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Helpful Hints for Buying An RV

Buying an RV can be one of the most daunting, overwhelming, exciting, and challenging tasks.  Having recently bought a new one, we know.  There is a rush of emotions before and after you sign your name on that dotted line.  Did you get the best price? Are you sure you made the right decision?  What problems will there be? Should we buy extended insurance and the million other questions that rattle around in your head and seemingly go on and on. 

Before we bought both of our RV’s (which have both been Class A motorhomes), we did lots of research, put lots of thought into our decisions, figured out the purpose of our RV, and talked to LOTS of other RV owners.  We knew we were going to full-time so lots of space was important, but, budget was certainly a concern.  It was important to get the features that we deemed important – like a large kitchen, multiple opposing slide outs, a king size bed, etc.  We looked, thought, discussed, and pondered for nearly three years before buying our first RV.  The planning paid off and we were very happy, satisfied RV owners.  We are glad to say that both of our experiences at Sherman RV in Mississippi and Colerain RV in Cincinnati have been very positive and we would recommend both to prospective buyers.

If you are thinking about buying an RV, ask yourself lots of questions:

  • Where will you be camping?  RV Resorts, state parks, or boon docking in the desert?
  • How often and how long will you be camping?  Will you be traveling every three or four days or parked for extended periods of time?  Are you going full-time or just a few months out of the year?
  • What are the “creature comforts” you want?  A large living area, bunks for the kids/grandkids, outside kitchen?  Do you need space for your pets?
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want to tow a car or tow a trailer?

Once you have answered those and many other relevant questions and are ready to move forward, here is some advice regarding how to proceed.

Step 1:  The “Looking” Period

On-line resources are great and can help you narrow in on what you want but going to dealerships and RV shows are a great way to see the unit in person and get a feel for the quality.  Locate nearby dealers and spend time browsing their lots.  Hopefully, you will find a dealer where you are free to look on your own and not have to be in the presence of a pushy, under-knowledged salesperson.  Local RV shows are a great way to see a plethora of RV’s and get feedback from other owners and prospective buyers.  We found that when looking at shows we were able to talk to other owners and get their feedback – a much more honest opinion than a salesperson.  What did they like about their RV, how was the warranty, did they like the dealership and get good follow up service?  Talking to other owners will give you a better perspective than a salesman working on commission.  But beware: what some people like or don’t like may not be an issue or concern for you. 

Lazydays in Florida has a huge inventory and was a good place for us to look at the manufacturers we were interested in.  
The Tampa RV Show is one of the largest so you might
want to plan on spending a few days there.  

We highly recommend going to large national shows if time and money permits.  Here you will be engulfed by every RV known to buyers.  National shows will have a larger inventory letting you see more floor plans, colors, options, makes, and models.  Another advantage is that there are usually manufacturer representatives there.  Before buying our first RV we were able to attend the Tampa RV Show and talk directly to Bob Tiffin (Founder and CEO of Tiffin Motorhomes).  He explained new design features, how certain things were changed due to customer feedback, and projected an aura of confidence in his product.  It is a good idea to have a sense of what you want, and more importantly, what your budget is before going to the large shows because they can be overwhelming and you may start rethinking what you want.  If you go to the show with the idea that you want a mid-size travel trailer and then start looking at 40+ foot fifth wheels way out of your price range, you may be sorry.

Step 2: Negotiating and Purchase

Here comes the agonizing part.  So you know what you want and have picked out the make, model, color scheme, options and now it comes down to money.  Go back to the computer for some on-line research to see what prices and inventory are out there as you may have to order it.  Whether new or used you want to get a feel for what you will be paying as that sticker price you saw is NOT what you should be paying.  Spend a lot of time online looking and talking to dealers around the country.  Call them and talk to them directly.  Putting them in competition with each other only benefits you.  And DON’t tell them what the other guy is offering on price because it pays to keep them wondering whether or not they are offering you the lowest price.  Be nice, be firm and play hard ball.  After you buy your rig you may never see them again and they really won’t care, trust our experience.  You can be nice but don’t think they are emotionally involved with your happiness as the reality is, they need to make a living and your purchase helps them do that!  They will want you to call them the next time you want to purchase so that adds up to a bit of their caring.  Many of them are very nice people and will take your calls for a while when you have questions but they have bosses that are telling them to make sales and your purchase is pretty much what matters to them.  We hope dealers are reading this because we would sure like their feedback when it comes to how they get to the bottom line.   

Our approach was to call all of the dealers around the entire country and see if they could provide what we wanted (and we were very specific about the model, colors, and options).  Next we provided them with details on our trade.  Be aware: you have much more bargaining power if you do not have a trade.  What mattered to us was the amount we were going to have to pay for the new coach after the trade-in.  Not so much what the value of our trade was and the price of the new one because those numbers are very flexible.  Trade-in values for our Phaeton fluctuated by nearly $60K.  This approach let us compare apples to apples and not figure out how much our trade was worth and how much off the MSRP we were getting.  There was one bottom number we cared about that easily let us evaluate whom we were going to buy from.  

After the dealer has given you their bottom line, walk away, and tell them that you have a lower price from another dealer. They want your sale and you can keep the discussion going. Give it a few days and you may get a call from them, or, it may only take a few hours.  But beware: sometimes it is worth paying a little more if the dealers reputation is really good and others have had good experiences with buying RV’s there.  We did our homework regarding where we bought and had a great experience. 

Step 3: Pre-delivery Inspection and Delivery

Congratulations!  The big day has arrived and you are super excited to feast your gleaming eyes on your new RV and can’t wait to step inside, plop down on the couch and look at all that is yours.  Before your eagerness gets the best of you to start hitching up to drive off the lot remember the pre-delivery inspection (commonly referred to as PDI) is one of the most important steps.  You want a dealer that will spend hours (if not days) with you going over the inside and outside of the RV.  None of this, “here are the keys”, see you later.  Sure you may have had an RV in the past, but things are always different on new and different RV’s.  The fuses are not in the same place, the bathroom sink may drain into the black water tank instead of the grey, you now have an aqua hot instead of a Suburban water heater, the generator compartment opens differently, etc.  Depending on the RV you buy and the complexity of it should dictate the length of the PDI – not the amount of time the dealer wants to give you. 

We camped out in the service area of Colerain RV for a few days.  Moving everything into
our new coach took two days.  During that time we had minor things
fixed and they even moved our bike rack over to the new coach for us.  

Check everything.  Make sure the faucet doesn’t come off in your hand, the toilet seat isn’t cracked, the video actually plays a DVD, there are no scratches, awnings go in and out, wall paper isn’t peeling off. . . you get the picture.   Depending on your dealership’s reputation and concerns for customer service you may, or may not, get good follow-up once you drive off the lot. 

Us with Brandon Moore – our super nice salesman at Colerain RV  

We have always had Class A diesel motorhomes and each time we bought a new coach it took us three days to get everything right and understand the systems before we were ready to drive off the lot.  In our Phaeton, the in-motion satellite option that we paid for was not installed, the DVD player was not hooked-up, and a few other minor things.  Each time we bought a motorhome, we spent a couple of nights in it on the dealer’s lot so we could use it and understand the systems.  While a dealer’s lot is not the most ideal camping spot, it does provide time to learn the RV and get things fixed and questions answered.  The dealership can not ignore you if you are parked in their service area and always in their space.  They seem to have a little more oomph to get things done and you out of there.  

So that is our advice on RV buying.  Hope it helps!


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