RV shows provide a great spring activity

March 26, 2004|by JEFF JOHNSTON/Motor Matters

It can be great fun to escape the last icy blasts of winter for the typically balmy indoor environment of an RV show at this time of year.

A newcomer to the RV field can be somewhat intimidated when walking into a show. The sheer variety and number of rigs to choose from can be overwhelming. Of course, the frequent salesmen's pitches may or may not help clarify the confusion.

It helps a great deal to come prepared. If you're going to the show just to kill a nice afternoon, then no homework is needed. If you have an RV purchase in mind and hope to find your dream rig at the show, get some facts together first so you'll be able to do some informed shopping.

Start with some basic research. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association is the standards and practices governing and promotional body for the recreational vehicle market in the U.S., and has a lot of information available for an RVing newcomer. Contact RVIA at 800-336-0154, or go to and check out the content on the site's "consumers" link.


A look through the RV Buyer's Guide, published by The Affinity Group, can yield a wealth of information before you hit the show. The Buyer's Guide lists specifications for hundreds of different RV models and can give you a good background on what's available, relative costs and so on. This background data can prove highly useful later on when you're pounding the show pavement. The current RV Buyer's Guide can be purchased from almost any mass-media newsstand outlet in the country, or phone 800-309-0311, or go to for more information.

Along with that background information in hand, it's also valuable to have a checklist of your wants and needs in an RV. As an example, you should have some idea as to how many people you need beds for on a regular basis, and whether you are planning to add more children to that mix while you own this RV.

Do you typically stay in full-hookup campgrounds, or is dry camping - without electrical, water or sewer connections - more to your taste? If the latter, then holding tank capacities and battery or solar charging equipment will likely be a higher priority for you.

Take a realistic look at how you plan to use your RV, based largely on your past camping and outdoors activity history. An RV may not change how or where you camp, but it may make it a lot more comfortable for you to enjoy your favorite places. Match the RV to your camping style and interests, not the other way around. Of course, an RV will also make it possible for you to expand your outdoor horizons to include many new adventures.

Once at the show, it takes some stiff discipline to look past the gloss and flash of a new RV and really inspect the stuff that matters. You'll likely see similar-sized models that vary a great deal in price. Sometimes it's the accessories that regulate the price, in that a higher-end unit will have an auto-ignition water heater instead of a manual-ignition heater, for example. In other cases, the construction details determine the cost and quality variation, and you may need to do a little digging to uncover these details.

Basic construction details can tell you a lot about an RV's quality. Even the least-expensive materials can be well-assembled into a rig that will give good service and value for the dollar.

As an example of what to check, open the kitchen cabinet doors, get down on your knees and look inside the cabinet at the wiring and plumbing. Are the lines neatly routed and secured, with no kinks or binds? Look at the rig's exterior underbelly. Are welds cleanly done? Is there adequate undercoat protection for materials exposed to the weather? Are seals around doors and windows and other joints nicely finished and professional looking?

This is where your checklist comes in handy. Your head will spin and you'll mix up the details after you look at a few rigs if you don't have notes in writing.

Once you narrow down your choices, you can often get a really good deal at an RV show. The dealer would just as soon you take the RV with you rather than hauling it back to his lot. Do your homework, and your visit to an RV show may be surprisingly productive and fun.

© Motor Matters, 2004

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