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By John and Kathy Huggins
Founders, Living the RV Dream Facebook Group
We love RV shows! They are a wonderful venue in which to get information on many different brands of RVs, and on lots of RV products and services.
Depending on the size of the show, there could be well more than a thousand RVs of every type, and hundreds of vendors all vying for your attention. Without some up front preparation, your show experience could be quite disappointing.
It is easy to get lost among multiple brands and models with salesmen trying to tell you all about the virtues of their particular rig or service.
If you are looking for new RVs, make sure the show you have picked will have all new rigs. Otherwise, dealers will have used rigs of many different brands all together in one location.
Before the show
When you make plans to attend an RV show, check out the dealers and brands that will be represented. Decide early on which ones you want to look at. Most shows will have a website with show maps. Usually the particular brand will be located on that map. Print a copy and circle the areas you definitely want to visit. This will save you a lot of time and keep you focused on the types and brands you want to concentrate on.
If it is a very large show and you don’t have a narrow focus, you should plan on visiting the show on more than one day. This might be your only chance to see so many rigs all together for another year.
This is also the time to look up any particular vendors of RV-related products you want to investigate. The show map should also have vendors listed and booth numbers indicated.
Try to plot out a walking route through the show ground that will take you to all of the brands and types you have pre-selected. This will maximize your time and eliminate wandering through areas in which you have no interest.
If you are considering a towable RV, you must know the capacity of your tow vehicle, its hitch system, and the tongue and towing weight of the trailer. There are many factors at work here, and most salesmen are not competent to give you advice.
We have found a wonderful website that can help you to know what will work and what will not. The site is called Fifth Wheel St. Knowing all your towing information can save you a lot of both money and grief later on. The site also has links to the towing information on most trucks sold in this country as well.
If you have already decided on one or two rigs that you might buy, make sure you have your finances set before you visit the show and start negotiating. You should have your bank or credit union pre-approve you for the financing you will need. This way you will not be swayed by the many possible finance options offered by the dealer.
All this being said, we do not recommend making a buy decision in the high pressure environment of an RV show. A “Show Special Price” will be just as special back at the dealer’s lot after the show. Rigs bought at a show must return to the dealership for “prep” anyway.
An RV purchase is probably the second largest thing you will buy in your life after your house. Why rush into a decision at a show when you can take your time and mull it over for a few days at home and then do the deal at the dealer’s lot?
If you are a senior, the first day of many RV shows is designated as “Senior Day” and there is discounted admission. Occasionally there will be coupons at RV dealers and in newspapers for discounted admission. Try to take advantage of these cost saving measures.
Just a quick word about pets. We have seen lots of folks with dogs at RV shows, usually in wheeled stroller type carriers. I cannot imagine that a pet would be comfortable at an RV show with large crowds of people. Do your pet and yourself a favor and arrange for care for your pets on RV Show day. Pets won’t be welcome in RVs displayed at the show anyway.
What to bring to the show
In order to make the most of your time at the RV Show, you should bring a few things along with you. First and probably most important is to wear comfortable shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking and climbing into and out of many RVs.
At least one of you should have a backpack to carry all of the rest of the stuff you need as well as the brochures and other paperwork you will pick up during your time at the show.
You may want to have a small umbrella for each of you if rain is in the forecast for show day. Bring along a small digital camera to take pictures of special features of rigs as well as a shot of the name and model number. You will see a lot of RVs in a short time, and details run together and are easily forgotten.
Bring a small notebook and a pen to jot down details, prices, and other things about particular rigs. Some folks even bring a small digital recorder to make voice notes and observations.
A great addition to your “show kit” would be a pocket-sized tape measure to determine the sizes of drawers, lengths of furniture, and many other things you may want to measure. Another small item that will come in handy is a small bright flashlight for looking into compartments, closets and such.
Food and drinks are usually quite expensive at an RV show. Recently, we attended a show where a hamburger was $9.25. Drinks, including water, were $4. To avoid this, prepare snacks and bring bottled water. If all this is too much for one person to carry, each of you should have a backpack.
During the show
If possible, attend the show on a weekday. The crowds will be smaller. We try to be as early as possible and arrive early enough to get a good parking space close to the gate. This is where a strategic plan comes into play.
Plan to see the RVs you are possibly interested in purchasing first before the crowd gets too large. That way you will have the salesmen’s attention and get the best information while both you and the sales folks are fresh.
Next you want to look at RVs you are less interested in. If you have no intention of buying and only want to see what’s new, all bets are off. Wander around and have a ball.
Do remember to use the camera and notebook, though. We usually are looking at things we can implement in our own rig. For that reason, we always visit vendors of RV furniture and accessories.
Use the camera and notebook to record details you might otherwise forget after looking at many similar rigs. Make sure to gather brochures on the models you are most likely to buy. If you don’t see any literature, look in the storage compartments above the sink. That is a favorite storage place.
