Travel trailers are a great and flexible option for your camping needs. Unlike motorized RVs, travel trailers have a ball hitch which you attach to another vehicle in order to transport. They are more economical than many other types of RVs and average around $15,000-$25,000 (new).
A good travel trailer should last you anywhere from 12-25 years, so this is a long-term purchase. Think about what your needs will be and what your family will look like down the road, in order to prevent buyers’ remorse.
Like any type of camper, travel trailers are a big investment, so it’s important to know how to shop and get the best deal. Here is a guide to walk you through the process and get you on the road!
Travel Trailer Shopping
Knowledge is power! Research what travel trailer models you think you would like prior to going to the dealership. If you dont know what model you want yet, go to several dealers and look.
If you know what travel trailer you would like, research the heck out of it prior to purchasing at the dealer. Check forms, reviews, google, and any other item you can find about pricing, problems, etc. This is the single best thing you can do to get a good deal. Campers come with a variety of features that vary depending on model and even which dealer you purchase the exact same unit from. For example, a 2106DS Winnebago at dealer A may have slam shut latches while the same model at dealer B will have non slam shut doors. We found this out while we were shopping. Make sure you find out all of these details of the exact unit you are looking at.
With travel trailers, you also need to take into consideration the weight of the model, and the towing capacity of your vehicle- this is crucial! Don’t assume that a seller will bring this up or know how to properly calculate towing capacity, this is ultimately your responsibility.
Deciding on your trailer model ahead of time of purchase will prevent confusion and distraction at the dealership, especially when it comes to features that aren’t as visible. You can also identify similar models that you would consider and are in your price range, to give you more leverage when negotiating. There are many websites that can help with the research and decision process, including GoRVingand RVing planet. For some suggested models, check out our 6 Best Travel Trailers Under 5,000 Pounds.
Like with other large purchases, finding out about depreciation can help with your decision. Unfortunately, the value of travel trailers depreciate very quickly. Look at used models 1-2 years old to determine depreciation and to see if your camper trailer will hold value. This is the time period when your RV will depreciate the most, approximately 18-25%. RVTrader and National Appraisal Guides, Inc. (NADA) are great search tools. Don’t be too discouraged when you see the numbers, all models will depreciate as soon as they’re purchased, but it’s best to choose an option that will hold the most value over time. If you are afraid of depreciation, buy a 2-3 year old trailer.
While you may have a favorite brand of recreational vehicle, keep an open mind. Another brand may have the features you want, at a better price. On the topic of features, don’t settle on a trailer model just because it’s a good deal, make sure it has the components you want and need. This will be your “home away from home” for years, and you don’t want to sacrifice the necessary features or size that will make your journey efficient and comfortable.
It’s smart to write down the results of your research, and bring this with you to the dealership. Take note of the model you’re interested in, similar models in your price range, and features that you want. A list of questions, and things to focus on in your inspection may also be helpful to keep you on track before getting bogged down in negotiations.
Tip: One other great option to enhance your shopping experience is to rent the RV model that you think you want to purchase. By renting prior to purchasing, you get to try out your travel trailer and make sure it’s a good fit!
When to Buy?
Being strategic in your timing can go a long way in getting a good deal. The end of the year or winter season is the best time of year to buy, because most shoppers are not thinking about camping or purchasing as spring is peak RV purchasing season. The end of the month is also a preferable time to buy, or when a new model of your desired RV is released (if you’re willing to take an older model at a better price!).
However, where you live will also impact whether prices change during different seasons. If you live somewhere that is always warm, prices will tend to stay steady. If you live somewhere with extreme seasonal changes, expect larger differences in price. Because of this, it may be worth it to increase your range when shopping (see section on “Dealers”).
Like any other large purchase, if you can wait until the economy is on a downturn, you are also more likely to get a good price, and a good financing rate. Similarly, if fuel prices are high, people are less likely to buy a large recreational vehicle, so this is also a good time to negotiate your best deal. If you have the time, use the market to your advantage!
If you can attend an RV show, this strategy could be beneficial for your budget. First, manufacturers may give the dealers special incentives at these shows to move their units. Retailers want to sell the RVs that they’ve brought, and are usually willing to negotiate. In addition, RVs at shows may incur a little wear and tear, so you can factor this into your negotiation. The last day of the show is the best to buy, as long as the model you’re interested in is still available. If you can’t wait until the last day, you may also be able to get a good deal on the first day of a show, as the sellers are anxious to start reaching their quotas. You can look online to find RV shows near you.
Tip: Manufactures often provide benefits for purchasers, especially on models that they’re trying to unload. Look for factory incentives when you buy. Types of incentives include financing specials and rebates.
Getting your travel trailer at the right price is probably the most important part of your decision to buy. A “great deal” would be 20-30% off of the MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price). Have a set price range prior to going to the dealer, and stick to it! This is an important platform to negotiate from.
If you need some research on price points, check out NADA. You can also Google owners’ forums for various models/brands, in order to hear from others who have gone through this purchasing process. Word of mouth can be helpful to know what deals are available, and what scams to look out for.
