take your RV into remote, off the grid campgrounds, so it needs to be short. I can tell you from experience that 30+ gallon black tanks on Class B RVs are pretty rare. I can also tell you that Class B RVs are going to be more maneuverable than just about any class C. So knowing that “maneuverability” is more important than “I don’t wanna empty the black tank very often,” well that would guide you towards a true Class B. That’s just one example of how this ranking will come in handy.
And now, I’m going to geek out on you. If you’re looking at your list and having a hard time putting it in order, I’ll make a pitch to use a “paired comparison” tool to do your ranking.
Basically, this takes the task of ordering a list, and breaks it down to just comparing two items at a time, and deciding which one is more important. There are lots of calculators online to help you if you want to do a little looking, but here’s my over-simplified explanation with a diagram.
- Make a grid. If you have 10 items to rank, the grid should be 10×10.
- List your items to be ranked down the header column, and across the header row.
- Blank out the diagonal, and all the cells below the diagonal.
- Compare the items in each remaining row/column combination, imagine you can only have one of them, and write the winner in the box.
- Complete all the boxes.
- Count up the number of times each item won. Order your list by the number of wins.
- If you have a tie – look to the direct comparison between those two items to decide the winner.
If I took our “what are we really looking for in our next RV” list and ran a paired comparison for it, it would look like this:
And from that, you can see that I’ve got 4 “A”s, 3 “E”s, two “D”s, and one “B”. So the final ranking would be:
- Under 24 feet long
- Indoor bike storage
- 4 season capability
- Permanent bed
- Dry Bath.
Which, considering what we bought, works out nicely! It really doesn’t take that long to do, and once you get the hang of the technique, you’ll start using it all the time. And when you’ve got an ordered list of the things you want in your RV, move on to
Step 5: Make a list of models you would consider
Based on the emails I receive, 90% of people skip steps 1 through 4, and jump in right here. Please don’t do that! An RV is too large of a purchase to decide on an impulse (at least it is for us). Figure out what you need and want, and have your wants in a row before starting on this step.
But the good news is that this step is FUN! (That’s why most people start here – it’s like skipping right to dessert.) Once you get the bug, it’s tough to resist going online and daydreaming yourself into motorhome after motorhome. It’s good, clean fun. I honestly don’t blame folks for getting sucked in – it would be hard to get through steps 1 through 4 without having looked online for at least a few motorhomes, and developing some preferences.
The difference for you, if you’ve done steps 1 through 4, is that you’ll be going in with a solid understanding of what you want and need in a motorhome, and you won’t be as likely to get sucked in by a sales pitch, a slick video, a feature that shows cool but you really won’t use, or a floor plan that looks open and inviting in the Virtual Reality 360 video, but really isn’t the best fit for you.
There are a number of online sources for checking out potential RVs. I’ll humbly suggest our own “RV Reviews” as a starting point for inspiration. There are other YouTubers reviewing RVs as well – you just have to find one that you think you can trust.
The manufacturer’s web sites are an obvious place to gather info on specific models, and they should be pretty authoritative. If you’re looking for a true Class B RV (and you should know this by now), The Fit RVs own Class B Manufacturer List is a good place to start. Class C manufacturers are more numerous and vary widely in terms of what they offer, so you’ll need to do some searching if that’s the direction you’re leaning.
If you happen across the motorhome that meets all of your desires, and has all of the features you’re looking for, more power to you! But more likely, this is where you’ll find yourself making trade-offs with each RV you look at. One RV might have everything you want… except for those really small tanks. How important is tank size to you? You should know. And based on that, you can either include or exclude the model from further consideration.
That’s just an example. You’ll be making decisions like that all the time as you winnow down your list of potential RV models. This is why it’s so important to actually complete steps 1 through 4, and to go about this from the perspective of your own personal needs and wants. It’s too easy to be paralyzed by all the choices otherwise.
Your goal for this step is to narrow the entire world of RV choices down to 3 to 5 models that might work for you. If you have more than that; you haven’t been critical enough in your thinking. And if you have fewer than that; you might not wind up with enough to work from. So shoot for 3 to 5 models going into the next step, which is even more fun
Step 6: Visit an RV show
Maybe you were lucky enough in Step 2 to actually have rented one of the models that’s on your short list. But you probably weren’t. So now, it’s time to go find them. The easiest and best way to do that is at an RV show.
We’ve written before about the benefits of going to an RV show, and everything we said in that post still holds true. If you’re going through this process, an RV show is probably the easiest way to knock out as many of your short-list coaches as you can. They can be from different manufacturers, from different dealerships, or even different countries. You can likely find them at a decent sized RV show.
Another benefit of visiting an RV show is that there’s a little less pressure. Oh make no mistake about it: the dealers are at an RV show to sell RVs, for sure. But unlike going to an RV dealership, where you’ll likely have a sales person following you around to even let you inside RVs; at an RV show, the RVs are all open. And there are usually so many people there that the sales folks are spread pretty thin. These two things make visiting an RV show less stressful than visiting an RV dealership.
