Choosing An RV That Is Right For You And Right For Full-timing
Let's get something straight right off the bat. There is no way we can wave a magic wand and tell every person which RV is best. We will not attempt to recommend brands. The options are just too numerous and the choice is just too personal. Plus it creates too many additional emails telling me I don't know what I'm talking about. :)
With that said, let's delve a little deeper into things to consider. Maybe you will gain some insight or maybe you will be more confused. Either is a clear possibility - you have been warned. :)
We discussed the most popular types of RVs for full-timing on the Types Of RVs page. There we listed pros and cons of motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheels.
On this page, we will not discuss the type of RV so much. Our discussion may lead to a particular type of RV, but here we want to consider features for full-timing.
Listen to advice from others with a cautious ear. In the RV world, everyone has spent a lot of money on their RVs, and we all believe that what we have is the best way to go. In most cases, we believe every word we are saying because we must justify our choice to ourselves. :)
Be cautious when getting advice from RVers who have only owned one type of RV. Lifetime fifth wheel owners can tell you what is great about fifth wheels, but if they have never owned a motorhome, be careful when they talk about motorhomes. The same goes for motorhome owners that have never owned a fifth wheel. In our opinion the best folks to talk to are the people that have owned both.
Just as the "intended use" of an RV is important to the buying decision whether it involves full-timing or not, the "intended use" in your plan to full-time is also important.
What's the plan?
How long do you need the RV to last?
Silly question? Not at all. If you only plan to full-time for a short, finite, period, there is no need to spend the money for a rig constructed to last 20 to 30 years.
However, if you plan to full-time 10 years or longer, I would recommend buying a rig that will last as long as possible.
If you have the money to get a new rig down the road, an RV constructed to last through several years of full-timing will retain the best trade-in or resale value.
If you won't have the money to buy a better rig every few years, then consider spending the extra cash up front for quality - they don't get cheaper.
Is your first full-timing RV a test model to see if you like the lifestyle?
It is understandable (and quite common) if you want to test out the full-timing lifestyle before you invest thousands of dollars in an RV for the long-term. If you still are not sure that full-timing is right for you, don't let yourself be pressured into buying more than you need.
Many, many full-timers start out inexpensively at first. That approach lets them 1) test out the lifestyle, and 2) determine what features they want when they are ready to upgrade.
Do you want great resale value?
If you are starting out inexpensively or know you will be buying another RV within a few years, then resale or trade-in value may be important to you.
However, I recently read that Kelly Blue Book and NADA guides are not nearly as accurate for RVs as they are for cars and trucks. Obviously, there will be less data available, but because manufacturers are not consistent with their retail base pricing, apparently options may be mis-valued or double counted. So reliance solely on guides, may not be a good idea when researching resale values.
RVs with slideouts are known to have better resale values than those without. Typically, the more slideouts, the higher the price, but that's not always the case.
Motorhomes with diesel engines also have better resale values that similar models with gasoline engines.
The point is to consider re-sale value and to learn what options increase the value of a rig.
What type of campgrounds will you frequent?
If you like being out in the woods and enjoy state parks and national parks, you may want to rethink that 40-footer you love so much.
So many of the campgrounds in the park systems were constructed 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago or more. They were not built with the monster RVs of today in mind. There are so many beautiful parks with campgrounds that can't accomodate big rigs. We have run into several that people have told us are great places to stay only to find that we have no chance of getting in due to our size.
It's another RV trade-off. Access to more campsites across the country or more living space? Again, you have to think about "intended use" and your priorities.
What percentage of your time will be spent on the road?
Yes, I know "All of it!" :) Well, what we mean by this question is how many miles you plan to travel a day when you are changing destinations and how often you plan to change campsites.
The answers may help you decide between a motorhome and a towable. Long drives and frequent moving seem to be more conducive to a motorhome. Shorter drives and longer stays favor towables.
Passengers get restless and want to be able to move around while riding on long journeys (not recommended, but this is one of the primary reasons people select motorhomes). Setting up and breaking camp seem to be a tad easier with a motorhome, so if you only plan to stay a few days at a time in campgrounds, you may want to opt for a motorhome. Also, if you are going to move a lot, the homey feeling of a fifth wheel or travel trailer may not be that important.
However, if you plan to only drive a couple hundred miles or less on each move and you intend to stay a week, two weeks, or a month in each location, you may like the feeling of living in something more akin to a house. Towables tend to have more of that feeling since their is no steering wheel or cockpit to remind you that you are in a vehicle, and there are more home-like floorplan options.
