Have you ever passed an RV with a smiling driver and thought, “One day, that’ll be me?” If so, you’re not the only one itching to hit the road in a big rig.
In a recent SpareFoot survey on leisure vehicles, 42 percent of respondents said they’d buy an RV or mobile camper if money were no object. However, there’s a lot more to owning an RV than whizzing down the highway and hanging out at campgrounds.
Before you buy a blinged-out RV from a dealer or private owner, steer your way through these 10 important tips.
1. Take Your Time.
Smart buyers research for a year or more before buying an RV, says Chuck Woodbury, editor at RV Travel, an RV news and information website. An RV can be the most expensive item you’ll ever purchase after your home, he says. Inexperienced buyers purchase an RV based on appearance and floor plan alone, without taking time to notice cheap components like an off-brand water pump, substandard plumbing or cabinets stapled to the walls, says Woodbury.
“Whatever you do, never buy on impulse,” he says.
2. Tap Into the RV Community.
Search online for RV forums, clubs for specific RV brands, local meetup groups and YouTube videos for advice and tips from other RV owners.
“There’s no better way to find out what it’s like to own an RV than to talk to someone who owns one,” says Woodbury.
3. Negotiate the MSRP.
When buying a new RV, offer 30 percent off the MSRP, says Woodbury.
“If you can’t get the deal or close to it, don’t buy. Walk away. Or try a different dealer,” Woodbury says.
Best times to buy a new RV: Last of the month or end of the year when sales departments need to meet quotas.
4. Even New RVs Can Arrive With Problems.
The RV industry’s push for productivity can cause mistakes and production shortcuts, says Woodbury.
“RVs are often shipped to dealers without a final inspection,” he says. “And even if they are inspected, dealers are expected to fix what is wrong before selling them, which some do and some don’t.”
New coaches can also have “lot rot,” water damage from going unchecked for sealant leaks for months on dealer lots, according to James West, owner of The Kilted Tech RV Repair.
“We recommend purchasing a $50-$90 moisture meter and checking the interior,” says West.
Anything registering over 20 percent on the meter is wet and should be repaired.
5. Consider Buying Used.
RVs are “a luxury that depreciates fast,” says Woodbury.
An RV loses at least 25 percent of its value the minute you drive it off the lot. Woodbury recommends buying an RV that’s a few years old from an owner with records showing the vehicle was well maintained.
“You can often buy an RV for half what it costs new, looking like new, with all the bugs worked out,” he says.
6. Repairs are Expensive and Mechanics Hard to Find.
“There is a great shortage of RV repair shops, says Laura Nunemaker, an RV “full-timer” who lives and works remotely with her husband Kevin in their 2003 Winnebago Adventurer. “If you need work done, plan ahead. Most shops are booking at least two to four weeks out.”
Water leaks are one of the most expensive RV repairs, says West. A front-wall rebuild, which involves removing and replacing wet wood and insulation, runs around $3,000, according to West. Roof replacements cost anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000. Keep in mind that many RV dealerships won’t service or repair your RV unless you bought it from them. You may also have trouble finding certain parts for RVs over ten years old.
7. Annual Maintenance is Costly.
Most RVs can last up to 15 years if general maintenance is performed, says West. You’ll need to set aside at least a couple thousand dollars for annual RV maintenance and repairs. A sealant inspection of moldings, windows, doors and hatches is crucial every spring and fall. Other maintenance costs include brakes, bearings, bushings, sealant work, a propane gas test and general wear and tear repairs. Tires are pricey. Six tires for a 32-foot Winnebago can run $500 apiece.
8. RVs are Gas Guzzlers.
Gas mileage varies substantially, depending on vehicle weight and whether the RV uses gasoline or diesel fuel, says David Rich, author of RV the World.
“While gas mileage for almost any size RV varies between four and ten miles per gallon, a diesel RV will get up to 20 MPG,” Rich said.
9. Good Camping Can Be Hard to Find.
The bigger your RV, the more limited your camping options at state and national parks. Many parks have a limited number of spots that can take larger RVs, and they book up fast, says Nunemaker.
10. RV Storage Matters.
RV tires age prematurely when the vehicle is stored or parked in direct sunlight and subjecting your RV to the elements will speed depreciation. Besides, your homeowners association may balk if you try to park your RV in your driveway or the street, so it’s a good idea to count on storage costs for at least part of the year. You can easily find and reserve an RV storage space online for free using SpareFoot.