I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.
Since most recreational vehicles look alike, it is very hard for the average person to know how well they are made or how livable they are.
Having this kind of information is more important than most people realize, but to obtain it, they must do a great deal of research and learn how to do thorough inspections.
For example, fancy carpets look great when new, but if they are not top grade, they will not last long and will be very difficult to maintain. It is up to the consumer to know what "top grade" means!
This article will help you to learn about some of those differences so that you can make a more educated decision when it comes time to make a purchase.
Features That Determine Quality in an RV
Price does not always indicate value. Many vehicles look good and carry high price tags, but they are nothing more than junk on wheels.
To avoid having someone try to sell you hype instead of quality, I'm providing a list of things you can look for and ask questions about so you will have a basic idea about the possibility of durability and comfort when traveling.
A well thought out design should include, among other things, such items as
- ample counter and storage space
- safely placed television sets
- usable storage space
- mid level microwave ovens
- rounded corners on counters
- easily accessible bathroom facilities
- and dining areas that are large enough to comfortably seat four adults and have extendable tables.
The smaller the travel unit, the less likely it is to have enough room for well spaced items, but the basics should still be enough to make traveling comfortable.
In fact, certain smaller coaches actually have more storage than larger ones because there is no wasted space in them!
Chassis-Coach Weight Ratings
The chassis of any coach should be rated for the amount of weight it will carry.
Before purchasing, always check the weight ratings of a chassis and the living quarters that sit on it to make sure they are a good match.
It is common, especially in the larger, luxury coaches, to send units out of the factory at their peak weight.
This means that anything you put into it will make it weigh too much and thus be a danger on the highway.
A well-designed travel unit will not have these problems, but it's always a good idea to double check!
Wheel Base Ratios
The placement of wheels can make a huge difference in travel safety. This is why you should always check wheel-base ratios.
There are three materials that are used to create the structure of any RV: wood, steel and aluminum.
Of these, aluminum is the best choice because it is light, durable, is impervious to termites and will not rust.
Aluminum will last longer and, because of its lighter weight, can also improve gas mileage.
These days buyers clamor for motor homes, trailers and campers to have increasing numbers of slide rooms, however, more is not better. In fact, none is best!
Slide rooms add between 8,000 and 12,000 pounds each to the weight of an RV. Furthermore, if they are not properly placed, they cause balance problems which lead to accidents.
When purchasing a coach, always measure the ratio of slide rooms to wall space and check to see how much weight is on any one side of the coach. In addition, make sure that the slides have basement storage compartments attached to them. Otherwise, access will be difficult.
Too big or too many slides compromise the wall structure of a coach. Remember, those walls are less than 3 inches thick!
A 36 foot long motor home that has a 25 foot slide on one side is evidence of a poor design. If that slide also is not properly supported, it can mean real trouble for owners.
A well designed coach will have fewer, more well placed slides that will be balanced with items such as refrigerators, washers and dryers and heavy counter materials.
If a slide as well as all of these items are on the same side of a unit, you should never consider buying it because the design is a safety hazard!
Most RV external walls are made either of aluminum or fiberglass. Aluminum is the best choice because it will not fade or crack and is easier to maintain.
The walls should also be protected with full body paint and a covering of clear coat to assure durability.
There should never be any irregularities such as scratches, dents or indentations.
A couple I met bought a brand new motor home they thought was of good quality, but it had a scratch along one sidewall.
The dealer spent six months trying to fix it, but never could. The buyers wound up trading for another unit, and spent a great deal of money doing so!
A quality coach should have a fair amount of basement storage, much of which is the pass through type.
Better yet, it should also include several large, heavy duty slide out trays.
These provide easy access to stored materials and help to keep them organized.
You generally will see this amenity only in the more expensive coaches, but while it is a sign of good quality, it does not guarantee it.
Trays like this can be installed as an after market item is people feel they want to have them.
RV roofs are either made of rubber, fiberglass or aluminum.
- Rubber is a bad choice because it deteriorates quickly and is difficult and costly to maintain.
