While most people will purchase their RV at a local dealer, one of the best ways to score a great deal on your next RV is at an RV or camping show. An RV show is a special event commonly sponsored by a regional organization or event organizer. It usually consists of multiple RV dealerships and manufacturers showcasing their RVs at a single location. Additionally, many RV accessories and service businesses will be there, displaying the latest products and services for the RV community. Even if you’re not in the market for a new RV, an RV show can be a fun outing to see the current trends in the RV industry and find gear or accessories for your camping needs.
RV shows will typically have most styles of RVs available to walk through, including Travel trailers, 5th wheel models, toy haulers, truck campers, tent campers, park models, class A, and class C motorhomes, Class B camper vans, etc. So if you’re looking for a new rig, the best place to see all your options is at an RV show. You’ll be able to walk through all of the new models in one convenient location. It is a fantastic way to find your dream RV, and it can be a great time to learn more about the RV lifestyle. Many large RV shows will also feature educational seminars, something you can’t find on your local RV dealer sales lot.
Purchasing an RV at a show may not be the best option for everyone, but it can be an excellent opportunity for some buyers. You can maximize your buying power at an RV show by following a few proven techniques. The buyer who will benefit the most from an RV show is the one who is willing to do some planning and visit the show prepared to make a purchase. The impulse buyer may still get a good deal, but visiting the show with a strategy is essential for getting the best deal.
RV shows are held all over the country. Some shows are smaller, with just a few dealers, while others, like the Hershey, PA show (America’s largest RV show), is attended by hundreds of dealers and vendors with over 1200 RVs to walk through. The next biggest show in the U.S. is the Florida RV Supershow in Tamps, FL. The big RV shows are great places to meet dealers, learn about new RV models, and walk through nearly every floor plan.
You don’t need to travel across the country to attend an RV show. Almost every region and market in the U.S. has RV shows throughout the year. However, most RV shows take place between late winter and early fall. If you’re interested in finding a show near you, www.gorving.com published a list of all upcoming shows.
I purchased my first new RV at a show. I attended with a particular RV in mind but found a higher-quality one I had never even looked at before attending the show. Depending on the size of the show, many dealers offer deep discounts, or special show pricing, on RVs. Some shows often account for a significant portion of a dealership’s annual sales.
Getting the best price at an RV show is best achieved by shopping around and looking at many different models and dealerships. If it’s your first time at a show, give yourself more time than usual. It can be overwhelming to see so many new models at one time. The large shows are also physically big. Dealers must squeeze large RVs into a large parking area, convention center, etc. Plan to wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be doing a lot of walking
Below is an outline of the strategy I used at the Hershey RV Show, the largest show in the United States. As a result, I paid a great price for my RV, which was well below the average price in my area. The price I paid was also lower than the advertised special price. Many dealers will highlight special RV show prices but realize this is a starting point for negotiations. You can usually get a lower price with good negotiation.
The Hershey show typically runs for three days, and I attended the last two days. Most shows will last at least two days. I highly suggest, outlined in the strategy below, that you attend at least two days of the show if you’re planning to purchase an RV. The final day should be on the last day of the show. This strategy will give you the most leverage to get a better price when making your RV purchase. Below is a breakdown of what to do and when to do it following a 2-day schedule:
Day 1: Research RVs
On the first day of the show, the plan is to see as many different RVs as possible. You should start early and with a game plan. If the show begins at 9:00 AM, so should you. Your plan should include knowing your budget, the type of RV you want, size and weight limitations, preferred layout(s), and features that you need. Make sure you have a budget and stick to it. While I had certain manufacturers in mind, I didn’t limit myself to one.
My strategy included visiting every manufacturer that was at the show. Then, I talked to the salespeople at the dealerships and told them what I wanted. A good salesperson can often help point you in the right direction and help you maximize your time. I must have walked through nearly 100 RVs on the show’s first day and learned more than I ever wanted to know about each manufacturer and its design processes. Shows offer you a chance to meet dealers, but you can also often talk directly with a manufacturer representative.
When you’re looking at RVs, bring a notebook. Trust me. You will not remember one RV from another after a short while. So instead, use the map of the show to mark the locations of each RV that you like. Next, develop a pros and cons list for each RV. These steps will all be very important as you decide on a specific model. Every manufacturer will have its key selling points. They will market something unique about their models vs. the competition. Try to identify the unique elements that make one manufacturer/model stand out from another (does it have a king bed, is there a tankless water heater, etc.)
