rv life in umatilla national forest

Van or RV: What should you live in?

 

When I decided to become a full time RVer my first consideration was what should I buy? I wanted a mobile home comfortable enough to live and work in but not so comfortable that I never wanted to go outside. My intent, after all was to spend more time in nature.

Now that I’ve lived in my RV for 6 months, I have a much better idea of what my needs are. When I buy my next one, I think I’ll do things a little differently, so I thought I’d share what I’ve come to realize about the choice I made to live in a 29’ Class C RV and why I sometimes wish I’d chosen something smaller.

Here are some things to consider when choosing your van or RV to live in.

What’s your budget for your live-in RV or Van? –

Yep, of course it always comes down to how much you can spend.  The fact is, older Class C and Class A RVs are cheap. For under $10,000 you can buy something decent that will last you a couple years, at least (most likely a fixer-upper).   Class Bs like Sprinter Vans or even older MotorTreks cost a lot more (even older MotorTreks are $20-$30k), but are durable and dependable.   You may be able to get a box van, or truck with a camper for less, but you’ll have to search long and hard to find a good deal.

What I learned: don’t rush into buying your RV or van to live in. Think about how you want to live and what will make sense for your budget and comfort. If you don’t have a huge budget (and want to pay cash like I did), take your time. Deals are out there; you just have to be diligent and patient (2 qualities I lack!) to find the best vehicle and the best value for you.

 How important is gas mileage? 

The obvious fact here is, the bigger the rig the more horrible your gas mileage will be.  But this may not be a big deal to you. If you’re planning on living in an RV park 3-6 months at a time and not doing a lot of sight-seeing or traveling, or you’re going to primarily stay in one area, you may value comfort over gas mileage and go with a bigger RV. However, if you’re going to be traveling – MPGs will be a huge deal. Huge. (it costs me $100 to travel about 250 miles). You’ll need to figure out what your monthly living budget is and how much you can afford to spend on gas. Then decide if a big RV that gets  8 mpg or a van getting around 14+ mpg makes more sense for you.

WHERE are you going to live in your RV or Van?

This is another huge decision to make before buying your RV or Van to live in.  When you picture your new Nomadic or RV Life what comes to mind?  Do you see RV Parks and Campgrounds? Remote forests?  Desert? Or traveling across the country seeing all the sites and cities?

Here’s why this is so important:

  • RV Parks and Campgrounds: Any vehicle under 30’ can go in just about any RV park or campground (and most can take a larger RV) – so if you want to stick with RV Parks and developed campgrounds, any vehicle would be ideal, for the conditions.
  • Stealth Camping in cities and towns: Trust me there is nothing stealthy about a 29’ RV. While I like to kid myself, and think I can blend into a neighborhood, community college parking lot, country road or strip mall, there is no hiding a big RV. If you’re parked someplace you don’t normally see an RV overnight,  chances are, people will know you’re sleeping in it. A Van, Class B or even truck-camper is much stealthier and will allow you to fly under the radar better when you need to stealth camp. Not to say you can’t get away with sleeping in your RV in cities and towns- I’ve done it plenty – but it’s harder to find places that won’t raise red flags so  there’s always the worry you’ll be discovered and booted out (knocks on the door in the middle of the night are unnerving!).
  • Remote National Forest and BLM lands: This is where I have a lot of experience!  Have I mentioned that I didn’t quite get the fear gene?  Sure, common sense might tell some people not to take a 29’x10’x8’ home-on-wheels on rocky, rutted, narrow, overgrown, barely-roads in national forests, but, seriously, where’s the fun in that?  Instead, I’ve made it my personal mission to prove that having a 29’ Class C RV doesn’t have to stop you from going to remote National Forest lands.  (Ok, ok, we won’t talk about the bumper that’s no longer attached, the duct tape holding the corner panel together, the many crushed and shattered lights – oh and the hole in the back where a branch poked straight through – but hey, it’s my starter rig!).         Yes, I am still learning to drive it and yes, I am also learning its limitations, but I’m also realizing (much to my deep disappointment) RVs are not meant for off-roading!  In a truck or a van, you might have some lee-way on backing up and “feeling your way” when you can’t quite see everything, but RVs are flimsy and so cheaply made, you just can’t do that without damage. This is probably the #1 thing I regret – not knowing how cheaply built RVs truly are. The amount of damage to my rig already is ridiculous, seriously one little tap of a rock or a tree and shit just falls off. (check out this video of me getting stuck – and my friend pulling me out!)off-395

What I learned:  if you want get away from it all and travel on bumpy, rutted, bouncy, sandy and rocky barely-roads, a more rugged, smaller vehicle might be best for you. (I’ve decided I need a conversion military tank to go where I want to go!)

