How to Choose the Best Type of RV

how-to-choose-the-best-type-of-rvOne question I see pop up on RVing forums over and over again is what type of RV is best. There are two answers to this question, a long one and a short one.

The short one is that there is no one best kind of RV, just the one that works best for you. It’s the truth, but this isn’t the answer people are looking for when they ask the question. They want someone to be able to point definitively to one brand or style or model and go “that one.” And some people on the forums will do that, reply stating that the RV they have is the best, no ifs ands or buts.

They may do this because they honestly feel theirs is best, but be careful. It could be that they feel the need to validate their decision by pushing it off onto others. The more people they can get to agree that theirs is best, the better they will feel about having bought that one over another. I’d pay more attention to those who reply saying that their own isn’t best, because they’re more likely to be truthful.

But back to the original question, how do you find the best one for you? A fair bit of research I’m afraid, but doing the work now will pay off when you purchase a RV that that works well for you.

If you don’t know the differences between the various types of RV, that’s the first step. I’ve written about them before, Motorhomes are here, and towables are here. These articles also give some positives and negatives for each type. There isn’t a single type of RV that doesn’t have a disadvantage of some sort, but some you’ll probably be more willing to deal with some disadvantages over others.

This is usually the point when people post on forums, unsure of where to go. They’ve learned the basics about the different options, and now they’re looking for informed opinions. Some perusing of these topics can be helpful, but no one is going to be looking for the exact thing that you are. Instead of asking which kind is best, you might try asking the people who already own a RV what they like and what they dislike about it.

By this point, maybe you’re leaning towards one type of RV, or debating between two. Whether you are or not, the thing to do from here is to get out as see as many different kinds of RV as you can. I can guarantee you that the pictures that you’ve been looking at on the internet do not do the real thing justice. Find the closest RV dealership to you, and make a trip out to see the goods. Even if you’re pretty sure you want one kind, do yourself a favor by walking in at least one of every kind.

There are several questions to think about as you walk through the RVs. How many sleeping spots do you need? Is there enough room to be comfortable in every part of the RV? (as in, beds are long enough, shower tall enough, etc). Where will your belongings fit? And think about the weight of your belongings too, just because the RV has enough cupboards doesn’t mean it has the carrying capacity to fill them all up.

You might think about making a list of the features that are important to you before you start looking, because it may be hard to remember all of them once you get on site. You’ll probably also continue to add to the list as you start seeing things in person and figure out what you like and don’t like.

Then once you’ve picked a type, it’s time to contemplate layouts. Again, the best way to get a feel for them is to see various ones in person, diagrams of floor plans online are a poor substitute to go by. For some, a walk around bed is key, and different RVs will place bedroom, kitchen, and living area in different spots. The more you go see, the better idea you’ll have of what you’re looking for.

After a type and floor plan is decided on, the next question is which manufacturer to go with. If you have the money, go for one of the higher end ‘full-timing’ quality brands. Most RVs will have the same amenities and features, and the vast price differences that you see while shopping come in the build quality. The average consumer will look at the price differences, see that the two RVs offer the same layout, appliances, etc. and turn to the cheaper option as it is outwardly the better deal. The thing is a RV is a house, a house on wheels that undergoes what amounts to earthquake like forces every time it gets moved. It’s really not surprising that the number one killer of RVs is leaks. The joints and seams undergo a lot of stress, and paying the extra money for a better built RV pays off in the long run. Especially if you want to travel in it full-time.

If you don’t have the money for a high build quality RV, that doesn’t mean the journey is over before it starts. It’s a good plan to have money set aside specifically for repairs and maintenance whether you get a high quality one or not, just plan to set more aside for an older or lower quality rig. And actually, if you’re mechanically inclined and like building and tinkering with things, you might enjoy a RV that needs some work to be made road worthy. Or if you really want to go for gold, you might consider a vehicle like a bus or van that could be converted into a RV.

My Casita falls somewhere in the middle when it comes to build quality. I spent $9,000 for him at 13 years old, I could have gotten a more traditional ‘stick built’ RV with the same length and gross vehicle weight rating for that price that was much newer, but there is little in a Casita that can rot, and no seams to take care of. He’ll last a lot longer than the average RV. Now if I’d had the funds, I probably would have tried looking for a Oliver, also a molded fiberglass style trailer but they have no wood at all, and not even any rivets to maintain – all the inside furniture is a second fiberglass shell, it’s all one piece.