Consider your intended travel habits. Again, if your full-timing window is small, you may want to see as much as you can as quickly as you can. If you have years to full-time, remember that your trips will shorten and your stays will lengthen as time goes on.
Will you remain in a particular region most of the time?
What does that have to do with choosing an RV for full-timing? Well, it might have a lot to do with it.
If you are going to remain in relatively flat areas, you may not need that extra power in your motorhome or tow vehicle. Maybe you can save money by not buying that diesel engine. On the other hand, if you are going to frequent mountainous areas, you may want to spend more money on more power for safety, fuel efficiency, and engine longevity.
Say you are going to always stay in the deep south. Maybe you don't need the extra insulation package and the ratings to 20 degrees below zero. Maybe you don't need the double or triple pane windows (although they help keep the cool in when running the air, and they help keep noise out).
On the other hand, if you are going to frequent colder climates, you may want the insulation package upgrade if it's available on the model you are thinking about. Also, you may need more closet or storage space for seasonal clothes.
Will you do your own maintenance?
If you can do your own handyman work and fix anything that doesn't require major parts, you might consider saving a bundle of money by buying a used RV. There are unbelievable bargains out there if you look hard enough.
The best deals might require you to travel to another state where there are more low mileage vehicles due to population or climate, but don't discount the value of such a trip. We have run into several full-timers that have even bought their rig sight unseen from several states away because they have found such good deals.
However, if you don't know a wrench from a hammer like me, you might want to buy new and get as much warranty protection as humanly possible. Stuff goes wrong with new rigs, too. Don't be naive and think that you will be maintenance free because you buy new.
A new rig may require less maintenance, but an RV warranty can save you a bundle in that first year or two. Also, manufacturers tend to, let's say, show better manners toward the first owner of one of their products. :)
Before you buy new or used, research the manufacturer's reputation. The really good ones don't stick to the rules on warranty limitations strictly, and care more about satisfied customers. Find out if they handle second or third owners like they do original owners. Find out if they have extended warranty plans that are run by reputable warranty companies.
The point here is that folks that are able to identify and fix problems on their own have so many more options in purchasing a rig and saving money on repairs after warranties run out.
How much do you plan to park without hook-ups?
This also plays a part in rig selection. If you like to save money by staying places where you can use the features of your RV to do without hook-ups, then you will want to consider a few items.
How big are the holding tanks for fresh water, gray water, and black water? Do you need a generator? If you need a generator, what capacity do you need? Do you want solar panels? How much trouble and expense would it be to install solar panels? Maybe you should consider a rig that is already equipped for efficient boondocking.
Perhaps you want to be inconspicuous as a boondocker or you want to get into tight spaces to be closer to nature. Your rig size may play a part in addition to the features and options.
Do you plan to eat out a lot?
What's that got to do with anything? Well, if you plan to eat out all the time and cook rarely, then you don't need that big kitchen area with all the counter space. Just about any size kitchen will work.
However, if you need to cook a lot to save money or you just like to cook, then the kitchen configuration can be at the top of the priority list. Typically, towables will have many more options for maximum counter space, kitchen storage, and amenities.
Kitchen options alone were almost enough to sway us to a fifth wheel. We would have had to spend all of our measly net worth to buy a motorhome with the kitchen features we have now. :)
Do you plan to finance the purchase?
You might be thinking that whether or not to finance has nothing to do with a rig selection. But it very well might be a big factor.
First, you can finance a motorhome or a towable over terms almost as long as a foundation house. That creates more interest in the long run, but it keeps payments low. Where it gets tricky is if you want a towable and have to finance the tow vehicle, too.
You cannot finance a tow vehicle over a long term, and depending on what you choose, the tow vehicle may rival the cost of your towable RV. So financing a tow vehicle and RV of the same overall cost of a motorhome will result in higher monthly payments because of the short term on the tow vehicle.
So, if the lowest monthly payments are the goal and you have the same money to spend either way, financing a motorhome will result in lower payments. Keep in mind, however, if you finance a motorhome and have to also finance a vehicle to tow, it's all pretty much a wash anyway.
Of course you know my stance. Don't finance anything unless you absolutely have to!
What is your budget?
Yes, we finally got to this question. Your budget is probably the biggest factor in your selection of a full-timing rig.
So consider all of the above, but stick to your budget and pay cash if you can. You may have to buy used and researching rigs may become a part-time job, but chances are you can find exactly the features you are looking for within your budget range.
It's quite a tightrope to walk. Spend as much as you can up front so you don't have to spend later when finances are tight and prices are high. But don't spend so much that you dilute your enjoyment of the lifestyle or shorten your time on the road financially.
We want you to join us out here for as long as possible with the least amount of worries possible! :)