RV 101 - Tips for Buying Your First RV

In 2006, we bought our first RV. It was a 25 foot travel trailer with a slide. We parked it in our garage and used it for living quarters while building our house. In 2014, we bought our second RV, this time to travel!

If you are new to the RV world, there is a definite process for choosing a recreational vehicle. To help you get from A to Z, I have created a series of RV 101 articles. Each article offers questions, tips and tricks aimed at making your experience a whole lot easier than ours. If you haven't read them yet, start at the beginning and work your way through.

RV 101- How To Choose The Perfect RV

RV 101- Types of RV's You Must Know

Tip #1: Where To Buy Your RV

Start by looking on RVT for the style of rig you want. This will give you a great idea of the price range and the options you can expect to consider.

If you plan to buy new, find a LARGE dealer that can offer you significant discounts. A company like MHSRV or Lazy Days is able to sell in volume. This means you can often save 25-35% off the manufactured retail price. Sure, you may have to fly down to the lot, but you will be amazed at just how much you can save.

If you look online and the dealer won't post their prices, move on. This is a tactic to reel you in. There are plenty of other places that list their price up front and the discounts are before you negotiate.

Be aware that the big dealers often get factory incentives. This means they have many rigs with no options or a few specific options. The dealer will then pitch upsells or upgrades that their service center can install.

Watch for scare tactics.

A common practice is to show you the RV you want first, then the dealer will take you to an RV that isn't as nice. Finally, the dealer will take you to a rig that is way bigger than you want. When you return to the original RV, it looks perfect. This is a very common tactic, so don't go in uninformed.

Start by looking at their website and connecting with a sales associate. Be sure the lot has what you are looking for. Large dealers also carry used models, but don't expect to find the same type of discounts. Oftentimes, the used models are trade ins or consignment and aren't a priority to them.

If you plan to buy used, look for an independent owner or a local, reliable lot. Be sure to read reviews and talk to people who have purchased before you. Independent owners can be found on RVT.

Tip #2: Avoid Buying At An RV Show

RV shows are an excellent way to see a variety of units all at one time. This is a great thing to do in the early stages of your search.

Arrive with your goals in mind. What are you looking for? How do you want to use your RV? What is your price range? How are you paying for your rig?

Plan to spend the day and wear comfortable shoes. Big RV shows should not be tackled in an hour. Allow plenty of time and enjoy yourself. Attend some of the seminars, sit on the RV furniture and don't be afraid to check everything out.

Researching solar options? An RV Show has you covered. Looking for insurance? Longing for an entertainment center? Searching for a camping membership? These are the types of booths you will find at a large expo.

But what about buying your RV?

In most cases, the "deals" offered at an RV show are about 25% off. This may look like a good deal, but if you are willing to travel you may be able to find a better deal elsewhere.

Be aware that sales people do not want to pack the rigs up and return them to their lot. At the end of the last day, they are more likely to offer you a special. RV Shows are also the best place to find factory incentives. These are not always a good deal, so be sure to read the fine print.

Even so, I would not recommend buying at a show. It's just too easy in the heat of the moment.

Tip #3: Buy Direct and Buy Late

Before we bought our motorcoach, we were considering a fifth wheel toy hauler. To our amazement, we could save a significant amount by ordering from a buyer right up where the rigs are built.

Check for deep discount websites where the physical lot is in Illinois or Ohio. These RV companies are close to the manufacturers and can offer big discounts.

Here's an example: I was looking at Heartland Cyclone 45 foot toy hauler. Retail has been $97,000 just about everywhere. With a company near the manufacturer, I could get one at $66,544 NEW. That is a 33% discount which gives me extra money for options. If you are looking for used, you may find models that are a few years older. I found the same Cyclone now just four years old that was only $39,000.

Note: You can see from this example, just how fast many RV values drop. That is why many people prefer to buy used.

Buying late in the year can save you a bundle. Expect to see better sales in the late summer and early fall. The new models are coming out and the old models are on sale. Don't expect to get a lot of customization.

If you want to have a rig built to your requirements, then order early in the year. Expect a 2-6 month wait for a unit. Yep, that's called supply and demand and if supply is short, expect the price on used units to be higher than normal.

If you are looking for a deal (new or used!), look for a unit still on the lot in late summer or early fall!

Tip #4: Always Have An Inspection

Inspections by an independent, certified RV inspector are essential if you are buying used. You can find one by visiting the website NRVIA (National RV Inspectors Association). Contact them and ask them for a local recommendation.

Many people recommend hiring an independent before buying a new unit as well. Dealers do a poor job of inspecting your RV and most buyers find themselves in the shop a lot in the first few months of the warranty.

