Wednesday, November 29, 2023


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.


Chuck Woodbury
Chuck Woodbury
I'm the founder and publisher of I've been a writer and publisher for most of my adult life, and spent a total of at least a half-dozen years of that time traveling the USA and Canada in a motorhome.



0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe to comments
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Donald N Wright (@guest_96300)
3 years ago

take your experienced friend with you.

Katy (@guest_95876)
3 years ago

I was convinced I was going to buy a particular RV from private party. He asked for a 500.00 non-refundable deposit. I said no and we agreed to 250$. After getting it inspected the next day it was found that there was water damage to the overhead cab and he was hiding the fact he was actually a wholesaler. It was not his grandfather’s RV. I decided not to buy it and I felt that In good faith, he should have returned the deposit since he lied.
I had to take responsibility for my actions. I never should’ve given him a non-refundable deposit. It was a lesson learned.
I did send him a text later explaining how I felt about him lying. He denied it and said he was going to fix the water damage; however, he had it reposted on Craigslist as no leak or water damage so, I flagged the post and contacted Craigslist for him lying in his ad after it was proven by the inspection to be damaged.
Wasted money on deposit but, money not wasted on inspection.

Joseph Hannon (@guest_64494)
3 years ago

My deposit experience when RV shopping brand new in order to get the best deal in my situation preferring to shop at local as possible. I did give this place a $500 deposit thinking here is where I would purchase. Shopping locally at a dealer we found one we liked and I showed them the quote from the dealer I had made the deposit with. They said they’d match it. I then called the dealer I made the deposit with and told them what occurred and could I get my deposit returned. They informed me that a “deposit” is just that (in Texas) and they had not processed my deposit yet and said that they would not now that I’ve found one locally that I liked. Because of this transaction I will likely buy my next RV from this dealer. They are
RV Land
23401 Interstate 35
Kyle, TX 78640
Toll Free: (888) 435-0789
Phone: (512) 234-6978
Fax: (512) 597-0815

Bill (@guest_63605)
3 years ago

Walk away, with confidence. The dealer is feeding you a line. If they are honest dealers, they will reconsider their position and present you with an honest deal. Otherwise, there are other dealers who are anxious to provide you with an honest and fair deal.

Bull (@guest_63139)
3 years ago

The important part of the $500 deposit for 3 days of inspection may be linked to the financing of the unit. Many states have laws giving a period of time concerning the acceptance or rejection of a financing agreement. In the state in which I live it is 3 days for an installment loan such as a mortgage, vehicle loan or as in this situation an RV loan. The buyer has 3 days to review the loan agreement and can withdraw completely from said agreement without recourse.

Possibly another slimy RV dealer sales scam to keep a customer from knowing and potentially exercising their legal rights concerning a finance contract.

Tommy Reeves (@guest_63224)
3 years ago
Reply to  Bull

She said that she wasn’t financing. Apparently she’s paying cash.

john sweeney (@guest_62979)
3 years ago

The dealer has a responsibility to ENSURE that the unit he delivers is in top condition; failures to do so should entitle the buyer to redress

Ken kuelske (@guest_62513)
3 years ago

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

Steve (@guest_62423)
3 years ago

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”.

Ed Hibbs (@guest_62615)
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Must be Camping World. They added $850.00 for inspection to the price of an RV on consignment that I bought. As it turns out, it was well worth the money. When they went through it (cost includes making sure everything works and is up to par) the tires that looked good were out of date and the house 6-volt batteries needed replacement and several other small misc. items. The tires alone were almost $1900 plus several hundred for the new batteries made this worth while as it was all paid for by the seller, not me. But, we cringed at the $850.00 as it seemed excessive but in the end, glad we did.

DPHooper (@guest_62419)
3 years ago

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.

Linda (@guest_62418)
3 years ago

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 (@guest_62374)
3 years ago


Will (@guest_62306)
3 years ago

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.

