In response to the many folks who have asked questions about picking the
right rig , I wanted to offer some suggestions. I can't choose a rig for
you... everyone has different needs and desires, but I hope I can give
you some things to think about while you conduct your search.... Good luck!
Decide what type of RV interests you.
Do you want a Class A, or a 5th wheel, or conventional trailer, or
what? This is a tough one, but you really should have a pretty good idea
of what type of rig you want. If you don't have a clue, go to a RV show
or a large RV dealership and take a look at the different types of RV available.
Don't worry too much about amenities yet, just get a feel for what's out
there. Here are some points to consider:
If you already have a pickup truck, a 5th wheel may be a good choice for
you.... they hitch and handle easily and offer a lot of interior room for
If you have a large van or sport utility, a conventional travel trailer
may be right for you.
Trailers are generally cheaper than Motorhomes because they don't have
engines, etc. They also seem to hold their resale value better.
If you don't already have a tow vehicle, a motorhome may be a better choice...
especially if you want to tow a boat or other equipment along.
If your main interest is upgrading from a tent for weekend camping or short
vacation trips, consider a cabover truck camper or tent trailer. They offer
huge improvements in comfort over sleeping on the ground and are much cheaper
and easier to maneuver than larger RVs.
How big should it be?
OK, Tough question. Best answer: it depends...
If your goal is to fulltime, consider that you are going to be living
in this thing. That means you will need a lot more storage space than when
you were going to the lake for the weekend. Fulltiming sort of demands
a rig that's not too small. Remember that there will be days (weeks?) when
bad weather forces you to stay inside. If you're traveling with a companion,
there will be times when you don't want to be in each other's laps. Simple
creature comforts like a comfortable chair to sit in or a couch to stretch
out on become more important. Think about what you want to bring with you
when you hit the road and try to estimate what kind of storage space you'll
need. Then, look at LOTS of RVs and try and decide how much room
you want. I think that the best answer is to buy a rig that's just big
enough and trim down your belongings to fit rather than to buy the biggest
rig you can afford. Smaller rigs are cheaper and easier to tow or drive.
I have met some folks out there fulltiming in very small rigs, such as
20 ft. class C motorhomes and 18 ft travel trailers, so it's possible,
but probably not optimal. If you're considering hitting the road for good
in a pickup camper or van conversion, my advice to you is to take a 3 week
trip in it and see if you REALLY want to live in something that small.
I doubt it.... On the other hand, a really large rig (longer than 30')
will keep you out of some campgrounds, some state parks and a lot of choice
back country camping. A lot of the more remote camping areas have a 22'
or so length limit. Keep this in mind when you look at that 40' triple
slide. Again, it all depends on what your goals and personal needs are.
Remember that there are always trade-offs. In my own case, after 2 years
on the road, I have sometimes found myself wishing that I had a smaller
rig, like a 22 footer with a slide instead of a 30 footer. It would be
easier to get into more remote areas and less hassle to drive on narrow
roads but then, when I'm inside, I like the extra room. Can't have everything,
If part-timing, vacationing or short tripping, I highly recommend getting
the smallest rig you can be fairly comfortable in and get into the
boonies with it! It will cost less to buy and operate and will be less
hassle to drive or tow. A win-win situation if I ever heard one. When I
was weekend camping, I was quite happy with a 8' cabover camper.
This really goes hand-in-hand with size, but I wanted to address interior
layouts separately, as I have seen some really large trailers and motorhomes
with interior layouts that were really cramped. Size isn't everything....
it's more important how the space is used. While looking at a prospective
new rig, pay attention to some of these details...
Make sure that the kitchen has adequate storage space and that you don't
have to stand on your head to get at it. Counter space, always at a premium,
is important too.
Is the refrigerator large enough? Is it easy to access? When the door is
open does it interfere with movement in the kitchen area?
