Shopping for a New RV

If you have ever been through the RV shopping experience, you could probably tell a story or two.  Shopping through individual listings and dealerships can leave you either scarred or elated.  We rode this roller coaster for several months, and I'm glad to be done.  I'm also thankful that we didn't rush through this process.  It was a tremendous learning experience for both my husband and I.  So what is the best way to score the camper of your dreams?

The Murphy Bed in the camper we purchased was not in the picture when we first started shopping, but it was a winner in the end!

Before you start shopping, make a list of "must haves" and "wants".  Use your list of deal breakers to guide you when beginning the process.  Even with a list of deal breakers, be open to changes on that list.  Our deal breakers included bunk beds, a functional kitchen, and a bathroom inside of a contained trailer.  We didn't want to be managing a canvas with bunk ends.  So hybrid models were out.  My husband was also adamantly opposed to a Murphy bed when we started shopping, but he ended up falling in love with a model containing a Murphy bed!

It is also important to know your tow and length limits.  I know someone who pulls a 42-foot fifth wheel!  I wouldn't touch that with a ten-foot pole.  Having some parameters up front will keep you from getting talked into too much trailer!  Outline 5 RV Finders to help you stay on course:
  • Budget - It is easy to get talked into spending more money than you are comfortable with if you don't have a budget.
  • Tow Weight - Your tow vehicle is going to dictate what you can buy unless you are willing to upgrade.
  • Length - Yes.  I know this may be silly, but you don't need to buy more camper than you are willing to tow!  You will enjoy your purchase much more if you can actually make it up and down the highway.
  • Deal Breakers - What are the things you MUST have?  Know it and list it to help you weed out campers that don't meet your needs.
  • Wants - What are the things you would like to have but won't keep you from making the purchase if they aren't available?  This is another way to help you decide as you shop.  I wanted an outdoor kitchen, but I didn't get a model with one.  I'll create my own outdoor setup.  I'm okay with that.  We got the most important things!
If you have a spouse or significant other, make this a joint purchasing process.  One way to make sure that both of you love your camper is for you to both be involved.  A big-ticket item like an RV shouldn't be one person's sole project if you are both using it together.  

Do your homework

Explore RV models and floor plans that will fit you or your family needs.  Some people recommend going to an RV show.  I don't have time to commit to that, and most RV shows are in the winter.  If you are in the right season, I would recommend doing it though.  You could explore a lot of models that you may not be familiar with but have exactly what you need.

If you can't go to an RV show, online reviews are the next best thing.  Read reviews about up and coming models from RV shows like RVX or a regional supershow.  There is always going to be a blogger that shares what they saw at these shows.  Conduct specific searches for exactly what you are looking to purchase.  For example, "top small RV models from RVX" or "best new motor homes for 2019 (or whatever year you are in)".   These reviews can help you read about interesting models that you may not know about.  This is where I started shopping.

Ask your friends that camp for recommendations.  People that have RVs will gladly tell you about a brand or model that they love.  Or, you can poll groups online that are RV specific.   I asked a couple of online camping groups about recommendations for RV's that had bunkhouses and were under 25 feet.  Be specific when you ask for recommendations.  Otherwise, you will get recommendations that are all over the map and not very helpful.

Visit a dealership to look at models.  When you do this, make sure that you tell the salesperson that you are ONLY shopping.  Stick to your guns.  You want to see what is out there first.

I wanted a kitchen with a microwave, stove, and oven for cooking options indoors.  I may not use these features all of the time, but we do cook on the road.  These were non-negotiables for us.

Take Your Time

If you have specific models that you want to see, take the time to look at each floor plan.  You may have to drive a couple of hours to do this.  We made more than one long trip to look at floor plans that we were considering.  We looked at every model that we thought we might purchase before making a decision.

Collect the prices from each dealer with models that you love.  Get the sales person's contact information and follow up as needed.  You are in charge.  At one point, my husband told a salesperson that was being too pushy, "We don't need a camper.  We have one."  True.  We were in the process of selling what we had to buy another, but he was adamant that we were in charge the whole time.   You can use these prices to help you negotiate.

I also wanted a large sink to wash dishes.  I have been washing dishes in a tiny sink with an additional dishpan for a while.  I'm looking forward to a better set up.

Future Proof

I recently heard on an RV podcast that RV owners tend to upgrade about every five years.  While this may be true, I wouldn't purchase an RV that you are planning to replace sooner rather than later.  Purchase a camper with the long haul or at least a specific plan in mind.  You may find that it is harder than you thought to sell your RV or just want to keep it.  Regardless, think about your kid's sizes now versus 5 years from now.  What will you need?  Unless you are paying cash for your RV, it is smart to do this because you could lose quite a bit if you sell too soon.

And if it is your first camper, a used camper can prove to be a very wise investment.  There are used campers at both RV dealerships and through individuals.  Just make sure that whatever you buy has been well inspected, and you know what you are getting.

We knew we wanted and needed a bunkhouse model.  This camper has double over double bunks.  This is huge since we have a growing boy!

I also recommend getting into the shower.  Sit on the toilet.  Close the door to the bathroom.  Lay on the bed.  Make sure you fit into every single space you are going to use.  There is no point in purchasing a camper that won't work for you.  Make your spouse and/or kids do the same thing.  If the space doesn't work for all of you, it won't be a purchase you love or want to use.

