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  Class A........,,,,,Class C. ............ Fifth-wheel

Buying That First RV
From an Individual
or a Dealer?


Welcome to our wonderful world. As you have already figured out, finding the right RV is important. It is also a time of great excitement and emotional turmoil. The urge to grab an RV and hit the road is almost overwhelming, right? Now is the time to take a deep breath and let logic and intuition rule.

Also know that over 50% of long term RVers change vehicles in the first five years of their travels. Important features are often overlooked until you experience owning one.

Read "Important Features To Look For" to get an overview.

To get the right RV the first time, here are a few tips:

  • Decide if you want to travel (motorhome) or stay several months in one location (fifth-wheel). Forget about the extra space in a fifth-wheel if you have to back it into a space every few weeks

The first change RVers make is a switch from one type to the other. If you are a travel bug, don't even think about trailers or fifth-wheels, go motorhome.

Without experience driving a big rig, start with something in the motorhome 30-33 foot range. If one of the drivers has experience, the best economic value is in a 10-year old 40-foot high-quality motorhome. Full body paint is important for the long-term look and maintenance.

If you plan to send six months on a water view lot in Florida, find a luxury fifth-wheel with an appropriate truck to haul it and roll on down there.

  • The layout is very important no matter the type, if you are planning to travel full-time. Slide-outs are a nice addition along with a washer/dryer. The most important feature is storage space. Having full basement compartments, automatic levelers, and good tires are on the list too.

  • Ensure that the salon is laid out to suit you, the TV in the right place, not too many sofas, etc. Resist the urge to redecorate until at least six months down the road; you cannot recoup the money spent if you decide the layout cannot be fixed and change vehicles.

  • Know that previously-owned Class C models are built on a much cheaper chassis that the Class A, so construction is not as solid. If you buy new, there are some quality Class Cs out there.

  • Make sure the sides are aluminum or fiberglass, not paper (yes, that is right, glossy paperboard is very popular among the lower-priced models).

  • Once the basic decision has been made (motorhome or 5th-wheel), search RVT.com and RVTrader.com. Another valuable site to search is RVUSA.com.

  • Choose three models you like. Copy all the specifications for the RV, including the extras.

  • Decide on a gas (much cheaper original cost) or a diesel (more power, longer life) engine to power it.

  • Use the NADA.com database to get a price range on each model.

  • Read this article: http://www.rversonline.org/ArtFAQ3.html about how much you should pay.

  • You have followed the suggestions above, but the RV that looks like a perfect fit is not located near you. Read this suggestion and see if it solves the problem.

Next, call the local RV dealers to see if they have these models (at least one of them) on their lot. If so, spend some time inside and carefully look at the interior, the appliances, how the walls meet the doors (if you see staples, cross this one off).

Some buyers travel hundreds of miles to look at the perfect RV. What better way to spend a lovely weekend than looking at RVs.

Next, get serious about finding the one remaining on the list from a private owner. Here are a list of websites to peruse:

Always, always, always have an independent RV inspector check out the rig before signing on the dotted line. Use the NRVIA.com site to find a certified inspector. If unable to find a local inspector, RV repair shops are everywhere, and most have someone who can perform this service.

This service can be free (hoping to get the repair work) or up to $100. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Have the current owner drive it to the facility (liability reasons). Now is the time to negotiate terms.

If you wind up at a dealer's lot (last choice), have a mobile service stop by for an hour. ALWAYS plan to attend this, never accept the salesperson's word. Be prepared to walk away if the dealer refuses the inspection by an independent service person.

Be careful with dealer warranties, do your research first. Don't assume anything while at the dealer's lot. Get EVERYTHING in writing. Be prepared to deal with sales personalities; do not let them intimidate you.

Most people living the RV lifestyle will tell you, if asked, what their first buying experience was like. I don't have stats, but I would guess that most people buy their first and last RV from a dealer. The reasons usually boil down to RV availability and local resources. This clearly explains the stats stated earlier about changing rigs within five years.

With very few exceptions, RV dealers have a different set of ethics, similar to used car dealers, than what you expect. They want to sell the dream. If it turns out not to be your dream, buyer beware is the policy.

If the pricing sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Since you have done your research (see above), you know the current price range to expect. Step back and let the RV inspector finish the report. Somewhere along this path, the story may change.

If you are trading in an older model RV, or simply one that does not work for you, the trade-in value may be inflated to increase the retail on the new one. Just because there is a guarantee of satisfaction, even in writing, it does not state whose satisfaction rules.

It is the norm for dealers to remove all documentation from the RV. This may have been done a thousand miles away or when traded in on another model. Dealers can then truthfully deny knowing anything about the rig.

Let me tell you just one little story about an corporate executive friend of mine who decided to retire to an RV. She bought her first rig from a dealer and it immediately started to fall apart. The dealer, of course, very kindly accepted the rig back in trade on a newer model, giving my friend an outstanding trade-in value on the newer rig. She thought she was getting a great deal.

Then, the front door jammed shut and had to be removed by a mechanic. The front step stopped working, the awning arm needed replacing, and the list went on. This rig had obvious been in an accident that knocked everything out of balance. An inspector would have caught all of this.

The outside of both rigs looked in very good condition. Neither rig was inspected before purchase. Fortunately, my friend was still in the shakedown phase and had not left town yet. The dealer was no longer supportive, surprise, surprise!

The experience left her shaken and morose. She sold the RV and banished the RV lifestyle from her life. She missed the experience of a lifetime.

I have many stories like this one; but you get the picture. When you are spending this kind of money, why not spend another $100 for an inspector and know the health of the machine...before you buy it. You might even spend a little more ($41-$125) and have an oil analysis done so you know the true health of the engine.

Could you have this same buying experience purchasing from individuals? Yes, you can. However, individuals usually have all the paperwork from past maintenance to share. They are happy to walk you through everything they know about the rig. Once the inspection is done, they either pay to have any repairs made, or lower the price.

All three of my motorhomes were purchased from individuals who no longer traveled. And, yes, the few problems that were found we negotiated usually with a price drop. Individuals tend to take care of their rigs, so generally fewer problems exist.


Dealers do not interact with the RVs they sell. They take in trades from RV rental companies, vehicles from other lots that cannot sell them, and many other avenues. They rarely turn down a trade if the exterior is not damaged. Engine problems, appliance problems, suspension problems...they do not really care about that. They know someone new to the RV lifestyle can walk in and drive out with it.

They may know something about the brand, but absolutely no experience with this particular RV. Your purchase pays their mortgage; they need to sell you something. They are taught not to stimulate any questions that really need an answer.

RV dealer lots that have a high-volume turnover in vehicles may indeed have a trade-in that works for you. There is no need to fear this process if the inspector gives it a clean slate (or at least problems you can deal with). You already know the price range so you can work with that. Find out everything you can about the deal, then GO HOME. Give yourself at least 24 hours to decide if this deal works for you.

If you sense anything is out of order, move on. Your intuition is probably right. Keep your emotions in check. You may need this purchase right now because your house is sold and the new owners want to move in right away. Since the pressure is on, make a list of the problems to be solved with the rig. Negotiate the price down to where you can make the repairs privately and still be okay on the money. This type of research is where the Internet really sings.

Without an inspection, you are in the dark, my friend. Just my 2 cents worth.

Choosing That First RV

Choosing That First RV - Available Resources



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