If you’d like to read what an RV show is like from the perspective of a sales person, check out the blog I wrote about my experience as an RV salesman. And, after reading that, if you’d like to buy an RV from me next year at Pomona… let’s talk! (lol)
Oh, and another thing, RV shows happen all the time! It shouldn’t be that difficult to find one. Remember, our hypothetical reader from the introduction was looking to buy an RV in about a year. An RV is a big purchase, so somewhere in your budget you need to include a little time and pocket money for this field trip.
While you’re at the RV show, you have objectives. You need to actually get inside and spend some time in the RVs on your short list. You could be spending a lot of time in this motorhome, so while you’re there, you want to try to mimic some of the ways you envision using it and see if it works in real life, and for you. Not just on paper. Some of the things you might do at this stage include
- Hop into the shower and pretend (please, oh please just pretend) that you’re using it. Can you wash your ankles without spilling out of the shower? Can you wash your hair without banging your elbows on the shower walls?
- Maybe a bit embarrassing, but try sitting on the commode. If your knees prevent the bathroom door from closing, well, you’ll need to decide what to do about that…
- Try out the driver’s seat (both of you, if you intend to share the driving). Take some time and adjust it to a reasonable driving position. Sit there for 10 minutes. Still comfortable? Are you really tall? Is it even possible to get the driver’s seat comfortable for you?
- Did you give yourself a concussion getting up from the driver’s seat to get into the rear of the coach because of a low overhang?
- Lie down on the bed as you would sleep. Is it long enough? Get up while trying not to disturb a partner. Is that even possible? Do you hit your head if you sit up suddenly?
- Pretend to cook something. Is the fridge low to the ground? Can you get into it without contorting yourself in a narrow aisle?
- If the model has slides, ask to put them in. This is how the motorhome will look when traveling. Would there be times when you couldn’t put out a slide? If so, can you still use everything with the slide in?
- If you intend to watch TV, sit down where you think you would, and try to watch the TV (or just look at, if it’s not on). Is it in a comfortable position? Did you sprain your neck to see it?
- Try to get into any exterior storage compartments. Are they accessible (to you)? Did you smack your head on a slide-out in the process? Did you drop the door on your fingers? Good things to know.
There are lots more things you should be doing and looking for when you’re narrowing down your short list of RVs, but they will be governed by what’s important to you. I can’t give you your own personal list of tests, and I shouldn’t.
The end goal at the RV show is to further narrow down your list of possible choices. It’s an elimination game, mostly. And by now, you’re pretty much getting to be an expert on what YOUR motorhome should be and look like.
It’s also likely that you’ll come away from the RV show with questions about particular models. Questions like: “How do people deal with that weird shower curtain?” or “I know what the factory rep said, but how much power can you really get from that RV solar charging system?” If you have those kinds of questions, it’s time to move on to
Step 7: Ask Questions. Good Ones. Of owners, if possible.
Without a doubt, the best sources of information on how a motorhome works out in actual use are the owners of the motorhomes themselves. The factory can tell you that the water heater is six gallons. But only another owner can tell you if you can wash long hair or take back to back showers with that. Those should be the kinds of questions you’re prepared to ask now, and those are the kinds of topics that owners love to share their experience about.
It shouldn’t be too hard to find other owners to ask questions of online. Our own Winnebago Travato has an owner’s group on Facebook. I know Pleasure-Way, and RoadTrek have similar groups on Facebook as well. There are other forums for other makes as well, and search engines are your friend in finding them.
If you have questions or concerns about the chassis that a motorhome is built upon, there are online forums for most of the major chassis, too. Having owned each, I know I’ve visited the Sprinter-Source and the ProMaster forum on many occasions.
Some RV manufacturers also have ambassador programs, for lack of a better word. These are owners who have agreed to share their experience on a call or meet-up that can be arranged by the manufacturer. You’d have to call the factory directly to find out if there are any ambassadors near you, or if the maker you’re interested in even has such a program.
There are also other online groups (google groups, yahoo groups, etc) that can be valuable sources of information for you.
In addition to Step 5, a lot of people like to jump in directly to this step as well. The key thing for you, if you’ve completed the previous steps, is that you can ask intelligent and specific questions. You’ll get much better answers that way, and you’re much less likely to be directed to the group’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) post. Here are examples of the right and wrong kinds of questions to ask:
Bad Question: I have a dog. Should I buy model G or model K?
Don’t ask this question. You owe it to yourself to pick the model that best meets YOUR needs, based on YOUR investigation and YOUR circumstances. DON’T ask a group of virtual strangers to sway you one way or another. You don’t need the RV that works for them. You need yours!
Good Question: Is the cab air conditioning in model G enough to cool the rear of the van where my dog crates will be? Or will I need to run the house AC while underway?
Perfect question to ask! You’ve clearly thought through the floor plans and selected the one that makes the most sense for you. You’re asking something only an owner, who’s had the coach on a trip, would be able to answer. You’ll probably also get answers from other owners who take their pets along about what works for them, where do they keep the water dish, etc.