Most people finance their RV, don’t do this through the dealer! Go to your bank or a credit union beforehand and determine your rate. Not only will you get a preferable rate, but you will also have a better idea of what you can afford when going into the negotiating process. See “When to Buy” for more information about the best time to purchase and finance.
Consider purchasing a used travel trailer to significantly lower your price point. This will save you money, and it won’t depreciate as quickly. If you choose to go with used, make sure you inspect it carefully and purchase from a reliable seller. If you’re handy, consider a fixer-upper. A travel trailer with great “bones” can provide you with the chance to customize it to fit your needs. Buying used will also save you money on insurance!
Tip: Don’t forget to include additional costs when calculating your price. You may need to make upgrades or add features to your RV, so if you buy at the top of your budget you won’t have as much wiggle room. However, you don’t have to take on all these costs at once! Have some flexibility and be comfortable with a long-term timeline.
Research and Pick your Dealer
So you’ve done your research, chosen your trailer model, and calculated your price range. Now it’s time to pick your dealer. Shop around and don’t be afraid to look outside your region! Sometimes it will be cheaper to buy in a different state and have the dealer ship your trailer. Or an even cheaper option is to go pick up your camper yourself (this is a great opportunity for a road trip, and to try out your new ride!). Sometimes you can negotiate airline tickets as part of your deal.
There are several ways to pick your dealer. Of course, searching for the best price for your recreational vehicle is a good place to start. Shop dealers’ online prices on RVTrader.com, so you know what to expect and if you are being oversold when you walk into a dealership. In addition, check out dealer reviews online. You can look on the dealer’s website for reviews, but also check out their Google Reviews and do a general Google search for other buyers’ experiences.
The Better Business Bureau is also a great source of information on dealers. There’s always word of mouth, and you may have a favorite dealer, but in order to get the best price and vehicle, it’s worth the time and effort to shop around, and to do your online research!
You can also purchase from independent seller outlets, such as Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, if you’re looking for a used vehicle. RVTrader also displays travel trailers that are for sale by owner. Obviously there’s risks involved with purchasing from an individual, but if you’re confident in your RV knowledge and looking for a good deal, this may be an option for you.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal if it doesn’t fit in your price range or if the model isn’t right. Think of your long-term happiness with the trailer. There are many dealers to choose from, as well as online options, so don’t settle.
Inspection & Negotiation
Now comes the moment of truth, inspecting your trailer choices and negotiating your deal. When shopping in person, make sure to inspect the trailer very carefully and identify any items that you don’t want. Point out unnecessary or unwanted features to the salesperson to get your point across.
You can also hire an RV inspector if you don’t feel qualified to thoroughly inspect the trailer yourself. If you need to use an inspector, find one through referrals or reviews. You can also use the National Recreational Vehicle Inspectors Association. Hiring an inspector will be an additional cost.
Master your poker face, and keep an “it will do if the price is right” attitude, even on your favorite model! Like with a car, it’s best not to purchase an RV on your first trip to the dealer. Dealers may make tempting offers for day-of sales, but this is usually in their best interest, not yours.
Being friendly with your salesperson can go a long way in getting a good deal, and may also help with future purchases. Be respectful but direct, and ask the salesperson about their background, knowledge, and camping experience. You may learn new information, and this will also give you an idea of how RV savvy your salesperson is.
Negotiation can include going back and forth between dealers or online retailers, and telling them where you can get a better price or deal. If one salesperson gives you a better rate, feel free to mention that at another dealership, they will usually try to outdo each other in order to make the sale.
As part of your negotiations, do not accept a dealer prep fee! This is just a charge tacked on for additional profit. In addition, don’t pay for added accessories. This is a great opportunity to negotiate a better deal by asking for added items, such as spare tires, generators, etc. Things like winterization and storage can also be part of your negotiation. Some dealers may threaten that they won’t service your RV if you don’t buy it through them. This is usually not the case, and don’t make that a deciding factor in your purchasing process.
Tip: Make sure to follow this process at multiple dealers! You will get the most information and the best deal is you shop around.
Additional Ways to Save
There are several less conventional ways to save money on your travel trailer. You can rent your travel trailer, or you can purchase your RV with family and friends and take turns using it. Outdoorsy is a reputable rental facilitator that includes insurance coverage. Both options allow you to save thousands while sharing the camping experience with others!
If you are already a camper trailer owner, you can consider trading in your used RV. You can also sell your RV yourself and then use the profit towards your new trailer purchase, but this is more time consuming. Before making a sale or trade, figure out what your RV is worth, and if you’ve added any enhancements or upgrades to it (which will increase the value). Also, if you have the time and skills, it may be worth making repairs. Once again, NADA can be helpful in assessing your value.
Hit the Road
Make the most out of your travel trailer purchasing experience by doing your research and being flexible. While negotiation can be uncomfortable, it’s an important part of the process to ensure that you get the best deal possible. Timing is everything, and if you can, wait for the right opportunity. Also, don’t discount fun and unconventional ways to save money, these will often lead to interesting experiences and help you to become and RV expert!
Now that you’ve saved money on your travel trailer purchase, you can stock up on some of our 100+ Must Have Travel Trailer RV Accessories.
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