How to Prepare for Your RV Purchase (Including Financing Insights!)

How to Prepare for Your RV Purchase (Including Financing Insights!)
Learn about the documentation needed, key things to consider, and what to expect.
By: Katelyn & Howard Newstate

Katelyn Newstate driving Navion with dog on lap smiling out window

Do you want the RV of your dreams and can’t wait to explore in it, but feel intimidated by the process to buy one? Not sure how to find the best price? Are RV loans difficult to get? 

Read on and we’ll show you that with advanced research and patience, you can get great pricing and financing on an RV – even if you aren’t a professional negotiator (which, let’s be honest, how many of us are GREAT at negotiation?).

RV shopping is like buying a car AND a house, at the same time.

Whether shopping for a motorhome or fifth wheel, buckle up because there are very few similarities to buying your next car. In fact, imagine buying a house stacked on top of a car/truck at the same time and you’re actually closer to reality. 

There are so many decisions to be made, and only YOU can answer questions like:

  • When on a trip in your RV, how frequently do you plan to move?
  • How many days at a time will you stay in one spot?
  • Are you planning to stay mostly in campgrounds? Boondocking in national forests? A mix of both?
  • If a motorhome, do you want/plan to tow another vehicle?
  • How many people, on a regular basis, will be staying with you in the RV?

Answered those questions? Great! Now you’re ready to compare all the various makes, models and floorplans. (Be sure to ask yourself those questions when considering RVs). 

Howard in Navion parked on grass near horses

When researching, don’t forget the warranties! Our Navion is built on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis and comes with its own warranty for the chassis, engine, and the front cab. That’s in addition to warranties from Winnebago and other suppliers (think refrigerator, air conditioner, water heater, etc).

You’ve got your short list, now it is time to choose a dealer. Surely that is like buying a car, right?

Consider service when choosing a dealer, not just lowest price.

Hate to break it to you, but stuff breaks when you put a house on top of a truck (or towable frame). It is inevitable, just like a “sticks and bricks” home, you will need service as well as scheduled maintenance – such as decalcification on your water heater or oil changes for motorhomes. 

When shopping for our 2019 Winnebago Navion 24D, we actually paid a little more than the lowest price we were able to negotiate just so we could get service and support through a dealership with multiple locations and a better reputation. Additionally, many dealerships will prioritize service appointments based on if you purchased through them, even on warranty work. 

If you’re curious about a particular dealership and how they prioritize service, call them and speak with a service advisor. We have come across some that won’t even schedule an appointment at all unless you’ve purchased with one of their locations (particularly with record sales of RVs across the USA). Oh, and we keep going back to the house AND car analogy, but service is frequently divided that way, too. 

Navion parked in front of Mercedes dealer

Many RV owners choose to take their home on wheels to the corresponding dealer who knows it best. Need work done on the “house” part? Book an appointment at the RV dealership. Engine need a tune up or oil change? Schedule that work with the chassis manufacturer. Plus, onboard generators (Cummins/Onan) might need to get service at one of THEIR dealerships. Have a plan for service, including which dealers are available in your area to help.

Be sure to read this list of other questions to ask your dealer before purchasing your RV.

Documentation and info needed for financing an RV.

We’ll get to the pricing later, but before you head to the dealership, you’ll want to collect all the info needed to get financing. These include:

  • Proof of income: Have amounts ready for monthly income (and explanation if you are not consistently paid by an employer) for anyone who will help contribute to the monthly payments.
  • Amount of money you can offer as a down payment (or trade if you currently own another RV).
  • Pull copies of your credit reports. Check for errors, and now is the time to fix them. A lower score (next point) resulting from errors in your report could cost you a lot of money in higher interest rates on an RV loan.
  • Get credit scores from ALL THREE major credit bureaus, and ideally using a FICO (Fair Isaac) scoring system.
    • A note on credit scores: this can be confusing for many people, but there is not just ONE score even with each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experion, and Transunion). Several companies provide scoring systems, or financial models, that generate a number result. The largest and most widely used by lenders, is FICO, provided by Fair Isaac. To add to the confusion, there are even different scores called FICO, based on different criteria and models. See more information on the topic here.

Pricing and financing process for buying an RV.

We’ve reached the pivotal time: you’re at the dealer, or messaging with them online, and you’re ready to buy. May we offer a rundown of the process, and ways to help you save money?

1. Again with the research! Once you are certain of the particular make, model, floorplan AND options you would like on your new RV, Google is your friend. Start searching online with that exact info, and you should start finding advertised prices. Bookmark and compare to ensure they are close matches to what you are looking to buy. Proximity to your location isn’t important right now, you just want to understand what sort of range dealers are pricing the RV of your dreams.

