Buying an RV for the first time can be quite daunting. There are so many different brands, types, and options to choose from that the entire process can quickly become confusing.
In this complete RV buying guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know to get a great deal on a new RV.
Before You Look For An RV
Before you even begin shopping, there are many items you need to consider. Please don’t skip these steps as rushing to the dealer could result in a misplaced and expensive purchase that you may have to live with for years to come.
You’ll want to work through your needs, decide what you actually want, find out how much you can tow, consider the additional costs of owning an RV, decide on a budget, and determine how you’ll pay for the RV all before you ever step foot in a dealership.
Taking the time to do this will give you more power when it comes down to actually buying your RV.
Work Through Your Needs
The first step you’ll want to take is to work through your needs. People buy different RVs for different reasons and your reasons for buying will determine what you need.
For example, some people need more sleeping accommodations than others. Other people need extra amenities that others do not care about. Your personal needs will play a big role in determining what RV you should buy.
One of the first things to think about is when you’d actually like to use your RV and in what climate you’d like to use it in. Most RVs are built to be used fair weather and as long as you only plan on using yours in the spring and summer, you probably won’t have anything to worry about.
However, if you plan on using your RV in the winter, you may have to consider going with a special cold-weather addition. Even RVs with heaters can fall victim to frozen pipes and not all RV heaters will work in temperatures below freezing.
The number of beds you need will also dictate the type and size RV you can buy. For example, someone looking for sleeping for six, will not be able to buy a Class B motorhome. Ruling out some types of RV will make the shopping process easier since you’ll have fewer options you have to consider.
Conversely, people looking to buy an RV with sleeping for two may want to consider getting an RV that is smaller and more versatile. This gives you the option to buy an RV that is good for touring as well as long term camping.
Will you be staying in your RV for long periods of time, or are you just using it for weekend getaways? People looking to live in their RV for an entire season may want to look into more amenities.
On the other hand, options like residential refrigerators, recliners and king size beds may not be useful to the person looking to go away on an occasional weekend adventure.
Decide What You Want
Once you’ve determined your needs, you can start to think about what you want. Some dealers specialize in selling motorhomes while others cater exclusively to people in search of travel trailers.
If you’re looking for a specific RV like a class A motorhome then you’ll be able to rule out a lot of different dealerships and even brands.
After you’ve decided on a type of RV, you may want to start thinking about brands. Different brands have different options as well as different reputations for quality. Do some research and decide on a few brands that you feel are worth taking a look at.
Know What You Can Tow
If you’ve decided to go with a towable trailer, you’ll want to know what you can tow before you go to the dealership. Most medium-sized tow vehicles are large enough to tow large campers but you will have to consider the weights of those campers more carefully.
Here are some key points to consider when finding out how much your vehicle can safely tow.
The height, width, and length will determine how difficult to tow, park, and store an RV will be. During transit, the height and length will normally be the most critical factor to consider. When parked, the width and length are usually the most critical areas to concern yourself with.
Some campgrounds, as well as state and national parks, have size restrictions. Also, the height of your garage door may also limit the size of the camper you should get. Regardless of these issues, weak tow vehicles should not tow tall and wide campers as there will be too much wind resistance for the tow vehicle to operate safely.
All vehicles have a limit to how much weight they can tow. This weight limit can be found on the inside opening of your vehicle’s driver side door. If you can’t find this information there, contact your vehicle’s manufacturer for more details.
You’ll want to look at the weight that the vehicle can tow as well as the weight that the vehicle’s hitch can handle. Sometimes a vehicle can handle a camper’s total weight but it can’t handle the camper’s hitch weight. Make sure your vehicle meets both requirements before you decide on a purchase.
Another thought to consider is the type of camper you want to tow. For example, fifth wheel campers can only be towed by trucks. If you don’t have a truck, you’ll have to decide whether or not you want to buy one of if you’d like to switch your purchase to a standard travel trailer.
