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5 Things I Wish I Knew When Purchasing an RV

The transition from 1,600 square feet to 130 square feet has been extremely rewarding. Given the opportunity, there is 0% chance I would reverse the chain of events that have resulted in traveling this beautiful country and towing my home along with me. However, there are a few things that would have made the transition a little easier, which are lessons for those of you looking to live in an RV or just vacation occasionally.

camper

It’s a big purchase- there’s no way around it. For me, it was a compound selection because I was purchasing a vehicle and a home and an office all in one. When the decision was made to put my house on the market, we rushed out to the RV dealership and felt instantly overwhelmed with the sheer number of variations available. RV shopping had its own lingo, with “slides,” “GVWR,” “toyhaulers,” and “garages” being thrown around like confetti. In our excitement, we did some research and rushed into a model we really liked. The dealer took our deposit and our new home was ordered. Five days later, a gut feeling told us to pump the brakes. Which brings me to lesson one….

1. Do your research. Then do more. Then triple it.

We canceled our order because we just didn’t feel completely prepared and well-researched. Fresh off the “hold the phone” gut decision, we made a list of “must-haves,” “nice-to-haves,” and “unicorn” features in an RV. Examples included a substantial kitchen, a Murphy bed to conserve floorspace, and the total absence of a dinette. (Turns out, this is a pretty controversial stance, as the vast majority of RVs have some type of dinette. They’re just not our cup of tea and remind me of eating at a Waffle House. No offense to a smothered and covered breakfast. I digress.) We also needed the trailer to be a very minimal weight, as the truck we had (a Nissan Frontier) had a very limited towing capacity.

Our combined 32 years of post-secondary education have absolutely nothing on the amount of research conducted for this purchase. I’ll admit… we were obsessed. Videos, interviews, environmental impact reports, dealership reviews, blogs and articles were all consuming. Finally…. we reached a completely logical decision backed by data. It was….. the original model we had just canceled. (Yep.) This time, though… we were completely confident in the decision and it was a refreshingly different experience. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t pull the trigger until it does feel right.

2. Buy the bigger truck. I know, you love your truck and technically, according to the chart, it just barely works to tow your trailer...buy the bigger truck anyway.

This is a tip for the travel trailer and fifth wheeler crowd. We had heard this advice before, but thought we knew better. Our trailer matched with our Nissan Frontier’s towing capacity with 500 pounds to spare. (We were newbies, and didn’t understand that 500 pounds does not a healthy weight buffer make.) This truck would have been just fine if we were driving in Florida with no elevation changes, but would have been huffing and puffing at us in the mountains of Colorado.

Dealerships want to sell RVs. Do they want you to be safe? Of course they do. Do they check your tow vehicle to make sure it falls within towing guidelines? More than likely. Do they have your best interest in mind as the bottom line? Nope. You need to advocate for yourself here and know more than the dealer about your tow vehicle’s towing capacity and how much weight you’re really getting yourself into.

When we arrived at the dealership to take ownership of our new RV in Tampa, FL, our hotel shared a parking lot with a Ford dealership. “Should we just walk around the lot to kill an hour?” Can you see where this is going? Within 60 minutes, we were the proud owners of a brand new Ford F250 XL with an extended bed for all our camping chairs and wordly goods. We had traded in the Nissan Frontier that had been a part of our family for six weeks. Facepalm.

We literally do not notice the trailer is behind us when pulling, even through mountain passes, and we feel so safe in such a large vehicle. If we were to upgrade to a different model or size, we’re covered. I wish we would have purchased this truck in the beginning to avoid the $6k bath for six weeks of ill-advised ownership.

 
super-duty

3. When in Doubt, Leave it Out. You Don’t Need It. OK…. you might need it… but you probably don’t need it.

Amazon and RVers are a match made in heaven. You can set up a wish list online, and every RV blog known to man has sponsored hyperlinks to “must-have products you simply can’t live without.” You can live without them.

 
check-bands
Yep, we bought this. Nope, you don’t need this.

