Wednesday, January 14, 2015

RV buying--Shop 'til you drop

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have a dilemma that I am sure many people would love to have. We want to buy some type of RV and travel. The problem is, we have no clue what we want, need or should desire. We have gone from putting down a payment on a 32 ft. motorhome to seriously considering a 17 ft. travel trailer. We change our minds every day. Money is not the issue, even though some people might think we are cheap. It is not a problem of what my husband wants vs. what I want. We are both hopelessly confused. Please offer some counsel.
—Dealing and not wheeling in West Virginia

Dear Virginia:
There is a big difference between being cheap and being frugal. You are doing exactly what most people should do. Shop ’til you drop. So many people get over-excited with all the bells and whistles and buy the first thing they step into. Everyone has to find their own path. Having the financial wherewithal to pull the trigger on whatever you decide makes the decision making a bit easier. That said, RVs are an investment in a lifestyle, not the best ledger column if you are looking for appreciation on return monetarily.

Now, let’s try to tackle some of your doubts and needs. A lot of the decision making comes down to comfort. Comfort in driving, parking and maneuvering. Comfort in living space, entertaining and storage. Comfort in amenities. That can include everything from a bigger shower to satellite TV with 400 channels of bad programming. Not knowing what to expect and how you will travel leaves many options a dart-throw guess. That is the reason many people end up with two or more rigs before they figure out the perfect fit.

Here are a few things you may not have figured into your buying decision so far: As last week's column stated, “weather happens.” Often you are forced inside your rig for days when the weather turns sour. Don’t buy something that will make you feel claustrophobic. One of the great things about RV travel is all the fantastic people you will meet. If you want to invite them over for drinks, dinner or cards, will you have a comfortable space to accommodate entertaining. Most RVs are engineered to offer all the basic needs of a living space. They are “tiny houses.” If you study enough floor plans you will begin to notice that they are all trying to accomplish the same thing. As you get longer and add slides, those spaces just give you more room in each compartment—bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dining, living. As you get shorter and slideless, those compartments get smaller and often blended. This gives you the option to sleep in the dining room and cook in the bathroom.

Do you want to drive a puller or a tower (toad) when you reach a destination? Have you figured out where to store the kayaks, ATVs, motorcycles, mountain bikes, fishing boat? Do you have a power plant and frame hefty enough to haul whatever load you plan to tote around? Do you have enough floor plan space to accommodate a business, hobby, craft or pet?

Let me start to finish with advice I give everyone that ponders your questions. Talk to at least a dozen RVers, with a dozen different rigs. It will be the best investment in time you can make. You will get so much more honesty about pros and cons from individuals than you will from commission-starved RV salespeople. Walk around campgrounds. You will see everything under the sun and find a lot of jovial people more than willing to tell you more than you probably want to hear. Take it all with a grain of salt. Glean from it the nuggets of information you may not have considered, and make your final decision.

At that point, you could also rent one of the finalists in your RV beauty contest and try it out for a week. Even though RV rentals are not cheap, it could save you a lot of time and money if a hands-on experience convinces you to make a different choice.

Remember, your final decision, may not be your final decision. On that note, you might want to consider starting out with a used unit. That way someone else has already taken the big investment hit, while you discover your actual needs. If you go used, from an individual or a dealer, make sure everything on the unit is fired up and in working order. It can be very expensive if you get down the road and find mechanical issues. This answer sounds long-winded, but it is just a few of the things to consider.
—Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink


bigd13 said...

Absolutely rent a few to see how you fit!

Anonymous said...

Good idea to rent, if you buy something too small or too big you will end up trading to get what you want and you ALWAYS lose money when you sell an RV

Anonymous said...

Rent first.. for at least 2 weeks at a time find what you can live with and live without.. You may find you don't have the temperament to be that close to each other 24/7. Many buy too big or too small and then regret it.

Anonymous said...

Make a list:

1. Things it must have
2. Things it must not have
3. Things it would be nice to have
1 and 2 are deal-breakers. Be somewhat flexible on 3.

Ellen said...

Instead of focusing on the "livable" qualities of an RV, I'd recommend focusing on the how and where aspects of your travel: where do you want to go and how do you want to get there? An RV is a vehicle, after all, and most have pretty much the same amenities.

If you want to prowl the backroads and get to out-of-the way places, focus on something small, something you can park nearly anywhere, for example, rather than a big Class A. You'll need a small rig for many campgrounds that limit sizes. We've been in places that never should have said our 38' fifth wheel and one-ton dually truck would fit. (We've since downsized.)

Are you comfortable driving a bus? A truck? A truck towing something? What's your comfort level behind the wheel? If you buy something that feels unmanageable, you won't want to go anywhere -- so what's the point? Deciding on a vehicle based on your driving habits and comfort level are essential. Sure, you can adapt, but you'll have to adapt anyway -- why make the learning curve steeper than it needs to be?

Once you iron out the type of travel you want to do and the level of comfort driving various vehicles allows, you'll be much farther along in making your selection. Even for renting!

Good luck!

Fred said...

We spent an entire year and looked at over 150 units before deciding on the right unit for our fulltiming adventure. As a result we have no regrets and are entirely happy with our rig. Another tip; subscribe to a number of RV blogs and newsletters like where you'll pick up many tips and get many questions answered.

Oldtimer said...

These are all great suggestions. I would add some RV websites have virtual tours of their units which can help. My wife and I spent the better part of 2 years researching various options and discussing the pros and cons of each. Going to RV shows and dealerships (assuming you can resist high pressure tactics if need be) to look at units also helped. It just astonished us that so many layouts just simply were not functional if you really started thinking about "living" in them. The number of them that have seating where you could not possibly see a TV without a periscope is just mind-boggling! The unit we ended up buying is not perfect but it has met our needs very well for the most part and if we continue RV'ing we know what we like and don't like even more after a couple of years of ownership. Nothing beats "just do it"!

Dave Hard said...

I'd also suggest you think about how you want to travel. If you plan to go someplace and sit for a month or so, exploring and enjoying the area, a 5th wheel or travel trailer might be best. If you intend to travel and see it all, never staying for more than a couple days then a motorhome may be best.

Bob said...

We have been camping for only 35 years; some years I have put 10,000 miles on trips we have made. I have driven trucks since 1977 so driving big campers is no problem for me. But if you are driving and see an antique store or something and you want to pull in, you can’t because there is only room for 3 cars and you are to big so you keep going. This happened to us several times. Plus is your wife going to drive it. Both of you need to be comfortable driving in town and through narrow construction sites on the road. Is family or friends going to travel with you once in a while? Now you need more sleeping room. We rented our fist class C motor home a 23 foot and we have driven 40 class A. We like our 28-foot class C because of the number of people we can sleep and the ease of maneuvering in town. We never tow a car. What is nice about a motor home is you do not have to stop for someone to go to the bathroom. If they want to sleep they can lie down and if you have kids and causing trouble you can separate them or play games at the table.
As Ellen said a motor home is good if every day you move to a different location like we do. But my Parents had a 42 foot Class A and they would pull a car and stay for 7 months at one spot or you can pull a fifth wheel and do the same thing.
Plus depending on your age and knees for climbing stairs, you need to look at that also.

Have fun hunting.