This post is intended to be helpful to the first time buyer of a motor home. For those of you who don't fall into that category or believe this post is incomplete or off the mark, do us all a favor, and enlighten us. If all you have to offer is criticism with no corresponding constructive comments, no one besides yourself will benefit from the experience. So please improve or expand on this post in a constructive way.
The issue at hand is how to select the coach that best matches your wants and needs and offers the most promise of not being a perpetual headache.
I think there is an order to thinking through selecting a motor home that best maps to your wants, needs, and pocketbook. There are a lot of issues to get at and understand. Going about the process out of sequence will circumvent some critical steps and increases the potential that in the end you will not be as satisfied with what you buy as you could have been. I've heard it said that nothing can be seen until seen in a form that you're looking for. You give yourself the edge by determining your wants and needs first, letting them guide you to the make and model of motor home. Focus on deal making after your prioritized wants and needs have lead you to the type, make and model, and level of fit and finish that best fit your pocketbook.
I believe the first step for most will be to establish a framework relative to cost: decide how much you want to spend, how much you can spend, and how much you are willing to spend. For the most part you can count on spending more that you initially thought. Knowing what the max you can spend is a place to start.
While the initial cost is a lot more than the tip of the iceberg, the cost of ownership and operation bear some thought as well. Gain some insight into annual insurance cost, maintenance, and storage fees. Start making a list of items that will be purchased to support the RV. Don't forget the dingy and associated costs if you're planning on dragging one around, tow bar, braking system, car insurance and registration. Think about chemicals, hoses, adaptors, critical spares, tools, as well as outdoor furniture, grill, mats, and kitchen gadgets, cleaning supplies, hooks, and toilet paper holder! Then add on the operating costs: fuel, camping fees, charges for radio, television, and telephone, etc.
I personally think it's a mistake to go into the process thinking you can always trade in or up. It's a costly strategy. Try to get it right the first time. For many, the choice will boil down to compromising what they want to fit with what they can afford. All the more reason to spend the time and energy to figure out what you want and need and then prioritize your selections to get what you can afford.
Once you have established a framework for purchase budget and ownership cost, use that frame work to construct the best coach that will fit into it. At this point in time you may have a gross idea of size diesel pusher or gas... new versus used. You may even have a specific manufacturer you're interested in. These choices, especially the make and model, ought to flow from your wants and needs.
WANTS AND NEEDS
Go to work figuring out what you want in terms of livability and travel-ability. A good place to start is deciding if you're going to be a parker or a driver. Most motor homes are better suited to one or the other. Coaches with lots of slides are terrific when parked, but coaches with fewer slides may seem roomier when driving down the road with the slides in. Things to think about if you're a driver include how much room there is to move around with the sliders closed, and access to such things as storage areas and facilities like the washer/dryer.
The next and crucial step is to figure out what you think you want for power train, chassis, floor plan, features, amenities, and gadgets. Look at a lot of coaches, even trailers, and see what combinations seem to fit your lifestyle the best. As you get immersed in the process, I think you will find some of your original thoughts will change. The following checklist will give you some things to consider. Keep in mind that the right coach is out there; it just takes hard work to find it.
Will you spend more waking hours driving or parked?
What features need to be accessible while driving?
How many people do you need to sleep?
Is a queen-sized bed appropriate?
How long will you be using the coach at a stretch?
(weekends versus long trips)
How much storage will you require?
How fussy are you about the quality of workmanship in furnishings?
How much counter space do you want in the kitchen?
How often will you use an oven or washer/dryer?
Will a dinette or table and chairs suit you best?
How much privacy do you want for the bathroom?
Does anyone require upgraded seats or bed?
Will you tolerate losing speed on hills?
Are you concerned about miles per gallon or emissions controls?
How far do you want to be able to travel between fuel stops?
How much capacity do you want for water, black, and grey tanks?
Do you require pass-through storage for long items?
Do you want basement doors that open in a specific direction?
(to the side or up like a bus)
How important is soundproofing or insulation?
How important is entertainment, inside or outside?
How many televisions, and where?
Speakers or refrigerator in basement to use when camped?
Can you find the features you want in a used coach?
