RV Buying Guide: Beware the discount offered by RV dealers when shopping for a camper

If you’re swayed by a large discount… it CAN lead to a poor decision when searching for the right camper for your needs – read on for details…

I’m preparing this post in March, the beginning of RV buying and travel season. Of course, this year its a strange start to the travel season with the virus from China threatening our nation, but personally, I’m optimistic, I believe a treatment/cure is “around the corner” and while delayed, we WILL have a strong RV travel season – and with that people may need/want a new or new to them RV Camper.

Spring is the beginning of RV travel season – and once this virus is defeated, we’ll all be back on the road – shopping for RV Campers – negotiating discounts – and then hitting the road to see sites like this. (Soda Springs, Idaho)

So…Perhaps you are shopping for an RV Camper? If so, everybody loves a deal, right? And we ALL want to pay the lowest possible price when shopping for an RV camper (of any type.) In the following paragraphs, I’ve prepared some thoughts that may give you greater insight into how RV’s are priced and what kind of discount you can expect when shopping for an RV.

Is the “common wisdom” wise?

That is… should you aim for a 30% discount when shopping for your next recreational vehicle camper? Is this truly good advice?

Should you aim for a 30% discount off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) on the camper you’re looking to purchase? That’s the common “wisdom” I’ve heard through “experts” on social media so it MUST be true, right?

My camper – bought new in October 2017. Sometimes a new camper is the best choice, often there are better options. Here I am prepped for winter 2019-2020, late October 2019.

Here’s my take: Following the “common wisdom” COULD lead you towards making a devastatingly POOR choice of RV. Allow me to explain…

When it comes to purchasing an RV – whether its a towable (travel trailer/5th wheel) or a motorhome, there is much more to consider than simply the magnitude of the discount off the MSRP. Allow me to explain and elaborate as we proceed.

Let’s talk first about purchasing a NEW RV Camper

And if you will allow me to be quite direct: Buying a NEW camper is often NOT my first choice. When working with my clients in my Concierge RV Buying Service, I often guide them towards a used camper. Here’s why – all new ampers depreciate quickly in their first two years. AND…The simple reality is many relatively new (two to five-year-old) campers in excellent are available and can be purchased for a fraction of what the camper sold for when it was new.

Rapid depreciation is always the case as campers are not like cars and trucks. All too frequently RV buyers jump into a purchase of a new camper only to find it does not suit their lifestyle. A few years later, for a wide variety of reasons and with minimal use, they put their camper on the market for a fraction of what they paid and it’s still in “like new” condition!

A quick anecdote about RV depreciation rates

During the time while I worked for a RV dealer in Casper Wyoming, customers would ask me if new RV’s depreciated like a car or truck. I would reply “no, not at all, RV’s depreciate far faster than a car or truck” (and yes, my customers appreciated my honesty!)

In fact, from my research of NADA values. New trailers depreciate about 40% in their first 2 years! And I must share this… NADA IS the authority for pricing in the used RV industryPERIOD. It is the lenders who use NADA to assess value (and hence what they’ll loan on a used RV), so when assessing value, they’re the ONLY game in town to pay attention to. There are “experts” in some social media groups that promote an entity that CHARGES to give you the value of a used camper – do NOT waste your hard-earned money as NADA values are available at NO CHARGE all day long online.

With this thought in mind, I often ask my clients with my Concierge RV Buying Service “do you really want a new camper?” With all this stated, frankly, there ARE times where a new camper makes sense. In my own situation, I purchased a new 5th wheel trailer when I found nothing on the market in the autumn of 2017 that met my wants and needs.

When it comes to purchasing a new RV camper, how much of a discount should you REALLY aim for or expect? Or… is that “30%” figure the “magic number”?

To a great degree, the answer to how much of a discount is available on a particular camper is determined by the profit margin established by the manufacturer (more about this shortly), the dealer, its status in the dealer’s inventory.

rv buying guide best discount on rv campers
This is a scene from many campsites throughout the west. Why do some travel by RV? To give themselves and their families experiences like this. Photo taken at Blue Lake above Cascade, Idaho, late summer 2019.

When deciding how much to discount a camper, the dealer will consider several factors. These include: What is the camper’s cost to the dealer and what MSRP has the manufacturer established? This first factor determines just how much the dealer could discount the camper and still make a profit. Read on as I expand greatly upon this issue.

Additional factors the dealer will consider when pricing a camper include: How long has the dealer had a particular camper on their lot? Is it a current year model? (That is – are the new models about to arrive on the dealer’s lot? As I write this in mid-March, the new year (2021) models are due to arrive in the next several weeks – this makes the dealer more motivated to discount 2020 models.)

Continuing – Does the camper you’re considering have a floor plan that is in demand? Are you in the market at the beginning of the RV’ing season or towards the end? Is there strong price competition from dealer to dealer on the particular model you’re interested in?

