When looking for an RV to full-time in, the options are endless. How do you know where to start? How do you choose the right option for your lifestyle? While I haven’t gone full-time yet, I’ve done a LOT of research into how to select the right rig for how I plan to live. There are a lot of considerations - budget, style, maneuverability, space, and much more. Below I've listed the biggest considerations when selecting your new home on wheels. Here's what I've learned on how to choose which RV for full-timing.
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What’s your budget?
This should be your first decision. If you don’t know what you can afford to spend, you shouldn’t start looking! It’s like trying to buy a car without a budget. RV’s can run the gamut from near-free (or free, if you’re really looking for a challenge) to several million dollars.
Personally, I don’t have several million dollars (yet! Maybe someday…) but I’m also not well verse enough in mechanics to take on anything that needs a lot of work. I’ve done some research on loans and payment terms and amounts and I’ve picked a top end budget that I’m comfortable with. I HIGHLY recommend doing the same before you start looking at your options.
New or Used?
Even once you know which RV for full-timing is right for you, you'll still need to decide how you want to buy. This will be the next big decision. New rigs take a huge depreciation hit once you drive them off the lot, and I’ve read that they can have just as many, if not MORE problems than a used rig. If you plan to be near dealerships and RV repair places for the near future and don’t mind potentially waiting a long, long time for warranty repairs, it may be worth it to you to buy new so that you can pick exactly what you want and how you want it.
The other benefit of buying new is it’s likely to be spotless inside (and out, if the dealer is any good). My mother is very sensitive to smells, so every used rig they looked at didn’t work for her because inevitably she would smell cigarettes or old perfume or animals. For her, new made sense because of her sensitivity.
Used RV’s - depending on how used they are - can be a great bargain. If the rig is just a few years old, someone else has already worked all the bugs out and may not have even put that many miles on it yet. A lot of people buy an RV only to let it sit in storage! You get an almost-new rig that someone else has taken the time to get all the issues sorted out already.
If the rig is even older, that becomes a different conversation. Water damage is the biggest issue to look out for - it can add up fast to fix it and if you don’t also fix the source of the water, you may be on the hook for even more repairs.
Other issues with older rigs can include engine problems, any number of system failures, cosmetic damage, stains, sticking slides, leaks, and more. It’s vital that you do a thorough inspection, or better yet, hire a professional. This RV Purchase Checklist is a great resource to take with you to make sure you don’t miss anything.
The decision as to new or used will come down to personal preference - how important it is to you to be able to get exactly what you want and never used before, versus potentially saving a boatload of money, or having costly repairs on an older unit.
What size RV do I need?
Now we’re getting to the good stuff! If you’re planning to camp at any national or state parks, you need to carefully consider the length of your rig. Most are restricted to 30 feet or less, some are even smaller. Camper Report has an excellent guide for RV lengths in National Parks.
You should also think about how many people will be sharing the space - is it you and your partner? Do you have kids or pets? How often will you have guests staying? Do you have hobbies or crafts that will need space? These are all considerations for which RV for full-timing you will need.
Since I'll be working 40 hours a week, I plan to remove whatever dining table is present and put in a desk, so I need my RV to have separate dining table and couch spaces.
To tow or not to tow?
The last consideration when deciding what size RV to buy is driving it. If you already have a tow vehicle and you want a towable, you’ll need to figure out how much weight you can safely tow. If you aren’t going to be towing, how comfortable are you driving large vehicles? How will you park it? Where will you park it? These are all considerations on choosing which RV for full-timing.
RVs come in two basic kinds - driveable and towable. There are thousands of variables within these two categories, but those are the main two.
The floor plans vary slightly between the two categories of similar size, so a 30’ Class A (the bus kind) won’t necessarily have the same layout as a 30’ travel trailer. It’s a good idea to look at lots and lots of options to get a feel for what feels more like ‘home’ to you.
Drivable can be a good option if there are two of you and one can do the driving while the other works, or prepares a meal, or wants to do other tasks while the other drives. They also tend to have more outside storage due to how they sit on the frame and many can even tow a separate car (a towed vehicle, or a toad).
The main three types of driveables are:
- - Class A - these are the ones that look like busses. They can be gas or diesel and can start as small as 24 feet and go up to as large as 41’+.
- - Class B - these are the classic campers that most people picture when you talk about RV’s. They are always gas and can run in a variety of sizes. Floor plans vary from all one room to separate bedroom and bathroom.
- - Class C and C+ - these are camper vans. They’re often a Sprinter van or similar that has been outfitted to be liveable inside. They have a variety of floor plans and sizes but are smaller than Class C’s and A’s. They’re a good option if you plan to do a lot of stealth camping and don’t need a ton of room.
Towable is a good choice if you already have a tow vehicle, don’t want to worry about more than one engine, or you’d rather tow the RV than a small toad.
- Travel trailer - these are the most common towables. They attach to the rear hitch of a truck or SUV (depending on hitch rating and trailer weight). Trailers come in sizes all the way up to 41’. Floor plans can be as small as just a mattress, like the R-Pod, or include a separate bedroom and even a bunkhouse.
- Toy hauler - these are similar to travel trailers, but they include a garage, either off the back or the side. This allows you to store all kinds of outdoor goodies - motorcycles, ATV’s, lawn furniture, you name it. Usually the garage can be used as a bedroom or workspace when not being used for storage.
- Pop-up camper - these are smaller campers that fold down during travel and pop-up when stationary. They’re usually shorter in length and so are not as roomy as some of the other options.
This is just a basic overview of all the variety of types of RV’s out there. I recommend walking through all different kinds of RV’s. You may be surprised by what feels ‘right’, versus what you expected. The processes of choosing which RV for full-timing may take a long time to get the right fit. And that's okay!
What are your must-have features?
For me, I have to have a separate dinette and couch area. Because I know I’ll be working a full-time job from my RV for at least the first few years, so I need a space I can work at that won’t hurt my back or cause other issues.
Do you have a lot of clothes and need wardrobe space? Do you have children with toys that will need to be stored? Is cooking important to you? What about outside storage? Do you want a slide out to create more space? Is an awning a must-have for you? What about a bunkhouse? If you’re planning on boondocking, you’ll want to consider tank size. That will definitely limit how long you can dry camp if they aren't big enough.
I suggest you make a list of needs and a list of wants. You should keep these in mind when looking at RV’s and know that your preferences may change as you look around. You may see setups that you never imagined that make you rethink your whole plan. Choosing which RV for full-timing is right for you will be a long process!
Also keep in mind that most people who RV full-time will trade in their rigs within the first year or so, once they figure out what they need most. So don’t be disappointed if what you think you need ends up being the opposite of what you actually need!
What other things should I consider when looking at my RV options? What do you wish you had known but didn’t when you bought yours?
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