How to Avoid Being Taken Advantage of When Buying an RV

Updated on February 12, 2020
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I am an avid RV enthusiast who understands that my life and my safety depend on the condition of my coach's equipment.

It is a sad truth that many people who buy recreational vehicles are sorely taken advantage of by the people who sell them. This is because most buyers are naïve or have only minimal experience with travel units, but even more seasoned buyers sometimes run into problems as well.

It doesn’t matter whether the seller is an individual or a dealer, because people selling campers, travel trailers and motorhomes are all mainly interested in getting their units sold and making as much money as possible from them when they do. Therefore, many will do whatever is necessary to achieve this goal.

The good news is that there are a number of things RV buyers can do to protect themselves, and they should make it a point to do them!

How to keep sellers from taking advantage of you when you are buying an RV.
How to keep sellers from taking advantage of you when you are buying an RV. | Source

Know Your Values

If you go blindly into an RV negotiation without having any knowledge about the true value of a coach, you are always going to pay far more than you should.

The way to protect yourself is to narrow down the type, brand, year and model of the unit you are interested in buying before you ever go looking and to use the NADA RV Price Guide to get some idea of how much you should realistically plan to spend on that RV.

How to Know What an RV Is Worth will give you more information about this, so make sure to read it before you go shopping!

Be Aware of Unethical Sales Practices

Some dealers are more ethical than others, but there is no way to really tell until you start dealing with one. For example, one dealer I know of tells his sales staff that if one of their colleagues is working on a deal with a customer, they must wait until the deal gets closed or the potential buyer leaves before trying to sell the same unit to another client.

Another could care less. For him, it’s whoever puts a deposit on a coach first that gets the deal, even if the offer comes by phone from a prospect who has never even seen the coach.

This means that a buyer who has spent a good deal of time examining a coach, test driving it and is in the middle of negotiations can lose the deal simply because someone who has never inspected it calls in a deposit to hold it until he can get to the dealership.

This is a ploy that is highly unfair to buyers and puts pressure on them to place a deposit on another coach so that they don’t “lose it”, even though they may not be sure they want to purchase it.

Some dealers use tactics like this to pressure buyers, but when they do, it’s time for you to walk away. If they are unfair in their sales practices, they’re not going to treat customers well when it comes to legalities or repairs either.

Understand the Market

At this writing, the RV market is red hot. There are so many people trying to buy coaches that in some instances, there aren’t even enough salesmen to meet their needs!

This makes buying extremely difficult for people who want to take their time and make sure they’re getting the right rig at the right price. Regardless of this, there is no need to rush. If you keep looking, you will find something that will work well for you on all levels.

Assume Nothing

People often assume that buying a coach is the same as buying a car, but this type of faulty thinking can be a mistake that will likely end badly for them. They also fall into the trap of thinking that one particular brand is best to buy.

These and other assumptions are the very things that lead people astray. The secret to avoiding this is for them to stop "assuming" and start using facts to guide their buying decisions.

Your salesman may look like just another RV owner, but he usually isn't.
Your salesman may look like just another RV owner, but he usually isn't. | Source

Know Your Salesman

Most individuals have a natural distrust of car salesmen. However, they assume that the people selling RVs also own and travel in them and thus are credible.

The truth is that those who sell recreational vehicles are nothing more than people working on commission, most of whom know little or nothing about their products and have never owned or traveled in them. In fact, many of them used to be car salesmen!

This being the case, their only goal is to close the deal and make as much money doing so as possible. For this reason, it pays to ask questions such as

  1. How long have you been selling RVs?
  2. Do you own one, yourself?
  3. How much RV travel have you done?

These and similar questions will help you to find out how experienced, honest and ethical your salesman is. This is important to know because a good salesperson is the key to finding a solid coach at a reasonable price.

Examine Everything

Many recreational vehicles seem to be constructed with quality products that are much better than those that most people have in their homes! Because of this, buyers assume that all parts of a coach are also "quality constructed", so they don't take the time to carefully examine units.

Many interior cosmetics can be easily upgraded and repaired if need be, but replacing a roof, eliminating underbelly rust, replacing flawed engines and generators or installing new windows are all major issues that can cost consumers tens of thousands of dollars.

How to Know If an RV Is Well Designed and Constructed and What You Need to Know About RV Manufacturing Rip-Offs provide excellent advice about what you should look for and inspect when making a recreational vehicle purchase.

Test Everything

Dealerships often show coaches with the slide rooms in the "out" position. Always ask to see them closed so that you will know how much room you'll have when driving. Some have so little that you can barely walk to the kitchen or even be able to open the refrigerator doors. This can be a serious inconvenience when you are forced to park on a site that does not allow enough room to open slides.

There are a number of similar issues a buyer should address prior to signing on the dotted line. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • refrigerators
  • inverters
  • engines
  • generators
  • ice makers
  • furnaces
  • hot water heaters
  • smoke alarms
  • gas alarms
  • microwaves
  • windows
  • locks
  • doors
  • lights
  • brakes

It’s also important to take a coach for a test drive and make sure the shower and seating areas are big enough and kitchen counter space is ample.

Ignore Verbal Promises

RV salespeople have little authority when it comes to fulfilling any verbal promises they make, so buyers cannot count on what they say during the initial stages of a negotiation. So, for example, if they promise to update a unit's television set or put an ice maker in the refrigerator, chances are these things will never happen!

This is because that the cost of these items will be taken out of the salesman's commission check unless his boss gives him permission to provide them. His boss is highly unlikely to do so unless refusing means losing the deal. Furthermore, since what a salesman says is not put in writing (unless you know enough to insist), he is not legally bound to provide service or products to a buyer.

The bottom line is that anybody purchasing a recreational vehicle should never sign a sales agreement that does not include every item that was discussed. Once you sign, you own the coach and those promises of repairs and upgrades will simply disappear!

Understand That There Are No Guarantees

People often flock to large, well-known dealerships or buy brands that are well known. The problem is that the terms "big and famous" do not always equate to quality and honesty.

Some of the most well-known brands of RV are known to be fraught with problems, and some of the biggest dealerships will steal client money faster than many of the smaller ones.

There are no guarantees, and those who think there are often find themselves buried with financial, legal and mechanical problems.

The only way for people to protect themselves is to

  • take all the time necessary to learn what they need to know,
  • comparison shop and
  • read contracts and warranties carefully before signing them.

How to Avoid RV Contract and Warranty Problems provides important information about this topic and is a "must read" for anybody wishing to purchase a motorhome, travel trailer or camper.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, there is a lot more to buying an RV than you might think. You need to remember that, unlike a car, a recreational vehicle is something you spend time living in, either part time or full time.

You need to buy one that you can afford but also will endure. It's also important to make sure that the deal you thought you were getting is the one you received. Always remember that need to take steps to avoid being taken advantage of when buying an RV because if you don’t, it could cost you plenty.

Good luck.

Before reading this article, were you fully aware of what you need to do when buying an RV?

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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

  • Is there anything hidden when a dealer insists on financing rather than allowing you to pay cash?

    What's hidden is the huge amount of interest you will pay over the life of the loan and also that the financing the dealer offers may not be as good as financing you can get elsewhere.

© 2016 Sondra Rochelle


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