Nomad Living Comfort and Amenities

  • How much home-like comfort do you need? I’ve met people who live out of barely-converted box vans and they’re quite content; pooping in a bucket, cooking on a camp stove or hot plate and having everything they own within arm’s reach. When I decided to live in an RV I basically thought of it as downsizing to a tiny home that I could park in national forests and have the most amazing backyards ever – “home” being the operative word. I like having a toilet. I love to cook so a stove, oven and a refrigerator were must-haves (plus I wanted to be remote and limit my in-town visits, so the fridge is necessary for my fresh produce). Since I knew I’d be living and working in the RV I thought a separate bedroom was necessary (and because 55lb, 11-year-old Capone sleeps with me, I couldn’t use the cabover).   But now, I wish I’d done without the separate bedroom, I could have gone with a 25′ Class C and been just as happy. One thing I do love is all the windows the RV has, so even when I’m working inside I can feel close to nature. stealth camping in an RV
  • How much time will you spend inside? I wanted something big enough to have the comforts of home, yet not so big that I’d want to stay inside longer than I’d need to. I am learning I spend much more time in my RV than I thought I would. But I do work a lot. so, I wonder if I’d gotten something smaller – or a van – would I still be inside all the time and miserably claustrophobic? Or would that have forced me to find ways to get outside more? I don’t know. But my advice for you is to consider this when choosing your RV or van to live in. It’s not easy to break old habits. And the fact is there are insects, rain, wind and heat to consider when being outside. We’ve been in dwellings for millions of years – just because you decide to sell the house and buy the RV doesn’t mean that instinct to be comfy and cozy inside is going to go away. So, consider your RV or van home purchase with that in mind.

It’s hard to know what you’re going to need and be comfortable in until you get out there – and even then, you may not know exactly what’s right. Most full timers that I’ve met who’ve been doing it a while have gone through several different types of vehicles… trying new ones on for size very few years.

I have no doubts my next mobile home will be smaller, tougher and more agile. For those of you who’ve been doing this a while, what would you change about your RV or van home? And for those who are still planning, what are your questions or concerns?

43 comments

  1. Hey Carolyn! I’m going through this thought process right now and it’s not easy. Then when you seek out advice, you have to weigh in that person’s biases. Bob (Wells) has given me some advice and his bias is vans, with good reason. Motor home enthusiasts have given advise that are biased towards what they live in.

    Personally, my needs are at odds. I want to be able to find some more remote locations (for peace, quiet, views and 0 cost) but I also enjoy a 1/2 and 1/2 life of indoors vs outdoors so my home on wheels has to be cozy. I’m too old to want to have to walk hunched over all the time. I’d prefer to have indoor bathroom facilities and, like you, I enjoy a little cooking. I don’t need an oven but I don’t want to cook on a camp stove, either.

    Right now, if budget allows, I’m leaning towards a molded fiberglass trailer and an SUV. I’d have to buy both because I am driving a small sedan right now. The molded fiberglass trailers are not as cheaply made as most RVs but for that reason they are harder to find and more expensive. But I think they combine all the things I want: enough indoor space to not feel too claustrophobic, high enough to walk upright, a good workable indoor kitchen, dedicated sleep and work space, and a bathroom (I’m fine with a wet bath). And I think it will be a little easier to get to some more remote locations but I’ll still have to avoid deeply rutted roads.

    Your and your reader thoughts welcome! I have to pull this together in the next 8 months!

    1. Lori,
      You’re in exactly the same boat I’m in: with my needs being at odds. I want it all!!!

      It sounds like you’ve worked out a great solution. If I had more money, I might have gone with a pull trailer. But my car wouldn’t pull one so that would have meant selling my car then and buying two big things at once- more than I wanted to deal with. This is a route I will consider on my next one.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts… good luck and have fun with the planning. Carolyn

      1. Carolyn, I would have to do the same since I have a little sedan. But at least there’s are a lot of good values on V-6 SUVs to be had so I shouldn’t have to put out much extra for the tow vehicle. My car is paid for so whatever I get from it would go directly to the “new to me” SUV. On the other hand, if I get a Class C, I could sell my car or tow it. I have confirmed that I can flat tow it. But there’s still the cost of the tow equipment. Aarrrghhhh!

        Maybe I’ll just buy a horse.