Is the dining area large enough for your needs? If you like to have friends
over for meals, will it seat four? I know mine won't, unless three of them
Be sure to sit on the toilet and stand in the shower with the door or curtain
closed. Is there enough room?
If you intend to have a computer or some sort of desk space, is there an
area where such can be built or added? Most RVs don't come with desks or
computer areas built in, so you'll probably have to do it yourself. Using
the dinette may not be the best solution.
Is there enough closet space? How about a linen closet? Adequate bathroom
If you're tall, make sure there's adequate headroom.... the 300th time
you whack your head on that low doorway will convince you that it's time
for a trade-in.
Can you make the bed without having to go see the chiropractor when you're
done? Lay on the bed... is it comfortable? Accessible? If you're tall,
is it long enough to stretch out fully? 1/3 of your life is spent in bed!
Is the installed lighting OK? You can always add lighting, but sometimes
finding the existing wiring can be a challenge!
Are there enough windows? Are they big enough to let in some light? How
about window shades?
Minor annoyances such as a shower that's too small or a kitchen with no
storage space or a bed that's impossible to make are no big deal on a week-long
trip but the little things will drive you crazy over the long term.
This section pertains to the stuff the rig comes with to make it "self-contained"
Holding tanks. The first question should be: How big are they? If
you like to boondock a lot, you will want to have decent fresh water capacity.
30 or 40 gallons on smaller rigs seems to be about average, with some larger
rigs going to 100 gallons or more. Gray water holding tank(s) should be
at or near the size of your fresh water tank. Most of the water you use
in the rig will wind up in the gray water tank. If you have 100 gal. of
fresh water and a 40 gal Gray water tank, you're not going to be a happy
camper! Black water tank capacity almost never is a limiting factor. I
have a 40 gal black tank and I have never filled it, even when parked somewhere
for weeks. It just doesn't seem to be a problem. I even went so far as
to modify my rig with a transfer pump that allows me to pump gray water
from the gray tank to the black tank. More info on that modification can
be found by clicking here. Something to watch
out for..... some rigs will plumb the bathroom sink into the black water
tank (it's more convenient for the manufacturer, I guess). This can be
a problem if you are unaware of it. Using the bathroom sink can fill up
your black water tank and give you a surprise you didn't want to have!
I have even seen one rig where the kitchen sink drained into the black
tank. I don't think that this is a good situation. Unfortunately, you'll
have to do a little detective work to find out how the rig is plumbed.
I have a 40 gal. gray water tank and a 45 gal. fresh water tank. I can
dry camp for about a week if I'm careful to take brief showers and watch
my water use. Your mileage may vary.....
Water heater. Standard units come in 6 gal. and 10 gal. sizes. The
10 gal. is nice if you like to take long showers. An added plus is a heater
that has an installed electric heating element. You can purchase a kit
to add an electric element to water heaters that aren't equipped, but the
factory units are usually 1500 watts and the add-ons are usually around
750 watts. (the factory ones heat better and are wired direct). Some heaters
are "direct spark ignition", which means that they do not have a pilot
light. This is nice because you can turn the gas heat on and off from inside
the rig. The downside is that you can't take advantage of the pilot to
heat your water. You'd be amazed how well you can heat the water in your
RV using only the pilot light on your water heater! Light it when you park,
and leave the gas valve in the "Pilot" position. By morning, your water
will be plenty hot!
Comfort heating. Most RVs come with forced air heating. There is
a furnace installed somewhere in the rig and it produces heat that is ducted
to various areas. Some work better than others... all are rather inefficient.
They use lots of propane and will suck your battery down if you're dry
camping. Most furnaces use about 5-7 amps when the blower is running. If
you intend to winter "down south" and don't plan to need heat often, this
furnace will probably be fine for you. One alternative is to install a
catalytic or wall furnace type heater that doesn't use a blower. These
tend to be much more efficient and are popular with boondockers. If your
prospective rig has one, it's a plus. If you think you might want to add
such an item later, check to see if your prospective rig has a good place
to wall-mount one of these units.
