Avoid RV Owner Regrets: Here's What to Know Before Buying

Young Couple Parked Van at a Viewpoint of Lake Tahoe


Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Young Couple Parked Van at a Viewpoint of Lake Tahoe

The Wheel Deal

Thousands of people have flocked to RVing over the past couple of years. With so many gorgeous, under-the-radar RV destinations to visit, it’s really no surprise. Before you join the ranks, though, consider the many things new RVers wish they’d known before buying. Responses were gathered from members of the Cool RV Stuff group on Facebook, which is made up of nearly 550,000 owners and wannabes. 

Beautiful young woman offers campervans at shop.

Inspect Everything Before Leaving the Dealer

You should inspect an RV thoroughly for signs of damage before buying. Even new ones can have problems you might want the dealer to repair. Water damage is especially important to be aware of, as it can totally destroy an RV. New RVers recommend getting all agreed-upon repairs in writing, and one even suggests taking a picture of the vehicle identification number on the vehicle you agree to buy — her dealer tried to switch when she went to pick it up. 

Interior of a live-in van

Find Something with Plenty of Storage

Storage — indoor and outdoor — is important. Most new RVers wish they had more. Having more room to store items means you don’t have to leave anything behind. Storage is especially critical if you plan to take extended trips or even travel full time. 

Millennial couple cook breakfast in the van they live in

Organize Everything to Make the Most of Space

Even RVs with plentiful storage are often found lacking by new RVers. You certainly don’t have the room of a house. Organizing space by using things such as totes, bins, and shoe holders makes a world of difference. The more organized you are, the larger an RV will feel.

For more great RV articles and money-saving tips,
please sign up for Cheapism's free newsletters.

Recreational Vehicle driving through a snow covered forest

Buy a 4-Season Package if You Plan to Camp All Year

For those planning to camp in the winter: Consider a four-season package. RVers who go without will feel the bite of the cold. While it is possible to winter camp without the upgraded package, it requires a lot more work and ongoing vigilance to make sure nothing freezes, including you. 

Family on RV Road Trip

Make Sure You Get Along With Everyone Aboard

Being in a small space, especially if you’re a full-time RVer, can take its toll. Interpersonal problems you had before can easily become more profound. “You just have to like each other,” remarks one RVer who moved recently into a 45-foot RV from a 4,000-square-foot home. 

Group of friends having fun inside camper van on weekend

Take Everyone Along on the Test Drive

Some RVs can seem incredibly spacious, but for a family with kids, that space can shrink quickly. Bring along the entire family to a test drive and you can see how much space you’ll really have. One new RVer says she skipped this step, and her rig feels cramped. 

RV Camping in the Fall

Think About Purpose When Deciding on Size

Some new RVers wish they had bought larger rigs. Others wish they bought smaller. It is important to think about an RV’s purpose when buying it. For example, if you plan to use it for weeks at a time, bigger might be better; if you want to frequent state parks, which often have tighter spaces, smaller might be the way to go. 

Hurricane motorhome recreational vehicle (RV)
Fang Zheng/istockphoto

Buy an RV With Slides for More Room

One of the easiest ways to make an RV feel more spacious is a slide, which pops out to extend the living space. While some new RVers worry about slide maintenance, most who forgo them have regrets, and those who already have slides often wish for more. The added space offered by a slide can be impressive. 

Marvellous sunset

Make Sure You Know What Size Tow Vehicle You Need

For towable RVs such as travel trailers and fifth wheels, a tow vehicle needs to be up for the task. Some new RVers say dealers misled them about what they could realistically tow with their current vehicle, so research beforehand rather than trusting a dealer to provide you with vital information. Remember also that when a camper is loaded, it will weigh much more than the manufacturer’s unloaded or “dry” weight.

Related: How Much RV Can You Get for Your Money?

RV in Utah 5th Wheel Travel Trailer White Pickup Truck

Buy a Bigger Truck If You Can

Some RVers choose to buy a new truck to tow an RV. If you go this route, most RVers advise getting the biggest truck you can afford. Many say they started with a smaller trailer and wanted an upgrade quickly. Having too small a tow vehicle is a major safety concern. 

Trailer Levelling Jack

Power Leveling Jacks Will Make Life Simpler

New RV owners who buy an RV without powered leveling jacks will find manual jacks a pain to use, taking much longer than the powered versions. While it might seem like a small hassle, one new RVer said she would never compromise on this feature. 