TravelingMan (@guest_62370)
3 years ago
Reply to  Will

If you are one of the few honest salespersons out there, I commend you. I’m sure you recognize that salesmen and lawyers all fall into the same category so if you are in this field, you have to expect some push back. I try to give a salesman respect each time I deal with them whether its a car or RV. But in the end, I have always gotten the run-around. So, its always buyer beware.

Just once, I would like to walk into a dealership, find a salesman who has authority to make a decision and doesn’t have to run to the next line manager, who has to run to the next line super manager, who has to run to the next super duper manager. Its always such a big game. In the case of RV’s, why do they have to start out with ridiculous pricing of 50% more than what the RV is worth? Why can’t they just put out a price tag with a reasonable profit of 7%-9% like most businesses? Let me see the factory invoice (the real one). If there are incentives, they are for me. Not the dealer. If the dealer has an incentive, that one is for them. I want the Hold-Back monies. Not the dealer. Stop charging $250 for Doc fees. That’s ridiculous as well. Make my buying pleasant but I don’t need an overhead fee because the dealer built a palace for themselves. Give me an RV that is roadworthy. Verify the engineering before the dealership accepts it from the factory. In fact, if the manufacturer sends you crap, refuse to accept it and/or send it back. The dealership is our front line to a quality product. If all dealerships did this, the manufacturer would have so many back at the manufacturer that they would HAVE to improve quality (in absence of regulation) or go out of business. They don’t own you! You are an independent dealership!

Financing…Stop playing games with the numbers. Here is the invoice with the agreed purchase price and sales tax. Stop adding in things I don’t need or expect. I will go get my own license plates so that you don’t charge me exorbitant fees for that. This invoice should be clean of a bunch of junk fees. If I finance, I want a fair interest rate and exact payment plan that matches the sales price agreed to. Don’t pollute the finance or make it so convoluted that it’s not clear. If I choose to pay it off early, don’t charge me fees for that. Stop ripping off the layman who may not necessarily understand financing. STOP SELLING MY PRIVATE INFORMATION after we make the transaction. SAFE-GUARD that information as if it were your own.

If the dealership is going to offer a sincere warranty, then stand behind it. Don’t make us wait 3-4 months to get repairs done. First, give a quality product that we can count on. It’s your dealership.

If a dealership operated half-way like this, there would be a lot more happy customers that may start to trust a salesman and dealership. Until then, I remain cautiously optimistic.

Again, I truly hope you are one of the good guys out there. Thanks for any truly valuable incite on the salesman and dealership.

Will (@guest_62539)
3 years ago
Reply to  TravelingMan

My experiences before selling RV’s allowed me to go to my GM and demand the same cost information they had so I could work with my clients one on one. I only needed mgmt to approve our agreement (always) and to value a trade. As a consumer, like you I find it stupid and time consuming to play the manager shuffle, so I didn’t do it. I assume most dealers do sales training and it’s the same crap that was taught in 1980. It’s embarrassingly ignorant and deceptive. I would say their garbage back to mgmt and then go and do the right thing. I spent many years as a professional sales manager and taught 2 main concepts. People like to buy, not be sold and when someone calls with a problem respond the same way you would if they were calling to buy something. That’s how you create trust and lifelong relationships. Many RV sales people come from the car business and have had poor customer relations taught to them, if any.

As for hidden fees we didn’t have any so I can’t comment on those. I wouldn’t like them and would leave immediately. What else are they hiding? Our state required all dealers to have a Dealer Prep fee added to every sale. The amount varies from dealer to dealer. On ours we included items like batteries, propane, paperwork additional profit and gift certificates and this information is posted everywhere in the store. I’ve given people Yeti coolers and other items as a thank you for their purchase.

MSRP is set by each individual dealer so trying to figure out discounts as a consumer is challenging. You could have the exact same TT’s MSRP be $30k at one place and $34k at another and the higher price dealer offering a larger discount and the consumer could end up paying more for the exact same rig. If they are truly pricing An additional 50% they wouldn’t sell anything. The internet makes that kind of pricing impossible now and it would also make financing impossible. Dealers add a percentage to their actual cost and this is called pack. This varies again from dealer to dealer. I’ve only seen a couple contracts cut into pack. Sales people make no commission on these sales, but might get a “mini” from the dealer of $100.

