In the first part of our guide, we discussed what kind of RV to buy. In Part 2, we’ll discuss how to buy an RV.
How to buy an RV
In our the first part of our guide, we discussed what you can buy. And we hope it illustrates just how wide a variety of options you have when looking to get out and explore the world in an RV. But, the next question we have is, how do we buy an RV?
Buying an RV is not like buying a car, it can actually be more like buying a house. For example, your RV purchase will have plumbing, appliances, a bed, a bathroom, etc. You’ll have to look at a lot of things the same way you would as buying a home. That said, you do have to keep in mind you are also either buying a vehicle or a trailer, and that means chassis, frames, axles, tires, and possibly engines. So, how do you go about buying an RV?
Start with research
Knowledge is power. In RV buying, doubly so.
Once you kind of understand all the aspects of what you really want to be doing in an RV, you need to know some things – in reality, a LOT of things: What you want, what you like, where you’ll camp, how long you’ll camp, how many people you’ll be bringing, what the weather will be like. Do you need power, water, a truck? How many things will you bring with you? And on and on and on.
Don’t despair, it sounds much more complicated than it is. Researching helps a lot. You can get information about RVs from a variety of sources:
- manufacturers websites
- Facebook groups
Use ALL of these. We are heavy researchers, in our destinations and in our purchases. Learn all you can about who are the good manufacturers and who are the bad. Decide if you want used or new, then research what that means to your purchase.
New or Used
That brings up probably the most debated topic. Do you buy new or do you buy used?
Buying an RV is always an experience. We’ve owned six RVs over the years and we’ve learned more about buying them each time. We still make mistakes. So, forewarning, if it is your first RV, you will make mistakes in the buying process.
Once you get further along in your RV buying research, you will invariably get to the conversation (or argument) of new versus used. Everyone has an opinion; so listen to them, but also remember their opinions are shaped by their experiences. The new versus used argument is a big one. Expect you may not know coming out the gate which is best.
Get an RV Inspector
I can’t stress this enough…the dealer wants to sell you that specific unit. If you like the unit, but are unsure of its quality, then DO NOT BUY IT! See if the dealer has a different unit on the lot (or another lot.) See if there is another dealer in your area that has one. Do not let them sell you that unit if there are any issues you aren’t comfortable with. Once you sign for it, their tune WILL change, and not in your favor.
But, how do I know if it is a quality unit? You hire an RV inspector. Whether you are buying new or used, there is a group in the US called the RVIA, RV Industry Association, and they have a bevy of RV Inspectors you can hire to review any RV on your behalf for a reasonable fee. They will impartially inspect an RV while hooked up to power and water so that you can be sure you know what would need to be addressed before taking possession.
Inspectors will look at the RV looking for water damage, seals, appliances, seals and all things in between. They can save you from a lemon.
A new RV has some advantages. No one has owned it before you. It doesn’t have the wear and tear a used RV has. It has a warranty. It has that new RV smell.
These are all great aspects to a new RV, but no RV is perfect, you will want to be sure you very carefully check EVERYTHING about the RV to be assured it is in good shape before you even sign paperwork.
Don’t let the pretty and nice and cool aesthetic fool you. You need to be sure the unit is inspected by someone who is working for you. They will be sure you know all the things that need fixing. A new rig should be in as good a shape as you can possibly get. The inspector can be sure that you get a punch list of issues that you know about and can make the dealer fix BEFORE you accept the keys.
The value of your RV will immediately drop by about 30% the moment you drive it off the lot. This is well know and so, being sure it is the one you want is important because trying to sell it back a few months later may or may not net you what you invested in the first place. You just lose a LOT of value right after purchase.
So, negotiate your price as hard as you can. They’ll entice you with “sale” pricing. No dealer in the industry ever sells at MSRP, so don’t buy at MSRP, ever. Sale pricing is just playing in the fudge factor they have built in between what their bottom price is and MSRP. MSRP is what lenders will go up to, but get as much out of the dealer as you can.
Before signing anything, request a copy of the warranty for the unit you are interested in and read the whole thing. I know, boring! BUT! It can save you an immense amount if you know the limits of the warranty from the get go. We live full time in our fifth wheel. We didn’t do this and discovered the manufacturer doesn’t cover some things for full time RVers. We would have purchased a different RV had we actually known.
Be sure to ask the dealer if they know of any issues with that particular unit. Legally, they need to tell you if you ask.
Also know that RVs are like IKEA, all the parts are assembled by the manufacturer from a variety of pieces. Your warranty on your fridge is from the fridge manufacturer, the warranty on your axels is from that manufacturer. So, if you buy a Winnebago, you are buying at least a dozen different warranties, and they all cover things for different lengths of time and for different types of issues.
Used RVs can be a really good deal. You can find some really quality units out in the market and you can make some really good deals. You get some advantages to buying used, but there are always gotchas to every good deal.
Used units really shine the light on the original manufacturer’s build quality. There are a whole slough of things to look at when buying used. Your RV inspector will help guide you on things like water damage, delamination, systems failures, etc., but that is just a single point in your journey. Use the research you’ve done ahead of time on the make, model and year of RV you are looking at. You’ll know what your average market price is, what issues those units are typically know to have had and whether you should even be buying that unit in the first place.
A quality used RV will have already incurred the 30% initial drop in value, so, you can be somewhat comforted that the value they are selling it for is going to hold for a longer time. Even so, research via Nada or Edmonds will help you to know what the average retail for that unit is and whether you should negotiate the price lower. If the price is significantly lower than average retail, then be especially wary…that could be wear and tear or something hidden beneath the surface. Lean on your inspector to ferret those kinds of issues out.
RVs on the used market are typically “As Is, No Warranty.” So, it is what it is. Dealers will almost assuredly try to sell you an extended warranty. These usually look and sound like they cover everything that would normally be covered by the manufacturer. Don’t believe the marketing hype.
If they offer one, find out who the warranty servicer is and search them on the Internet. Find out if they are reputable or a scam. This can add thousands of dollars to your final bill, so, be as informed as possible about them. They can be a lifesaver or a boat anchor.
What more do you need to know?
The more you know, the better you’ll be when evaluating and buying your first or your next RV. There are many groups of fellow RVers online that can help with questions and advice. The Road Life Project, Escapees and Xscapers, FMCA, Good Sam, RVillage plus countless other forums and groups that can be incredible sources of information to help you with your purchasing decision. RVers are a helpful crowd, we all love sharing with each other and we’re here to lend our experiences.
Thanks for joining us on our journey!