Mouse traps with cheese on turquoise table

Learn How to Mouse-Proof

When people start out RVing, mice aren’t often on their minds. That changes quickly, as mice love to get into cozy RVs, especially when they are stored for the winter. New RV owners wish they would have known what a large problem mice can be, and how to keep mice out.

Senior Woman Reading iPod next to Motor Home in Chair

Buy Something You Can Afford

Spending a lot of money on an RV is not hard — some cost more than $1 million. RVers suggest you set a budget and stick to it, as you’ll enjoy your rig so much more knowing it is something you can afford, rather than just a giant box of debt on wheels. Additionally, depreciation hits RVs hard; buying used could save you even more. 

Classic caravans camping in a park in vintage style

A New RV Isn’t Necessarily Better

Some owners were surprised to find just how much money could be saved by buying used (though currently both old and new RVs are hard to find and selling at premium prices). Additionally, many of the problems that could develop in a rig have already happened and been repaired. Still, older models can have enough problems that some buyers wish they’d paid extra for an inspection before taking the plunge. 

RV Motorhome Electric Hookup

Know the RV Is Just the First of Many Purchases

When you drop several thousand to several hundreds of thousands of dollars on an RV, it might surprise you to find there is still more to buy: supplies to hook up electricity, water, and sewer when camping, for instance. The costs can add up fast.

Related: Expert Tips for Saving Money on RV Living

RV Camper Van Accident

Insure Your RV, Even if the Law Doesn’t Require It

In some states, you don’t need insurance for a towable RV. Buy it anyway, most new and experienced RVers say. Considering how expensive the vehicle can be, it simply makes sense to factor in the cost of insurance.  

Man Refueling Caravan While Looking At Meter

Prepare to Spend Big at the Pump

Many new RVers are caught off guard by fuel costs. Some Class A motorhomes get as little as 6 to 10 miles per gallon. This number can be worsened by adding a tow vehicle behind. Not only is the fuel efficiency awful, but the tanks are also gigantic, and putting 75 gallons into a tank does not make for an enjoyable gas bill.

Related: How to Save Money on Gas for Your RV

Camping under the night sky
Larry Crain/istockphoto

Know How Expensive Campgrounds Can Be

Over the past year, as RVing grew more popular, campground prices rose. Many new RVers experienced sticker shock when booking, finding that stays can run anywhere from $30 a night (on the very low end) to more than $100 a night.  

gray camper van in a modern garage up on the car lift  with a car mechanic underneath

Get Ready for Maintenance

Considering all the bumping and swaying that goes on as you drive, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that even brand-new RVs have a lot of problems. Maintenance can take a lot of time and money, which is best to know going in.

Broken RV Air Condition

Skip the Extended Warranty

Many new RVers complain about expensive extended warranties that don’t avoid weeks of waiting for some repairs. You may be better off fixing things yourself, if you can, as it might get the work done faster and with more care. If you can’t make repairs yourself, you might still save money paying a la carte. In some cases, an extended warranty brings repairs only on a dealer’s lot — a major problem if you’re halfway across the country.

Campers and Motorhomes

Add Some Class with a Gel Coat

Gel coat RVs cost more but also look sharp — and look better for longer. This can help you get around the 10-year rule that some RV parks have to keep a park from looking shabby. As long as an RV looks nice, most places will let you stay even if your RV is older than the 10 years they specify.

Related: Boondocking and Other RV Terms You Need to Know

RV Air Conditioner Installation

Add an Extra Air Conditioner in a Larger Rig

RVs are essentially metal boxes. While they have more insulation than a car, they still heat up quickly in the sun. New RVers often learn the hard way that one air conditioner isn’t enough to keep things cool when temperatures soar. Adding an extra air conditioner is an added expense, but will make a trip much more pleasant. Some new RVers even wish they had added a third. 

Young woman lying on bed in caravan

Buy a New Mattress Before Your First Trip

The mattresses that come with a rig are often cheap and uncomfortable, and RVers say buying better ones should be one of the first things you do after driving home. Your back will thank you, and you’ll enjoy vacations so much more. 

Forest view from back window of retro motor home
Georgia Court/istockphoto

Consider Blackout Curtains for a Better Night’s Sleep

Buy blackout curtains. Many RV parks have bright lights that stay on all night, or you may get neighbors who handle that role on their own. You may also have an occasional overnight stop at a truck stop or Walmart parking lot, if you really want to travel on the cheap. Blackout curtains let you get a good night’s sleep by blocking the light streaming in through your windows.

