Tips for First Time RV Buyers
Written by Amber Shae.
Table of Contents
So, you’ve decided that you want to try out the RV lifestyle? If so, congrats! You’re about to embark on an unforgettable journey! It’s an exciting decision to make, but if you’re like most people, you’re probably thinking, “Ok, adventure awaits! But where do I start?”
Purchasing your first RV can become overwhelming if you don’t have the right tools, resources, and guidance. Towing limits, amenities, pricing, payments, etc. are all important things to take into consideration.
Luckily, I have been selling RVs for over four years now and have learned the ins and outs of the buying process. With my expertise and knowledge of the RV industry, and the experiences of over 300 customers, I have compiled a guide to help make the experience easier for first-time RVers.
The RV buying process can be broken down into 4 stages:
- Finding the Right RV
- Choosing a Dealership/Salesperson
- Buying the RV
- Preparing for Your Adventure
I will break down each stage into easy to follow steps with actionable advice. My hope is that once you read this article you will feel fully prepared to embark on your first RV buying journey!
Finding the Right RV
In order to find the right RV for your needs, lifestyle and budget, start by asking the classic Who, What, When, Where and Why questions. Asking yourself these five questions will help narrow down your search and articulate your exact needs and wants to a dealer.
1. Who are you RVing with?
Family? Pets? Children? Friends? Knowing this will help narrow down your options by how many sleeping areas you need, which directly correlates to the size of the RV.
2. What will you be towing with?
If you already have a tow vehicle, how much weight can it tow? You can find information about your tow vehicle’s capacity online if you search “towing guides” or the manufacturer of the vehicle should have specific details on towing capacity for your exact vehicle as well.
Pro Tip: Know the difference between dry (unloaded) weight and gross (loaded) weight. You will need to know these two numbers so that you can be sure your truck or SUV is capable of towing the highest weight your RV might be at any time (the gross weight). However, the gross weight can be misleading because sometimes it assumes all your RV tanks are full; they should never be full while you are driving long distances.
If you don’t have a tow vehicle yet, here is a tip: Buy the RV before the tow vehicle! Since most people are more familiar with the car buying process than the RV buying process, they typically buy a tow vehicle before knowing what RV they want. The problem? If you are new to RVing, it’s hard to know what you want & need in an RV until you look at them in person.
More often than not, people fall in love with an RV that their tow vehicle can’t tow, which is always disappointing. To save yourself time, money, and buyer’s remorse, we suggest picking your RV first and then finding a truck that can handle the weight.
3. When will you take trips? (and how often)
Weekend camping vs. living in an RV full time can make a difference when it comes to things like tow vehicles and necessary amenities. If you are planning on staying at an RV site for months or more at a time, you might not even need your own tow vehicle because there are delivery drivers you can hire to tow your RV to its next destination. As an RV salesperson, I always provide my customers with a list of drivers other customers have used in the past so they can call and get price quotes.
Pro Tip: For those who aren’t going to be moving very often, renting a tow vehicle is a cost-saving option as well.
4. Where will you be going?
Your RV destinations can also make a difference in what size RV you will want to consider. National and State parks, for example, usually have limited camping spots and all have different rules regarding the length of RV they allow. I always recommend calling the parks you are interested in visiting to verify their regulations.
Pro Tip: If your RV is too long to park at your favorite National/State park, don’t worry! There are usually RV parks a quick drive or bike ride away that allow for longer RVs. These places are usually newer and therefore have more updated facilities and hookups.
5. Why are you RVing?
There are many great reasons to buy an RV. Understanding your why can help determine what features and amenities to look for. Here’s a few examples of popular reasons why people get into RVing and what options/floorplan I typically recommend to them:
70% of new RV owners trade-in within the first year because they bought something too small. Try not to let the size or price of an RV stop you from buying the floorplan that you will be most comfortable in. You might think you’re saving money and ‘playing it safe’ for your first RV, but this could cost you time and money in the long run.
Once you have narrowed down what size, amenities, and features to look for, it’s time to make a trip to an RV dealership and seek the guidance of an experienced RV salesperson.
