When you decide it’s time to buy an RV, the temptation to get the biggest, most technological coach is a dream come true. When you do see how much an RV costs and the related expenses that come with, it can surprise you.
Cost Ranges of RVs
RVs can be affordable to almost anyone. Buying one is a major investment and should not be done lightly. Too many people have walked away from their buying experience realizing that they became so wrapped up in the emotion of hitting the road, that they did not fully digest the realities of it.
RVs are considered second homes and you could be financing your coach for up to 20 years. Finding the right RV for your needs and wants is not too difficult if you know what to expect.
The price of a new RV depends on different things. One of which is the different classes of coach you choose. Websites like RV Trader, RV.com and RVT are neutral places to start to give you an idea what is currently out there. The prices we are about to present to you are averages. There are units that do exceed these price points, but this is where most of them fall.
You may see the same RV brand at different prices. Many manufacturers offer different models and floor plans under the same name. These differences alter pricing due to additional manufacturing needed to complete them.
For example, one coach may have a straight hallway between the front and back, and another model may have the hallway move from the right side of the coach to the left. This is due to cabinetry placement, bathroom configuration and other things built in during the installation. These changes can require more expensive materials and additional manufacturing time to complete.
The vehicle you are towing with may limit your options on which type of camper you can buy. Before you even consider buying a towable RV, make sure you know your vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). Staying within the GVWR will make your traveling experience safer and won’t damage your vehicle.
If you are set on a certain style or size, you may need to buy a different tow vehicle. SUVs and Pickup Trucks are your best options to give you the pulling power you need.
On average, most mid-size SUVs can pull about 5,000 pounds. Full-size SUVs can go up to 7,500 pounds. The biggest boys of SUVs currently is the Ford Expedition that can tow 9,300 pounds.
Pickup trucks can generally pull more. Be aware that ¼ ton trucks are designed more for towing and hauling your ATVs and Pop-ups. ½ ton trucks can tow most trailers under 30 feet and small fifth wheels. ¾ ton and one ton trucks can handle the bigger fifth wheels.
Teardrop Trailers: $8,000 to $45,000
The smallest RVs are the teardrop trailers. These small trailers are a contained sleeping area that can have heat, air conditioning and a TV inside. The kitchen area is on the outside. The smaller version of Teardrops can be towed by bigger motorcycles and almost any car.
Folding Trailers: $4,000 to $13,000
Folding trailers, also known as pop-ups, give you the tent-like experience with their canvas walls, but the amenities and storage of a trailer. The kitchenette area has a sink, one or two electric burners and a dorm-sized refrigerator. Recently, bigger versions have toilets and showers installed.
Pop-ups can sleep anywhere between 2-5 people depending on the size. Dinettes can fold down into a bed. The main beds are the ones that pull out on either end. They can be either queen-size or king-size. They can weigh as little as 600 pounds all the way up to 2,000. A full-size car or minivan could easily tow one of them.
Truck Camper: $4,000 to $26,000
The advantage of a truck camper, is that the whole RV is contained in the bed of your pickup truck. There aren’t any hitch or towing issues to deal with. The trade off of a truck camper is dealing with the tight quarters inside.
You can have all of the amenities as a folding trailer, and even a real bathroom. They sleep 1 or 2 people and a slide out for extra space. These type of units are popular with weekend fishermen or ATV enthusiasts.
Travel Trailer: $8,000 to $65,000
Travel trailers are unique in that they vary in size, and can give you a completely different camping experience. Their commonalities are that they are self-contained with everything you need to take longer journeys. Pulling them will require at least a mid-size SUV or bigger due to weights ranging from 3,000 to 12,000 pounds. For example, here are two different travel trailers on the opposite ends of the spectrum:
- Average sales price: $16,000
- 20 feet in length
- Double-size murphy bed and convertible dinette that sleeps up to 4 people
- Small kitchenette
- Full bathroom in the back
- Average sales price: $55,000
- 37 feet in length
- Bunkhouse in the back that can sleep up to 6 people
- Queen-size bed in the front with privacy wall and door
- Entertainment center with 40 inch TV and faux fireplace
- Full kitchen with near residential size appliances
- Outdoor kitchen
- Two recliners with heat and massage
As you can see, these two travel trailers give you completely different camping experiences.
Fifth Wheel: $13,000 to $100,000
The fifth wheel, also known as a “goose neck” is the biggest of the towables. It is towed by a hitch inside the bed of a pickup truck or tractor trailer hitch. The size of these trailers can range from 25 to 45 feet. Many full-time RV owners choose to live in these coaches because of the many residential level amenities they offer.
