Examining your specific needs and wants with regard to a motorhome, and learning as much as possible about the manufacturer and the dealership you plan to do business with, can lead to a more satisfying purchase experience.
By Paul Helmstetter, F204763
So you’re thinking about buying another motorhome? You’re obviously not alone. Motorhome sales have been very good for most manufacturers for several years now, and the companies continue to introduce exciting new products to please us. Full-body paint schemes make the new coaches very attractive, and the range of options is enough to make one dizzy.
Whether you are looking for a small type B unit that you can keep in your garage and use for long weekends and short vacations, or a 45-foot bus conversion for full-time RVing, new and exciting models await. If you are looking for a previously owned coach, the large quantity of trade-ins increases your chances of finding a good buy on a great used motorhome.
Buying a new motorhome can be both a thrilling and a terrifying adventure. It is very easy to walk into a new unit, fall in love with it, and put a down payment on it right on the spot. This can lead to significant trepidation. I encourage you to do a few things first, so you can increase the thrill and reduce the terror. I know this is asking a lot, but you will be thankful if you do.
It’s likely you have one or more reasons for wanting to buy a new coach. Something may have changed in your life, or maybe you caught “two-footitis” and desire a larger model. I’d like you to take a few minutes and write down those reasons. After doing this, take a few more minutes and list things that you absolutely must have in your next coach in order for it to meet your needs. I call these “Musts” or “Needs.” Next, prepare a list of those items you would like to have, which I call “Wants.”
What is the distinction between these categories? Musts or Needs are those items that you absolutely must have or you can’t use your coach properly, and that cannot easily and affordably be added in the aftermarket. For example, if your young children or grandchildren only take baths and will be traveling with you, you probably need a bathtub. If you cannot step over the side of a tub, then you must have a shower. Your list should include only items that cannot reasonably be added in the aftermarket. If a feature or option can be added later, it becomes a “Want.”
Another distinction may be that you really want a rearview monitor. They can be obtained in black and white or color, with or without sound. If you are planning on a large diesel pusher, your Needs list would include the backup camera and your Wants list might include the color and sound features. (You may find that the sound feature is of little value in the diesel pusher, because the engine noise may drown out any voice communications anyway. It is an excellent feature for a front-engine motorhome, however.)
Since your Musts are items that you cannot compromise on, keep the list as short as possible, but make sure it contains all of those items necessary to meet your needs. After you prepare your Wants and Needs list, take a few minutes more and list those items on your current motorhome that you would like to change. For example, if you have a front entry door and would like a mid-entry door, list that. Or will you consider an all-electric unit such as many bus conversions? Follow this with another list of the items on your current coach that you really like and want on your next one.
Here is a sample of the types of the features you may want to consider when preparing your Wants and Needs list:
Length: Longer provides more room; shorter is more maneuverable. Units more than 30 feet sometimes restricted from certain campgrounds. Units more than 40 feet still not legal in two states (Maryland and New Jersey) plus Washington, D.C., with the exception of federal highways.
Slides: How many and how large?
Height: Interior height now available to 7 feet plus.
Lounge or recliner: Difficult to change once coach is built. Some recliners are movable when stopped.
Dinette, table and chairs, or computer workstation: A dinette can be added in place of a table and chairs, but can’t be switched the other way. Some computer workstations include expandable tables; some don’t.
Tub or shower: Tubs are larger than showers, reducing the flexibility of the floor plans. Tubs have high step-over during entry and exit.
Bathrooms: Many different combinations. Bath-and-a-half now available on some units.
Toilet: Plastic or ceramic/porcelain, sprayer, power-assisted flush.
Sleeping capacity: Type Cs usually sleep more people than type As.
Front or midside door: Front gives more open wall space and bigger storage compartments, but you walk in through the living room all the time.
Driver’s door: Quicker ingress and egress for driver. Can lead to soiled carpet. More wind and road noise possible.
Roof patio: Available from at least one manufacturer.
Cargo carrying capacity: Average full-timer carries 3,000 pounds of cargo, while average extended camper carries 2,000 pounds of cargo.
Carrying volume: Make sure you have enough room to carry all your cargo.
Inverter: Best when purchased in coach from manufacturer. 500-watt unit to run TV and VCR, 1,500-watt to run some appliances, 2,000-watt to run microwave.
Backup camera: Strongly advised with bigger motorhomes or if towing.
Levelers: Can be added afterward.
Awnings: Except for articulated-arm-type awnings, can be added afterward. Articulated automatic awnings require additional structural support in sidewall.
Windows: Dual/single pane, jalousie?
Generator: Propane, gasoline, or diesel?
Roofing material: Rubber, fiberglass, or other, if type is important to you.
