The Ramblers talk about choosing a Camper; Part One

Although the Ramblers are leaving the driving to someone else these days, they spent many years cris-crossing the US and Canada by camper or car. We visited every state except Alaska and Hawaii by camper, and every Canadian province except the Maritime Provinces and Nunavit. Never kept count on total mileage, but it must have been over 50,000.

Recently a friend asked me for advice about choosing a camper. As I started to explain the various types available, I thought, why not blog on this topic. With the current low price of gasoline and the high cost of hotel rooms, the Ramblers are sure many people will  be buying campers this summer. Picking the right model is not as easy as it seems, since there are so many kinds available. The Ramblers have camped in nearly every type of rv available from a borrowed school bus conversion to a 40 ft. diesel pusher motorhome and enjoyed them all.  So here goes…

First off, campers are divided into classes,  self- propelled vehicles or motorhomes, and tow-able campers or trailers.  Motorhomes are again divided into three classes. class A campers are motor-homes built  built on a chassis designed for them. Class B campers are van conversions. Class C campers are often called mini-motorhomes although they can be quite large, because they are built on a truck chassis and the truck cab is part of the rig.

The pull-along campers include trailers of every shape and size which are attached with a trailer hitch to the back end of a car, truck or SUV. The hitch for 5th wheel trailers is mounted in the bed of a pick-up truck which allows them to be towed smoothly on the highway and they have some over the truck bed living space.  Finally truck campers are specially designed units that slide onto the bed of a truck. They are not strictly a trailer because they are not towed, but neither are they motorized. Trailers, no matter what the type, are not self-propelled. However, in order to camp in a 5th wheel or truck camper, you need to own or buy a truck that has enough power to pull the 5th wheel or fit the camper.

In recent years, another type of trailer has been added to the mix, the toy hauler. The Ramblers have never owned a toy hauler, but toy haulers are designed, as their name implies, so that an ATV or a motorcycle can be carried in their rear compartment. The forward area is fitted out as  living quarters. Even horse trailers sometimes have a cabin area for their owners to sleep in these days.

So now you know there are even more varieties of campers to choose from than you expected. How do you zero in on what kind you want? If you have never camped or hauled a trailer or have never driven or camped in  a motor home of any size, the Ramblers suggest renting a small version of the kind you are interested in first, to see how you like rv camping. Many dealers have campers for rent, and at least one company rents mini-motorhomes nationwide. You may find you hate either camping in or driving your test camper and that will solve your problem! The Ramblers have heard many folks scoff at RVing, saying the only kind of camping they like is staying in a luxury hotel. However, they have never looked at some of the high end campers on the market or visited a luxurious campground. Some match the luxury of the finest hotels. However, you don’t need a fancy rig to enjoy camping. Campsites range from free,  with no facilities in a national forest or Corps of Engineers Campground, to a luxurious campground complete with pool, landscaping, paved roads and campsites and hook-ups for water, electric and sewer.

If you have tried camping and like it, the next step is to decide on what kind you might want to buy. HOWEVER, the Ramblers strongly suggest that you look for a used camper, not a new one. If you think cars depreciate quickly, motorhomes depreciate in value even faster. If you buy a new unit, no matter how good the deal seems, it will take a big hit in value the first year. Looking at used campers can be discouraging, as some are amazingly run down or the supposed non-smoking unit reeks of smoke and/or pet odors. However, if you persevere, you will eventually find what you are looking for. Most RVers these days travel with their pets. That makes camping attractive for those who have a beloved furry companion, but often times makes for a smelly unit. Also, if  you want to camp mainly at state parks, don’t get too big of a camper. Most state park campsites were laid out 30 or 40 years ago when campers were much smaller. Very few state park campsites accommodate  a 40 ft. diesel pusher motor home. In fact, the Ramblers have found that 28 ft is the maximum length for most.  When we got our 35 ft 5th wheel, we couldn’t fit in many.

Another thing to consider for those of you who live in states with an Ad-Valorem tax; you will be paying several thousand dollars(or more) to license your motor home every year. Some people try to get around this by licensing their unit in another state, usually Montana, which doesn’t have an Ad-Valorem tax and actively encourages this. However, the police are wise to this ploy and while some get away with this somewhat illegal ploy,  others have had to pay large fines and back taxes. State police often check to see where the folks driving that RV actually live. After all, Montana has a small population . When the Ramblers had their motorhome, they thought about trying this, but decided they didn’t want to break the law. If you can’t afford the tax, buy a less expensive unit.

Of course, you will have to insure your new pride and joy. Insuring a motorhome is more expensive than insuring a trailer. You might also check on the cost of on the road service as well. A good source of information on this and many other RV related topics is the Good Sam Club website.

Motorhomes depreciate faster than trailers and have more parts that can fail. However, many people enjoy being able to walk around inside their camper while they are rolling down the road. The down side is that during your stay at a campground, you have to un-plug your unit if you are hooked up to electricity or water,  if you want to go to a store or sight-see. Thus quite a few people tow a car behind their motorhome, which they use to get around when they get to their destination. The main problem with this is when the car is attached to the motorhome, it is impossible to back up unless it is unhitched first. Obviously this involves some careful planning. The Ramblers were going to tow a car behind their motorhome, but then decided to plan their trips differently. When they stopped at a place which offered many side trips, they rented a car from Enterprise or any  company that would pick them up at the campground. This worked very well for.. Another option is to carry a scooter or a motorcycle on the back of your camper. We toyed with this idea but felt that safety might be an issue as would riding one in bad weather.

On the other hand, if you want something inside your trailer, you have to stop at a rest area or parking lot so that you can go inside. Not so much fun if it is raining. And, if you have a pop-up camper that folds down for towing, you can’t get inside unless you open it up. Finally, the advent of the slide out, has further complicated the issue. A slide out is a part of the wall of a trailer or motorhome which slides out (you either do this electrically or with a crank) to extend the sides of the camper, giving you much more interior space.  Slide outs are great, but when they are retracted, they often make it difficult to get around inside the camper. Be sure and see how and where the slide outs retract in any unit you like.

Oh yes, one more thing. Where are you going to keep your camper once you have it? Many subdivisions have rules against parking campers anywhere, and yes, your neighbor will report you. LOL If you are lucky, you own a place in the country, live in an unincorporated area or in a neighborhood without restrictive rules. If you don’t, you will have to find a place to keep it and factor this cost into the total upkeep.

Now comes the fun part, shopping for your camper. The best way to get a feel for what’s out there is to attend one of the big RV shows held through-out the year in many parts of the US. There you can not only see a huge variety of campers but go inside and check out the living space and furnishings. The dealers who exhibit at the show will have many seemingly great deals…resist them unless you have already done your research or money is no object. Keep in mind, it is far easier to buy a camper than it is to sell one.

Next, shopping for your camper.


2 thoughts on “The Ramblers talk about choosing a Camper; Part One”

  1. Thanks for this article on purchasing a camper. I never realized all of the “other” things that one needs to know about this subject. Interesting indeed!

    1. Glad you found the blog interesting. Hopefully you weren’t discouraged as we have owned many campers and traveled over 30,000 miles around the US with them or in them. We were in Europe so I missed your comment. I just wish someone had given us this advice before we started out.

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