Bigger fifth wheels have multiple slide outs, residential refrigerators and appliances, and the highest ceilings. To pull these monsters, you are definitely going to need at least a ¾ ton truck like the Ford F-250, Ram 2500, or something similar. Many owners drive one ton pickup or go into full size trucks to tow them.
The other side of the coin in the RV world are the drivable RVs. One big advantage is, you can pull over and walk over to the refrigerator to make lunch without ever having to leave the coach.
Others enjoy the drivable experience because the incredible views they can get sitting above traffic. Those with medical problems can even lay down while their traveling companion can keep driving. You can also have many luxury amenities even in the smallest of drivables.
Class B: $41,000 to $74,000
Also known as “campervans,” the class B drivable RV is the smallest of them. They are designed to give you all the amenities inside a full-size van. The amenities within the Class B are similar to the pop-up trailer. With limited space, dorm-like refrigerators, two burner stoves and small sinks are used to fit everything in.
The advantage of Class B coaches is the ease you can drive them through city streets and park them almost anywhere. They also have the best fuel efficiency of the drivables. Due to their compact nature, they are best suited for two people. Larger ones can accommodate up to four people.
Class C: $48,000 to $140,000
Almost anyone can identify a Class C RV by its overhead bunk above the driver. These coaches stretch between 22 and 40 feet on average. They can sleep anywhere from 4-8 people with their convertible dinette and fold out couches. Most have at least one slide out to add space within the RV.
Some of the newer Class C manufacturers developed their outdoor living space with automatic awnings, outdoor kitchens, and outdoor entertainment centers with TVs and sound systems. Driving one of these feels like driving a full-size SUV or truck.
Class A: $58,000 to $400,000
The mighty Class A is the biggest of the drivables. They range between 27-45 feet. They also come in unleaded gasoline or diesel engines. Some of the best technology and upgrades are found in the Class A. If you are looking for a rolling palace, this is the size for you. Know that these rolling mansions can reach price points well over one million dollars.
The Class A is preferred by full-timers because of the storage space, residential type amenities and the big water tanks that allow camper to be on the road for weeks or months at a time. Some even offer washing machines and dishwashers to give you the full home experience.
There are other costs you need to factor into your RV budget.
Tax, tag, title and fees: Between dealership fees and registering your RV, you’ll want to know these costs ahead of time.
Hoses, cables, tools: Water hoses, adapters and to dreaded sewer hose are separate costs. You may also want to have a full set of tools with you for maintenance and repair issues.
Insurance: RV insurance can be one of the most affordable insurances you’ll see. We always recommend educating yourself on what goes into this type of insurance and what your options are. RV insurance covers you for both on the road and parked issues. Think of it as auto and homeowners all in one. You are covered for collision as well as liability at your campsite. (yes, most campsites require each RV to have its own liability on the lot they are parked.)
Storage fees: If you need to store your RV during the off-season or when you are not using it, there are many storage places around. Shop around for the best rates. While shopping, make sure you are comfortable with their security benefits to make sure your coach stays protected.
Winterization: If you live in a cold environment, or storing your RV for a long period of time, you will want to winterize your water lines and take other steps to protect your RV. The last thing you want is for cold temperatures to freeze water in your lines that can crack the pipes or storage tanks.
Generator (if not installed): If you plan on doing any type of dry docking, a generator to produce electricity when you are parked is important. When shopping for one, you want to pay attention to its energy output. You will want one that can fully power your coach based on your normal usage.
Fuel: Even the most fuel efficient vehicles will need to fill up multiple times on your way to your destination. If you are towing, you can expect to lose fuel efficiency due to the added weight. For drivable RVs, the average highway can be anywhere between 6-12 miles to the gallon (depending on the needs of your engine). For Class Cs and Class As, their fuel tanks can be anywhere between 60- 100 gallons.
Propane: Propane is used for many different purposes. It can power your refrigerator while you are traveling. Also, you will need it for your gas stove, water heater, and centralized heat. You will not refill your propane as often if you only use it for your water heater, cooking and the refrigerator. These systems use minimal amounts. The big user is your heating system.
Dumping stations: Travel centers like Pilot/Flying J charge their customers to use freshwater and dump station. It’s not much, but having to take advantage of these services while you are on the road can add up. These travel centers do offer frequent buyer programs to lower some of these costs.
Maintenance & Repair costs Your RV goes through a lot when traveling. They are made to handle road conditions, but even the best quality coach can suffer from wear and tear. Whether it is the living section or the automotive parts, maintenance is virtually a guarantee. A good strategy is to build up a savings account to cover these unexpected occurrences.
