Is novice RV buyer being “taken” by dealer? Your input requested


A reader named Esther Jenkins posted this on our RV Buying Advice Facebook group. We believe she (and other RVers) would appreciate your comments. We suspect what she is expressing here is a concern shared by others when buying an RV from a dealership.

Esther wrote:
“I’m looking to buy my first RV. The dealer is asking for a $500 non-refundable deposit (called it a deposit, not a down payment), despite my not financing. They are telling me they do three days of pre-sale testing to check for leaks and to make sure all the systems work, etc., but won’t start without the deposit. Is that normal when buying from a dealer?

“I thought I’d read posts in the past about people going to a dealer and taking a unit home that day. Also, I was previously given advice that I shouldn’t pay any money until after they fix anything that was discovered during the PDI. I think I’ve been reading too many horror stories on the internet, because now I’m worried they are trying to take advantage of my naïveté in this situation despite getting a good review about them from one of you. I also expect them to try to sell me stuff I don’t need or charge me too much for things I do, so am taking an experienced RV owner with me. I think I’m just being paranoid because of spending so much.”

What do you think? Please leave a comment.


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Ken kuelske

Esther should pull the rug from that deal. If she caves, dealer will gouge her for sure.


Sounds highly suspicious, they should be checking the unit out as standard practice for no additional fee. Sounds like a dealer I had talked to that added $850.00 to the price of the used RV for a “thorough survey”.


Do not follow through here.
We lost a $3000.00 dollar deposit to largest dealer in Texas , Alvarado. They Did Not tell us the so called deposit was Nonrefundable. We assumed it was since it was called a Deposit. Find a dealer who is honest and upfront.


We jumped out there and bought new for our first RV – mistake. While we lived it, it just wasn’t what we wanted after using it for a year. If I had it to do over again, I would definitely buy used, would take a seasoned RVer with me to help out, would require seller to have everything available when looking at the unit (power, propane, room for slides to extend/retract, water…). Find a list online of things to check and mark them off as you go along.
You have received lots of wise advise here about running from the non-refundable deposit as well. Best of luck to you.

Vanha Pieru



When I worked in sales at an RV dealership all of our deposits were refundable. By putting a deposit down that in essence made that coach unavailable for sale to others. You would then receive a call from finance to confirm your financing or intent to buy and then your rig would go through the PDI process. It was not unusual for customers to have multiple refundable deposits at multiple dealerships so it was challenging to take them seriously until they committed to our finance manager. Still, many customers wouldn’t show or call to say they changed their mind. It’s ok to change your mind of course but show some respect, please.

If this is a new rig being purchased our dealership simply didn’t have time to completely fix all the garbage that was sent from the manufacturers before making them available for sale. Most manufacturers send out poorly assembled coaches to their dealer and expect them to fix them up. One well known Class A manufacturer sent us $425K coach with 38 issues that took over 6 months to prep. The issues were so bad they were easily recognizable by anyone.

If this is a preowned unit, dealers are partly dependent upon the previous owner who most likely lied about how great the condition was of their trade in. You’d be amused at all the surprises we found on these nearly perfect coaches. Anything older than 10 years was sold “as is” except checking for propane leaks and electrical issues. We disclosed to all prospective buyers the issues we found before we repaired preowned units and if they didn’t want the rig, no sale, no problem. Yes, we did cancel sales because of the amount of work needed to get some coaches ready for sale. Those rigs were then wholesaled.

Most of my career was spent selling multi-million dollar solutions. My goal in the RV sales business was to treat everyone with respect, be professional and in a manor I’d want to be treated and to reform RV sales people in general. I wasn’t always treated the same way by customers but after the experiences I had with RV sales types I didn’t hold it against them. As a sales professional, when you’re honest you never have to remember what you said to a prospective client. Many of the RV sales people I worked with quickly adapted this philosophy. Not all unfortunately.

Nobody can make you buy something you don’t want! If it’s not the right one walk. If it is buy. Make sure you love not like the floor plan. Tell your sales person exactly what you are looking for and again if they don’t have it, walk. If they don’t show you what you asked for, walk. If you have 8 must haves and they can show you something with 7 and in budget, it’s probably worth your time to see the rig. I actually sent people to other dealerships who had exactly what some potential customers wanted. Of course, I didn’t tell my GM!!!

Do your homework and be prepared.

Good luck.


Run don’t walk as fast as you can away from this dealer. A few years ago we were shopping for a A at one of the large dealers and they had 2 units that we liked so we asked for the best price on each so as to compare. We were told that they couldn’t do that, we would have to pick the one we wanted before they could give us a price. Of course we walked out and have never stepped foot into any of there dealerships since.


The dealer won’t prepare the RV until they have a sales contract. A contract isn’t valid until you put earnest money on the RV. Every car, truck, and RV I have ever purchased has been the same.

The deposit is refundable if the vehicle is not as represented. Most dealers allow a refund for any reason.


Hi Esther ~ I’ve only purchased two RVs new (a fifth wheel and a travel trailer) so am no expert.

“Dealer Prep” is normal for a new unit, and visits will be ongoing FOR A WHILE until all the bugs get worked out…….but a non-refundable deposit for fixing defects that should not exist to begin with?