Also, what type of RV can you properly store? Some towns will allow you to park motorhomes on the street but they won’t allow you to park a camper on the street. Will you need to be able to park your RV on the street or will you be storing it somewhere else?
Think About Associated Costs
In addition to the cost of your RV, you’ll also have to think about all of the other costs associated with owning an RV. Thinking about these additional costs will help you when you have to decide how much you can realistically spend on your new RV purchase.
Here are some costs to consider:
- Camping Fees
RV insurance ranges in price and comes in many different options. If you buy your RV outright then you’ll be able to choose whatever options you like. In fact, if you buy a travel trailer outright, you’ll have the option to self-insure, (which is a fancy way of saying not get insurance).
On the other hand, if you finance your RV you’ll have to get enough insurance to pay for the replacement cost of the RV. Also, motorhomes must be insured as they are a form of motor vehicle. This means that even if you pay cash to purchase your motorhome, you’ll still need to pay a monthly insurance premium.
An RV breaks down much quicker than a standard house does. RVs are subject to road conditions, high winds, and driving rains each time they are moved. To keep your RV in good condition you’ll have to do seasonal checks of the roof as well as the HVAC and plumbing systems.
While RVs do not cost as much to maintain as a house, new roofs and new HVAC systems do cost money. You’ll want to set aside about 2% of the cost of buying the RV each year for ongoing maintenance.
Will your community let you store your RV on your property? If not, you’ll need to think about how you will store your RV after you’ve purchased it. RV storage is cheap in some areas of the country and incredibly expensive on other areas of the country.
Price out some RV storage facilities near your property so that you’ll know how much you’ll need to spend each year after you’ve purchased your RV. If storage costs are too high in your area, consider getting an RV that is small enough to fit in your garage.
4) Camping Fees
Will you be staying in a campground each summer? Are you going to explore different parts of the country each year?
Different vacation plans will have different price tags associated with them. In general, the longer you stay in one place, the less expensive it will be. Decide where you’ll be taking your RV and find out how much it is going to cost you to do so. It is better to buy a less expensive RV that you can take where you want to go than to buy an expensive RV and then not be able to afford to travel with it.
Short-term stays are usually not metered and you’ll get your electricity and water for free. Some of these places may even give you access to the Internet as well as cable. However, you’ll still need to buy your own propane.
Long-term campgrounds will usually meter you for electricity and sometimes water as well. If this is the case, you’ll have to find room in your budget for water, electricity, and gas. For those of you who don’t have mobile Internet, you may need to factor this cost in as well.
6) Fuel comsumption
Even small motorhomes are fuel hungry. Think about the cost of fuel when you consider your travel plans as fuel can quickly become one of the biggest expenses for an RVer.
In addition to fuel, you’ll probably need to consider road tolls as well as bridge and tunnel tolls. These might seem like small expenses but they can quickly add up on a long trip.
Here you can read exactly what you should expect when it comes to gas milage on your RV.
7) Taxes and Registration Fees
When you first buy your RV, you may be subject to state and local taxes. Buy an RV in Philadelphia Pennsylvania and you’ll end up paying a 6% state sales tax as well as a 2% Philadelphia local sales tax.
However, if you buy in the state of Delaware, you may not have to pay any state or local taxes at all. Find out what your state charges in taxes to determine how much you can actually spend on your RV purchase.
Also, keep in mind that there are registration fees for both trailers and motorhomes. Some states charge very little and others charge quite a bit. Find out what you’ll have to pay beforehand and you won’t have to worry about a surprise bill when you go to register.
Additionally, some states require that motorhomes and trailers get inspected each year. This inspection costs money so you’ll need to factor this into your budget as well.
Decide on a Budget
After you’ve considered all of the financial responsibilities of owning an RV, it is time to settle on a budget. Deciding on a budget first will help to keep you from spending more than you can actually afford.
Decide How You’re Going to Pay
Once you have a budget in place, you’ll have to decide on how you’re going to pay for your RV. Do you have the cash to buy the RV outright? If not, you may have to think about RV financing.