Cookery and linens: You could bring your kitchen and bedding supplies from home to save money, but many people choose to keep separate sets just for their RV to avoid using their expensive home supplies.
Upgraded devices like TV, lightbulbs, solar panels: Most RVs do not come with installed solar panels. LED light bulbs are not necessarily standard parts. Let’s be honest, why settle for the 32 inch TV when your coach can support a 40 inch? Considerations like this can add up. Some manufacturers do not even include TVs in their coaches to keep them more affordable to their customers.
Other Things to Consider
Don’t go head first into buying an RV without doing your research. During the 2008 financial crisis, the RV industry radically changed how they build and do business. Many companies that once were considered the best, either no longer exist, or were bought out by bigger companies using different materials. Today’s RVs are built to be light, affordable and aesthetically pleasing.
Each manufacturer has their pros and cons. Some will even mention that their coaches are not designed for long-term (full-time) use. Research common problems that occur on the various models. When you go to buy your RV, bring someone along with you who knows what to look for. Their knowledge and experience can save you from buying that dreaded lemon.
New Or Used
There are certain advantages to buying a used RV instead of a new one.There are many instances where people bought their RV, and for whatever reason, they returned it back to the dealer. Many of these are less than 2-3 years old. For an RV, this short time period, in many cases mean that they are virtually brand new.
Your dealer may have the same RV you want, but in last year’s model. Unless there was a significant change between the two years, they are essentially the same. Manufacturers may have changed the color schemes or other little things to differentiate the model year.
RVs depreciate rapidly, so the difference of one year could mean up to $10,000 less for bigger coaches. Another good feature about buying a used RV is that any manufacturer issues could be repaired already.
The advantage of a new RV is that you get it right off of the factory floor. You’ll have the latest technology and not worry about previous wear and tear. When buying new, you can even order your RV with factory installed customization like having recliner seating couches instead of a standard three person couch. Also, new RVs come with factory and extended warranty options as well.
Be Realistic with How Often You Will Use Your Coach
Spending $100,000 for an RV you are going to use maybe 3 or 4 times a year is not an efficient way to spend your money. As we say to our children, “don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach.” In this case, having the biggest RV may not be what is best for you. Remember, you are driving/pulling the coach and parking it.
Couples traveling can be just as comfortable in a smaller coach with the same level of amenities.. Bunk beds allow more people to sleep comfortably while saving space. If you plan to spend most of your time outside of the coach, do you really need the ultimate entertainment center and couches? These are just some of the things to consider when you are shopping for your RV.
Make a List of Must Haves
When it’s time to go shopping, a written priority list can keep you on track.
Must Haves: These are things that cannot be compromised. Sleeping space, fridge size, and tow weight are a few decisions you have to have already made. Don’t forget about your budget limits as well.
What You Want: This priority level would be those features you would prefer, but could live without. A split floor plan to give you and the kids’ privacy. Electric or gas stove, 1 or 2 TVs, and interior design schemes.
Must Avoid: These would be features that you do not want or need. Do you want a drivable or towable? Is a gas engine preferable to a diesel?
Knowing your priorities can stop you from temptation and make the shopping experience less confusing.
When to Buy
Like buying a car, there are better times to buy your RV to get the best deals. RV shows are events where the manufacturers and dealers in the state bring their inventory to showcase. At these events, you can learn from the manufacturers about their products. During these shows, dealers are offering their best prices only reserved for these events.
Other ways to save are to negotiate the sales price. Check with your bank if you are financing your RV for the best rates. Dealerships usually have their own credit services, but it’s always a good idea for you to shop around for yourself.
Lastly, as the RV season is ending, many of the dealerships need to clear their inventory out for the next year’s products. End of year clearance prices can save you thousands.
Renting Is an Option
If you are curious about the RV world, renting may be a great way to start. You can enjoy the experience without getting locked into the investment. Renting can give you the options to try out different classes of RVs.
There are two different ways to rent an RV. Companies like Cruise America own their coaches, and rent them out. Other companies like RVShare act as middlemen organizations on a consignment basis. In this situation, owners rent their RVs out as a way to earn income when they are not using their camper. To locate an RV rental company near you, check out Go RVing.com.
When renting an RV you can expect a few things. Besides the daily or weekly rates, be prepared to also pay for mileage and generator hours. You will also need to have third party liability insurance for the days you are using the RV. The rental company may be able to assist you with locating these insurance companies.
Whatever you decide, buying your RV and the costs involved can be complicated. If you do your research ahead of time, it can be a great buying experience. With all of the options out there, that perfect RV is out there for you. Happy trails.