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10 Critical Steps To Buying An RV

Step 1:  Decide if an RV is right for you.

 An RV is an expensive investment that will not appreciate in value.  In other words, no matter how you slice it an RV is going to cost you money.  Make certain that this is where you want to spend your hard earned income.

Many suggest, and I certainly do not disagree, that one way to learn about RVs is to rent one at least for a weekend.  This experience will likely hook you on RVing or send you packing, but that is the purpose.  A week would be even better.  It will also help you determine what size is right for you.  The experience of hooking, unhooking and dumping will bring home the realities of RV life. 


Step 2:  Know what you can afford. 

 The first decision is whether to purchase an RV, but after that comes what you want and what you can afford.  The absolute best advice that I can give is to know what you can afford first.  Think about how much you can put down and what monthly payments you can comfortably make including insurance and parking fees, leaving room for traveling money.  Also put something aside to stock your RV the way you want it.  This might include silverware, dishes, towels, extra toiletries, and assorted items to keep your RV clean as well as a variety of tools.      

Step 3:  What type RV is best for your needs, Trailer or Motorhome?


One of your earliest decisions is whether to buy a trailer or a motorized unit.  This was quite easy for us because I can’t pull much with my subcompact and we enjoy being able to just pull over and have the amenities readily available.  Of course if you already own a vehicle with the power to pull a trailer (and you can put some of them behind a minivan or SUV) you might want to consider the benefits of a trailer.  One of the benefits is that they cost a great deal less than a motorized unit.

 Step 4:  Do Internet research.

 Spend some time on the Internet prior to visiting RV showrooms.  This will make it easier for you to use some RV lingo, and provide an idea of pricing.  There are thousands of sites that will provide you with the type of information you need.  Jump in with a few search terms about RVs and start the adventure.


 Step 5: Determine what size is best for you.

 Whether a motorized unit (motor home) or a trailer is right for you the next decision relates to the size you need and/or want.  The best way to begin making this decision is to hit the RV Dealers on weekends or whenever you can.  If you live in a large metropolitan area you should have a great deal to see.  Finding a large RV Show is also a plus.  It is worth your time and effort even if you have to travel to one, but make certain there will be plenty for you to see and evaluate.

 Comparing a Class A (usually the largest) and a Class B (usually the smallest) and a Class C (you will note the overhang over the cab) is a lot like the old saying about apples and oranges.  One thing you will quickly learn is that, like life, there are tradeoffs.  If you want all the comforts of home be prepared to get 8 miles per gallon or less.  If you are willing to make do in a smaller unit (they have most of the same amenities only in much less space) then you can improve your gas mileage to as high as 18 to 20 mpg.  Before you decide, spend some time in one.  By that I mean sit and walk around and think about how you would cook, use the shower, or watch TV.  Where would you store dishes and clothes or whatever you would be taking along.

 Step 6:  Use the Internet to improve your overall knowledge about RVing. 

 While doing a bit of research for this column I located many sites that are helpful whether you are a beginner or old timer.  I have a link to information on some excellent web sites in RV Links on this site.   

 Step 7:  Determine how much you should pay for your dream RV.

 A question often asked and seldom answered to my satisfaction is how much should you pay for an RV or to put it another way what type of discount can you expect to get off the MSRP?  When buying a car it is relatively easy to determine the dealer cost, but such is not the case for RVs.  After weeding your choices down to one or two you can again hit the internet.  You will find some dealers advertising a discounted price on line.  Check dealers all over the country, because you are only interested in getting an idea about price. 

 If you are able to find forums on the internet that relate to the particular unit you want to purchase it is a good place to ask.  I spent several months on the Yahoo Rialta group sites (3) before purchasing my first RV and gained a tremendous amount of knowledge.  In any event expect a substantial discount from MSRP.  I’ve seen units with an MSRP of $99,000 quoted at under $70,000.  You might find it worthwhile to pay a little more and purchase from a local dealer, if that dealer seems able to provide good service. 

 I have not discussed buying a used RV though this can save you a lot of money.  Many web sites provide good pricing information about used units.  I am willing to pay more in order to have the security of a full warranty for at least the first year and in some cases two years.  However, if you are able to take a little risk there are bargains galore.  There are also a number of companies that will sell you an extended warranty, though that is a subject unto itself.

 Step 8:  Compare financing costs. 

 Then of course there is for most of us the question of financing.  Once again the Internet is a good place to start.  I checked the rates at Bank of America where we had financed our first RV.  I also talked with my local bank.  Armed with that information I let the dealer see what they could do and wound up with a 5.99 per cent interest rate for 180 months.  This rate is very competitive. 

 Step 9:  Compare insurance products and costs.

Insurance is another matter to be considered.  As an example, we will be paying a little over $800 per year for insurance on our new Class C.  When you drive your brand new RV off the dealer’s lot it will substantially depreciate.  An accident could leave you financially upside down.  Having replacement insurance provides more protection.  When comparing rates be certain to check with companies that do a great deal of RV insurance.  The company that provides your homeowners and auto insurance may do very little insuring of RVs and therefore not have a product that really protects you.  GMAC and Progressive both do a lot of RV insurance and while I’ve had both of them, I currently use GMAC. 


Step 10: Check it out.

 Over a period of several months we attended an RV Show, visited several dealers and spent quality time in various units.  After settling on a Class C we drove one identical to the one we wanted.  (The unit we wound up purchasing was not at the dealer at that time.)  Prior to accepting our unit we conducted a thorough walk through and also drove it.  Buying a new unit gives us some comfort since the unit is under warranty.  However, before leaving we ran every system and moved everything that could be moved.  We used the RV with and without shore power and in general put it through its paces.

 To give you an idea of how things can go wrong; we spent some hours learning about and operating systems.  The radio was clearly marked Sirius Ready.  It was the one thing I didn’t check on prior to leaving the dealership.  According to Jayco, Sirius Ready, doesn’t mean the radio is ready.  It means the radio is ready for you to purchase several items to make it ready.  I will complain, but it is my slip up that let this happen.  So again, I say, check everything.

 An RV has allowed us to go places we would not have gone without one.  We have been in 48 States and several Canadian Provinces.  The experiences we’ve had make RVing our favorite mode of travel. 


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