Those are just examples, but don’t sweat it too much. Almost all of the RV owners I’ve met would be happy to share their opinions and experience. In reality, the only bad question is the one that’s left unanswered to you.
The other thing you’ll find out during this step is what sort of reputation the different manufacturers have with their owner community. Different RV manufacturers are known for impeccable quality, solid wood cabinetry, off-road toughness, technological wizardry, amazing warranties, outstanding value… the list goes on. You’ll pick up on these kinds of things just by hanging out in their owner’s groups. (The online term for it is “lurking”.) If some of those attributes are important to you – if “warranty strength” was on your list of features – then this is where you’re going to learn about those things first hand.
And a final word of caution about the owner’s groups. You will hear about people reporting problems. RVs are complex machines and any manufacturer might have something slip out the door that they wish they had caught. DON’T be scared away just because someone reports a problem. The majority of problems from the majority of manufacturers are resolved satisfactorily. And if you have a problem, the odds are it will be dealt with professionally and in a reasonable time frame.
The only time I would be concerned is if I saw a persistent pattern of problems, and it didn’t seem like the manufacturer was doing much to address them. If calls to Customer Service go unanswered, for example, that would be a red flag to me.
The end goal of this step is to answer any remaining questions you might have about the models you are considering. Ideally, you have it narrowed down to just one or two models after this step. You’ll know you’re ready if:
- You don’t feel any nagging doubts that you’ve made the right choice.
- You’re not waiting to see what’s in next year’s model before you decide.
- It doesn’t matter if a new model from a different manufacturer is introduced tomorrow.
- You feel good about what you’ll be getting for the price you anticipate spending.
And notice that now, over five thousand words in, I’ve mentioned price for the first time. That’s because it’s finally time to head to a dealership and wrap things up with
Step 8: Buy yourself an RV and hit the road!
There are so many variables that come into play here; I’m not going to tackle it in this piece. But ultimately, this is where you want to get to. There are numerous other resources online that cover the process of actually negotiating and buying a motorhome, so I won’t try to duplicate all of that knowledge here.
As RV bloggers, our purchase process is likely to be very different from what you might experience. And that’s OK. What I’m more concerned about is not if you got 22% vs 24% off of MSRP. No. What I’m concerned with is that – whatever you paid – you got the right motorhome for you.
So, if you’ve made it this far, you must be pretty serious about selecting the right RV for yourself. Congratulations! If you follow the steps I’ve outlined above, you’re much less likely to get into your first RV only to realize you would have rather had something else. That would be a terrible waste of time and money.
Because ultimately, it’s not about picking an RV, or buying an RV, or owning an RV. That’s not why you’re here. It’s really about getting out there and doing something. The RV is just the wonderful vehicle that makes it all possible.
Here’s to getting out there and living out your possibilities!
Thank you for the wonderful detailed information when considering purchase of an RV. This is a big help. I am considering buying an RV and my husband has tasked me to get all the information together. I had no idea where to start, now I do. You hit the nail on the head when you said rent one first to see if RVing is a fit for us. So that will be the first step for us. Hopefully this will lead to our first RV. Thank you again for the wonderful information.
We’re so glad you found it helpful! It’s a lot to take in, but hopefully you’ll make a good decision.
I liked how you asked where you’ll be staying? My daughter has been talking about living in an RV park or traveling from park to park over the next year or so. It seems like knowing this could help her to choose the right RV for that kind of lifestyle.
Where is the Wish List in condensed form. (Just hard to copy from video to text).
If you’re talking about our own personal list of wants in an RV, you can find it here: https://www.thefitrv.com/blog/starting-the-search-for-our-next-rv-yikes/
Great program for first timers. My wife and I bought our first RV this past year. We bought it in December, which is great for buyer financing incentives and perks as we purchased with no payments/free storage until May and a big discount. We bought a prior year model that had been used as a RV dealership rental unit for one season which resulted in an additional discount. Since this is a new experience, we started out with a very basic model that meets the needs of people going from a tent to a camper so we didn’t buy more camper than we needed or wanted. One consideration was that we needed a weekender camper to get away within 1-3 hours from home so no long road trips and extended stays. We decided on the Keystone Hideout LHS175 for just under $10k and it fits our camping lifestyle and budget perfectly.
Truly James and Stef. OUTSTANDING JOB on reviews and reports, Thanks.
Something a bit new for myself as I have not seen anything written and I do a lot of RV reading. Most folks like myself buy RV’s down the road in the same Cities and States. I have learned that some BIG RV Dealerships do not or may not buy the unit or RV of your interest due to sales speeds. Now finding that special RV with that floorplan, colors maybe found in another STATE. Now comes a possible holding fee, Airfare, Rent-a-car and Hotel to all be considered. Then there may be a buddy who will drive to the dealership with you and help with suggestions, and then after the sale is STATE TAXES, Braking-in speeds. For myself I’m looking to fly up to OHIO from South Florida. The best direct flight is over 300-miles to the RV and about 30-miles to a nearby HOTEL. I’m trying to hit most of the big things one can run into doing this kind of RV shopping when making a long trip flying or driving for that special RV Selection. But you guys know this stuff i’m sure much better than myself. LOTS to think about buying an RV out of STATE. My wife and I will enjoy the trip i’m sure, just a very new way for me in buying that special RV. Hope you may have some more suggestions? Thanks enjoy reading your stuff very much.