I wouldn’t even go back to that dealer, nor call. When they call you, just tell them their competitor got your biz,

Just head for another dealership and see if you don’t receive better treatment.


If the $500 deposit is non-refundable, walk away. Same for “documentation fees” walk away. There’s over 250,000 assorted used RV’s for sale on any given week in this country. As a buyer, you have more power than you think.

Capt Jim

The only real bargaining tool you have is your presence. If you are not willing to get up and walk out, you are no longer negotiating, you are buying. By the time you get home your phone will be ringing.


Do your homework, read what quality RV’s are out there, talk to RV owners.
I bought a Grand Design 5th wheel, very little problems, dealer got work done
quickly. Highly recommend Grand Design units.

Eric Kaminsky

A non-refundable deposit is not either normal or necessary. The RV should have been “tested” before the dealer put it out to sell. I would run, not walk, away from the dealer. Also, have someone with RV experience go with you to look at the RVs. A novice is at the mercy of the dealer. Take your time. Go on the internet and find out what others are asking for the same or similar RVs. If it is a used RV insist that you be able to take it For an inspection at a place of your choosing. Ask for a guarantee. Do not buy repair insurance unless you have a chance to completely review what the dealer is trying to sell you. And be careful. Often the cost of the insurance is whatever the dealer can convince you to pay. And there are many loopholes that allow the insurance company to refuse to pay for repairs. Do not expect the insurance to give the same protection as one gets when one buys a new car from a franchised dealer. Remember that the RV industry is still the Wild West and the caution “buyer beware” is alive and well.


Your instincts are spot on…

Remember that everything that is life is negotiable.

If the dealer won’t do anything unless you put money down, that to me is a red flag. On their side though, if you don’t put anything down, he may get stuck with something that he has to try and resale.

I would propose a service that is an escrow. You agree to terms with the vendor. It’s signed by a contract. Money is held in escrow (NOT by a dealer) and he makes the order. AS LONG AS everything is to the terms, he receives his funds from escrow. IF NOT, you are not on the hook for a bad product.

This should be acceptable to the dealer if he is an honest dealer. If not agreeable, I would move on.

As far as “extra’s”, you have the right to say no to all of them. In fact, if you are set on taking no extra’s, then simply stating so up front should suffice. If not, again, walk. No…run…But you may want to see what is offered and then shop that item of interest at other locations. You might find something useful that you had not thought about.

Since this is your first RV….Be sure to confirm you are buying your first RV the first time. NOT the third time. If you have made this decision in hast, back up and go to RV shows to see what else is out there. Ask yourself if the floor plan is right. How long do you intend to keep this unit? Some THINK they will like this only to find out later that it’s not really right for them. Then, you have to put it out there in a market that is saturated with used units. How long will it take to sell one? Remember that the last several years, there has been a flood of new RV’s sold. That means soon, there will be a flood of used RV’s hitting the market. It will happen just as soon as those that bought figure out how much it costs them to own one; they get tired of paying storage rent; they find out that they can’t use it that often because they have to work; they find out that they have to have a reservation 1 year in advance. Just the tip of the iceberg of reasons to sell. The big one is when they find out how much maintenance these things require and how long they will be in the shop at a time (like 3 months or more).

We get the excitement of a new unit. But just a suggestion, you may want to opt for a less expensive slightly used unit. You can save at least 50% or more. Especially when the gates open up…

Jesse Crouse

The unit should come already with a PDI completed and what if any problems were noted and FIXED with NO PAYMENT of any kind till you sign the papers. RUN as fast as you can and report this dealer to a state agency for consumer fraud.

John No

RUN, don’t walk, away from this dealership!!


If your buying from Camping World, All I can say is DON”T

Ken Schaffer

Try adding an addendum which states that any and all deficiencies found shall be repaired within a specific number of days from the date of deposit, and that you shall receive $100/day cash (no credits toward dealer services) should any repair(s) needed, a determined by a licensed independent RV Inspector, not have been satisfactorily completed, as determined by a licensed independent RV Inspector.

You can fill in the number of days after they’ve boasted about their service department…

Patrick Granahan

Good idea about having an experienced RV owner help you in the process.
When you return to the dealership let the salesman know you want to inspect
the RV with your friend. Have them plug the RV into a power supply and then test
everything in the unit. Have water added to the system…turn on the water heater…
run every faucet…test the shower and the toilet…”leave no stone unturned”.
Check the refrigerator on both electric and propane…check the burners on the range…
run the A/C…open and close every window…this process will take time…take notes..
create a punch list of any and all items needing repair and/or replacement.
Let the dealership know that no money will change hands until you are ready to buy
after a final inspection and test of every system in the RV…be sure to retest everything
In the final inspection…don’t overlook the tires…check date code on tires…have mechanic
Check the wheel bearings…check for soft spots in the floor (signs of water leaks etc.
Remember you are buying a home on wheels…a major purchase !!!

“Buyer Beware”. Don’t overlook other private sales where you can interview the
Current owner and ask questions.

Good Luck and happy camping !


Wait, your the buyer, you want a product, you have to pay a non-refundable deposit to make sure it works? Really? C’mon folks, this isn’t rocket science. Tell them to roll their eyes and look for their brain and leave with a laugh, their loss.