In the market I worked, and frankly (news here…) in the market I plan to return to in Cheyenne, Wyoming in a few weeks, the season (typically) begins in late-March and runs into September. This is common for the northern two-thirds of our nation. As a result, a dealer is far more likely to “make a deal” at a deep discount towards the END of the season than at the beginning. But…

The selection of RV campers is typically far better near the beginning of the season than near the end!

While a great deal can be made in September, that may be of little value to you if you want to take the family camping this summer or if the camper of your dreams has already sold to another buyer! Bear that in mind when shopping in the first half of the “RV season.”

So… are deals with deep discounts available to be made during the “prime RV buying season?”

Short answer – YES. You need to be a smart shopper though- shopping not only for a great price but a GREAT CAMPER. There ARE some out there, but frankly, there are lots of zingers or poor choices to be made. If you’re focused upon the shiny furniture and fancy features in a new camper, you’re a candidate to make a poor choice. In other articles on my site, I talk about just what to look for when shopping for a camper to ensure it’s well constructed by a company that will stand behind it.

rv buying guide getting the best price
Sunset over Wild Horse Reservoir (Nevada) – spending a week dry camping (waterfront) about 70 miles from the nearest town! Remote – Isolated – and spending time on Indian controlled land.

So… when buying a new RV Camper, how much of a discount can/should you expect?

Basic advice: Beware of the massive discount from MSRP! We’ve all seen it with products we’ve shopped for before, you find a “widget” (not an RV) that is marked 50% off and you (initially) think that “half-off” must make it a great deal, but the REAL question to ask is… “Is this “widget” worth the price I’m being asked to pay.” and try NOT to be swayed by the big sticker that says 50% off!

Let’s take a closer look at RV dealer profits and pricing structures to better understand what discount to expect

In the world of RV Campers, let’s consider a camper that retails (MSRP) for $40,000. We all know that regardless of the time of year, you’re not going to pay full retail for it. So, how much should you expect to pay?

The answer is – its a loaded question. Why? One piece of information you don’t have access to is the dealer’s cost on that camper. And here is where things get interesting. Some $40,000 (MSRP) campers cost the dealer as much as $29,000. (including the actual manufacturer’s camper cost charged to the dealer, delivery fees to the dealer, prep fees at the dealer, and something called “pack” – which is dealer profit tacked onto the trailer that covers the cost of operations and advertising. In contrast, other campers with the SAME MSRP may cost the dealer as little as $21,000. (again after all expenses.) It is these campers I refer to as having an “inflated retail price.”

It is THESE campers – the ones with an inflated retail price – that enable the dealer to offer a BIG discount, look like a hero to you, and in fact may STILL result in MORE profit than one with a more conservative pricing structure. I personally believe that manufacturers do this to help with the sale of their campers as their campers, and it is these very campers I often find are built poorly using the cheapest possible materials.

Drilling down into the pricing structure of a RV Camper – Two Examples

Carrying through with my two examples, take a camper that costs the dealer 21,000 and retails for 40,000. You visit the dealer, expect your 30% discount, he applies it, and 40,000 is reduced to 28,000 and viola, YOU think you’re getting a deal! Meanwhile the dealer walks away with a 7,000. profit (which is more than most dealers make on the sale of a new camper – except on motorhomes) AND, despite a “great” discount, in all likelihood you’re buying a poorly built camper as the manufacturer INFLATED the retail price so the dealer can apply a FAT DISCOUNT and make you feel all warm and fuzzy!

In contrast, lets consider the camper with the SAME MSRP of $40,000 that costs the dealer 29,000. In this case, the simply CAN NOT apply a 30% discount as that would cause them to LOSE $1000. on the deal – and this is something dealers typically will not allow to happen! So, on this camper, he discounts it from $40,000 to 33,000 – he’s making 4,000 profit and you’re getting LESS THAN a 20% discount – but – you MAY be getting a FAR BETTER camper. If you’re focused solely upon getting that 30% discount, you’re likely to limit yourself to campers with INFLATED retail pricing!

As you can see, some campers can not be discounted as deeply as others, yet they may be well made campers and for the money the dealer is asking, they may be a far better buy than the camper on which the dealer can offer a greater discount. In summary, campers that are typically discounted heavily when compared to MSRP raise a red flag in my view and I would look “beneath the surface” before plunking down my hard-earned money. More tips on how I approach buying a camper follow as you continue reading.

Bottom line on RV Camper Pricing for NEW campers:

If you choose to spend some time on my site (RV Across America (.net), you’ll find a number of articles that emphasize the need (when shopping for any camper) to determine how well it’s built – inside and out – and talk about just what to look for. In some of my articles, I name names – both the manufacturers whom I respect and make a good product and those who make an inferior product. After creating your “shortlist” of campers you find acceptable, shop your local dealer(s) to locate them and see what kind of deal you can work with your local dealer. Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss your specific situation.

I should point out that I do offer a Concierge RV Buying (and Selling) Service through which I serve as your guide by your side. In doing so, I work with you to ensure you get the RIGHT camper at the BEST possible price. You can review more information HERE if you’d like to learn more about my service.

