Buying A New RV -
Having the Cash in Advance Makes All the Difference
By Jack Kean
After selling our 21-foot Winnebago Rialta, we took a deep breath and for a little while pondered the possibility of not purchasing another RV. We thought about insurance, parking fees, regular maintenance, cleaning, payments, down payment, and the high price of gas. We considered the possibility of buying a new car instead and staying in hotels when we travel. Yes, we thought about such a change, but the truth is, we are RV people, and RV people like to take their home with them on the road. So in spite of the fact that, in my opinion, only in the rarest of cases can you support the decision to buy an RV on financial terms, we are hooked.
Maybe it was spending the night beside the Grand Tetons or in Yellowstone National Park. Then again, it could have been the trip down the Oregon Coast or waking up to six inches of snow in Banff. It even could have been the month we bummed around Florida in February without knowing where we would park the RV from one night to the next. There is a freedom that goes with RVing we are not willing to lose.
Grand Teton RV Parking
River in Yellowstone
Henderson Beach Gulf
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 this: 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. After all, there is no sense of taking out a loan or receiving a merchant cash advance if you can't afford an RV in the first place.
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.
The concepts of what you want and what you can afford, though not mutually exclusive, can offer the greatest of challenges. From Class Bs to the bus conversions and from lightweight trailers to huge 5th wheelers, the choices seem almost overwhelming. From five thousand dollars for a small pop-up camper to well over a million dollars for a bus conversion, there is truly something for every pocketbook.
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.
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. (A great discussion of various RV types may be found at: http://www.gorving.com.) 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 eight 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?
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 and unhooking and dumping will also give you an idea of the realities of RV life.
If you have read this far, you certainly know that there is no one way, no one answer, no one size or price or type of RV. So much of buying an RV is determined by what you can afford and what you want or need in an RV. Know what you can afford and then determine which type of unit is best for you. Don’t get sold before you are confident in the size and type of unit you want and need. It is likely to be one of your larger expenditures.
You might consider spending some time on the Internet prior to hitting the showrooms. This will make it easier for you to use some RV lingo and provide an idea of pricing. You can do some shopping from your computer at http://www.rvsearch.com. At this site, you will see hundreds of RVs for sale. Many will have photographs. Another site with lots of RVs for sale is http://www.rvtraderonline.com. As you begin to decide on the type of RV you might want, go to the manufacturer’s site. A couple of examples are: http://www.winnebagoind.com
and http://www.jayco.com. You can obtain a great deal of information about specific units from these sites.
While doing a bit of research for this column, I located http://www.rv-links.com. This site is literally a collection of links relating to RVing. I followed half a dozen links, and they all seemed to work. I checked on camping, clubs, pet perspectives, and boondocking. Whether a beginner or old timer, sites such as this will provide you with a doorway to a great deal of information with some of it being useful to RVers at all experience levels.
Once you have determined how much you can afford and what size you want, then and only then can you begin to make a decision about which manufacturer makes a unit closest to your needs. It won’t hurt to do a bit of internet research on the various manufacturers. At http://www.jrconsumer.com/RV-Manufacturer-List.asp, you will find an advertisement for a book that rates all of the manufacturers. This site is worth a peek. I also found some useful information at http://changingears.com/index.shtml. This site is definitely worth a few minutes of your time, especially if you are new to RVing.
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. One site I found most helpful was http://www.rvdirect.com. They have four dealerships, three located in the northeast and one in Orlando. What makes them interesting is that they do a lot of internet sales, and they will give you a price quote, sometimes within minutes. Their only downside is that they sell a limited number of manufacturers.
If you are able to find RV talk 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 and gained a tremendous amount of information. 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. Give http://www.nada.com a look for some general pricing information.
I have not discussed buying a used RV, though this can save you a lot of money. The websites listed above will 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 willing 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.
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% interest rate for 180 months. This rate is very competitive.
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.
We live in an area without a lot of large RV dealers. Fortunately for us, we found a unit that seemed to meet our needs. 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.
So what did I buy? A Jayco Greyhawk FS. Yes, I wanted a million-dollar bus conversion, but remember that rule number one is: “First know what you can afford.
Jack Kean is an author and humor columnist who also writes about his RV experiences. You may see more of Jack’s writing at: http://www.keanwriter.com.