With so many gorgeous vehicles on the market, how do you work out which RV is the right one for you? We’ve put together a list of considerations so when you do sign that special agreement, you know you’ve picked the right one for you.
Anyone looking for an RV in New Zealand will find themselves spoiled for choice. It can feel like a daunting task; everything is on offer, from massive modern fifth-wheelers to converted buses, old and new motorhomes and caravans of all sizes and convenient little vans. While it’s great to have so many options, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed when it comes to picking that special one that’s to become your travel home.
Part of the challenge is that there isn’t one correct answer. What is perfect for one might not be suitable for someone else. Do you have kids or grandkids with you? Are you looking for something that can handle off-road travel? Do you need something light and flexible enough to be able to stop in small towns and smaller car parks? Do you need easy access for mobility issues? Are you hoping to freedom camp for a few days, or are you more comfortable in campgrounds and parks? Is the kitchen your happy place? Do you need a fixed bed, or space on both sides of the bed? Are you looking for a renovation project or just something you can fill up and go?
If you’re considering buying an RV – of any type – take some time to think about your individual priorities, preference and travel plans. To help you do so, we have compiled some key questions and considerations for you to to work through to find your perfect home on wheels.
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
No matter how much you’re champing at the bit to sign on the dotted line, you won’t really know what you’re looking for until you’ve tried a few options out. Plenty of places offer rentals; it’s a good idea to test-drive some different vehicles to see what you like. Another good idea is to visit a trade show, or a local dealer with lots of different models onsite. That way you can view and experience different layouts and configurations to see which ones are likely to suit you best.
Plenty of people have assumed they want a big motorhome, right up until the point they get tired of trying to find a big enough car park for it; similarly, others will get hooked on the idea of a caravan until they realise they’ll have to get a new car as well to handle the weight. ‘Try before you buy’ is always the way to go with a big purchase like this. It will teach you more than all the desk research in the world.
Before you fall in love with that million-dollar motorhome, do a budget check. Your budget will have a direct impact on many of the other decisions you have to make, so it’s a good idea to get a rough idea before you start looking.
When you determine your budget, keep in mind that a more expensive RV will also mean higher insurance costs. On the other hand, a cheaper vehicle – especially an older or second-hand one – will more likely require repairs and maintenance, which can quickly add up to thousands of dollars. Old or new, all RVs come with additional costs for maintenance, registrations, insurance and more. Make sure you plan for this in your budget.
VEHICLE TYPE: TOWED VS DRIVEN
One of the first questions most people looking for a mobile home will ask themselves is whether they are in the market for a towed or driven RV. Here are some of the key factors you might want to consider when making this decision.
- Do you already have a towing vehicle, or would you need to keep a separate car anyway?
If so, a caravan will likely be the cheaper option for you. (Bear in mind that if you are buying a caravan, you’ll need to ensure your car is equipped to tow it – some caravans are pretty heavy beasts.)
- Do you want to move around a lot and value minimal setup effort once you arrive at a campsite?
If so, a motorised RV that you can just park up and be done, without having to worry about pulling out legs or setting up fresh and grey water tanks, might be a better option for you.
- Do you like the idea of parking up in one spot for longer and exploring the area from that base?
If so, a caravan with a separate tow vehicle you can use to get around might be best for you. However, towing a smaller vehicle behind a motorhome or bus could also be worth considering.
- Do you want to freedom camp a lot?
If so, it’s worth noting that many caravans (especially older ones) don’t have built-in fresh and grey water tanks, which can make freedom camping harder.
- Do you have a lot of gear such as kayaks, surfboards, bikes or skis?
If so, you might value having a separate towing car to transport all that gear.
- Do you feel nervous about driving a big rig?
If so, you might feel better driving a motorhome instead of towing a caravan.
IT AIN’T HEAVY…
Weight, both of the vehicle and the load, is a critical factor to think about when choosing your RV – and one that is often overlooked. Weight matters in several ways:
- The weight of the vehicle and its load will determine if you need a WoF or a CoF. The latter is more expensive and needs to be done more frequently (anything over 3500kg will need a CoF).
- If your motorhome or caravan is registered with a WoF, you need to watch your weight as it is illegal to drive with a weight of more than 3500kg (including load). This can limit how much gear you can take.
- The vehicle’s weight, including its load, also determines what driver’s license you need. If your RV has a gross laden weight (GLW) of 6000kg or more, you cannot drive it with a standard license.
- If you are buying a caravan, the weight will determine what towing capacity your vehicle will need to have.
- Don’t underestimate how much things weigh! It doesn’t take a lot for a vehicle to become overloaded; bikes, food cans, wine bottles, books, water tanks, skis and recreational clothing and equipment can really add up. Make sure you factor this in when considering your purchase.
NEW OR USED?
