. . . unless the price is of no concern to you.
(This entry is continued from the
want to strike the best deal you reasonably can reach, it's
going to take a lot of work, stubbornness, and tenacity.
Jim and I knew most of these "rules of engagement" going into the RV purchase process. We
didn't feel like we needed to buy a book to tell us how to find the right RV at
the right price. We've bought enough cars, vans, trucks, and campers
over the years to pretty well know the drill.
Despite all that, this has been the most difficult
vehicle purchase either one of us has ever had in our entire
lives. We weren't expecting that.
Late spring flowers above the Tongue River
Canyon, Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming
Buying an RV should be a fun process for most people. Traveling
and camping usually represent relaxation, escape from "the real
world," adventure, good times around the camp fire. So how did it turn into so much
work and stress for us by the time all the numbers were crunched?
The hunt was fun until we narrowed our search
to one manufacturer and then had trouble finding the two or
three specific models we were considering.
The worst part was negotiating prices, however. This was
difficult at every dealership where we talked money in Arizona and Texas this winter. We found it very
different from our other vehicle purchases the past decade,
including the HitchHiker 5th-wheel.
Just keep in mind that no matter how much the salesperson
pretends to be your pal and says (s)he has the same goal as you
-- finding the perfect RV for your needs and wants --
buying a new camper is usually an adversarial process to
some extent. The job of everyone at the dealership is to
sell you an RV at the highest profit possible. The buyer's job
is to get what (s)he considers "a good deal:" the
most camper for the least money.
Medicine Wheel, in the Bighorn Mountains of
To really get an RV at the lowest possible price can
become a negotiating nightmare. Most people apparently either don't want to go
that route or thought they did but really paid too much. I read recently in an article by an RV
industry insider that 80% of
buyers don't get as good of a deal on their new campers as they
think they did; they caved too soon in the negotiating
Did Jim and I fall into that trap, too, despite all of our due
diligence and bull-headedness?
Perhaps. We think we're in that other 20% who drove a hard
bargain, but we could be wrong. It's tougher to determine true
value on a more scarce and complicated commodity like an RV than it is on most
passenger vehicles. The more prices you get on comparable RVs,
the better you'll know when you've found the lowest profit
margin a dealer will tolerate.
We never gave any dealer our price range, only the quality,
weight, and features we wanted. In fact, at the beginning of the
whole process a couple of years ago we had no firm
ceiling on price; we decided we'd pay what was required
to get the right 5th-wheel for our lifestyle, then negotiated
the price down as far as we could when we narrowed our choice to
the brand and model we wanted.
RULE #11: Get the dealer's bottom line ASAP
One tactic that worked well for us when we bought our new Ram
truck a year ago (and other vehicles previous to that) was asking for the dealer's best price right up
front. We were clear with each salesperson that we would be
comparing his/her price with other dealers who had nearly
identical vehicles. We got very little run-around with this
tactic when buying passenger vehicles.
It didn't work very well with any of the RV dealers where we
asked for prices, however.
We didn't care if they inflated the value of the HitchHiker and
took less off the MSRP of the new rig, or if they assigned a
lower value to our old camper and took more off the top of the
new one -- we tried our best to make each salesperson and
manager understand that the only figure we were interested in
was their FINAL, WALK-OUT-THE-DOOR PRICE, including all taxes
and fees (based on our state of legal residence's sales tax and
registration/title fees, not the higher Texas taxes and fees).
And we let them know we were comparing them with the walk-out
prices at other dealerships on the same or comparable models.
Not exactly apples to apples, but as close as you can get with
an RV. There just aren't as many similar ones as there are with
cars and trucks.
A marmot surveys Clear Lake in the San Juan
Mountains of SW Colorado
We didn't want any of this "Let me see if my manager will let
me take any more off this price" crap, going back and forth
to wear us down. We hate that. We did our best to avoid
that stupid game but it was futile. If we walked out after the
first quote and refused to sit through another hour of their
game, they'd call us later to give us a lower price but
never -- until the last dealer, the one we purchased from
-- did we hang around for that.
They blew it.
And the last dealer's price was given under duress in a messy
feud between two managers in the same multi-store dealership.
