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Heading for Tampa or another winter RV show? Here are a few warnings to consider

The annual Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa each January has long been a stage for RV manufacturers to roll out something “new.”

The 2022 Florida RV SuperShow that starts this Wednesday, January 19, will likely be no different. Already, Winnebago Industries is promising to unveil an electric-powered motorhome during the show, and there will undoubtedly be more than a few truly innovative products and advancements introduced to the thousands of hungry RV enthusiasts attending the show.

But for many manufacturers, it appears the “big news” will be that they are rolling out a series of “all new” RV floor plans. Yahoo!

Manufacturers know that sizzle sells their steak.

They also know that the huge influx of new-to-the-lifestyle potential RVers will likely drop the overall RV knowledge IQ at the show a few points. Maybe that’s why the industry has been sending out press releases with grand announcements of “exciting new floor plans” to be shown for the first time in Tampa.

But really? A few new floor plans are all you’ve got? What have RV designers been doing for the past two years? You’d hope that the pandemic era would have given designers the time they needed to really make some advances in functionality that would truly make their products stand out.

In their defense, I can’t imagine going through the rigors of design school, only to be handed a 400-square-foot rectangular box (or smaller) and told to see what you could do with it. How many options are there, really, when it comes time to position a shower?

Perhaps it’s not that surprising that manufacturers aren’t putting time and money into innovative designs right now. Heck, we are still in the period of “if it rolled, it sold.” Consumers are so hungry to get outside, they are still buying rigs sight-unseen.

Checklist for New Buyers

On the advent of the Florida RV SuperShow, I thought it might be nice to start a little “Checklist for New Buyers.” I’m far from an expert when it comes to what’s under the hood, or what must-haves consumers should be looking for. We have Mike Sokol and Tony Barthel at RVtravel.com for that.

I’m inviting all of you experienced RVers to add your suggestions for new buyers in the comments below. Let’s give them something to think about before they start dealing with the sales documents while standing in a glitzy Tampa Show display.

Things for RV showgoers to think about

#1: Buy with your head, not your heart.

This one is at the top of the list, and likely the hardest advice to follow. It’s tough to remember the importance of construction quality when you’ve stumbled upon that perfect floor plan and those extra-wide closets you’ve been looking for. Don’t forget that whoever hung those perfect-looking kitchen cupboards may have missed with every other screw. Go into the RV with a critical eye. Look under the sinks and behind the cupboard doors. Check the alignment of the outlets. If you are finding signs of obviously sloppy work, even if it’s a small thing, there’s likely more you can’t see. And remember, this is the manufacturer’s show model. They picked it because it was the best-looking one they had.

#2. This is an RV, not a house.

If you’re looking at purchasing your first RV, try to remember that what you’re buying must be able to survive a rolling earthquake of bad roads every time you take it out. Many experienced RVers have a cup full of screws, washers, and bolts that had shaken loose along the way with no idea where they came from. Also keep in mind that while RVs are supposedly built to “rigorous” RV Industry Association standards, the guy who is really installing the plumbing and electrical connections likely doesn’t have the experience or expertise you’d expect from the people you’d hire to plumb and wire your house. The RV Industry Association, to its credit, does conduct more than 2,000 unannounced factory inspections each year to check for compliance issues. But it’s easy to see the fox-and-henhouse situation there.

#3. Supply chain woes led RV makers to get creative.

Do you ever wonder how RV makers were able to keep churning out 600,000-plus units in 2021 while car manufacturing stumbled along, unable to find the right parts? The next time you’re in an RV, look around and try to count the number of parts and pieces inside and outside the rig. Now, count how many of those parts and pieces aren’t specifically made for that RV. If an RV manufacturer was having trouble getting their usual supply of range hoods, refrigerators, mattresses, cabinets, or pleather couches from their usual vendors, they just went elsewhere. That practice kept the assembly lines moving, but it probably didn’t do much for product consistency or quality.

#4. Record RV production isn’t always a good thing.