RV financing is unique in that it isn’t quite the same as home financing but it isn’t quite the same as vehicle financing either.
RV Financing examples
When you finance an RV, you’ll typically have a longer payoff rate than you would with a vehicle. However, this payoff rate is usually shorter than the time you have to pay off a house. In fact, the payoff rate is right in the middle at somewhere between 10 and 15 years.
The longer you finance the RV, the more you’ll end up paying in interest. On the plus side, however, you will have smaller payments each month with a longer rate so it is best to explore each option and decide on what is best for you. Typically, if you can handle the larger payment it is usually best to go with a shorter time horizon on your RV loan.
Here are two loan schedules which demonstrate this perfectly.
10-year loan at 5% interest on a $100,000.00 motorhome. Total interest paid is approximately $27,278.00.
15-year loan at 5% interest on a $100,000.00 motorhome. Total interest paid is approximately $42,342.00
The difference between paying the motorhome off in 10 years versus 15 years is $15,064.00.
If you paid for the entire motorhome upfront without financing at all, you could save yourself a whole lot more.
6 Buying Tips You Need To Know
Once you know what you want and you know what you can pay, it is time to start shopping. Follow the tips below and you’ll get the best price possible.
1) Know What It’s Worth
The first step you should take is to find out how much the RV you want is actually selling for. For used RVs, you can check nadaguides.com. For newer RVs, you can check to see what different RV dealerships are advertising their RVs for on RVTrader.com.
Just keep in mind that these are just starting prices and that they should only go down from there. MSRP is rarely the price that dealers expect to get from you so be willing to negotiate. Knowing this number just gives you a good place to start your negotiations.
2) Time Your Purchase
Buying an RV in the winter is almost always less expensive than buying an RV in the spring or summer. You can also find substantial discounts on RVs in the fall as well.
Just keep in mind that buying an RV in the fall or winter means that you may have to pay to store and insure an RV that may not be used for several more months. Run the numbers and see if the cost savings outweigh the additional ongoing costs. In most cases, you’ll save money even if you have to pay high storage costs in the winter.
3) Shop Around
Don’t feel like you have to buy from the first dealer you visit. Personally, I’d find three dealers and then choose the one that offers you the most additional services or the best price. Some dealers will offer great additional warranties that will save you money in the long run and others will offer you prices that the other dealers just can’t touch.
If you restrict yourself to dealing with just one dealership you’ll end up having to pay whatever price they offer you.
4) Compare Interest Rates
Another area to consider when buying an RV is the interest rate of the loan. You can save a lot of money just by reducing the interest rate on the loan. Here is an example to demonstrate this.
A 15-year loan at 5% interest on a $100,000.00 motorhome. Total interest paid is approximately $42,342.00
A 15-year loan at 6% interest on a $100,000.00 motorhome. Total interest paid is approximately $51,894.00
You save $9,552.00 just by dropping the interest rate from 6% to 5%.
5) Watch Out For Hidden Costs
Sometimes dealers like to add on additional costs at the last moment. At this point, you’ve already committed to buying the RV and you’re just too excited to worry about these extra fees. Make sure you know these fees upfront so that you’ll know exactly what you’re paying before this time comes.
Knowing these fees in advance will give you the chance to dispute these fees. You may be able to negotiate to have the fees dropped so you won’t have to pay them at all.
6) Be Willing to Bargain
As we mentioned earlier, you should never pay full price for your RV. I’d start by reducing the price by 20% and see if they’ll take that offer. If the dealership won’t drop their price by at least 10% then you should probably look elsewhere.
10 Clever Bargaining Tips
Tip 1 – Master negotiator Brian Tracy recommends that you always start the negotiating phase by asking how much the item costs and then responding with a shocked face after you’ve received the answer. Next, make the statement, “Is that the best you can do?”.