The shower in our camper is large with a skylight that gives additional height for my tall husband.

Don't Be Afraid to Walk Away

One conversation that should be a definite deal breaker when RV shopping is "What can I do to get you in this camper today?"   Unless you have said at the start of your visit to a dealership that you are going to buy THAT DAY, don't.  Do not be pressured into a purchase like this.  A good salesperson will work with you patiently without pressure.  I sincerely mean this.  Run if you find yourself in this situation.  There are so many RV's out there that you can find that very camper somewhere else!

The Trap of Dealer Fees

If you are new to RV shopping, you may wonder what this even is.  It was new to me too!  That RV price is not the final price, there are going to be taxes, dealer prep fees and sometimes additional equipment that you need.  I have read blogs that say you don't have to pay prep fees.  I work in a sales related field.  I'm going to tell you that you get what you pay for.  Period.  And I have no problem paying a reasonable prep fee.  The fee at our dealership was $299 to get everything ready including filled propane tanks, batteries, cleaned up, etc.

Why pay this?  Well, their time is money.  The dealership isn't working for free.  They can't provide good service for free.  Yeah, I know.  You want me to tell you how to save on these fees.  The way to save is to ask what they are and know a reasonable amount to pay.  You can always work to negotiate this fee if it seems high.

I have friends that had both good and bad experiences at big box RV dealerships.  One friend describes low prices at a big box store as a trade-off for the higher prep fees.  She says that the dealership has to make their money somehow, and the prep fees are a way that they make up for the lower price.  I can see that point.  However, don't box yourself into that corner right off.  Sometimes you may think it is a better deal at a big box camping store.  I can tell you that we were looking at two models in the exact same price range.  One at a big box store and one at a local dealership.  We saved over $4500 by going with the smaller dealership.  And, the service was awesome!

When polling RV groups, one member told me dealer prep fees should be between $200 and $400.  Her husband is an RV technician, and this seemed much more reasonable to me.  We had been to a big box store that wanted over $1600 to get the RV off the lot.  

Other fees may include items like a sway distribution hitch.  Do not let a dealer just start loading you up with these things without asking.  Again, that big box store just tacked on $998 for a sway distribution hitch.  We never even talked about it.  He just came back with that number and added to the price.  I had to ask what it was.

When we purchased our camper, the salesperson asked me if we wanted a sway distribution hitch.  He explained what it was, how it worked and the cost to purchase the item.  Then, we added this to the final price.  You need to know what you are buying, why and how much it costs.  Hidden fees are bad.  Period.  Regardless of the final price, you should NEVER be paying hidden costs.

Securing the Deal

You may know someone or have heard of someone out there that has gotten a camper at 50% off of MSRP.  I'm going to slow clap on that one.  I truly believe that these stories are far and few between.  And congrats to all the unicorns out there.

25% to 35% off of MSRP is a reasonable amount to expect.  I also think 35% may be on the high side of a discount to expect.  We wound up with about 28% off of MSRP in the end.  I would go in with a low ball price, and maybe you will score the deal of a lifetime.  But, what the dealer will most likely do is propose a counteroffer.  You won't know unless you ask.

A friend of my husband's told me to take 40% off of MSRP and then add 10% back.  This should be my asking price.  I did this and came within $1000 of that number.  Considering we bought a brand new camper, I felt that we got a good deal.  Given the time of the year, you could do better or worse.


The dealership where we purchased our camper recommended that we finance through State Farm Insurance.  Their financing option has Gap Coverage as part of the overall loan.  There is no added fee for this.  It is part of the loan automatically.  And, they offer really competitive rates.  If you can go through State Farm, this might be the best option for you.  They will allow financing for up to 240 months.  We were able to apply online and secure the loan.  Then, we went into our local office and signed the paperwork in just a few minutes to finalize the deal.


  1. Make a list of what you need and want in an RV.
  2. Shop for floor plans based on your list.
  3. Take the time to view the models you are interested in seeing.
  4. Be open to changes in needs and whats based on what you see.
  5. Test out everything in each RV to make sure you are going to fit, and that the space works for you.  
  6. Think about future needs your family may have as it grows - especially if you have little ones or kids going off to college.
  7. Find a reputable dealer to work with.  
  8. Walk away from dealers that have high-pressure sales tactics.
  9. Collect prices and use them to negotiate your deal.
  10. Secure your financing.
Finally, a good dealership and salesperson can make a big difference in this process.  We purchased our camper from Campers Unlimited in Gadsden, Alabama.  We loved everything about our shopping experience.  They even offer campers a free night's stay at their campground on their first night to try everything out.  Our salesperson even came down and helped us set up after our walkthrough.  Throughout the process, financing, sales, and service during our walkthrough were amazing.  If you are in Alabama, give them a call and a chance to earn your business.    

You can walk away from RV shopping with a great camper, a good deal, and smile on your face.  I firmly believe that if you rush through this experience that you may really regret your decision.  And, it can be a very costly one.  Our family loves the RV lifestyle, and there is a camper for anyone.  The biggest trap that I see people getting caught into is the "I gotta get it now" mentality.  Nope.  You don't.  If you have waited this long a few more weeks or months won't break you!  But, what will break you and the bank is a bad decision and deal.

Until next time...

Pin this to your favorite Pinterest Board.