Lessons Learned From Buying An RV

Almost three years ago now. That was when we picked up our brand new, 2016 Newmar Dutch Star 4002. We had ordered the coach in October of 2015. It went through the production line sometime in March of 2016 and then Newmar delivered it to the dealer on or about April 25th. The dealer had to do the PDI work on the coach. We had to get our commercial driver’s license. And finally, on June 2, 2016, we came out to pick up our new home.

With three years under our belt, we can make a few observations about what we learned from buying an RV. I’ll give you a few of the harder lessons that we learned through the process. And, if you are in the market for an RV, watch the video at the end of the post. We learned a few of those lessons for the first time ourselves.

Don’t buy new. Unless you really, really want to.

To which I might add, don’t buy new using Canadian dollars, or, if you can, wait until the value of the Canadian dollar improves. A new coach, although a wonderful thing, is not a practical financial decision. Actually, the whole RV lifestyle is not very practical when you are running a new diesel pusher.

A new coach is an asset that will plummet dramatically after the first year. And the second. And the third. After four or five years it might level off a bit. A new coach will have all sorts of issues that might take longer than the ridiculously short warranty period of one year to shakedown. After three years with the coach, we think we have most of the initial shakedown issues resolved.

A far better approach is to find a gently used and well maintained model. Sure, it might be a few years older but you will likely be able to purchase “higher” in the model range by taking advantage of the steep depreciation curve and you might well enjoy a coach that has had most of the initial bugs worked out.

Things won’t work.

It seems counterintuitive when you spend a lot of money on a coach that things in your motorhome either don’t work or stop working soon after you take it off the lot. Something will always be going wrong with a coach. Always. You can count on it. The sooner you come to terms with this truth, the sooner you can relax and enjoy the experience of trying to resolve the things that no longer work.

This is especially true when you buy a new coach.

We are always running into people who are upset with their new purchase. They may have spent upwards of a million dollars or more on their coach only to find that they have numerous issues. In one case, we spoke with a couple that had purchased a brand new motorcoach and they had over 75 items that were either broken or not working. They were livid, visibly stressed out and thoroughly disappointed with their purchase.

There is no J.D. Power equivalent to guide you through the dark side of the RV industry. Certain manufacturers stand out largely due to word of mouth and not due to any formal data gathering methodologies.

“You must choose. But choose wisely, for as the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.” — the Grail Knight, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

We are still very happy with Newmar. It has been a great choice for us.

Not much innovation.

Despite being only three years old, most of the systems in our coach seem to be stuck in a pre-technological age. Part of this seems to be a desire to force upgrades. The newer models offer an incentive to trade. Look! We finally introduced a built-in tire pressure management system! Look! We finally introduced a 360 camera view! Look! We finally introduced collision avoidance! Trade in your obsolete coach and get all of these exciting new features!

Except that there are numerous gaps in how a coach could be improved. Even with the new models.

For example, the electrical systems are not integrated. They are not “smart”. They do not talk to each other. I can’t use a single panel or my smartphone to control things from one location like my motorized shades or my awnings or my door locks or my heating and cooling. Each one of those systems are independently controlled with their own independent remote controls strewn throughout the coach either on a wall or in a cabinet.

Sure, there are some coaches that offer integrated systems. They tend to cost a lot more money.

The cost of a tablet? A few hundred dollars. The cost of opening up the APIs for software control of the electrical systems? Nominal. But the RV industry is very slow to innovate.

The things that you might take for granted in the operation of a car are oddly absent in most coaches. Like setting the cruise control and incrementing the speed up or down a notch. Nope. Can’t do that. Or like setting a memory for the mirrors and seat adjustments. Nope. Can’t do that either. How about integrating things like supplementary braking systems? Nope.

Expensive to operate.

Coaches are not like cars. Repeat that until it hits home. Coaches are not like cars. Servicing a coach is far more expensive than servicing a car. At one level, this is common sense. Larger engines require more oil. Larger frames require more lubrication. Larger machines require more fuel.

And then this remarkable insight: you have a house on wheels. All of the maintenance costs that you would typically associate with a house? Yes. You have to include those costs with a coach. Everything from satellite systems, hot water systems, air conditioning systems, household appliances and plumbing. All of those items require maintenance.

It is relatively easy to research the cost to operate a car. We have an SUV. The cost to operate is, on average, $12,000 per year. That includes costs for fuel, insurance, parking, service, depreciation, tires.

We have a Newmar Dutch Star. The cost to operate? The dealer won’t tell you. The manufacturer won’t tell you. The RV industry won’t tell you.

You will find out once you start operating your coach.

The trucking industry pegs the cost of operating a truck at about $1.70 per mile.

I think that might be cheap compared to operating a motorcoach.

The floor plan is everything. Almost.

If you are going to be spending a lot of time in your coach, think very carefully about the floor plan. We knew that we had to have a floor plan with two bathrooms and a king bed.

What do we wish we knew when we placed our order? That adequate storage is a really big deal. Can you live out of a 40-foot coach? Yes, absolutely. Can you live out of a 35-foot coach? Some people do. Would a 45-foot coach provide more room? It sure would.

Love your floor plan.

And make sure you have enough storage.

Buying a new coach in Canada is not easy.

The dealers are few and far between. The ability to negotiate price is limited. The devalued Canadian currency makes the purchase far more expensive than it should be.

The person selling you that coach has likely never lived the RV lifestyle. They probably do not even own a coach. You may well know more about the model than the person selling it to you. There will be limited help in terms of learning how to use the various systems.

In a way, you will be on your own when you buy your coach. The dealer will not be there to hold your hand as you learn how to operate a pretty complex system.

It really helps to have a technical and a mechanical mindset. Dealers in Canada often struggle with service. Too many coaches, too few service bays. The sooner you learn how to troubleshoot your own problems, the better. Sometimes you need help though. And often the best source of help is within the RV community and sometimes with the original vendor of the system that might be causing you grief. For the really major issues, there is always the factory and the chassis manufacturer.

We love the RV lifestyle and we are having an awesome time in our coach. We have made so many wonderful friends on the road and we so enjoy having our home with us wherever we travel. These are lessons that we have learned along the way. More lessons to learn in the future.

This video offers a light-hearted and insightful perspective on RV sales.

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