13 Tips for Buying a Class C Motorhome or RV

So, you’ve decided on a Class C motorhome. Great! You’ve knocked out the hardest part about purchasing a recreational vehicle which is deciding on the kind of model you want to buy. However, you’re far from close to the finish line.

Before you head out to the dealership to pick up your Class C Motorhome, take a moment to review some helpful tips that’ll help you be prepared for the adventure that awaits.

1. Should I buy my RV New or Used?

This is the most debated question RV buyers struggle with. There are pros and cons to both and in the end, there is no full-proof answer that satisfies this repetitively asked question.

A brand-new Class C has the most recent luxuries and is unused by anyone else making for an extra clean interior! The biggest pitfall—money. Expect to spend it, and a lot of it.

New Pros:

  • You get a brand spanking new RV with fresh new lines, hoses, and tanks
  • The most recent technology is available
  • New models have a modern look to them that is aesthetically appealing both inside and out
  • Manufacture warranty begins the day you write the check

New Cons:

  • Can be very expensive
  • New RV’s aren’t broken in and may have immediate issues
  • High depreciation
  • Insurance is much more costly

A used Class C may be the way to go if money is tighter. Even if you’re buying a used camper from a dealership, be sure to complete a thorough inspection on your own or hire someone to complete the inspection for you. Many people would assume that the dealer does this for the purchasers to uncover any issues, but it’s naïve to believe this is the case 100% of the time.

Used Pros:

  • Cheaper!
  • Issues experienced in new RV are already fixed
  • Less depreciation
  • Licensing, registration, and insurance all costs less

Used Cons:

  • Higher risk of hidden issues not disclosed by seller
  • Older vehicles may not be as fuel efficient as a new model
  • Less options and floorplans to choose from
  • Typically, no manufacture warranty available

2. Rent before you buy

There is a plethora of Class C manufacturers with even more models beneath their umbrella of RVs they sell. Though renting is not always a cheap option, if you have your mind set on a particular brand and model—rent it first if possible.

Viewing your dream 30-foot, Thor Motor Coach Chateau in the dealership parking lot with all the slide-outs extended is a lot different than driving, parking, and living in your new Class C. After a few days of travel, you may find that driving a 30 foot behemoth is not your forte. Or maybe five TVs is an unnecessary amenity and keeps the kids too preoccupied. Or wait, gas costs $165? Didn’t we just fill up?

Owning an RV is expensive.

Renting an RV is also expensive; however, it may also save you thousands of dollars. Class C’s average around $50,000 when buying new. Renting is about $150 a day. If you take a rental out for a week you may be dropping $750 but if that aids in your decision and you find that you don’t like that particular brand or model, you’re saving yourself a huge amount of money.

Let’s do some math! Let’s say you financed your RV for $50,000.

  • Your monthly payments are probably around $500.
  • Now add insurance premiums; approximately $500 per year.
  • Plus, maintenance (oil changes, servicing the generator, and replacing filters): $1,000.
  • And don’t forget the gas! Let’s assume you take your investment out for more than just the summer months. That’s approximately $1,000 in gas alone depending how far you’re driving.
  • Also, if you’re storing your RV in a storage facility, add a supplementary $100 per month for a total $1,200 per year in storage fees.

Our ballpark figure is $4,200 per year. If you are avid about taking your camper out, going on adventures, using it as a guest house for visitors, and really using your Class C, then this number may not be daunting and completely worth it! Yay!

However, if your new RV is a paperweight in your driveway than that’s a significant amount of money every year.

Let’s go back to renting for a week which costs about $750. If your family goes on vacation three times per year, your total is $2,250 in rental costs. Which is a savings of $1,950 per year. In order to break even with your $50,000 investment versus renting, you would need to take 67 trips in your RV. If you’re averaging at three vacations per year, that’d take 22 years. I can’t even appropriately calculate how much money that’d be over 22 years in maintenance, gas, tires, repairs, and replacement parts.

Obviously, with renting, you’re not responsible for spending money on costly repairs and maintenance.

This is not to dissuade you from purchasing a Class C, but to highly encourage trial and error and research before you buy. There are cases where it makes more sense to buy than to rent. For example, if your goal is to go fulltime, then of course that makes sense to purchase, but still do a test run before writing that check.