    2. Hi Lori,
      I’m with you on creature comfort’s , However I would be afraid to tow anything. If you not, Cheers! I went with a mini C Class. Your idea is nice because you can leave it in camp and explore and run errands in the vehicle.
      That’s a draw back for me. I have to break camp to go anywhere. Good luck to you. Hope to see you out there, Tiki

      1. Hi Tiki,
        I’m not so sure how “okay” I am with towing since it would be new for me. I understand having a stabilizer bar helps a lot. The mini C class sounds great but as an older (ahem) woman, I’m not too keen on the idea of having to climb up and down a ladder to get to my bed. I think I have ditched the idea of getting a van (sorry, Bob). I need more room not just for creature comforts but because I will be trying to do some work on the road: a bit of web development and some crafting. No matter what I get I do plan on getting a screen room so I can work outside which is better for the crafting since it’s best to have good ventilation. But the weather isn’t always going to cooperate and if I have a deadline, I have to be able to work.

        My biggest obstacle right now is finding anything. I live in the DC Metro area and there’s not a lot of inventory around here. I have given a lot of consideration to just driving my car across country to my sister’s (Nevada), and stay with her until I find something that works for me. I planned on using Nevada as my address in any case. Big bonus is that they have a paved spot next to the house that the RV can sit on while I get it road-ready. It really seems the smartest thing to do since there will be a lot more inventory around there, a home base to work from, a place to get it ready (I live in an apt and wouldn’t be able to park anything here) and a highly-rated RV repair facility nearby. I just don’t like the idea of driving across country and staying in hotels. Done it before but it’s not ideal.

        1. Great plan. Having a place to work on it is ideal.
          Mine is 23′ has a bed and a loft. Took 9 months to research and find. I do landscape design and needed a desk. So I removed the dinette. Both captains chairs swivel to become a comfy seating area. I’m 62 and just retired this month.

          1. Tiki,
            9 months of looking! I commend your patience and diligence. I probably could have researched longer, but as I said, patience isn’t one of my virtues! – Congrats on retiring!!! – Carolyn

          2. What did you get and are you happy with it? Starting my research now- almost 57 and with dog(s). Will also need a desk area so I am very grateful for your help!
            Ra

  2. I have always had a huge motorhome . but in 2014 I got divorced and I did read Bobs blogs and thought ok I will be a minimalist. So I purchased a Chinook.. high end class B/ Well i did go south in it and decided that wasnt for me… too small and they get too hot and the gas mileage is no different than a 36ft Class A 8 miles a gallon.. now I am not a newbee. I have RVed for all my life it seems like and am very familiar with the lifestyle…. I now have a Diesel Pusher again… but I think you did right by having a class C… more comfort and pretty good fuel mileage not as good as a van but hey,,, A van isnt that comfy unless you want to live minimalist.. Bob seems happy in the van, but I see he is going back to a camper, I live in RV resorts as I like the pickleball and all that comes with it.. I dont like wandering if i have enough power for my tv, or enough water to wash with or worry about sewer .. Although I have a holding capacity of 100gallons each and I can go a month on my sewer.. different strokes for different folks. I was off the grid for 6 weeks this summer. I am happy to be back on the grid.. lots of water lots of power and I can watch tv via my sattelite and have A/c on when needed and can play my pickleball
    So my suggestion to folks would be… Buy a class C if you can afford it they come in all lengths. but I would suggest a 24ft to get into most places.. and keep it well maintained and you can even to a little car behind it if you wish

    1. Henk.
      This was so helpful – thank you for sharing your story. You helped me realize we never know until we DO it what’s going to work and then it can change! Sounds like you’ve done a bit of experimenting with different rigs and lifestyles and now have it dialed in. Good for you! I agree, I think 24 or 25′ is a perfect size. Thanks! – Carolyn

  3. Hey Carolyn,
    I agree Vans are just too small, while I did greatly enjoy a summer that I lived out of one. It was fine since I remained in the San Diego area near public beaches, so their were always restrooms and grocery stores nearby eliminating the need for “poop buckets” and refrigerators. Now I plan to get out in nature more and I’m looking to buy a small used Class Cs, like 22ft, but there is concern about get stuck like you did! Will definitely pick up tow straps.

    Have you considered a Truck Camper? Also, maybe you could build/buy a ramp or steps for your dog to sleep in the cabover.

    Take care, Diane.