Power. Most RVs come minimally equipped with one or two small 12v
batteries and a converter to make 12vdc power from 110vac. If you want
to dry camp a lot, check to see if the rig has room for additional batteries.
A solar panel (becoming more common on both new and used rigs) is nice
to have as well. There is a section on this site that is devoted to 12vdc
power systems... look for "The 12 Volt Side of Life" in the "Lifestyle"
section. Pay attention to location and existence of 110v outlets in the
rig. Are there adequate outlets in the kitchen area?
If you've narrowed down the choices, or are looking at a particular
rig with intent to buy, it's time to get serious and do a full functional
checkout. DON'T take anyone's word for it! Test all the RVs systems yourself.
Most RV dealers are set up to do this and it is an expected part of taking
delivery on a rig. Whether the rig is new or used, make sure that your
agreement with the dealer states that any non-functional items will be
fixed before you will take possession of the rig. Then test everything.
When purchasing a rig from a private individual, it may be a little more
difficult to do this checkout, but I highly recommend that you find a way
to do it before money changes hands. The following is an attempt to provide
a checklist of items that should be tested for functionality. I'm sure
that I have left some stuff out, so email me
if you think of something I missed... When buying a motorhome, it's like
buying a car as well as a RV. You have to take into account all the things
that are specific to any motor vehicle like the motor, transmission, etc.
That's a bit more than I feel qualified to get into here. This list will
mostly concentrate on things that are specific to the "traveling house"
function of any RV. For smaller, simpler rigs, some of the following won't
Take a hose and fill the fresh water tank. check for:
Gauge panel reading correct.
Tank drain functions.
Turn on an inside faucet and then turn on the pump. Pump should prime immediately
and water should flow. Try both cold and hot on faucet... if water heater
tank isn't full, let pump fill it by leaving hot water faucet open. Once
you have water flowing from both hot and cold faucets, turn off faucets.
Pump should shut off automatically. Wait a minute or two... pump should
not cycle again. If it does, suspect leak in plumbing system.
Check all faucets and shower for operation. Make sure drains drain.
If possible, run enough water into both gray and black tanks to verify
Plug rig into AC power then test all AC outlets.
Test DC outlets (if any)
Test all lighting.
Turn Refrigerator to ELEC. (or verify automatic operation if so equipped).
Turn temp adjustment to Max. It may take a while to begin to cool. Feel
the freezer compartment for first signs of cooling.
Turn on air conditioner(s) if any and check that unit works. Listen for
Test any fan-equipped roof vents.
Find the main breaker panel. Turn on several nearby 12v lights, then turn
off the main breaker. The 12v lights should dim slightly. Turn breaker
back on and they should get brighter. This tests to see if the converter
is working. (note.. it's not really a very good test, but it's quick and
Test microwave, if present.
Test stereo and/or TV if present.
Raise, rotate, lower TV antenna and test for function if present.
Test any Smoke, Propane and/or CO detectors that are present.
Test any electric jacks, or leveling devices.
Test any other appliances present.
If rig has additional optional electrical equipment (solar panels, inverter,
generator, etc.) ask that the owner or dealer show functionality.
Make sure gas is on and that there are no leaks. Please don't use a match
to test this!
Switch refrigerator to gas and light burner. (automatic models will not
switch to gas until you unplug the rig from AC power)
burner stays lit?
Fridge cools on gas?
First, make sure that water heater is not bypassed with a water heater
bypass kit (used to bypass water heater for winterization.. if you're not
sure, ask.) and is full of water. Light water heater. check for
Pilot light (if so equipped) stays lit.
If Direct Spark ignition, make sure control switch works.
Main burner works.
leaks (especially around drain plug and pressure release valve)
If electric equipped, check for operation.
Let it heat up and check for shutoff if possible.
Check oven and range for operation... do pilots work?