Navion parked on concrete at campground with palm trees in background

2. Now get local. With the information above, take a look at dealers in a reasonable driving distance around you. Are the prices advertised similar to what you’ve found elsewhere in the country? If so, great! Start digging in and consider service for each of the dealers in your area. If there is a wide enough margin for your comfort on pricing, we know several RV owners who have driven (or flown!) to other parts of the U.S. to get the deal they wanted. Please, please, remember to also check on service as mentioned above.

3. Get pre-approved from a lender (or several!) before buying. This is a bonus step, but helpful to give you a good idea of financing terms based on a dollar amount of purchase. You can use the information from your research to complete the form, including year/make/model and the advertised price (since hopefully you will negotiate lower than that). Remember sales tax when calculating loan amount!

4. Now you’re ready to contact a dealer. If in step two you found a dealer with good advertised pricing and they currently have the RV in stock, go and visit the dealership. Ask to tour the RV, take pictures, and remember that list of questions (how fast you move, where you stay, how many people, etc). Make sure this is definitely “the one.”

Katelyn and Howard smiling in front of Navion at La Mesa RV

5. Start negotiating. We won’t be going through tactics here, but check out this article from Consumer Reports with advice about new car purchasing. Lots of overlap with the RV buying process. 

6. Do not mix financing negotiations with the price of the RV. If asked what kind of payment you would like to pay, stay firm that you want to focus on the price of the RV, not financing. If they would like to prequalify you for financing, decline, and remind them you want to focus on the price of the RV. If you aren’t 100% satisfied with the “final” price, you can always walk away. Use the research you did on pricing earlier. Do not be afraid to get up, and as I mentioned above, we didn’t even take the lowest offer from a dealership since our goal was to find a wide service network. Some people even find it helpful to leave, continue the negotiation over the phone/email and then return to finalize the deal. Regardless, always get the offer in writing.

a.  BONUS: When you’ve hit the bottom or best offer and the dealership won’t budge, NOW start asking about sweeteners to close the deal. How about a free camping membership for a year? First tank of fuel? Free RV accessories from their store? Pay for the down payment with a credit card (to get your points!) instead of a check?

7. Take your time. There is no rush, and don’t feel like you are under pressure to make a deal.

Photo from behind Katelyn driving with Howard in passenger seat .Looking out windshield to open road and mountains

8. Start financing discussions. Whether you finally came to terms after leaving and coming back, visited another dealership, got a great deal online, etc., now it is time to negotiate financing. RV financing can vary widely by interest rate AND length of a loan (up to 20 years!). Similar to a home mortgage, sometimes dealers can even pay down “points” to get a better interest rate for you to close the deal.

9. Shop around for financing. This is very important. Compare the pricing from the dealership with online and local credit unions. Often you can get a better offer if you shop around. Modern credit scores are NOT generally impacted by multiple inquiries within a short window of time, around 30 days, for the same type of credit.

10. Sign the contract and pay a deposit or down payment. If you love credit card points, now is the time to pay more of the down payment with your favorite credit card.

11. You’ve got the deal, and the financing. I just drive away, right? No. This is very different from the car buying experience, but important. Most RV sales are divided into two parts: signing the deal, and delivery/pickup. It is typical you could wait a week or more before the scheduled pickup. In between, you finalize your financing (maybe even find a better financing deal!) and insurance while the dealer inspects and prepares your new RV. Pre-Delivery Inspection (PDI) will occur by the dealer to test all major systems, and you want this. PDI can save you a lot of headaches if they catch an issue before you take possession.

Howard walking towards Navion in service bay

12. Return to the dealership for pickup and final paperwork. You’ve made it this far, don’t rush the final part! Now is your opportunity to learn about all the systems, how to operate the RV and more. Ask questions. Some people bring their OWN inspection checklist, which isn’t a bad idea, either. When you’ve finished your own inspection and asked your questions, now you’ll likely sign a final contract (updated with the date of the delivery), provide copies of your RV insurance to the dealer (particularly if you have arranged financing through the dealership), and make any final down payment.

13. Enjoy your new RV!

Navion boondocking in large open field. Sun is setting over mountains

And there you have it! We hope that our insight, tips, and tricks will help you feel ready to head down the road towards RV ownership. There’s no cookie cutter way of preparing yourself to buy a home on wheels, but it’s a process that can be exciting and enjoyable with some preparation and research.