Not everyone is a happy camper

Spring is on the way and many Americans’ thoughts are turning to summer camping trips with recreational vehicles. But they’re doing more than just thinking, they’re buying: RV sales reached a record high in 2017 with more than 500,000 new units shipped to dealers throughout the United States. The problem, says one RV consumer advocate, is that too many RV shoppers are making bad buying decisions.

Chuck Woodbury is the editor of and the host of the Better Business Bureau DVD “Buying a Recreational Vehicle,” available at many public libraries. He recently sold his condo near Seattle to travel full-time in a 32-foot motorhome.

Every RV, he says, is manufactured essentially by hand, on an assembly line of workers who build and install individual components. “There’s a lot of room for mistakes especially now when RVs are selling so fast that manufacturers are rushing to keep up with demand. Many buyers are getting stuck with workmanship issues so serious their new RVs can’t be used for weeks, even months, while awaiting repairs.”

He cites a recent survey at his website that showed the seriousness of the problem. “More than one-fifth of the more than 1,400 readers who responded described the workmanship on their RVs as poor or terrible. That’s just not acceptable. Do you think Boeing could get away with that? Would you step on one of its planes?”

The RV industry fights state lemon laws, he says, “so there is typically no help there.” He urges new RVers to consider buying a used unit, where the previous owner has worked out the problems.

Woodbury advises buyers to inspect an RV they’re considering, whether a motorhome or travel trailer, from top to bottom. “Hire an RV technician to examine it carefully, even if it’s brand new. It will be the best money you spend.” He advises to never buy on impulse. “Take a year to study up. Go to RV shows. Read online forums. Rent an RV for a week to see what you like and don’t like. Talk to owners of the brand of RV you’re considering buying and read our free newsletter at”

He’s horrified that RV dealers commonly push loans for 15 and 20 years. “Even with 20 percent down, buyers can easily be upside down with their loan for 10 years. If they need to sell for health reasons, or lose their job they may be forced to come up with thousands of dollars to pay it off. A woman whose husband had died told me she was $80,000 upside down on the loan of her luxury motorhome.”

Woodbury says the minute a buyer drives off the dealer lot the RV loses a quarter of its value. “RV manufacturers make even the least expensive models look incredibly appealing. At RV shows you see couples with stars in their eyes and you know what they’re thinking: ’Wouldn’t it be great to own this?’ Some buy on the spot, a big mistake.”

They buy the “bling,” said Woodbury, noting that if the RV looks good, that’s good enough. “In many cases these people spend $50,000, $100,000 even $250,000 or more on the RV. If they don’t do their homework, they risk a major headache and probably a significant loss when selling it. However, if they buy wisely, they will find RVing a wonderful way to travel, whether to camp for a weekend or explore the country.”