Camille Attell
by Camille Attell
Posted October 28, 2020

Buying an RV is no small task. They can be a pricey investment, which means that the initial buying process a stressful situation—especially if you’re new to the RV world. After all, if you’re going to be spending that much, you want to be sure that you’re getting the right one for you and your travels. When my husband and I sat out to our rig, were to totally new to RVing, as in, we-have-never-stepped-into-an-RV kind of new. We thought that browsing at dealerships might better educate us before buying. But starting your research at a sales lot when you don’t know how to buy an RV is equivalent to being dropped in the middle of the ocean without a life vest.

There are so many RVs to see, and after a while, you feel like you’re gulping mouthfuls of information. What starts out as an exciting day can quickly turn into a desperate scramble for your car for safety. The best advice we can give? Go in knowing the right questions. You won’t have all the answers at first, so you need to know what to ask yourself and the dealer.

Here’s how to buy an RV by asking the right questions.

Question #1: What type of RV fits my needs?

Before going to a dealership, at least think about what kind of RVing you’d like to do.  My husband and I thought we wanted a Class C RV, around 25’ feet. But as we started shopping for an RV, we realized that we didn’t know why we wanted a Class C, other than it seemed easier to drive than a Class A.

We hadn’t clearly thought about what kind of travel we wanted to do before shopping for an RV. This is important because the salesperson should understand your vision so they can steer you in the right direction. If you are unclear about what kind of RV you want, consider renting an RV before buying one. 

We decided that our vision was to live and work in our RV full-time. We didn’t own a large truck and had no intention of buying one. After sharing this vision with the salesperson, we were able to open our minds to a Class A coach, ended up being a much better choice for us.

Not quite sure about the difference between the types of RVs? Here’s a great explainer video from I’m Not Lost, I’m RVing on YouTube.

Question #2: What brands do you recommend and why?

If you are new to RVing it might not occur to you how important RV brands are. Of course, your RV budget may dictate which brands are available to you, but if you have a price range, or if you are willing to buy a used RV, you may have more brand options.

There is a variety of quality and service from each manufacturer. For example, some specialize in higher-end interiors, some put emphasis on good service after the purchase, and other brands have a large dealer network, which makes getting it serviced more convenient.

Decide on your priorities and ask the dealer which brands match your needs.

Question #3: What comes standard with the RV?

After you figure out what you need and want, start to narrow down your top two to three RVs. Then, make sure you know what’s included. If you plan to purchase the model on the lot, what comes with it might seem obvious. But be sure to get the list of features to confirm what’s included. Again think about where you plan on going and what you’ll need in the RV.

RV Tear Drop

If you are ordering a coach or having one delivered, then it’s even more important to have the features list. My husband and I made this mistake on a seemingly small item— the passenger side sunshade. We had been in so many models that had one, we assumed it came standard. But our particular model didn’t come with one.

This was a shocker! While we really wanted it, going out, buying, and installing it is an inconvenience. In fact, we still have yet to order and install the shade! Instead, it’s just easier to be grilled by the sun and quietly fume about it, while my husband drives in a nice cool seat. Moral of the story: if you want it, make sure you get it upfront. You may never get around to it later.

Question #4: How much does it cost—really?

You might be thinking, “Why ask this question, the price is right there on the sticker… isn’t it?”

Nope. That’s a ruse.

That’s the Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price, which the dealer often changes. An entire article could be written about this subject since there are many factors that go into how the dealer prices the coach and how much wiggle room there is to negotiate. But we’ll save that for another post.

Once you know which coach you want, ask the dealer for the best price. Then, do your research to determine the market price. Know that a dealer might not offer you the best price until you are serious about purchasing the coach and at the negotiating table.

Question #5: What does the warranty include?

Whether you buy a new or used coach from a dealer, a warranty should be included. Be sure that you are very clear on what the warranty covers and for how long. Then, you should decide if you need an extended plan to cover things outside of the standard warranty or once it expires. We purchased an extended warranty, and thank goodness because we’ve learned that repairs are a constant part of RV life.

RV New and UsedQuestion #6: What are the dealer and manufacturer service levels?

This might not occur to you if you are new to RVing, but it’s important to ask the dealer what kind of service level they guarantee after you buy the coach. This could range from how they care for the coach after the purchase to how quickly will they repair the coach if an issue arises within the warranty period.

We learned that not all dealers are created equal after you buy a coach. In our coach’s maiden voyage to Parker, Arizona, we experienced violent wind gusts rocking us resulting in terrible scraping noises. We discovered that the slide slid out about three inches— super dangerous! We assumed that the dealer would be horrified and want to help us immediately.

Not so much. It was going to be three weeks before we could even get an appointment. That didn’t even include the additional time if a new part needed to be ordered. We were leaving in two weeks for a year-long journey, so I begged the dealer to help us sooner. They eventually did, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience for anyone.

RV at Dealership

Question #7: Are there any dealer perks?

Perks can be a huge money saver! Our dealer offered a one-year membership to both Thousand Trails and Colorado River Adventures. This was one-year of FREE camping in a number of places, which saved us hundreds of dollars. If you work those programs right, you could even save more than that. Perks like this can be a good way to offset other costs when shopping for an RV.

RV Shopping Can Be Fun

Shopping for an RV at a dealership can be really exciting. Dealers are very helpful, but the experience can also be overwhelming if you don’t know how to buy an RV by asking the right questions. Use these questions to help you navigate the waters of your RV purchase, and your experience will feel like floating on a calm summer ocean. Check out the rig we ended up with on our site More Than A Wheelin’.

Camille Attell

After living and working in Orange County, CA, her entire life, Camille Attell finally decided to cut the cord and live life on her terms. Now, she travels full-time with her husband Bryce and cat Parker in a 34 foot, class A motorhome. She's a blogger and business woman, adapting to being an entrepreneur after many years working in corporate America. She manages the travel and lifestyle blog


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