The bottom line is getting to know your home before buying it, and if renting can assist with your decision, then spend that extra couple hundred dollars to solidify your verdict.

3. What are you keeping in the cab over?

Depending on your caravan size you want to make sure the cab over is able to provide the appropriate stability for the amount of weight you plan on having up there. Are you going to be using it for storage or for additional sleepers?  The average weight capacity is 350 pounds which is sufficient for two adults weighing 175 pounds each.

However, if you’re going to be using the RV as your fulltime vehicle, then storage capacity may be more important. You would be surprised by how much material items weigh!

Depending on what you’re towing with you, it’s advisable to store most of the weight closest to the engine. Just like packing dirt into a wheelbarrow; it’s much easier to push when all the weight is on top of the wheel because that’s the muscle baring part of the apparatus. By placing heavier items closer to the cab, this will help your gas mileage because the weight is on top of the engine. As opposed to 20 plus feet away, dragging in the back.

4. Check for leaks!

This would be specifically for a used camper but making sure the roof holds up during rain is crucial. If you’re out camping and it starts down pouring, you’re going to want to seek shelter inside your home.

Well, what happens if it’s raining and the roof starts leaking on the cab over and soaks the bed. You’re out of a sleeping spot. If at all possible, try inspecting the vehicle during a heavy rain to avoid possibly purchasing a leaky home.

Unfortunately, water and moisture are sneaky things. Even if there isn’t a noticeable leak any moisture that gets in will quickly ruin the interior of the home. You’ll develop mold on the walls, on the furniture, in the carpet, on your personal belongings and everywhere else.

Mold creates a very unsafe living environment for you and your travelers. Inhaling mold for any amount of time is dangerous, especially to children and the elderly. The best way to avoid growing a science experiment in your home is prevention!

A dehumidifier will suck up excess moisture out of the air and keep the air fresh. Wiping down the walls in the shower and bathroom with a towel after use will help eradicate the beginning stages of mold build up.

Also, if you’re cooking in the camper, you may create steam, which is sneaky water in gaseous form. Drying the walls near the stove and underside of cabinets will help keep mold at bay in the kitchen.

5. Lower miles on an older RV isn’t always a good thing

When purchasing a used camper, having low miles can mean a variety of things.

If you’re buying directly from the previous owner, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the RV’s history. If it has low miles, ask, “Why didn’t you drive it more?” You may receive a red flag answer such as, “It’s parked most of the year.” Why is that a bad thing? An unused camper is prone to rust, cracking, and other unforeseen issues.

My grandparents own a 1969 Dodge Class C Camper Trailer that has 43,541 miles on it. Sound enticing? I think not. As a child I remember sitting on the sofa with no seatbelt (it was so cool) and peeking out the cabover window spying on other drivers with my brother while we were stuck in traffic. So illegal.

However, I also remember a family reunion held at my grandparent’s house. For nostalgic purposes, my uncle wanted to check out the old RV that had been parked in the back driveway for 20 twenty years. He went outside to investigate with my mom and grandpa and all three returned to the party fairly quickly with disappointed faces. Was it full of mold and impossible to breath? Was it covered with creepy crawlies? Or was it being inhabited by a family of raccoons? Well. All of the above.

Needless to say, just because their RV has fairly low miles does not make it desirable to own.

The same question can apply to a vehicle that’s just a couple years old. Why would someone be selling their camper that they bought brand new just a few years ago? Ask that question. It might mean that it’s difficult to drive and the owners only took it out a few times. Perhaps the gas mileage is absolute garbage.

You don’t want to inherit someone else’s lemon, so be diligent, do your research, and ask questions.

6. Pick the right Tires for your Motorhome

Choosing the right tires or making sure your RV is coming equipped with good tires will help you get out on the road and stay on the road. The tire carrying capacity is stated on the tire sidewall and will tell you exactly what you need to know. Most Class C RV’s use Load Range E tires, but to find out exactly what your particular rig stats are, check the tire placard on the inside of the driver door. The pounds per square inch (PSI) are a critical factor in your tire selection.

