Okay, by this point you have flexed your Google-fu muscles and have a pretty good idea of what type of RV you want. Now, it’s time to get serious. Expect to spend at least a couple of weeks in this phase of your journey. We’ll talk you through how to shop for it and the process of negotiating for an RV.

Dealerships – What to expect

For anyone who has familiarity with car shopping, this isn’t drastically different, but there are some subtleties. While the car industry has evolved in recent years to accommodate a new generation of shoppers that hates pushy salesmen and dishonest sales tactics, the RV industry is still dragging it’s knuckles grunting about how great it is to have fire in the cave.

When You Walk in the Door

The first thing that will happen is that you will get hit with money questions. Cash or loan? How much can you afford every month? Do you have a trade-in? How much can you put down? You should have asked yourself these questions before stepping foot on the lot, and know what kind of budget you have.  You’re going to want to tell the guy it is none of his business, but fight the urge. At some point he is going to be the go-between for you and the sales manager so a bit of goodwill will help. Just tell him you’re still deciding on how to finance but have a budget of X  dollars. It’ll be a little awkward but he’ll get the point and also realize he’s not dealing with an idiot.

When You’re on the Lot

Your salesman knows sales (maybe), not RVs. Unless you get lucky, most will only be able to speak to the RV at a high level and are not a substitute for a technical spec sheet. They are there to make your experience pleasant, but you should be the one driving your decision making based on the facts you found during your research. Show up with a few specific models that you want to check out, tell them which ones they are, and let them take you to them.

When You’re in the RV(s)

This is when you let your intuition take over. You know the facts, you’re only looking at these rigs because they meet your criteria, and you need to listen to your gut. Does it feel like a quality rig? Are the cabinet doors already sagging? Are the faucets made of cheap plastic or nice stainless steel? What about the toilet? Plastic or ceramic? Is the furniture going to be toast shortly after Fido decides to take up residence on it?

Go through the motions of day-to-day living. Pretend to take food out of the fridge, put it on the counter, chop up onions for that kick-ass stir-fry you’re so good at making. Lay down in the bed. Is there room for your whiskey glass on the nightstand? Get out of bed and go to the bathroom.  Sit on the toilet. Stand in the shower. You’ll get a feel for what’s going to work and what’s not in a hurry.

At the End of the Visit

If the salesman hasn’t already tried to close the deal, he’s going to lay it on thick as soon as you start to wrap things up. WALK AWAY. It doesn’t matter if he offers you the deal of a lifetime, walk away. It’ll be there tomorrow, guaranteed (even if he says otherwise). The goal is to prevent you from doing exactly what you’re going to learn to do below. The odds of you buying from this first dealer are pretty low.

Think National, Not Local

You can still shop small and not buy locally; and it’s really important that you shop for the best possible deal, no matter what. Why? Because, this RV is going to depreciate like nobody’s business and WE ARE NOT ALLOWING OURSELVES TO GET COMPLETELY BENT OVER THE BARREL WHEN IT COMES TIME TO SELL. You do this by getting a smoking deal on your RV and then praying to the RV gods for mercy every night.

Why not Local?

Your local dealer has one advantage that other dealers don’t; they’ll be the ones servicing your rig (or so they think). It’s not uncommon for RV manufacturers to only allow one dealership within a certain number of miles (ie. 200 mi). This means they can offer you ‘priority service’ if you buy from them. It also means that if you don’t, they can threaten to put you at the end of the line for service work, and use it as a scare tactic. But, the fact that you’re here reading this article, means you’re a well informed do-it-your-goddamn-selfer that’s going to pick a quality RV and handle the little things on your own when they pop up. The potential savings can be huge if you’re willing to travel. Like 5-digit huge. You should still get their best offer as a reference point, but plan on finding way better deals elsewhere.

Then Where do I Look?

The internet. Duh. Seriously, head over to rvtrader.com and find the best possible price you can for the make/model you want. Next, figure out where in the U.S. it’s manufactured and find the five closest dealerships. These will often be the high-volume dealers that are willing to make a deal. Why? Because they don’t have to pay for freight, and can get new inventory quickly.

Once you have a good internet price and a few dealerships picked out, fire off some emails. Keep it simple and don’t be shy. This is a common tactic when it comes to negotiating for an RV and they have already dealt with a bazillion people just like you. Simply, let them know exactly what you want, the best price you’ve found so far, and that you’d like to know if they can beat it. Be sure to include good contact information for yourself because this shows that you’re a serious buyer. This sort of shotgun approach will, more than likely, yield results somewhere between the number you want and MSRP, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they know you’ve fired this same email off to other dealerships and that you’ll probably be coming back with a better offer from a different dealership, which you will.

Now, it’s a waiting game. Hang tight until you’ve heard back from all of the dealerships and then, take a second pass at them with the best number you get. “Hey, so and so can do $XX,XXX, can you beat it?” Rinse and repeat. Do not be surprised if it takes 5-10 go-arounds of this. That’s okay and all you care about is the best, absolute lowest number you can get. You probably won’t buy from one of these dealerships either.

wHAT NUMBER SHOULD i SHOOT FOR?

30% off MSRP. That’s what you should shoot for when negotiating for an RV but don’t be surprised if your above email dance gets you closer to the 35% mark. Yes, no joke. It’s going to feel like a lot at the time, and some people will tell you that you’re crazy, but those people are the idiots that only got 15% off.

Okay, I Got My Number, Now What?

It’s time to really start negotiating for an RV. At this time you should have your financing figured out. Either have a lender ready to write a check for you, or have the money you’re using moved to the correct account (keep in mind that banks may put a 7 day hold on any large checks that you deposit). Once you’re ready to make a serious offer over the phone, it’s time to figure out what you’re willing to pay for convenience. Let’s say you’re in Boise and the best offer you have is in Indianapolis. That’s a long-ass way to drive so, find a dealership somewhere between here and there and compromise. You won’t get the same smoking deal because of freight charges but you can probably get a good enough deal to offset the major PITA of driving all the way to Indianapolis. A good rough estimate is conceding $2 for every mile the dealership has to ship their inventory. So, our super-fancy-pants math equation looks like this:

Good price = (MSRP X 0.70) + (M X $2)
Where M = miles between manufacturer and dealership

Once you’ve settled on a final number, they’re going to ask for a deposit, probably $1k-$2k. Try really hard not to give them a deposit. This puts them back in the drivers seat. Some dealerships will concede and not require it but others simply won’t hold it for you without one. In the case of the latter, talk them down on the deposit amount. $500 still shows you’re serious, but if they try any funny business it’s not as painful to walk away from if it comes down to it.

Now, all that’s left to do is ROAD TRIP!