    1. Diane, Yes, I am thinking i might do a truck camper next. thanks for the suggestion about a ramp too.
      A van in San Diego doesn’t sound bad at all! Sounds fun. But yes, when you’re out in the woods, it is nice to have the comforts of home! thanks for sharing your thoughts. – Carolyn

    2. I’m just beginning to look at this stuff. I went to an RV show a couple months ago. 22-24 foot looks ideal. I like the idea of the separate bedroom because I might do business in mine, too, and to bring people into an obvious sleeping area just seems dicey to me. I personally don’t like the idea of a truck camper because I cannot get from the living area to the driving area without going outside. As a lone woman, that’s something I want to be able to do. I do hate the idea of giving up a car, but I’m not keen on towing something, either. I’m still thinking this through.

      1. Roxann. You are taking exciting first steps! I hear that most people never get the RV/Van/Truck thing right the first time. We have to get out and live to figure out what we need. I wish you the best of luck! – Carolyn

      2. I think you are on the right track… I feel 2_24ft class C is the bext st option. Believe me…. I have had them all and a 24ft suited me well… I now have a 41ft diesel pusher with slides… But then I dont like boon docking.. Different strokes….. I like lots of power for my tvs lol…..good luck… Have it checked out

  4. So just out of curiousity…..Is your garage letting you actually sleep on their property in you RV? I’ve always wondered if Rvers are always forced to find a hotel or not.

    1. Diane,
      Yes they are! they’ve been so kind… I even had to stay IN the garage one night while the rig was on the rack. I think it depends on the garage, but for as much as I’m spending, room and board SHOULD be included! – Carolyn

  5. I just need a transformer RV / Van, a girl can dream right? 😉

    Like you said great things to think about but sometimes you just don’t know how things will be in real life until you get out there. I like camping but dealing with ice in a cooler is a pain in the butt, with it melting, the expense to buy and travel to purchase. I think in my head I can deal with a bucket and navy shower, but will have to see how that all goes. Money is a huge factor, I just can’t afford gas for an RV when what I want to do is travel for now.

    Like you, I want to get in the back places. I’m gonna start with a van and see how that works out, maybe after I get some of those wild places in my blood I will want to settle down in the RV park … LOL!! Probably not though.

    Park of my thinking of getting a van is also I currently pet-house sit for money and don’t want to pay to store the RV and many places I can’t just park it on the street. That’s why I also ruled out getting a trailer for now.

    Take care, great information in the post as always. 🙂

    Tina

    1. Tina-
      A transformer RV! – YES!!! Love it!
      As you pointed out, there is so much to consider and weigh when making the decision. As a backpacker I thought I’d love roughing it all the time, but going on a 20 backpacking trip where you know there’s a shower and comfy bed at the end is far different than living it indefinitely.
      I can’t wait to hear how you do with the van! Thanks for your post! – Carolyn

  6. This was perfect timing for for a couple of belly laughs. Thank you. And congrats on sale of car. On less tie to your old life. That’s big!
    Well my time has come, too. All my planning and now that it’s time to leave the nest, yikes.
    In order to head out, Mom and I decided to sell her home and have her move into mine. We signed the final papers last nite. And it closes in 2 weeks. That gives us both a reserve.
    My 23′ C Class is just enough room for myself and 8 yr old lab, Rocco. He likes his bed in the shower, which is wasted space all but 3 min. a day. That is when he’s not sprawled our in the only walkway.
    I’ve had to reconfigure almost everything to meet our needs and am confident that it will continue to serve my purposes.
    It’s everything else that scares the heck out of me.
    Guess I’ll cross all those bridges one at a time. It sure helps to Hear your thoughts expressed with honesty and sprinkled with lots of humor.

    1. Tiki,
      It makes me happy to know I can make you laugh while sharing my experience. I’ve been reconfiguring too to make it work and have been happy with the layout so far. Living with a bigger dog certainly does make things interesting, he’s often underfoot! Thanks for the comment. I appreciate you reading and writing! – Carolyn

      1. When does the book come put. My laugh quota just went up.
        You know you have a small space when you’re measuring in
        Half inch increments. Examples; I have 14.5″ of hanging space. There is 8.5″ between shelves. But it works!

        1. LOL. That is so true about the space! I just got rid of a bunch of work clothes that for some reason, I thought I might need! Now I have more closet space that I don’t really need! 🙂

  7. I have a Pleasure Way Van which is similar to the RoadTrek. I have had it for 3 summers and to be honest, after the rainy summer we had, I think living out of one would be difficult especially if you are working. Only 20 feet long, perfect for getaways and vacations but I couldn’t imagine living out of one for any length of time. Great for a month or two but not forever.