For a couple hundred bucks, you can save a big hassle and possibly thousands of dollars!

Tip #5: Buy The Best - Save The Rest

If you plan to live in your RV full-time, it's best to buy the highest quality, most residential unit you can afford. Life puts a lot of wear and tear on recreational vehicles. If you don't want to look for something new every two to three years, buy something solid the first time around.

Buy the best you can afford, but remember you will need a cash cushion for the unexpected. Even if your rig is brand new, there will be items you need or things you want to customize.

Sure, there are tons of videos on how to "pimp" your RV and make it look like home. All you need is a gallon of paint, some vinyl flooring and a slip cover. Truth is, that may look great in photos, but it won't hold up in the real world. Choose a solid build above all else. You'll be glad you did.

Tip #6: Don't Let The Service Scare you

A common sales tactic is to tell the potential buyer if you don't buy an RV from the dealership you won't be able to have it serviced elsewhere. Really? This is a rotten way to sell RV's and from the people I have known who fell for this, they find the service lines are huge for their rigs. This means that even though the dealership will service their RV, it may have to sit for months for them to get to it.

Another common lie is to tell you how great their service is compared to other dealerships. Don't take that at face value. Shop around and ask other people. There are always great service shops and terrible service shops. Find out which one is which from an independent source.

Tip #7: We Don't See It If You Don't See It

Believe it or not, some dealerships know there are issues with a rig (even if it's new) and won't mention it unless you see it. This saves them time and money. It's just a terrible pain in the rear for you!

Some dealers are now requiring pre-delivery inspections when a new unit comes to their lot. They check everything before they sell it. If it isn't right, they don't accept it from the factory. Ask what your dealership's acceptance policy is.

Once you sign on the bottom line, expect to rocket through the RV walk-through. Oh yes, they will show you some of the basics, but your mind will be too overwhelmed to absorb it. This is common practice.

If possible, buy from an RV dealer that offers free camping for two nights. This allows you to stay on the property, test everything out and ask questions when needed. Make sure you ask for this option BEFORE you sign your papers. Getting help later isn't always easy.

Tip #8: You Know More Than Many

Believe it or not, you may know more than your salesperson when it comes to the RV of your choice.

RV's change rapidly and it's hard for salespeople to keep up. Look for solid knowledge that applies to a variety of rigs, but don't toss him off for not knowing where a switch is.

Watch for crazy boasts tossed off like bombs. If your salesperson is constantly spouting, beware! Salespeople can make some grand claims. Take note and check out the facts when you leave the lot. If you find the claims are not true, find a different person to work with. It's amazing the lies people spout. Don't receive it. Do your research and know your apples from your oranges. You'll be glad you did.

Tip #9: Financing Made Simple

Most dealerships offer financing options, but don't wait till you get there. Talk to loan institutes before you ever walk on the lot. Know what you can buy and what the rate will be. Most RVs are treated like a home and offer 15 to 30 year payoff periods. The interest is much higher than a home and will vary. Know all the in’s and out’s the best loan offers before you visit the lot. If you know what you can already access, you will be able to tell if the dealer financing is better or worse on your pocket-book.

Before buying, talk to your tax accountant. There are some tax advantages if you are using your RV as a home. Discover the in’s and out’s before you go through the financing process.

Tip #10: Buy More Batteries, Buy New Tires, And Expect Some Miles

If you are buying a towing RV, expect to buy new tires and more batteries. If you are buying a motorcoach and want to Boondock, you will need new batteries.

The RV industry is notorious for skimping on tires and under-powering their backup batteries. No matter what they tell you, most batteries won't power your coach for more than 24 hours and that's generous!

If you want to Boondock or add solar, inspect your potential RV for places to put more batteries. Space is usually cramped and you may need to make some adjustments.

Tires are often cheap rubber, made in China. They tend to be heat sensitive, which can cause them to burst. I have known several people who have purchased 5ers only to have two to three blowouts on their first trip! Avoid the pain. Your budget should include money for new tires!

Another, often unmentioned detail is that your RV won't come with zero miles. Even if a rig is completely new, it had to travel from the manufacturer and could have 2-3 thousand miles on it. Add in a few test miles and you might buy a recreational vehicle with 4,000 miles.

No big deal right?


If your warranty is for the first 10,000 miles and 3,000 of those are already gone, someone is sticking you! Make sure that your warranty paperwork starts at the current mileage and extends a full 10,000 miles. You want your entire warranty enabled, so be sure to double-check your paperwork before you sign!

That's it! Those are my top 10 tips for buying an RV. Oh, and don't forget to test drive the unit. I guess that's an obvious one, right?

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