Which brings me to another hot topic,whether it’s better to buy new or used. Like the larger ‘which is best’ question there are arguments that can be made on both sides.

A new RV gives you the opportunity to order exactly what you want. It’ll also have a warranty, but although everything will be new, that does not guarantee that there will not be problems. Most people who buy new RVs still encounter issues with them within the first year, but again, you’ll have a warranty. And then you shouldn’t have to worry about having to buy another RV for a good long time.

That being said, if this is going to be your first RV, I highly recommend going used. For starters RVs depreciate very quickly, in 5 years time most RVs will be worth only half of what they are new. So you could still get a reasonably new RV for significantly less than what it would cost brand new, and after 2 years or so, the previous owners would have probably worked out all the initial new RV problems.

The second reason is a bit saddening after all this effort you will have gone through, but it needs saying. Even with all the research and planning and imagining, very few people stick with the first RV they they buy. It’s impossible to know exactly what you’ll want in a RV until you have one and have experienced it for yourself. Better to buy a used one as a first RV, in case it turns out RVing isn’t for you after all, or after being on the road for 6 months you discover The One. This way you’re out less money on trading it in, because of the depreciation rate.

Some people will say to buy your second RV first, by which they mean buy a bigger and nicer RV than you think you want to avoid having to trade up later, but this mentality makes me nervous. Because again, I don’t think you can know exactly what you want until you’ve tried it for a while. Yes, most people who go on to buy another RV look for something bigger and nicer, but not everyone. I know of at least one couple (Nina and Paul at Wheelin It) who bought a 40 foot class A, and they’ve said that if they had to do it again, they would have gone with something smaller, since they discovered that they liked boondocking and staying in more rustic campgrounds where fitting a 40 footer in can be difficult. I’ve only been on the road for three and a half months, but so far I’m very happy with my small RV, and I couldn’t see getting something bigger for how I like to travel.

Another big reason to buy used is to avoid debt. You’re buying a RV because you like the freedom it offers. Don’t temper that freedom by chaining yourself to a monthly payment, that’s not freeing at all. Some people will disagree with me on this, but I can say from experience that the whole financial viability for me of full-timing has been made much easier by the fact that I only need to earn enough to keep me on the road. Gas, food, and entertainment expenses can be easily modified to suit how much money I have coming in, but loan payments are a fixed thing. They will be there whether your able to land a job at a new destination or not. Not having them makes the whole thing less stressful.

And that wraps it up. As always, comments and questions are encouraged if there is anything you’d like me to elaborate on. And for those who are already out RVing, if there is anything else you’d like to add to help wannabe RVers, feel free.

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34 Responses to How to Choose the Best Type of RV

  1. Rene & Jim January 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Here! Here! Becky, I totally agree with you about not becoming burdened by a mortgage payment on a depreciating asset like a rig.

    You learn quick grasshopper! Nice post.
    Rene & Jim recently posted..Roll Into an Unconventional Life with Ted Simon’s New BookMy Profile

    • Becky January 5, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

      I was lucky to have parents who believed the same thing and taught me at a very young age that debt was bad. Because they encouraged me to have good spending and saving habits I was able to save up enough money to go RVing in the first place. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have had the kind of parenting I did when it came to money, and so I present this to state my case. 😛 Thanks you two, and happy trails!

  2. Lynn January 4, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    Yes, this is the most difficult part, which RV is best. I go ’round and ’round and then change my mind. I have been looking all fall and at a couple this winter and have come to the conclusion that the best plan for me is to rent different models this summer for some short jaunts to get a feel for the model. I am drawn towards different models for different reasons but I am with you on the smaller is a better idea. I am thinking 19 foot towable or 24 a 25 foot B+/C without the overhead cab beds. I would prefer the additional storage above. I would like new but really not a smart financial move so perhaps less then 4 years old. My picture is getting clearer and clearer all the time of what would work for me. I struggle with to tow or not.

    I am excited though because the RV show is coming to town in 3 weeks and I will get to peruse the new models. I think I will be ready to make my final decision next fall/winter when everyone is getting rid of theirs. I really need to test drive I think though to help me make a final decision so this summer I will hit the road for wee trips to the mountains.

    Good article!!
    Lynn recently posted..A Slow Boat To BaliMy Profile

    • Becky January 5, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

      Hello Lynn. I’m glad to hear you’re taking your time in coming to a decision. I think a lot of folks see how much fun RVing can be and they want to get out there as soon as possible, and so don’t take as much time as they should in deciding on which one to get. It may be frustrating sometimes with so many possibilities to choose from and consider, but the work will pay off in the end.

