<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> What every RV Purchaser Needs to Know Before Buying
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.




by Tom Gonser (03/07)

[Ed Note: Though first published in 2007, the points made in this commentary are as valid today as when first written.]

We've all talked to him or her -- that brand new RVer who's just learning the ropes for the first time. And with the baby boomers joining the ranks of RVer in record numbers, this scenario is being repeated at an ever faster pace. We recently met such a newbie couple, and were quite frankly disturbed by how serious the naivete of the new RVer can be.

Setting the Scene:

A very nice 50s something couple had just purchased their first RV -- a major brand big rig diesel pusher. They had first tried to purchase this unit from their local dealer in Las Vegas. However when the sales rep showed little inclination to provide a significant reduction from the sticker price, they went to another large city where they were able to get a proposal more than $40 thousand less than their would-be "home" dealer. When presented with the fact that they had been able to negotiate a much more attractive price elsewhere, the local dealer sales rep told them that he'd be willing to match any bona fide written offer. By now disillusioned with the credibility of the home town sales person, the newbie couple decided they'd purchase from the out of town dealer that had been more willing to deal with them. Their one concern was that if they purchased from other than the home town dealer, they might not have access to warranty service. However they were assured by the out of town selling dealer that it made no difference where they made the purchase, since every dealer of this major manufacturer was committed to providing warranty service, regardless of where the sales transaction had taken place.

The newbies closed the deal, and took delivery at the out of town dealership. Their "walk through" PDI took approximately two hours, during which time they were provided with so much information they found it overwhelming. In fact, not realizing the importance of this session, they had taken along one of the couple's aging mother, who required their constant attention, and distracted them from the walk through. They were very impressed with how much the delivering dealer's representative knew about the rig -- he seemed able to make everything work as advertised. But two hours of instruction, for a couple that had no prior RVing experience, did little to prepare them for taking the rig on the road by themselves.

I casually met this newbie couple when they struck up a conversation in front of our coach, asking "whether I knew anything about motorhomes". Once I acknowledged that we did indeed know a thing or two about these machines, their story unfolded...

The Story

Almost immediately after taking delivery and taking a trial run in the new rig, they found there were a number of things they simply did not understand. So of course the called the selling dealer to talk to the person that had sold them the rig. They were absolutely confident they'd hear right back, because all during the time they negotiated the transaction he would call back almost immediately to answer any and all questions. However, somehow now that the sale had concluded, the calls were no longer returned.

Finding there were issues that needed to be addressed, and relying on the fact that "every dealer of this major manufacturer was committed to providing warranty service, regardless of where the sales transaction had taken place", they took their new unit to their home town dealer. There they learned something they'd not been prepared to hear: The home town dealer would only provide warranty service on units they had sold. Undaunted, they called the manufacturer (a well known major manufacturer) directly to find out how to address certain problems they were experiencing. The woman that took the call listened attentively, and was sympathetic. However, she advised that the problems required the analysis and help of one of their "experts", and promised that she would have one of them return the call right away. They waited in vain all day, and the phone didn't ring.

When they encountered me, as hopefully having at least some knowledge about motorhomes, they seemed relieved. However I was astonished to hear their list of "immediate" issues. They found that the campground electricity would not take their 50 amp plug; but that the little pig tail they'd been provided would let them use the 30 amp outlet. Their concern, however, was that perhaps this meant they were no longer using 110 volt power, and that perhaps they were now plugged into 220 volt power. They also wanted to know if it was necessary to completely empty both holding tanks before going home for a week. In fact they were very appreciative upon learning how to use the sewer connection properly. With those two issues resolved, they went on to the fact that their satellite TV would not function properly. They had been told by the dealer to just press "satellite", and the domed, in motion unit would automatically do everything by itself. However, it didn't, and for the past several days they had watched the 5 DVDs they'd brought along. I pointed out that it appeared they might be parked in the shadow of an adjacent tree, a factor they had not contemplated when trying to diagnose the problem.

The Bottom Line:

While I could continue outlining this couple's problems, the issues I've referenced would seem suffice to focus on the underlying problem. In the past no doubt most RVers started with something small -- barely bigger than the tent they'd recently decided to retire. Most "moved up" from tent trailers, campers, or small trailers to larger units -- many to very large fifth wheels or motorhomes. Many of today's newbies drive into a dealership and take home a 40' diesel pusher -- having had virtually no prior experience with RVing. They do not know the approximate discount from MSRP that they should be able to negotiate. They do not appreciate the implications of shopping for the lowest price, and where they will be able to take their unit for service and warranty repairs. Their expectation is that a large, complex and sophisticated motorhome will be as easy to use as their Lexus automobile. There is virtually no appreciation of the need for a thorough walk through -- one that can last days, not just hours -- and should not be considered complete until the new purchasers thoroughly understand all the intricacies of operating their new unit -- and what troubleshooting steps can be taken if something doesn't work properly. Most have likely not done their homework on which RV types and brands will best serve their intended RV lifestyle; and have not fully analyzed the reputation of the manufacturer and selling dealer for after-sale customer support.

The story above is clearly one that involves fault by all parties. The selling dealer was fully engaged before the sale, but once the RV was off the lot the sales rep had no further interest in these folks' problems. The manufacturer left them hanging. But the newbies are surely not without fault either. They did not do their homework, and when taking delivery they had no idea how critical the information they were being given would become.

What appears needed here is some reliable information resource available to those taking a large leap into RVing -- persons with no prior RVing experience. There are of course all kinds of "books" about RVing. But likely no one of them provides the realistic information that a novice RV purchaser needs to know before making what can be an extraordinary investment in a new RV. We think this dilemma deserves the active consideration of the industry, and of those organizations that have the responsibility to represent its RVer members.