Where's the first place a first-time RV shopper should travel? How about the Internet?
By hopping on the Web you can research the kind of recreational vehicle you want, learn the ins and outs of financing and chat with other RVers about what it's really like out on the road.
"It's great how much information is available out there on the Net," says Joe Kieva, author and publisher of RV Know How, an RV information site for consumers.
"People can get information. They can get swamped with it if they want."
All the major RV manufacturers have Web sites, as does the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, which lists consumer tips for choosing and maintaining an RV, as well as links and information on RV shows, manufacturers and finance companies.
RV Consumer Group is a nonprofit consumer group aimed at promoting RV safety. The organization rates RVs for highway safety and durability.
"You don't want to be gullible when buying an RV," says J.D. Gallant, president of RV Consumer Group.
A little help from RV friends
Another important site to visit is RVers Online. With several hundred pages of information, this ad-free site offers everything from RV buying tips and detailed maintenance instructions to travel advice.
The tag line on the site is "RVers helping RVers." Numerous long-time RVers submit columns and guest editorials to the site. One of the most popular features is RVers Mailbox. A reader submits a question to the mailbox and fellow readers submit their answers through a link at the bottom of the message.
"It's very successful," says Tom Gonser, editor and publisher of RVers Online. "I get hundreds of notes a year saying 'Thank you. The response was overwhelming. I got exactly what I wanted.' "
RVers are a friendly bunch. They're more than willing to offer advice. Check out the message boards on sites such as RVNetLinx, Journeylink.com and RVUSA.com.
"RVers are probably the most helpful people in the world," Kieva says. "You just indicate you need a little bit of help and they'll swarm all over you with advice."
The first step for a first-timer RVer is sitting down and determining just what kind of RV you're looking for. This planning worksheet from the RV Buyers Guide Web site may help.
"The place that people need to start is with themselves," Kieva says. "How are they going to use it? Where are they going? What are they going to do?"
Everyone thinks you buy an RV and hit the road for weeks at a time, but most RVers drive just 3,000 to 5,000 miles a year. Most folks take a few weekend getaways and maybe a big, two-week trip during the year.
Be realistic about how much you plan to use your RV. A lower-end RV might do just fine for a couple of weekend trips. You may even want to consider buying a used RV.
Whether shopping for a new or used RV, the Internet can be a big help in tracking down pricing information. RV pricing data from 1986 to 2000 can be found on nadaguides.com. Pricing guides are also available from Woodall's, Kelley Blue Book and RV Buyers Guide.
You can surf RV dealer sites to compare deals, as well as sites with classified ads such as RVTraderOnline, RV USA.com.
When it comes to RV prices, knowledge is power. The more pricing information you have, the stronger your position as a buyer.
"Much to the chagrin of dealers, what's going on in the RV marketplace is the same thing that's happening with cars," says Paul Snapp, vice president of sales for RVSearch.com. "It puts the power of buying into the hands of the consumer. Dealers are concerned about it because it can cut into their margins. But they're going to grow into it just as car dealers have."
Shopping around is just as important when it comes to RV financing. Banks, credit unions and independent finance companies all offer RV loans. Financing can also be arranged at RV dealerships.
As with autos, you want to have a financing deal in place before shopping for your vehicle. That way the dealer will have to beat the interest rate on the loan to get your business.