RV driving through Arizona
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How Much RV Can You Get for Your Money?

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RV driving through Arizona
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Cash for Camping

The best deals on recreation vehicles tend to come in the fall. If you’re considering buying, the time to cash in on discounts is now, but no amount of money saved will be worth the bargain if you come home with the wrong rig and a serious case of buyer’s remorse. The problem is, there are so many options — and buying an RV is such a big commitment — that confusion can be a future RVer’s greatest enemy. We consulted the experts, including people who live in them, love them, sell them, rent them, and write about them while traveling full time, to help you understand some of the most critical considerations and hidden costs. (It’s important to note that several of the experts profiled here, like so many members of the general public, use the term RV interchangeably with motorhomes and trailers.)

Related: Is Buying an RV Through Costco Worth It?

RVs Can Be Insanely Expensive
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Know Your Options

RVs can generally be broken into two categories: motorhomes and campers/trailers. That’s a broad generalization, so below we have a basic rundown of each of the primary options within those two umbrella categories. You, of course, will have to expand on this guide by doing your own research.

Rent and Roll
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Motorhomes

Motorhomes are distinguished by being self-propelled — they are motor vehicles outfitted with living space. Depending on the class, that living space could range from fairly spartan to ultra-luxurious.

When in Boondocking Doubt, Ask
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Class A

Available in either gas or diesel, Class A motorhomes are the biggest, swankiest, most feature-packed RVs on the road. At a glance, they look like giant bus-shaped rectangles on wheels and can range in length from about 21 feet to 41 feet or more.

Apollo Has Mixed Reviews
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Class C

Class C motorhomes stand out for their traditional cab-over layout. They have many of the same features and amenities as Class A RVs, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and sleeping quarters. Those features are smaller, however, because Class Cs are smaller — usually between 20 and 30 feet long. They’re also cheaper, easier to drive, and more accessible.

Related: RV 101: Boondocking and Other Terms You'll Need to Know

RVshare
RVshare

Class B

Although C is listed after B in the alphabet, Class B comes third in terms of RVs because they’re smaller (17 to 21 feet), cheaper, and have fewer features than their bigger cousins. They’re commonly referred to as camper vans.

Related: Coolest Off-Road Camper Vans

Airstream on mountain road
Airstream

Campers/Trailers

Unlike motorhomes, campers and trailers are not self-propelled. They’re sometimes referred to as towables because pickup trucks and other passenger vehicles tow them with a hitch the same way they would a boat. There are some tradeoffs between motorhomes and campers, and they, too, can range from tricked-out to fairly bare, depending on your budget, needs, and style.

Related: 13 Airstreams That Made the Silver Bullet So Iconic

Toy Haulers
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Camper trailer in yellowstone
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Fifth-Wheel Campers

These trailers attach to a special “fifth-wheel” hitch in the bed of the big, powerful trucks that are required to pull them. The biggest trailers you can buy, they get their characteristic look from their raised, forward living/sleeping quarters.

Pickup truck and travel trailer passing by on a highway in the mountains.
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Travel Trailers

These smaller but still roomy campers attach to the vehicles that pull them via standard bumper hitches. Their versatility and accessibility makes them among the most popular RVs on the road. They are the ultimate compromise RVs in terms of function, comfort, utility, and cost.

Downsizing, RV-Style
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Pop-Up Campers
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Pop-Up Campers

Light enough to tow with family vehicles, pop-up campers extend up and out to transform into big tents that don’t have to touch the ground. They have a hard base and canvas body and have been the staples of budget-minded camping families for generations.

Related: 25 Affordable Camper Alternatives for Escaping the Crowds

Visit a Top Local Dealer Near You
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Considerations: The Big Three

Trying to narrow the options down to the exact RV that’s right for you can be a daunting and overwhelming task. You can clear the clutter by concentrating on the primary factors that will help make a decision for you. “Financially speaking, there are three main considerations to look at when comparing an RV/motorhome and a camper/trailer,” says Tory Jon, owner of Camper FAQs. “How often will you use it, do you already have a vehicle that will tow a trailer, and costs, both upfront and running costs.”

Try before you buy — consider rental options at sites like Outdoorsy and RVshare.

Time Your Purchase Right
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Motorhomes Are Generally Much More Expensive to Buy

Most buyers’ budgets will determine their options, and motorhomes cost big bucks. “A nice motorhome fully decked out can cost $100,000 or more,” Jon says. “That’s a lot of money for a vehicle that will just sit in your driveway most of the year. Whereas a nice travel trailer will run about $20,000, so it might make more sense for a low-usage situation.”

