Are you desperate to buy an RV but worried about finding a quality RV? We hear you.
People are more concerned than ever about RV quality, and rightfully so. As the RV industry has exploded, prices have plummeted and workmanship has sometimes suffered. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get a well-built rig.
We know shoppers want a little guidance navigating this complicated topic, so we brought expert Mark Polk onto the RV Family Travel Atlas podcast to talk about price points, researching manufacturers, and inspecting RV fit and finish. Mark is going to give us sensible, actionable advice to tracking down a quality product.
How to Buy a Quality RV: Setting the Right Expectations
One of the best things about the RV market right now is that there is an RV for every budget. From $10,000 travel trailers to $300,000 diesel pusher motorhomes, you can find something that fits the size of your wallet.
But you have to have appropriate expectations for the budget point you are in, and that’s where Mark’s expertise comes into play in this episode. He insightfully compares buying an RV to buying a car. You can get a Chevy, a Buick, or a Cadillac. But don’t buy a Chevy and expect a Cadillac. Know what you should be getting at each comparable price point in the RV market. In other words, a $10,000 travel trailer will probably have veneer cabinets instead of hardwood. That doesn’t make it junky. That’s just the kind of materials used in a budget RV. But, if the veneer cabinets are not installed properly, then it’s not a quality RV. Makes sense, right?
Mark breaks RVs up into three categories: Entry-Level RV, Mid-Line RV, and High-End RV. He goes into a ton more detail on the categories in this blog article, but here is the chart that we reference on the podcast:
One of the most important things to think about when setting the budget for your RV purchase is how much time you will spend in the rig. Entry level RVs are perfect for folks that want to get out to the campground a few weeks out of the year. The laminate countertops and single-pane windows will serve you just fine for normal recreational use. But if you plan on spending much more time in the RV, consider upgrading to a mid-line unit. Hardwood cabinets will hold up better to daily wear and tear. Plus, dual-pane windows will keep you warmer (or cooler) during temperature swings.
The most important thing to realize is that you have to match your budget with your expectations before you purchase an RV. Buyers can find a quality RV at any price point. But you need to expect the materials to be in line with your Chevy/Buick/Cadillac category.
How to Buy a Quality RV: Research, Research, Research
Now without a doubt, shoppers will find quality RVs and junkie RVs in each price point (entry, mid, high). If you are buying, you’ll want to embrace your role as a researcher. It can complicated to track down a quality RV that fits your budget. But it 100% can be done.
We’ve bought three new RVs over the last decade or so. One was junkie and two were good quality. When we bought our first RV, we didn’t do the careful research that Mark recommends. So we ended up with a camper that looked fancy but was really a hunk of junk.
Before our next purchase, we became research fanatics. We unabashedly grilled people about their RVs while we were at the campground, asking everyone how they felt about their rigs. We went online and joined forums where we asked questions and paid careful attention to people who were satisfied with the RV they owned.
Mark also brings up the value of touring a manufacturer’s facility if possible. We believe brands that offer plant tours are simply more likely to be producing quality RVs. If a manufacturer is turning out junky RVs, they don’t want the public to witness that process.
How to Buy a Quality RV: Attend an RV Show and Get to Know the Dealers
Even if you don’t plan on buying at an RV show, they can be a big help in buying a quality RV. First of all, the best brands will have “manufacturer representatives” at the show to educate consumers about the RVs. We’ve talked more about these reps and how to spot them in our RV Show Shopping podcast episodes.
As important as it is to find a quality manufacturer, we believe it is equally important to find a quality dealer. Your dealer will be responsible for the pre-delivery inspection of the RV, repairing any flaws before you take ownership. Your dealer will also be responsible for taking care of any warranty work needed. Reputable dealers have great service centers, ready to quickly and easily fix any issues that arise in the first couple of years.
Buying a Quality RV: Inspecting the Fit and Finish
Once you have figured out your budget, chosen your manufacturer, and picked your model and dealer, it’s time to make sure the fit and finish of your particular RV is satisfactory. Mark points out that if the fit and finish of the things you can see is poor, imagine what it looks like behind the walls. Make sure cabinets and trim are attached properly. Inspect countertops and latches. One mis-drilled screw does not mean you have a junkie RV. However, a list of issues might mean there is a bigger problem at hand.
You’ll also want to pay attention to the product brochures and online information. If a manufacturer brags about construction materials and techniques, it means they are proud of their RVs. Beware of brands that do not have any information about build quality in their promotional materials.
Buying a Quality RV: Our RVFTA Soapbox
We couldn’t be more appreciative of Mark Polk for coming on the podcast and talking about buying a quality RV. We know people are anxious about ending up with a junkie RV, and we want them to do their research and make the best choice.
Mark believes it’s possible to still buy a quality RV these days. You have to do your research and you have to do your legwork. Plus, you have to be willing to pony up the money for the quality level you want.
We believe that many of the RV quality issues that are affecting people right now are a result of a ‘deal with the devil.’ When RV sales exploded a few years ago, many manufacturers realized that shoppers were focusing on two things: cosmetic touches and price. So you know what some of them did? Made RVs that look nice on the surface and are made out of the cheapest components and materials possible. In many ways it was a race to the bottom. Who could have the cheapest RV on the market?
Many shoppers place what we call the ‘bling’ ahead of the nuts and bolts. They see two similar floor plans from two different manufacturers and go with the cheaper one, not considering the quality of the flooring, roofing, and appliances. We hope this interview with Mark Polk encourages folks to look beyond the pendent lighting and think about materials, fit, and finish.
It does take a bunch of work to track down the perfect, quality RV for your family. But you’re buying a home on wheels, so it’s worth the effort.
See you at the campground,
Stephanie + Jeremy