Tips for Buying an RV
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22 Important Things to Consider Before Buying an RV

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Tips for Buying an RV
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An RV — Without Any Regret

If this is the year you're finally going to realize your dream of buying an RV, congratulations — few things can compete in terms of freedom and adventure. But instead of looking at an RV as your ticket to chasing wanderlust in a carefree life on the road, think of it as what it is: a five- or even six-digit investment that depreciates quickly and comes with a seemingly endless list of things that can potentially go wrong. From where and when to buy, to factors you likely haven't considered, to what to avoid, here are some expert advice, tips, and tricks on how to leave the deal with the RV of your dreams — and no buyer's remorse.

Related: Where to Buy an RV Across America

Start With Research
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Start With Research

Bob Hamilton is the founder of RV Dream, an online source for RV-related information that's been going strong for more than 20 years. According to him, the purchase process must start with thorough research, and a lot of that can be done online from home. "There are many RV forums online, and seasoned RVers are more than happy to share opinions on their coaches," he says.

Get Hands-on Research, Too
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Get Hands-on Research, Too

Do some practical research, too, Hamilton says: "Rent an RV and do a weekend or longer with it to decide if you like the lifestyle. There are many different sizes and kinds of RVs — classes A, B, and C, travel trailers, fifth wheels, toy haulers, and more. Your perfect RV depends on the size of your family, how often and where you are going to travel to, and how comfortable you are with driving. The big class As are wonderful but for many, they are very scary to drive." Another useful hands-on rental experience would be a stay in an RV park, where "you can check out other people's rigs and get their personal critiques on the good and the bad," Hamilton says. "RVers are almost always friendly and willing to share their stories."

Consider Private Sellers
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Consider Private Sellers

Kimberly DeCarrera, the writer behind RV Tailgate Life, a blog devoted to the tailgating, travel, and RVing communities, is on her second RV, but purchased her first from a private seller. "You can go to RV Trader and RVT to find private sellers. Some people also have success on Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace." During your search, also join social media groups and pages with RV-related information and tips to hook up with potential sellers. "Surprisingly, Facebook groups and RV forums are another good resource for buying an RV, especially a used one," notes Brooke Baum of TrailingAway.com, who travels full time with her husband Buddy.

The Benefits of Buying Used
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The Benefits of Buying Used

If you are buying from a private seller, chances are you won't be your RVs first owner. That can actually be a good thing, according to Kelly Beasley, co-founder of RV education and product review site Camp Addict. "It's quite common to hear stories from people buying new, and the RV has issue after issue and stays in the shop for months," she says. In cases like these, owners have often already worked out any kinks from the factory. Furthermore, owners have sometimes already paid for upgrades to their RVs after buying new, which also means used models are often better-equipped than new ones.

Avoid Buying on the Coasts
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Avoid Buying on the Coasts

Vehicles bought on the coasts, particularly the wet East Coast, are notorious for dying earlier than their inland counterparts. "I would always hesitate to buy an RV from a coastal region," DeCarrera says. "The salt and water will cause corrosion. Also be on the lookout for salvaged RVs damaged from flooding. These are often uninsurable due to severe water damage and mold, so a deal can be too good to be true."

Insist Upon an Inspection
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Insist Upon an Inspection

While Beasley notes that with private-seller purchases, "you can usually tell if they have taken care of it or not," RV buyers should still plan to get the vehicle inspected before handing over any cash. DeCarrera agrees: "I've seen lots of stories from RV buyers that got scammed because they trusted sellers online." An inspection will give you piece of mind, notes Baum. "There are hundreds of components in an RV," she says, "and certain things like mold or faulty wiring aren't things you want to find out about on your first RV trip."

Auctions Are Not For Novices
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Auctions Are Not For Novices

If you have the cash up front and you're confident in your experience and knowledge, there are deals to be had at auctions. But buyer beware. According to Beasley, RVs bought at auction can have any number of things wrong with them, and once the money changes hands, you're on your own. "I would never buy from an auction," she says. "There are too many possibilities for the vehicle to have big issues."

Consider the Old-Fashioned Way: Your Local Dealer
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Consider the Old-Fashioned Way: Your Local Dealer

"For my second RV, I bought new from a dealer," DeCarrera notes, "I bought from Campers Inn in Byron, Georgia, and have been very satisfied with the purchase process and follow-up service." Beasley agrees. "Your local dealer is the obvious first place to look for RVs," she says. "This is a great way to get your eyes on many different layouts and designs."

Read Reviews
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Read Reviews

If you do decide to go the dealer route, keep an open mind but take convincing reviews to heart. "We haven't found a particular dealer or brand of RV to be especially stand-out enough to recognize them," Hamilton says. "If you do research online, it will be obvious as to where you will be treated the best and what rigs other people love." And, Beasley notes, "just like with car dealerships, their main mission is to sell as many RVs as possible. They probably aren't looking out for your best interest." So, again, do your research and head to the lot armed with knowledge.

Time Your Purchase Right
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Time Your Purchase Right

Grant Sinclair and his wife run the blog Our Wander-Filled Life, which documents their time on the road with their travel trailer. According to him, not all seasons are created equal when it comes to scoring great dealership prices on RVs. New models, he notes, typically come out in fall and early winter, which can be a great time to buy because dealers are trying to make room by clearing out last year's model — something they often do with steep discounts. This also happens to be when the summer camping and traveling season has ended, so not as many people are looking to buy, which can translate into deals. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, Sinclair says, and exceptions are to be expected. For example, he bought his RV in the spring and still got a great deal.

Consider an End-of-Month Purchase
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Consider an End-of-Month Purchase

Just as the season can sometimes determine the price, so, too, can the time of the month. "It can be beneficial to purchase new near the end of the month," Beasley says. "Salesmen often have a quota to reach. They are better able and more likely to give you the best deal at months' end to make quota and improve their bottom line."

