How to Travel to Buy an RV (or The Spring Break Trip from Hell)

One week. Twenty three hundred miles in the truck with three kids. And a new RV.

That was the plan, and we pulled it off. But not without our share of misfortune and adventure. This is the story for those looking to travel to buy an RV with a few helpful lessons included…….

Last winter we were looking to buy a travel trailer. At the time, we didn’t expect to take an extended travel trip for maybe another two or three years. We wanted to get an trailer to learn the ropes, and the winter is a great time to get a great deal on a RV.

But it just killed me that RVs in the Midwest were four to five grand cheaper than the ones close to home. I hate spending more money than I need to for big ticket items. So with some internet research, I found the exact trailer we wanted (see our post on choosing a trailer) at a mega dealership in Michigan for about $4K less than the Colorado prices.

The dealership we chose seemed reputable, and overall, I’d in fact give it mid-grade marks. We shied away from those with poor ratings and reviews: for example, the dealer where one unhappy buyer complained someone had taken “a dump” in the trailer toilet and left it for them, or the dealer that had allegedly left profane voicemails berating a complaining customer. Granted, who knows what reviews on the internet are true, but these particular dealers had consistently bad reviews. Many dealers also seem to be notorious for becoming inaccessible once the deal is inked. So… Lesson #1: Research the Dealer.

So we set off on the drive from sunny Colorado to overcast Michigan in early March. Let me be honest that 1,150 miles in two days with three elementary school age kids is like fingernails grating on a chalkboard. Our kids are good kids but long periods of inactivity and energetic little bodies don’t mix. However, it’s the distance that partially drives the cost savings, as dealers near major manufacturing centers have virtually no shipping cost. So… Lesson #2: Plan for a Drive.

When we arrived in Michigan we stopped to observe the ice shards grinding up against the Lake Michigan coast. Although beautiful, this ended up being our one “fun” activity of our three day stay in Michigan. Oh, we had more planned but they were not to be.

We arrived at the dealer with our deal in order. We had an initial agreement, including the price, in writing and had already worked out other details. However, we found our RV had a couple issues, including a broken awning. After a bit of back and forth, the dealer agreed to comp us a hotel room and fix the the defects quickly in the morning. We already had an agreement with them, and let them know if they didn’t honor the deal, we were ready to walk away. (And we were. Remember that other dealer with new RVs including used but unflushed toilets?) Dealers more than anything want to close the deal. So… Lesson #3: Have Your Agreements in Writing Before Traveling and Lesson #4: Don’t Give Up Your Bargaining Power.

Did I mention that this was March in Michigan? That means it was freezing cold. Well, we took possession of the RV and brought it to our campsite nearby. The battery slowly lost charge through the night despite being hooked up to shore power and by morning was completely dead, which meant the heater stopped running too, as it requires battery power to function. The dealer replaced the battery but the next evening was worse. Temperatures dropped below freezing, the battery died, our heat went out, and I found myself making a 3AM two hour round trip to the nearest open box store for space heaters to run off shore power. Bleary-eyed, we hauled the entire RV back to the dealer, and they were able to replace the malfunctioning inverter, which kept the battery charged and the heat on. So… Lesson #5: Build in Extra Days to Your Trip for Unforeseen Problems.

We pulled out of the dealership with a fully functioning RV, and I was feeling pretty good. I had installed our Pro-Pride weight distribution hitch myself and everything felt smooth. I had tested every item on the rig: the oven, the lights, the refrigerator, the axles, the wheels, the seals, the control panel, everything. But this was my first time actually pulling a trailer. Literally, I can’t remember ever in my life pulling anything at all behind a vehicle. Then a driver behind me started flashing her lights and waving her arms. I pulled over and she pulled behind me. “You know you’ve got a window open?” She was a dealership employee and saw my trailer window open. Lesson #6: Check EVERYTHING on a New Rig Before Towing It Away.

Nearly 500 uneventful miles later, we had already passed through the busiest parts of our drive south of Chicago. But lo and behold, most parks and RV resorts that can accommodate a large trailer are closed in early winter. This was news to us, but we finally found a place on some back roads off the highway.

Being the unproven driver I was, I took our RV down a side road that ended in a cul-de-sac. I started to pull a u-turn only to realize that the trailer was about to run over some bushes and ornaments in a grassy area in the center of the circle. At this time, the nearby residents, hearing the growl of my V8, came out of their houses. A woman with a couple of kids told me that the ornaments were in fact a memorial to a neighbor that had recently died. This is not a joke. Then a grizzly guy came out and I quickly rejected the idea of hitting the gas. First, I am not about to run over a memorial, and second, he hadn’t yet mentioned trying to shoot the last RV’er that had done this. But after chatting with them a bit, they helped me move a log out of my way and guided me out. So a couple of random lessons… Lesson #7: Know Where You’re Headed and Lesson #8: Be Nice to Bring Out the Inherent Goodness of People.

We made it back to Colorado, after another 1,150 mile two-day trek. It was still late winter, might I remind you. So, as we pulled into our storage site for the first time, I also had the pleasure of winterizing a trailer for the first time, which took about four times longer than I expected. But these are the tribulations of a new trailer owner. So… Lesson #9: Just Be Happy to Be a Trailer Owner.

And the BIG question… Would I travel to buy a trailer again? ABSOLUTELY! Come on! I saved four grand.


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