To get a rough estimate of the load capacity for each tire, find out your Class C’s dry weight, then add the weight of your passengers and the weight of material items and fluid you’re putting in the vehicle; including water, propane, and gas. Once you have the sum of your dry and miscellaneous weight, divide that by four.

Math time! Let’s say your Class C is 11,000 pounds and we add about 1,500 pounds in miscellaneous weight. We’re at 12,500 pounds; divided by four that’s 3,125 pounds. With that, each tire needs to have a load capacity of at least 3,125 pounds.

There are horror stories and videos of people experiencing tire blowouts on the web. Don’t be one of those people and take careful consideration when purchasing and inspecting your tires. Too much weight can damage them prematurely and cause major, time consuming, and expensive issues.

The worst part about tire issues, is that they’re typically experienced while driving which can be extremely dangerous. Again, being diligent and taking precautionary measures to ensure your tires are in good shape will safeguard yourself, your passengers, and fellow drivers on the road.

7. Invest in roadside assistance

Getting an insurance plan that specializes in RVs will save you in the long-run. One of the most well-known insurance agencies specifically for RV’s is Good Sam Club. They have specialized coverage for first time RV’ers and also full timers. They also give you the option of turning off your coverage for periods of time when your Class C is not in use.

Giving yourself that extra piece of mind by purchasing a quality insurance plan will make your experience that much more enjoyable.

After our last section on tires, I know you are aware of the dangers of not upkeeping your tires and you will be adamant about tire safety—but some accidents are unpreventable. By having roadside assistance, you can count on professional help to safely repair or replace tires on the side of the road.

Be sure to check for towing distance to ensure you’re never in a position where you’ll be stranded.

Being locked out of your home while camping could completely ruin your trip and cause major delays in dinner! However, with lockout assistance you could be back to cooking dinner in no time to satisfy those grumbling bellies!

Accidents and emergencies are bound to happen at some point, so be sure to be prepared and have insurance!

8. Diesel or Gasoline?

Class C’s have the option of burning regular gasoline or diesel. Diesel models tend to be more expensive than regular gasoline vehicles because they tend to be higher in quality and the engine is built differently to sustain diesel gasoline.

Diesel has a higher energy level than gas, giving you a higher MPG by about 10%. Since the engine is located in the back of the RV it makes for a quieter cab experience. The benefits also include more towing capabilities, better uphill acceleration, and more torque. On the downside diesel models are about 30% more expensive than gas which can be the difference between $190,000 and $133,000. That’s a $57,000 difference!

Diesel engines are ideal for getting up steep passes with its additional torque capacity. If you know ahead of time you’ll be driving through the Rocky Mountains for instance, this model will help you get up those passes, burning far less fuel and causing less stress to the driver.

Gas models on the other hand are significantly cheaper than diesels. You can fill up your tank at any gas station and the maintenance cost is cheaper. However, gas builds are going to work harder going up hills burning more fuel and will require more maintenance.

The biggest consideration when deciding between the two is how you’re going to be using and driving your RV. If your plan is to go on family vacations a couple times a year, then a gasoline model makes sense for you and will be a cheaper alternative.

If you’re plan is to go fulltime, then diesel may be the ideal decision. You’ll spend less time getting repairs done and more time on the road.

9. Sit in the driver’s seat

The beauty of Class C’s is that they’re built on a van or truck chassis and have the similar driving style. Sit in that driver’s seat to make sure you’re not only comfortable in the seat, but also familiar with the pedals and shift gear.

If this is your first RV than getting something with a driving style you’re already accustomed to will help alleviate any stress or apprehensiveness when driving it the first couple of times.

Many newer models come with backup cameras and cameras on the side mirrors (another pro to a new model) which can be comforting to a green RV driver. The side mirror cameras will turn on when you use your blinkers (so be sure to signal!). Ensure the screen showing the cameras are set up in a good viewing position while sitting in the driver’s seat.

10. Pick the Right RV Length

Class C’s come in many lengths ranging from as small as 20 feet to as large as 40 feet.  The length of your Class C will determine where you park your rig while not in use and what kind of campsites you’ll be allowed into.

If you’re planning on visiting National Parks, be sure to look up the length requirements ahead of time to make sure you’re in compliance. Longer vehicles offer more space and amenities but may also constrict your ability to visit certain National Parks.