The goal of Day 1 isn’t to purchase an RV. It’s to learn about your options. Even if you find the perfect RV, there are good reasons to wait until the second day. I’ll cover this below. It will be a very tiring day, so plan some time for breaks and make sure you stop to eat. It is especially true if it’s a big show. It’s a good idea to take brochures for all RVs that you like.
The other important tip I’ll provide is to take photos. It’s a great idea to take lots of them and keep them organized. I used a strategy to start the photostream for each RV with a picture of the model’s flyer or door sticker. Also, take some photos of the RV prices and the vendor booths. If you don’t do this, you will quickly get confused and not know what photo goes with what RV.
It’s also a good idea to physically try out different features of the RV and take notes. Lie down on the bed, step into the shower, sit down on the toilet. Open every cabinet and storage compartment. You can even bring a tape measure to get an idea if it’s large enough for your camping gear. Try to get a feel for how your daily use of the RV will be as an owner. Different vehicle types will have unique layouts. Unless you know that you want a fifth wheel, take a look at comparable travel trailers too.
If you are successful on Day 1, you’ll have an almost overwhelming amount of information to sort through. However, you’ll have a short window to do so, so it is critical to stay organized as you collect it. Also, if there is an RV that you know you’re not interested in, refrain from taking a brochure or recording too much info on it. In fact, I recommend that you do a quick walk-through before you start to take notes for each RV. If the feel of the RV is not quite right, you don’t want to waste time in it.
Your time is your most valuable resource at an RV show, especially a large one, so use it wisely. RV shows also get really busy, so the best times for walking through RVs are in the morning before the crowds show up. Start with the top brands on your list to have more uninterrupted time checking them out. Also, don’t fall victim to high-pressure sales tactics when you’re looking. Some salespeople will tell you that the price is only available for the show model. This statement is rarely the case.
Day 1 Evening: Create a list
Make sure you leave yourself some time at the end of the day to review all of the RVs that you liked. First, sort all of the RVs into three categories: “yes,” “no,” and “maybe.” The easiest way to do this is to start with the “no’s.” Next, eliminate the RVs from your list that isn’t a good fit for your camping style. Next, identify all of the ones that you fell in love with. Finally, weed through the rest and put them into one of the other two piles, “yes” or “maybe.”
Once you do this, repeat this step with the “yes” and “maybe” piles. Your goal is to end up with a list of 3-4 RVs that meet your needs. While there will always be tradeoffs, you should ensure that any RVs in your “yes” list are ones you would be happy to own. This step is always the hardest. You’ll want to revisit all of your notes and photos. I also recommend bringing a laptop with you if you’re staying at a hotel or in your RV. You will likely find yourself looking up the various RVs on the internet, doing virtual walk-throughs, and reading reviews and internet forums. As mentioned above, shoot for 3-4 RVs as your top contenders.
Finally, get some sleep. You have another long day ahead of you.
Day 2 morning: Revisit top choices:
You will want to start your day by revisiting all of the RVs in your final “yes” list. You will want to take a deeper dive into each RV. Do a thorough walk-through and ask the dealer/rep as many questions as you can think of. Don’t be afraid the sound ignorant or ask a stupid question. You want to learn everything you can about each of these RVs since you’ll need to decide between them. While it’s tempting to get pulled into discussions around the price, don’t do this yet. Write down the advertised price and continue to visit each RV on your list.
Each walk-through of the RV on this day is even more critical. You may want to look at the appliances in more detail, learn about warranties, find out about the construction. Ask the dealers about common repair issues for that model. If your unit has a slideout, ask about the slideout mechanism. Look at all of the technology built into the RV. You can also compare the current year model with previous years. Learn if there have been any significant upgrades and ask more questions about them. The best way to learn about an RV is to ask questions. An even better way to learn about an RV is to ask even more questions.
Once you revisit all of the RVs on your list, take a break, grab some lunch, and talk through your options. Hopefully, at this point, you’ll be able to settle on the RV that you’re most interested in purchasing. If you have two that are a toss-up, you can hopefully narrow it down by the price.
Day 2 Afternoon: Locate dealers who sell your RV
One myth of RV shows is that only the dealers showing the RVs can sell them to you. When you buy an RV at the show, you are generally not purchasing the RV you walked through. Instead, the dealer will place an order for you. While this is typically the case for larger shows, be sure to ask if you’re getting a new model or the show model. If it’s the show model, factor the wear and tear of it being at the show into your offer price.