Buying local is a big benefit to you as (if its a reputable dealer), you’re going to get a thorough walk-through and orientation and still have access to that dealer (and their service center) as you move forward and begin to use your camper.

best discount for a camper how to shop for a rv
Another GEM to visit. Gordon Creek Falls, about a 30 minute hike, just outside of Helper, Utah. Think the RV life is worth it? YOU BET!

Getting the best price for an RV Camper – pitfalls to avoid

Shopping online to compare pricing is certainly a good idea, but in the event you find a better price, you have to weigh in other factors such as:

1) Is it a wholesaler who takes the camper from the manufacturer and does little to prep it (they ALL need a thorough “PDI” (pre-delivery inspection) before handing it off to you. In fact, these dealers offer to deliver the camper to you and promise you local service on it – not so fast! Most dealers have limited service facilities and greatly favor their own customers – especially during the travel season.

2) Are there hidden costs? For example, there are dealers out there who will promote a lowball price on a camper and then charge you extra if you don’t finance through them or they will try to charge you for the PDI. One of the most egregious incidents I’ve ever encountered is detailed here.

When looking at offers for a camper from dealers be sure you consider all factors. These include services offered by the dealer, reputation of the dealer, access to service after the purchase, and finance offers. Even the quality of your salesperson matters. They can be critical in ensuring your camper is ready when you want it and has been prepped in the way (with possible accessories) you are expecting. They often serve as a conduit between the sales office, service, finance, and potentially even outside contractors (depending upon what you want done to your camper before signing for it.

An important note about RV shows

Dealers often use RV shows to clear-out inventory. The campers that are brought to the show are those the dealer would MOST like to sell. That’s ok if they are offering what you want. There is one issue to be aware of – most of the time (not all, but most) the price offered at the show can be offered before or after the show as well. So, outside of the considering whether the camper you’re looking at during the show will remain unsold, don’t feel pressured if the salesperson says “the show price is only good for during the show.” Most sales managers will accept your money after the show as easily as they’ll accept it during the show!

Buying a USED camper? A few thoughts…

When it comes to buying a used camper, you have two primary options – buy from a dealer or purchase from a private seller. Each option has its own advantages and challenges.

First – regarding discounts: Since there is no “msrp”, NADA is a great source for assessing value. (See my thoughts earlier on NADA.) On the NADA page, you’ll find “low retail” and “average retail” figures for most campers made in the past 20+ years.

When buying from a dealer, they’re going to try to make some profit and sell to you at or above “average retail”. Realize they DO add value to the purchase. In most cases, their service department checks out the camper, does some repairs and then does a full walk-through and orientation upon purchase. They may even stand behind the camper for a short time, especially when it comes to ensuring that all components work (the fridge, a/c, hot water heater, etc.)

Depending upon the condition of the camper and the feedback you get from the dealer’s service report on it, you may opt to pay above the average retail or make a lower offer – which the dealer may/may not accept depending upon a number of factors pertaining to that individual camper. Rarely – unless the dealer is really looking to “move” the camper will a dealer accept below “low retail.”

Private sellers, in contrast, tend to accept less than a dealer, but if you want to REALLY know the condition of the camper, you’ll have to hire your own tech to inspect it. The cost of these services ranges from $150 and up depending upon whether its a trailer or a motorhome and how thorough you want the inspection to be.

best rv accessories
Click the image to see my recommendations for important RV Accessories. I recently reorganized the page and show you the BEST of the BEST when it comes to what I actually use!

As we begin the RV travel season, and there WILL be a travel season! Check out these Discount Campground Memberships that I fully endorse – click HERE.

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7 thoughts on “RV Buying Guide: Beware the discount offered by RV dealers when shopping for a camper”

  1. Alan has been a pleasure working with you! You got me a great deal on a wonderful unit. Your advice was taken into consideration with my final decision. I know that the extra 5ft would’ve been nice to live in, but a bear to pull amd handle. The 35ft Vanleigh Vilano is just what I thought it was gonna be and nothing less! I get nothing but compliments on it. Thank you for your expertise and your advice. If I know anyone ever in the market for an RV, I will surely send them your way. Hope to see you at a campsite someday.

    Reply
  2. Hi, I am new to the RV buying experience and looking to order a 5th wheel to get all the features we want. Would these discounts be less or higher on a ordered model? Could we still expect to get 30% or more off MSRP when ordering?

    Reply
  3. Hi Alan, A question? On the example of the dealer paying $21,000 as apposed to $29,000 the dealer pays, ( for the $40,000 camper ) how do we ( as none experienced ) determine what is and what is not quality? Now days they make these campers look a lot alike. Maybe I’ve overlooked what I read in your awesome, and educational article. Keep up the good work and take care!!! Ward L.

    Reply
  4. Alan – Yet another “Grand Slam” article for RV buyers. I’ve been researching RVs for more than two years and plan to purchase an RV by the end of this year. I will strongly consider your concierge service before I start the RV buying process because knowledge IS power.

    Reply

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