Our salesman at the dealership told us that all we needed to purchase to bring her home was a sewer hose, a water hose, and a couple camping chairs. We smiled politely at him and nodded in earnest, knowing that we had already read the newest article about the ‘48 RV kitchen gadgets you must purchase today.’ “Poor guy,” we thought. “He’s so out of touch.”

He was so entirely correct. Our Amazon stockpile in the weeks leading up to the sale of my home included a few things that have been amazing and that we use every single day. I’ll mention these in a future post to share the love for the true must-haves in this minimal tiny home. However, the majority of our packages being delivered were, in hindsight, nonsense. Special weights for picnic tablecloths. Nesting plastic containers that nested into other containers which, in turn, nested into other containers. Drawer liners that had a festive “Happy Campers” pattern. I’m racking my brain to remember some of the silly items we frantically put on credit cards, but we purged them ALL within the first month of this lifestyle and I literally can’t even remember what they were. My favorite part of this lifestyle is the beautiful simplicity it affords, and we had completely lost touch with that ideal when the buying frenzy began. When in doubt, leave it out; you simply don’t need it. And if you do…. you can purchase it later once the need presents itself. Otherwise, it’s taking up space and quite literally weighing down your rig.

 
garage
This was my garage 2 weeks before I moved out, and includes only a fraction of our “RV must-haves.” No….just..no.

4. Get an Inspection. “But I’m buying a brand new RV!” Yep…. Get an inspection anyway.

My partner was adamant on this point, and I fought it all the way. We were buying a brand new vehicle, coming straight from the manufacturer, and he wanted to pay a stranger hundreds of dollars to inspect it. The dealership made it clear that they did their own inspections, and they strongly urged us to not spend the money on a third-party inspector.

Our inspection uncovered a few issues we would have never otherwise uncovered. We didn’t know a single thing about towing or camping, and would not even know where to begin. We were able to have these minor issues addressed at the dealership under warranty before we even left the lot. (Once you leave the lot, there can be long waiting times for warranty work! More on this later. I’m too frustrated to talk about it now….. Too soon.)

If you are buying a drivable RV, I would even more wholeheartedly urge you to have an independent inspection done. Our inspector was an unbiased third party with one intention — hunt for anything that could potentially be problematic and make us aware of the issue. He took the time to really show us his findings, which was a much more thorough orientation than the dealership had given us. When we drove away from the dealership, we had complete confidence that we weren’t on the wheels of a lemon with no knowledge of how to fix it. This is our home, after all. We would never buy a home without an independent inspection. (Here’s a link to the National RV Inspectors Association to find an inspector near you.)

5. You can do this. Hey YOU…. you can do this.

Neither one of us had ever towed anything…. ever. I had been camping exactly one time, and it was in a tent in the infield of the NASCAR Daytona International Speedway for the Rolex 24 hour race. (This is hardly a traditional example of camping.) The thought of taking receipt of our new RV was intimidating, because although we had researched all the items on our “hooking up” and “breaking down” checklists, we had never physically done them.

Your towable or drivable RV needs to be level, and the water hose needs to go into a pressure regulator and filtration system, and, and, and….. it can be really intimidating. You can do all these things. The first time we ran down our checklist, it took an hour. Now, I can get us completely backed into a site and hooked up to water, sewer, satellite internet, and a campfire built within 20 minutes by myself. OK…. that’s a lie. I don’t make the fires. Bottom line… the hardest part about RV life is just having the confidence to trust your instincts. Communicate about your checklist so things don’t get overlooked, and take your time to make sure when you’re driving away to the next adventure, everyone is safe and sound.

Turns out, there are no special skills required for purchasing or mastering the art of RV travel other than patience and due diligence. I wish you good luck in sustaining both in your quest for the perfect rig! Thinking of jumping in? The water’s warm — come on! Bounce your ideas off me; I’m more than glad to help you have the best RV purchasing experience. Happy travels!


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