Buying an RV is a big investment. Be sure you consider the long-term costs of RV ownership when budgeting for your purchase.
Before signing on the dotted line for a new or used RV, it’s a good idea to carefully plan for the expenses that come with RV ownership. In this guide, we’ll try to help you build a budget you can rely on so you can make a smart purchase decision.
Just as when you buy a new car or truck, an RV dealership will typically require a down payment at signing when you purchase an RV. The amount of your down payment will vary by dealership and may be discounted during sales events, but in most cases, you can expect it to be in the thousands of dollars.
Unless you plan to pay for your RV in full using cash on hand – an option available to few – you’ll need to apply for an RV loan and set up monthly payments, just like with a car. Terms for RV loans are usually longer than for car loans, so while your payments may be more affordable than you expect, you’ll be making those payments over a period of many years.
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Unless you buy a self-propelled Class A, Class B or Class C motorhome, you’ll also need a vehicle capable of towing your RV trailer when it’s fully loaded with gear and passengers. In most cases, this will be a one-ton or three-quarter-ton pickup truck, although a lightweight RV trailer (such as a small pop-up camper) may be towable by an SUV or even a large sedan. If you don’t already own a suitable towing vehicle, you shouldn’t overlook this cost in your budgeting.
All RVs, whether towed or self-propelled, must be registered with your state just like a car or truck. As with cars, the cost of annual registration for your RV goes down as the RV ages. This means that a new RV will cost more to register than a similar used RV. Depending on the type and age of your RV, registration costs may amount to as much as several hundred dollars, so don’t overlook them in your planning.
Unless you buy a very large motorhome (over 26,000 pounds, or 13 tons), it’s unlikely that a special license to drive your RV is required. State requirements differ and are subject to change, however, so it’s a good idea to consult your local DMV website for specific information about licensing and registration.
RV insurance is required for any self-propelled motorhome, just as for any other motor vehicle. For any type of RV (including trailers), many lenders may require you to fully insure the RV before approving financing. Premiums can vary widely based the type of RV and where it’s registered, as well as factors like your driving record, claims history and whether this is your first RV. The good news is that if you only use your RV for a few months out of the year, you’ll pay less for insurance than you would if you lived in it full time.
Insurance on a towing vehicle typically extends to what it tows, so generally speaking, you needn’t buy separate insurance for an RV trailer. But if you only carry liability insurance on your towing vehicle, you may wish to consider full damage coverage on your RV to protect your investment.
When you’re on the road with your RV, you’ll need a place to camp for the night (or longer if you plan an extended stay in a particular locale). In most cases, this will be an RV park.
The most affordable RV parks and RV-friendly campsites, including those in most national parks across the U.S., usually range in price from about $25 to $60 a night (though some fall outside this range on either side). These sites typically offer few amenities and no hookups for water, sewage and electricity.
For around $50 to $80 a night, you’ll find RV parks with more attractions and amenities. These might include full-service hookups, designated dog-park areas, RV wash stations, playgrounds and local convenience stores so you can stock up on the basics. Proximity to recreational areas like lakes and hiking grounds, as well as the availability of planned activities like Jeep tours of the surrounding terrain, may also increase the price.
On the high end, luxury RV parks are available that offer a host of “civilized” amenities such as lounge areas, tennis courts, fitness centers, spas and even golf courses. If you want to pamper yourself, these sites will cost you anywhere from about $80 to $150 a night or more. You’ll typically find these luxury parks at scenic locations where sweeping panoramic views add to the experience.
If you’re planning to stay awhile, many RV parks offer more affordable weekly or monthly rates.
No two ways about it: You’ll spend a lot on fuel for your RV, especially if you drive it frequently over long distances. Motorhomes are not known for their fuel efficiency, and hauling a fully loaded trailer will significantly reduce the fuel economy of your pickup truck (which probably isn’t great in the first place).
Certain motorhomes (typically Class As) are offered with either a diesel or gasoline engine. Diesel engines cost more to buy and service. However, they also have fewer moving parts, so they typically require less maintenance and fewer repairs – and they typically last longer than gasoline engines.
Diesel fuel continues to be more expensive per gallon than gasoline (even premium gas, which some newer motorhomes require). But because of diesel’s greater efficiency, you may get as much as twice as many miles out of each gallon.
