Tuesday, June 6, 2023


Learn from others’ RV buying mistakes

In a recent poll, we asked our readers: Did you make buying mistakes when you purchased your current RV? More than 1,700 readers participated in the poll, and the results were impressive: 55 percent say they made no mistakes when buying their current RV; 35 percent responded yes, they made mistakes, but none proved to be a big deal; and 10 percent said yes, they made serious mistakes that they regret. I’m so happy that most folks are happy with their purchases!

RV buying mistakes pollI was hoping we’d get many informative comments along with the polling information, and our readers certainly did not disappoint! Here’s hoping if you’re in the market for a new or new-to-you RV, you can avoid mistakes like the ones some of our readers admittedly made.

RV buying mistakes from our readers

Devious dealers

We received some wonderful testimonies from satisfied customers. There really are great dealerships out there with wonderfully dedicated salespeople. But just in case you come across the, shall we say, less-than-honest folks, here are some cautionary tales:

Matty G. had this to say: “I say RV stands for ‘Ruined my Vacation.’ The bigger the dealer, the worse they are. Check the batteries before you leave the lot. The first dealer put old batteries in, as he knew I was leaving the area for good. As soon as you sign papers they basically leave you on your own.”

Warmock added: “Working in a campground for four years, I saw so many truck/trailer combinations where the truck was simply not up to the task…. Most people had never weighed their rig because the salesman had said it was all OK.”

Mike W. commented: “I was convinced, against my better judgment, that our coach had plenty of battery to operate our residential refrigerator … even when boondocking, which we used to do a lot of. Now, we do very little boondocking due to having to start the generator and run it each morning to charge batteries for the stupid refrigerator.… [I] should have listened to my inner voice.”

Manufacturing malfunctions

Once again, it’s only fair to report that several happy consumers praised the manufacturers of their rigs. And then, we heard from these folks:

Donn admitted: “I knew they were poorly built but did not expect HOW poorly. I’m convinced whoever trimmed it out had only one eye. Nothing is plumb or level.”

MrBud shared: “We upgraded to a larger TT with a slide-out…. Well, long story short, the slideout wasn’t sealed properly, allowing for water intrusion along the bottom rail of the Schwintek gear rail. You would think the manufacturer (Forest River) would have caught this, but no…. Had we had a professional inspection done before we took ownership, they would have caught this issue. We now regret not having that done.”

John K. reports: “In 2014, after three years of searching, I ‘graduated’ to a TRUE Super C, Diesel Puller (a 2015 Dynamax DX3-37RB). Being my first motorhome, I was woefully unprepared to do (or have a professional RV inspector) a proper inspection. Like most RVs, it was heavy on ‘flash’ and VERY light on build quality under the surface. Like many (most?) RV builders, Dynamax was NOT big on Quality Control. I suspect that my DX3 was built by Moe, Larry & Curly. Fortunately, the Freightliner base was built like a tank. I’ve made numerous upgrades & fixes in the ~7 years I’ve owned it.”

Warranty woes

Ron admits: “My mistake was agreeing to a 7-year, $7,000 extended warranty that was tacked on to my total cost that was financed for 20 years. That $7,000 will eventually cost me twice that amount by the time my coach is paid off. Big mistake!”

Too big?

Size matters. Some folks had second thoughts about their RV’s large size:

Deborah M. shared: “Overall, still pleased 11 years later. But it never occurred to us to look where the gas filler is. It’s ON the back wall. Makes it essential we pick the right fuel station, especially when towing our Fit. Sadly, we’re two feet too long for many state and national parks, but we’re comfortable, even with two big dogs or two guests.”

Julie says: “We thought we were making the right choice when we sold our house and got our 42’ fifth wheel to go full-time. While we chose it to ensure we had ample room to serve our needs, it didn’t take long to realize we’d have been just fine in a 30′-35′ rig. Though we haven’t had real problems, there have been some challenges with where to stay, and we’ve definitely tested the ‘big rig friendly’ language that many campgrounds and RV parks tout.”

Too small?

Thomas D. commented: “Life is changing so we got rid of the fifth wheel and bought a truck camper. Should have tried it before we bought it. To use the sink and mirror it’s best to kneel with your left knee on the toilet cover. When using the ‘throne’ your knees hit the wall. And the worst thing is an 8-gallon gray and a 5-gallon black tank.”

Just right … eventually

Just like Goldilocks, several folks eventually found the “just right” RV of their dreams:

Warmock commented: “I bought the right trailer, but I should have bought the truck after buying the trailer. I was plus or minus 200 pounds of the GCVWR every time I weighed the combination – sometimes over, sometimes under. That truck was working at its design/build limits and maintenance costs skyrocketed. Buying a new, bigger truck a couple of years later reduced per-mile all-in costs by 50 percent, increased the safety margins, and reduced the risk.”

Advice to avoid RV buying mistakes

They say we learn by our mistakes, but why not skip the heartache and aggravation and learn from the mistakes others have made instead? Maybe “wanna-be RV owners” can learn from the following reader comments:

Ray suggests: “We were experienced campers when we bought our retirement RV, a 5th wheel. We found the floor plan we wanted. There were two within 200 miles. I had created a checklist of items to inspect for quality, including the roof/underbelly and anything that moves and its accessibility when buttoned up for travel. I don’t think we could have asked for a more bend-over-backwards dealership than what we had. After pulling it around the parking lot we had the dealership hook it up to electrical and high-pressure water and tested every circuit. We even ran the AC and held the pressure overnight. ADVICE: Make your list and add to it as things occur to you.”

