Hitting the road in an RV is some people's idea of the perfect vacation. It's a great way to see different parts of the country and do some camping in the comfort of your very own home away from home. But because buying a recreational vehicle can be costly, it's important to weigh your options and figure out whether a new RV or a used RV is best for you.
First, you have to decide what type of RV best fits your needs -- class A, B or C. According to Expedition Motor Homes, class A motor homes are luxury RVs with plenty of storage space, roomy interiors and a minimum of two slide-outs. They are built using a very strong, heavy-duty frame on a commercial bus chassis, a commercial truck chassis or a specially designed motor vehicle chassis. Two to four people can sleep in the motor home, as there is a bedroom located in the back and there are couches that fold down into beds in the living room area. But at only 8 to 10 mpg, the class A motor home has the worst fuel economy.
Class B motor homes are the least expensive of the three types of RVs and are commonly known as camper vans. Inside, the van is tall enough for you to stand, and there is a kitchen, a living room and a bathroom. Most do not have slide-outs, and there is very little room for storage, as the interior isn't very spacious. Because these motor homes are the smallest, they are the easiest to drive, are the easiest to park and have the best fuel economy.
The class C motor home is the compromise between class A and class B and can house four to eight people. They are built with a cabin chassis and are known for their over-cab sleeping area, which allows for more room in the living area. These motor homes are able to tow a separate car and have gas mileage somewhere between the class A motor homes and the class B ones.
Kurt Hauser, 70, is the former owner of Road Bear RV, which sells and rents RVs. He says the typical cost for a new class A RV is between $60,000 and $200,000. Classes B and C will run you between $40,000 and $80,000.
Used RV prices depend on age, mileage and condition but are typically 20 to 30 percent below the original purchase price.
"I would recommend buying a 1-year-old used one," Hauser says. "You can save quite a bit of money and still get a factory warranty."
According to RV expert Mark Polk, if you are going to use the RV for only two weeks out of the year, a used RV might be your best decision. On the other hand, if you are planning on full-timing or traveling cross-country, a new RV with a full warranty would be a more logical choice.
Polk says that if you do decide a used RV is your best choice, check to see whether there is any type of warranty available. If you buy a used RV from a private owner, it is normally "as is" with no warranty. He said the same is true with many RV dealers. Most RV dealers will offer an extended service plan or contract if the used RV meets the service plan criteria. You can also purchase these plans from RV clubs and reputable websites.
Polk says it's also important to make sure other RV dealers and repair facilities will honor the service plan you purchase so that if needed, you're able to service your RV while traveling.
Polk adds that another factor to consider when choosing between new and used is how long you plan to keep the RV. RVs depreciate, so if you buy a new RV and trade it or sell it within the first couple of years, you will lose a substantial amount of money. He says that in many cases, a used RV has already suffered the brunt of the depreciation, and you don't stand to lose as much if you trade or sell it sooner.
Hauser says class C motor homes tend to be the most popular, especially among young couples and families. He says older people tend to buy class A RVs more than C's because they don't want to have to climb up to the bed over the driver's seat. He and his wife own a small class A motor home and have traveled to such places as Yellowstone and Zion national parks and British Columbia. He also builds custom off-road motor homes and has taken a trip in one to Alaska, where he and his wife found themselves 100 feet away from a bear catching fish in the water, and they also saw elk, moose and deer.
Hauser says that getting away from the city and into nature is what the RV life is all about. Recalling a recent RV trip with his wife to Grant Lake Marina in California, he told me: "We were sitting out there and you just see millions of stars, nobody around, just pure nature. That's what I call camping."