I'm really surprised the "winner" finally caved in. We
think we ended up with the lowest possible price on our
particular Cameo (maybe not!)
but it came with a lot of stress while the competing managers duked it
RULE #12: Just because the RV industry is in
dire straits doesn't mean you'll waltz out with a fantastic deal on a new
You would think that RV dealers in this lousy economy would
not only be practically giving away these babies, they'd
also do anything in their power to not alienate serious buyers
like us. We also tried to make it clear that we intended to buy
a new fiver this winter. Even that didn't seem to help when we
were crunching numbers.
The industry has
been in even worse shape than the car and light truck industry
in the last two years. RV manufacturers didn't get government
bail outs and we never heard of any of them offering 0% interest
on loans like we got on our Dodge Ram last February. (Why pay
cash when you can get a 0% loan for four years AND another
$1,000 discount for doing it?!)
Too bad we couldn't find another deal like that with an
Clear Creek below Clear Lake in the San
Juan Mountains of Colorado
It's not like most people need an RV; unlike a
basic car you might truly need to get to your job if there is no
other suitable, available transportation from your home, RVs are mostly a
luxury item. The least expensive and the most expensive RVs are
the ones that have been selling the best in the last two years.
A higher percentage of models in the mid-range have been sitting on dealers' lots,
unsold. Many RV manufacturers either went out of business
entirely after 2008 or seriously cut back on production. They
only began to see a faint light at the end of the tunnel
recently and are starting to build more campers.
Even though all the manufacturers whose RVs we looked at this
winter have been producing their 2010 fifth-wheel models since
some time in the fall, we still saw a few 2008s on dealers' lots.
There were some 2009s that were very tempting because their
prices were significantly lower than the 2010 models that came in more
RULE #13: Consider a pre-owned RV or new
2008-9 . . .
. . . if you want the steepest discounts -- just
like with passenger vehicles. Dealers are more anxious to get
rid of those before the newest models, even though they make more
profit on the new ones. Older ones take up valuable space and
cost money each month they sit on the lot.
I wish I could give you examples of how much of a discount
various dealers were willing to give us on the MSRPs of
5th-wheels we looked at but it's impossible to determine an
accurate percentage because the value of our trade-in varied by
several thousand dollars.
Some dealers offered a bigger discount on the MSRP and a lower
price for our trade-in because of its condition; others inflated the value of the
trade-in to make us feel better and took less off the MSRP and
other charges. We can definitely say the discount was higher on
the 2009s than the 2010s.
(Side note: only two dealerships out of about a dozen
that we asked to look over our HitchHiker so they could give us
an informed trade-in quote gave it more than a cursory glance.
And even though we asked each of them about extending the slides
so they could better inspect the inside, only one wanted to see
it open. He was the one who drove about twenty-five miles one
way to our campground in Arizona to see it and was the most
Saguaro cacti in McDowell Mountain Park
near Phoenix, Arizona
In the end we had solid reasons for wanting a new 2010 unit (one
was the Cameo Bigfoot option) and we knew we'd pay more for it than a new
2009. If the newest features aren't important to you and you can
find a suitable new 2009 rig in 2010 (the selection is getting thinner
by the day), go for it.
We know folks who've gotten real bargains when they've found a
"cream puff" pre-owned motorhome or towable RV but they had to
be really on the ball to make sure they weren't inheriting
someone else's lemon. It's easier to thoroughly inspect (or hire
a pro to inspect) a used passenger vehicle than a used RV
because there's so much more to inspect on an RV. For example,
hidden water leaks may have ruined some of the wood in the
structure. Finding and repairing those can be a nightmare. And
how would you have any clue how many miles have been put on a
towable camper when there's no odometer?
It helps if the dealer offers a 90-day or one-year warranty
on a pre-owned RV but you have to read all the fine print to
understand what's covered and be able to trust the dealer to fix
it -- and
still be in business as long as the warranty lasts.
And an RV that's sold "as is?" Even as adept as Jim is at
repairing things, we wouldn't touch one of those. We're getting
too old for a wheeled or stationary "fixer-upper" to live
RULE #14: Be ready to walk if the deal isn't
right for you
If you desperately need a new RV right now because you
live in it and it just went up in flames or got totaled in a
wreck, you're pretty much at the mercy of your insurance company
and RV dealers.