Just like any other vehicle, an RV needs regular maintenance to perform its best and deliver years of trouble-free operation. Many of the scheduled engine services for self-propelled motorhomes are the same as you’ll encounter with a car or truck: regular oil changes, brake servicing, fuel, air and oil filters, lube for moving engine parts, replacement of aging fuel and fluid lines, etc. The RV’s battery and electrical system (including the generator) should also be checked regularly. And don’t neglect your RV’s tires – which are larger and more expensive than the ones on your car or truck.
Since it’s literally a house on wheels, an RV comes with a host of additional maintenance requirements, many of which parallel those of a conventional home. Roof seals must be inspected regularly and repaired promptly to avoid costly water damage. Interior plumbing needs to be checked and repaired when necessary as well. Water tanks and sewage systems require regular flushing and cleaning to prevent the buildup of bacteria and odors. Water heaters require maintenance. Slideouts need to be properly lubricated and their seals regularly inspected.
As with a car or truck, it goes without saying that as an RV owner, you should be prepared for the unexpected. When you think about it, your RV is essentially a house that’s exposed to hurricane-force winds and earthquake-like vibrations when you drive. Necessary repairs can come up at any time, and you’ll need to be able to pay for them promptly or risk sidelining your RV during prime season.
You’ll want to carefully consider the additional equipment you’ll need to complete your RV experience.
In the excitement of purchasing your RV and dreaming about where you’ll go, it’s easy to overlook all the various and sundry “household” items you’ll need. If your RV has a kitchen area, you’ll need to stock it with cooking utensils, pots, pans and the like. Bathrooms will need basic items like towels, toiletries and RV-friendly biodegradable toilet paper. Be sure to take a thorough inventory of things you’ll need on an everyday basis and plan for the cost.
To make errands and exploring easier when you’re parked at a campsite or RV park, it’s worth considering whether you’ll want to bring one or more smaller vehicles along. Chances are, you won’t want to fire up that big Class A motorhome for every little trip (although towing a car behind the RV may solve your problem). If you have a trailer, simply disconnecting it so you can drive the towing vehicle by itself may suffice. But for larger traveling groups, having a couple of bikes or motorcycles available so individuals can explore on their own may be an attractive option.
Last but certainly not least, unless you plan to live in your RV year-round, you’ll need a place to store it when you’re not using it. Your RV represents a substantial investment and helping to retain its value is in your best interest, so choosing the proper storage is critical. Pricing can vary considerably based on what part of the country you live in and the location of the storage facility, so it pays to shop around. There are several types of RV storage available, depending on how much you’re comfortable spending.
The most cost-effective option is to store your RV in your yard or large garage. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the space for this, and furthermore, many residential neighborhoods have regulations that prohibit storing large vehicles (including RVs) on your property. Unless you have a heated garage where it will be well protected from the elements, you’ll also need to prepare your RV to ensure it will be ready for action when you want it. This includes cleaning the interior and appliances thoroughly to remove any food matter that might rot or attract pests, emptying and treating all water tanks and lines, adding fuel stabilizer to the gas tank and removing the battery.
The most inexpensive place to store your RV is outdoors. Outdoor RV storage typically involves parking your RV in a designated open-air lot with other RVs. Depending on the location, the lot may be fenced and locked, but security is likely to be minimal. You could run the risk of theft or vandalism, especially if you leave your RV for lengthy periods. Since your RV will be exposed to the elements, you’ll need the same preparation as with home storage to ensure it’s well protected.
Similar to open-air storage, this option offers moderate additional protection from the elements via a roof or canopy. Your RV’s roof and exterior will be better protected from rain, snow, hail and sun damage, but the protection may not extend to all sides of the vehicle. Your RV will still be vulnerable to wind and extreme temperatures and will need to be prepared as with any other non-climate-controlled storage option. Lastly, the same potential security risks apply as with open-air storage.
Unsurprisingly, this is the most expensive long-term storage option for your RV. In return for the added expense, you’ll get both superior protection from the elements and the peace of mind that comes with enhanced security for your investment. Some self-storage facilities offer designated storage areas for RVs and 24-hour security. You can also seek out a specialized, climate-controlled RV storage facility that offers mechanical, maintenance, cleaning and detailing services. Having these services performed in storage is a convenient way to ensure your RV is ready for adventure when you are.
Learn about different kinds of RVs and find the one that’s right for you.
When buying an RV, there are good reasons to consider both new and used. Let us help you decide.
Now that you have a handle on the costs associated with owning an RV, it’s time to find the right RV for you. Browse our online RV marketplace for new and used RVs available from participating dealers in your area.