Sounds like you’re certainly willing to go the extra mile (or 300) to get the right RV. That’s fantastic!
We don’t really get into the purchase process very much here. It’s like buying a car… and a house… in the same transaction. Lots to cover.
There are other resources on the internet that cover the RV purchase process.
But it sounds like you’ve very well informed, which is 90% of the battle. Good luck!
Wow, we have been RV’ing for just over 20-years and only in the Big Class A’s. I’m almost 70-years old and all your tips are just outstanding and wish we knew what all you have stated here above. This should be a booklet for all new RV’ers. Loved the graf ideas, and trying out inside area as if using them. We are also downsizing for faster on and off the road times. And staying in hotels while visiting sport Events, as well as touring. Thank you for a wonder must read by current RV’s to help others or just making that first RV punches.
I’m glad to hear that even someone with as much experience as you have still found something of value in the process.
James, I do most every time I read one of your post. Your a good writer not like me almost 70-years old and still trying to keep up. Your tips and advice I find to be clear, understandable and with keen incite. As for being an EXPERIENCED I wish. NO Sir, I can not tell you how much I do enjoy your post really. Thanks for all you both do in the world. Also my daughter lives out their in Salt Lake City. Wonderful area. Stay well keep up the grate work. BOTH OF YOU!!!
You’re too kind. 🙂
I had no idea that the Promaster was front drive. I can see how that would be advantageous, especially for folks who aren’t used to driving large RWD vehicles. But, what stands out in my mind is that the Promaster is a Fiat and has poor reliability ratings. In my mind, I’ve settled on a Ford Transit chassis for the greater reliability ratings than Dodge, and a larger repair network and lower price than the Sprinter. But, in the context of a vehicle that won’t be a daily driver, reliability ratings might not need to be weighed so heavily; Transit-based RVs are higher priced than Promaster-based, and the significantly higher upfront cost could end up making it more expensive than a Promaster plus some repairs. So, I’m curious, how reliable has your Promaster been? Am I needlessly limiting my choices?
I think you *are* needlessly limiting your choices.
We’ve had our ProMaster based RV for three years now, and we haven’t had any problems with it that I didn’t cause myself.
“Fix It Again, Tony” is outmoded thinking… at least based on our experience.
But if there are actual independent ratings that show the FCA chassis have poor reliability, I would be interested to see them!
Have done 32′ gas and 40′ diesel. Both were great in cold weather but they had large propane tanks. Now I’m looking at something smaller for accessibility. The Travato so far is on the top of the list because of the electric Truma Combi furnace/water heater so I’m not propane dependent. How has that worked out for you?
We’ve loved our Truma Combi unit. Works great in the van and it’s extremely quiet.
If I wasn’t sitting in front of a vent right now, I wouldn’t know if it was on.
I’m new to this informative site – getting ready to buy my first rv.
I heard many times to buy used so not to pay for the depreciation that happens to a vehicle the minute it’s driven off the lot.
Reading this, it sounds like you think otherwise?
Thx for all your helpful hard work!
Well, this piece was more about *choosing* the RV rather than buying it.
There are a lot of strategies for buying an RV – new our used.
Our first RV – Das Bus – we bought used.
I’ve been thinking about getting an RV. I’ve never owned one before, but it would be great for trips with my family. I like that you said you shouldn’t be afraid to be specific with what you want. If you are making a big investment, it should be your dream RV, like you said.
Thanks for the tip about considering how you will get out of bed in an RV. Finding something that is easy and comfortable would really help make it much easier. My husband and I want to get an RV to help us tour the country, so we’ll have to remember about comfort when we choose one.
I really appreciated your advice to consider how weather resistant you want your RV to be, and what kind of weather you will be driving your RV in. My wife and I have been considering buying an RV for some family road trips, and we live in a climate that can get extremely cold. I will be sure to suggest to my wife that we should find an RV that has a lot of insulation!
My wife and I are wanting to buy an RV to take camping this summer, so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about focusing on the features of the RV, like sleeping arrangments and HVAC systems. I’ll be sure to look into these features so we can find a trailer that is accommodating to the family.
I agree that you need to consider how long your trips will be when choosing a motorhome. If you are going for longer trips, you would want to make sure that something is comfortable. My husband and I are looking for a motorhome to tour the country in, so we’ll have to find something that is really comfortable.
Thanks for the tip about considering sleeping arrangements when choosing an RV. Finding something that you feel comfortable with would be really helpful as well. My husband and I are looking for an RV to help us travel the country this summer, so we’ll have to consider the sleeping arrangements first.
