Travel trailers are sold on much higher margins than regular vehicles are. This is largely due to the fact that RV sales lots make the vast majority of their sales in the summer months and see much less action during the rest of the year. That is true, at least, in the 3/4 of the country that actually has a winter. Also, travel trailers are a luxury item so they are often purchased by people who can pay more. In fact, I spent less on my new car than I did on my camper which doesn’t even have an engine in it.
I respect that RV sales lots need to make their living, but I also want to get the best deal possible. Here are a few things that have worked for me, or which I’ve heard work well for others.
SHOP THE ENTIRE COUNTRY—ESPECIALLY INDIANA AND THE SOUTH
I negotiated very hard for my trailer and shopped every single dealership within 100 miles of my home to find the absolute best price possible. Still, I paid $3,000 more for my trailer than just the list price of the same trailer for sale at dealerships in the south. Why? Freight is less to the dealership, and southern dealerships can sell year-round so they don’t have to mark up the trailers as high.
Shipping a travel trailer can be very expensive. In fact, it commonly costs $2 per mile due to the large size, heavy weight, and difficulty in loading a camper. So the freight costs to get the camper to the dealership. The hub for the manufacturing of RV’s in the United States is the south, so freight costs in the south are low to get the trailer to the dealership.
If you find a trailer you like locally, it’s worth googling the model number/name of the trailer to find other dealerships in other areas of the country. See what their list prices are to get an idea of what kind of markup your dealer is putting on the trailer, and if it could be worth calling the dealership in another state and inquiring about having the trailer shipped. Or, you could hop in the truck and go on a road trip. It might actually be worth it, and what a way to break in a trailer!
LOOK FOR LIGHTLY USED
The average recreational vehicle is traded in or sold every three years. This is largely due to the fact that people’s needs change over time: another kid means you need another bunk, the kids leave home and mom and dad want a Class C, people don’t get out as often as they thought they would so they sell, etc.
This means that there is frequently a high volume of used trailers on the market. Before you purchase a new trailer, at least look through your local dealerships, Craigslist, and RVTrader.com to see what options are available.
When I recently bought a camper trailer, I looked at new trailers first. This was a mistake because then when I saw lightly used trailers, I just kept comparing them to the shiny new ones. I wish I’d looked only at lightly used trailers for the first few weeks to see if anything fit my needs and looked nice, and THEN if I didn’t find anything, start looking at new trailers. I probably could have saved quite a lot of money.
Used camper trailers don’t depreciate as much as some other recreational vehicles, such as ski boats and motorhomes, but you can often save some several thousand dollars buy buying a trailer that is only 2 or 3 years old and has seen little use.
PIT DEALERSHIPS AGAINST EACH OTHER
This is my favorite technique for buying an RV. It gave me the leverage I needed to talk the dealership down $6,000 on a recent RV purchase.
When I bought my trailer, the cost was initially $29,000 for the trailer I wanted. But I found a very similar floorplan in a trailer that wasn’t as nice of a brand at a different dealership. After working with them, I got them to agree to sell it to me for $23,700. I wrote down the details of the sale and that price on a piece of paper and took it to the dealership that had the trailer that was more expensive. I told the salesman the honest truth.
The truth was that I was ready to buy a trailer that day. I had the money and I decided I’d buy the trailer from the other dealership for $23,000, but I wanted to drop by and see if this dealership could give me a better deal. In the end, I saved $6,000 off the price of the trailer that was better quality and was the one I wanted—all because I had some leverage.
I also used this same negotiating technique when I bought a car a couple years ago. I found two cars I liked at different dealerships and didn’t allow myself to fall in love with one specific car. I visited both dealerships and said the truth. I honestly liked both cars equally and so I was going to go with whoever could give me the better price. This worked so well that I even got the salesmen from the two dealerships to call each other and negotiate directly! Ha! I was smiling ear to ear while I sat there listening to the salesmen on the phone with each other fighting over the price. It was awesome! I ended up with a great deal and walked away absolutely certain that I had the best possible price.
Negotiating is not rude. It’s your job as the provider for your family. As long as you are honest, you should work to get the best price. The dealerships are big boys and girls. They aren’t going to sell unless it’s a good deal for them, so you don’t have to feel guilty about working hard to get a good price.
NEVER BUY ON YOUR FIRST VISIT
Every salesperson knows that the first visit is the best time to get someone to buy, because they can work on your impulses. Their goal is to match you with a trailer that sparks your liking, and then make it feel like you need to do whatever it takes to get it.
I like to make it obvious to the salesperson right from the get-go that I’m visiting all of the dealerships to compare and price shop. This helps salespeople who are a little too eager to relax a bit, and puts yourself in a better negotiating position when it comes time to talk price.
This is also important because you may change your mind on what you want as you look at more and more RVs. On my recent purchase, I first thought I wanted a tent trailer and ended up with a larger hard-side travel trailer. I took many visits to dealerships before I realized that what I initially thought I wanted was perhaps not the best.
WATCH OUT FOR THE MISSING PIECES
Pricing on trailers is often very misleading. Suppose you see a $20,000 trailer at one dealership, and a $22,000 trailer at another dealership. Obviously you’d think the $20,000 trailer is less expensive, but that may not be true.
After visiting 10 dealerships in the last few weeks and asking many of them to give me the nitty-gritty details, here are a few add-ons and missing things that I saw at the dealerships:
- One dealership offered yearly winterizing for as long as I own the trailer. That would save me $120 per year for many years.
- One dealership had a storage facility and offered free storage for a year.
- One dealership had a $400 freight fee and a $350 processing fee
- Most of the dealerships I visited did not include hoses for the trailer, so I’d have to buy them at additional cost
- Only half of the dealerships included the two batteries I’d need for my trailer. Some came with one and some didn’t include any batteries.
- Sales tax is not included in the price. If your state has 6% sales tax, you’ll pay an extra $1,200. That number will be the same at all of the lots, but it’s important to know that it’ll be tacked on to the price.
- Dealer doc and title fees are also added to the price. A doc fee is commonly $250 and a title fee is usually under $50.
- Many trailers don’t come with things that you’ll certainly want to buy right away such as a spare tire and cover to mount on the back.
- You’ll also need to purchase a generator. You should budget between $1,000 and $2,500 for a good generator depending on your preferences. Don’t be “that guy” who buys the deafeningly-loud $400 generator from Lowes and drives the whole campground crazy.
Negotiate for a Gift Card
When you purchase your new travel trailer, you’ll have a lot of associated expenses. From little things like buying a black water hose, to big things like a generator. If you purchase your new travel trailer from a dealership that also has a store with accessories (most dealerships do), then once you feel like you’ve got all the money out of the negotiation that you can, ask for a $250 gift card to their store to push you over the edge.
A gift card isn’t as expensive for them to give because they have obviously marked up the items in the store, and you’ll need to buy some things anyway.
Check Out Different Brands
Some travel trailers command an extremely high price simply because of the brand name. Airstream trailers are notorious for charging a fat premium just because of their style and name.
Check out my article on average prices for new trailers to get an idea of the HUGE price variability between trailers of the same floorplan and size.
I hope you find a great deal on your new trailer. If you know that you have a hard time being brave enough to negotiate a deal, follow these tips to make sure you don’t get taken. Good luck to you!