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Understanding RV Prices

Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life. He shares his experiences along with valuable tips for RV owners.

Financial tips to help the buyer or owner understand RV pricing and get the best deal when purchasing or trading.

Financial tips to help the buyer or owner understand RV pricing and get the best deal when purchasing or trading.

Buying an RV Is Not the Same as Buying a Car

The first thing any potential RV buyer learns is that an RV costs a lot more than a car and, because of the higher costs, the typical loan lasts a lot longer than a car.

Because of this, anyone interested in getting into this unique world of RVs needs to understand all they can about the special financials involved in purchasing and owning an RV.

Your typical automobiles sell for much less than an RV because, well, they are actually just a means of transportation. On the other hand, an RV is a home of sorts, that can be driven or towed to campsites where it provides numerous creature comforts for the owner's use for years.

Because a modern RV has so many of these creature comforts installed in them, such as air conditioning, heating, toilets, beds, refrigerators, sofas, dining tables, and more, they will naturally cost more than what you would pay for the average car.

Another difference is that there are quite a bit fewer lending institutions that will finance an RV than there are ones that will finance cars, so RV loans can inherently be a little harder to find.

An RV, especially one of the larger motorhomes, because of its high cost, will usually need to be financed for a much longer period of time than a car, just to get the monthly payment down to a reasonable and affordable number.

In fact, a new motorhome or high-end fifth-wheeler will be financed for ten years or more, and often for as many as twenty years.

New and Used RV Price Sources

To potential buyers, new to the world of recreational vehicles, the pricing systems and the real values of the different models, new and used, will seem a little complicated.

The key thing for a potential buyer to do is to find and use the special tools available to them and minimize the costs of making a bad deal on an RV they may like.

The good thing is, there are several places a buyer can quickly find the relative values of a specific RV that they might be interested in so that they can level the playing field with the dealers involved.

The RV pricing you will find on these sites is actually a summary of what actual RV models sold for regionally and over the past month or two. This up-to-date data is critical to dealers as pricing often varies with the local economy.

NADA Standard Pricing

Probably the most popular source for accurate RV pricing is the NADA (National Automotive Dealers Association) database on the web; which is also the number one pricing standard used by RV dealers across the country.

In fact dealerships across the country pay for access to this regional pricing system which includes web access and even a handbook for local and regional dealers to use.

Kelly Blue Book Pricing

Another popular resource used by some dealers and others is the Kelly Blue Book website or KBB.

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KBB pricing is laid a little differently, but you will find that their pricing numbers are very close.

And of course, there are a few other sources of RV pricing available, especially on the web, but you will find that the vast majority of RV dealers and lending institutions will be using these top two sources for determining their RV pricing standards.

Using the NADA Site for Pricing Data

The NADA website provides data for consumers and for dealers. The dealer section is only available to those with a paid membership.

It does provide certain information for the dealers that is not available in the consumer section, but it has the same basic pricing numbers as on the other site.

In order to get to the appropriate site on the NADA website and find the actual values for a model unit, you should do the following;

  1. On your PC, go to
  2. Click on “Visit Consumer Site.” The other option is for paying dealers only.
  3. At the top of the page click on “RVs.”
  4. You will then be taken to the “RV and Prices page.”
  5. Click on “Start Here.”
  6. A pop-up will ask for your local zip code; enter it. This is required because prices do vary around the country.
  7. At this point, you will be in the area of the NADA site where you can enter the basic details about the RV you are interested in.
  8. Make sure to not duplicate accessories that may have been standard in your specific model, as you define your desired RV and its accessories.

Once you are done, you will see the latest NADA suggested values for the specific RV you have chosen.

You will want to print these pages of data if you want to go to a dealer who might have the RV you want to purchase. You will find these prices are a necessary tool for you if you want to negotiate your best deal with any RV seller, whether they are a dealer or not.

The NADA Pricing Categories

When you do get to the NADA pricing page for a specific RV, you will notice that there are several prices available on your RV available for you to use.

You must understand these prices as well as how they are used by dealers.

Suggested List Price

This is (or was) the original list price for the RV when it was new. With cars, you might recognize this price as the familiar term MSRP, or as it is sometimes called, the Sticker Price.

You should immediately understand that this price is only relevant when you are looking at a brand new RV. Just like the name says, this is a hypothetical sale price suggested by the manufacturer for the dealers to use.

And, this price has no financial relevance when you are looking at a used RV, other than being there as a data point, from the past. It is often used by salesmen to impress the potential buyer with how much their RV was once valued at.

Snapshot of the NADA definition of what Average Retail means

Snapshot of the NADA definition of what Average Retail means

Average Retail Price

This number was once considered to be the retail value of this RV if it is in top condition.

But it actually exists in the NADA database to let the dealer know what this particular model of RV should sell for in their local market.