    1. Lynn, You’ve expressed my concerns about fan living perfectly. Thanks for verifying my thoughts about it! All the best, Carolyn

  8. Hi Carolyn,

    I decided to go with a 4×4 Toyota Tundra, used and in great shape. Next I need a camper for it. This makes most sense for me so I can feel safe going off the main drive. The camper has all the things you mention similar to a class C but smaller. My truck is a 4 door so more room inside. I wish I could just sleep inside the truck but that would get old with two small dogs.

    I am soooo sorry your class C is a big money sucker! I am learning from you. I see class C’s for very cheap but if it leaks or has rotten walls or the engine blows or transmission like yours, then it’s not such a good deal.

    I like things simple and practical. Toyotas run well and a camper seems more simple so I can handle it, yet enough of everything I need.

    But what do I know. I am still at job full time in a mobile home!

    Thanks for all the info/advice and I so hope you have carefree travels for awhile now.
    Cindy

    1. Cindy,
      I love Toyotas. THats all I owned before the RV. In fact, the car I’m selling is an Avalon with 161k miles on it. No problems with it at all. Sad to see it go. A Tundra is a great choice. If I go that route, that’s probably what I’d do.
      I knew I was buyng a fixer upper; i’d just hoped the work would be a little more spread out – like over years – not a few months! It’s a pain now, but with each repair I knwo I have a stronger vehicle.
      Thank you so much for sharing your store and for reading my blog! Happy travels. Carolyn

  9. I sure enjoy and relate to this subject. I had a truck and loved vintage trailers. I found a really cheap one, and was off and camping. Since the trailer was lite enough for the truck. I was getting great fuel mileage. And the trailer was so small I could get into anyplace. I have a full bed. Small potty/shower. Table to eat on,a fridge runs on LP. Stove,sink and oven. It’s me with my two Doddles. Right now I’m coast side, waiting for winter to chase me into the desert. Lots of older small trailers that can be fixed up for your individual needs. Mine is15 ft. And wanting to get a 18 ft. I like the Fiberglass trailers. For the same reasons. Like Big Foot,Fiberstream. Casita❤️
    Enjoy your blog!

    1. Gwen,
      Sounds like a great home for you. Yes, I love Casitas too. Lots of ideas for my next round. Thank you for reading and taking the time to write! Best, Carolyn

    2. Hi Gwen, Where did you find a vintage 15′ trailer cheap? I can only pull a lite weight camper and love the looks of those vintage camper trailers. I just haven’t been able to find one. You are verifying that is the way to go for me. Wish me luck in finding one like yours as it sounds perfect! BTW, I live on the central Oregon coast. Are you anywhere nearby? My dog is a 16# Schnoodle and she will be my co-pilot. (Aren’t “Oodles” just the greatest of companions?!!) We need to get a move on as we are 63 (in dog years) and 70 (until tomorrow)! Thanks for giving me hope!
      Sheri

  10. Over the years, I have had everything from a soft sided truck camper to a 40′ 5th wheel, and after a lot of blog reading and research settled on a 6 x 12 cargo trailer that I modelled after Bobs and Randy Vinings trailers, towed by a 1 ton Ford Super Duty van. The trailer is insulated and finished out and is extremely comfortable. Solar power and propane have become my new best friends! There is nothing I would change about my trailer if doing it over. It does have low clearance, so it gets left behind if I go deep in the forests exploring. But the van sets up high so will go just about anywhere I drive it into. As for living in the van itself, I could if I wanted to. I have met women in their 70s doing it full time for years now, and I reason to myself “if they can do it, so can I”……But so far, I have not….but I might next year…..

    1. John,
      Sounds like a great setup! I look forward to seeing what others are doing and gathering ideas for my next version of mobile living. THanks for sharing your experience! – carolyn

  11. Wow! Thank you everybody for all your advice. Everyone is so positive, nice. Just sold my house and have been checking rv’ s for many months now. B, C or A went through pros and cons of each. Changed idea many many times. Wanting to travel across USA and Canada (I am from Quebec), with my black lab,Princess. I can’t get through my head to spend so much in gas… no way! and definitely can’t buy a 5 pr 6 cylinder Mercedes… so for now, I am narrowing my choices for a old class C Toyota around 22′ I hear they are economical on gas and quite dependable. But there is not many left out there, especially up here! What do you think and know about those old Toyota’s. Thanks!
    Steve

    1. I for one love Toyotas. Very well made and dependable. all of my cars have been Toyotas and I’m now selling my Avalon with 161k miles on it and it’s in excellent condition. I’ve loved that car. I’m dealing with a 1992 Ford E350 Class C and have had nothing but problems.. the latest is the transmission they can’t see to figure out. Good luck to you!

