• If you are new to the recreational vehicle(RV) lifestyle, you owe it to yourself to become well informed before jumping in. Uninformed RV consumers are likely to make unwise choices financially, emotionally, and concerning safety.
Experienced RVers should also review this list when goals change and before buying a new RV.
Below we have compiled a list of steps to guide you through the planning and purchase of an RV. We stopped short of numbering the steps because many can be done out of sequence. We do recommend the sequence as listed below, especially when it involves buying decisions.
Our text contains glossary term sunderlined with green dashes to indicate that you can hover your mouse or click for the definition. You may also take advantage of our full listing in the Glossary of RV Terms.
Define RV goals
How do you plan to use your RV? Is it for weekend outings, longer vacations, as a snowbird, or as a fulltimer?
Become familiar with RV types
Take some time to review the introduction pages to each RV type. No need to research each type in detail at this point—that comes later.
Review Issues Important To Different RV Lifestyles
All RVing lifestyles have many things in common, yet each has its own special requirements. Review our RV Lifestyles Examined article to learn about the differences.
List RV Amenities
Create a list of amenities that you would like to have in an RV based on your selected lifestyle. Divide the list into "must have" and "optional" sections. Use our RV Amenities checklist as a guide.
Create a Budget
At this point you should have a rough idea of your desired RV lifestyle and the specifics are coming into focus. Now is the time to create a budget. See Budget for the RV Lifestyle to help you get started. Knowing what you are able and willing to afford will save you precious time by narrowing down your choices.
Rent Various RV Types
In the following steps you need to make decisions on the type and size of the RV. Consider renting several RV types to help you decide. Living in an RV for a few days will give you insights that you can not get on the sales lot.
See our Rent an RV page for guidance.
Choose RV Size
After choosing the RV type, determine the size based on your needs. Review Understanding RV Weights and research all relevant weights. For large RV's also review RV Driver's License Requirements.
Choose RV Type
Review the RV Type Pros & Cons checklist and then decide which one will suit your needs best.
Choose RV Size
After choosing the RV type, determine the size based on your needs. Review Understanding RV Weights and research all relevant weights. For large RV's also review RV Driver's License Requirements.
Tow Vehicle Type And Size
If you chose a towable RV such as a travel trailer or fifth wheel, determine the size of vehicle required to tow it. See Tow Vehicle Sizing for guidance.
Choose RV Manufacturers To Consider
Choose the RV manufacturers that meet your criteria with the help of RV Consumer Group resources in the "Must Read" section of our books list. The "Ratings" CD's are especially important to quickly select manufacturers with good track records of quality and safety.
Consult our Manufacturers list where you can search by RV type.
Choose RV Models To Consider
Choose a small number of RV models that meet your needs from each manufacturer selected previously. Keep in mind that the average owner keeps their RV for five years, so do your best to anticipate your needs for this span of time.
Request RV Insurance Quotes
Request one or more preliminary RV insurance quotes using the likely RV and truck models you are considering. A good starting point is Good Sam VIP Insurance. Add the preliminary insurance premiums to your budget. After you select the exact RV model, you should request quotes from multiple insurance companies.
If you request a quotation from your existing insurance agent, be aware that he may or may not have specialized RV insurance.
To understand the differences between auto and RV insurance, see the RV Insurance FAQ's.
Determine Fair Market value
Before heading out to buy, do some research to determine the fair market value of each RV model you selected. Do this even if you are planning to buy a new unit. See Determining an RV's Fair Market Value.
Inspect Before Buying New or Used
When you find an RV that you are interested in, give it a thorough inspection before signing any papers. See the RV Inspection Checklist.
Set up your RV as soon after buying it as possible. If you do not have immediate travel plans, find the nearest RV park and set up your unit there. Live in your new RV a few days to find potential problems before you head out on your big trip.
See the RV Departure Checklist: Motor Homes or RV Departure Checklist: Trailers.
Join the community
By now you have gained a lot of knowledge about RV's and the RV lifestyle. Join the RV community to further your knowledge, find helpful information, and share your experiences with others.