Choosing a Dealership/Salesperson
There are some basic things that are good to know before you head to a dealership to purchase or look at RVs. RV dealerships may seem similar to car dealerships, but there are some differences to be aware of.
1. There aren’t as many RVs out there as it seems.
The reasons why selection seems endless is because some states have laws preventing dealerships from selling the same brands within a certain mile radius of another dealership that sells it. (Similar to laws preventing two car dealerships of the same brand opening next door to each other.)
What does this mean exactly?
If you visit different dealerships next to each other, you might notice that the floorplans start to all look the same. This happens because some manufacturers will take the same floorplan, change the colors and the name, and market them as different RVs so that they can sell their products next door or across the street. In the RV industry, this is called ‘cloning’ and it causes a lot of confusion for consumers. (An example of manufacturers who do not make clones are Grand Design, Lance, and Vanleigh RV.)
2. You typically don’t get to take an RV home the same day you buy it like you would a car.
A good RV dealership will do a Pre-Delivery Inspection (PDI) on your unit once you sign all the paperwork to make sure everything is in working order before you take the vehicle home. This process can take some time, depending on what needs to be fixed and how many units they are selling. If they schedule your pick-up for a few weeks after you sign the paperwork, don’t be alarmed; this is normal. It’s not that they need that long to get your RV ready, it’s that they have to schedule every person who buys an RV and make sure they disperse the workload throughout the service department so that each RV gets the quality inspection it deserves.
Before signing the paperwork, ask your salesperson if they are including the PDI and a “starter kit” (which should include necessities such as hoses, power cords, propane tanks, batteries, etc) at no cost to you. Some dealerships try to charge customers for these things, but most don’t, so you should definitely ask for it to be included.
3. Most reputable dealerships offer a class/walk through/orientation that will teach you how to use your RV before you take it home.
This also gives you the opportunity to inspect the unit to make sure everything is working properly before taking possession. Take notes and have questions ready!
4. Buy from a dealership that puts customer service at the forefront of their values.
You will know if a dealership prioritizes customer service if they put customers who purchased their RV from them in front of others when coming in for service appointments. This also goes along with buying from a salesperson who cares and follows up after the sale because that typically means they will be an advocate for customers if there are ever any service issues.
Buying the RV
Let’s say you’ve finally found your favorite RV at a reputable dealership with a salesperson you trust. What’s next, you ask? Pricing and financing, the fun stuff. Not really, but it is one of the most important steps to educate yourself on when purchasing an RV. Knowing how this works will help save you time, money, and prevent confusion.
Most RVs have a higher price markup than cars, but not all brands are created equal. There are certain manufacturers that mark up their MSRP (manufacturer suggested retail price) by a huge amount in order to show more discounts, whereas other manufacturers try to make their MSRP price more realistic and fair up front. Just because an RV is showing a huge discount doesn’t always mean you’re getting a great deal. Just like when shopping for clothes that are marked 75% off, how do you know they didn’t mark them UP right before that? Unfortunately, there are no fast rules that are consistent across the entire RV industry to help compare prices. This is where buying programs like Rollick come in handy. They help you get the best price from dealerships who value transparency, regardless of brand.
Another great way to save money is to buy a new RV that isn’t the most recent model-year. Just like cars, once the next model-year of a brand starts arriving at dealerships, they are allocated additional discounts from the factory to help move the current model-year. For example, 2020 RVs start arriving mid-summer of 2019, so you can get a 2019 new RV at a discounted price once this transition starts to happen. To see pricing from new and used RVs currently on the market, check out the How Much is an RV article and then hop on over to the Total Cost of Ownership for RVers article to see other various expenses that accompany RV ownership.
It may seem odd, but RV loans are the opposite of car loans. Depending on the amount of money you decide to finance for an RV purchase, the average length of a Recreational Loan is 10-20 years. This is a lot longer than the average 3-7-year car loans. Typically, the longer the length of the term, the lower your interest rate, which is why your RV will likely have a smaller payment than your car.
RV loans are harder to get approved for than automotive or mortgage loans because they aren’t considered a ‘necessity’ like a car or house. That means that if your FICO credit score is under 700, it’s a good idea to be prepared to put at least 10% down. (Check your credit for FREE at annualcreditreport.com) For more information about financing a recreation vehicle check out Rollick’s Ultimate Guide to Financing an RV. And if you are concerned about your credit score affecting your eligibility, be sure to read the Guide to Financing with Bad Credit, too.