  12. Steve
    Although the Toyota motorhome sounds like it might just be the unit for you. I would think twice. Too underpowered for a lot of mountains in Canada and too much stress on the Tranny, I too am Canadian living in BC
    I would suggest you look for an older Tripple EEE. They are well constructed and if you get a 22 or 24 ft you will get the same mileage anyway
    Some of those older ones built in the late 80s and early 90s are very reasonably priced and some were built with a complete fibreglass coach body
    Henk

    1. Hi Henk. I hadn’t heard of Triple E’s and just went on RVTrader to look at them. Am I looking at the right thing because the ones I’m seeing doing a nationwide search are hard to find under $50k. Not exactly what my pocketbook considers “reasonably priced.” LOL

  13. Lori
    When I was going to do the minimalist thing in 2014 there was a 24ft I was thinking of buying and it wasnt that much $$$$ … google Tripple EEE class C motorhome for sale… You are more than welcome to email me direct I found them in craigslist or kijiji too

  14. Carolyn, I have recently stumbled onto your Vlog and Blog, it is nice to be able to see what other solo women RVers are doing and how they handle some of the day-to-day issues of the RV life. Last October 2015 I sold my house and just about everything I had, however prior to closing the deal I purchased my 2007, 26 foot Itasca Cambria, not sure if it’s a B+ or a C as there is no bed over the cab (Salesman said it was a B+, I guess that’s why he charged me so much) I did a lot of homework (tiny house living) and I did not want to buy something old because I knew I would have to fix it, and at my age that’s not a very good option, even though I am very mechanically inclined. I’m 60 this December and disabled. At the time I bought my RV I did not have the cash to buy something outright and with the payments being lower than both my house payment and car payment I was happy with my purchase, or so i thought. In my first year I have gone through many costly repairs and as of today am waiting on another one. With all of the repair expenses and an income drop, I had to spend six and a half months parked in one spot (which I really dislike) to get a job to earn enough to pay for my travels. I am on Disability and should be able to suport my nomadic lifestyle, however the MONTHLY PAYMENT messed that up. The biggest mistake that I have made was to purchase an RV on payments. I like you am a wanderer and traveler, I have traveled/toured on my bicycle with everything needed to live for 540 miles 35 days with my dog(90#) in tow, and to sit in one spot for any length of time brings death to my soul. I love my RV and it’s living comforts, however if I am to travel and live like I would like, I will need to find somthing without payments. I guess my advice to anyone reading this is to buy something without making payments. I’m not exactly sure at this moment what I’m going to do but I really dread going back and parking in my home state for six months in the summer just so that I can travel in the winter, but if that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do, at least it’s only part of the year and I can travel the other part. I look forward to more of your blogs and videos hopefully somewhere down the road we might be able to meet.
    Cindy

    1. Cindy, Oh my gosh, I am so sorry to hear about all your troubles! As I read, I thought the moral to your story was going to be, “buy a newer rig” – I was shocked to read you’ve had as many troubles as I- but With payments! I’m glad I insisted on paying cash.. Thank you for sharing your story and validating my choice. I hope things get better for you and you’re able to get on the road and roam like you want to. I wish you a happy Thanksgiving. Be well and thank you for watching, reading and writing. Take care – carolyn

  15. I really like your tip about not rushing things and carefully plan your budget, and needs for an RV. my son tends to go on a 2-year journey in an RV. That is his way of resetting and plugging out from a corporate day job. I will be sure to advise him to consider if he’s got enough funds to buy the RV that will make his travels more comfortable and safer.

  16. Carolyn, I’ve looked over all of these comments… and figured I’d chime in. I saw the comment about buying an RV on payments (which is how most people afford over $20k rigs) and yet was still having expensive mechanical issues to deal with.

    Most new RV’s have only a 1 year warranty and there are many people who encounter issues almost immediately during their first year of ownership. And if a person only uses the new RV sparingly (for a single vacation), some issues do not crop up until after the warranty has expired after a year and that is when money is spent fixing issues. The issues usually deal with the generator, plumbing (black and grey water tanks), possible delamination issues, and roof/sidewall leaks. So going with a new rig isn’t always the best way to go (look at four RV forums including http://www.rvforum.net , http://www.rv.net/forum/ , http://www.irv2.com/forums/, and http://www.rvnetwork.com ) and read about people’s experiences and some threads in those forums that are Class and Model specific so you can read about other’s experiences with their respective RV’s (you’ll get an idea as to their build quality by seeing examples of other’s experience).