As someone still firmly in the “some day/wannabe” campI have noticed 2 things about RV’s that strike me as odd, but seem to be widely accepted. The first is the mattress dimensions, manufacturers with a straight face claim that 60×75 is a queen sized mattress when every source in the world lists queens as 60×80, the more troubling is an acceptance that new RV’s are going to have faulty systems that will require weeks if not months back on the dealers lot for repairs the first year you own them to get them in the working order I would expect from a $70K+ vehicle purchase. Is this as common as the forums would have you believe or do we just not read about the owners who are happy with everything?
I don’t have a good answer for the mattress size question. I do know that when you start getting into the bigger Class A rigs, the mattresses more closely line up with regular ones.
I don’t think anyone accepts faulty RVs. I know the manufacturers we’ve talked to don’t. But things do slip by. The people who don’t have anything to say generally don’t post much, which is why most of the information you see is on problems. Also – the life of an RV on the lot or at a show is pretty rough. Things get broken by unfamiliar tourists going through the rigs. It almost can’t be helped. Repairing those things falls to the dealer
Awesome – printing it out to show my hubby. We will be at the Tampa show and trying to narrow down what will fit us. Love the blog, You Tube videos and already doing Stef’s stretches.
We are planning to be at Tampa as well. Maybe we’ll see you there!
I too like the Pro Master chassis Lexor by Pleasure Way. But almost impossible to find used. 2016 has everything we need, new ECO battery and solar panel. Only live 40 miles from Tampa and will be going to the super show in Jan. Found your blog and learning a lot !! Thank You
People tend to like their Pleasure-Ways! They don’t come up used often.
Thanks for the all the steps on how to choose the best RV for my family. I’ve been looking at several RV’s for sale, but still don’t know how to make sure I’m making the right choice. Your reminder to be sure to follow steps 1-4 is really helpful because I skipped to 5, like you read my mind. Features to me are just an added bonus, since I don’t mind roughing it, but there are a few must haves and I will be sure to create that list before I start looking again.
I really like your idea to first rent an RV before committing to buying one, or at least go inside and tour a fair amount of them. It helps to know exactly what it feels like inside of a camper, especially if you you’ve never had one before. I think they are a very exciting and interesting way to go out and experience the outdoors in a more comfortable way, which often is necessary for a lot of people who need certain sleeping conditions to be met.
I agree that if you’ve never owned an RV, you should rent one to try out! You also said that once you’re renting the RV, you can see and think about specific features that you’d want in your own RV. I think it’s a good idea to choose a motorhome service company that specializes in repairing and working with your brand of RV so that you know it’s done right.
My father has been thinking about getting an RV to use for trips. You mentioned that you want to pay close attention to the sleeping arrangements, as you want to make sure that the RV fits your needs. My father often goes hunting and camping with a couple of his friends, so making sure they all have a sleeping place is important to him. I’ll have to make sure he considers that when he picks an RV.
Thanks for pointing out that when shopping for an RV, you should determine if you’re staying in mostly RV parks or in remote locations. You also mention thinking about if you are traveling all year around or just in warm-weather climates. I think it’s important to choose an RV that has a reputation of holding up for years without needing major repairs.
How interesting to be reading this today, I just went to the Pomona RV show for the first time yesterday! I guess I’ve sort of re-arranged some of your steps come to think of it, but hey, I had to take advantage of the show being in town 🙂
Love your videos as well as Stef’s. Her back stretches are a real winner; I’ve had back surgery and her stretches are far superior to the instructions from PT.
Your eight points are very helpful, especially making out the chart. After filling out the chart I am to a tie between keeping my 2005 BT Cruiser and the 23L Trend. Love my current floor plan, but hate the 9.5 mpg and lack of permanent bed. The only negative I can see on the Trend is single rear wheels and no separate freezer and microwave only. Do you find that items stay frozen in your frig/freezer combo?
I almost purchased the Trend last year but was spooked by the blogs stating that it should really have dual rear wheels to be stable. Please weigh in on this point.
Our freezer (inside the refrigerator) keeps ice solid in the desert at over 100 degrees. We really can’t fault it for that. (Of course, it also freezes lettuce, but that’s a different story…)
I’ve not personally driven a Trend, so I can’t say for sure how it drives. What I CAN say, is that the ProMaster chassis is far superior to any Sprinter-based RV that I’ve driven. It’s the physics of the front wheel drive: the ProMaster is always pulling itself straight, even if the back end gets blown around a bit.
Would it be more stable with two wheels? Perhaps. But if you had handling issues, there are other things you can do (add spring leafs, airbags, etc) to get things to your liking. Considering that you’d be starting off with a more stable vehicle to begin with, I think you could get it to something that you could handle.
Hope this question isn’t too esoteric! I saw that the Hymer Van has a loft bed in it, but to buy a used Hymer van in the US is probably not going to happen. Know of any other class b’s that have a loft bed? In the rear, I’m not talking over the cab, or some kind of weird slide-out. It’s true I could get a van with a pop-up bed-upstairs configuration, but that’s not my first choice. I goggled the question, but just got class C options. I want to keep it under 20 feet if possible.