But far too often, it’s automatically used by many dealers as their minimum retail asking price for all of their used RVs, some of which are not in top condition.

In fact, most large chain dealerships now expect to get this price for all of the used RVs, on their lot, and many will rarely come down from this "jacked up" price even if there are obvious problems with the unit they are trying to sell.

NOTE: Because of this new way of pricing by dealers, it is recommended that if you do actually see a used RV on a lot that is priced significantly lower than this, you should be wary of what might be wrong with the unit that makes them want to get rid of it so easily.

Definition of NADA Low Retail Valuation for RV's

Snapshot of NADA definition of Low Retail valuations for RV's.

Snapshot of NADA definition of Low Retail valuations for RV's.

Low Retail Price

This number was once the suggested value of each model of RV if it is in below-normal or even poor condition with some serious problems present.

Often such an RV, labeled with a price near the actual low retail price value would be deemed as functionally sound but might have problems such as;

  1. Signs of having not been properly cared for
  2. Serious cosmetic problems, inside or outside
  3. Very high mileage
  4. Something minor but relatively costly that needs work such as with its engine or transmission

But now, especially over the past decade or so, this price has become the maximum amount a dealer will allow you for your RV, even in excellent condition, as a trade-in value.

NOTE: You should be aware of this fact about RV dealers. In today's market, if you bought an RV for the NADA Average Retail Price from a typical dealer, and drove it to the same dealer the very next day to trade on another RV, they would invariably offer you somewhere near the NADA Low Retail Price, or far too often an even lower price.

Presently, this way of pricing is becoming the sales standard of the major chains of dealerships.

They do this because if they allow the low retail price for a trade-in, and then sell the same RV used and “cleaned up” at the average retail price, they can have a very healthy markup (profit) on every RV they handle.

Wholesale Price Definition

This so-called standard RV price is not available on the Consumer side of the NADA site but is there for dealers to use.

At one time, you could guess this wholesale price to be approximately 20% below the low retail price of an RV.

But its relationship to the other pricing that NADA lists for an RV can vary dramatically with the season and the economy as well as the overall health of the RV marketplace.

Be aware that in the past this "wholesale" number was what dealers might offer you when you try to sell your RV to them for cash.

But sad to say, some dealers will try to offer you this "wholesale" price for your RV in a trade, rather than anywhere near the low retail price.

When you see these kinds of discounted pricing offered on your used RV the dealer is essentially telling you they don’t really want your old RV.

With this kind of very low offer for your RV from a dealer you should assume one of the following;

  • Your RV is very old and not worth very much to them for resale
  • Your RV is in very bad condition and is not considered worth upgrading
  • The dealer is just trying to take advantage of you and "low-ball" you with such a low price to increase their profit.

In my opinion, when you see this, it's a sign you need to move on to another, more reasonable, dealership for your trade, or consider your other options, such as selling your RV yourself or repairing the problems with your RV.

Be Aggressive in Your Dealing, and Look Further Away for a Better Deal

Remember, when you start your trading process, unlike years ago, you also have the internet as your information resource, like the dealer; as well as access to pretty much every RV dealer in the country if you want to search for a better trade.

And you can sit at home and get a lot of real-time offers and model information on trades over the phone with pretty much any dealer around the country if you try.

What this does for the buyer is open up a nation full of dealers, many of whom will close a deal with you over the phone and web, and some of whom will even deliver your new RV to you and pick up your old one (for a fee of course).

As I have mentioned, our economy is a dynamic thing, and the RV market varies monthly to some degree and so do the values of different RVs around the country.

Because of this, as with cars, the latest NADA values are updated monthly for the dealers (and consumers) to use.

So, before you walk into a dealership, take your iPad, tablet, or laptop with you, so you can have your own access to the latest values of new and used RVs.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: I'm under the impression that with the current economy and the supposed reduction in RV manufacturing, it is currently a "buyers market." Fact or fiction?

Answer: There are people saying this, but still, the dealers have so much margin in their pricing they can easily drop, say $10K on a $150K - $250K motorhome and still have an enormous margin.

And, that $10K is a pittance for them.

So, yes, they may offer what looks like a good price reduction, but because everyone still looks at the MSRP-like LIST price, often these reductions could be higher.

Some people are saying we are entering another Recession right now, and if so, those RV prices will drop even more. The problem for some Buyers is, if we are in a Recession, the finance companies will pull back on the reins of loans and demand a larger down payment.

Consider that all of the auto dealers are offering as much as 20% reductions off of the sticker price of their current models and are still making money, just less per car.

Overall, to answer your question, if you are shopping for a new or used RV, yes, if the pricing looks good grab it, but remember to read my section or depreciation. It is perpetual and unavoidable.

© 2016 Don Bobbitt

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