Check Out RV Shows for Deals, Too
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Check Out RV Shows for Deals, Too

Sites like RV Miles list the most significant shows in the U.S. and Canada, where you can meet salespeople, browse the latest models, compare features, price models of interest, and yes, buy your dream RV. "The [shows] are really great for figuring out what you want — lots of different types of RVs with a lot of different features in one place — and for talking with salesmen and finance companies for initial approvals or preliminary discussions, even if you don't buy at the show," DeCarrera says. "I definitely recommend that you cruise several shows before buying."

Related: These Are the RV Shows You Don't Want to Miss

Do a Price Comparison
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Do a Price Comparison

Shows are a great place to find the RV of your dreams, and you can certainly find good prices at shows. You'd be wise, however, to be patient and conduct a price check before you fork over any money. "Once you find the make and model you want, get on the internet and look for models around the country," Sinclair says. "We ended up buying ours 90 miles away and saved a lot of money by making the drive." DeCarrera recommends visiting local dealerships near the shows, as well. "Buying at RV shows can be hit or miss. They often have great deals on RVs, but you can often find 'show prices' at the local dealership."

Buy on the Show's Last Day
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Buy on the Show's Last Day

Just like with dealer purchases, the timing of when you decide to buy at an RV show can score you a deal. Baum believes that you're most likely to get a great price as the show is winding down. Some RVers, she notes, have gotten deals that way "because the dealers don't want to have to drive the rigs back to their lots."

Negotiate — and Never Pay Full Price
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Negotiate — and Never Pay Full Price

No matter where, when, or who you buy from, negotiation is key. "Never pay full price for a new RV," Hamilton says. "They are extremely overpriced." He bought his used 2010 travel trailer in 2014 for considerably less than the asking price of $16,000. "I told them I would pay $10,000 out the door, with no extra fees on top, and that's what I got after much negotiation," he says. "I just waited them out. It's the same with buying any other type of vehicle. Be prepared to walk away from the deal. Don't fall in love." Baum concurs. "RVs are marked up pretty high," she says. "So, if you negotiate, you could get 20%-25% off MSRP."

Ask for Extra Features
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Ask for Extra Features

Finally, you should consider seeking bells and whistles as part of the negotiation. "In terms of getting the best deal, negotiate as far down as you can with the dealer," Sinclair says, "then ask them to throw in important items like a weight-distributing hitch, slide toppers, or solar panels. These are costly but useful add-ons, and you will be glad you put them on."

Focus on Floor Plan Over Brand
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Focus on Floor Plan Over Brand

No matter where you buy — private seller, dealer or RV show — don't go into any deal with your heart set on a certain brand. Floor plan, Sinclair suggests, should trump manufacturer. "The main thing is to pick a floor plan you like and that meets your needs. Then look at brands — which have the bells and whistles you want?"

Focus on Brand Over Seller
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Focus on Brand Over Seller

While floor plans are important, Beasley believes that the brand should come before the person or place where you purchase your RV. "More important than who you buy from is what brand you purchase," she says. "There are many RVs out there that are made with such cheap construction, they are bound to have issues pretty much from the start." For motorhomes Beasley recommends Tiffin, Newmar, and Coach House, and for trailers, Outdoors RV, Northwood Manufacturing, and Grand Design.

Consider a Factory Tour
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Consider a Factory Tour

To help gauge which brands won't sell you an RV you'll regret, take a factory tour. Some manufacturers offer them to give the public a chance to see the quality of their products. Baum suggests taking them up on that offer to get a look at the manufacturing process and the inner workings of the RV you're contemplating buying. "Their websites are also filled with valuable information like floor plans, specifications, and video tours," Baum says. "While going to a dealer can greatly help with seeing which RV will be your best fit, it is also important to do a lot of your own research since the dealer won't likely know all of the features and quirks of every RV."

Know What Warranty Covers What
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Know What Warranty Covers What

After you make a final purchase decision, there are a number of factors you need to pay attention to — one of those is warranties, Hamilton says. "You will have guarantees on your new RV. Don't get confused on the chassis guarantee vs. the house items inside such as a refrigerator, hot water heater, air conditioner, generator, etc." Many RVers buy extended warranties as well, he notes. "Replacing an item in the RV house is a lot more expensive than doing the same in your home."

Insist Upon and Document a Walkthrough
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Insist Upon and Document a Walkthrough

The next post-purchase factor to pay close attention to is the walk-through. "When you buy an RV, get the seller — whether a private seller or a dealership — to do a complete walk-through of all the systems, inside and out of the RV," DeCarrera says. "Video it because, even if you are taking notes, you are getting so much information thrown at you at one time, there is no way to remember everything. And you probably won't know what was important enough to write down or not."

Finally, Factor in Follow-Up Service
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Finally, Factor in Follow-Up Service

According to DeCarrera, the seller's follow-up service package has to be one of the biggest considerations. "It's quite common in the RV industry to have problems getting service completed on your RV," she says. "Because of the limited number of RV service centers and complicated nature of RV repair, there is high demand and low supply on quality repair shops. As a result, many RV dealers will refuse to work on an RV, even if it is under warranty, if that dealership did not sell the RV. From that perspective, buying from an RV dealership near home is a good idea." Hamilton agrees. "It is an adage that this first year of a new RV's life is a shakedown cruise with frequent visits to the service department," he says. "Local dealers will generally give the first consideration to people who bought their RV from them. If you bought a new RV from a dealer hundreds of miles away, your local dealer may be obliged to service it, but you may have to wait in line and that could even be weeks before they can or will help you."