Top Tips for Buying the Best RV for You
Top Tips for Buying the Best RV for You
Read this guide for questions to ask yourself when RV shopping.
By: Kenny & Sabrina Phillips
Sabrina and I have owned our Winnebago Vista for seven years and have traveled more than 130,000 miles in it. We believe our Vista purchase worked out so well because we spent more than two years finding the perfect RV to fit our needs. And, in this article, we are sharing our shopping tips so you too can make a great RV purchase.
Ask Yourself These Important Questions When RV Shopping
As you begin searching for the best RV for you, you will probably have multiple questions about RV life and the differences between RVs. However, some of the most important questions will be the ones you ask yourself!
1. How Will You Use the RV?
This can be a challenging question, especially for anyone new to RVing who has not done a trip before. Our advice is to go to an RV show and look at as many RVs as possible. (Just note you should also be prepared to be firm with salespeople and tell them you are only there to look and not interested in buying).
As you look through the RVs, visualize what you expect a typical day to look like while traveling in your RV. Sabrina and I always called this playing house. We would lay in the RV bed then get up and pretend to get ready, and this would quickly determine what worked and what didn’t.
Questions we'd ask include:
- Where would we store our clothes?
- Did we have enough room in the bathroom?
- What about storing pots, pans, silverware, and dry goods in the kitchen?
- Is there space for my coffee maker and could we meal prep?
- Could we walk by each other?
- Would there be a place for Belle's dog food and water bowl?
It was amazing how quickly we would scratch RVs off our list by playing this simple game. If the RV passed the morning routine test, it then went through the afternoon and evening test where we would ask questions such as:
- Where would we work?
- How was the TV position for movie nights?
- What if we were in bad weather, was there room to be stuck inside for a day or two without getting on each other’s nerves?
We thought about all of this while touring the RVs and we kept a simple notepad that had the name of the RV and what we liked about it. This way, when we walked into different RVs, we had info on hand that mattered to us instead of what was printed in a brochure.
We also kept an eye on quality at this time, but it wasn’t our main focus. We were just looking to see what layouts would work for us initially.
2. Where Will You Be Taking Your RV?
I believe this question helps you decide the style of RV you will purchase (a Class A, B, C or towable), and if you will be choosing gas or diesel. If you are planning on taking your RV into mostly cities and do not want a tow car, you may want to look at smaller RVs like a Class B, such as a Travato, or small Class C, like a Navion/View.
We knew that we wanted to visit a lot of national parks with our Winnebago, so we would only look at RVs that were under 30 feet. But we also knew that we would be full timing in it and wanted to be able to bring everything with us, which is when we started to lean towards a small Class A.
We also decided on a gas coach because we knew the majority of our travels would not be climbing mountains and we would be towing a light vehicle as well. If you are planning on doing a lot of traveling in the mountains and in high elevation, or plan on towing heavy, then most likely a diesel is going to be the right choice for you.
3. Will you be staying in campgrounds or boondocking?
If you are planning on a lot of boondocking, you may want to consider larger vehicles as they will provide you with more tank capacity and roof real-estate to add solar panels. Even though we are in a small Class A (28.5-ft) in our Winnebago Vista, we had enough space on our roof for 1,300 watts of solar and enough cargo space for more than 1,000 amp hours of batteries (you can learn more about our upgraded power system here).
Our Vista also has large tank capacity, which allows us to stay unplugged longer without needing to make runs to a dump station or to refill water. If boondocking is something you are not interested in, and you plan to be at campgrounds often, then you will be able to get a much smaller vehicle as you will have hookups available right at your site and you may only need power and water capacity to travel from one campground to the next.
However, many newer RVs of all sizes are being made with boondocking in mind – including larger tanks, solar capacity, and other features that allow camping flexibility. (Browse Winnebago’s RV options here.)
4. How Often Will You Use the RV?
This is a question you should ask yourself, but we don’t recommend making it one of your major deciding factors since things change. You may start out full-timing and in a few years decide to go part-time, like we did (Check out this article on our reasons we stopped full timing).
Or maybe you start out doing weekends and then decide to go full-time. I believe my best advice is to purchase the smallest RV you can and still be completely comfortable in it, this will cover you for any amount of time you plan to spend in the RV and offer you the most amount of flexibility while traveling.
It would also be a good idea to try to plan for the future, such as are you planning on having kids, adding pets to the family, or maybe your kids are getting older and won’t be traveling with you as much.
Rent an RV Before You Buy
I think renting an RV was the best thing Sabrina and I did to help decide what we needed in an RV. Before we rented an RV, we had never slept in one before and, in those first few nights of the rental, we learned quickly what was going to work for us and what wouldn’t. We also got a crash course in how the quality of an RV would make a difference to us on a daily basis.
This was also one of the last steps we took while shopping for an RV. We already had a good idea that we wanted a Class A gas RV, so that is what we rented for an extended weekend. We wanted to see how it drove, and how it felt to camp in it for the weekend.
Unfortunately, the RV we rented was in bad shape with mold in the fridge, blood in the bathroom sink, and mechanical issues. Dealing with this probably could have been avoided if we would have done a better job inspecting the RV before we left, but we were too excited to take it out.
Despite all the issues, the rental did allow us to get the full picture of how RVing could work, and it did solidify our choice for a Class A motorhome. We enjoyed the space while camping and the view from the windshield while driving. We could easily see over the cars in front of us, giving us a grand view of the road and scenery.
Make Sure You Choose a Quality RV
By this stage of your RV shopping, you should have a pretty good idea of what type of RV you will be purchasing, the size of it, and what features are most important to you. Now you just need to find a quality manufacturer that builds an RV that fits all your needs. Obviously at this point you know that we chose Winnebago, but why?
I can sum this up in two words: factory tour. When Sabrina and I stepped into a Winnebago for the first time during a Hershey, PA, RV show, we were immediately impressed with the build quality. The cabinets felt secure and didn’t wobble when we opened them like others did, there was metal-tubed sub framing in the kitchen island to make it incredibly strong, it had solid doors for the bedroom for privacy, and slam-latch doors on the cargo bays. We could also tell it was well-insulated for whatever weather we would encounter.
We were certainly impressed with what we saw, but what about what we couldn’t see? That is where the factory tour came into play. We took some time off from work and flew to Forest City, IA, to take the Winnebago Factory Tour. We wanted to see the actual construction that went into building a Winnebago motorhome. I had worked construction for more than 13 years and wanted to see if their construction process would impress me or not.
We were totally blown away by what we saw. These workers were serious about their jobs, and we saw so many employees really taking the time to go over their work and make sure no details were missed. We were also impressed by how much of the work and products were made in-house.
Even water tanks were made right there in the shop, which allowed Winnebago to custom shape these tanks to fit in their RVs, allowing for maximum tank capacity. All of the sewing was done in-house as well, and we were surprised to see how much work was done by hand.
We left that tour knowing that Winnebago was going to be the RV brand for us. And now, seven years and more than 130,000 miles later, there is no doubt that we made the right choice.
Take Your Time & Enjoy the Process
Shopping for an RV can be stressful, but we found the process to be a lot of fun and we feel it was due to our no-rush approach. We honestly spent about two years learning about RVing and shopping for our RV. This allowed us to really enjoy the process and, since we were under no pressure to buy, we were able to keep clear heads while talking with salespeople and touring RVs.
I hope you find this article helpful while shopping for your first, next, or last RV. If you have any tips, I would like to read about them in the comment section below. These comments will also be able to help others shopping for their ideal RV!
Take care, and safe travels!
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