- Fiberglass is not as durable as aluminum, which is why the latter would be the best choice.
The best roof is made of one long sheet that overlaps the front and rear panels of the motor home. Country Coach Motor Homes are famous for having this type of roof.
Firestone, Bridgestone and Toyo tires are the most durable because their side wall structure is more well constructed.
However, they provide a rougher ride than Goodyears or Michelins, which is probably why most coaches come with these brands.
They must be replaced more often, so there is a fine line buyers must consider. Do you choose durability or a more comfortable ride?
Whatever you decide, make sure the tires are properly rated so that they can carry the weight of a fully loaded coach and its chassis. Also, all of them should be the same as far as size and rating.
When it comes to mechanical equipment, items to look for, at the minimum, are
- an Onan or Powertech or Diesel Generator of at least 5.5 KW, that uses the same fuel or gas source as the engine
- a 300 HP or higher diesel engine or Ford V10 gas engine
- a 2000 Watt Inverter
- an exhaust brake
- heated, movable side mirrors
- Kwiki electric stairs
- power steering
- road stabilization equipment
- and cruise control.
If the engine does not have enough horsepower to easily pull a coach, driving will be a problem. This is something to be very careful of when buying.
In the late 90's Holiday Rambler Endeavors only had 275 HP diesel engines. They were not strong enough to pull such a heavy coach, especially since it had a slide room.
The best floors to have are hard surface ones.
Of those, designer vinyl is the best choice because it is, warm, soft, flexible, durable and easy to keep clean.
People like to install floating vinyl strips instead of the glue down squares, but while they look good, they are a poor choice for recreational vehicles because they will not hold up.
Many units now install slate or ceramic, but those materials are heavy and can crack easily if road vibrations are too rough.
They also are harder to stand and walk on and are cold to the touch.
So, while they look great, are of good quality and are easy to clean, their caveats make them less durable than vinyl.
Motor home ceilings are either covered in a carpet like fabric or vinyl.
The latter is easy to clean, looks great and does not stain.
The only problem with it is that if there is a leak, you cannot know it is there until it causes a great deal of damage.
However, replacing this type of ceiling is no more difficult or expensive than doing the same with the carpet type, and it is much more pleasant to have.
Windows and Window Treatments
If you want to have attractive, well protected windows that add greatly to your travel comfort your coach should have
- correctly sized awnings over each window as well as the door and slide room
- thermal windows
- and glossy aluminum mini blinds
Awnings allow you to keep your windows open when it is raining and also protect the interior of a coach from heat.
Thermal windows lower road noise and do a great job of helping to maintain good internal temperatures in all kinds of weather. One thing to note is that, after a period of years, they will need to be repaired or replaced. What You Need to Know Aabout RV Thermal Windows explains more about this issue.
Manufacturers love to install day night shades and fancy valances because they look good, but the truth is that cleaning them is a nightmare, replacement is very expensive and after awhile, they become difficult to open and close and break easily.
You will have none of these problems with glossy mini blinds because they are easy to use, provide privacy and cleaning them is a snap! They cost less to install and replace, too!
Flexsteel furniture is the most well built brand for travel unit use because it supplies good back support and is highly durable.
- It should be upholstered in leather or faux leather for easy care and comfort.
- The sofa should convert into a comfortable bed.
- The eating booth should do the same.
- Both captains chairs should be able to swivel and should have 8 way electric controls. The passenger seat should have an almost full recline option.
- There should also be one comfortable but not overstuffed reading chair that has a back that reclines. This should be bolted to the floor for safety purposes.
- The bed needs to be firm enough to allow good back support, but should not add too much weight to the coach.
Some luxury coach manufacturers install Select Comfort beds, but these are not the best choice because they need constant attention and can leak air during the night, which negatively affects back support and thus, sleep.
Cabinets and Counter Tops
Counter tops should be top quality Formica because it is light weight and easy to maintain.
They should provide ample and well designed storage space.
Many coaches now have Corian or Granite counters, but while durable, they also add a great deal of weight as well as expense. Also, once Corian gets scratched, it becomes a problem, because a repair is tricky. If either type of counter gets fractured, it must be replaced.
