RV Buying Guide – Advice & Insights
I’m talking about the ALL IMPORTANT Walk-Through (or checking a camper being sold by a private seller)
You’ve selected the best RV Camper for your and your families needs, you’ve negotiated the deal, received approval on your financing and set a date to “close the deal.” What remains?
The MOST important activity in the entire RV purchase process remains! The all-important Walk-Through
Why is the walk-through of your camper so important? Because EVEN IF you have plunked down a deposit and received approval on financing on your soon-to-be-your camper, you are NOT (in most states) obligated to go through with the deal UNTIL you sign the purchase documents AND drive it off the dealer’s lot.
Solid RV Buying Advice: Do the walk-through BEFORE signing any of the closing paperwork at the dealership.
Whether you’re buying a new or used RV camper, you are entitled to a walk-through at most dealerships across the nation. This is your LAST opportunity to ensure that everything is “just so” before YOU own it and your ONLY recourse with issues (and there are OFTEN issues) is to schedule time with a service tech.
Important actions to take and insist upon during a walk-through when purchasing a RV Camper…
The dealer will bill the walk-through as an opportunity for you to learn about your new (or new to you) RV Camper – and it is. It’s also an opportunity for the dealer to sell you lots of necessary accessories. Of course, the dealer has a parts store as part of their dealership – and most of those parts are available to you at full retail price! FYI, I’ve compiled a list of accessories I’ve found quite helpful – and try to get you the best price for them. You can see my list of recommended accessories HERE.
The most important aspects of your walk-through
Video your walk-through. This will help you to remember what learn and is demonstrated to you. Be sure to ask about winterizing, de-winterizing (and have him show you the levers you need to adjust to perform this without destroying your hot water heater!), leveling, hooking up to a truck and unhooking, along with operating all controls/switches/levers. Know how to connect to “shore power” and if your camper is 50A, how to connect to 30A or even 15A electric – AND the limitations that exist when doing so. It’s a lot to take in and the video will allow you to reflect upon it (literally) down the road.
Test EVERYTHING! This is PARTICULARLY true for used campers as it may be your last chance to have the dealer fix something on their dime. A big area people often overlook is having the camper hooked up to water (city water) AND at least partially filling the fresh water tank.
Once connected, run the water from ALL faucets (including the outside shower) AND open all storage bays outside to check for any leaks or signs of leaks. Turn off the outside water pressure from the hose connected to the camper and run water from the fresh water tank – check to ensure the water pump is working.
Additional checks that are often overlooked
I know you’re excited as you’re about to take possession of your camper, but take your time during the walk-through – it will prove to be time well spent. Here are a few additional things I’ve found that people often overlook –
- Check the roof! Look for loose material (rubber surface) on the roof, cracks and ANY soft spots – ESPECIALLY check the four corners. These are the 4 greatest “stress points”. When you go inside, do the same – open cabinets near the ceiling to check those four corners! Look at the ceiling for any signs of water stains/ water damage when you open each cabinet.
- Check the floors and walls for ANY signs of water damage (softness, spongy floors, etc.) Tap your foot as you walk around the camper – and don’t forget to check behind the bowl!
- Test the hot water heater – it has to be on for at least 20 – 30 minutes to insure water is heating up
- Test the fridge – also must be on for a while (typically several hours) – the freezer section gets cold first AND make sure the fridge switches between electric and propane. Feel the inside back wall of the freezer – if its COLD, you’re good to go.
- Disconnect the power and make sure the fridge kicks over to propane and the hot water heater works on propane (you’ll hear it light)
- Check the air conditioner(s)
- Check all other components to ensure they work – furnace, microwave, tv, stereo, generator (if applicable)
Remember, this is YOUR opportunity to give the camper a THOROUGH inspection and KNOW that you’re NOT committed to the purchase until any and all issues are addressed to your satisfaction. Realize if you’re buying a used camper, there may be some give and take as to what the dealer is willing to address at this time – but again – it’s your LAST opportunity to get something fixed on their dime (assuming you’re at a dealer)!
Here’s a list of items you may find helpful to check – especially on used campers:
fridge – takes a while to get cold; but the freezer section should respond at least a little within the first 30 minutes of being on
hot water heater – must be connected to water to test – this is an issue in the winter when a seller has winterized their camper
water pump – from the fresh water (gravity) tank
air conditioner – does it turn on and blow cold air? Is it serving cold air to the bedroom?
furnace – does it light and blow warm air?
even if the tires need to be replaced, make sure they have the right amount of air in them (noted on a panel on the side of the camper) – also look at tread wear – if it’s very uneven from inside to outside of tire, you may have a bent axle and a tech will need to verify. Bent axles can be replaced.