Being totally new at this, I think i posted my last post in the wrong place–feel free to move it to the fitness part of your site if you want……
Well, considering you can’t yet buy a NEW Hymer in the US… I think it’s a little premature to go looking for a used one.
Besides our Lance, there are very few standard Class B RVs with a loft bed. You could always get something done custom. Advanced RV has done things like that for customers in the past.
If you live in Canada, or want to buy a ProMaster and take it up to Quebec for them to build, I think Safari Condo has an option like that.
Other than that, you could check out our Class B Manufacturer list. Perhaps one of the makers on there has added a loft floorplan since I checked last.
After much analysis and hesitation, we finally decided to make a move and put a down payment to reserve our Safari Condo Promaster XL Flex today. Excellent articles like this one helped us to confirm our needs. We skipped the rental step because we experienced a travel trailer last year, only to learn we are not trailer people, but mostly because there are no easy rental options were we live (yes, a rental 2 years ago would have avoided the trailer experience and cost). I’m betting one day our paths will cross and you can finally see and review a live Safari Condo.
With 1 year advance booking delay before receiving our RV, we still have plenty of time to decided on the final options, so hopefully “somebody” will write up a “composting toilet” blog before I have to decide on the potty options. (other readers and I aren’t letting you off the hook for that one James, LOL).
Well, if I’ve got a whole year to get it done, I think that’s a deadline I can work with! lol.
This is an excellent blog about buying and owning a RV. I saw a couple of Class B Motorhomes built on Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis and love them. You’ve reviewed a couple of them: Coachmen Galleria and Winnebago Era.
I am trying to follow your advice here. Rent a RV first to see how I like it. However, I am having trouble finding campsites and places to hook up a RV. I live in Phoenix, AZ, and am thinking of spending a few days up in the cool mountains near Flagstaff but all the camping sites that I’ve searched do not have electric hookups. I used recreation.gov and reserveamerica.com.
How do RVers’ usually find RV sites when they are on the road? A lot of popular campsites are booked way in advance. If I am driving from AZ to Alaska, when I decide to stop for the night, how do I find a campsite, say in Montana?
Perhaps you and other experienced RVers’ can shed some light on this.
There are a number of resources RVers use to locate campsites. Everyone has their personal favorite.
I like ultimatecampgrounds.com, but other RVers have other preferences. Perhaps some will chime in.
Google searches on a map for “campground” near where you want to go might also turn up some options for you.
Glad you’re trying a rental first. Best of luck!
I am trying to follow your advice by renting first, even though it costs $200 a day for a 19′ Coachmen Leprechaum.
Hopefully, other experience RVers’ would have some suggestions.
I rented a 25′ RV for 26 days and it was worth every penny I paid.
I used an app called Allstays. The map function is great. You tell it the town you want and it shows most campgrounds in the area. You can click on a campground and it gives you all information about it. Phone #, Website, Reviews, etc.
What RV show has the best variety of Class B/B+ vehicles available on display? Within 1000 miles of Baton Rouge, LA. We are new to the market and looking for a touring RV
Living out west, we don’t get to the East coast shows as often. BUT! You’re only about 700 miles from Tampa, FL. The Florida RV SuperShow is one of the biggest, and would have most anything you might be interested in.
I started out small in 1995 with a Leisure Travel Wide Body 19 feet and in 2019 bought a 21 foot. In 2013 I bought another Leisure Travel Serenty around 24 foot and had bad electrical problems. It was kinda resolved but I was not happy. I still like their product so I bought the new 2016 Unity which I am very happy with. I love the size being 24 feet. Many people who have large Class A ask to see it when I am traveling. Many say that would like to move down to a smaller unit at this time in thier life but the younger people who have the Class A are staying sted fast on Large Mothohomes. Great Post Great Advice James Thanks
Glad you liked the post, Don! A lot of the steps make sense whether it’s your first RV of your fifth.
Very Well done, an impeccable check list and methodical order of process……I had touched base with you previously about the Travato and would have bought if my Sweetheart and I had not done just what you said with your review process. We are still on track for the Plateau XL MB, it is the one for us. Now to assemble the coin! 🙂 THX for a great Blog and all the reviews, I have pointed a number of people to this site as I think you both have your finger on the pulse of what is out there and present both a Healthy Lifestyle and a RV load of information for newbies and Seasoned Veterans to boot!
Glad you liked it! As long as you’re winding up with the right RV for you, it’s all good!
Wish you would have wrote it 2 years ago. It took me that long to figure out all those same steps on my own!
“Rental” in step 2, should be mandatory! I had previously owned a class B, but imagined I was ready to “move up” to a larger class C. It only took a couple days in a rental to confirm that I was a “van guy”, and I did not NEED OR WANT all the extra space, storage, weight, height, width, maintenance, depreciation, and hassle of a larger and cheaper rig. The rental WAS expensive as you mentioned, but it probably saved me 10’s of thousands of dollars, and the aggravation of making an “unfitting” purchase. I’m pretty sure allot of people get turned away from the RV lifestyle all together, by owning an RV “class” that was wrong for them from the start…
Your “paired comparison” in Step 4 by the way, is pure genius 🙂 I had an embarrassingly large spreadsheet trying to compare and “score” features. 🙂
This article is sure to be helpful for many, Thanks for sharing, from a fellow happy Travato Owner.
