For some, the American dream is to own a big house with a picket fence. For others, it's a house on wheels — a recreational vehicle such as a motorhome or fifth wheel — that can take them wherever they want, whenever they want, and vacation on the cheap. But RVs are a big-time investment, especially if you want one with all the comforts of home. Here are 18 reasons to think carefully before falling in love with an RV.
18 Reasons You Really Don't Want to Buy an RV
If you're planning to go big, a new Class A motorhome starts — yes, starts — around $50,000 to $100,000, according to RoverPass; with all the bells and whistles, they can push a million bucks. Smaller motorhomes won't approach seven figures, but still range from about $40,000 to $100,000. Travel trailers, pop-up campers and fifth wheels are more economical, starting around $10,000 to $15,000 and topping out around $50,000.
Very few people look forward to setting foot on a car dealer's lot, and it's no different with RVs. Buyers can expect to deal with similar frustrations, from rampant upselling and scare tactics to pricing games and salespeople ignorant about what they're selling. Study up before even thinking about going to a dealership, and don't be afraid to ask tons of questions and test every single part of the RV while you're there.
No one ever accused RVs of being fuel efficient. The biggest motorhomes, Class A, will only get 8 to 13 mpg, according to the Camping & RVing British Columbia Coalition. Downsizing to a Class B or Class C could mean anywhere from 10 to 20 mpg, but a lower number is a better bet. At 10 mpg, that short 500-mile round trip will cost $150 in gas. That 2,500-mile cross-country dream trip? A cool $750 ... and that's just one way.
Like any new vehicle, simply driving an RV off the lot causes a huge loss in value — around 21 percent, according to Camper Report. No matter what the size, once your RV is five years old, it's lost somewhere from 36 to 38 percent of its value; when it's 10 years old, you'll be lucky to get half of what you paid. Buying used may be the smartest financial move.
RVs demand confident drivers who understand that larger vehicles require special skills behind the wheel. For instance, you'll need to learn how to park using mirrors instead of being able to judge distance and potential obstacles over your shoulder, and learn how to travel downhill without stomping constantly on the brakes. And you always have to remember that an RV cannot — and will not — stop on a dime.
There's a reason compact cars are marketed heavily toward city dwellers: Space, especially parking, is at a premium — so good luck with that 40-foot behemoth. Motorhome USA goes so far as to recommend ditching the RV for a city sojourn, leaving it at a shopping mall or some other location with plenty of parking and using public transportation from there. Campanda has some suggestions for cities friendlier to RVs, including Las Vegas and Orlando.
Obviously, if you want to have the proper hookups for electricity and water, you'll need to find an RV park. Penny-pinchers may wonder if they can just pull over and "rough it" to save some dough. The answer? It depends, and if you don't make sure it's kosher ahead of time, you can get hit with steep fines for violating laws or regulations against overnight camping, RVshare warns. Even Walmart, which is famously welcoming to RVs, may not allow overnight parking, depending on local laws and management.
In an RV, chores follow you on vacation. No dishwasher? That means washing dishes by hand, of course. There's sweeping and vacuuming, since floors and upholstery get dirty quickly when people tromp in and out all day. There's laundry, which often involves hunting down a laundromat, or doing the tiniest of loads in a portable washer. And there's a lot of cleaning to be done after a trip.
Even in a massive RV with slide-out rooms, you just don't have much space. Models top out around 400 square feet — anything more, and they may be considered manufactured homes. Suffice it to say, sometimes sharing one tiny bathroom doesn't cut it. And the feeling that there's no privacy can extend outside at a campground, where there are other travelers living just feet away.
To stay street legal, you have to pony up for insurance. The bigger the RV, the bigger the bill is likely to be — perhaps $2,000 a year or more for Class A motorhomes, according to Trusted Choice. Of course, many other factors will affect the rate, including whether you'll be tooling around on the occasional weekend or living in it full-time; driving history; kind of deductible; and extras such as coverage for personal belongings and roadside assistance.
Just like homes and cars, RVs are pricey to maintain. Mobile Home Parts Store surveyed several RV experts and found they spent an average $1,410 a year on RV upkeep, or nearly $118 a month. Of course, that includes routine tasks such as replacing tires, getting oil changes, and keeping brakes in top shape, but there are other RV-specific things to worry about as well. Think broken generators, awnings, windows, and slide motors.
RVs are fabulous on the open road, but what about at home? Not everyone is lucky enough to have a massive garage or a long driveway. Simply parking a big RV in the driveway might not even be allowed, depending on whether you have a homeowners' association that considers it an eyesore. Of course, there are facilities that will store an RV for you, but that's yet another bill. Depending on the size of the RV and the type of storage (bigger RVs and climate-controlled storage cost more), you could pay anywhere from $30 to $450 a month.
It's tempting to think of an RV as a tank on wheels, but RVs can be a dangerous place to be during severe weather. RVshare recommends always knowing where you can seek shelter in truly bad conditions (for instance, extreme winds or tornado warnings). Even a minor storm can toss the outdoor furniture, damage awnings, and send a branch crashing down on that shiny windshield. An emergency weather radio is a must in case your phone dies or can't get service.
Sure, RVs can help you streamline and simplify, but a lot of stuff you already own won't cut it in such a small space. You'll probably need stackable or collapsible kitchen accessories to save space, plates that will actually fit in the tiny microwave or cabinets, special sheets to fit non-standard mattresses, camp chairs for sitting outside, and so many other things. Oh, and don't forget the hoses, filters, connectors, cords, adapters, leveling blocks and other things that should come with a new RV, but often don't.
Staying in an RV park? You might be able to look forward to planned events, such as live entertainment, coffee hours, or even ice-cream socials, according to Axle Addict. But you may also find cliques, or even worse, discover you absolutely loathe the people who've pulled in beside you. Even if you do find a great group of fellow RVers, everyone is keeping their own travel schedule, often putting an end to budding friendships before they can flourish.
One of the least-savory parts of RV life is having to think a lot about, well, No. 2. RVs have what's called a black water tank to hold sewage, and as Axle Addict notes, it's only so big — it can hold up to a week's worth of sewage and toilet paper for two people. That means cozying up to a designated dump station fairly frequently. You'll also need to think about keeping the tank in good shape by flushing it regularly, using chemicals that speed the breakdown of waste, and finding special toilet paper that dissolves easily.
RV forums are filled with complaints about shoddy workmanship, from poor finishes and loose screws to more serious issues such as excessive vibration and poorly done electrical wiring. RVs are by and large still built one at a time by workers whose skill levels are all over the map. Since the lack of automation makes RVs expensive to build, manufacturers are always looking to cut corners, which can lead to problems down the road — even for the most expensive models.
It's not as easy as grabbing an atlas and heading out on the open road. There are campground reservations to make. There is the time-consuming process of setting up and breaking down campsites. There's finding the best local grocery store and cheapest gas. There's even worries about plotting the smoothest route between Point A and Point B — can the RV handle those hills or fit under that bridge? Bottom line: You'll be doing a lot more than propping up your feet by the campfire.
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