Livability... Casual Use to Full Timing
Buying a motor home is easy... the hard part is selecting the one that will best fit your needs. Do a lot of looking and as much research as you can. Take notes about what you like and dislike in each coach you see. Do not accept that what you want is not available. After our first month of looking, we had a floor plan we liked but everything else was wrong. We almost bought that floor plan because we were beginning to think what we wanted was not available or economically attainable. Any fool can buy a motor home; the trick is not to be foolhardy about the process of selecting the one. Some people are smarter than we are; it took us months of intensive research, giving up every week end visiting dealers, hours of reading magazines, exploring all the internet sales sites, and forum surfing. In the end, we looked at 26 different models from 12 different manufacturers, and test drove most of them. We also visited a multitude of factories and found people to discuss ideas and assumptions. One thing to keep in mind, make sure that you adopt your own ideas and make your own priorities for features and functions. Others will have valuable insights, but those insights and perspectives will reflect their own priorities. As you listen, try to understand not only what they think is important, but also why. Get as many variant opinions as you can in arriving at your own conclusions. What's perfect for one can be a horrible mismatch for another.
There is no substitute for spending time in a prospective coach, visualizing daily routines in terms of workability and comfort and convenience... sit in every seating position, open and close everything that will do so, adjust anything that has an adjustment, especially the driver's and passenger's seats. Lie down on the bed, open up any convertible couches and test them for comfort. Walk through meal preparation and maneuvering around in the coach with a full complement of people and pets, both with sliders in and out. Go through the exercise both indoors and outdoors. Open the sliders and the awnings at the same time to check angles and clearances. Think through loading and unloading: is there enough space and is it easily accessible? See how cords and hoses roll in and out.
Do not expect that what you will get is any better than what you see in the showroom. So many times I got that response to an inquiry about a noticeable defect in terms of fit, finish, or operation. As you are deciding on the coach and examining the details of fit and finish, do not limit you looking to the interior. Look hard in all the equipment bays and in the engine compartment. A lot of unnecessary breakdowns are set up when the coach is mated to the chassis, look for hoses and wiring too close to heat source or that will rub, abrade, or get pinched, look for lapses in sealing seams. In other words, fit and finish has two flavors: cosmetic and functional. If what you can see looks slipshod, then what you can not see is not going to be any better.
Choosing Gasoline or Diesel Powered?
SELECTING THE DEALER
It seems that a lot of dissatisfaction that people experience lies at the doorstep of the dealer they choose. In other cases, I think some buyers have unrealistic expectations about how the dealer will react to their concerns and problems. Thorough vetting out of the dealer is of utmost importance. Talk to as many people as you can who have done business with the dealer. Also have some very frank discussions with your perspective dealer, starting with the salesperson, and then a review of your expectations with the salesperson and the sales manager together. Be specific, give examples, and require specific responses. Do not accept "You're in good hands All-State" responses.
When you go to pick up your coach from the dealer have a thorough checklist of items to check. Do the inspection systematically. There are several lists already created that you can use as a starter. Here are a few thoughts.
„« Do not schedule your pick up of your new motor home on a Friday or a day before a holiday. That way the pressure to get it done will be lessened and there will be time for corrections to be made. Have extra time built into your schedule. Have a place to stay so there is no need to rush the inspection if you're picking up your coach remotely from where you live.
„« Make sure that all the documentation and manuals are present. Do an inventory and do not forget to get a list of all the serial and model numbers for all the warrantee registration. It's the job of the dealer to provide that.
„« Operate and test everything. Make sure you can do it yourself... and then do it, and have your companion do it. We got the in motion satellite and the home entertainment system; I am still the only one who can operate them...
„« Take notes of what you see that bothers you or questions that come to mind. If you don't get satisfactory answers to your question, just ask them again and again until you're satisfied. You have paid a lot of money for those answers.
„« Question anything you do not understand. Make sure you and spouse do not leave with any unanswered question... Nothing worse than to discover something and then hear the words, "I was wondering about that."
„« Do not assume anything has been checked or is working properly. Check them yourself, especially fluids and tire pressures... which means bring a suitable tire gauge. It would also be useful to have one of those indoor/ outdoor thermometers with a remote sensor to check air conditioner and heat performance, including the dash air.
„« If at all possible, go through the manuals and documentation before you do your acceptance inspection. Just take a couple of hours off in a corner; you will be amazed at the questions that will pop up. It's better to do that before you do your walk through.
„« Use one of the many cookbook PDA lists that are around. The best one I found was at http://www.rversonline.org/ArtFactoryPickup.html There is also a special section on air brakes on the rversonline site.
„« Do a test drive that will approximate how you will drive your motor home.
„« Go into the process expecting to have glitches and some your expectations not to be met. Focus on resolutions instead of recriminations. Don't let someone else's ignorance spoil what should be a very special day!!
OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
From my own experience and what insights I have gained from private discussions with a number of first time buyers, the really tough issue is nailing down your wants, needs, and priorities and then overlaying the price one will have to pay. In our case we spent more than we originally set out to spend, but less than I could have. Deciding which manufacturer was not the starting point, it was the place to end...
Here are some of our answers to the questions I posed above:
Will you be a driver or a parker... In our case we are drivers. We tend to drive a lot and never stay in one place for very long while others will pick a destination, go there and plant themselves for a period of time, then return home. We wanted the maximum of space in the coach when the sliders were closed which was a governing factor in determining floor plan and the number of sliders. We also wanted certain key storage areas accessible and wanted access to the washer/dryer with the sliders closed. We wanted to maximize the kitchen counter space and be able to use the seating area and table while underway or for those times we stop in route. So we opted for a dinette which has the advantage being able to convert into a sleeping position (albeit for a short person). We also preferred not to deal with the chairs while underway which have a tendency to want to move around if not securely strapped down.
In terms of the bathroom, we wanted the toilet area separate from the shower and sink. We wanted to be able to separate the bathroom from the bedroom and the living area for those times when there would be others on board besides my wife and me.
We also chose to eliminate the up-front TV for increased visibility and to avoid a source for bumping heads. We wanted it placed elsewhere in the coach and at eye level so we wouldn't crane our necks up to watch.
We needed a floor plan that would comfortably sleep 5.
How far do you want to be able to travel between fuel stops... how much capacity do you want for water, black, and grey tanks... These are good issues to raise on forums; you will get a wide variety of answers. We arbitrarily decided we wanted a 1000 miles for fuel, and 3 to 5 days capacity for water and holding tanks.
It helps to be reasonable and recognize that it's better to start with the minimum you are willing to settle for and then the maximum you're willing to pay for. Be conservative in your estimates.
We wanted to have pass-through storage in the basement as well as sliding drawers, which eliminated some coaches including one that had our favorite floor plan in it. While you're thinking about storage, keep in mind there are different options for the type of doors used on basement storage. Aside from the conventional, there are bus style doors that cantilever up and out of the way, as well as side opening doors. Our coach has all three types.
We put a premium on insulation and the soundproofing of the coach when parked, so we paid attention to the specs and tested the noise level in the coach in terms of isolating the inside from the outside. We were focused on not being disturbed and not disturbing our neighbors. We wanted the coach to be as quiet as possible on the road as well as when parked.
We opted not to buy used, although there are many compelling reason to do so: initial cost and the potential that new coach bugs would be worked out. Part of our criteria was to bypass anything that had not had continual use, since disuse often accelerates the deterioration of such things as seals, hoses, belts and the like. In the end, we concluded we were unlikely to find a match for our wants and needs in a used coach and focused on going the new coach route. Once we decided we wanted a new coach, we soon discovered that it was going to require us to order one to get exactly what we wanted and would fit into our budget.
So we began to reduce the number of potential manufacturers from 12 down to 3 since the others did not offer what we wanted or their level of fit and finish wasn't acceptable to me. Having said that, I believe that with minor exceptions many of the manufacturers we deselected would have worked for us, had their offerings been a match to our wants and needs.
We placed a priority on which manufacturers would give us the most flexibility to make minor alterations to their standard fare; that got the list down to 2. In the end, we chose the one that gave us the most flexibility. Their reputation for warrantee support was also a determining factor, but any of the final three would have given terrific support based on their reputation.
In our case, we did not place a high premium on after sale dealer support. This is not a course I would recommend for every one but our situation was such that we were comfortable in taking on the responsibility of managing our service needs. It did take some work to establish a network of support once we bought. We have been fortunate to have had only one coach related issue, which was very minor. Other problems we have had were with the generator and our satellite system, where we dealt directly with the manufacturers with satisfactory results. We found both the coach manufacturer and the manufacturers of the specific components were very helpful in answering any questions that popped up.
When our coach was being built, I visited the factory to follow progress on the construction, timing the visit so I would be able to inspect what I was expecting in terms of wiring, plumbing, and interior construction. I was able to see our coach and other coach down the line so I inspected each step of the build process.
This post will raise more questions than it answers which in part was the intent, and the offer up a process to get the answers...
If you interest is in Buying A Used Motorhome Here are Some Thoughts For First Time Buyers
Good luck in your odyssey it's a worthwhile journey.