The decision to buy a travel trailer, or any other RV, should not be made on the spur of the moment. Purchasing a travel trailer is going to dig a fairly deep hole in your pocket, and, as with most large purchases, you should do your homework rather than making a snap decision.
Preparation Before Parting With Your Savings
Before you begin the serious process of opening the newspaper to peruse the adverts or putting fingers to keyboard to search out travel trailers or wandering into a local dealership, there are a few things that we strongly advise you consider.
Step into many dealerships to window shop. Look around at all the options that are on the market. Wander through as many dealerships as you can and assess the various models that are on show. Do you want a travel trailer, a 5th wheel, or a fully motorized RV? Look well before you are tempted to buy.
Doing some detailed window shopping will help you to control your emotions when it comes time to buy. You may fall in love with a particular model, and a savvy salesperson would likely pick that up and use it to convince you before you are really ready. By window shopping in advance, you get over that first flush of excitement and can view your prospective purchase more rationally, putting the negotiating power back in your hands instead of in the salesperson’s hands.
As we have already said, a little financial planning before you start will not be a bad idea.
Do you have a budget in mind?
Do you know the maximum monthly payment you can afford? Make sure you check the interest rates at both your bank and the dealership. Often bank loans come with better interest rates than the financial houses with which the dealerships work.
Do you have enough in your savings to put down a good deposit, so the monthly repayments are not going to put you into difficulty if your financial situation changes a little? Remember to factor in insurance and storage costs, if you cannot store the vehicle at home.
- What do you want to do with the travel trailer?
- This may sound like a stupid question, but do you really know what it is you want to do?
- Where do you want to travel with the trailer?
- How many people will typically accompany you?
- Do you want to boondock? If so for how long at a time as this will affect your water needs and your grey and black water tank requirements.
- Will you camp where there is no electricity?
- Do you plan to live in the trailer on a semi-permanent basis?
Do you plan to use the trailer during winter? If so heating is an important factor.
Do you know the GVM of your tow car? GVM is the “gross vehicle mass” set by the manufacturer that tells you what the total weight of the vehicle is and how much weight is safe to add (passengers, luggage, etc.).
Now that you understand the GVM of your tow car or pick-up, you must also check the maximum weight that your car can tow. Though the terminology will vary from country to country, each travel trailer should list its tare or unladen weight and its GVM or laden weight. The number you are interested in at this time is the GVM, as this is the total weight that you will be towing if you purchase this particular travel trailer. The GVM of the trailer must fall within the towing capability of your tow car, and for safety, it should not scrape in right at the top.
All of these things will have an impact on the vehicle you eventually purchase, so think carefully about what you are looking for before you are persuaded to buy something that does not fit by a glib-tongued salesperson!
When you face the salesperson. try not to become excited about the beautiful trailer next to which you are standing. That price written on the sticker is bound to be inflated, sometimes up to as much as 40%, so be prepared to do some hard negotiating.
Once again, education is your key. You should know what the value is of the trailer you intend to buy and once again where to find this information varies from country to country. In the USA these values can be found in the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Recreational Vehicle Price Guide, and elsewhere there are plenty of online resources that can be used to find the estimated value of the trailer. Most of these estimates are dealer’s guides and it is possible that they are inflated by anything up to 40%. Take the value you are given and reduce it by 40%, which will give you a place to start negotiating. The dealer will want to make his profit so be prepared to go up from your starting point to give both yourself and the dealer a fair deal.
Knowing When to Buy
Now that you are ready to buy, when should you go out to do so? When the first hint of spring peeks through winter’s gloom, most of us think of heading outdoors after being confined for so many months, and our instinctive reaction is to visit the nearest dealership. Bear in mind that hundreds of other people are thinking the same thoughts, so your chances of getting a good deal are slim to non-existent! However, with some forward planning, you can find good bargains.
Buy at Mid-Winter
Walking into any dealership in the middle of winter will almost certainly guarantee you red carpet treatment. Sales of this type of vehicle are very slow, and the sales representatives need sales, so your opportunity to negotiate a massive discount is excellent. Warm weather will transform your ghost-town of a dealership into a veritable hive of activity, so going into this same dealership in spring will result in a half hour wait just to talk to a salesperson. Plus, you will find that discounts have melted with the winter snow.