Otherwise, take your time to find the right rig at the right
price. Always remember that you are in control of the
buying process. Vote with your feet and your wallet.
Since Jim and I weren't desperate
and we wanted to get as good of a deal as we possibly could, we
approached this purchase in a hard-nosed manner --
probably more ruthless than the average RV buyer. We were
armed with more and more information as the hunt ensued, we had
time to compare many models and dealers, and we were pretty
flexible regarding most features on our new fiver.
Information, time, flexibility: those are handy tools for an RV
buyer to have. Tenacity's good, too!
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when buying a new RV
(or passenger vehicle or stick-built house) is to fall so
hopelessly in love with one particular vehicle or house that
you will buy it at any cost. I guess that's fine if you have
unlimited funds but for most of us, it's a recipe for financial
Sunset over McDowell Mountain Park near
Jim and I were prepared, even with the coach we did buy, to walk
away from the dealership if the price wasn't what we wanted or
the terms changed unexpectedly. Because of the complications
that arose between the two managers who fought over our
business, we weren't sure until the day we signed the final
papers and moved our stuff from the HitchHiker to the Cameo that
the deal was final. In fact, we are still concerned that
something may go wrong and we won't sleep soundly until we've
got both the registration and title in our hands.
We figured we could find that particular model with most of the
features we wanted somewhere, some day. I think that's
true for 99.9% of the other RVs, passenger vehicles, and
houses out there. If you're flexible and have the time, you'll
find what you want at the price you want if it's at all
RULE #15: Something missing on your potential
new RV? Ask for it.
Dealers are sometimes more willing to throw in something extra
than to take more money off the bottom line. Examples of offers we
either received at various dealerships or have heard about
others getting were to upgrade an old 5th-wheel hitch,
swap tires to a different brand, change out the mattress, or put
in a microwave/convection oven instead of the microwave in the
coach -- at no extra cost, to "sweeten" the deal.
Cache Valley, Utah near Logan
If you find an RV you really want but it's missing a feature you
also really want, and the price is very good, see if the dealer
will throw it in at no extra cost.
Then make sure they don't make up for it somewhere else, like a
hidden fee. (I'm not paranoid, just wary.)
RULE #16: Be prepared at the "closing"
I swear I've been to closings for stick-built houses that had
less paperwork than this RV transaction did!
Jim and I did our best to learn what forms we'd be signing and exactly
what costs would be levied before we signed the purchase
agreement on our Cameo. We asked the manager lots of
questions before agreeing to the price. We did online research
to determine the fees our state of legal residence would charge
for sales tax, registration, and title work, then confirmed it
with our liaison at the mailing service we use in that state.
The liaison did a good
job for us when we bought the Dodge Ram last year, and she's
been indispensable during this transaction, too. (The mailing
service charges a very reasonable $25 fee to take all the
paperwork to the county in person, quickly obtain our registration
and title paperwork, and handle any subsequent snafus.)
The dealer did stick exactly to the purchase form we'd signed
three days earlier and filled out all the paperwork correctly
for our state of legal residence. Somehow we ended up with a
Texas vehicle inspection sticker but there was no additional
charge for it; we don't have inspections in our county of
Mama buffalo with her baby at Custer State
Park, South Dakota
We also took with us a short list of things we had asked the
dealer to repair before we picked up the Cameo, a long list of
questions re: the operation of all the systems and
appliances (a capable young woman did a great job of showing us
how everything works), and a list of "hidden" things we might
forget to take from our old camper when we moved into the new
one (afternoon of closing, on the dealer's lot -- they
parked the old and new fivers door-to-door to make it easier for
RULE #17: Go through all the RV information
you get within a few days of purchase
Our Cameo came with a loose-leaf notebook and thick
expanding file of manufacturers' warranties and information. It
took a while to read everything and to make sure we sent in all
the individual warranties for the various systems, appliances,
Whew! Tedious, a bit overwhelming, but necessary. Jim did as
many of the warranties as possible online and I filled in the other cards
RULE #18: Think long and hard before buying an
extended service contract or obtaining financing from the dealer
To the distress of our dealer, we did neither.