      It sounds like you have a good plan to me, the RV show should give you more stuff to look at, renting this summer will give you a better feel for various RVs, and it is indeed easier (and cheaper) to find the RV you want later in the year.

  3. MARVIN January 4, 2013 at 8:46 pm #


    Becky ,

    If this is the beginning of chapter one , then a best seller is on the way ! Excellent writing and accurate content !
    I would add a large notepad , pen and pencil , tape measure , camera , and a sturdy bag to carry brochures and misc items .
    I looked at hundreds of RV’s prior to making a decision , and even now attend a few of the large RV shows each year to understand what is happening in the RV / Camping industry .
    Stay warm where you are located – it is cold and rainy in central florida .


    • Becky January 5, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

      Hello Marvin,

      Good suggestions! I took a notepad, pen, camera, and tape measure with me too, because I needed to make sure Julie’s cat’s litter box (and eventually my own cat’s litterbox) would fit underneath that rear dinette. It’s little details like this that people often forget whey go RV shopping and that can make a huge difference in how good of a fit the RV ends up being for you. I don’t think I looked at a hundred RVs, but, I did look at a lot of them.

      Today got up to a warm and balmy 27 here, New Year’s Eve was the worst, low of -13, brrr! I’m hoping we don’t get more significant snow until after I’ve hitched Cas up to head south, and so far the forecast looks favorable.

  4. Randy January 5, 2013 at 8:54 am #

    Good thoughts. Everyone’s wants and needs are different. This is also true in choosing an RV.

    Cargo carrying capacity is of utmost importance, especially if full timing. Will the things you need to live comfortably fit without the RV becoming overweight. Also, if it is a towable, gross vehicle weight. How big of a tow truck are you going to need to SAFELY pull your home down the road.

    • Becky January 5, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

      Yep indeed Randy! I spent a lot of time figuring out what I’d need to tow my Casita safely. I have enough info on that topic to make a whole nother blog post about, it’ll be showing up at some point. 😛

      The Casita doesn’t have a large CCC, but I travel pretty light so it works.

  5. Dennis Smith January 5, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    I liked the “PAY CASH” approch. We have been living that way for 10 years now and boy does it make life easy. Don’t have all the toys but everything we own, is paid for. Had to wait for a few things but we do save up and get them. We have a 22 foot funfinder and that is big enough for the two of us. 946 days till we full time. And yep we are counting.

    • Becky January 5, 2013 at 11:52 pm #

      Good for you Dennis! I’d be nervous carrying a lot of cash around, so I use a debit card personally, but whatever works for you.

      Good luck on full-timing, and keep us appraised on your progress!

  6. courtney January 5, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    Great post, Becky.

    I love reading full time RV forums, specifically to check out the rigs and mods people make. One thing I’d add is that it seems to me to make more sense to get a class a, b, or c if you are traveling quite a bit. For those that buy and park, or buy and just go out on occasional weekends, that engine won’t be getting used like it should and may end up requiring more maintenance when you do want to crank it up and hit the road.

    I also second the idea of walk-throughs. For me, it’s fun. Even though we aren’t in the market right now, I still enjoy heading to the local RV centers and checking out the new models. There is something about fit/finish that makes a world of difference to me. I can like a floorplan, hear great things about a model, but if I take one step inside and it feels “bad” there’s no point in looking further.

    We ended up buying the 2nd RV first…my hubby wanted a teardrop, but when I saw the asking price for just a bed on wheels, I started looking at 20′ trailers with bathroom/kitchen. My thought was, we may not want it or use it, but it is always better to have options. In fact, we’ve used and appreciated the bathroom/kitchen quite a bit, but not every trip out. Again, we have the option- and to me, that is real freedom.

    We also found, once we lived with it for a year, that the dinette bench would suit us much better as a couch. My hubby was a carpenter, so he did the deconstruction/building and I sewed the fabrics and such. We now have easier access to tons of storage, still have the option to make it into the same sized bed, and now can lounge and watch TV on those nights when it is too cold or there is a burn ban and no reason to hang out outside. So, instead of trading for something else to get that couch, we were able to make a mod and have our existing rig work *perfectly* for us.

    • Becky January 6, 2013 at 12:08 am #

      Hey Courtney,

      I’m not mechanically inclined so I don’t know about how often the engine should be run on motorhomes, especially since I didn’t go that route myself, but it is a good point. I bet the owner’s manual for the rig would be helpful for finding that out.

      Maybe I wasn’t as specific as I could have been in the article. When I write about ‘buy your second one first’ I’m referring to the multitude of people on RVing forums who push want to be RVers into buying more than they decided that they want right now (or can afford) in the name of having it later. If you were already thinking having the bathroom/kitchen would be helpful (as related to what the bed alone would have cost), then I would say that should have been your first RV. If that makes sense.

      The couch vs. dinette bed was a strong point of consideration for me too. When I lived in an apartment, I never ever ate at the table, but would use the couch when watching TV or playing video games (which still wasn’t very often). So when I started looking for a RV, I valued the couch option over the dinette option. But then it occurred to me: I was at my desk on the computer way way more than at the table or couch. So the dinette ended up being a better option for me because it functions as my desk. I have neither the carpentry skills or the money to pay someone to convert it to a real desk (and not sure I’d want to do that anyway), but it works pretty well as is. Kudos to you guys though for taking the time to turn your RV into a space that works best for you!

  7. marty chambers January 5, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Well done, you are wiser that your years. Back in 2005 my wife and I decided that we wanted to full time when I retired. I started my research into this and I wish I had read your post back then!

    Since then I have looked into all the different types and makes of RVs. I have learned that everything is a trade off. For example if you go with higher quality not only does it cost more but it is more than not heavier. MPG goes down and cost goes up. But you have less trouble with it. A fifth wheel has more storage but the larger you go the more truck you need to pull it. I could go on and on.

    I have always like the Casita, for a small TT is really is well designed and made. I can understand why you got it. For one, it is all you really need.

    Looking forward to your future posts. Remeber all who wander are not lost (Tolkien).

    • Becky January 6, 2013 at 12:11 am #

      Heya Marty,

      Hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it? I’ve had some moments like that myself. And your comment about things being a trade-off is very true! A smaller towable like a Casita didn’t require a 1/2 ton truck, my mpg for highway and freeway towing is 15.5, pretty respectable for an older and less fuel efficient vehicle.

      Thank you for reading and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

      • Regis January 6, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

        Our 1995 Airstream 25′ works for us along with the big long Chevy Express 3500 van to haul our trikes and bicycles.

        • Becky January 7, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

          Thanks for commenting Regis. I love Airstreams, and they make a model (I think it’s called the Bambi?) that comes in a similar length as a Casita, but it’s quite a bit heavier. I’ve been contemplating getting a bicycle, but I don’t have a lot of spare room in the back of my truck right now. Keep on living the dream!

          • DD January 7, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

            I would definely look into getting a bicycle. It makes life so much easier when you are traveling to hop on it after you find your site to go back to the pay station.

  8. TuT January 7, 2013 at 5:59 am #

    Hi Becky, I am really enjoying your site. In regards to this post, I always suggest to people that they rent several different types of RVs at first. This lets them get a feel for the lifestyle and helps them make a more informed decision on what type to buy. I have never owned an RV, but have rented them a few times a year over several years. This has kept costs down (in regards to both cash and aggravation) compared to owning, and has enabled me to pinpoint exactly the type of RV I need to full time, in about 2 more years.

    • Becky January 7, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

      Hello TuT. Yes, rental is another option, although it isn’t cheap, or it wasn’t when I looked. I looked into renting a RV to decide if I’d like it or not but it was going to cost something like $1,000 for a week, and at that price it wasn’t going to be worth it for me, if I’d rented it I would have had that much less to buy the truck and trailer with, and renting a trailer wasn’t even an option. I’d also recommend to people who are going to rent to try it out that they give it at least a week, or preferably more like 2, because anything less than that isn’t enough time to get a feel for it.

      Have you ever found a place that rents out towables? That would be nice for those folks who aren’t interested in buying a motorhome.

      • TuT January 8, 2013 at 8:10 am #

        Hi Becky. Down here in Florida there is a company that rents motorized rv’s at an affordable rate during the summer (non snowbird season) especially if you catch one of their specials. I have rented several towables, but these have been through private parties, not through an actual rental company. If you check around with different dealerships you will find that some also rent different types of RVs. Here in Florida there seem to be a LOT of people renting out their RVs and Trailers to offset their payments/storage costs etc. One funny thing about renting someones unit, and something you should prepare for.. While the owner was doing the return inspection they have also given me a seriously hard sales pitch at the same time.