It’s fair to say that if money is no issue, buying new is the preferred option for many. Not only do you get a brand new home on wheels, but often you also get the chance to personalise it to your specific wants and needs, and warranty gives you peace of mind. However, for most people, money is a factor, and we all want the best we can find for our needs.
Buying used has its advantages. For example, you can view and test drive the exact vehicle you’re looking to buy. If you like it, you can usually take it home right away without any waiting periods. In addition, if you buy an RV that’s only a couple of years old, most teething issues that can come with brand new vehicles should be sorted, but you should still have a few good years before you need to prepare for more significant repairs (though there are no guarantees, of course).
If you’re looking for a renovation project, second-hand caravans and motorhomes can be a dream. You’ll pay less upfront for the vehicle, and you can spend as required; bear in mind that this could mean your new baby won’t be on the road for a while though!
THE SPACE DEBATE
No matter how big a mobile home you buy, your living space will be compact compared to a house. As such, getting the layout and configuration of the living space right is a crucial step in choosing the right RV for you. Here are some of the key things you may want to consider:
- Overall: Be realistic. How many people will actually be travelling in your RV? The kids or grandkids might want to come with you every now and again, but do you really want to be hauling around a six berth motorhome for the sake of having a couple of little ones for a few days once a year?
- Beds: How many beds do you need, and what’s the preferred configuration? Do you want a big double bed or singles? Do you prefer an island bed? Are you happy to turn your living room into your bedroom at night, or do you want a permanent bed separate from the living space?
- Kitchen: How much kitchen space do you need? Do you like to cook and want room to do so properly, or is a small kitchen all you need? Do you need an oven or a microwave? Do you need a big fridge/freezer, or will a small one do?
- Bathroom: Do you want a full bathroom with a shower that’s separated from the toilet, or are you happy with an all-in-one wet room? Do you prefer a cassette toilet or one that leads into a black water tank?
- Dining & living: How many people need to fit around the dining table? Are you happy with your dining area also being your living area, or do you want them separate?
- Storage: How much storage space will you need? Will you need storage that’s accessible from the outside: for skis or wet clothes, for example? Are there specific items you want to take with you (think SUPs, skis, fishing gear, bikes, diving equipment etc.) that have specific storage requirements?
- Everything else: Think about what else you might need to think about. For example, people who plan to work from their RVs should think about where they will do so. If you’re planning on travelling with kids, you might want to think about a play area for rainy days, and those travelling with pets need to think about where they will live and sleep.
Another vital factor to consider when choosing your RV is its power setup. RVs generally run on battery power when not plugged in. How much power you have while off-grid – and therefore how many appliances and devices you can use – generally depends on the size and number of the batteries and how those batteries are charged. Most RVs have solar panels to charge the batteries, and most batteries will be charged while you’re plugged into power at a campground. In some cases, you can charge them while you’re driving.
If you plan to spend most nights at a powered camp site, batteries and solar panels are less important. However, if you want to be off-grid for several days – or even permanently – make sure you have the power setup to support this.
While it is generally possible to add more battery capacity and extras such as solar panels later on, these are all ideas you might want to take into consideration when you’re doing your research before buying an RV:
- What is the current setup? How much power does it generate, and what lifestyle will it support?
- If you’re buying used, don’t just take the previous owner’s word for it; get an expert to check the setup.
- Keep in mind that all batteries have a limited lifespan (older batteries will be much less efficient than newer ones) and the efficacy of solar panels can vary, based on age and quality.
- The quality of batteries varies significantly, so two batteries of the same capacity might provide vastly different output. Check with an expert before you buy.
- If you think you might want to upgrade your power setup at some poing later on, make sure there is enough space on your RV for you to be able to install extra batteries and solar panels.
BEWARE OF SCAMMERS
Unfortunately, people looking to buy RVs have occasionally been targeted by scammers. These range from people who don’t even have an RV to sell and are trying to steal your money, to those trying to sell RVs for much more than they are worth. Here are a few tips to protect yourself from becoming the victim of a scam.
- Never hand over any money until you have met the person and have seen the RV (or have other evidence that they are trustworthy, such as people you know vouching for them).
- Be very careful about what personal details you share over email or other online communications channels such as Facebook.
If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t hand over any money until you’ve done your due diligence and know what you will get for your money.
If you buy used, always get a pre-purchase inspection done. You might also ask an RV expert to check features such as the power set up, the self-containment certification and other RV specific features not covered by general pre-purchase inspections.
Check the paperwork to make sure the person you’re buying from is the owner of the vehicle they are selling. Websites like thatcar.nz are great for checking if the ownership details you’ve been given are correct.
This may seem like a lot of thinking, but when you consider how much money you’re about to fork out, it’s worth doing your research, especially if this is your first RV purchase. However, once you’ve done your due diligence, you’re well on your way to finding your perfect RV.
Enjoy your travels!
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