Hi Scott –
I actually expect a lot of people will be resistant to the “rental” step because it’s so expensive. So comments like yours are really helpful! It’s great to hear from someone who actually did it, and that it really made a difference for them. Thanks so much for chiming in. Thanks!
Yeah I’m one who also noticed the Mercedes logo and the Fit RV license plate. And thought, surely they didn’t trade up already??!!! Ha ha
Hi Velda. Nope, no trading up here. I just saw that old picture of us in Das Bus and thought it went well there. We probably should take a similar picture of Lance…
You missed step the alternate step 8b: Build your own.
We didn’t formally go through all the steps, but effectively did much of them. We looked at a few different RVs, even trailers. But nothing came close to the spartan build that we wanted along with our specific cargo requirements of either dog crates or recumbent bicycles.
Thus began our own ProMaster conversion. Its been a long and slow process, but very worth it. Probably about halfway there, but its seen some use in the meantime, and that has allowed us some design changes along the way.
I’m still curious what James would have come up with if you’d bought the bare-bones ProMaster and built it out.
You’re not half as curious as I am! 😉
The more mods I make though, the more changes I make to what my original plan would have been. It’s an interesting rig I’ve got up there in my head…
FYI – Last photo on this post should have been Lance. I hope he doesn’t see it.
Would that be kind of like when your new girlfriend makes you throw away all the pictures with your old girlfriend in them?…
Sort of in the same league – along with “don’t talk about your ex-wife on the first date”. ;~) FYI – I posted link on Class B Camper Vans. There are a lot of new members asking “what do I buy?”
Cool. Thanks, Bob!
This one gets a “stickie”! Definitely going to link to this fro all those FB posts “where do I start”. Maybe you can read any pertinent comments/feedback, revise as you see fit (pun intended) and post a downloadable pdf?
I definitely intend to keep this updated as new comments come in. And also will update it periodically as I learn more. I’m sure it can be improved.
Please do direct people to the post if you think it will help them. That’s why I wrote it.
Excellent article, James and Stef. I would suggest in step #1 that you add a bullet point to consider whether you are a “Camper” or a “Traveler”. While a “Camper” likes to visit an area for an extended period to savor everything the area might have to offer, the “Traveler” tends to visit, hit the high points, and move on. Class B’s work well for the “Traveler” while they might not do so well for the “Camper”.
Thanks, Mike. There are definitely different types of rigs that work better for each of those profiles. For a “Camper”, I think things would work better with a tow vehicle – or even a TT/5th wheel.
Another analogy I use sometimes is the “Car vs. Airplane” method of traveling. An airplane can get you *close* to where you want to go – kind of like the big Class A rigs. But then you still need a car to get to your final destination. Either or both of those is worth a mention when I make an update. Cheers!
Very much enjoyed the article James. It raised lots of questions for me. On the question of “camper” vs “traveler”, we would like to do a bit of both. I was thinking that a class B would enable “camping”, that is having a home base while taking small trips locally to see the sites – it would be nimble enough to run around in. Maybe I am being too optimistic about this for the class B. Perhaps I should consider a 19′ travel trailer with a matched tow vehicle to be both traveler and camper. What are your thoughts on the best uses for a travel trailer vs class B for “camper” and “traveler”.
I think it all depends on how much “setting up camp” you do. If you’re the type that puts out lawn chairs, flamingos, patio lights, deploys the awning, hooks up the water, and hooks up the sewer line… you’re not going to want to tear all that down and set it up again each time you want to go somewhere. Stef and I, we do none of that, so the Class B works well for us. If you do some of all of those things though, a travel trailer with a separate vehicle will probably work better for you.
Also – at a non-reservation campground, if you take your class B out… you’re likely to lose your spot. You could put something else out there like a lawn chair, but you might lose that, too! IN that situation, the Travel Trailer wins as well.
James, after reading this post I don’t feel bad about sending you an email regarding running AC off the batteries and alternator! Plus, I saw Lance was posting on the Travato FB group about this, so I wanted to make sure he doesn’t overexert himself.
Excellent article! A place for the bikes is very important.
Incredible write up James, a home run of Biblical proportions!
For a newbie or an old timer changing rigs, this is EXACTLY how to do it.
We began our search for upgrading to the “retirement rig” 2 years ago and followed the steps outlined in our quest (except #2 as we are experienced RVers). Two things I would emphasize ….
1. Stay FLEXIBLE throughout the process and be open to new ideas.
We started out thinking we would get a 5th Wheel (too tall), then went to the Class B/B+ group (too small). We then found (at the Pomona RV show) that the perfect fit for what we will do, and how we will do it, is a bumper pull travel trailer (which in the beginning was never on our radar).