You’ll also have the option of requesting some customizations such as color, freestanding table vs. dinette, sofa vs. loveseat. A particular model may sell dozens of times during a show. Aimed with your smartphone, look up the dealers at the show and see if they are authorized dealers for the manufacturer with the RV you want. If they are, place them on a list. Once you have your list in hand, do some price research if you haven’t done this already. With minimal effort on sites such as RV Trader, you should be able to see the prices that your model is selling for throughout the country. You’ll want to look for the best prices because this is your opportunity to negotiate with different dealers and have them compete for your business.
You’ll also want to look at the advertised price at the show. There is usually a special show price, but it is often negotiable. So, determine a reasonable price that you consider better than what you can get elsewhere. A good starting point is to take 10% off of either the show price or an average low price that you find online.
Go to each dealer who can sell your RV and ask them for their best out-of-door price if you purchase it today. They’ll likely want to pull you into a room and negotiate. Your time is valuable here. If they don’t give you a number, politely thank them for their time and tell them that you’ll go to another dealer. You can always go back to that dealer. Nine times out of ten, they’ll get you that price. Once you have it, let them know that you need to think about it and head to the next dealer. Make sure that you write down the price for each dealer.
Once you have all of your prices, the next step is to compare them. The lowest price is important, but the dealer offering it is not necessarily where you want to purchase your RV. The next step is to research the dealers. You may have already done this when you were looking to see what dealers at the show carry the model you want. Google reviews are a great place to start. As mentioned above in the dealer review section, ensure that the dealer has a good reputation for service and customer support.
Selecting a dealer:
One unique aspect of buying an RV that is different than almost everything else is that you’re also shopping for a dealership. If this is your first RV, this may sound strange. However, if you compare the process to buying a car, you may overlook this step. With a car, if you have a negative experience at a dealership, you can simply find another dealer and get your service through them. They’ll happily welcome you. With an RV, it’s not as seamless.
RV service doesn’t operate the same way. While, technically, any dealer who sells RVs from particular manufacturers should provide warranty service, it isn’t quite the same as a car. RVs typically have a much shorter warranty window, and dealers often prioritize service to the customers who purchased an RV from them. RV manufacturers do not hold the same control over dealerships as car manufacturers. If you read enough information about RV servicing on the internet, you will find horror stories where people have been waiting for close to a year for service. In some instances, the RV is sitting unusable.
Getting RV service is a real challenge, and there isn’t a universal solution to this currently. The most reliable service is through the dealership that sold you the RV. This reason is why shopping for a good dealership is critical. You want to form a relationship with a dealer that has a good reputation for handling problems or issues when they arise. Trust me- you will need service at some point and, most often, within the first year of ownership.
To find a reputable dealer, spend a lot of time reading reviews. Especially look for ones that describe how a dealer solved a problem. Of course, any dealer can sell you an RV, but the good ones will work hard to retain you as a customer.
You’re slightly disadvantaged at an RV show because time is limited. However, if you have an opportunity to do some of this research before you head to the show, that will be a big time saver. Unfortunately, it may be challenging since some shows have dozens of dealers, and you may not know what RV you want to purchase.
Lastly, while the dealership is an important consideration when purchasing an RV, you may have to weigh your options and take on a little more risk. If you’re researching the day of the show, I suggest you focus on weeding out the problem RV dealers rather than finding the best one. An okay dealership experience isn’t quite as good as a great one, but it’s miles above a bad one.
Day 2 Last half of final day:
The benefit of negotiating at this point in the show is that dealers are likely more ready to deal. They already know what they made in profits so far, so now they’re working on hitting (or exceeding) their targets. They may also have quotas that they want to meet and are willing to accept fewer profits for an additional sale. As a result, you have your strongest negotiating hand to play at this point in the show.
Once you identify your preferred dealer, you can start your negotiations. With your best price in hand, head to the dealer of your choice and inform them that you will purchase the RV at the out-the-door price if they can meet your budget. I often recommend starting at 10% off the lowest price that you found online or at the show to start negotiating. You can alter this price if you want, but you also want a dealer to take you seriously. A dealer won’t sell you an RV if they can’t make a profit.
If the dealer doesn’t budge on the price, don’t waste much time there. Instead, move to the next dealer on your list and try again. If you have a realistic offer, the greater your chances that one of the dealers will bite. Always be sure to negotiate on the out-the-door price. Dealers may try to stick in hidden fees. An out-the-door price is a single number that includes RV price, taxes, and fees. Also, be sure that your offered price is one that you are willing to pay and can afford. If a dealer agrees to meet your price, you should be ready to purchase it. While you can go back and forth between dealers, you don’t want to do that if a dealer is meeting your offer. This reason is why I like to start low (10% off the lowest price) and work up from there. Typically, you’ll only get to your target price through firm negotiations. It’s unlikely that a dealer will meet your price without first providing a counteroffer.
