BUYING YOUR FIRST RV
An RV newcomer might, on first glance, think there are a great deal of informed decisions to be made about a possible purchase, be it a caravan
However, deciding on your preferred mode of travel is usually a matter of taking a few simple and logical steps which, if done correctly, should lead to many enjoyable years of travel.
HOW TO BUY YOUR FIRST RV
It is a matter of determining your priorities and how much comfort you want to live in when on the road. For instance, a 16ft caravan is an easier towing proposition than a 22ft caravan but the latter will provide much more space. A camper trailer will take longer to set up but will suit a family budget better than a five-berth caravan, while giving more versatility on offroad tracks. Most motorhomes are easy to park and take less than five minutes to set up and pack up, but you have to do that each time you want to drive somewhere.
RESEARCH AND PLAN
There are plenty of options on the market, both from a budget and layout perspective. For beginners, this can be confusing and if you are considering a purchase, it’s worth devising some sort of plan.
Preliminary research can be easily done by visiting the local newsagent and sitting at your computer. At the newsagent, Caravan World, Camper Trailer Australia, Motorhome and Caravan Trader magazines as well as this website and NewRVSearch will give you a very good idea of what is available in the market. Most manufacturers have good websites, with pictures and layout designs, too.
Part of your research should include a visit to as many dealers/manufacturers as possible. Be prepared to spend time and money doing this. While most major cities have many dealers specialising in the caravans, camper trailers and motorhomes of the major manufacturers, a lot of the smaller builders sell directly from their factories and are, therefore, spread across the country.
As well as visiting dealers, another way to get a good feel for the entire RV industry is to visit one of the major city shows, all of which occur in the first half of the year. This is a good opportunity to see the manufacturers and dealers together in the one place. Smaller and regional shows also take place during the latter half of the year.
If you are not buying at a show, it is still an excellent opportunity to see what is available and decide on your design preferences for later informed discussion with your chosen dealer/manufacturer, especially if you are planning on a custom-built unit.
Ask the dealers/manufacturers lots of questions and don’t worry about taking your time. Most dealers will expect this; indeed, six months is not considered an excessive amount of time to spend deciding on a purchase. But unless you buy something off the lot, be prepared to wait some months for delivery.
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
To help you decide what suits best, why not hire an RV for four or five days? This will give you a feel for what you like and don’t like. Motorhome hire companies abound, and there are quite a few camper trailer rentals around, too. But, unfortunately, there are few caravan rental companies out there, and you will need your own tow vehicle. Fifth wheeler hirers are thin on the ground, too.
Regardless, any of the above will give you a taste of the outdoor lifestyle, including living in confined surroundings. This may sound like expensive research, but if you are considering spending $80,000 or more and the same on a tow vehicle, then it all becomes a bit relative. Some hirers will refund your fee if you later decide to purchase from the same place.
Your tow vehicle will, to some extent, determine your choice of towed RV. If you already own the tow vehicle, that will determine the maximum size (weight) of your van. But if you are buying a new tow vehicle as well, then your choice of RV will determine the type and size of the tow vehicle you buy. Keep in mind that the longer and heavier your RV, the more limited the choice of tow vehicle.
At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, a tow vehicle that is operating well within its engine power and towing capabilities will give much more comfortable travel and better fuel consumption than one which is working at its upper limits.
Caravans come in a huge variety of lengths and interior designs. But be aware that not all manufacturers measure their van lengths the same way. A van advertised as an ‘18-footer’, for example, might be 18ft internally rather than externally – so always take along your own tape measure!
These days, much of the caravan industry is working to supply the ‘empty nesters’ and retirement age buyers. The result is that family caravans with bunk beds are a bit more difficult to find, but they are still available and some persistence might be necessary if that’s what you’re looking for.
Camper trailers are obviously a different category again, and there is a huge variety available – everything from budget side-fold tent trailers to not-so-budget, well-appointed hard shell campers. They are an ideal way of getting into the RV lifestyle, particularly for younger folk and family members.
While the price of the cheapie might be attractive, set-up time and the lack of features might not be so. Another asset of most camper trailers is just about all the workmanship can easily be seen – so don’t forget to bend down and have a look beneath the chassis as there are some good clues under there!
Buying a campervan or motorhome is different to buying a towed RV. But as with a towed RV, spend some time in each of your prospective purchases. That little campervan might look great to drive but is the small internal space going to drive you and your partner nuts? A larger vehicle might be more expensive but it could also be a marriage harmoniser.
It’s often items like the main bed that settle the decision in terms of design. In most campervans, the bed has to be made up every night. In C class motorhomes, the only double bed is often over the driver’s cab. This puts it out of the way, but it will require a clamber up every night and, in some designs, there is not much head room. Small vehicles based on a Toyota Hilux often have a good roof height above the bed. If the double bed is in the main part of the motorhome, it is much easier to get into, but it does take up more space.
Most campervans are unlikely to have a shower or toilet cubicle on board, unless they are one of the Mercedes Sprinter/Fiat Ducato/VW Crafer-based units. In any case, they are likely to be quite compact. However, this will not be a problem if you mostly use the amenities blocks in caravan parks and just want to use the on-board facilities occasionally.
A feature that is very common with the Euro trucks, given their ‘flat floor’ design, is the ‘walk-through’ from driver’s cab to the rear of the motorhome. It’s a convenient feature to have and many people like the security aspect of it. Some designs will have the driver and passenger seats swivel around so that they double as lounge chairs. This is a very effective use of space.
Don’t forget to take a lengthy test drive. Most campervans and motorhomes are based on commercial vehicles and if you have only ever driven a sedan you’ll find most motorhomes take a little getting used to.
IMPORTED CARAVANS AND RVs
Most RVs in Australia are built locally but imports are on the rise in every sector. One of the assets of an import is that they are frequently lighter in weight, particularly in the case of caravans, and they sometimes come with exotica not otherwise seen in Australia. Researching the importer’s history and asking questions about federal/state compliance, as well as warranty back-up, is essential.
That said, I have seen a number of imported RVs that are well and truly suited to travelling Australia, as long as they are driven within their design constraints. It’s always important to ask questions about the availability of spare parts, too.
All of this might seem rather complicated but, if nothing else, remember one thing about purchasing your dream RV: be well informed and take your time.