The roof if you can get onto it – are there soft spots? serious cracks in the dicor (caulking)? rips in the material that have not been repaired properly/cleanly?
Check interior for any softspots (ceiling, floor, walls) – run your hands along each to see- wall paper showing signs of water damage is a give away
delamination on the outside is a problem (the fiberglass wall peeling off the camper)- open storage outside – any wetness? water damage?
open cabinets inside near ceiling – any water damage (old water stains) visible inside?
look under the camper – is there evidence of damage or modifications? if so, ask about that! In other words, is the underbelly all cut up and re-taped, if so, ASK WHY!
Immediately following the walk-through for your camper…
You’ll visit the dealer’s F&I office and sign out. This transfers the camper to your name. It is at this time when you’ll officially own it. Don’t sign anything UNTIL any necessary repairs identified during the walk-through have been addressed to your satisfaction.
Again, when you drive off the lot, the deal (in most states) is irreversible. There is NO “lemon law” (contrary to what many consumers believe), so, YOU need to be sure you’re getting a camper without any OBVIOUS issues.
Want to work with me to ensure you get the RIGHT camper at the BEST possible price – AND – have a guide-by-your-side through the entire purchase process? Check out my Concierge RV Buying Service HERE.
Have I missed anything? If so, please feel free to comment below!
Oh, and once you’re heading for the open road, here’s a report on two discount campground programs I like and personally use.
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14 thoughts on “Purchasing an RV Camper from a dealer, THIS EVENT is your LAST opportunity…”
hi I purchased a rv from a local dealer I have not pick it up he said that I own it because I signed the registration paperwork the rv has some damage on a door that needs to be repaired I thought that I did not own it an till I drove it off the lot does an one know if that true
I’m not an attorney, and I’m sure the laws vary (somewhat) from state to state. That said, its my understanding you don’t’ own it until you take possession – which is defined as taking it off the dealers lot. If you’ve paid money and signed the final paperwork, it DOES give the dealer quite a bit of leverage – AND – you’ve made a serious error in the purchase process. Final paperwork and payment should NOT be made until AFTER the all-important walk-through and you are 100% satisfied that all is good and to your expectations.
Feel free to call me – 307 269 2546 – mountain time – to discuss further. I’m interested in the state, dealer, and camper you’re purchasing.
Hi there Alan, and thanks for your great content. My question concerns picking up a rig from a non-local dealer. We’ve made the purchase, and intend to use it’s 4-season capabilities, but I need to travel about 1,000 miles to Idaho to pick it up. I won’t have much more than a few hours to do the walk-through, test systems, etc, which I’m hoping they’ll allow me to do on-site. Then it’s back on the road another 1,000 miles home, as I simply do not have the time to stay near the dealer and truly shake it down for a few nights. If there are any specific recommendations you can make for this scenario, I would love to hear them. FYI, the rig is a new ORV Creekside 21DBS.
Who is the dealer? (Some do a better job than others when it comes to prepping the camper) IF you can at all stay overnight near the dealer, you’ll potentially catch things you miss during the walk-through. You need to ask in advance to have the camper connected to water and electric to ensure you can test all systems. Don’t rush the process!! The post you found details how to do the walk-through.
This is info I share with my clients – you may want/need several RV accessories. I’ve compiled a list that may be helpful with links to get them at the right price. Here’s my list … https://rvacrossamerica.net/best-rv-accessories (pay particular attention to a surge protector… very important to have.)
For a couple of nights after your take possession, I encourage you to camp in it at a local campground, near the dealer – put it to the test, identify any issues, and then get the dealer to address them immediately. To locate a local campground (now and in the future)…
Campground Research –
Allstays – https://bit.ly/2Gaocvd – this is not free, but it’s an incredibly valuable tool to have. You can locate campgrounds, low bridges, and much more. (This is most powerful on a laptop.)
Campground Reviews – https://www.campgroundreviews.com/ – this is a free service, not nearly as complete as Allstays; but you can enter the town name (eg: Billings, Mt) and see campgrounds in the area and actual user reviews on it.
Road Service Plan –
This is like AAA, but they handle BOTH your vehicle and trailer. I like them because in addition to road service, they have funds to stay in a hotel in the event of an emergency and you can’t stay in your camper; they also have a tech support line to get help and I think its 24/7 https://bit.ly/2SADn7v
When you land on the page, scroll down and look for the 179 offer for trailers (per year.)
I use these two campground discount programs fairly often … https://rvacrossamerica.net/discount-rv-camping-memberships/
Extended service contract – contact me if interested – I may be able to help with this.