If you are getting close to the price, you can pit one dealer against another. Don’t be afraid to tell Dealer A that Dealer B is offering X amount and that you need them to beat that price to get your business. A buyer willing to sit down and sign papers is attractive to a dealer.
Firming up the deal:
Once you find a dealer willing to negotiate and meet a price you’re ready to pay, assuming you’re comfortable with the dealership, now is the time to firm up the deal. The out-the-door sales price is step one. The next step is to discuss accessories or services. The dealership might be less likely to throw in accessories if you got a fantastic deal. However, you should try. The one add-on that I would suggest you advocate for is a trailer hitch if you’re purchasing a towable. A hitch is a must-have accessory when you take delivery of your RV, and you will want the dealership to install it for you. Most new RV sales will include this, and the dealer won’t be offended when you ask for it. If it’s not included in the offer, you can play a little hardball here and bluff about walking away from the deal. The dealer will usually give in or meet you in the middle.
Other accessories that you can request, especially if you’re paying the advertised show price, are backup cameras, upgraded steps, or an additional battery. Again, it doesn’t hurt to ask but don’t be too greedy if you got a great deal.
Once you reach your agreed-upon price and the included accessories, now is the time to sign on the dotted line. You will want to have all of the above in writing in the contract. You should also inquire about delivery dates. Make sure that you’re comfortable with the timeframe for receiving your RV. This point is especially true in today’s market as some deliveries can be months, if not a year, in the future.
Closing on the sale:
It’s pretty spectacular to watch. At the end of an RV show, larger dealerships often have multiple staff sitting at computers, working up contracts, securing financing, and printing all of the paperwork. When I purchased my RV at the Hershey show, I was sitting in a model RV watching what looked like the stock market floor in the 1980s. The dealer usually makes their offer contingent on going through them for financing. Of course, you can always offer to get your own financing, but the dealer may be less willing to negotiate. Refinance it after the show if you want to do your own financing. You may find a better deal, and even if you have to pay a small fee, it may be worth it.
Before the sales rep delivers your paperwork, you’ll receive a visit from the sales manager. They will review your purchase, congratulate you on your negotiating skills, and now try to pull some additional money from your wallet. The one thing they will most definitely try to get you to purchase is an extended warranty. After making such a significant investment, their sales pitch will seem very tempting and like a wise decision. My one piece of advice is to DECLINE it. This advice is not to say that you shouldn’t purchase an extended warranty, but you will pay much more for the same service through the dealer. It may seem more affordable since they will roll it into your monthly payments. However, you will likely pay thousands of dollars more for the same warranty that you can purchase on your own. For me, it was about a $4,000 difference. You can usually buy a new warranty service without an RV inspection from a private warranty company within a year of buying your RV. Most dealers are using the same services that you will use.
Once they leave, your next step will be to sign the paperwork. You’ll want to review all of it closely to ensure that there aren’t any mistakes. If you have questions, ask. It’s not uncommon for the dealer to mistakenly leave something out or add some numbers up incorrectly. It’s better to correct this now than try to do it a day or two later. Depending on your delivery date, now is an excellent time to make tentative arrangements with the dealer and ask for details on what to expect when picking it up. For example, if you’re located on the East Coast, your will likely be delivered directly from the manufacturer in Indiana to the dealership. Make sure you leave with all of the paperwork and contact numbers for the dealership if you have questions.
At this point, you’re done with the process and can head home to get some sleep. You can sleep soundly knowing that your hard work paid off and you scored a fantastic deal.
RV shows can be a great opportunity to see the many different types of vehicles and RVs under one roof. If you intend on buying, you will want to do a lot of planning to have a successful shopping trip. While RV shows can offer a great selection of RVs to view at lower prices, they can also be overwhelming. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to spend at the show. If you don’t find what you want, don’t feel pressured to buy it. The same models you looked at will be available on RV lots throughout the county. RV shows are also a good time to simply learn about RV and the RV lifestyle. Most people who attend don’t buy an RV. Sometimes the only thing visitors want to do is look around at the different RV options and accessories. Also, if you’re buying a motorized RV, the living quarters are just half the battle. Finally, an RV show is a great place to meet some dealers and schedule a test drive down the road.
However, remember the steps outlined above if you want to purchase an RV. A little bit of effort can save you a lot of money. Regardless of whether or not you find the RV of your dreams, remember to have fun. It may be the start of many great camping memories. Good luck!