8. Subscribe to our free newsletter to stay informed
9. Research RV clubs to join
10. Join online discussion groups to share ideas
The RV community is just like any other—it has its own set of words, abbreviations, and slang terms. In this glossary we define the common terms and some of the more unusual slang.
Amp is short for ampere, the electric current unit of measure. RV sites with electric hookup will specify the maximum amps supported, which generally come in units of 20, 30, or 50 amps. The RV power connector must match the various plugs of the site amp rating.
A joint between two objects which allows movement. In the case of RVs, an articulation point is where two vehicles are coupled together by a ball or fifth wheel hitch. When a truck is pulling a travel trailer or fifth wheel, a single articulation point exists. If a boat is towed behind the trailer then two articulation points exist.
A roof-like structure made of canvas or other artificial materials which extends from the RV body to provide shade. Awnings are generally placed over entrances. Some extend and stow manually while others are operated electrically.
A slot in an RV park with a single entrance, designed to be backed into with the RV.
The storage compartment of RVs under the main living area. Basements are generally found on motor homes and fifth wheel trailers.
TV antenna on the roof on an RV characterized by two horizontal elements. Batwing antennas are generally raised and rotated with a hand crank from inside the RV living compartment.
Holding tank connected to the toilet, designed to hold sewage until it can be dumped into a septic system.
Waste water from the toilet; sewage. See also Black Tank
Strictly speaking, boondocking is camping far away from civilization without any facilities such as water or electricity; roughing it. In a more general sense it has come to mean camping or parking anywhere without facilities, relying strictly on the comforts provided by the RV. Many RVers refer to spending the night in an interstate rest area, shopping center parking lot, or truck stop, as boondocking.
Electronic device mounted in the tow vehicle to control the trailer brakes. It is connected to the tow vehicle brake system to sense when braking needs to be applied to the trailer. It has a lever for manually engaging the trailer brakes.
An electrical switch on trailers designed to engage the breaks in case the trailer breaks away from the tow vehicle. The switch is connected by a cable to the tow vehicle. Breakaway is detected when the switch cable is pulled out during vehicle separation.
A passenger bus converted to an RV.
This term can refer to one of two things:
1) a Class C motor home, or
2) the sleeping area which is over the cab in Class C motor homes and truck campers. For an example of each, see Class C Motor Home and Truck Camper.
Another term for an RV, especially smaller RVs that are towed behind or carried on top of light trucks. Truckers generally refer to all RVs as campers in their CB conversations.
See Folding Trailer
See Class B
Cargo Weight is the actual weight of all items added to the Curb Weight of the vehicle or trailer. This includes personal cargo, optional equipment, and Tongue or King Pin Weight. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Citizens Band radio is a general use, short distance, two-way radio primarily used by truckers. CB's are also helpful to RV drivers to call for help in an emergency and listen for driving conditions. Many CB's on the market today also have weather channels with alerting features.
The frame of a vehicle or motor home including the engine, transmission, drive train, axles, and wheels. When referring to a van or truck, the chassis also includes the cab.
Battery in motor homes and tow trucks for operating the engine and vehicle components. Gas engine vehicles generally have one chassis battery and diesels two. Also referred to as the starting battery.
Photo courtesy of Tiffin Motorhomes
A motor home built on a stripped truck chassis where the driving compartment is an integral part of the RV interior. Class A motor homes look like busses. For additional details see Class A Motor Home - An Introduction.
Photo courtesy of Gulf Stream Coach
A motor home created from a mini van. Most models have raised roofs, but otherwise the living space is constrained by the dimensions of the van. For additional details see Class B Motor Home - An Introduction.
Photo courtesy of Jayco
A motor home built on a cut-away van or truck chassis, including the cab. It differs from the class A motor home in that the class C uses the cab designed for the chassis. For additional details see Class C Motor Home - An Introduction.
A vehicle with enclosed passenger accommodations. In the broadest sense of the term, coach can be applied to most recreational vehicles. When used by itself, it usually refers to a motor home, most likely a Class A.