If you still can’t find what you want, ask the salesmen from that particular brand or dealership. At larger RV shows, there will probably be representatives from the RV factory there to answer questions. I have found these folks to be much more helpful in answering specific questions about that particular brand than the dealership sales team. We have even met two company presidents at RV shows.
Looking at RVs
Usually, the things that attract immediate attention are the floorplan and exterior styling. I’ll start with the exterior. Look for the type of roof material. Rubber, or EPDM, will require more maintenance than fiberglass or aluminum. It will also only have a service life of about 10 years.
Look at the outside access to storage. Are the doors easy to open and close, and do they latch securely? What about access to batteries, leveling systems, and inverter if so equipped?
If it is a motorized rig, is there easy access to service items such as air, oil, and transmission filters and dipsticks.? Can you reach the electrical inverter if so equipped? How about the amount of exterior storage?
Pass-thru storage compartments hold much more than the molded plastic bins on most rigs. Look closely at the fit and finish of all exterior body panels and other items such as mirrors and awnings. Look at how easy it will be to access and service the generator if there is one.
Above all, the layout or floorplan should work for your family’s needs and camping style. If you cook most meals inside, make sure there is plenty of usable prep space. You will need plenty of pantry space to store food items. If there is a gas oven and a convection/microwave, will you use both?
Storage is king. Does the galley area provide enough space to store all your pots, pans, and utensils? Pretend you are cooking a meal. Go through the steps and determine if the layout will work for you. Does the refrigerator have enough space as well as freezer space? Make sure the dinette is large enough for everyone who will be eating inside.
Look in the bedroom for storage. Are there enough drawers and wardrobe closets for your clothes? Look at the mattress. Is it a standard size. A normal queen bed is 60-by-80 inches. Short queens or beds with rounded corners are very hard to find sheets for.
Each of you should lay on the bed. How much room is there to get up and get dressed? Look at the bathroom space. Have the tallest member of the family stand in the shower to see if he or she can get a comfortable shower. Ensure there is enough medicine cabinet space for your needs.
Is there enough comfortable seating in the living area? If the unit is motorized, can the driver’s and passenger’s seats be turned around and used while parked. Look at the TV from the living room seating. Do you have to turn your head to see it, or can you look straight ahead at it?
The best advice we can give is to try to envision you and your family actually living in the rig. This is much more important than how big the TV is or aesthetic things. After all, you are buying it to use, not just to look at.
Try to avoid discussions with sales staff about price and financing. This can be quite time consuming and should be left for a dealership visit. Your main job at an RV show should be to sort out the many similar brands to determine the one that will fit your needs and budget.
Once you have explored all the rigs you are interested in, stop for refreshment and check your notes. Make sure you haven’t forgotten any brands or model numbers before moving on.
Now it’s time to see the vendor area and look at all the stuff they have to offer. This is where the backpack will really come in handy. If you buy heavy and/or bulky items, most vendors will be able to assist you in getting the articles delivered to your car.
Visit the vendors in which you are most interested first to conserve time. Many of the larger shows will have almost a complete retail center set up in the vendor area. If you are time constrained, skip this area as you can always visit a store or shop online.
It goes without saying that any time you fill out a form to win something, you are putting yourself on a mailing or other contact list. Do not be surprised to get email from vendors you did not even visit. The lists are often sold.
Many shows offer seminars on all aspects of the RV lifestyle. A lot of these are excellent and you will learn much. Take notes, especially website information for later use. Other seminars are really infomercials about the speaker’s product or service. These can be interesting, but remember that the presenter has competition with similar products.
The seminar schedule should be available on the website with show information. Part of the strategic plan is to fit the seminars into your now very busy schedule.
If you have any time left, you could visit the rest of the vendors or even a few more RVs. Sometimes there will be entertainment scheduled for the afternoon or evening.
After the show
Once you get home you will probably be quite tired after all the walking and climbing in and out of numerous RVs. Wait a day and then lay out all the material you collected. Separate it by brand and floorplan. Dig through it all until you narrow your choices down to two or three rigs.
Look at all the specifications as well as the layout. Make sure the rig has the cargo carrying capacity to haul all your stuff without exceeding the vehicle gross weight rating. If you are looking at towable RVs, make sure your tow vehicle and hitch can handle the weight.
Go to the manufacturer’s websites of the rigs you like. That is where you will find detailed specifications on each model number and floor plan. This is also where you will find the all important weight limits.
At this point, if you are ready, you can go to a dealer with confidence that you know which rig you want to buy that will fit your family’s camping style.
John and Kathy Huggins were the founders of Living the RV Dream, one of the most popular RV lifestyle groups on Facebook. They also produced a weekly podcast by the same name for many years as they traveled the nation full time in a 39-foot motorhome while reporting on their experiences and promoting the RV lifestyle. They authored So You Want to be an RVer? and So You Want to be a Workamper both of which are available on Amazon.com