Seven RV Shopping Warning Signs
Shopping for a new RV can be challenging. To help you steer clear of trouble, here are seven RV Shopping Warning Signs to look out for.
We recently purchased a new camper. We really liked our first camper, a Jayco, and the dealer we worked with. Unfortunately, when we started shopping for our next camper, our dealer had limited stock available. While it hadn’t been announced yet, they were being acquired. So, we started shopping around for alternatives. Over the course of a year, we interacted with several dealers. Here are a few things we learned that you might find helpful if you are considering making an RV purchase. These are the seven warning signs that you might want to look for a different RV dealer.
As you work to find the salesperson you can work well with, you may encounter some of the things we did. We took them as warning signs that we should move on in our search.
Keep in mind that RV shopping can still be a bit complicated. Unlike with car shopping, there aren’t good online pricing tools or apps like TrueCar or CarGurus. Real estate shopping has also been getting better with tools like Realtor.com and Zillow but there isn’t anything quite like that for RV shopping. You’ll need to do your research. Visit RV shows where you can check out a large number of brands and models. Spend time at dealerships getting to know them and the products they offer. Be respectful of the salesperson’s time. If you are early in the process, let them know. If you can, try to visit on an open house day when all the units are open and you can check them out on your own. Review the information in forums where people are great about sharing their opinions – use the search feature as someone has likely already asked your question.
Consider being honest with the dealer. There are good dealers and good salespeople out there. It helps to have a good relationship with them. Then, you can work toward a mutually beneficial deal. They need to make a living. You want a good deal. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. In our case, we found a dealer and salesperson that was good to work with. Unfortunately, they are a longer drive away that our old dealer. But, we feel good working with someone who seemed to value our business.
RV Shopping Warning Sign One: They Don’t Call You Back
We spent several hours at a dealership looking at several possible campers. Then we provided the salesperson with all of our information and described our trade. The conversation ended with the salesperson saying we are too busy to put together pricing or evaluate your trade today. We’ll call you Monday. Only they never did call us. After several days of waiting, we gave up and moved on to another dealer. How persistent should the customer be in getting a quote from a dealer? No one likes a pushy salesperson. On the other hand, if they want your business, shouldn’t they call you if they promised to do so. I took that as a sign that the dealer wasn’t interested in our business.
RV Shopping Warning Sign Two: Damaged Inventory
We visited one dealer that had a brand we were interested in. We had seen the dealer at a show and wanted to see more of what they had to offer. The dealer kept their inventory on a grassy field. As we walked around, I noticed that some of the travel trailers we were interested in were rusting. Over time, metal rusts. However, I didn’t expect that new inventory should already have significant rust. I wondered if other elements of the unit might be damaged such as the wiring.
In another case, the underbelly liner appeared to be damaged. It looked like maybe it had been cut open to make a repair and then never replaced or fixed.
RV Shopping Warning Sign Three: Quality Issues
In some cases, an RV is shipped from the factory with some quality issues. For example, there may be places that should have been caulked but which aren’t sealed well. You might notice drawers that don’t slide correctly. One dealer we visited had multiples of the same exact model. It was nice to be able to walk through them inspecting for any potential issues and have the option to select the best one.
My recommendation is to do a thorough walk through of the unit you like before expressing an intent to purchase or starting to negotiate. If you like the unit and feel that there are some adjustments or corrections that should be made, make a list. You can make an offer contingent on repairs being made. You’ll have a chance to do another inspection on delivery day. You will want to bring your list and ensure everything has been corrected before signing the papers or paying for the unit. After purchasing the unit, repairs can be made under warranty. However, the service department can be booked and you may find you can’t get an appointment for months. It is better to resolve everything you can before taking delivery. If the dealer has many campers with issues or they don’t seem interested in fixing the items you find, take that as a warning sign and move on.
RV Shopping Warning Sign Four: Changing Stories
We had one unit we liked. However, we needed to ensure that everyone in the family had a place to sleep. This unit had an upgrade where the sleeper sofa had been replaced with theater seating. That wouldn’t work for us. The salesperson indicated it would be no problem to change the theater seats to a sleeper sofa. In fact, since the theater seats were more expensive and they sold several of them each month, there wouldn’t be any charge for the swap. After thinking about the unit, we returned to take another look. The same salesperson then told us that to change the couch would be possible but they would charge over $1,000 to do it. We reminded him about his previous statement that they could make the swap for no charge to which he responded “I never said that”. If you feel like your RV salesperson isn’t being honest and consistent, it may be a warning sign to move on to another dealer.
RV Shopping Warning Sign Five: Lifetime Warranty
I noticed a number of dealers offering a lifetime warranty. The name of the plan was different at different dealers. The idea, though, is that all of the major components like the kitchen appliances, water systems, gas systems, AC and furnace are all covered under warranty for as long as you own the RV. And, they offer this to the customer for no cost. That sounds great, right?
