First, some vocabulary: Most RVs — short for recreational vehicles — have all the comforts of home (a kitchen, bedroom, living room and bath). They are built for travel and come in styles ranging from towable RVs to motor homes, and many can, with essentially the push of a button, expand to provide more living space when parked. By comparison, mobile homes, with which RVs are often confused, are made to stay put.
The basics covered, here are some details:
1. Cost: The sticker price for a new RV can start below $100,000 for a small or medium vehicle, but then the sky's the limit. While buying a used RV will result in a lower purchase price, over time, after repairs and upgrading, the cost may wind up being the same as a new model. (Worth noting: New RVs come with some sort of warranty while used vehicles generally don’t.) For anyone who thinks an RV is a good long-term investment, think again. Unlike with most homes, an RV depreciates in value the minute it's put into use.
2. Gasoline and mileage: The reality is that RVs are gas-guzzlers. RV veteran Trudy Lundgren (see Life on the Road) jokes that her 40-foot home on wheels can get "about 6 or 7 miles a gallon with a tailwind going downhill. If we’re going uphill and there’s a headwind, the mileage goes down to 4." Filling her vehicle's 300 gallon gas tank with diesel fuel tops $900 these days. One silver lining is that because the tank is so large, Lundgren can typically hold out for refueling until she finds a gas station with a good price.
3. Transportation: Yes, many RVs are vehicles, but they're not practical vehicles for taking on a quick jaunt to the supermarket. (If you have trouble parallel parking or backing into spaces with a regular car, well, good luck maneuvering an RV.) And once an RV is nestled into its spot at an RV park and hooked up to the park's water and power supplies, that's a lot of work to casually undo. For those and other reasons most RV owners also own a car, which they use when the RV is parked. The car attaches to the RV by trailer when it's time to relocate.
4. Insurance: As with any vehicle, comprehensive insurance to protect against damage and liability is a must. But since an RV is a home, its contents need to be insured, as well. And RVers who own a car must also insure that vehicle.
5. Camping and settling down: Public and private RV parks can be found throughout the United States, in both scenic and not-so-scenic settings. The quality, amenities and daily rates vary by location and season. Advanced reservations are often required. Stays can be for as short as one night to weeks or months on end. Some properties are geared toward full-time RV living. (See Assisted Living for RV Residents.) An important point is that RVs are sometimes prohibited from using certain roads and highways, and some neighborhoods in the non-RV world don't allow RVs to be parked for a long term on public streets. RV owners should inquire about driving and parking restrictions before visiting a new place or attempting to park in a residential area.