A Catastrophic RV Buying Mistake…


I was contacted recently by a first time RV buyer. She reached out asking for help identifying the truck that can pull a fifth wheel RV camper with a DRY WEIGHT of 15,500 pounds. My curiosity was piqued so I asked her if we could speak (and not just text.)

When she called, I first asked about the 5th wheel she was planning to purchase. She then volunteered that she and her family had zero RV’ing experience. Despite this, she had placed a special (custom) order for a 46 ft. toy hauler with a 13 ft. garage. They were not planning to transport any “toys” (off road vehicles, motorcycles, etc.) They simply wanted the space for the entire family to travel together and live in the camper.

Historic Butte (upcoming post) – Finlen Hotel (circa 1925) – patterned after a NYC hotel! (Don’t miss this post when I release it!)

I learned this family was in the process of making one of the worst RV buying mistakes possible…

Big Mistake #1: Buying a RV Camper that looks great on the dealers lot – and is a virtually unusable everywhere else

Many buyers, especially newbies are lured by large RV’s and toy haulers on a dealers lot. They often feature closed garages, mid-bunk rooms, private bedroom, 4 slides and more. The reality is, they have no idea what awaits them when they “hit the road.”

My inquirer is the head of a household. She lives in a mid-Atlantic state, not far from the Appalachian Mountains. As a full-time traveler now for 12+ years, I’ve seen MANY great campsites where any RV over about 30-35 ft. (overall) length will not fit. I have even encountered roads where navigating the road and safely remaining in your lane is impossible for larger campers.

In their region, I’m quite certain that a 46 ft. toy hauler (triple axle) will NOT be fun (or safe) to tow on Skyline Drive or for that matter, many roads in West Virginia, western Maryland or even parts of the Poconos or Catskills farther north.

Out here in the intermountain west, Idaho Rt. 55 from Boise to Valley County is treacherous for larger campers. On the switchbacks, you’re LIKELY to cross the double yellow line around blind curves.The switchbacks from McCall to New Meadows Idaho are no cake walk either.

One of the most restrictive roads I’ve encountered is in Yellowstone National Park near Mammoth Hot Springs. Any RV over 27 or 28 ft. overall length is likely to cross into the opposing lane of traffic to negotiate the mountainous switchbacks. I could go on and on citing roads that long trailers either can’t travel or can’t travel safely.

Historic Butte (upcoming post) – 1879 home of Mayor Henry Jacobs

I’m in a 34′ 11″ fifth wheel. It is 3′ 4″ shorter than my original fifth wheel and even that small change has made a big difference. If I could live with less space, I’d go even shorter to access more campsites.

Yes of course, almost anything can travel the nation’s Interstate highways. Further, most KOA and Good Sam campgrounds will accomodate these oversized beasts, but are those places and traveling the interstate highways what RV camping is really all about?

Bottom line: Unfortunately this family has no idea what awaits them – until they hit the road and learn for themselves. By then it will be too late. Their camper will have depreciated (literally) tens of thousands of dollars.

False Expectations: Placing a Special Order for an RV Camper

Most dealers require a 10% NON-REFUNDABLE deposit to custom order any RV camper. Once the order is placed, you’re effectively LOCKED IN. Further, In my experience at a RV dealership for several years, I have NEVER seen a special order camper arrive as ordered by the buyer.

RV manufacturers are FAR less predictable in what they build than we have come to expect in the automobile industry. For example, when I ordered my 2022 Ford F-350, I placed a special order including the specific options I wanted and excluding those that I did not want.

When my truck arrived in April 2022, it was exactly what I ordered (with 1 exception – and that was NOT the manufacturers fault.) In other words, with an order that took 11 months to fill, Ford built exactly what I expected them to build based upon my special order.

In the RV industry, manufacturers regularly make changes in floor plans, furniture and more as the model year progresses. That is, if you special order a 2025 RV, what you get will in all likelihood differ from what you ordered, potentially in very significant ways.

For all the reasons detailed here, I recommend to my Concierge RV Clients to NEVER special order any RV camper.

If you’ve read my other recent articles, I do not even recommend buying brand new as the depreciation will clobber you! IF you purchase brand new, by buying a camper on the dealers lot, at least you know exactly what you’re buying.

**Thinking about an RV Camper? Want a “guide by your side, who also has your back?” I will work to get you the RIGHT camper at the BEST possible price. Contact Me – Learn more about my Concierge RV Service HERE.**

Once you own it… can it be sold? Reality check: There is virtually no resale market for certain RV Campers

In this family’s case, the manufacturer of the RV they ordered is not known for building a quality product. Further, there are few buyers looking for an oversized 5th wheel toy hauler like the one they’re purchasing.

The MSRP (retail) price on the camper they’re buying is over $150,000. On a special order, the dealer is likely charging them close to retail to place the order. On a quick perusal of rvtrader in early April, there are dealers dumping their inventory on this model for as little as $86,000. (for a NEW, 2024) model!

Historic Anaconda (upcoming post) – Hearst Library (circa 1898) – Don’t miss this VERY historic post!

If this buyer takes possession of this camper and then tries to sell it as a used model even after just a few months, they are likely to find zero buyers for anything more than $70,000.

This is what I call an EXPENSIVE MISTAKE!!

About the truck to pull it…

They were first thinking a SRW 1 ton Ford diesel. I balked, and suggested an F-450 or F-550. With a dry weight of 15,500 pounds, plans to full time and the intent to carry all the “stuff” needed for a large family, they’re likely to be traveling with more than 2000 pounds of gear. Hence my recommendation for a 450 or 550.

In my (apparently) last communication with them, they asked about a 1 ton dually. I indicated that such a choice would be borderline. Remember, its not so much what you can pull – its what you can stop!

Having pulled my trailer (15,000 pounds loaded) over Teton Pass, with 10% grades (in both directions), I know just how careful you have to be with a 1 ton truck towing it.

Gold and Silver have taken off! Goldbacks are an affordable and easy way to own “your piece” of gold. Learn more HERE.

Need RV Accessories?

Tried & True…

best rv accessories
Click the image to see my recommendations for important RV Accessories

Concluding Thoughts

In my conversations with this particular party, I advised her to cancel the order, attempt to get her deposit back and start a new search, perhaps this time with my insights and guidance. They appear to have declined to accept my advice and may very well follow the old adage “experience is the most brutal of teachers…” (C.S. Lewis.)

Hey, as always, thanks for reading this. I welcome comments (below) – I read and respond to all. Further, if you wish to receive notice of future posts – please join my newsletter below.

Connect with us:

10 thoughts on “A Catastrophic RV Buying Mistake…”

  1. Great advice Al. You arranged the purchase of my trailer back in 2019. ORV 24RLS, purchased at ORV dealer in St George Utah. Al’s “commission” if you will was well worth it.

  2. Wow – this is scary. These owners are on the road. It is concerning that these owners/drivers do not require any additional or special driving skills or class of drivers license.

  3. Oh yes, this post makes sense! I bought a 42′ fifth wheel and absolutely loved using it. However, yes, navigating and planning trips was always an extra thing I had to keep in mind. The trickiest situation we got in was in Arkansas with small winding roads in the Ozarks AND an underpass below a bridge that we cleared with about 1″ to spare! I couldn’t imagine a 46′ fifth wheel unless it was strictly used for highway driving and pull in and out of pre-arranged campgrounds that can accommodate that length.

  4. You gave them great advice. Too bad they didn’t take it. I just hope I never run across them for my own safety. You’re comment on stopping is so important. The best thing I have ever done is convert my 5th wheel to disc brakes. It makes a world of difference.


Leave a Comment


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)