Motorhomes Are Also More Expensive to Own
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Motorhomes Are Also More Expensive to Own

Just like cars, RVs come with two sets of expenses: the purchase price and the many other ongoing and long-term costs. “Upfront costs aside, with both motorhomes and travel trailers you will have maintenance, gas, insurance, depreciation, and various other fees,” Jon says. “And travel trailers beat motorhomes in almost every category. As a general maintenance rule, motorhomes have more things that can break. And the more decked out your motorhome is, the more that holds true. Plus, if you need to take your vehicle in for maintenance, your living quarters goes with it.”

Related: 20 Ways to Save Money on Gas for Your RV

Newell Coach p50
Newell

Bigger Is Not Always Better

It’s natural for newbies to spring for as much RV as they can possibly afford. This is almost never a good strategy. “The bigger and more expensive your vehicle is, the higher the insurance costs will be, so expect to pay more for a motorhome than a travel trailer,” Jon says. “Depreciation should be expected with most any vehicle purchased and is often overlooked. Just keep in mind that motorhomes have odometers and the more miles clocked, the faster it typically depreciates, giving the advantage to travel trailers.”

Related: 25 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying an RV

Towables Must be Towed by Capable Vehicles
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Towables Must be Towed by Capable Vehicles

With motorhomes clearly established as the more affordable option, consider question No. 2 before you start looking into cost-effective trailers: Do you have a vehicle capable of towing it, or will you need to buy one? “If you already have a vehicle that will tow a travel trailer you can save on the upfront costs, as towable trailers are much less expensive than a motorhome,” Jon says.

New Hampshire: 2016 Thor Palazzo
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Motorhomes Are Big, Roomy, and Packed With Features

Cost aside, it’s hard not to be at least a little bit envious when you spot a family cruising in a big, hulking motorhome during your daily commute, and for good reason. They are, in a word, enviable. “Entire families can be together on long road trips,” says Keith Dix, owner of Touchdown RV in Indiana. “Motorhomes usually contain more amenities, such as a generator for power, and are usually more luxurious, with more space.”

Avoid Buying on the Coasts
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Motorhomes Are a Complete Package

Motorhomes are a one-and-done vehicle. When you find the one that suits your needs, all that’s left to do is plan a trip. “A lot of people prefer the overall package of an RV because it’s built-in and ready to go,” says Michael Lowe, CEO of Car Passionate. “It also allows people to make use of the ‘home’ aspect of the motorhome while staying in the same space as the driver.”

Travel Trailer
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The Complete Package Isn’t Always a Good Thing

While it’s true motorhomes offer the benefits of a vehicle and living space all in one, they also deliver the drawbacks that go with that dynamic. Most notably, the inability to separate vehicle from home. “Trailers allow you to detach so you can make those quick trips to the supermarket or go sightseeing without the added pressure of parking a massive vehicle,” Dix says.

Related: 12 Dangerous Roads You Should Never Drive in an RV

Expedition Is Excellent ... in California
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Bigger Motorhomes Come With Bigger Costs

“Choosing a class A motorhome actually has more cons when it comes to insurance and gas because it is much more expensive to maintain,” says Mollie Newton, founder of Pet Me Twice, who has been living the RV lifestyle for three years. “However, the class C motorhome may be more accessible than a class A because the former is much smaller, so I suggest you can start off with that. Plus, motorhomes do give more comfort.”

Losing the Title
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Motorhomes Cost More to Insure

An RV is one more thing you’re required to insure — and your choice will have a lot to do with the premiums you’ll have to pay. “Insurance on trailers is more affordable since it’s technically not considered a motor vehicle, making RV insurance more expensive in comparison,” says Lindsey Maxwell, co-founder of Where You Make It, which covers topics such as full-time RV travel, van life, and converting vehicles.

Also, consider signing up for a roadside assistance service. AAA offers RV coverage as an add-on and Good Sam Roadside Assistance is a favorite with many RVers.

Campervan
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Campers Can Be Cozier

RVs are all-inclusive because the living space is one with the vehicle, but that reality can also be a drawback. “Some people may prefer campers because the space isn’t built around the vehicle,” Lowe says. “Each aspect of it is built to feel homey and isn’t restricted.”

