How to Choose an RV - RV Family Blog
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How to Choose Your RV

Choosing the RV that is right for you can be difficult.  And expensive.

In my case, I had never owned an RV and didn’t know anyone who had.  Needless to say, the decision was all the more nerve wracking as I was essentially flying blind.  And this is a BIG purchase.

My personal set of requirements / questions at the outset were:

  • How much can I tow with my vehicle?  (2007 Chevy Suburban LTZ)
  • What can I afford with my budget?  ($20K for me)
  • Is it better to buy new or used?

Of course, there are many more questions to answer than these, but this was the extent of my depth at the time.  And it may just be where you are now, so I’ll try any explain the process I used to answer these questions and give you a few tips along the way.

How Much Can I Tow?

Towing Fail

First, DO NOT TRUST THE DEALER to answer this question.  They will promise you the world to get that RV off the lot and your money in their pockets.  Just because you can move the RV with your vehicle, does not mean you can do it safely!

Of course, if you are planning to buy a motor home, this is not an issue for you.

In fact, I will go out on a limb here and suggest that you not trust the dealer with just about anything they tell you except for the purchase price.  These are not evil people, they are just very focused on sales, and your ignorance is not their problem once the sale is done.  If you end up having to buy a new vehicle to tow your brand new travel trailer or 5th wheel (which you probably are not prepared to do) you – not the dealer – will find yourself with a very expensive brick and a wife that will never tire of reminding you about it.

The good news is, there is a very easy and accurate method of determining how much weight you can tow, and it is an exercise you should do BEFORE you ever set foot on a sales lot.  I have placed a link to that resource at the bottom of this post in the references section.  There is more you need to know before you go gallivanting off to other sites, so don’t get too far ahead of yourself.

Here is a general rule of thumb:

  • A car or light truck/SUV is going to be good for popup campers, or small travel trailers without slides.
  • A 1/2 ton truck/SUV (think Silverado 1500, Tahoe, Suburban, F-150, Expedition, Ram 1500 etc.) will pull travel trailers with up to one slide out.  Please just forget about a 5th wheel at this level.
  • A 3/4 ton truck or better (think Silverado 2500, F-250, Ram 2500, etc.) really opens up your options for those playgrounds on wheels.  Multiple slideouts, 5th Wheels, and more are within your reach.

However, if you do choose a travel trailer or toy hauler, a weight distribution system is a MUST.  Even if your tow vehicle has muscle to spare, these will significantly increase the stability of your rig and help keep you from becoming one of those poor souls you see on the side of the interstate waiting for a cleanup crew to arrive in the middle of their vacation.

I chose the Eqal-i-zer hitch system, but there are many other flavors to choose from.  For about $500, it is worth every dollar.  Plus it will help with fuel economy too.

What Can I Afford?

This one is highly dependent on your individual circumstances and requirements.

For new RVs, which I HIGHLY recommend for newbies – and for various reasons which will be discussed in the next section – here is another rule of thumb:

  • < $10K – Pop-up Campers
  • < $20K – Travel Trailers w/ up to 1 slideout
  • < $30K – Larger Travel Trailers and some 5th Wheels
  • > $30K – Everything else

Of course, this can vary widely depending on where you live and what brands you are looking at, but for my area of Nebraska, it is pretty accurate at the time of this writing.

I would suggest first visiting local reputable dealerships and just find the type and style of RV that is right for you.  Once you have an idea in mind, start searching online or looking for camping or travel shows in your area.

If you have the gift of patience, RV pricing is seasonal, so the best time to buy will coincide with the least favorable seasons for camping.  Winter, for example.  You may also benefit from looking outside the limits of your town or city.  Deals can be found if you are willing to look.

I actually stalked a couple of the big dealerships for two years before finally purchasing my travel trailer, but I knew exactly what I wanted, and I waited until winter to buy it.  Unfortunately, I also tried to save a few extra bucks by buying used, and that was a costly mistake.  It is often like me to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Oh well.

Finally, realize that your RV purchase is just the beginning.  You will need a number of small, but necessary items, to make sure you can actually USE your RV while you’re out and about.

For your convenience, I’ve written a post to show you what I have purchased for my RV, and what I recommend for you as well.

Buy New or Used RV?

If this will be your first ever RV, there is no question.  Buy new.

The reasoning for this is simple.  This is likely going to be a very significant purchase for you, and it is much more akin to purchasing a home than a car.  And there is no home inspector to find the many potential money pits lurking in that fantastic deal on Craigslist.

You will not get a warranty from the dealer or the manufacturer.  When (not if) something goes wrong, whatever you saved in the purchase, you will lose doubly on the repair.  There just aren’t any cheap repairs.  I have an entire rant, I mean post, regarding the roof peeling off my travel trailer on day one of our Disney World trip.  That repair cost about $10K, and I bought the RV for $17K!

Nothing will spin you into an unadulterated rage faster than a costly problem with your RV at precisely the most inconvenient time.

Get off on the right foot, and buy new.  When you find a problem, at least it won’t be on you.

I hope this post has been useful for you.  Please place any questions in the comments section, or just let me know where you’re from.  I hope you will be joining the RV club soon!


Shitter’s Full.  Thanks for reading 🙂



How Much Can You Tow – Detailed Information



1 Comment
  • I’m glad that you suggested getting a weight distribution system if you want to purchase a travel trailer. I have been wanting to get an RV because I retired recently. I can see why it would be smart to get a weight distribution system as well, because that way you won’t accidentally tip over your trailer.

    August 21, 2017 at 10:10 pm

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