Shower head with boiling water and steam in the bathroom

Find Out How Big the Water Heater Is

When you shower at home, you usually don’t have to worry about running out of hot water. While there are some RVs with tankless water heaters, with many models you’ll be lucky to get 15 minutes of hot water for a shower.

Related: What It's Really Like to Retire in an RV

Waking up on the edge of a cliff, van life concept

You Shouldn't Just Settle

RVs have been flying off lots, and availability is a major concern. Despite this, most new RVers will warn you: “Don’t settle.” An RV is an expensive purchase you will likely have for a long time. Take your time, and don’t buy until you are absolutely satisfied.

Interior of a RV

Look at Many Floor Plans to Find the Best Fit

There are many floor plans to choose. One of the best ways to find out what you like best is to look at many models. Start by looking online to narrow your options, but in-person shopping is a must before making a final decision.

Mobile Home at the lake

Rent Several RVs Before Buying

Even walking through RVs is nothing like actually taking one camping to discover which features you like and dislike. Some new RV owners wish they would have rented several different models before buying, but are now stuck with something that doesn’t quite work for them.  

Young asian woman relaxing and looking the view in motor home on campsite at evening

Think About Bedroom Layout

No matter your age, you’ll find bedroom layout important. Not all RVs have walk-around beds, which means you may need to crawl in from the side or the foot of the bed. It’s hardly glamorous, and making the bed is nearly impossible. It may also mean waking whoever’s in bed with you if you need to get out. 

An awe inspiring landscape from Yuma, Arizona
Cheri Alguire/istockphoto

Ensure You Can Access Everything With the Slides In

Many new RVers wish they had paid more attention to what a rig was like with the slides in. On some models, you can’t access everything unless they’re extended. Not being able to get to a bed, fridge, or even the bathroom on road trips is a pain. 

Inside view of a vintage motor home

Look for an Interior Bedroom Door for Privacy

Not all RV bedrooms have a door separating them from living areas. Whether it’s because of kids or guests, owners often wish they’d found a rig with a bedroom door for added privacy. 

Toilet in a luxury caravan
Ziga Plahutar/istockphoto

Get an RV With a Bathroom

Most larger RVs have a bathroom, but some small trailers do not — and many RVers recommend thinking long and hard before going without. Bathrooms make camping easier, and are great for road trips.

Related: You Won't Believe These RV Horror Stories

Inside of RV with washroom toilet sink shower cabinet

Look for a Larger Bathroom When Possible

While some new RVers wish their rig had a bathroom, period, those who get one almost always wish it was larger. Having a full bathroom in an RV is a luxury, but if yours is too small to move around in or use the shower, it isn’t worth having. 

Prepare food in camper van kitchen on the road

Get as Much Counter Space as Possible

When searching for the perfect layout, don’t forget the kitchen. Cooking in a small one is challenging, but some RVs have so little counter space that it becomes nearly impossible. While you might plan to always cook outdoors, the vagaries of weather are just one reason an interior kitchen is still important. 

Person with a map
Image Source/istockphoto

Plan Your Trips

Many new RV owners are surprised to realize how much planning goes into RVing, but space at some popular destinations fills up quickly, especially in the summer. You can’t simply pull up to a campground and hope to find space. In some locations, you might even have to make reservations up to a year in advance.  

Vintage Camper in the City
FOTOGRAFIA INC./istockphoto

Start Close to Home

Experienced RVers will tell every new RVer to take a “shakedown trip” not far from home — literally an opportunity for everything in a rig to rattle around and fall apart so you can fix it before the next trip. Staying close to home lets you test things and see what changes are needed and what additional supplies you may need. Once you’ve sorted everything out, the real fun (and the long trips) can begin. New RVers who skip the shakedown trip nearly all regret it, and some want to give up on RVing entirely.

Related: Biggest Mistakes of First-Time RV Drivers

Motorhome on a dust road with a heart shaped human hand

Be Warned: You (Probably) Won't Want to Quit

Many RVers say they can’t believe how addictive RVing can be. If you buy, get ready to be hooked. Soon you’ll be planning ways to spend even more time on the road. There are some RVers who regret their purchase, but for most, the exact opposite is true. 

Party men are singing their friends at night near a camper van
Manu Reyes/istockphoto

Ask for Help When You Need It

RVing comes with a steep learning curve. Facebook groups and RV blogs are a simple way to ask questions and get advice before and after buying. There will always be some naysayers online, but remember not to take their words to heart — you’ll find most of the RV community extremely welcoming.

Related: The Worst Thing About Living in an RV