Clothes washer/dryer: Combo unit or apartment style?
Dishwasher: Yes or no?
Microwave: Standard or convection?
Propane oven: Sacrifices storage space but convenient to use when boondocking.
Refrigerator: Two-door or four-door type, two-way or three-way operation, ice maker?
Home theater system: DVDs are smaller than VCR tapes.
Solar: Can be added afterward.
Water tank capacity: Boondocking requires bigger tank.
Holding tank capacities: In general, larger gray water tank needed for dry camping.
Towing capacity: Make sure your towable is within the weight limits.
Fuel capacity: Diesels have different capacities.
Air conditioning: A/C units or heat pumps, roof-mounted or basement-mounted, optional heat strips?
Flooring: Carpet, vinyl, wood, laminate, or tile?
Fabrics: Leather, cloth, or simulated leather?
Wood: Oak, cherry, walnut, maple, birch, aspen, simulated wood grain, custom?
Countertops: Laminate, solid surface?
Window coverings: Blinds, shades, day-night shades?
Colors: Light or dark colors? Tired of beige?
Manufacturer: Is company sound? Does it have adequate service capability? Does it have quality and durability in its construction?
Owners club: Supported by manufacturer?
Coach power: All-electric or a combination of electric/propane appliances? 30-amp or 50-amp service?
Roof-mounted satellite dish: Manual, automatic, or tracking?
Front-end protection: Bra, Lexan shield, clear film, or none?
Toy box: Do you want to carry snowmobiles, ATVs, or motorcycles?
Insulation: R values
Heated tanks: Winter camping?
Now you should have four different lists related to “wants” and “needs”: 1. items you must have on a new coach; 2. items you’d like to have on a new coach that can be added as aftermarket accessories; 3. items on your current coach you’d like to change; and 4. items on your current coach that you want on the next one.
Put your lists away. After a few days, take the lists back out and review them. Consult with your traveling partner, who should be doing the same thing. Revise them as required. Discuss any differences and prepare a small combined list of items that absolutely must be on your next motorhome, items that cannot be on it, and items that you would like on your next coach but can live without (or can have added in the aftermarket). If you are planning on using your motorhome for extended camping or full-time RVing, you need to buy a coach with enough cargo or net carrying capacity to meet your needs.
As a full-time RVer, the first thing I look for in any motorhome is the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) tag that lists the net carrying capacity (NCC) or cargo carrying capacity (CCC). Too many RVers buy motorhomes with insufficient CCC and end up on the side of the road with blown tires and/or premature chassis failures and wonder why it happened to them. Don’t join that group. Choose wisely. Visit the Recreation Vehicle Safety Education Foundation (RVSEF) Web site (www.rvsafety.org) for additional information about coach weights.
Using your lists provides a method of reducing the number of coaches you have to look at. For example, if your lists reveal that you want a type A diesel pusher with a midcoach entry door, a bathtub, at least 120 cubic feet of storage space, a cargo carrying capacity of 4,000 pounds, and a towing capacity of 10,000 pounds, you would focus on only the models that fit those criteria. In my example, you no longer need to consider any type Bs, type Cs, or front-entry type As because they do not meet your needs.
To begin your search, I recommend you “let your fingers do the walking” via Family Motor Coaching magazine’s monthly Classifieds section and via the Internet. FMCA’s Web site “” www.fmca.com “” has a large list of previously owned coaches for sale in its online Classifieds section. Most larger dealers post their inventory on their Web sites, both new and preowned models. If you are looking for a new unit, check the manufacturers’ Web pages for information about their current model production and manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). Keep track of this information for when you start looking at actual units.
Once you have an idea of the brand and floor plans you want to review, check on dealers in your area that stock those models, and attend RV shows (including those held at FMCA international conventions and area rallies) that may have all of them available for your review. If you have a long enough time horizon, you can start a little file of the list prices and asking prices of the coaches that you like. As you walk through each coach, compare the features and options to your lists. Scratch off your desired coach list units that do not have all the features on your Needs list.
You are not ready to buy any of these motorhomes yet. Once you have found some motorhomes you like that fit your needs and wants, you should next select a manufacturer and dealer that will support your needs. If practical, find out where the motorhomes are built and visit the factories to see how they are made. Does the manufacturer support an owners club? This is an added benefit because it allows you to meet with the experts as well as other owners to help resolve problems and have input into future products. Where are the major repair facilities? While most people never have to worry about having a major repair done to their motorhome, it does happen. If the only major repair facility is in Oregon and you spend all your time east of the Mississippi, it could be inconvenient to get the repair done. The same could be true if you buy a coach serviced in Indiana (where approximately half of all RVs are made), and you spend all your time along the Pacific Coast.
Check the manufacturer’s warranty. How long is it, what does it cover, and who can do the warranty work? If you are close to the factory or a major factory-supported repair facility, how easy is it to schedule work there versus through a dealer? Must a dealer perform all warranty work, or can other reputable repair facilities complete the work under the warranty? Does the dealer have three attempts to fix a problem before you can bring it back to the factory repair facility, or can you bring it there the first time you have a problem if it is more convenient for you to do so? Talk with other owners of the makes you like and ask them about their coaches. The first question we always ask is, “How do you like your motorhome?” Everyone always says they do at first. No one wants to admit they spent their money on a product they’re not satisfied with unless it is a real lemon. Ask more probing questions as well, such as the following:
- From which dealer did you buy your coach?
- What problems have you had?
- Did your dealer fix them properly and in a timely fashion?
- Does the manufacturer stand behind its product?
- What is your fuel mileage?
- Do you belong to the owners club?
- Have you attended any rallies, and does the manufacturer show up with a service crew?
- Have you ever returned to the factory service center for work? If so, how was the work performed? Were you able to get service in a timely fashion? Is there an area for you to stay in your coach with hookups during the repair process?
Take each coach for an evaluation drive on different types of roads. This can be done at some of the larger rallies as well as at the dealerships. Bear in mind that acceleration and handling may be quite different during the test drive if you normally tow a large vehicle or trailer. The larger the engine and gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the motorhome, the less difference there will be. Look for such things as stability, how it holds the road, how it responds to potholes, and how it reacts to being passed by an 18-wheeler or in a crosswind or head wind. Be aware that each year, the chassis manufacturers improve their products. If you test drive a 2005 model and buy one on a 2004 chassis, the ride might be different. Do the best you can to test drive the same model and chassis that you end up buying.
Before visiting the dealership, check the trade-in value of your current coach and the model you want to purchase. If you normally replace your coach every three years, look at the value of a three-year-old motorhome on the NADA Web site (www.nada.com), which offers online vehicle appraisal guides. Do this for each of the manufacturers you are interested in. If you have narrowed your choices down to three different models, and one seems to hold its value significantly better than the others, this may steer you to buy it over the other two.
Once you select the model or models that you like the best, it is time to choose a dealer and begin serious negotiations. Before you visit the dealership, call the Better Business Bureau to find out how the dealer is rated. If the dealer has many unresolved complaints, you may want to select a different dealer. Look for other motorhomes purchased from that dealer and ask their owners about the dealership. Find out whether there is a sales rep who does a good job worthy of a referral. In this manner, you should have a good idea of how others view the dealership. Once arriving, check the service scheduling process and priority system. Look for training certificates for the technicians who will be working on your coach. If only one person is trained in refrigerator repairs and you need service, who will fix yours if that person is on vacation? How long has the dealership been in business? How do they handle prep versus service? Do they have enough service bays to handle all they sell?
If you haven’t learned anything that would dissuade you from working with the dealership, locate the sales rep to whom you were referred and start your negotiations. You now know what you want, what it lists for, what percentage discount you should expect, and what your trade-in is worth. You are in a very strong position to negotiate. Your potential stumbling point will be if another manufacturer has a special going right now and you can save lots of money if you buy that coach rather than the one you want. After you have spent many hours narrowing your decision to get what you need, want, and can afford made by a manufacturer with the service and support you expect, don’t make an impulse buy of a motorhome of which you have no solid knowledge. If, however, it was an alternate on your list that you were seriously considering, then this might be an opportunity you can’t afford to pass up.
After you have completed your negotiations and are ready to sign the contract, borrow the sales rep’s phone and call the dealership’s service department. Tell the service coordinator that you recently purchased a motorhome at the dealership and have a few problems and would like to schedule the repairs. If the service rep tells you to bring the coach in five months from now, this is cause for concern. You will have problems and eventually need to have your motorhome serviced, or you will be paying for a coach you can’t use.
Once you finally sign on the dotted line, ignore all the stories you hear from others of the great killing they made when they bought their motorhome. Odds are that they really have no idea how much they paid for it and probably did not get the coach that was right for their needs. Drive off with a smile and enjoy your new home on wheels!
Important things to consider when buying a coach
- Do your homework.
- Consider your “wants” and “needs.”
- Check the net carrying capacity (NCC) or the cargo carrying capacity (CCC).
- Decide what type of brand and floor plan you’d like.
- Select a manufacturer that will support your needs.
- Check the manufacturer’s warranty.
- Talk to owners of the makes you like.
- Take each coach for an evaluation drive on different types of roads.
- Check the trade-in value of your current coach and the model you’d like to purchase.
- Find out how a dealership is rated by the Better Business Bureau before visiting.
- Check the service scheduling process and priority system.