Buying a recreational vehicle, whether that’s a camper trailer, a pop-top, a caravan or a luxury motorhome, is a thrilling experience. Soon you’ll be living your best life out on the road, exploring new places and having adventure after adventure. But it can also be a confusing process. With so many Australian and overseas manufacturers vying for your attention — and your hard-earned cash — it’s easy to be seduced by a unit that may look slick, but also be completely impractical for the type of travel you want to do.
Wayne Park is a relationship manager with finance broker Credit One and works with customers every day who are considering buying their first RV, or trading up to a different model. His job is to give owners the confidence around the decision they have made and the product they are purchasing. Confidence that the unit will suit their needs, and then from there to work out how they can afford to buy it and ensure it fits within their lifestyle means.
Here, Park shares his top tips for choosing an RV, whether it be new or secondhand, and ensuring it will be the perfect fit for your intended lifestyle.
MAKE THE COMMITMENT
It may sound obvious, but Park says the initial step is get off the fence about buying a camper.
“The first thing you have to do is make sure you commit to the decision to purchase,” he tells Camper.
“It takes a long time. The average timeframe it takes for someone to purchase from the time they say ‘yes we are going to move ahead and buy something’ to then purchasing something is generally around 18 months.”
Making that commitment means you are taking the search seriously, and you can begin to dedicate time to researching and kicking a few tyres before you find the right one. It also means that when you begin to have conversations with dealerships, manufacturers or private sellers, you can make genuine enquiries about the price, and then similarly genuine offers.
NEED VERSUS WANTS
The trickiest part of deciding on what kind of RV you should buy is considering how you will use it — particularly if you have not experienced the camping lifestyle firsthand. But Park says it’s really important to get this right to avoid disappointment and hassle.
“A lot of people purchase a smaller-end camper or potentially even something that is more cost-effective,” he says. “But like most things, the first RV they purchase generally isn’t the last one they will end up with because you don’t really know how you want to use it and where you want to go.
“Choosing the right RV upfront the first time is definitely more cost-effective because if you go to re-trade it back in to get another, you need to consider there will be a level of depreciation and you are likely take a loss on it.”
Depending on the type of travel you will do, there will be non-negotiable features (those that you ‘need’), and others that might look pretty but may only be used sporadically or not at all (those that you might ‘want’). Park says there are several basic questions you should ask yourself.
“The main points are where do you want to go, how do you want to use it, how many people will be travelling — is it a family camper or for a couple — and things like whether you need an ensuite or if you will spend more time in caravan parks or free camping,” he says.
The number of beds or sleeping spaces in the camper is the first step — you need to find somewhere for everyone to sleep comfortably. If you think that you might spend more time in caravan or holiday parks, you’re unlikely to need a rugged, offroad camper with high-tech suspension, beefed-up solar panels and batteries, and additional water storage. If the seldom-beaten track does sound more appealing, you’ll need to consider adding all those items to your wish list — whether it’s a smaller camper trailer or a hybrid. And then of course if you want to go off the beaten track you will need to purchase an appropriate unit to ensure you not only get to where you want to go, but get home safely. If wanting to be more environmentally conscious then you may also need to look at a unit that has grey water storage for waste and water tanks for flushing.
YOUR TOW VEHICLE
Another huge consideration is the tow vehicle. Park says buyers can get this bit back to front — and can cause a headache.
“People do things the wrong way around — they buy the car first and then look for the camper,” he says. “You need to find the RV you want, understand how heavy it is, what its towing limits are, and then make sure you have the car to suit it.”
Towing limits are extremely important, especially considering the current trend is for campers to be more laden with creature comforts and thus heavier to tow around. Park says this is where your wants may be outweighed by your towing capacity as well as your wallet.
“All these common extras that people are after these days — higher-spec suspension, batteries, solar panels, satellite dishes on the roof, checkerplate boxes on the A-frame and a whole lot more will add more weight because you will fill them with something — all of a sudden your camper can become very heavy and that could change the type of towing vehicle that you could need.”
