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How to Buy an RV

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Salesperson handing over keys to the new owners of a class A motorhomeThinking of buying an RV? The most important thing is to do your research. There are so many types of RV's that you can be easily confused. If you are not familiar with the differences, we suggest you read our article What type of RV is right for you? This will give you a good overview of the different types and their pros and cons.

Make a Wish List

One of the unique aspects of the RV market is that there are vehicles for every taste and budget. Start with the basics, thinking about how you will use it and what you want from your RV. For example:

  • Will you use it for long trips or short trips?
  • Will you stay in one place for a long time or move around a lot?
  • How many people will it need to accommodate?
  • Do you need bathroom facilities?
  • What size vehicle can you drive comfortably?
  • Will you be able to handle it confidently backing up?
  • Do you want new or second hand?

Make a buying check list and do not forget to include any extra amenities you may wish for, but remember RV's are usually designated by length; the longer the RV the more expensive it will be. Also determine your budget ahead of time and stick to it. If you're financing, be sure to take into consideration all other monthly expenses, including the cost of your RV payment, to determine what you can afford.

Do Your Homework

Next visit a local trade show, (a list of trade shows can be found at RVIA) and look at what is on offer. It's the best way to compare layouts and features side by side. Talk to dealers, other owners and other buyers. Get brochures, take photos of ones you see and study floor plans to give you ideas of what will suit you and your requirements. You should also visit your local RV dealers too. You can find your local dealer at RVDA.

Considering joining a local RV club, subscribe to recreation vehicle magazines and newsletters and search various RV forums to hear peoples stories, tips and advice on RVs and buying. Once you have narrowed down your selection research the price. If you already own an RV and want to trade it in or sell it outright research what it is currently worth. Try NADA guides, RV Trader, RVT.com or Camping World as a starting point. Make sure you know what everything is worth before you start talking to a dealer to buy.

Look at different financing options to find the best one for you. Most dealers offer in house finance deals through national banks, finance companies or credit unions. Check if you qualify for a tax deduction as you might be eligible if you don't already have a second home mortgage. The RV will have to be used as security for the loan and have living accommodation, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen facilities. Most RV's are equipped with these and therefore eligible for tax savings. Take your time and be sure of all financing options before you buy.

Finally as part of your research, rent the type of RV you are most interested in for the weekend to get some invaluable hands-on experience. Two of the largest rental companies in the United States are Cruise America and El Monte RV. See our article on How to Rent an RV for more details about renting.

Negotiate the Price

The best time to buy is the end of the summer as dealers are looking to get rid of last summer's stock.

When with a dealer, negotiate the price as you would a car, seek out a bargain. There are far more RV manufacturers than car manufacturers use this fact to your advantage. If you can't find the style and options you want at the right price then keep looking. Remember never pay the sticker price. Some dealers mark up as much as 40%

When picking the RV, avoid discontinued models despite their discounted prices. Warranty issues and lack of repair parts can often erode any savings made on the original purchase price. Look for the RVIA seal (Recreation Vehicle Industry Association). As members of RVIA, manufacturers who display the seal must self-certify compliance with more than 500 safety specifications for electrical, plumbing, heating, fire and life safety established under the American National Standards Institute.

Also stick with brands that have a national network of authorized repair dealers as it can get expensive if you have to go to a dealer miles away from your home to take care of warranty issues. Even the best brands of RVs will have some problems. An extended warranty may be a good idea but know that most manufacturers don't allow their warranties to be transferred.

Inspect the RV

Thoroughly check the RV, especially if you are buying second hand to make sure everything is in good working order.

First look at the interior:

  • If there is a shower make sure that there are no cracks in the floor, no water leaks
  • Check the toilet flushes properly
  • If there is an exhaust fan does it work?
  • Do the overhead vent fans work?
  • Run the air conditioning for a while to make sure the air gets cold
  • Check the interior furniture and flooring, making sure that there are no signs of excess wear or damage
  • Do the windows and doors open and close properly?
  • Look in cupboards and at walls and ceilings for signs of water stains and sagging
  • Are the oven, water heater and refrigerator all working and in good condition?
  • Check the battery electrolyte level. A low level is a sign of neglect, ask for purchase date and check for condition.
  • Is there enough storage space, and are the mattresses in good condition?
  • Do the internal lights work?

Next look at the exterior:

  • Are the tires worn?
  • Is there any damage to the bodywork?
  • Are holding tanks, gas hoses and seals all in safe working order?
  • Is the rear ladder in good condition?
  • Do all the hydraulic jacks work?
  • Ask if there are any items still under warranty
  • Any loose screws or signs of rust?
  • If there is an awing does it open and close easy?
  • Is the fabric in good condition and the support arms straight?
  • Check the roof. Has the seams got any cracks or punctures?
  • Do the door locks work properly and the locks on the external compartment doors?
  • Are the lights, headlamps and exterior safety lights working?

Take the RV for a test drive to get a feel for its maneuverability, handling and power. Is it right for you?

Finally find out what after sale service the dealer will provide. Often they can provide discounted camping at local campgrounds or inform you of local camping events.

That's it, before you know it your will be out on the road and enjoying the great outdoors!

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