    For example, my brother bought a brand new 5th Wheel in 2014 (a Montana by Keystone) for $67,000 (it is a luxury brand). He has had a very poor maintenance experience with it. Sure it is luxurious (he is “glamping” permanently at an RV park), but that luxury comes at a price as more things fail when you put everything but the kitchen sink into a 5th wheel rig (having expensive extras come with extra headaches). And he has dealt with over $5,000 in repairs already out of his own pocket (one of his two A/C units failed right after the warranty period ended, his black water tank lever failed, a slide out motor failed, and all of those issues needed to be replaced at the RV dealer…. twice in 2 years). He now wishes that he had gotten a 5 year old 5th wheel as it would have been almost half the price and any issues would have been dealt with by the original owner and he would have it paid off sooner.

    When buying a new RV, don’t buy it until you are all ready to take it on its first trip to deal with any issues that crop up (despite their prices, they do tend to be quickly assembled… usually in Elkhart, IN. and almost all of the RV manufacturers use new owners as their “quality control department”). Only the luxury manufacturers make very solid RV’s and they have extended warranties (and they are usually “Class A” diesel pushers). My recommendation is as follows tho…..

    As I am a fan of Dave Ramsey and his financial advice (and based on personal experience)… you are better off buying a used RV that is around 5 to 10 years old as firstly, their depreciation will be almost half the cost of a new rig, and buy one when the owner has evidence of maintenance/receipts for all work done (those people who pay attention to detail are out there and usually they are older people who are no longer physically able to go RV’ing anymore which is why they are selling their RV). Also, check on the RV forums to see if the specific make/model RV has a history of issues or are well built (trust me, most makes are covered). Also, make sure that you test all functions (have the owner walk through the rig with you) and ABSOLUTELY have the coach inspected by a mechanic (mechanical expenses are VERY expensive in all but pull behind trailers). So, if you spend a couple of hundred dollars getting it inspected…. if you come across 3 or 4 RV’s before you find one meeting all of the above criteria, the most you would have spent on inspections would be $1,000… but will result in lower maintenance costs down the road. You could also enter into an agreement with a seller. That if it passes inspection, you’ll pay for the inspection…. and if it doesn’t, they pay the cost of the inspection (that’ll weed out the people looking to get rid of their problem child rig).

    If you go “Class A” or “Class C” gas powered, always look for the Ford V10 chassis with 4 speed tranny (as it is usually the strongest, most bulletproof chassis) and saw first use in 1999. Avoid older the Ford 460 V8 chassis with 3 speed tranny (1998 or older) as parts are now getting harder to find and are getting more expensive to repair. I usually avoid the General Motors/Chevy chassis as I (and others) have found them to be more problematic… especially regarding engine cooling on hills/mountains.

    Class A – try to get one with basement storage (it gives you better access to under the rig for any repairs) and it also gives you a huge amount of storage. If the RV has basement storage, make sure that your slide-outs don’t have the basement storage attached to it (it should remain on the rig while the slide out is moved – the reason why I recommend this as there is less strain on the slideout as the slideout motor isn’t pulling the additional basement storage’s weight). Test all slideouts to ensure they seal correctly when they are moved. Also, try to get a RV with leveling jacks (and also test this to look for hydraulic leaks). These usually start out at 25′ and average about 33′. It is not easy to boondock with these (other than truck stops, rest areas, walmart, etc), especially BLM sites as they are limited space wise regarding roads (they are harder to turn, are in many cases too heavy for non graded roads, harder to navigate, and usually have gravel or dirt roads with ruts).

    Class C – you have many options regarding setup. Always look for issues over the cab (where the upper front bed usually is) as they tend to get damaged over the years and are sagging if not maintained correctly. For boondocking/BLM, try to stay around 25′ as having a longer back end with more weight is much more difficult in BLM sites (having a separate bedroom in back is a luxury regarding Boondocking and you’d be much happier with the rear corner queen bed and shorter RV if you are going to boondock). Manufacturers also build rear bunk areas (instead of queen beds) to give extra sleeping for visitors if you are by yourself (the upper bunk can otherwise be used as storage). Class C’s 5 to 10 years old (with less than 70,000 miles) are ideal. Look for that evidence of maintenance.

    Class B or B plus, try to avoid the Ford Transit or Ram Pro/master as they are underpowered (yes, they get decent gas mileage, but you’ll have issues getting out of roads with ruts). Try to get one manufactured within the past 10 years. And considering that Diesels are being phased out across the world within the next 3 years by most manufacturers, I would only go with the GAS version. I would go with the Mercedes Sprinter versions or better yet, the Ford V10 chassis. These are the way to go if you want to stealth camp in cities.

