Our First Time Buying a New RV

A new RV against a blue sky with clouds.

After retiring early, Dave and I tried multiple forms of travel to keep ourselves busy––cruise ship getaways, car trips, hotel stays. But we always wanted to travel more slowly, to take in more than just an area’s hot destinations. We wanted to see the back roads and small towns and be able to immerse ourselves into the culture of the areas we visited. So we decided to buy an RV.

We had entertained the thought for years, but it never went further than "that would be fun someday." But one day, while we sat on a cruise ship docked at a less-than-glamorous port, we turned to each other. “Why are we here and not exploring the beautiful places in North America that we really want to see?”  That “ah-ha” moment turned into a determination to explore our nomadic dreams.

Deciding to purchase an RV was easy. But going through the buying process was trickier. We knew very little about RVs and had no idea what type or size would meet our needs. We had never camped, and we didn’t personally know anyone who had an RV. We were the very definition of newbies.

Our first hurdle was to determine if we wanted a motorhome, a fifth wheel or travel trailer. We didn't yet understand the importance of RV design basics, like cargo capacity, tank sizes, slides, hitches, electrical systems, etc. We needed to do our homework. So we studied RV manufacturers and component websites; read forums, blogs and Facebook groups; and watched countless YouTube videos. After collecting tons of data and pages of notes, we wrote out a prioritized list of criteria to help us narrow down our options: 

  • Stability 
  • Price
  • Towability 
  • Fully functional livability with slides in 
  • Maneuverability 
  • Service availability
  • Driving comfort
  • Ease of heating and cooling
  • Ease of setup and breakdown
  • Permanent bed not on a slide
  • Recliners or ability to upgrade

Armed with our list, it was time to go shopping. We started by attending two RV shows, one in Minneapolis, Minnesota and another in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Being able to walk through the various types of RVs helped us narrow down our choices. It became clear that we both liked motorhomes best, based on how we intended to use our RV.  A Class A or Class C with a tow car would provide more stability than a travel trailer or fifth wheel, and allow for easier and faster setup and breakdown.

Our next consideration was price. Being newbies, we wanted to dip our toes in the water, and a gas motorhome seemed like a good place to start. We narrowed our list down to motorhomes under 34 feet, to keep it easy to drive and maneuver. And we wanted a permanent bed––not on a slide––which eliminated many options from consideration. 

We didn't find exactly what we wanted at the two RV shows, but we were getting closer. We zeroed in on looking for a 25-30 foot Class A motorhome, and since the price points were similar, we leaned toward the 30-foot range. 

So we stopped at a local dealer in Wisconsin, where we found a Thor Vegas 24.1, measuring 25 ½ feet. As we checked off our criteria, we found everything we were looking for. We took it for a test drive, and the Vegas handled easily. It felt homey right away, and the floor plan was nearly perfect––but we weren’t sure. It didn’t offer as much storage or living space as a 30-foot model.

We wanted to understand more about how RVs were built and how they functioned, so we decided to tour various manufacturing facilities. We scheduled several stops in Elkhart, Indiana to check out two different 30-foot Class A motorhomes and tour the Thor Motor Coach Vegas/Axis plant to see the 25- to 26-foot RV builds. The tours were informative and educational and the guides answered all of our questions.

We narrowed down our list to two final options: the Thor Vegas 24.1 and the Thor Hurricane 29M. Upon test driving the Hurricane at a local dealer, we felt it was just too large for our comfort level, and we decided that although the Vegas was a little smaller, it offered enough space for our minimalist lifestyle.  

For the next step, we got price quotes from multiple dealers all over the country. But our local dealer ultimately won out when we realized that having hometown access for service and warranty work would be a huge benefit. 

Our local dealership was so knowledgeable and great to work with, and they even beat the quotes we had sourced from other dealers. When we picked up the new unit, they spent several hours walking us through every aspect of the  motorhome, and the service department has been prompt and responsive in providing any needed warranty repairs.

It's been three years since we purchased our Thor Vegas 24.1, and we enjoy it every day. Although we really took our time to research every aspect of RVs to ensure we made the right choice for us, our persistence paid off––if we had to do it all over again, we would purchase the exact same model. 

Here are our tips for choosing the right RV for you:

  1. Analyze your specific needs. Take time to really think through how you plan to use the RV, and develop your own specific criteria for what features matter most. 

  2. Do thorough research. Take a deep dive into all the different classes of RVs so you can know what you are buying. Learn how all the systems function before leaving the dealership with your unit. Don’t be shy when it comes to asking questions and take lots of notes! Some folks have even video recorded their initial walk-throughs so they don’t miss any of the finer points.

  3. Think carefully about what size you need. We have talked to a number of people along our travels that followed advice to “buy as big as you can afford,” but now wish they had gone smaller. Buy the size that fits your particular family and works for your individual usage.

  4. Finding your perfect match requires creativity. Finding the ideal RV that fits every single one of your criteria may seem impossible. But remember that you can make your RV your own with little upgrades and tweaks along the way. You can add storage, improve the comfort of a bed or seating area, and make the decor your own as you go. 

  5. Buy from a dealer you’re comfortable with. Research dealer reviews and analyze their sales and repair departments prior to buying. You’ll take comfort knowing you’ve bought from a business that will provide good follow-up service.

  6. Utilize RV social media. Instagram, Facebook, blogs, forums and YouTube are excellent resources to help new buyers visualize different types of RVs and how they are being utilized. Don’t be afraid to dive in--you’ll find more information than you ever imagined! 

The Bolands live in their Thor 24.1 Vegas.

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