A good quality Formica will endure for many years with relatively little care, and thus is the best choice for all types of travel units.
A quality RV will have
- a two door refrigerator of good size
- a good sized built in microwave, placed low enough to provide safety
- a two burner stove top
- an under the counter coffee pot
- and a washer/dryer combination unit.
People love those household type side by side refrigerators, but they are heavy, take up a great deal of space, and if they need to be repaired, doing so can cause a risk of serious damage to the roof, and or sides of a coach.
A washer/dryer combo unit is an appliance most quality coaches come with because they are a real convenience for travelers, especially those who vacation for long periods of time.
When it comes to electronics, you should look for
- two Fantastik Fans: one in the kitchen and the other in the bathroom
- two thermostatically controlled, ducted air conditioners, one in the living area and the other in the bedroom
- a good quality propane furnace
- a 10 gallon hot water heater that can be turned on electronically from within the coach
- two digital television sets (one for the living area, and the other for the bedroom), a digital antenna and a booster. (The smaller set should be able to accept remote programming from the larger one.)
- a radio and CD player
- hard wired gas detectors
- a rear camera monitoring system
- and a built in GPS system.
Some of these items are for safety, while others speak to travel comfort. Any good motor home, travel trailer or camper will have at least some of them on board. The more, the better!
A pass through bathroom is a must and should have
- a window that can be opened,
- an exhaust fan,
- a comfortably large, glass enclosed shower with at least one grab bar and a clear skylight and
- a durable, high quality commode built to handle the rigors of the road.
The tanks should be big enough for two people to dry camp for at least three days without having to dump or refill. (100 Gal fresh water, 55 Gal each black and gray water and 80 Gal propane.)
The right configuration and quality in a bedroom makes a huge difference in sleep comfort during trips. Here is what you should look for:
- The bed should be comfortable and offer good back support
- there should be a counter top and reading lamp on each side of it and
- the TV should be capable of receiving remote programming from the one in the living area .
Lower quality coaches come with thin, cheap mattresses that are the first sign that the manufacturer has cut corners. They should be a red flag for buyers!
Do Your Homework!
Recreational Vehicle travel is the stuff dreams are made of, but those fantasies cannot become realities unless you do your homework.
Finding a well made, durable and well designed RV is definitely a challenge, and opinions do vary about what works best.
The one thing all RV owners do agree on, however, is that you will never find one coach that has every option in it. All you can do is try to get as many as you can!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have been doing some extensive research and am looking to purchase an RV this spring. We have 5 kids so need bunk space. We will not be full time as my husband is a fireman. Was initially going to purchase new, but upon researching it was recommended to purchase used and let the initial owner take the hit in depreciation. Can you recommend a Class A, 2-3 years old, well built with most of your recommendations, for under $70,000? thank you
Answer: I don't think a Class A would be a good choice because they are the least safe of all RVs to travel in, especially with children. Furthermore, it will be hard to find Class A units with bunk beds in them. You'd do better to look for a fifth wheel. You'll have to do a lot of looking to find a Class A that is 2-3 years old in the $70,000 price range these days, so start early. I hesitate to recommend a brand because all brands have lower and higher quality units. I have always liked Jayco, Country Coach, Beaver and Safari, so those would be good starting points for you.
Question: What is your opinion of the Safari Trek 24, 26 and 28 foot with the magic bed? We are new to the RV lifestyle, and am reading all I can. I think we want a shorty Class A to facilitate getting in and out of areas. I am trying to learn enough, so I make the right choice the first time. I am even considering converting a 16 foot Isuzu Box truck into an RV and loading a motorcycle on the lift in back. Well, back to the Trek, I am looking at early 2000 models for $30K.
Answer: The Safari Treks are great little units, but try to buy one made in 1999 or earlier, because those are more well made. If you want to carry a motorcycle with you, you might want to consider buying a toy hauler that you pull with a truck. However, those are much larger. I have an article about the 1996 Safari Serengeti you might want to read because it discusses some of the great design ideas Safari used back in the mid to late 90's. Watch out for size. A unit that is too small can become claustrophobic if you're living in it year round.