A common misconception with credit scores is that every time you get a hard inquiry on your credit, your score will drop. That used to be the case for older versions of the scoring formula but these days, the credit bureaus understand that you’re allowed to shop for the best rate, so all inquiries for the same type of loan within a 30-45 day period are considered one inquiry and should only affect your score by up to 5 points. This is only the case for installment-type loans (automotive, recreational, mortgage loans, etc) not for revolving-type inquiries, like a credit card. For more info, click here.
Pro Tip: Make sure you finance with a bank that offers “Simple Interest Loans” and no penalties for paying it off early.
If you are purchasing an RV, insurance is not always required, but it is always recommended. Insurance is required for all motorhomes (RVs that are drivable), but not all states require insurance on towable RVs. This is because liability insurance from your tow vehicle is usually extended to the towable rig. However, if you finance an RV through a bank, the financial institution will almost always require RV insurance while you have the loan, even on towable. You can expect RV insurance to cost an average of $550 annually for a motorhome and $350 annually for a towable.
Preparing for your Adventure
Now that you’ve pulled the trigger and purchased your RV, it’s time to begin your adventure! Here are some tips on what to expect after you’ve signed on the dotted line.
RV dealers will typically offer orientation classes for new RV owners to help them prepare for taking their rig out on the road. Often, these classes are called an orientation or walk through. These classes will go over everything you need to know, for example: how to hook up a travel trailer or fifth wheel to your tow vehicle, how to unhook it, how to use the appliances, how to empty the tanks, etc. These classes will also cover RV safety like what would happen in the case of a fire, maintaining ideal tire air pressure and routine maintenance you might not know about otherwise. RV classes and seminars are great resources for RV beginners and I highly recommend taking them.
The elephant in the room:
All RV’s are man/woman-made (no automotive-type assembly-production-lines!), so owning an RV means being at peace with the fact that little issues will arise, because no human is perfect. It’s not a matter of whether something will come loose or stop working, it’s a matter of what the issue is and how often it happens. Never buy an RV and expect it to work perfectly all the time. They are not built like houses (even the ones made for full-time living), so expecting house-like quality will only lead to disappointment.
How do people still enjoy RVing if they’re constantly fixing things?
- Think of fixing up an RV as a part of the experience/adventure!
- Use these opportunities to change the decor and add your own (maybe better quality) touch to the RV.
- Buy a brand made by a manufacturer that stands behind their product. Grand Design and Vanleigh RV are perfect examples. Grand Design will overnight parts to customers and send mobile technicians to where they are camping, and Vanleigh is owned by Tiffin MotorHomes and operated by the Tiffin family, so they are known for quick response times and will also send mobile technicians to customers out in the field.
One of the best things about the RV community is that everyone is very helpful! Whether it’s at an RV park or online, never be afraid to ask current RVers any question you may have. Once you pick the RV brand you want, find some owner’s groups online and join them for lots of great tips! Facebook is the most popular social media site for owner’s groups. You can start with Rollick’s Top 10 RV Parks and Top 10 Games to Play on the Road.
The GoRollick Buying Experience
When you’re ready to find your perfect RV, be sure to check us out at gorollick.com. You can:
- See nationwide inventory, specs, and incentive information
- Get an upfront, transparent price on your desired vehicle
- Receive special offers on both the vehicle, as well as additional accessories
- Shop at one of our Certified Dealers who are committed to providing an exceptional buying experience
More on Amber Shae
I am Amber Shae – a creative girl from Texas with a passion to help and inspire people to seek adventure, quality time with loved ones, and lifelong connections and memories by Living Life NOW.
You can count on me to be enthusiastic, honest, and knowledgeable. I help a diverse network of people realize and achieve their dreams to explore, travel, and experience the present moment by living their lives to the fullest.
I accomplish this by working hard, offering transparent communications with integrity, and leading others to discover their unique ‘Living Life NOW’ journey.
Connect with me and learn more here.