Things to consider when buying an RV for the first time
Looking at buying an RV for your family? Congratulations! There are a LOT of options on the market these days, a lot more than used to be.
Firstly, It is important to clarify what you are going to be using it for and how often.
Secondly, I always recommend starting with a list of essential options on your list, then determine some extras you might require. In saying that, always be open-minded and flexible in your search.
In my personal experience hardly anything ever finds a perfect van from the start but further with your research, you will understand your family needs better, therefore your requirements will naturally adjust to suit.
The two types to consider when buying an RV: motorhome vs caravan
Here it goes. My preference has always been a motorhome over a caravan, it still is. An incredible piece of a machinery, the true art of science. Once you get to know it and live in it, you will fall in love forever.
Our journey started with an end in mind, although we slightly miscalculated the living arrangements. The timing was not on our side, we simply didn’t have a good plan. One thing we knew for sure, it had to be a motorhome. Partially because we would have to change cars if bought a caravan, also because we did like the idea of an effortless pack up/setup part of it.
Excited by the thought of a new ” home ” purchase, we started frantically searching the Internet. High and low. With only three weeks left to the leave date, it was a mission and a half. Sometimes what you see isn’t what you get. Who shops online would confirm that. Imagine buying an expensive piece of machinery with only photos to refer to.
The funny part, we have not had a single experience with either. It was a trial – and – error path. We learned as we went by reading, questioning everything, asking for help, researching, looking and more asking. We did not acquire single advice before we started the journey, wondering now and then whether what we were doing was right. The most informative I have found were Australian Facebook traveling and camping pages.
Even when you don’t have a van but planning or even thinking of getting one, they are a genuine source for very practical ideas. Some stuff we figured out on our own. The technical side needed to be obtained from professionals. Do yourself a favor and read this Guide on Motorhomes and Caravan Electrics— you can thank me later.
Things to consider when purchasing a motorhome off or online:
- New vs Used. The first question comes in mind after the planning begins. I mean who can afford a brand new motorhome, right? The second hand is great value but that also comes down to the mileage and a year of manufacture, up keeping and a general state. As opposed to a caravan, a motorhome is a motorized vehicle, therefore it has an engine along with a few other mechanical things that depreciate with time. It is not in any way a bad thing. In fact, RVs don’t depreciate like standard cars, they hold their value. Buying new is great but doesn’t guarantee nothing will go wrong. Things happen. With some brand names more than others. Choose wisely the engine makes and a body model.
- A number of berths. Our first mistake turned into the biggest advantage was buying a 6 berth van. 6 sleeping places we didn’t really need. Falsely expecting that more berths equal more space was what lead us to switch to a caravan in the short five months. Nevertheless, it happened to be a huge advantage to have the exact layout that we have. I will share that later.
- The length. As equally important as the mass. When booking into an RV park or similar, they look at how long and wide the vehicle is. The weight shouldn’t exceed the overall towing mass advised by the manufacturer.
- Warranty. Buying from a dealer comes with some guarantee versus buying privately. The standard manufacturer’s guarantee is 1 year on the new van from the date of purchase. Rarely, some have three years. Pre-owned vehicles come with a dealer’s three months warranty. That varies though.
- Inspection. Something that can be done independently and remotely. There is no need to be present for that. Engaging a local RV specialist is a way to go whether it is a new or a pre-loved van. They have all the facts. Unless you know what to look for. Inspection is prevention. The standard inspection includes the full check-up of all compliance works. External changes to the original body must be promptly recorded and signed by a compliance engineer. Then it’s up to the buyer to check the general condition: inside the cupboards, bathroom fixtures, TV signal etc.
- Driving Licence. The bigger the vehicle mass, the higher the licenses required. Simple. Vans under 4,5 tonne can be driven with a normal C car license. Anything above is required the license upgrade.
- Towing a car. This can be a tricky part but nothing to be discouraged about. I have seen many motorhomes towing small cars behind. Genius idea. Although a motorhome can be easily taken to the majority of shopping centers in AU and effortlessly parked in large bays, some roads simply aren’t accessible for large vehicles. Something to keep in mind. Whether a vehicle can have a towbar installed depends on its chassis. We contacted the only company on the Gold Coast that does exactly that and were knocked back after sending them a photo of our chassis. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time or energy to chase anyone else neither make changes to the chassis. Never mind, I drove in my car all the way to Sydney with a vomiting dog in the back. Fun. The chassis can be checked at a dealership or at a private seller.
Things to consider when purchasing a caravan off or online:
- New vs Used. The same. 100% applicable. The good news is there is no engine or the license to worry about. Picking an Australian make is also advisable. Great! The easiest part is done.