I tried to dig in a bit more so I could understand if there was some kind of catch. One dealer indicated that you had to bring the unit back to their dealership every year for an annual inspection – for about $800. And their price may go up in the future. Another indicated that you could use a network of repair facilities, but it had to be someone in their network. Their shop charged about $350 for the mandatory annual inspection. In either case, if there was work needed to be done, like sealing around a vent or skylight, they needed to perform the work so that it would be documented and you had to ensure the warranty company received all of the paperwork for all ongoing maintenance.
So, if you are the kind of person who likes to do some of the maintenance on your RV by yourself, the warranty would not work. Or, if you are traveling or have relocated, you might run into some limitations around finding an approved service shop to perform the work.
It could just be a perception, but the dealers offering a lifetime warranty also seemed to price their units a bit higher. The intent also seems to be a way to increase usage of their service shop.
In summary, a lifetime warranty sounds great. And, it might even be great. But, depending on your circumstances, it might not be as good as it sounds. Just be sure to ask lots of questions so you understand what is being offered. If your RV comes bundled with something that doesn’t fit your needs, it may be a warning sign. Consider doing some additional shopping before you make a purchase.
RV Shopping Warning Sign Six: Separation of Sales and Service
Sometimes when you are negotiating to buy an RV, you can request to have some accessories added. For example, you might like to add MaxxAir covers over your vents. Or, you may want to have a TV bracket mounted in the bedroom, something that usually doesn’t come installed from the factory.
Some dealerships are willing to add a few items into the sale. Others may provide a gift card to the parts store which is nice for you and benefits the dealer by ensuring you become familiar with their store.
In same cases, a dealer may indicate that sales and service are completely separate departments so they aren’t able to provide any cooperation between them.
I didn’t experience it, but some dealers may indicate that the service department won’t service your unit if you don’t buy it from them. That would seem to make getting service when you are traveling a challenge so you may want to be a bit skeptical when you hear a claim like that.
My recommendation is just to ask a few questions. It can’t hurt. And by listening to the response from your salesperson, it should give you an idea if you feel comfortable with the dealer or if there are any warning signs.
RV Shopping Warning Sign Seven: Pricing
Pricing may be an RV shopping warning sign but this can be a tricky area. What seems like the same unit can have a different MSRP at different dealers. There may be a good reason for the difference. For example, there may be different options installed that you may not see from the pictures and description on the dealer’s web site. Or, the units may have been manufactured on different dates. Many factors can impact prices. The price of components may have gone up due to inflation. Some parts like stabilizers, microwaves, and TVs may be imported and impacted by tariffs that are being passed along to you. Check the listed MSRP for the unit you are considering and compare it to the same model at other dealers to get a feel for pricing.
There are many forum threads and posts online about what a fair price is for an RV. It would be fantastic to have an easy way to get pricing information, like TrueCar provides for car shopping. Unfortunately, you will have to do your research and use your best negotiating skills.
One way to get a sense of market pricing is to go to an RV show. At one show I attended last year, there were show price discounts of over 30% off MSRP. Keep in mind that these are probably best case prices as there are often special incentives to move units at the shows. If you know what you want and are OK having your future camper walked through by hundreds of people, consider buying at the show. If you still need to do a bit more research, just track MSPR and show prices for units you are interested in so that you have some kind of reference point to start negotiating.
Another possible way to save money is to look for units that have been on the lot a long time. There may be a carryover unit from last year that a dealer would love to get off the lot. Be aware that while it has been on the lot, the roof and tires have been exposed to the sun. You might get a good price but take into account that some of the usable life of the components may be used up.
You might consider if there is an off season for RV sales in your area. If most of the units are sold in the Spring, consider buying in the Fall or Winter. When times are slower, the dealer may be in a better position to negotiate. But, you have to keep in mind that you may take home a new camper only to have it sit in the driveway until next Spring when the weather warms up. You’ll have to decide if the potential savings is worth it.
So, you should expect to get a decent deal. Unless this is the hottest unit on the market or is unique in some way, there should be a discount from MSRP. It might be 20%, 25%, maybe as high as 30% off MSRP depending on the circumstances. If you don’t feel like you are able to get a fair price on your RV, it might be worth checking in with another dealer.
RV Shopping Warning Signs Summary
I hope these potential RV shopping warning signs are helpful. Just remember to be patient and take the time you need to find the right dealer and salesperson who can help you purchase your new RV. Take the time to find someone you are comfortable working with.
What warning signs did I miss? I would love to hear your stories about those signals you noticed that made you walk away. And, if you had a great RV shopping experience, I’d love to hear about what made it go well. Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
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