On Markups, Orphans, and Rear Baths
If you're in the RV market:
Be prepared to bargain. Forget the sticker price. Instead, ask the dealer if you can see the manufacturer's invoice, and bargain up from there. Or, search out the suggested retail price listed on the NADA Recreational Vehicle Price Guide, then deduct 40 percent-the typical dealer markup. (Your local auto dealership should have a copy, or you can buy it online at www.nadaguides.com.)
Avoid orphans. With low barriers to entry, the RV industry now comprises more than 200 manufacturers-most offering multiple brands. The market's inevitable ups and downs have left behind many so-called orphans-discontinued models for which parts are often hard to come by. Despite their discounted prices, it's best to stay away from abandoned brands like Kings Highway, Midas, Mobile Traveler, Titan, Champion, and Travco.
Don't get stranded. As sophisticated as today's RVs are, some can take years to iron out the kinks. So stick with brands that offer extended warranties and a national network of dealers. Also, most manufacturers don't allow their warranties to be transferred, and some less reputable companies require you to return the coach to the factory for service.
Think floor plan. You may save a bundle buying an RV with an unusual or out-of-date floor plan. But you'd better like living with, say, a rear bathroom, because it'll be hard to pawn it off down the road. (Owners hate people walking through the bedroom.) Same goes for slide-outs wide enough for only a couch, which have largely been replaced with longer versions that extend the entire living room.
Stay hurricane free. Adding to the growing RV glut, thousands of units used over the past year to house Hurricane Katrina victims are beginning to hit the aftermarket. Trouble is, people have been living in them full time for nearly a year-and it shows.
This story appears in the October 9, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.