Turn on furnace and check for operation. Most are pretty automatic and
do not have a pilot light. Make sure you get warm air at all registers.
Test additional heater or appliances for proper operation on propane.
Check all cabinet doors and closets, etc. for functional latches.
Look carefully for any signs of leaks... discolored paneling or small stains
can be just the tip of the iceberg.
Do all the roof vents work? Are the covers intact? Screens?
Open and close every window. Make sure that the cranks all work, and that
windows close properly and seal. Are the screens all intact?
Check whole exterior of rig for damage.
Pay attention to the quality of the exterior finish. Are there any stains,
rust spots or areas of corrosion?
Climb up ladder and look at roof. Pay attention to leading and trailing
edges of roof as that's where damage from low hanging trees, etc. is most
likely. Is roof in good shape? Is air conditioner cover intact? How about
the TV antenna? Are all plumbing vents intact? Is the refrigerator vent
intact? Roof vents? Skylights?
Sight down the sides of rig and look for uneven surfaces. Sides of rig
should be flat. Watch for bubbles or delaminations of rig side walls.
Check lighting. Do all lights work? Are all lenses intact?
Check windows for damage and quality of weather seals.
Are all compartment doors functional? Does the seller have all the keys?
Crawl under the rig for this one.. Look at all axles and suspension components.
Are there any bent or broken parts? Major rust? Dangling wires? Missing
Check the tires... any signs of uneven wear? Are all the tires the same
brand and apparent age? Are any tires more worn than others? Are the tires
in good shape? Sidewall cracks?
Does the rig sit level on level ground? No listing or leaning?
Brakes.... this is a hard one. You can pull the wheels and inspect the
brakes visually (best but not easy to do) or you can test them by driving/towing
the rig and checking that they work. Rig should stop smoothly without pulling
or jerking and brakes should be fairly effective. It should be possible
to lock the wheels of a trailer with the brake controller set to "max".
What are the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating), GAWR (gross axle weight
rating) and dry weight of the rig? If possible, weigh the rig empty as
most commonly added accessories (air conditioners, awnings, etc.) are not
allowed for in the manufacturer's dry weight. Pay close attention to the
numbers.. the difference between GVWR and the actual dry weight is your
Check the weight ratings of the tires to be sure that they are rated to
carry the weight of the rig when it is loaded to GVWR.
Get specific info on the capacities of the water and holding tanks and
propane tanks. If you plan to travel with fresh water on board figure approximately
8 lb. per gallon and deduct that from your payload capacity. You also have
to do this with Propane at approximately 4.5 lb. per gallon. All this stuff
adds to the vehicle's weight and must be taken into consideration.
Is there enough load capacity left over for your intended use? Better plan
on somewhere between 1 and 2 tons of additional stuff if you are going
to live in your rig full time. I know that sounds like an awful lot, but
you'd be surprised how much stuff weighs!
I would like
to make a suggestion for the 'how to choose your rv' pages. We always take
along a digital camera and record the outside and inside of each rig. The
first photograph is always something with an identifying logo, graphic,
or badge. We use a cheap ($99) camera made by Largan, available at www.cyberguys.com.
It only does 640 by 480, but it holds 100 photographs.
When we get home we can download the pictures. It helps to remember
things like 'did that motorhome have windows in the sides of the slideout?'.
It's invaluable if you look at three or four very similar rigs in the same
day. I have never yet had a salesperson object to my taking pictures. In
fact, many of them ask about the camera, which is about the size of a pack
of cigarettes and fits in a shirt pocket.
Submitted by: Michael Reilly
To sum it all up.....The most important
advice I can think of is:
Ask lots of questions.
When you look at a rig, "Try it on for size".
Take LOTS of time to look. Look at as many different rigs as you can. Don't
be in a hurry to buy. There is a HUGE turnover in the RV marketplace and
if you are patient, the perfect rig will come along.