© 2013 Sondra Rochelle
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on August 19, 2019:
You'll never find the perfect RV, regardless of size.
Kyle Lee 1 on August 06, 2019:
I have been doing research for a couple months now and I have to say this is one of the most informative articles I've come across yet. I would appreciate your thoughts on what I'm looking for. I have a family of 5 counting myself. The first year I'll be staying in the RV full time by myself. I started with the classic idea of a class A being awesome and moved on to exploring a Class C option. Ultimately I decided a fifth wheel would work best for my situation as they appear to in general offer more space. I thought I had made up my mind on what I wanted which was the Grand Design 3740BH. Looks great. The kids get their own room, huge fridge to accommodate a family, that sort of thing. A friend recently brought it to my attention that finding camp grounds that can accommodate such large, 40+ foot RVs is rather difficult. I did a quick cursory search online and somewhat confirmed his warnings. So now I feel like I'm starting over looking for something in the 30 foot range. I like the way Grand Design builds their units but I don't know how I feel about their smaller ones. I would appreciate any recommendations you would be willing to make to get me looking down the correct path. I want to purchase something to make camping a fun experience for the family. Thanks!
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on May 08, 2019:
You are talking here about a coach that is mid to low level that is 6 years old. Fiberglass sidewalls are no protection against mold and mildew. The bet sidewalls are aluminum that is covered with full body paint. Whether a coach avoids water damage is strictly up to the owner and how well he takes care of his unit. You really need to read the articles I've written on this topic. You can find them by clicking my name at the top of the page of any of my articles and then scrolling down until you find it. Water is the worst enemy of any coach, so always look for signs of it before buying anything.
Pamela Keith on May 08, 2019:
We are looking at purchasing 2013 Forest River Solera S, Diesel model. 24,000 km. Fiber Glass wall construction. I am hoping that this is a plus... prevents mould/water damage? Or is this something that I should avoid? I am in British Columbia, Canada. Are there other major things that I should consider? This would be a purchase from a private seller.
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on October 24, 2018:
Trade in value is usually half or less of retail value. This is standard in the industry. Also, asking price is not the same as a negotiated sales price, which can be as much as 20% less. If this bothers you, sell your coach yourself to get the most value out of it. This takes a bit of time and effort but could bring in double the trade in value or more. Trading always is biased towards the dealer. It's a sad fact of life!
Kevin Braend on October 24, 2018:
How can you find a dealer with s good reputation. I thought camping world was one until we tried to upgrade to a deisel class a. Camping world has an identical unit to our for sale in Colorado. There price was 52,000. Our motor home is in better condition and with 48,000 less mile. But was only worth 17,000.00 on trade in. Kevin
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on February 19, 2013:
mperrottet: This is exactly why we never buy new, and always do a lot of research before buying anything...including reading all of the repair and upkeep paperwork that should come with any RV. All RVs require constant upkeep, but what happened to your friends goes way beyond that! As with anything, it's "buyer beware". Thanks for stopping by and sharing.
Margaret Perrottet from San Antonio, FL on February 19, 2013:
Right now I'm traveling in a 2007 Rockwood travel trailer. The Rockwood's been OK, but has had a few issues. We had to replace both axles, and two windows and a few minor repairs. You're right about being fooled by an expensive price tag. We were just talking to a couple who had purchased an Elite fifth wheel, top of the line. The walls of the thing fell apart, and the manufacturer wouldn't make good on it. They ended up having to sell it and bought a Winnebago class A after taking a horrible loss on the fifth wheel. Anyhow - good hub with sound advice.
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on January 28, 2013:
carol7777: Always nice to meet a fellow RVer. Don't know of a better way to travel.
carol stanley from Arizona on January 28, 2013:
We had two RVs and I really enjoyed traveling in them. I could read, nap and do just about anything I wanted. Great hub on how to buy one. Voting UP.