Commercial Drivers License
License issued by states to drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMV). Some states require special licensing or endorsements for large RV's, but a commercial driver's license (CDL) is rarely required for non-commercial RV's. For additional details see RV Driver's License Requirements.
Commercial Motor Vehicle
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration definition: A commercial motor vehicle is any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle: (1) has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating (GCWR)or a gross vehicle weight (GVW) or gross combination weight (GCW)of 4,536 kilograms (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or (2) is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers, including the driver, for compensation; or (3) is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, whether or not it is used to transport passengers for compensation; or (4) is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and transported in a quantity requiring placarding under regulations prescribed by the Secretary under 49 CFR, Subtitle B, Chapter I, Subchapter C.
A device that converts alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) used to charge the RV batteries and to operate 12 volt DC devices while plugged into an AC source.
Curb Weight is the actual weight of a vehicle or trailer, including all standard equipment, full fuel tanks, full fresh water tanks, full propane bottles, and all other equipment fluids, but before taking on any persons or personal cargo. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Direct Spark Ignition
A feature of new propane appliances whereby the gas is ignited by an electrical spark and monitored electronically.
One's fixed and permanent legal residence. Among RVers this generally refers to the state of legal residence. Difference between domicile and residence, as explained by the State of New York Court of Appeals:
Residence means living in a particular locality, but domicile means living in that locality with intent to make it a fixed and permanent home. Residence simply requires bodily presence as an inhabitant in a given place, while domicile requires bodily presence in that place and also an intention to make it one's domicile.
Camping in an RV without external water or sewer hookups.
Dry Weight is the actual weight of a vehicle or trailer containing standard equipment without fuel, fluids, cargo, passengers, or optional equipment. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Dual Rear Wheels
A truck having two wheels on each side of the rear axle for a total of four wheels.
Facilities for emptying gray and black water from the RV holding tanks.
A device installed on the engine which causes deceleration by restricting the exhaust gases. Exhaust brakes are used to supplement the service brakes of a vehicle and to increase stopping power. Especially useful to slow heavy loads down steep grades.
Exhaust Temperature Gauge
Gauge indicating engine exhaust gas temperature as measured by a probe inserted into the gas flow. Temperature is generally measured directly after the exhaust manifold or after the turbo. Useful in preventing engine overheating.
A trailer and hitch configuration connected to the tow truck directly above the rear axle by way of a special fifth wheel hitch. This causes several feet of the connected trailer to hang over the tow truck, placing about 15 to 25% of the trailer's weight on the rear axle of the truck. Commercial trucks and trailers use this hitch configuration. Also commonly spelled as 5th wheel. For additional details see Fifth Wheel - An Introduction.
Abbreviation for Fair Market Value.
Small, light-weight trailer that folds or collapses into a low profile, suitable for towing behind light vehicles such as cars, SUV?s, and mini pickup trucks. For additional details see Folding Trailer - An Introduction.
Fresh Water Tank
Tank for holding fresh water for drinking, cooking, and bathing while not connected to a city water supply.
An RV site with water, electric, and sewer facilities.
A person living full-time in an RV, having no other home.
The kitchen in an RV.
Gross Axle Weight (GAW) is the actual weight placed on a single axle. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is the maximum number that the GAW of a single axle should never exceed. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Gross Combination Weight (GCW) is the actual weight of the fully loaded tow vehicle plus the towed vehicle (trailer, car, boat, etc.), including all cargo, fluids, passengers, and optional equipment. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) is the maximum number that the tow vehicle GVW plus towed vehicle GVW (or GTW) should never exceed. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
A trailer and hitch configuration connected to the tow truck directly above the rear axle by way of a standard ball hitch in the truck bed and a vertical, slender arm on front of the trailer. Gooseneck hitching is common on horse and utility trailers, but rarely found on RV's.
A device that attaches to the fifth wheel trailer's king pin and extends down about two feet. It couples with a ball hitch mounted in the bed of a truck, enabling the fifth wheel to be towed like a gooseneck trailer. For additional details see Fifth Wheel Gooseneck Adapter.
The degree of inclination of a road. A grade of 6% or higher is considered steep.