All the best,
Yeah, we don’t plan on living in the snow like you do! 🙂 Maybe 1-2 weeks at longest stay around ski resorts in those colder conditions. We are planning to boondocks with solar at lower elevations most of the year and take the truck into the mountains for activities. That’s the reason for the -R, we plan to have enough solar/battery storage to power. Length wise it’s around 38ft, not short, but not over large like the over 40fts. Grand designs solitude/s-class line has good R-value, curious why you don’t consider them good for four seasons?
I look at overall construction and quality of build. R values are meaningless as there is no standard in the industry. You can’t count on them! For example, “pink panther fiberglass insulation”, the R value changes completely as to whether its compressed or not. I look at what’s in the walls (I prefer high density insulating foam), how the roof is designed (a heel-truss design is best) and so on. Grand Design simply is not built as well as Arctic Fox and Outdoors RV (both use shock absorbers on each axle – THAT is a big deal) and oversize fresh water tanks (important for dry camping). Vanleigh is now on board with larger water tanks as well. Alliance seems to have a solid product as well. And… if you’re open to used campers, there’s a number of good choices. I have several clients I’ve worked with that now own Jayco, Carriage, Excel and others. I’m here if you wish to confer over the phone – 307 269 2546. Al
I see, good information to look out for. Yes, I’ve been watching Alliance RV as well. They have limited sizes and floorplans at this time but they do look promising! We aren’t ready to buy quite yet, still doing a lot of research and hoping to get to walk through more RVs this year. Will reach back out to you if we get overwhelmed! Thank you for your input and your videos/posts!
Bear in mind, your best buy is a used camper. Any of the new models WILL depreciate 40% in the 1st 2 years… so in MOST cases, I work with folks to help them get a used camper – which while its 3-6 yrs old – are often in “nearly new” condition. There are definite reasons for this which make buying a used camper a very different experience from buying a used car.
Hi, I am new to the RV buying experience and looking to order a 5th wheel to get all the features we want. How do walkthroughs work if you order an RV? Are you suppose to sign paperwork before the order or after the order? And if it’s before, what happens if there are problems when you pick it up from the dealer? Just want to get advice from a non-dealership to make sure I understand the process. Thanks!
I need some specifics here – What RV are you considering ordering (year/make/model)? Are you ordering from a local dealer (local to you) or are you ordering from a discounter located in Southern Michigan/Northern Indiana? What options are you looking at that are not typically found on most campers located on a dealers lot? I will address discount after I get some idea of where you’re heading with this. Alan Sills
Thanks for the quick reply! Looking at a new 2021 Grand Design 3540gk-r. They don’t even have it on their site yet but local dealers are getting listing them already. But looking at other models, a lot of dealers around here don’t seem to stock dual pane windows, king bed setups, or heat pumps. We plan to travel mountains and snow places as we enjoy hiking and winter sports. Eventually full time living down the road. We would be ordering from a local dealer in WA
When you do a special order you need to be aware of a few things – the dealer is likely to want a 10% deposit and will do EVERYTHING in their power to make it NON-refundable regardless of what happens when the trailer shows up. Further, they will NOT guarantee a delivery date – especially now as Grand Design’s factory might be shut down due to the virus so who knows when it will show up! Additionally, you can check off exactly what you want, but, there is NO guarantee it will show up “as ordered.” That is, the factory (for many reasons) MAY change options at THEIR discretion (I’ve seen it happen) and you only learn of it shortly before (or when) it arrives.
As to discounting, the dealer ALWAYS discounts whats on their lot MORE than what they have to order. This is for 2 reasons – 1) the dealer does NOT get a special discount on a special order; in contrast whats on their lot was typically ordered in the previous fall at an “event” (for dealers) where the manufacturer offers the dealer an incentive to order a certain number of campers. 2) the dealer is motivated to sell what’s on their lot because they already own it OR its “floored” (the bank owns it) and the dealer is paying interest while its sitting on their lot.
Lastly – I see some other issues with this model (the “R”, the size, the fact that its new – and will depreciate 40% in the 1st 2 years) – I’d love to discuss alternatives with you (I do have a Concierge Buying Service detailed here – rvAcrossAmerica.net/buysell) and see if I can help you find something that HAS the thermopane windows, king bed AND is a TRUE 4 Season as I would NOT rate Grand Design as a top manufacturer in that world. As you may have seen, I have been on the road 9 years now and have spent every winter in the Rocky Mountains so I know who the true 4 season manufacturers are. Feel free to call me at 307 269 2546
Are there competent, no-nonsense & trustworththy people who you can hire to do the walkthrough for you?
You *could* hire a local tech, however, with some thought, most people CAN manage this on their own. Part of the experience is to educate you on the care and use of your camper; the other part is to see if there’s any obvious issues that need ‘last minute repair.’ If you hired a tech, it will cost you $200+ and much more if you want actions like checking the wheel bearings, brakes, etc. Ideally, the dealer did this during their pre-purchase check (PDI).