The RV industry was cheering wildly in December when it became apparent it would break all existing records for the number of RVs built in a single year. Yes, there have been a handful of new production plants either constructed or expanded in the past few years, but for the most part those 600,000+ new rigs were generated by the same factories that worked full time to build just over 500,000 rigs in 2017. How did they do that? They built them faster, that’s how. I’ve been to plants to watch the plethora of hammer-swinging workers scramble around an RV skeleton, placing windows, doors and exterior panels as the whole shebang slid slowly down a rail system. If the workers didn’t finish before the rig left their station, a halt would be called and there would be hell to pay. Imagine cranking up the speed of that assembly line by 20% to get those extra 100,000 rigs out the door.



#5. There are labor issues in RV manufacturing, too.

You don’t have to dig too deep to find stories about labor issues in Elkhart County, Indiana, the home of a majority of RV manufacturers. The unemployment rate is extremely low. Factories are competing with each other for skilled workers, and that’s led to higher wages, increased benefits, and signing bonuses. But turnover in the plants is still high, and there are a lot of new faces driving staples through RV wallboards.

#6. Show models may be limited.

No doubt showgoers will still find a lot of RV models displayed in Tampa. But expect the dealer supply of the rig you’re looking at to be limited. Remember that Thor Industries, the largest maker of RVs in the world, is sitting on an $18.3 billion backlog of orders. There are a lot of people standing in front of you who have been waiting for their new RV for months. You might be able to buy a show display rig, but take care you don’t get pressured into buying something you really don’t want because it’s “all we have available right now.”

#7. Avoid extended financing.

If you’re seriously in the market for a new RV, get your financing ducks in a row before the show. Do yourself a favor and fight off the urge to take out a 30-year loan on a $50,000 RV. As we said above, this isn’t a house. An RV is a depreciating asset. As the resale market settles down (and it has already started to), the actual value of your new RV will fall faster than a bad facelift. You don’t want to find yourself severely upside down on your loan, owing $30,000 on a rig worth $15,000. Proceed with caution.

#8. Get the rig you really want.

Unless you’ve already done your homework, the Tampa Show, and all the other winter shows, are great places to start your list of “must-haves.” If heated marble floors are your thing, then you shouldn’t settle for less. If you have your heart set on two bathrooms and six slide-outs, then stick to your guns and get it on your list. Once you have a firm list of what you don’t want to live without, then go shopping to find the rig that checks all the boxes. If you’re one of those lucky folks who have time to wait, find a dealer who will order exactly what you want from the factory and settle back. One risk here is that you could face price increases as you wait. Some dealers are reporting weekly factory price hikes on rigs already ordered with deposits.

#9. Even new rigs should be inspected.

The experience of buying an automobile these days has spoiled us. Cars and trucks are now assembled largely by robots that are able to produce extremely tight quality tolerances. When you roll off a car lot in a new vehicle, you can be pretty sure you won’t be back for service for a while. In the RV world, your rig is still mostly assembled by hand. That’s what leads to interesting errors like reversed wiring, hot water coming from the cold spout, and screws that miss the studs by a wide margin. Before you sign on the dotted line, it would be wise to invest in an independent inspection. Good inspections take time and are, of course, an added expense. Consider it a wise insurance policy that will keep you from a U-turn back to the dealership, and the ensuing war over warranty service. A good place to get started is the National Recreational Vehicle Inspectors Association (NRVIA) at www.nrvia.org. They can help you find a qualified inspector near you.

So, there are nine things for new RV buyers to think about. It’s a lot to digest, and we don’t want you to get discouraged. RVing is still a wonderful lifestyle and once you’ve taken the plunge, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

But it’s important to get started the right way, with the right rig. I’ll leave Tip #10 and beyond to our more experienced RVtravel.com readers, who will undoubtedly add their wisdom in the comments below.