- The towing vehicle. Now, THIS IS MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE BUYING PROCESS. Just because you have a family W 4×4, what really matters is the year of the manufacturing and then its towing capacity. Models below 2014 must be upgraded according to the ever-changing AU Road Safety rules. Again, just because the manufacturer’s GVM states the towing capacity, that doesn’t mean the vehicle is capable, sadly. The first thing a dealer is going to ask if WHAT IS YOUR CAR FOR TOWING?
- The mass. GVM, ATM, TBM, GTM, GCM. Of everything. None is more important than the other, all need to be taken into consideration. The car, the tow ball, and the van. They all need to be weighed separately and then together, empty and then loaded. Use public weighed bridges, available in every state. There are tonnes of information on the understanding of caravan towing on the Internet. Diligent research has not been canceled, yet. Read this Caravan Survival guide that will help you understand the maintenance, troubleshooting, common errors, etc.
- The length. As equally important as the mass. The outside length is more so. On a price tag, generally, there is an INSIDE length of the vehicle displayed. The overall length from the tow ball to its back must be considered more so. Important to know because some RV parks simply have no space to accommodate any vehicle over 8m long. Boohoo… For this exact reason, many families prefer smaller vans as they are less heavy to tow and shorter to squeeze into a parking spot. Then there goes your space.
- Warranty. The same.
- Inspection. The same.
- Semi / Off-Road options. Great to have. Better and bigger tires. More fixtures. Tougher all over. It comes with a higher price tag.
Palombo Family buying an RV comparison chart:
What we love the most about the Beast, our Motorhome:
- Simplicity on the move. Pack up and go. No setup required.
- No hitching / unhitching ( especially in bad weather ).
- Easier to maneuver: general driving, front parking, shopping bays, sidewalks, corner turning, roundabouts, reversing.
- A lot better option for short holidays.
- Less living space
- A license update required if the vehicle is above the 4,5 -tonne limit ( not our case ).
What we love the most about the Big L, our Caravan:
- More space. A better option for a long-term or permanent living.
- Cheaper option. Generally speaking. ( in my opinion, not so. When there is a good towing vehicle is taken into an equation, the price may come equally to a motorhome ).
- Great option considering there is already a family car with a good towing capacity.
- Cheaper on the maintenance.
- A towing vehicle must be either purchased or upgraded prior.
- Hooking / unhooking
- Harder to reverse, turn, etc.
- Extra safety features installation may require.
Things to remember while researching:
- Regardless of what the description of a vehicle states, you can always opt-out of the extras and sometimes the standard inclusions. Do you need a full oven? Greywater tank? Solar power? Washing machine? DVDs for kids’ bunks? External shower? Rotating table? Extra storage or extra bunks?
- Both motorhomes and caravans are extraordinary vehicles, therefore require consistent care and maintenance, parts replacements, extra safety feature installations, tire pressure checks ( a tricky part ), regular checkups.
- Both safe driving behavior and general courtesy on the road and in camping areas do make a journey pleasant and unforgettable.
In conclusion, we always wish we got more. It all depends on the price tag and maintenance. Some features are extremely desirable but when it comes to the practical side, better leave them. Some features we figured we would not even use but came as standard.
Most features I am grateful for:
- Water filter. An excellent extra option worth spending money on. Although ours came as a standard package I had it on my priority list of the necessary items. Meaning, I was happy to pay extra for it.
- Full oven. Some say it’s no use, others like me desperately miss it. I didn’t have it for five months. Boy, did I miss it!
- Decent bed mattress. Something that’s everybody takes for granted living in a house. On the road, you learn to appreciate simple things.
- Full-size fridge. Still very compact, 190L is so great to have.
- Privacy curtains and the door for the bunks area. Yes, everybody needs their space. Never understand why the main bed doesn’t naturally come with the set of drapers, they aren’t hard to install.
Items I know I can do without:
- Microwave. A nasty thing but so convenient.
- Radio with speakers. Surely a great entertaining tool but the least used.
- Grill. We utilized it a lot when didn’t have an oven. Good for toasting bread with melted cheese. Yummo! No need to carry a toaster.
Do you want the real value? Listen up!
Approach dealerships and ask them to send you a portfolio of all DISPLAY vehicles they have for sale. They always have them, trust me.
What happens is when a dealer receives brand spanking new vans, they pretty up and modify some as a complete package. That’s for you to drop over. To give them all the money you have for those extra gadgets you want. Ever been to a showroom where a few RVs seem to have all the features but others don’t? Once the lifecycle of those vehicles expires — typically within 18 months — a new prototype comes out. Consequently, the display must retire. Dealerships want to return the money they paid for the retirees, so they drop prices heavily. This is your time to go get them, tiger!