Tips for Buying an RV

Thinking About Buying an RV? Read This First

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Tips for Buying an RV

An RV — Without 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, especially during a pandemic. 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 is some expert advice, tips, and tricks on how to leave the dealer with the RV of your dreams and no buyer's remorse.

Related: The Best Places to Buy an RV, Used or New

Start With Research

Start With Research

Bob Hamilton is the founder of RV Dream New Radio, an online source for RV-related information that's been going strong for years. According to Hamilton, 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.

Related: Little-Known Facts About RVs

Get Hands-on Research, Too

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." All of this may be more complicated during coronavirus limitations, but 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."

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Consider Private Sellers

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 bought 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, who travels full time with her husband Buddy.

Related: How Much RV Can You Get for Your Money?

The Benefits of Buying Used
Cultura RF/Zero Creatives/Getty Images

The Benefits of Buying Used

If you are buying from a private seller, chances are you won't be your RV's 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.

Related: Is Buying an RV Through Costco Worth It?

Avoid Buying on the Coasts

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."

Related: Americans Aren't the Only Ones Who Love RVs

man is doing the maintenance of a camper trailer. He is applying a sealant around the windows and other parts of the trailer.

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."

Related: 25 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying an RV

Be Patient
RichLegg / istockphoto / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images CC

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."

Related: 22 Most Iconic RVs From Movies and TV Shows

Consider the Old-Fashioned Way: Your Local Dealer
Mike Watson Images/Getty Images

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."

Related: 21 Surprising Things We Learned at the RV Hall of Fame

Read Reviews

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.

Related: The Best RV Sites in Every State and When to Book Them

Time Your Purchase Right

Time Your Purchase Right

Grant Sinclair and his wife, Bonnie, 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.

Related: The Most Outrageous Luxury RVs Money Can Buy

Various Motorhomes parked in a RV Sales lot

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."

Related: 11 Essential Rules for Negotiating a Discount

RV Show

Check Out RV Shows for Deals, Too

Sites such as RV Miles list the most significant shows in the United States and Canada, where you can meet salespeople, browse the latest models, compare features, price models of interest, and yes, buy your dream RV. (When the shows aren't canceled for coronavirus concerns, anyway.) "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

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."

Related: 24 Affordable Camper Alternatives for Escaping the Crowds

Caravan parking

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."

RV interior

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% to 25% off MSRP."

Related: Why You Really Don't Want to Buy an RV

Ask for Extra Features

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."

Related: 18 RV Accessories to Buy at Costco

RV Interior
Ziga Plahutar/istockphoto

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?"

Related: DIY RVs and Vans You Have to See to Believe

RV Quality Can Be Very Poor

Focus on Brand Over Seller

While floor plans are important, Beasley believes that the brand should also come before the person or place where you buy 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.

RV Factory

Consider a Factory Tour

To help gauge which brands won't sell you an RV you'll regret, take a factory tour. (Again: These likely won't be available again, or shouldn't be taken, until the coronavirus is far in the rearview.) 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
Dean Mitchell/istockphoto

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. "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, Hamilton says. "Replacing an item in the RV house is a lot more expensive than doing the same in your home."

Related: Rookie Mistakes First-Time RV Drivers Make

Insist Upon and Document a Walkthrough

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."

Checking RV Appliances

Finally, Factor in Follow-Up Service

The seller's follow-up service package can be one of the biggest considerations. "It's quite common in the RV industry to have problems getting service completed on your RV," DeCarrera 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."

Related: 30 RV Accessories That Are a Waste of Money