How to Buy an RV

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Buying an RV can be as complicated as buying a home. Start with the basics--running water, cooking and bathroom facilities, and a power source--then explore amenities such as entertainment systems, kingsize beds and even hot tubs. Now you're ready to bust out the Willie Nelson and hit the road.

  • Understand that RVs are usually designated by length. The longer the RV, the more opulent and expensive. Height and width measurements do not vary significantly.

  • Remember that you need to drive the RV. What size vehicle can you handle confidently? Are you comfortable backing up? Will your spouse be comfortable driving it? Do you need a special license in your state?

  • Decide on which class vehicle is right for you. Class A motorized models are the largest. Class B motorized models are modified and have expanded van conversion: They are smaller, with better mileage, but you may sacrifice some comfort and amenities. Class C motorized RVs are even smaller and have a bed over the cab. The largest towable RVs are travel trailers, up to 35 feet (10.7 m) long. Fold-out camper trailers are smaller. A truck camper, fit to the back of a pickup, is considered a towable RV. If you already own a truck, this type may make the most sense.

  • Class A motorized models start at about $100,000. Class B range from $42,000 to $68,000. Class C models are about $50,000 to $100,000. Folding camper trailers and truck campers start at about $4,000, while larger travel trailers start at $9,000.

  • Negotiate the purchase price as you would with a car; in fact, you may have even more room to bargain. There are far more RV manufacturers than car manufacturers; use this competition to your advantage. If you can't find the style and options you want at a price that you think is reasonable, keep looking.

  • Go to an RV show. These are frequently advertised in newspapers and on TV. Talk to owners, dealers and other shoppers.

  • Try before you buy. Two of the largest rental operations in the United States are El Monte RV (elmonte.com) and Cruise America (cruiseamerica.com). Prices run from $90 to $200 per day (depending on the model) and peak in the summer.

  • Ask for deals. Most manufacturers offer rebates and significant kickbacks to dealers, who will pass along some or all if they think it will make a deal. Late summer is the best time to shop, as dealers are looking to get rid of the previous year's stock.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you're a novice, consider taking driving lessons with your RV to make sure that both you and your fellow drivers are safe.
  • Many RV fans suffer from what industry professionals call 2-foot-itis--the urge to constantly get a larger RV. This can be fun if you have the money, but don't overlook the advantages of the RV you own.
  • Books on RV travel are available at many bookstores. Go online to GoRVing.com to order a free video about RV basics in exchange for filling out a survey.
  • Look into insurance specifically for RVs. Your auto insurance may not cover total loss replacement, emergency living expenses, and campsite liability.

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