Holding tank connected to the sinks and shower, designed to hold waste water until it can be dumped into a septic system.
Waste water from the sinks and shower. See also Gray Tank
Gross Trailer Weight (GTW) is the same as Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) when referring to a trailer. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) is the actual weight of the fully loaded vehicle or trailer, including all cargo, fluids, passengers, and optional equipment, as measured by a scale. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the maximum number that the GVW or GTW should never exceed. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Truck rating originally conceived to indicate cargo carrying capacity of a half ton (1,000 lbs). Today, tonnage rating is no longer an accurate indication of cargo carrying capacity—it is more of a relational indication among trucks in different categories. Common one ton pickup truck models are the Chevrolet 1500, Dodge 1500, Ford F-150, and GMC 1500.
Truck body installed on a chassis in place of a bed, designed to tow or haul various loads. Most hauler backs look like a typical car wrecker without the lift. Hauler backs intended for RV towing have a flat surface and a hitch installed above the rear axle. Common options added to hauler backs are storage compartments and tool boxes.
Heavy Duty Truck
Commercial truck designed for heavy duty. Heavy trucks are suitable for towing the heaviest of trailers, though they are rarely used for RV towing. A few examples: semi trucks, Chevrolet Kodiak C8500, Ford F-750, GMC TopKick C8500. For additional details see Truck Classification.
One of several storage tanks on an RV designed to hold fresh and waste water. Common holding tanks are the fresh water tank, gray tank, and black tank.
Euphemism for the sewage pumping truck. Honey wagons are used to empty RV holding tanks in places where full hookups and dump stations are not available.
One or more batteries in a recreational vehicle for operating the 12 volt lights, appliances, and systems. House batteries can be 12 volt units tied in parallel or pairs of 6 volt batteries tied in series (to double the voltage). The term house battery is of more significance in motor homes because they contain one or more other batteries for the operation of the engine, referred to as the chassis or starting batteries.
A device that converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) for powering AC equipment while the RV is not plugged into an AC source. Typical DC sources are batteries and solar panels.
Abbreviation for Internet Service Provider.
The pin by which a fifth wheel trailer attaches to the truck. It slides into the fifth wheel hitch and locks in place.
King Pin Weight
King Pin Weight (also called Pin Weight) is the actual weight pressing down on the fifth wheel hitch by the trailer. The recommended amount of King Pin Weight is 15%-25% of the GTW. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
A jack lowered from the underside of trailers and motor homes for the purpose of leveling the vehicle. A leveling jack is designed to bear a significant portion of the RVs weight, even lifting it off the ground on certain models.
Light Duty Truck
Personal truck designed for light duty, typically rated at one ton and below. Light trucks are suitable for towing small to medium trailers. A few examples: Chevrolet Silverado 3500, Ford F-250, Dodge RAM 1500. For additional details see Truck Classification.
Liquefied Petroleum Gas, commonly written as "LP gas". Two examples of LPG are propane and butane. LPG is heavier than air in gas form and about half the weight of water in liquid form.
Medium Duty Truck
Commercial truck designed for medium duty, typically rated above one ton. Medium duty trucks are built with heavier frames, brakes, and transmission compared to light trucks. A few examples: Chevrolet Kodiak C4500, Ford F-450/F-550, International 4200. For additional details see Truck Classification.
A motor vehicle built on a truck or bus chassis and designed to serve as self-contained living quarters for recreational travel. Also commonly spelled as motorhome.
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price
Net Carrying Capacity (NCC) is the maximum amount of persons, personal cargo, optional equipment, and Tongue or King Pin weight that can be added to an RV. The formula for NCC is GVWR - UVW. NCC differs slightly from the more widely used "payload" term, by including full fresh water and propane tank weights.
Truck rating originally conceived to indicate cargo carrying capacity of one ton (2,000 lbs). Today, tonnage rating is no longer an accurate indication of cargo carrying capacity—it is more of a relational indication among trucks in different categories. Common one ton pickup truck models are the Chevrolet 3500, Dodge 3500, Ford F-350, and GMC 3500.