Financing- my biggest take away from RV sales is how ignorant the American public is on money and finance. Even if you are going to pay cash, go to your bank or credit union and see what they can do for you. You don’t want to learn your options in front of the finance mgr. I’ve had couples getting set to retire, have 725+ credit and not be able to purchase the coach they’ve had their hearts set on buying. Their debt/income ratio was too high because they co-signed for their kids college loans. Many retirees have the exact same issue. I also had a guy with 575 credit get a loan because his track record was impeccable over the last 18 months. Know where you stand. At our store 35% of our sales were financed by us, a very low number. Also, when our finance manager calls our customers back to confirm or deny financing he always told them exactly what the terms of the agreement were. You knew the interest rate, length and monthly amount. This would only change if you bought extended services and certain counties required us to collect county taxes at the time of sale, but not all counties. Also, all walk throughs with customers were done before you went to meet finance and sign papers. If something wasn’t 100% right or couldn’t be made right very quickly, you don’t have to buy it.

Private information is dealt with exactly the same way as it is with banks and other institutions. You sign and receive the paperwork. I received nothing unusual in my email or phone calls after my sale was completed.

Getting warranty work done at dealers is challenging. Every dealer would add service techs tomorrow if they were available. They aren’t. But, some manufacturers are quicker at approving warranty requests than others. Many, many warranty requests can take 4-6 weeks to hear back from the manufacturer and then they have to send the parts. It’s really a bad setup for everyone in the field. Once your warranty is complete find an independent, mobile rep to do repairs or do them yourself. Remember, you are driving a house down the highway at 65 mph, something will eventually go wrong. Be vigilant and always look around your rig for issues.

We did drop several lines because of poor quality.

Also, if you’re planning to buy a large Class A or C, call the sales manager ahead of time so they can make sure you get someone knowledgeable on those rigs.

How did all this workout for me? I had more buyers over my last two years than anyone else in our store. Not coincidentally, I was the only one who owned an RV, actively camped, studied our inventory and tried to actually help people. It’s not unusual for a customer to know more about a specific model than the sales person. We had 400-600 units on the lot, various years, different models and finishes so if we don’t know exactly the size of the gray tank on the rig you’ve been studying for 9 months, please don’t get mad.


Doug (@guest_62580)
3 years ago
Reply to  Will

Thanks for the background info and insight. If people would spend as much time researching their RV purchase as they do a $25 product purchase on Amazon, then the world would be a saner place.

RV Staff
3 years ago
Reply to  Will

Thank you for all of the behind-the-scenes information, Will. Very interesting and helpful! 😀 —Diane at

robert (@guest_62256)
3 years ago

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.

cee (@guest_62297)
3 years ago
Reply to  robert

Would be interested in knowing the dealer name so I can avoid them while searching for an RV.

robert (@guest_62314)
3 years ago
Reply to  cee


TIM (@guest_62248)
3 years ago

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.

Timothy L JENC (@guest_102624)
3 years ago
Reply to  TIM

Does a purchase agreement on an ordered 2021 Jayco at a set price mean you have a sales contract and the price cannot be raised after down payment has been given to dealer to lock price? I put money down and agreed on priced 10/31/2020 and dealer raised price 11/12/2020. today by 4500.00 dollars.

rollin (@guest_62228)
3 years ago

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.

bounder (@guest_62112)
3 years ago

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 (@guest_62093)
3 years ago

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.

SwedenTexas (@guest_62085)
3 years ago

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.

Paul Ribons (@guest_62478)
3 years ago
Reply to  SwedenTexas

I agree with the Grand Design. Very few problems and dealer fixed them pretty fast after getting the OK FROM Grand Design. Small refundable deposit.

Eric Kaminsky (@guest_62070)
3 years ago

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.

TravelingMan (@guest_62069)
3 years ago

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…

Sign up for the

RVtravel Newsletter

Sign up and receive 3 FREE RV Checklists: Set-Up, Take-Down and Packing List.