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
One way to get acquainted with the RV lifestyle before you buy is to hire a camper, caravan or motorhome and trial it out.
There are various ways to do this. You can hire through a commercial company such as THL which rents Britz, Maui and Mighty motorhomes (www.britz.com.au). Some of these even offer a refund of the rental price if you then purchase a vehicle.
Peer-to-peer platforms, where owners lease their RVs to others when not in use, have become extraordinarily popular now and can offer an affordable way to trial different brands, layouts and styles over short or long trips to see if they appeal. Some of the sites that offer this service include Camplify (www.camplify.com.au), My Caravan (www.mycaravan.com.au) and Share A Camper (www.shareacamper.com.au).
DO YOUR RESEARCH
It sounds like such a hackneyed phrase, but doing your research is imperative to making an informed decision. From reading camper reviews, to joining RV forums and Facebook groups online, to checking out different models at shows, Park says research can come in a variety of options.
Nothing quite beats attending caravan and camping shows to check out a range of options in one place. But spend time on the internet looking at the range offered by manufacturers and dealers before you go
“At shows you can get a better feel for what you feel comfortable in, what kind of set-up you want and require based on how you want to use it, and you will see perhaps the latest technology rather than driving around over a number of weekends looking at a whole lot of different dealerships,” says Park. Dealers spend a lot of time and resources to attend camping shows so they are always keen to chat about what they have to offer.
“But when you are at the shows, try and narrow yourself down to a handful of brands so that you don’t spend the whole day getting confused looking at a lot of different brands.”
Consider the features of each RV — the weight, internal layout options, standard features versus accessories, suitability of different styles of touring as well as construction. There are myriad construction methods from traditional meranti timber frames right through to fully-carbon designs. Check out the warranty for different RVs as well, advises Park.
“You need to know that if something goes wrong, you will be able to get it fixed reasonably quickly, that they have spare parts available,” he says.
Park also recommends checking to see if the manufacturer or dealership is accredited with the Caravan Industry Association of Australia's (CIAA) RVMAP program. By complying with the RVMAP process, a business is committing to consistently supply products that adhere to relevant Australian Design Rules and Federal Compliance Regulations. You can find out more on the CIAA’s website (www.caravanindustry.com.au).
THINK ABOUT RESALE
Finding the right camper for your needs right now is, of course, the primary objective, but Park says having one eye on future resale value is a smart play.
Although RVs depreciate, you don’t want to overspend on a model now that won’t deliver some return. Consider the kinds of bells and whistles you build into your camper — are they worth it? Some items, such as an ensuite, most likely will, but others may not appeal to future buyers.
“The bulk of them are being built with ensuites, and when you go to re-sell a non-ensuite RV you will certainly get less for that than a model that has a full ensuite,” Park says.
“A lot of RVs are coming out not just with full electronics, but remote-controlled lighting and heating and security too — they are becoming far more high-tech than we have seen before. It’s a nice-to-have feature but does it really add a lot of value?”
SET YOUR BUDGETS
Every buyer has to set a budget for what they can afford and which fits within realistic parameters, even if they are lucky enough to have the cash up front to buy a camper trailer outright. Buying a new RV with finance, that is taking out a loan for the full purchase price or perhaps even partially funding, may be a better choice. It makes a lot of sense if you don’t want to put off living the lifestyle until you have saved the whole amount.
Park says a conversation with a professional finance broker can be a great first step to working out what you can afford, and what loan repayments would look like. Having pre-approval for a loan is definitely food for thought.
“If you are committed to purchasing, getting pre-approval does take that finance pressure off,” he says.
“It is really easy to go to the likes of Credit One Finance and obtain a pre-approval at creditone.com.au, so you know what you can buy up to. If you are a bit unsure, you can go to the camping shows, pick out roughly the kind of RV you want, look at the price range and then make some decisions. The next step is to contact Credit One to have a genuine conversation and make the dream become a reality. But it is no good looking at a $120,000 camper when you can only spend $50,000 based on repayments.”