Denny and Shari S. want you to know that: “We should have ordered fabric furniture instead of vinyl.”

To sum up:

Roy says: “We, like so many people, can say that we’ve made mistakes that we learned from. I called our first RV ‘the learning curve’ cause we made some bad mistakes!”


Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.


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Roger V
18 days ago

We had never camped or owned an RV when we retired, but we had the fever, bad. I wanted a big motorhome or a 5th wheel. My wife wanted something small she’d be comfortable driving. We saw a Winnebago Class B Travato (gas powered camper van), and she fell in love with it. Now, after over 40 years of marriage, I have learned a few things, so we bought it. It’s 7 years and 100K miles later, and she was absolutely right. It’s simple to maintain, easy to drive and park, and the small motorcoach community is second to none. Most importantly, it fits our camping style perfectly. Our first and likely our last RV.

Last edited 18 days ago by Roger V
18 days ago

We have been following RV Travels for the past 13 years; reading all the helpful tips from the experts, looking at suggestions to avoid possible problems as well as tutorials on how to repair and maintain our RV. We have used many of the suggestions and are grateful for them. They have likely helped us avoid serious issues. However, as we reflect back on all the little things that are necessary to prevent problems and maintain an RV we have concluded that it is nearly a fulltime job that we no longer wish to do. When things are working well it is a wonderful lifestyle, but in all honesty the worry about did we do this did we do that, what’s that strange noise takes a toll on one’s mental health. If we were to list all the tasks from cleaning the roof, sealing the roof, caulking the windows, checking the pin box, etc, etc, etc, etc, it seems that the list is inexhaustible. We need a break from having to think about and do all these tasks, yes, we’re selling and moving on.

Jim Johnson
18 days ago

Replacing cheap components as they wear out- Something I doubt many RV purchasers think about (we didn’t!) is the difficulty or ease of replacing RV parts. Our biggest challenge was replacing crappy vinyl clad RV furniture. We liked the design and size- it was perfect for the space. But in the case of the sofa, didn’t even appear in the manufacturer’s retail catalog (yes it is still used in a lot of new rigs – I attended an RV show to determine this). Further, no matter what fancy name is used or how ‘improved’, vinyl is still vinyl.

At a time when new rig sales have fallen greatly, one would think the manufacturer and dealerships would improve its customer service to pick up replacement part sales. People who wanted to spend money. Not on your life. It took a lot of time and charm to find high level industry people who knew high level industry people and were willing to meet an owner’s legitimate needs. This spring we replaced the furniture with FABRIC covered versions.

18 days ago

We made mistakes on first one TT toyhauler. Not big enough. Owned it for 7 months and luckily sold it when RV demand was increasing. We bought it in December at a big discount. Sold it in august for same price we paid for it. After first trip we did lots of research we knew what we wanted and researched brands and read lots of reviews. Hard part was we had to trade up to a bigger pickup since first trailer was 20 foot and new trailer was 31 foot. So shopped for bigger pickup and found a dealer close to me that could get me a new trailer that I wanted. Happy with dealer and very happy with trailer. Yes I could have saved money if I wanted to travel 1000 miles to buy one, but I wanted to be able to drive to dealer if things went wrong.

18 days ago

People also need be aware of what the eye alone can’t see. People need be aware of their truck’s capacity to pull/stop and support the trailer’s weight when fully loaded. I have to shake my head when I find a trailer with a huge storage capacity but an overall additional weight capacity around 2000 lbs. Salesmen are not gong to point this out. You need to do the math. 2000 lbs sounds like a lot but it adds up quicker than you might suspect. So, just because you can store the pingpong table and the canoe doesn’t mean you should.

18 days ago
Reply to  Ray

Also take a hard look at tongue weight. A friend just got a small camper theoretically towable by the SUV it was paired with; it passes the towing capacity limit fine, but when loaded pushes the hitch way too low because it exceeds the tongue weight capacity.

Tom H.
18 days ago

Look past all the bling and see the thing! Dealerships and salespersons (in most cases) are hoping that the bling will distract you from any flaws or questionable stuff. Before buying our current rig we spent a few hours on the dealership lot sitting in it, walking around, basically pretending to live in it and use it. This was very helpful and let us see that the 43′ 5th wheel we thought we needed wasn’t it at all. We ended up in a 37′ unit which has been perfect for 4 years now.

1 year ago

GREAT article! Very helpful!!!

1 year ago

Buying used has worked best for us, that said we have just purchased our 3rd new RV. Put a fair amount of time into the the PDI, and felt good about the purchase. Finally had time to take it out for a test run after spending a couple of weeks setting it up to our liking.
We ended up having a bad self resetting fuse(breaker that fits in the fuse slot) on our furnace took a couple of day with 24degree morning’s to figure it out.

We purchased the 5th wheel 20% under retail, and had a good experience with the service department preparing the rig for delivery.

Be prepared to fix things your self, don’t buy an expensive warranty and perform your own PDI. If you are buying a unit in the lower price range be prepared to fix more.

1 year ago
Reply to  John

My dad was a mechanic and I recall we only had one new car that I can recall. Dad’s mantra was “Let the other guy take the depreciation and get the kinks out first!”

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