2. If your married guys, INVOLVE your wife big time!
The “keeper of my heart” (the ever gracious Kim) said in the beginning, “you pick it out, I trust your judgement”. Well, after she became engaged in the process, the “wants & needs” changed dramatically. Example, any fridge under 5cf is totally unacceptable (can I get an Amen?!?!).
Through research and compromise now we are on step #8 to acquire our mutual choice (a Lance 4 seasons 1685). If we had not followed the steps James has outlined, I am certain happiness would have eluded us.
And now the hard part, dealing with salesmen (James please don’t give Selma/Patty my address!!!),
Love, Kisses & Happy Trails,
Andy & Kim
Hey Andy and Kim! GREAT advice for involving the uninvolved spouse. I was a lot like Kim in the purchase process of both our RVs, but turns out I had more opinions than I realized! And yeah, those tiny fridges are for the birds. Hope you two are well and best of luck surviving step #8! Keep us posted…we’re rooting for ya!
Why do I get the impression that for every compromise you guys made when choosing the Travato, James was probably scratching his head and saying “You know, I’m sure I can change of modify this” (to more Stef eye rolling).
Oh Alain. You totally have us pegged.
Where you plan to store your rig is another consideration. The benefit of the smaller Class-B’s is that you can park it in your driveway and just jump in it and go at a moments notice. Bigger rigs typically require offsite storage arrangements with monthly fees and need planning to coordinate picking up the rig and filling it with provisions before taking off.
This is one reason I thought a Class B would be our best bet . . . then I took a closer look at our HOA restrictions. Nothing higher than 7 ft. from the ground to the roof. 🙁
There’s a community in our general area that offers RV garages. The height of the RV garage is kind of absurd (definitely built to hold a Class C) and looks a bit strange/out of balance in the elevation renderings but one of the photos of the inside of the garage was pretty amazing.
I feel like we’d use an RV more frequently if it was on the premises and didn’t involve picking it up from a storage facility. Alas, it doesn’t matter in our case because of the restrictions. Unfortunately, it never occurred to us that we might develop an interest in traveling this way during the time we made the decision to buy in our community.
I guess I’ll add that when retiring somewhat early and moving to a less expensive market (California to Arizona in our case) it’s probably wise to think ahead to how you might want to spend your newfound free time. We were in kind of a rush and didn’t do enough soul-searching on this front. In retrospect, we probably would have forgone the golf course lot and used the $$$ for an RV. None of this occurred to us until we saw a goofy commercial for anywhere cell phone service that included a retired couple tooling around in a Bounder and using their phones out in the middle of nowhere. We had just finished a 3,000 road trip to New York in a Prius and had a light bulb moment because of a TV commercial. Ahhhh, the wonders of advertising. In this case they weren’t advertising RVs but were advertising remote cell service.
Too funny! After rolling in our RV, I can’t imagine a huge road trip in a Prius.
(Well, I can imagine it, but it’s more fun with your own refrigerator…)
I wonder – if you got some “A-1 Plumbing” magnets and slapped them on the side of a Class B… would they let you slide??
Fantastic post, James.
I think your entire process from start to finish is spot on, and the best advice I’ve seen anywhere on the subject.
I did, I must confess, chuckle loudly and picture Steph rolling her eyes during the paired comparison section! I’m a software engineer at heart who never missed a single point in university logic classes, so I’ve got your back, brother.
LOL, Gary! You’re on to me. I tried not to fall asleep while editing that section, so if you see any typos, you’ll know why…
My inner Sheldon was nagging me the whole time I was out walking the dogs. “I think it should have been Stefany with an f not a ph. Now I see that Inner Sheldon was right. Sorry, Stef!
HA Gary!!! I don’t have an inner Sheldon so could care less how it gets spelled, I’m pretty much the opposite of Sheldon. Like when people ask me, Stef or Stefany, doesn’t matter, heck I’ll answer to “hey you”! But James, on the other hand, not only has an inner Sheldon Cooper, he IS Sheldon. So yeah, I get it. 😉
I’ve sent this blog link to my husband. He’s a former software engineer (early years in aerospace) who makes a spreadsheet for grocery shopping. Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit on the grocery shopping part but we already have three spreadsheets going for RV comparisons.
James makes the most important point of all (which my husband keeps mentioning over and over again): rent one before buying.
I recall Stefany saying that Sedona is home to more rental RVs than she’s ever seen before. My theory on this is that the major RV rental outlet in the Phoenix area offers 300 miles for $105 (on top of the three night rental rate) and Sedona is exactly 132 miles – which, roundtrip, falls in the 300 mile mileage deal.
I guess we really should heed James’ advice and rent one of the shorty models for a few days. We can join the lineup of other rentals in Sedona!
Well the good news about that plan, is that even if you don’t wind up buying an RV – you’ll have tons of fun in Sedona! It’s a super cool place, and Stef and I had a blast when we were there.
Glad you liked the post. Hope it helps!