Often times, this is enough to get the dealer to counter with a lower offer. I’ve personally tried this tactic and I’ve found it to be of great help when negotiating on a price.
Tip 2 – The second tip I can give you is to buy at the end of the month. It’s even better if you can buy at the end of the quarter or end of the year. This is because salespeople usually have bonuses that are based on how much they’ve sold in a given month, quarter, or year. If the salesperson you’re talking to is close to meeting his bonus, he may give you a great deal just to close the sale.
This is especially true if the salesperson hasn’t met their sales quota yet. When I was in sales I once sold an item at such a low price that I didn’t even get a commission off of it. I did this because it helped me meet my quota, which in turn helped me keep my job.
Tip 3 – Be nice. Another thought to keep in mind is that you’re buying off of a person. People like doing business with people they like and trust. Act rudely towards the salesperson and you can bet they won’t be willing to bargain with you. This is especially true if they are offering a long warranty on the RV.
I once worked at a property management company where I knew that after the sale I’d end up having to live and work with the resident for at least the next year. I’d actually try to encourage rude people not to rent from me. Even though I’d lose a little money in commissions, I knew I’d save myself a lot of headaches in the long run. Be nice and polite to the salesperson and he might just offer you his best deal right from the start.
Tip 4 – Shop at a few different dealerships. We touched upon this earlier but working with multiple dealerships helps to give you leverage. Each dealership knows that they have to offer you their best price or risk losing you to its competitors.
Tip 5 – Offer cash. A cash sale will always get you a quick discount. This is because the company gets all of their money at once and doesn’t have to worry about going through financing terms with you.
Tip 6 – When buying used, always get an inspection. Once you know exactly what is wrong with the RV, you can use this as a bargaining tool to help you get a better deal.
Tip 7 – Bring a friend with you. With your friend watching out for you, you’re less likely to get taken advantage of. Also, your friend will be less emotionally attached to the decision so he’s more likely to be level headed about the whole process.
Tip 8 – Give people a reason to give you a better price. People are more likely to negotiate if you’ve given them a valid reason for doing so. For instance, when you ask for a price that is $5,000.00 less, say it is because you know you can get it elsewhere for that price. Just be truthful as you don’t want to ruin your credibility.
Tip 9 – Get the deal in writing. If the salesperson offers you a great deal, get it in writing even if you won’t be signing all of the paperwork right away. This will ensure that there aren’t any surprises when you show up later to make your purchase.
Tip 10 – Hire a buying agent. If you’re buying a particularly expensive RV, you may want to hire a professional buyer to do your negotiating for you. The money you spend on the negotiator might end up saving you tens of thousands of dollars on the sale.
Wondering what kinds of RVs other people are buying? Here are the most-sold models.
The 2 Most-Sold RV Models
According to RVTravel, Jayco is the most selling travel trailer brand and Winnebago is the most-selling motorhome brand.
Jayco has been around for over 50 years. They specialize in travel trailers and make a wide array of lightweight versions for people to choose from. The Jay Flight models tend to be the most popular. Here is an example of a Jay Flight travel trailer.
The Jay Flight SLX7 – This travel trailer is fully equipped with a bathroom, a kitchen, a dinette, and a sleeping area. Some models have slide outs for extra room and some do not.
The major selling feature of this camper is that even though it is over 21′ long with plenty of space inside, it weighs less than 3,000 pounds. Many people choose the Jay Flight over other models because it is the only large camper that they can comfortably and safely tow.
Winnebago has been around for over 60 years. The term Winnebago was once synonymous with the term motorhome. Other competitors have come up against Winnebago in recent years but it still holds the title as number 1 in motorhomes sold each year. Here is an example of a Winnebago motorhome.
The Minnie Winnie – This motorhome comes with a bathroom with a stand-alone shower, tub, and sink. It has a u-shaped dinette that turns into a bed, a nice kitchen, a separate bedroom, and an additional overhead bed built into the overhead cab.
This camper has a classic look to it and sells for under $90,000.00.
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Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.