Related:

Marketing ploy draws eyes to RV’s bells and whistles, distracts from asking important questions

##RVT1035

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Bruce Hampson
3 days ago

Mike, a few RVs you may have “overlooked” that underscore the industry’s design and engineering that will probably be on display at Tampa:
-THOR will debut an electric towable prototype;
-East To West: all-new Ahara fifth wheel on display;
-Alliance: new Avenue fifth wheel;
-Ember RV: EVERYTHING is new; company debuted last fall;
-Travel Lite: Rove SUR and EV;
Fleetwood Frontier: all-new Class A diesel;
-Forest River No Boundaries 10.8 (a truly different unit within the No Boundaries brand).
There are others – these are ones I quickly came up with.
Also, there’s nothing wrong with new floorpans. Consider Heartland RV’s Cyclone 4014, the biggest (480 square feet open) toy hauler the company has ever built. Or Forest River’s Palomino brand with its Backpack Edition 2912 – the only truck camper with a patio.
These are RV designs people will want to see.

Drew
3 days ago

I have two points- first, I’d advise not buying a new rig at all in the near future. Second, I wonder what dealer would tolerate an rv inspection and makes the results contingent on the sale?

Jeff Smith
3 days ago

You are RIGHT on with these tips!! I’d like to copy this article 100,000, highlight outstanding points, and leave little piles around the RV show for those first time RV buyers. Probably wouldn’t be very popular there. We purchased our first RV one month before Covid hit, and every outing has been filled with issues…many of what you’ve pointed out here. Oh, but don’t forget to look at the hoses that DON’T connect the sink drain to the grey water tank; instead draining into the basement below. Grrrrr!

Mike Gast
3 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Smith

Thanks Jeff. Good tip on the drain hoses, too. The actual punch list that should be used would probably read like an encyclopedia. It’s always amazed me that people would never think about accepting new house construction without careful inspections, punch lists, and weeks of fiddling with the details. But they happily plunk down tens of thousands of dollars often sight unseen for something that will undoubtedly have inside finishing issues. And once it’s at the dealership, you aren’t dealing with the factory any more. If cars in the U.S. were still made like this, we’d all be driving Hondas.

Greg S
4 days ago

” . . .Winnebago Industries is promising to unveil an electric-powered motorhome . . .”
This raises a lot of questions.
What is the range? How long will it take to charge so you can get back home when you are plugged into a 50 amp pedestal? Especially when you are taking some of that 50 amps for other functions like air conditioning, cooking, etc.
And how long will it take the campground owners to see their electric bills are sky high because of the ERV charging and start charging everyone for electricity?

Bruce
4 days ago
Reply to  Greg S

Can you imagine what the batteries will cost come replacement time. Or having to wait for a charging station. Think the dump stations can be bad

Truckman
3 days ago
Reply to  Bruce

Hopefully you will have a generator to recharge the batteries.

David Ciummo
3 days ago
Reply to  Bruce

That is a good question and also most batteries like those in new electric vehicle are not recyclable. Which in it self will be a big problem for our “Green Deal” to deal with.

David Ciummo
3 days ago
Reply to  Greg S

I feel that the range will be dependent on total weight plus, and this is a big plus, tow weight. Ford who has come out with all electric truck, states range without towing 230 miles or you can upgrade to extended 300 mile range. When tested F-150 Lightning owners can likely expect to make it 150 to 210 miles between charges with the extended battery. So the math tells us if towing 10,000 pound trailer, pickup will see a 50% drop in efficiency. Which comes to 100+ miles before needing to recharge and that takes 45 minutes.

John Graham
4 days ago

Make sure that you will have the time to do all if the maintenance that will be involved to care for the new RV. It takes constant maintenance to protect it.

John Graham
4 days ago

Make sure your tow vehicle is capable of towing your new RV. A lot of salespeople will tell you that your vehicle is okay when it isn’t.

Neal Davis
4 days ago

“Endless RVing,” a YouTube channel, just released a video that seems right on target to those susceptible to impulse buying of an RV. They go over 8 questions every buyer should ask themselves and answer honestly before signing a purchase agreement. It is at https://youtu.be/HopNN3AMcqQ . Rather than repeat them here, I offer you the link.

We are going to the Tampa show to get a few unresolved questions answered by the representatives of a few manufacturers and large dealers before we finalize our order for a 2023, or possibly purchase one of the few unsold 2022s.