Extended service warranties are usually a source of high profit for
any business, whether you're talking about a vehicle, an
appliance, or an electronic item. Jim and I believe that most
are 1) over-priced, 2) over-rated, and/or 3) potentially risky
(if the company goes out of business) -- especially
extended service contracts
that cost as much as the ones for RVs cost.
Incoming storm approaches an abandoned mine
near Leadville, Colorado
The dealer from whom we purchased our Cameo began negotiations on a "platinum" policy for five
years at $3,400. We gasped, looked at each other, and clearly
said no. She eventually came down to $1,995, which we still
considered too high. We knew she was still making some profit
and we knew we could get one cheaper, if we decided to get
one later, by eliminating the middle(wo)man.
We asked her for the 50-page coverage booklet that explained all
the details and read it thoroughly before closing on the camper.
We reiterated at the closing that we didn't want it now. She let us keep
the booklet, leaving the door open in case we came back to get
it from her. The coverage is pretty good so it's handy to have
the details in hand to compare with other policies.
After researching some other companies
online we've found the same or better coverage for less money
AND saved the 3% our state would have taxed us on the extended
warranty if we'd gotten
it at the time we bought the Cameo. What's with that?? I'm glad
our gal at the mailing service told us about that little
twist! State tax was charged on the negotiated price of the
coach minus trade-in plus the $50 documentary fee. Taxing the
doc fee seemed
weird, too, but that was our state's policy, not the dealer or
state of Texas. We didn't squawk since it amounted to only
Despite the excellent two/five-year warranty on the Cameo, and
the separate, concurrent warranties on some of its pieces, we will probably
buy an extended service warranty on the whole camper for five or seven years from
the date of purchase.
We won't be buying it from the dealer, however. We can get a
better deal online but need to do more research first. We
consider it an insurance policy, realizing we may not get our
money back. It will give us peace of mind because there are so
many expensive things that can go wrong with all the electronics
and mechanical systems on the Cameo after their warranties
expire in two or five years.
Sunrise colors the eastern flank of Mt.
Massive near Leadville, Colorado.
About financing . . .
The best way to buy a new RV or any other non-essential item, of
course, is with cash (or 0% financing!). There are some
sound reasons to finance part of the purchase, however,
including keeping savings in an investment that has the
potential for more gain than the interest will cost you on a
If you decide to finance part of a new RV, put as much cash
(including your trade-in) into the deal as possible. Like any
other vehicle, RVs take a big hit the minute you drive them off
the lot. You don't want to find yourself upside down in a loan
if it's destroyed in the first year or two. Do not think of
an RV as an investment!! It's not. (Heck, even
stick-built houses haven't been "investments" lately.)
You'll almost always get a better interest rate on an RV loan
through your own credit union or bank than you will get from the
bank(s) the dealer works with. The dealer is the middleman for
the bank; it's an additional layer of profit that the
buyer ends up paying.
P.S.: Credit unions almost always have better terms
on every service than banks, and nowadays almost anyone
can join a credit union.
RULE #19: Note any warranty issues and take
care of them promptly
You don't really know your RV until you've taken it out for its
first spin. That's also when you start finding loose screws and
odd noises and other (hopefully, minor) things that don't work
as they should.
Keep a list of what's wrong and how it was resolved. If you can
fix problems yourself, fine, but it's still good to have dates
and details in case any of them get worse and you need warranty
work done by the dealer or factory.
View of San Francisco Bay in California
from the Headlands
Jim has been reading several RV forums and Carriage lists (one
is specifically for Cameo owners) for several weeks to learn
about problems owners have experienced even with brand new rigs.
He's been going over our coach with a fine-tooth comb to see if
we have any of those potential problems.
If you want to keep your RV in tiptop shape, you've got to be
very vigilant at all stages of the game -- before AND
after purchase. The same applies to passenger vehicles and
RULE #20: Enjoy your new RV!!
You spent a lot of time, effort, and money to get your new RV.
Now go enjoy it! That's what we plan to do.
An egret stalks its next meal at Brazos
Bend State Park in Texas.
Next entry: enough about RVs. Let's get back to traveling
and running and walking!
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil