Recreation vehicles are trending these days. More people want to try RVing for their exciting journey across the country. As a new RVer, you want to make sure your trip goes smoothly, and your motorhome doesn’t fail you. So what should you know when buying an RV?
...an RV salesperson, is only there to sell you what you come in and ask them for.
In this interview with Gigi Stetler, you’ll find the best expert tips on buying an RV. Gigi is the CEO and founder of The RV Advisor that provides support and advice to all RV owners and helps them solve their issues.
Watch this video interview with Gigi to learn more about red flags when dealing with RV dealers, what to consider when buying an RV, and what an RV warranty of different companies is.
Uncover expert answers to the below questions:
- Experience with RVs
- What to consider when buying an RV?
- Hidden costs of RV ownership
- How long can an RV last?
- Best ways to pay for an RV
- RV interest rates in 2021
- New RV vs. Used RV
- Red flags when buying an RV
- What is an extended warranty?
- How does RV warranty work?
- The best RV brands
- RV Owner’s Rights
- What is RV Advisor
What Is Your Experience with RVs?
Gigi: I showed up at the dealer meeting and there were a bunch of fat cats, good old boys, cigar-smoking, scotch-drinking guys, sitting around talking about everything, but RVs. And I came with my brilliant ideas, young, fresh ideas. And I mentioned something about, "We should be open on weekends and we should be open after 5:00 because of families." And they all looked at me like I was crazy. And one guy, the President of the association at the time, said, "Little girl, what are you doing here? You need to go home and bake cookies. This is no place for any girls."
For the next three months, because every month there was an association, we had a meeting. So the next three months they went and had their meetings without me. And I showed up, "Oh, we had the meeting yesterday. Oh, you didn't get the memo? Oh, sorry." That kind of thing for three months.
In the fourth month, I just decided to go on my own. I never went to another meeting and I decided to be open from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, seven days a week. And I did that for 11 years and I knew that what was missing in this business when I started was customer service.
What to Consider When Buying an RV?
Mike: What are your tips for consumers? What shall consumers consider when they're thinking about buying an RV?
Gigi: Well, in today's world, like everybody's on this rage about wanting an RV. But they don't really know why or what they're going to do with it. So what I tell people is if you hired me for my services, or even if you just listened to some of my shows and tips and stuff. I'm going to tell you to get out a piece of paper and pencil and write down what do you expect out of this RV?
What do you want this RV to do for you? What are your expectations? What is your budget? How often are you going to use it? Are you full-time and are you part-timing? Is it the weekend? How many do you need to sleep?
These are questions you have to sit down and ask yourself and answer before you start your search because a salesperson, an RV salesperson, is only there to sell you what you come in and ask them for. You have to write those things down and you have to really study your own life and your own plan of what you plan on doing with it. Before you walk into the sharks at the dealership, because they're only going to sell you what you think you want.
What Are the Hidden Costs of RV Ownership?
Mike: The motorhome has an engine, it has wheels, there is maintenance, there are insurances. What are the costs and hidden costs that someone would incur, but only in a motorhome?
Gigi: The cost that you need to consider is number one, parking and storage. If you cannot leave it at home, how much is it going to cost to put it in storage? And how far away is the storage? And that cost.
Insurance, it's a factor, but it's not terribly expensive. Motorized is obviously going to be more than one you tow behind your vehicle because you're already paying one liability policy. But you can calculate that between maybe $400 a year up to 8, 15, 18, 1900, somewhere in that, based on your driving record.
Of maintenance engine-wise, you have more maintenance, oil changes, batteries, things like that on a motorized vehicle than you would on a pole trailer. But the most important maintenance is a couple of tubes of silicone and decor, or have your local dealer or an expert seal it for you once a year, eight months to a year. And if you do that, it'll last you forever.
How Long Can an RV Last?
Mike: What is the life expectancy of a motorhome?
Gigi: They are financed for 15 to 20 years now. So if the banks are considering their longevity, at least at 20 years. They'll let us. I have 2005 still on my rental fleet that is perfect and being rented yearly. So, I take care of them. So the insides and you could change carpets and your fabric might wear out. But that's a minimal cost and it's like new again. Engine-wise, I see a lot of 1999, 93, 92, still on the road and still going. So it's all in how you take care of it.
What Are the Best Ways to Pay for an RV?
Mike: What are the options that are available for consumers as far as paying for the RV? There are auto loans when someone buys the car. There are mortgages when people buy hot homes. The motorhome is something in between, right? What kind of financing options are available for consumers? Does it make sense to finance an RV, or does it make sense to purchase it for cash?
Gigi: If you're buying an RV from a dealer and you're traveling and you need to depend on service. Sometimes I recommend a customer, even though they can pay cash, I recommend them to finance, even a portion of it to finance it so that you have some leverage over the dealer's head.
There are a couple of tricks up my sleeve to hold them accountable based on if they have a finance contract. It makes the dealer a little more accountable. And then after all the issues are resolved, pay it off. But there are good terms right now, cash is king. I would keep it and I would use it and I would invest in it.
And I would finance an RV if you can because the interest rates are in the fours right now. And then almost 36 years in business. We've never had interest rates this low. So I would take advantage of that.
The Interest Rates with RVs in 2021
Mike: What are the interest rates right now in general? Of course, it depends on the credit score and everything. What is the good interest rate that someone chokes back to be there?
Gigi: If you're a 720 speak in a score and up, you could be around four and a half, four, three quarters, which is very low. Scores in the 650 to 700 range, you're probably looking maybe in the five to seven range. If you're 620 and below, and maybe not, may not be financial, but I've had some deals in the 550s and 570s, which are 18%. 18% is about the maximum that they could charge. But so that's kind of a range.
So it's based on credit. But it's technically the whole package, stable income. There's a lot of what's hurting a lot of people right now is a lot of people took advantage of the COVID stimulus packages, forbearance on their mortgages, forbearance on their car payments while it's ruining people's credit now. Because all of those people that are back on track and trying to get an RV are automatically turned down. So think about that. If it's offered to you, any kind of forbearance deals, it will hurt you in the future.
New RV Vs. Used RV: Which Is Better to Buy?
Mike: For someone considering buying an RV for the first time, is it better to start with a used vehicle or anyone?
Gigi: Well, my highest recommendation for newbies is unless you absolutely already know exactly what you want, which is very unusual for a newbie. I suggest you rent. Even if it's a three-day trip or a four-day trip, rent a couple of different models.
There are peer-to-peer rental companies out there or find a local rental company and rent. Try out motorhome, try out a travel trailer, try out a class A, try out a class C. Rent a few different things so that you can get your feet wet. And then it doesn't matter whether you buy new or used as far as the newbie what happens is when you buy the wrong vehicles, cause you didn't know what you wanted and then you want to get out of it.
So, if you rent something or the first thing is to rent just to see if you like the lifestyle, which 99% of the people do. But that will really tell you a lot of where you want your bathroom, what size bed you want or don't want, and shower curtain, or glass shower, or this or that, or all those different things. You'll learn in a rental in three days.
What Are the Red Flags When Buying an RV?
Mike: When coming to the dealer and having a conversation with a dealer, what are the red flags that consumers should be asking themselves and asking the dealer? What are the red flags to watch out for during the deal?
Gigi: For starters, a lot of people are shopping on the internet right now because there's a very, very low inventory. And it's a big problem in our industry. So what's happening is consumers are shopping online and dealers are not being forthcoming in what they have on their website as it is being sold.
Red Flag #1: Bait and Switch
Gigi: So customers are driving an hour away, seeing something online, talking to the salesman. Okay, I'm coming down to look at a drive an hour, two hours, three hours. Oh, sorry. It was just sold. But let me switch you to this unit. So the old bait and switch thing is happening. Incredible. If that happens and you drive somewhere and someone told you it was available and it's gone and they try to switch you. Number one, red flag.
Red Flag #2: Non-Refundable Deposit
Gigi: Number two red flag, they ask you to put a deposit on a vehicle that you haven't seen. And it's a non-refundable, second big red flag. Okay. Let's say they give you a contract and it is refundable subject to your inspection.
You need to see the whole contract because there's language on the front that says they write refundable. And then on the back of some contracts, it's non-refundable.
So it's very ambiguous. And if you put it on your credit card, the credit card company is not a legal department. So most of the time, because it's stamped on the front that says, non-refundable you lose. So that's a red flag. So if they don't show you the front and the back and all the pages that go with that contract, that's a huge red flag. The two things that are in most of these dealers' contracts.
Red Flag #3: Price Increase Mentioned in the Contract
Gigi: Even if you're sitting in front of the dealer and a lot of people are not reading the entire contract, which is, I want to say shame on you, but I'm going to say it again.
Look for the language in the contract.
Number one, if you're ordering a unit there's language in a contract that says that, and it's usually on page two or three and the very tiny print.
And it'll say that if there's a factory price increase, you are agreeing to pay the increase, or if they've modified or altered the options or the interior, you've accepted it. And its new price and new condition, whatever. And nobody reads that. So they're basically telling you that you're going to have a price increase because that's what that means.
Red Flag #4: Signing the Order of Units That Are Not Built Yet
And the other section that's in their contract, which is a huge red flag on an order of units, it says that “by signing this contract, you have inspected the vehicle and have accepted it in its current condition.” Well, it's not built yet. So how could you accept that in its current condition?
And I've had this happen with an RV Advisor member who purchased it, didn't see that in the contract, financed it, did everything but it wasn't delivered from the factory yet. Well, the driver that brought it from the factory, wrecked it. He wrecked it and put a big hole in the side of the vehicle. So the dealer is like, it's yours. You own it.
So he said, well, you got to call your insurance company and claim it on your account. And the customer's like, but I didn't take delivery, not according to this paper. So anyway, a year and a half later, this member has been fighting between the insurance company and the dealer. He got stuck with it. He was stuck with it and it's going to be on the insurance forever, even when he goes to resell it, that it had like a $35,000 claim. So look at the language in the contract.
What is an RV Extended Warranty?
Mike: Is there such a thing as an extended warranty when getting an RV?
Gigi: Yes, and highly recommended. First off, if you're buying from a dealer, they're going to offer you an extended warranty at the time of purchase. If you don't purchase the extended warranty, but if you don't purchase the warranty at the time that you purchased the RV. And there is an issue, it's a pre-existing problem.
So you definitely need to buy it because these policies are what's called a sign-and-drive. If you buy a used vehicle because every dealer is as-is. So on used units, no dealer has any warranty at all. The curb is your warranty. So it's as-is, you must purchase an extended warranty on a used vehicle 100%. And it is better than any factory warranty.
If you're buying a new vehicle from a dealer and you're just passing through and you're never going to be back at that dealer again, or in that area, in that territory. I can assure you what happens in the industry.
No other dealer in the country is obligated to fix that RV under manufacturer factory warranty, but the selling dealer.
So you will not get a warranty, work done under warranty. It's next to impossible. So if that's going to happen, I almost recommend you to have the dealer title it as a used vehicle with no factory warranty. And, then you buy the extended warranty, so the extended warranty kicks in right away.
But you have to be careful because that will also void your structure warranty with the manufacturer, so you got to make sure that structurally the RV is good. The roof is good. The rubber is good. Because, but all of the components in the RV, like the roof has a 20-year warranty for defects, not for poor installation, but defective material.
So these are things that you have to inspect, have an inspector, and really look at that close. If you decide to title something as used. So that you can get this extended warranty, but it is 100% a must to have an extended warranty on anything that you buy.
How Does RV Warranty Work?
Mike: We get to speak to a lot of consumers that are upset about RVs. And we've had several interviews with consumers and I get the feeling, maybe you can correct me, as to the time about factory warranties for certain RV manufacturers.
I get a feeling that factories and dealerships on purpose keep vehicles under warranty for so long. And they have shots like for eight months, nine months just to wait until a warranty runs up. Is this possible? I've seen a number of people that have been complaining about minimal problems RVs are stock in the shop or at the dealer shop for months.
Gigi: I'll explain how the warranty works, and then you'll understand why dealers don't want to... it's almost become. First off, these big dealers, big-box retailers, Camping World, general RV, some of these big stores, they are selling 200, 250, 300 units a month. It is impossible to serve two to three hundred units a month. Impossible. They're getting these things off though.
The factory is building these things as fast as they can. And they're coming to the dealers, the dealerships, they don't first off the factories don't even do a water test. They don't hook up water to the RV. So they have no idea if their plumbing lines are connected or working or anything, that's a dealer's responsibility.
99% of the problems that are going on right now are the dealers not preparing these units properly.
They're just sending them out just as fast as the factory is and letting the customer just go deal with it. And that's the problem.
So the dealership is responsible, but the manufacturers aren't going to throw the dealers under the bus because the manufacturers need the dealers. So, it's just a big circle. Everybody's chasing their tail.
So the way the warranty process works. And I was a very big dealer, many, many, many years ago. I was very big, I was one of the top dealers in the country. And I too was selling 200, 200 and something units a month. And it's hard to keep up. And, but what I did was I started to just do the work myself.
It takes five people just to process a warranty claim or to give you 0.8, $13 for a claim. So it became more cost-effective for me to just absorb the cost and just fix the part, change it, do whatever I got to do, and eat the warranty than to process the claim. The factory hopes that you don't have the time to do the paperwork, process the claim, which is what happens.
So it's that part of it's always been broken. The system's been broken, but the bottom line is that customers must stop looking for the best price, the cheapest price. I am now, I'm no longer that big, big dealer. I'm probably the most expensive dealer in South Florida. And because you get what you pay for it. But, if my customer has an issue, well, first off I prep these units before they go out and I fix problems before they get to the customer.
But if my customer has an emergency problem, emergency he's in, within 24 hours, a non-emergency and he's in the next day, or I send somebody to your house to fix the problem, or I send somebody to you if you're in the campground and your air conditioner's broken out a way for the factory to send me an air conditioner, which is three months from now. I buy it myself. I put a new air conditioner on it, and I go fight with them later. So that's what needs to happen.
What Are the Best RV Brands to Choose From?
Mike: Would you be able to recommend RV brands for consumers?
Gigi: I recommend that you buy local, and don't buy the brand, buy the dealer. Every manufacturer is making almost the same floor plans. They're all copying each other. So fall in love with the dealer, get a relationship with the dealer and have that dealer. If he doesn't have it, she doesn't have it. Then, see if they can get it for you. If you want a particular floor plan, but do not get married to a manufacturer, marry a dealer because that's the only one that's going to help you.
What Are the RV Owner’s Rights?
Mike: What are the RV consumer rights and protections that someone who purchases an RV has?
Gigi: Technically, zero. And that's what I'm fighting for. The Lemon Law is very gray. It only relates to motorized, and even that's very hard to win on.
What Is an RV Advisor?
Mike: You form your organization called RV Advisor Association. Tell us a little bit about this RV Advisor Association.
Gigi: I would over and over and over again get friends, exhibitors, equestrians, asking me, I need to buy a fifth wheel. I'm in California. Who do you recommend? And every time I would recommend somebody, they would let my customer, my friend, slash the customer down. They would either screw them over. So it got to a point where I couldn't recommend anybody. I couldn't.
And so they would call me when there was a problem with their RV because the dealer didn't take care of them. Cause nobody cares. So people were always asking me, you need to nationalize yourself. And so that's kind of where the RV Advisor was born as a non-biased company. So that you can number one, I can educate you on the things to look for. And the people don't even know the questions to ask a dealer. So the dealer's not going to volunteer everything.
So that's how it kind of started. Look for a pattern because sometimes there are competitors that write bad reviews about other competitors and stuff like that. But if you look at the pattern of the service and how long their RV sat there, and the extended warranty is and how they failed them and they didn't pay their claims, all those kinds of things.
We look at a pattern. And if the pattern fits and everybody's in the same pattern, then it's real. It's a real review. Stay clear as an RV Advisor member, we will vet out anybody you need us to vet out. And the thing is that if you're a member of the RV Advisor or RVACA, you go to that dealer and say, “Hey, I'm a member of RV Advisor.”
Our purpose is to make those dealers so afraid of me because I will catch them with all of their BS. So I want them to be so afraid of me that they take such good care of you and you're at the top of their list. And that's what we're trying to gain.
Mike: Gigi, thank you very much. It was a pleasure having you on the show.
Buying an RV is a great idea. To be happy with your purchase, follow the above expert tips from Gigi Stetler and take care of all the red flags along the way.
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