Denali Bonus
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Let Your Purpose Determine Your Purchase

Although budget realities set the buying parameters, money isn’t the only consideration. Let your RVing plans serve as your guide. “If you plan to travel with a group of more than a few people, roominess has to play a role in your decision making,” says Gigi Stetler, who created and leads the first female-owned RV company in the United States, RV Sales of Broward, and has 30 years of experience in the industry. “Class A and C RVs can be quite spacious, allowing everyone to spread out. Class B rigs aren’t much bigger than vans, so they’re more suitable for two people. The bigger travel trailers are also quite roomy, and often provide even more space than Class A and C rigs. But trailers can get cramped with more than a few bodies in there. And of course, we can’t forget to mention the bathroom. If you intend to drive for long stretches, you won’t have to worry about stopping to use the facilities with a motorhome.”

Related: 32 RV Accessories to Make Road Life More Luxurious

Learning All of the Components
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Keep In Mind, You Do Have to Drive the Thing

Buyers have a tendency to imagine themselves on the open road, cruising into the RV lifestyle without looking back — but the open road doesn’t always feel so open when you’re driving or towing something as big as an RV. “Everyone dreams about driving a big rig across the country, but anything over 26 feet or 4,500 pounds will severely restrict your ability to drive, park, or enjoy national parks,” says Geneva Long, founder and CEO of luxury travel-trailer company Bowlus. “It’s also a guaranteed unpleasant experience once you add in high winds, poor driving conditions, heavy traffic, and limited camping locations due to your oversize. Conversely, a travel trailer tends to be much more lightweight and easier to tow than a motorhome, so the aforementioned should be non-issues.”

Related: You Won't Believe These 25 RV Horror Stories

trailer hitch
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Trailers Are More Involved to Set Up and Take Down

Motorhomes cost more, but they’re less involved on the front and back ends when it comes to getting on and off the road. “When you get to your destination in a motorhome, setup might just consist of hooking up the utilities and stabilizing the unit,” Stetler says. “The same applies to a trailer, with one big added step: unhitching, which can be a lengthy process. And as for teardown, again, with a motorhome this is usually pretty quick, but it will take some time with a trailer.”

Consider the Old-Fashioned Way: Your Local Dealer
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Buying Used Can Make a Lot of Sense

Ashley Mann is the owner of RVinspiration, an RV living blog with a slant toward interior organizing, decor, and modifications. She and her husband spent three years living full-time in a 28-foot fifth-wheel camper. “In terms of saving money, I strongly encourage people to buy used instead of new,” Mann says. “When we bought our RV, we were afraid of buying something more than a few years old because we didn’t want to be stuck with a lot of repairs. But knowing what great shape our RV was in when we sold it at 11 years old, I wouldn’t hesitate to look at something that old if I were to buy again, because the cost difference is huge … older RV’s can be every bit as nice as or even nicer than brand new ones if you remodel them.”

Related: Where to Buy an RV Across America

Consider Private Sellers
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If You Do Buy Used, Be Thorough

Yes, used RVs in good condition can be a steal, but “good condition” is key. RVs can mask lots of hidden problems. If you’re new to the game, spring for a professional inspection. “When we bought our RV, we went with something that was used, to save money,” says Kristi Haight of Must Love Camping. “You can save thousands buying used, but you really have to know what to look at when you go to check out an RV. The biggest deal-breaker for us was water damage. Buying an RV with water damage can be a costly mistake. To avoid that, check walls, including the corners, the ceiling, and around windows. If you find a gem in great condition and at a great price, you can take it home and make it your own.”

Related: 22 Important Things to Consider Before Buying an RV

El Monte Has Locations Nationwide
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Consider Renting at First

Before you buy a new RV, or even a used one, consider getting a feel for the vehicle or trailer, not to mention the lifestyle, by renting before you dive in. “In my opinion, the biggest mistake first-time RVers make when choosing a vehicle is buying one,” says Fabio Rosato, founder of Roadologist.com. “You see, all of those aspects to consider, those features to compare, and those decisions to make, they are all really an issue if you’re buying the RV. But ask yourself, do you really need to buy it? Unless you plan on living in it, or you plan to travel with it more than a couple of times a year, buying it may not be the best decision, both economically and practically.”