        • Becky January 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

          Haha, that is pretty funny TuT. And thanks for sharing the options down in Florida, that’ll be helpful for readers who live down that way.

  9. Regina January 7, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Hi Becky: We are going to our first RV show this weekend in Chicago. We’ve been to 4 RV factories and all were very helpful. One was the Casita factory in Rice Texas. The plan is to buy a used RV and pay for it outright. I’m right there with you about not having a payment to make. Your mention of the litter box reminded me to measure our cats’ litter box. We will be traveling with 2 cats. If all goes well, we will start RVing full time in Oct 2013 or 2014.
    Thank you for the very informative and helpful information.

    • Becky January 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

      Your welcome Regina and thanks for reading. Touring factories is also a good thing to do, you actually have a better idea of construction quality from a factory tour than just running around on a RV dealership actually.

      Have fun at the RV show, and good luck! October isn’t too far away. 🙂

  10. RV AJ February 27, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Great thoughts. I agree with you that this is a common question. Many of us who already own RV’s still dont even have the answer 🙂
    RV AJ recently posted..How To Connect RV HookupsMy Profile

    • Becky February 28, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

      Haha, indeed AJ. Because our needs as RVers aren’t static, they evolve. What works well in a RV now might not in the future. Sadly it’s impossible to predict the future, so you do the best you can with what you know now.

  11. Tim June 16, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    Hello Becky,
    Excellent article, thank you very much!
    I’m thinking about getting an Aliner. I see the advantages as: 1) Something I can tow. Although I have an SUV, I don’t want to count on always having one. 2) It will fit in my garage. 3) I prefer a hard side camper.

    The disadvantage is they are VERY expensive. I know I can get more camper for less money. But that’s just it – I don’t want too much camper. I want it to fit my garage, I want something easy to tow, and I really like something that has a low road profile so I can see out the back window. Of course, I realize that I’m putting myself into a corner on selection.

    Would you know of any places that rent Aliners? I’ve searched the internet and it’s very difficult to find rentals. Of course, I’m open to any advice you may have.


  12. Dawn August 15, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    I know this is an older thread, but wanted to comment. I have a newer Tacoma and am considering getting a Four Wheel Camper – slide-in. The slide-ins aren’t as roomy as a pull-behind, but I’m hesitant to tow. Turning, backing up, always having to find pull-throughs…

    Have you had difficulties with any of these?
    Did you consider getting a slide-in, and what made you not?

    Thank you! and thanks for your blog!

    • Becky August 15, 2015 at 9:42 am #

      Hello Dawn and welcome to IO!

      I personally ruled out a truck camper for two reasons.

      #1, the better quality ones are quite heavy and I didn’t want a full-size truck, I wanted to stick to a smaller more fuel efficient driving vehicle.

      #2, I needed my home and my vehicle to be separate, because I’m earning my income through seasonal jobs and didn’t want to pack up my whole “home” to use as a commute vehicle every day. Yes, you can take the truck camper out of the bed, but it looked like a more complicated process than unhitching a trailer.

      Check your Tacoma’s owners manual and see how big of a payload it’s rated for, that’ll tell you the maximum size slide-in your vehicle can support WITH all of your gear in it (most full-timers carry at least 500 lbs in gear with them). If you can find a truck camper that fits within that maximum weight that you’re happy with, then you’re good to go. 🙂

  13. Kenneth Gladman April 4, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

    I agree I think it is important to know exactly the features you are looking for. I know the first RV we bought was too small and we needed to get more size. We have loved our RV experience.

    • Becky April 6, 2016 at 10:20 am #

      Glad to hear it Kenneth.

  14. Paul Langley May 16, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    This is some really great advice for anyone looking to buy a trailer. I completely agree that there is no “best” kind of RV or trailer, there is a best for your purposes. And that very well may not be the best for someone else’s. I also liked your point about being careful when taking others’ advice, because it may be that they are trying to validate their purchase. Thanks so much for writing!

    • Becky May 16, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

      You’re welcome Paul, glad you enjoyed this!

  15. John Carston May 18, 2016 at 6:53 am #

    I agree that it’s probably best to start with a smaller RV first instead of buying a much larger one that you may not need. I’ll need to remember these tips when I go to buy since I may be looking for a class B RV. Thanks for the helpful buying guide.

    • Becky May 18, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

      You’re welcome John, glad you found this information helpful!

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