RV Shrink: Shopping for an RV? Forget the “free” hot dog

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Dear RV Shrink:
We have been shopping for a new motorhome. I would like to find a nice used unit, but my husband is insisting on a brand-new one. He thinks coming straight from the factory we will have fewer problems. He says buying used we will end up with someone else’s problems.

I just find RV salespeople as shady as used car salesmen. We have been shopping for awhile and I can already catch them trying to pull the wool over our eyes about the few things I understand. I am interested in your thoughts on buying new or used. I am afraid if I talk him into a used motorhome, and we have issues, it will be all my fault. —Anxious in Austin


Dear Anxious:
I have always suggested that people in the market for an RV, especially the first time around, talk to other RVers. That is where you will get the best information. I see so many people going to a mega RV lot and buying a $150,000 hot dog. I don’t mean a lemon, although that is often the case too. What I mean is a “hot dog.” For some odd reason free hot dogs seem to attract people to RV dealers. They get so excited about the hot dog they forget to ask the right questions about the expensive motorhome they came to buy. Before you go to a dealer, stop and buy your own hot dog so you can concentrate on the buying decision when you get there. 

I have to say, I am more inclined to advise people to buy used. But just like buying new, you don’t want the first unit you step into. This is a very large investment in a quickly depreciating product. Buying used can save you thousands of those depreciated dollars. To buy used you have to do your due diligence. You have to know what to look for, take your time, compare apples to apples, and gauge how a unit has been cared for. 

You should also consider how you will use the unit. So many manufacturers are now pushing RVs with residential refrigerators and convection ovens. This is a huge drawback if you plan to spend time boondocking. Know the capability of every appliance you are going to be buying in a new rig.

It seems like a seller’s market lately. So many people are buying RVs. I think most manufacturers are just pushing them out the door and build extra warranty claims into the price. They may even consider the fact that most people won’t use a new unit enough to find the defects until after the warranty period has been exhausted. 

So many people end up spending travel and adventure time sitting at a dealer waiting for service. You will find that the friendly salesperson all of a sudden doesn’t even know your name. They have made their commission and are on to the next hot dog. Your new friend is now the mechanic who doesn’t find you all that special. 

Buying new you assume everything is going to be in working order. That thought couldn’t be further from the truth. If I were buying a brand-new RV, I would spend more time checking out the manufacturer and the dealer than the rig itself. Online forums and rating sites will give you a good insight into how others have been treated, what problems they’ve experienced and how efficiently service issues were resolved. 

Buying used is no different. You should expect a seller to prove to you that everything is working. Not verbally, but by firing everything up. One appliance problem will set you back hundreds, even thousands of dollars. If you have little mechanical background, hire a qualified person to check it out for you. A couple hundred dollar opinion could save you thousands, not to mention time and headaches. 

You seem to be afraid your husband will blame you if a used unit becomes a problem. I think he should have the same worry with a newly minted rig. 

Today’s vehicles are rolling computers. You may need to take a computer tech course just to figure out how to turn the heater on. Sometimes an older unit is less complicated, easier to fix, already debugged, and not loaded with so many bells and whistles. Every specialized automatic contraption on a new RV will eventually fail. Those will be future dollars you will have to budget into your buying decision. Maybe you will want to choose to pull your own drapes shut instead of having a motor do it. 

Buying an extended warranty might be an option, but consider the fact that warranty will not entertain you while you camp in dealer service centers more than campgrounds. 

The reality of the decisions you are about to make come with no guarantees. Knowledge is key. The more information you arm yourself with will be the insulation that hopefully keeps you from falling into a sales trap decision based on excitement over a two dollar hot dog. —Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Can’t get enough of the Shrink? Read his e-books, including Book 2 in his two-book series: Dr. R.V. Shrink: Everything you ever wanted to know about the RV Lifestyle but were afraid to ask or check out his other e-books.