Make sure you have a plan in place as to where you’re going to be parking your RV when not in use. That 35-foot Class C sure looks great in the dealership parking lot, but is it going to fit in your 20-foot driveway? Having a plan in place as to where your RV will live while not in use is very important.

11. Have a Plan for RV Storage

There are storage facilities specifically for RV’s that come in covered and non-covered. The price of the storage unit will depend on the length (again something important to consider!) and if you are willing to pay a little extra for covered storage.

Your RV is an investment and if you allow it to rot in your front yard under the harmful rays of the sun or damaging effects of rain, you will quickly notice the negative impact the weather has on your vehicle. Also, a storage unit saves space on your home lot and potentially frees up parking in your street for the neighbors.

By removing your Class C off the streets and into a unit, you’re also preventing accidents that may occur from other drivers or pedestrians walking by.

Having a storage unit allows you to safely maintain your Class C until you’re ready to hit the road. Many storage facilities also offer amenities such as dumping stations and washing services.

When choosing your storage unit, try to find something with a concrete floor. Parking on a grass or dirt terrain will retain moisture and will damage the undercarriage of your vehicle causing premature rusting.

By storing your RV in a covered area and protecting it from the elements, you are actively prolonging its life and also saving yourself money on costly repairs that could have been avoided by proper storage.

12. Or use an RV Cover

As a less expensive alternative to physically storing your Class C, is a RV cover. These come in many shapes, lengths, and sizes to accommodate your Class C’s profile. These can be found online or in stores such as Camping World. Obviously, the higher quality of the cover will increase the sticker price but will also protect your RV better.

Consider the conditions that your Class C will be facing. Do you live in a humid rainy environment or dry desolate area? Are the conditions moderate or severe?  All these questions should be answered when researching covers to best protect and preserve your camper.

Specifications you want to make sure your cover has to offer include:

  • Vents to improve airflow and help prevent mold and mildew from growing
  • Zippered panels so you can easily enter and access storage areas
  • Elastic inserts and adjustable straps for a secure fit
  • Heavy duty fabric with UV protection

When measuring for your Class C cover, start at the front bumper and extend to the furthest point of the RV. Be sure to include bumpers, ladders, and spare tires. When going to purchase, if your measurements fall in between sizes, always purchase the largest size up. The elastic inserts and adjustable straps will allow you to create a custom fit.

13. Consider Slide-Outs

When looking at indoor space, slide-outs are the way to go. That extra 3 feet in width will make a huge difference in making your home feel less crowded. Having slide-outs are total game changers. The inside transforms from small and cramped to open and breathable.

The extra livable space draws the line between existing and living. No more awkwardly maneuvering around family members and needing to be in the exact spot someone else is currently standing. With the extra space you are able to comfortably stride through your home without bumping counters or squeezing into the bathroom.

The downside to slide-outs is when your slide-outs don’t work. Maybe they won’t open, or worse they won’t close when you need to get back on the road. Most RV’s have a manual crank to reel back in stubborn slide-outs.

Unfortunately, even if you buy a brand-new Class C, it won’t stay new. That simple switch of a button that brings your home from tight quarters to a mansion may fail or the slide-out may get shifted off the tracks. Whatever the reason, it’s a pain to fix and deal with.

Going back to keeping moisture out—the only thing keeping water out while the slide-outs are fully extended is a rubber strip. Overtime, this strip may dry up, crack, and split allowing water to leak through and create an even larger problem.

If you’re considering slide-outs, avoid RV’s that have the kitchen as a moving part. The kitchen has many mechanical parts and having that be an area that is frequently moved around is not the best idea. Hoses and electrical lines may become compromised prematurely simply because of the harassment they incur whenever the slide-out is utilized.

Conclusion

You can never do enough research or shopping around. By taking these tips into consideration will ultimately help you make an educated decision on one of the most expensive purchases you can make. Good luck, have fun, and remember, adventure is waiting!

About the Author

Tiondra Clevenger

Tiondra's family, which includes one incredible husband and two senior chihuahuas, are super adventure seekers. Hiking and kayaking are amongst their favorite activities and are quite skilled in the art of napping after said ventures.

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