A travel trailer that requires park facilities to function. It lacks holding tanks and dual-voltage appliances, requiring to be plugged into water, sewage, and electrical facilities. A park model is more of a small mobile home than a recreational vehicle, in appearance and function.
Payload is a weight rating. It is the maximum weight that persons plus cargo should never exceed. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
See Folding Trailer
A slot in an RV park with an entrance and an exit, designed to pull the RV in one end and out the other, without having to back up.
Motor home with rear mounted engine. Most pushers are equipped with diesel engines, but some gas engine models are also available.
A set of gears found in the rear axle of vehicles, designed to distribute drive shaft power to the two wheels. It applies power to both wheels while allowing each to spin at different rates during cornering.
Vehicle or trailer with living accommodations used for traveling and recreational activities.
Rear Gross Axle Weight (GAW) is the actual weight placed on the rear axle. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Rear Gross Axle Weight Rating (RGAWR) is the maximum number that the GAW of the rear axle should never exceed. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Special equipment or gear used for a particular purpose. In the RV world it generally refers to an RV or truck.
Abbreviation for the RV Consumer Group organization.
A boating term adopted by the RV community to mean an electrical power hookup supplied to the RV by a fixed, external source (not by a portable generator). A full hookup RV site has shore power.
A compartment added to an RV to increase interior space. It slides into the body during travel and slides out when parked.
A person who moves from cold weather to warm in an RV, generally staying a season.
Device containing an array of solar cells which convert sunlight to electricity. Typically mounted on the roof of RV's and used for charging the batteries.
Sport Utility Trailer
See Toy Hauler
A jack inserted under or lowered from trailers and motor homes for the purpose of stabilizing the vehicle. A stabilizing jack is not designed to bear a significant portion of the RV's weight, only a small amount to reduce movement during occupancy. Stabilizing jacks are generally found toward the back of trailers, under the king pin of fifth wheels, and under some slides.
See Chassis Battery
Slang for the sewer hose, constructed from a spiral wire covered with vinyl. One end attaches to the RV piping and the other into the local sewer dump facilities.
Three Quarter Ton
Truck rating originally conceived to indicate cargo carrying capacity of three quarter tons (1,500 lbs). Today, tonnage rating is no longer an accurate indication of cargo carrying capacity—it is more of a relational indication among trucks in different categories. Common three quarter ton pickup truck models are the Chevrolet 2500, Dodge 2500, Ford F-250, and GMC 2500.
A vehicle towed behind the RV. That which was "towed".
A jack lowered from the frame of a travel trailer, directly behind the tongue, for the purpose of leveling the trailer. A tongue jack is designed to bear a significant portion of the trailers weight, called the Tongue Weight (10% - 15% recommended).
Tongue Weight (also called Tongue Load) is the actual weight pressing down on the hitch ball by the trailer. The recommended amount of Tongue Weight is 10%-15% of the GTW. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
The term toy hauler is applied to both fifth wheels and travel trailers, and it describes an RV designed to carry toys—small cars, dune buggies, four wheelers, motorcycles, etc. Distinguishing features of a toy hauler is the large door in the back which opens down to create a ramp, dedicated garage area or fold-away furniture in the main living compartment, and often a third axle to support the heavy toys.
A towable trailer that hitches onto a ball mount on the tow vehicle and designed as living quarters for recreational travel. For additional details see Travel Trailer - An Introduction.
Living quarters designed to slide into the bed of a truck. The camper is fastened to the truck frame during transport and slides out onto its own legs at the camp site. For additional details see Truck Camper - An Introduction.
Wiring harness which connects the trailer to the tow vehicle during transport. The umbilical cord supplies the trailer with DC power for charging the batteries and operating DC equipment. It also operates the trailer brakes and signal lights.
UVW (Unloaded Vehicle Weight)
Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW) is the weight of a vehicle as manufactured at the factory. It includes full engine and generator fuel tanks and fluids, if applicable. It does not include cargo, water, propane, or dealer-installed accessories. It may or may not include factory installed options. Be aware that some manufacturers weigh each unit to determine UVW, while others provide only the average or estimated weight for each model. For additional details see Understanding RV Weights.
