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What to consider before buying an RV or trailer

Think about where you'll store it, whether you plan on off-roading and more.

If you’re considering investing in an RV or trailer, there are a few factors to consider before taking the plunge. And once you get your new set of wheels, you’ll also have to think about all of the work that goes into maintaining it before and after you hit the road.

5 questions to ask when choosing an RV or trailer

Asking yourself a few simple questions can help you find the RV or trailer that best fits your needs.

1. Where will I store it?

You’ll need to choose a model that fits your chosen storage location, whether you plan to use a driveway or a secure parking site.

Grab a tape measure and check the dimensions of your parking space, and don’t forget to ensure you have sufficient overhead clearance if you plan to park your RV under a carport or in a shed. Also, make sure you allow for the swing of the RV or trailer’s body as you turn, since the back edge will travel in a wide arc.

If you’re planning on renting a storage space, measure it and find out how much it’ll cost each month before shopping around for an RV or trailer.

2. How much space do I need?

For a couple, a 15-foot camper may be plenty. But a family of four with two younger children might want to consider a 20-foot model that comes with bunk beds. If you plan on doing a lot of touring, you might want to go for an option with a permanent bed, as the act of having to make a bed up every night can get wearisome.

Longer RVs will also typically feature an enclosed bedroom, providing an amount of privacy. And if you want space, an awning nearly doubles the living space available by creating a covered outdoor seating and cooking area.

Once you’ve nailed down the size of the RV body you can work with, you need to visit a dealer and look at as many interiors as you can. This way, you’ll get a really good idea of the interior layout that will work best for you and your family. You may find you prefer one manufacturer over another simply because of how they position and develop their RVs and trailers.

3. Do I plan on camping a lot?

If you intend on doing a lot of camping around the country, you’ll need an RV or camper that is self sufficient. Look for a model that has solar panels for electrical power, a large gas tank and large onboard water tanks.

4. What about off-roading?

Deciding whether to go for an off-road RV is a necessity. While you may really like the look of the off-road RVs, if you’re unlikely to ever venture over the rough stuff, you could save money by sticking to a more road-based RV.

5. What is the manufacturer known for?

Choosing a manufacturer known for building strong, solid RVs and trailers is key to making this investment worth it. Generally speaking, a body with fewer joints between panels will mean there’s less likelihood of leaks forming. You should also pay attention to the owner’s manual and keep the interior ventilated to reduce humidity and moisture levels.

Other plus points to look for include independent suspension, especially on off-road models, for improved handling. Make sure the chassis underneath has no corrosion and that the welds are sound.

Motorhomes vs. trailers: Which should I pick?

You’ll also need to decide whether you want to get a motorhome you can drive or a trailer that needs to be hitched up to another vehicle and towed.

Motorhomes tend to be the most expensive option, but they can also be a lot bigger than trailers, making them a great option for someone who plans to take to the roads full time.

Trailers, on the other hand, tend to be less expensive, making them more accessible for people on a budget. But they can also be harder to drive, and you’ll need to have a vehicle capable of towing the model you want.

Towing capacity

To find out your car’s towing capacity, check your owner’s manual. Bear in mind that this is the maximum weight your vehicle can haul — if you choose a trailer that weighs the maximum amount your car can tow, you won’t be able to tow it with anything in it, like food, water and luggage.

Weigh limits

If you’re buying an RV or trailer, or you’re loading one up to go on a trip, it’s a good idea to weigh it. For trailers, this is important to make sure your car is able to tow it while fully loaded up with your gear. For towable or drivable campers, knowing the weight will help you comply with any local or state laws. For example, some roads will have maximum weight limits.

To weigh your RV or trailer, bring it to the nearest commercial scale after loading it up with any food, water, gear and passengers you plan to take on your trip. You can look up local commercial scales online or contact the DMV for entry and exit scales you can use.

Ready to take the plunge? Compare RV financing options

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How to load your RV or trailer

Loading your RV or trailer correctly is crucial to maintaining full control of your vehicle and making long-distance driving comfortable and less tiring. Incorrectly loading your vehicle can result in poor handling, brakes that don’t operate correctly, increased fuel consumption and control problems.

When loading your vehicle, place heavy items down low — near the axle. You can place medium-weight items slightly further away and lightweight items like clothes in lockers higher up and further from the axle. Proper loading will improve your trailer’s resistance to swaying and snaking. It will also be more stable at high speeds and in crosswinds.

The video below demonstrates the dramatic effect loading has on the handling of the tow vehicle.

How to maintain your RV or trailer

It’s a good idea to keep your RV or trailer well maintained before and during your trip. If you’re towing a trailer, you may also want to have your car checked out before you leave.

Towing rules and regulations

Towing laws vary by state, so you’ll need to make sure you understand the local road rules if planning a cross-country adventure. Generally, you should ensure the following:

  • Your vehicle and caravan are road worthy and legal.
  • You’re not over any weight limits, whether that be the tow bar hitch weight, the manufacturer’s recommended weight limit or weight limits on specific roads.
  • Your load is secured and locked down in transit.
  • No one is traveling in the towable trailer while it’s in motion.
  • You adjust your driving to accommodate towing the extra weight.
  • You take extra precautions and stop to inspect the vehicle for signs of overheating or failure.

7 towing terms you should know

When researching what RV or trailer you want to buy, here are a few terms and abbreviations you may come across:

Bottom line

Before buying a new RV or trailer, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to ensure you’re choosing the right option for you. And you’ll also want to look into how you’ll store, maintain, and drive or tow your new camper before taking the plunge.

Know what you want? Compare RV loans to find a lender that can help you get behind the wheel of your dream motorhome.

Frequently asked questions

To learn even more about buying RVs, read up on these answers to typical questions.

Picture: Getty Images

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