Once the weather warms up and sales pick up, things will change dramatically. You cannot blame the dealerships, they now have the upper hand, and for the halcyon days of summer, they will make hay while the sun shines. It is the responsibility of the purchaser to ensure they visit that same dealership when they have the upper hand and the dealer is desperate for sales.
When Gas Prices Rise
No-one can contest that towing a travel trailer can have a disastrous effect on your fuel consumption. Tacking a few hundred pounds of weight onto the tail of your tow car will make the engine work that much harder and push up your fuel consumption. This can have a knock-out effect for many people who, when the price of gas goes up, start to believe that they can no longer afford to tow a trailer. This is the time to watch the press for adverts of people wanting to sell. This knee-jerk reaction brings many very well looked after caravans onto the market, and, if you are wise, you will snap up one of these before their owners sit down and do the math. There is no way that staying in hotels, motels, or B&Bs is going to be cheaper than paying a little extra for gas.
When a New Model is Released
These bargains can usually be found at the very end of winter. Many manufacturers release their latest models in spring, so do your research and visit the dealerships that will be looking to clear out all their old inventory to make way for new models.
Most people seem to feel that they must purchase the latest models; however, if you are not driven by status, buying an older model has the potential to bring huge savings with it. In many cases, the difference between the current model and the new one are trivial or cosmetic, so buying the older model may get you all the same equipment in a different color scheme.
When the Weather Warms Up
If you are seriously considering a second-hand trailer, then the onset of spring is the time to start looking around. Often, families are looking to offload their existing trailers in favor of buying new, so if you are looking into buying pre-owned, then this is the time to sharpen up those negotiation skills. Many trailers do not have a high resale value, so purchasing a late model, a pre-owned trailer that has been well cared for will save you thousands of dollars.
Buying a trailer without a warranty from a private buyer can be a risky business, but it can save you a considerable amount. Before paying the money, speak to your local dealership and ask them to give the trailer you are looking at, a once-over. This will cost you, but at the end of the day, you will have the surety that the vehicle you are buying is in excellent condition, or you can negotiate down the price knowing that some repairs will have to be done.
Another place to consider looking is around storage facilities. Toward the end of winter many people get tired of paying to store a vehicle they rarely use, and on top of the additional winter expenses, many people look to offload trailers that are simply standing and costing storage fees.
Look for Dealerships in the Southern States
This may sound odd but look for dealerships in predominantly warm areas, like the southern states of the USA. Here, dealers can sell all year round, and they tend to mark up less than those that have a restricted selling period due to inclement weather for half the year.
Additionally, try for dealers that are close to where the trailers are manufactured. Again, transportation costs to these dealers are negligible so their markup may be a great deal more flexible.
During an RV Show
RV shows are an excellent place to negotiate a good deal on new trailers. The sales people that man the stands are very hungry for sales and are willing to negotiate significant discounts. Most dealerships are looking to arrange transport back to their showrooms for as few units as possible, so they will negotiate major discounts to ensure the vehicles are sold and do not need to be transported back. Again, do not be tempted to buy based on the bright “Show Sale” stickers that you see. Rather go home, check the internet and see if that “special” price is as special as the dealer makes it out to be!
These shows are also wonderful places to get to talk to many aftermarket vendors that are often sources of information on the care and maintenance of your trailer. Spend time talking to them as they are mines of information on the quirks of various models and can often give you the inside scoop on models that routinely have trouble or where there are poor design features that may give you trouble.
Well Before Your First Trip
Do not be tempted to rush out and buy a trailer immediately before your first long trip. Buy well in advance, and give yourself time to become accustomed to how the various amenities work. After all, you do not want to be embarrassed trying to empty tanks for the first time in front of an entire campground full of people. Take the time to test everything and make sure it all works as it should.
In conclusion, our advice is, do not follow the herd. Following in everyone else’s footsteps will not bring you any financial rewards. An educated, patient buyer will get an excellent deal as they know what they want, how much they can spend, and they know when to go out and start negotiating. When you know new models are being shipped to dealers, and you know when sales are most likely to be at their lowest ebb, you can work out when it is time to take advantage.
Be educated, be patient, and save a considerable amount that you can spend on traveling instead of lining a salesperson’s pocket.