##RVT923

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Carson Axtell

Direct your husband’s attention to the Lemon RV group on Facebook where he can read for himself all the complaints from owners of new RVs about the myriad problems that come with the shoddily constructed vehicles so typical of this market. Of course, he might be stubborn and refuse to take anyone else’s advice, but at least you tried…

Jerry X Shea

Dear Anxious, We have owned both new and used RVs. Knowing what I know now, our best purchase was a 18 month old motorhome. Yes it was used with 5,000 miles on it, but all the bugs had been worked out and we paid $130,000 less than a new one, which was identical to our used one. We drove it to 100,000 miles before trading it in to buy a new 2014 motorhome.
Only 50 miles down the road and 2 storage doors flew open as the latches had not been set right. 4 months later the front AC went out. One year later the rear AC went out (yes warranty covered both replacements). 1.5 years later the covering on the seats “decomposed” and the seats had to be replaced (Mfg admitted they had received poor quality fabric). None of this happened with the used motorhome.
We also bought a new 5th wheel which was permanently installed in a RV Park that we now visit every summer. This 5th wheel is not towed, it has hard plumbing (no flex hose). Yet, delivered “NEW” the dump tank valves where reversed. The Santi-Flush had the one way valve reversed so you could not flush the black tank. The water pump gave out in 2 years and was hardly used. The “automatic leveling system” broke down in 5 months. Insulation under one of the sideouts cracked and fell off. Insulation under the rear, along the whole left side fell off because no screws had even been installed to hold it up. Can you say “HI” to all the mice, ground squirrels and bugs that came inside. Yet this was a “New” from the factory 5th wheel.
Again, look for a 1 year old used RV and save money. Good luck.

Michael Theis

I am on my first travel trailer and I bought new. I had been looking into TTs and motorhomes for years and knew I would pay a higher price buying new than used. However there was a comfort knowing that initial problems would be solved by the dealer, and of course there was. With each issue the dealer resolved, I learned more about how the trailer is put together and what it takes to fix problems.

The next trailer I purchase will definitely be used as I now know enough to not only evaluate what shape the trailer is in but also to determine if I can fix issues myself or should take it to a repair facility. That said, I would definitely have an RV tech check it out before purchase.

For me, I made the right decision.

Glenda Alexander

I lived in Austin for a long time and I highly recommend that you talk with Rick Bott of RV Specialists (mobile RV techs). He is honest and extremely knowledgeable. Contact info:
RV Specialists, 10921 E Crystal Falls Pkwy A1, Leander, TX 78641, (512) 259-1202

Diane Mc

No hot dog for us. We went for the tri-tip steak sandwiches…lol! However, 18 years later and over 200K miles we still love our Newmar Dutchstar. We had a few issues, many due to number of miles/years, so normal wear and tear. A couple of years ago, we put a new engine in and had Newmar do some upgrades (new roof, new flooring, couch, double paned window in the drivers side and fix a few things. Oh and new exterior paint. Found out even after all those years there was a warranty for the bubbling/crackling of the panels. So a discounted new paint job! For $70K we had a “new” motorhome. Not sure, even if we were younger, if I would buy new, unless it was from a reputable manufacture. Plus, too many hi-tech gizmos these days. We love our iPhones/iPads but don’t need all that in our motorhome.

Alex

We’ve owned 3 trailers, all used, and never had unanticipated problems. Meeting an owner will reveal much more about the RV than any dealer. We decided to graduate to a brand new Class C on a Mercedes chassis. Yes, the Benz logo promised a great driving experience, but that was unrelated to quality of the RV. Inoperable slide out (a tech at the dealership needed a fuse for another unit AFTER our inspection), underinflated tires (25 lbs instead of 75 lbs pressure), shock absorbers were ineffective allowing too much sway and these were the easy fixes. After a year of “fixes” and upgrades, we decided to part company with the Benz Class C. After a month of searching Craigslist ads, we found a 14 years old, Ford heavy duty 350 chassis Class .C with only 10,000 miles (verified title history). We paid about 20% of what the Benz Class C cost. Absolutely no issues or problems and its much better built. We can’t envision being happier campers. If only I knew then, what I know now!

Marmot

When the RV Shrink says “qualified person” to inspect the RV, he means a mobile RV tech. They charge about 65 to 100 dollars per hour, plus a basic “call fee” of 65 to 100 dollars. They are well worth the investment. However, there is no guarantee they will find every problem in a new or used RV.

To check out the reputation of an RV manufacturer, type in the name, plus the word problems, into Google. For example, Heartland RV problems, or Montana RV problems. You will be horrified by what you find. In my research I’ve found that Jayco travel trailers, with their 2 year warranty and responsive customer care hot line, seem to be among the best of the low to moderate cost units. To check a dealer’s reputation, check Google and also Yelp, in your local area.