Related: Renting a RV? These Are the Features You'll Want — and Some You Won't

Westfalia Club Joker City 4x4
Westfalia

Camper Vans Can Be a Happy Medium

Camper vans are the smallest motorhomes, which provide many of the best benefits of self-propelled RVs and trailers — and can be affordable and practical. “If you’re trying to save money, then buying a camper van is the way to go,” says Kate Moore, who founded the travel blog Parked in Paradise and lived in a camper van for two years. “They have simpler plumbing, heating, and cooling systems so there is less to go wrong — not to mention the gas mileage. Camper vans are less expensive up front, and won’t require storage fees in the off-season. You will be sacrificing a bit of comfort traveling in a camper as opposed to a full RV. But the compact size means you can fit in smaller campgrounds and go on more rugged adventures.”

Related: RVs and Camper Vans With Style for Miles

Hawaii: 2018 Hymer Aktiv
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Camper Vans Offer Greater Access

When it comes to motorhomes, bigger is not necessarily better — in fact, small Class B vehicles have access to many more places. “Staying at established campgrounds can add up quite a bit over time, and it’s a cost that people don’t often think about up front,” says Katie Diederichs, a travel blogger and founder of Two Wandering Soles. “One of the biggest benefits of owning a camper van, as opposed to an RV or tow-behind trailer, is that you have many more options when it comes to finding a free place to park for the night. From urban camping to BLM land to Forest Service Roads, it is actually quite easy to find free places to stay with a camper van. The larger your rig, the more difficult it is to find a place to park for the night.”

Related: 50 Budget-Friendly RV Campgrounds to Check Out

Resist the Urge to Go Big
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Cash-Strapped DIYers Should Consider Camper Van Conversion

Diederichs self-converted two camper vans on two very different budgets, proving that it’s possible for just about anyone to live the lifestyle — depending on what they’re willing to sacrifice and what they can’t go without. “The first camper van my husband and I converted cost less than $3,000 in total for the vehicle and the build,” Diederichs says. “In exchange for the low budget, we had to give up some luxuries — like having a toilet. The second camper van we converted was done on a much higher budget, so we were able to install solar panels, a fancy kitchen, and a composting toilet.”

Related: DIY RVs and Vans You Have to See to Believe

Campervan
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What to Know When Converting

If you do decide to do your own build, Diederichs advises:

  • Give yourself enough time. If you’re in a rush, it will be harder to find the best deals on individual items.
  • Do as much of the build yourself as you can. Like just about anything else in life, DIY-ing it will save you lots of money in the end. There are lots of YouTube videos and step-by-step tutorials out there to help you along the way. 
  • Shop for some items at secondhand stores or on sites such as Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. Diederichs’ first build was made with many thrift items, saving lots of money.

Related: Creative Van Conversions to Simplify Life on the Road

Not Seeking Shelter
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Don’t Forget to Calculate Storage Fees

If you don’t have space on your property to store your RV when it’s not in use, you’ll have to pay to have it stored at a secure facility, which can cost hundreds of dollars per month. “When choosing between a motorhome and a camper/trailer, keep in mind the cost of storage,” says Diana Hansen, an RV and camping expert and founder of Let’s Camp S’more. “Storage fees are calculated by the size of the vehicle. A small camper, such as a pop-up, can be stored in your garage at home, saving you a lot of money.”

Check out Good Sam's new RV Storage Network for a  select list of nationwide sites. Good Sam Club members receive discounts and perks at many facilities.

Upkeep Is Expensive, Too
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No Matter Your Choice, Expect Surprises

Alyssa Hope Hoffman manages the six-time rock-charting band Wayland, whose members lived in a tour bus for eight years while traveling, including two years in a camper at the Hollywood RV Park in Los Angeles. The transition from bus to camper was fairly easy, but there were some financial surprises that they hadn’t planned for — and that’s the rule, not the exception. “The expenses that came with the RV that were unexpected were the water and the gas,” Hoffman says. “We had multiple plumbing issues due to previous owners that we did not anticipate and that set us (and the RV park) back several thousand dollars.”

Related: Peek Inside a Luxury Tour Bus That Carries Celebrities and Rock Stars

Washington, D.C.: 2019 Airstream RV International Signature
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Any RV Can Become a Source of Passive Income

One of the big upsides of owning an RV — no matter the type or style — is that it can bring in a steady stream of labor-free income. “Most families only use their motorhomes or camper/trailers on average eight weeks per year,” Dix says. “That leaves approximately 10 months each year of your vehicle sitting. I recommend renting out your RV. Renting your motorhome or camper/trailer will be a source of income for your next vacation.” Sites such as RVShare and Outdoorsy and their many competitors allow owners to rent their campers and RVs directly to vacationers who don’t have one of their own.

Related: How to Earn Money Working From Your RV