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RV Shopping Tips

by Peggi McDonald

RV Shows and Dealer Open-House season begins early in the New Year; before we know it spring will be here. What a great time to do your research to shop for your dream machine. Whether buying a new RV or upgrading your present home on wheels, when the 'hitch-itch' sets in; it needs scratching. Some RV's at these shows are discounted several thousand dollars. Savings like these provide a perfect opportunity to add extras such as a generator, jacks or air conditioner(s) in the overall price. Ask about exchanging one appliance for another such as removing a second A/C to replace it with a Fantastic Vent, or an oven in exchange for a stovetop and a large cupboard. Do you need more reading/working light? Is there sufficient electrical outlets or a place to add some? , Since many dealers will add 'customer pay' extras for a reasonable cost, discuss your wishes before the final price is determined. If your RV will take the place of a cottage rather than a home for fulltime living, then having every amenity may not be> important or necessary.

Although slides are a big part of RV manufacturing some RV's offer additional creative floor plans to expand living space, but remember they will look different in a show room than in a campground. The right RV is any model from a pop- up to a 40 footer that suits your lifestyle and budget ... average trade-up time is four years. Be aware of surprises. One manufacturer offers a unique model with a ceiling bed that lowers for sleeping; another fifth wheel design has a complete computer station under a lift-up bed . Quaint ideas if both travel partners enjoy the same sleep habits. Ask yourself if it is important for the sleep area to be convenient for short naps. What happens if one person must climb over the other for an early morning potty or is the bedroom ceiling high enough to get dressed each day. Transforming the dinette into a bed occasionally is part of the adventure but on a regular basis will it become a chore? Check out the kitchen counter and appliances, the closet and drawer space; determine if the bathroom design fits your family's needs. While at the dealer, practice transforming the dinette from day to night use and try everything to avoid surprises after you drive away. We forgot to test the dash air/heat system on our latest coach, when needed several months later it wasn't working. Repair was then at our expense.

RVers always hope for outstanding holiday weather but will your chosen unit be fun for two to three weeks if it is hot, raining, cold or windy when all occupants must stay inside. Large patio awnings provide great shade but even with tie downs and anti-flappers they don't do well on windy days. Shorter versions are easy to roll up in an emergency plus they cost less; use the extra cash to add tinted windows and window awnings to keep your RV cooler, the rain out and diminish the sun's harmful rays.

If possible, weigh your unit on your test run or at least check the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) and GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating) labels to ensure there is enough weight allowance for passengers, food, luggage, gas, propane, water and some gray/black holding tank contents (liquids weigh 8-10 lbs/gal). Adding extra storage roof pods definitely increase packing space but they too add weight. Overloading is dangerous; it reduces handling and stresses tires, springs, shocks, bearings etc.

Generators provide an efficient source of power when dry camping (without electric hook-ups) for everything from A/C to computers to TV's, VCR's and fridge. The downside is most are noisy and produce harmful carbon monoxide plus they use approximately a gallon of gas per hour. One quiet energy alternative is to install Solar Panel(s)/Inverter combinations. With the addition of extra batteries these silent powerpacks operate most (but not all) appliances. Ask your dealer and other RVers for detailed information.

Discussions about high engine performance and gas versus diesel result in a continual controversy. Just as there is not one perfect RV, there is not one perfect engine or tow vehicle; each has plus and minus factors. If travel plans take you into the mountains or hills, your engine of choice needs reserve pulling power. Our 37' 08" motorhome with a gas engine was great for 90% of trekking throughout North America; however while crossing the Rocky Mountains extra pulling power would have been a comforting option. Even descending 13%-14% grades stressed our motorhome engine breaking system. If planning to traverse this type of terrain, wise RVers invest in an exhaust brake, no matter what type of unit or engine they drive.

On the other side of the equation, in March '99 we traded to a '95 Diesel pusher with a 300 Cummins and six speed Allison transmission. We now have power plus but during maintenance we also pay higher costs. It took 9.5 hours to change an inexpensive engine seal last month. Would we trade our pusher for a gas engine ... not likely? NOTE: If you are buying a diesel powered motorhome with air brakes in Canada you will need a 'Z" endorsement on your drivers license. Requirements in each province differ as does course length and testing procedures. American readers should check with their state vehicle licensing/registration departments.

Many owners of high-end units choose to mortgage their RV. The majority of people wouldn't buy a $200,000 home for cash so why use savings to pay for a large house that moves. Financial counselors recommend you keep your money invested and pay the bank each month for the privilege of driving your home on wheels. Canadian dealer financing usually consists of a Conditional Sales Agreement, which includes an interest rate lower than most banks will provide to individual loan customers. Lets face it dealers want your business and banks want the dealers customers. This financing may include no penalty pay-down options plus other benefits. American shoppers should do their research to find the lowest interest rate. Informed buyers on both sides of the border always compare alternate or bank financing with dealer financing. It is your money and looking for the lowest rate mortgage for the longest period of time is the name of the game. In Canada RV and boat mortgages range upwards to 20 years depending on price of unit.

If a new dream machine is not in your future, maybe now is the time to look for a good 'pre-loved' (not a used) unit. Do your research on prices, floor plans and what to expect in your chosen RV. Although buyers may reap big savings on depreciation, take a close look at customer modifications such as 'self-installed' electrical extras and propane add- ons. Are they safe?

  It may also be wise to pay an technician to check all details. On the plus side, most 'bugs' or small problems in almost new (1-2 years old) units should have been rectified. Dealers usually include a short term after sale warrantee on each pre-loved unit they sell, whereas in a private sale you buy 'as is'. Remember if something seems too good to be true, ask "Why?"

When buying with your eyes open, you are aware in advance of potential problems. A good price may not be the lowest, but it is one that both you and the seller are happy with. Enjoy your search and the adventure, "Catching the RV Spirit is such fun".

In our 15 years of fulltiming, John and I made every mistake possible. Thanks to seasoned RVing neighbours our first summer, we slowly learned the ropes. In my writing I try to be that helpful friend and neighbour. 

Peggi and John McDonald are RV Lifestyle Consultants who understand the -idiosyncrasies all RVers.

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