    Pull Behind trailers, you need to look at fit and finish AND dry weight specs. Make sure you get stabilizer bars that go to the hitch to help your pulling vehicle’s rear suspension and this also helps decrease the “tongue weight”. The cheaper “feather”/”lightweight” trailers tend to get “soft floors” and roof/seam leaks after about 7 to 10 years (unless they are stored indoors). They are built with less “structure” in order to save weight, so they usually are more susceptible to be structurally “suspect” (if you walk on the floor, step in all areas of the visible floor to see if there is any give). If you find one needing repairs thinking you can fix the floor when you get it, I recommend walking away instead (as it will be a money pit of repair to the average person). Most trailers that only need a SUV to pull it are around 1,800 to 3,500 lbs. dry weight (as most SUV’s have V6’s and are rated up to 3,500 lbs pulling). Remember, if you get one about 3,500 lbs, when you fill it up with your “stuff”, add at least 500 lbs to that trailer’s rating… so limit yourself to $3,000 lbs dry weight in order for your SUV to not have an issue. Make sure you have a “class 3” hitch (no matter how light your trailer may be). Trailers that are larger than 22 ft. are usually heavier then 4,000 lbs dry weight and need a full size truck or full size SUV with a V8 to pull them (up to 5,000 lbs).

    5th wheels – avoid the cheaper/lighter 5th Wheels. You’ll usually need a Ford F250 to pull one (smaller/lighter) and since they are cheaply made, look for any bending in the front gooseneck of the 5th wheel (if you see a bend, it is a problem child due to weight and weather it has been subjected to). A more expensive Keystone Montana is usually around 40 ft long, very heavy, and would need a industrial/professional Diesel truck with a 5th wheel bed connector to handle the extra weight. Don’t buy new, buy one that is 5 to 10 years old as depreciation is extensive with 5th wheels plus a previous owner has probably addressed any issues also (remember, look for the owner to have evidence of maintenance/receipts of work done).

    I have no experience with Diesel Pushers, but I understand “Newmar” is usually the desired hi end brand. If you opt for this, they are brand new for $140k up to $350k. They tend to hold their value better than other RV’s (they are meant for long term ownership), and they are expensive to work on (they usually come with either cummins or catapillar engines). They get better mileage than gas Class A’s, and one doesn’t need to be afraid of examples with 150k miles or more (again, look for the service history). Usually, only RV parks can handle a RV of this size and usually you need a drive through pad (because of the size of your rig, especially if you are towing a vehicle).

    Most people reading Carolyn’s blog appear to be “Class C, Class B, and Van RVr’s (with a smattering of Class A).

    And finally, I will give my example. 2 years ago, I was looking for a Class A RV and I found at a RV dealership (Colliers RV in Rockford, IL) a 1999 Winnebago/Itasca Suncruiser 35′ with 70,000 miles. It has a Ford V10 with 4 Speed tranny (which is essentially still the favorite gas chassis to this day – this was the first year Ford sold this version of chassis), and it is one of the first RV’s that came with a dining room slideout (and it works fine, but I hardly ever use it). I had a mechanic go over the entire rig with a fine toothed comb, and everything works in it (and the generator had low hours). I knew it needed 4 tires (one always makes sure the tires are 7 years old or less, no matter how many miles are on them), so I made sure the dealership knew that. It also had a small windshield leak (that I knew I could get fixed). That was the extent of the issues (the engine/tranny looked and ran like brand new). Once the engine warmed up, it didn’t budge past 180 degrees even when I drove it 65 mph). The dealership started at $22,000 “out the door” and I negotiated it down to $16,000 out the door (as-is). The 4 replacement tires cost $1,200, and the windshield repair was $300. I also had the largest elongated ceramic bowl RV toilet made installed at $250 including installation (the previous RV toilet was incredibly small). I also had the oil changed for $70.00. So my total cost was $17,820. Brand new, a 1999 Itasca Suncruiser cost $93,000 in 1999 (about $115,000 in today’s dollars). In order to find this configuration that is 10 years old, would cost at least $45,000 to $50,000. So, I now have a low mileage/low hours Class A that runs/looks great for less than $20,000. So far, I have driven it 1,800 miles in 2 years (with my Chrysler 200 being towed behind me) and I averaged 7.8 mpg (and I have had no issues with it).

    I hope this post helps others regarding their effort to find a RV and what to look for.

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