Water Pressure Regulator
Device installed on water hose attached to city water to limit the water pressure entering the RV. Most regulators limit water pressure to 40 psi.
A ball hitch system that distributes some of the tongue weight to all axles of the tow vehicle and trailer. With standard ball hitches, all of the tongue weight rests on the tow vehicle's rear axle; the weight-distributing hitch uses spring tensioned bars to distribute it among the axles. This provides more weight on the front axle for better steering control, and less weight on the rear axle to allow towing a heavier trailer that may otherwise overload the rear axle.
Distance between the center of the front and rear wheels of a vehicle, usually expressed in inches.
An RV having an external body width greater than 96 inches (8 feet). The most common wide-body widths are 100" and 102". Also widebody.
The process of introducing non-toxic antifreeze into the water lines of an RV for winter storage to prevent freezing and line breaks.
Technology that enables computers equipped with wireless network cards (also called WiFi) to connect to the Internet without requiring wired connections such as phone lines or cables. This service generally requires an additional fee and a sing-up process.
A person living in an RV and working. Many spell it as workamper as well.
RV & Tips: Considering RVing
This section of the web site is a collection of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) and Tips about RV's and the RVing lifestyle.
Starting point for new RVers
If you are new to RV's, we recommend the Getting Started checklist on our web site, which walks you through the learning and decision steps for determining which RV is right for you.
Where can I learn the meaning of RV terms and jargon?
The RV industry, like any other, has its own set of terms and jargon. To help you learn the meaning of these terms, we compiled a Glossary of RV Terms and also sprinkled our web pages with special links that allow you to hover with your mouse for a brief definition or click on the link to go to the glossary.
What are the different RV lifestyles?
The major RV lifestyles are the following:
• Camper or Weekender: Those who take very short trips in their RV, typically over a weekend up to about a week.
• Vacationer: Longer trips lasting up to several weeks.
• Snowbird: Takes the RV to warmer climates for an entire season and returns home in the summer.
• Fulltimer: Those who live in the RV as their only place of residence.
For a more detailed look at the different lifestyles, see RV Lifestyles Examined.
What amenities are available in a typical RV?
At the very minimum, an RV provides temporary living accommodations consisting of a bed, food storage, food preparation, and dining area. On very small trailers, cooking and dining facilities may be accessible only from the outside. Most RV's include the following amenities:
For a complete list, see RV Amenities.
Do I need a special license to drive an RV?
A great majority of RV's can be driven with a regular driver's license. However, some states require a special license for large RV's. In rare cases a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) is required—if you are told that you need a CDL, be sure to do more research because very few non-commercial RV's fall into this category. If your RV meets one of the following criteria, check with your state for special driver's license requirements:
See RV Driver's License Requirements for a summary of the fifty states.
Where can I find online RV discussion groups?
The two most common online discussion group types are forums and public newsgroups. Forums are usually hosted by a company or organization, and they set the membership requirements. Public newsgroups are open to the general public. Both are good sources of information, though we prefer the public newsgroups because they tend to be more active.
Newsgroups can be read and posted to using "news reader" software or by using the Google web site. To access the main RV newsgroup via Google, follow this link:rec.outdoors.rv-travel. Once there, sign up for a free account so that you may post new messages and reply to others.
More details are available on our Discussion Groups page.
Is RV camping possible with a car or SUV?
Yes, there are a good number of small, light-weight trailers that can be pulled behind full-size cars, SUV's, and vans fitted for towing. The best type of RV for light vehicles is the Folding Trailer (also called a tent trailer). See our list of Folding Trailer RV Manufacturers.
Is an RV a good option as cheap, stationary housing?
An RV is usually not the cheapest housing option. Even with an inexpensive unit, the costs of the RV, site rent, electricity, and propane will be at or very near the rent of a small apartment. In addition, an RV will require more time and money to maintain than an apartment, eating into your savings. We have met individuals who live very frugally in small RV's, but these are the exceptions—the lifestyle changes required to make this a reality would be considered too harsh by most.