A father, mother and their two boys pose for a family photo in front of their RV, hitched to their pickup truck.

Competition for RVs Still High for Fall Shoppers

Savvy RV shoppers often wait for fall to find a great selection and lower prices. But high demand and short supply are adding challenges to the list of shopping considerations in 2021.

Summer vacations have ended, and the kids are back in school, so it might seem like a strange time to shop for a recreational vehicle. But fall is the time for RV shows and bargains. At least it was before the pandemic.

"Historically speaking, people who were ready to buy would bide their time and wait for sales to slow," said Scott Twomey, General Manager of Poulsbo RV in Kent. "They knew fall RV shows were the best opportunity to get the price they wanted. If they didn't like our price, they could shop the competition next door and vice versa."

High demand and supply chain problems have caused pricing increases and kept inventories low. Twomey doesn't expect a solution anytime soon.

"We're looking at manufacturing prices going higher and higher," he said. "The norm we're seeing is about an 8 to 12% increase across the board because of material cost increases and labor shortages."

RVs in Short Supply

Shortages of refrigerators, wallboard, axles, air conditioning units, lumber, steel — everything that goes into vehicles and construction — affected the production of RVs.

According to the RV Industry Association, annual RV shipments (a key industry metric) dropped 16% from 483,700 in 2018 to 406,000 in 2019. Production was up in 2020, with 430,412 shipments for the year, but still not quite to pre-pandemic levels.

Demand for RVs Still High

Even as production recovers, dealers haven't been able to keep up with demand. The promise of self-contained travel accommodations combined with remote work and school during the pandemic prompted more people to think about RVing as a vacation option. An estimated 56 million people were planning an RV trip in the summer of 2021, according to the RV Industry Association.

RV ownership is at a record high in 2021, according to Go RVing, citing an Ipsos demographic profile study: 11.2 million households own an RV, up 62% from 2001 and 26% from 2011.

"We started to see more demand the second week of May last year, when we were okayed to go into Phase 1 (of COVID-19 reopening guidelines)," Twomey said. "It just busted loose and stayed that way."

Twomey said the five Poulsbo RV locations had about 600 new RVs for sale at that time. Now, they have about 200.

He said many dealers are stocking more used RVs than they have in the past to make up for the lack of new offerings.

Conventional wisdom is that new vehicles, including RVs, lose value the moment you drive them off the lot, but the high demand is even increasing the cost of used RVs.

Dealers Pivot for Fall RV Shows

The mismatch between supply and demand coupled with COVID-19 safety protocols means fall RV shows will be a different experience this year.

Bill Bradley of Westlake Promotion, the event producer for the Evergreen Fall RV Show, said RV displays will be spaced farther apart, and more RVs will be outside than in the past.

"Usually, we pack them in down to the inch," Bradley said.

A more spacious setup suits a lot of the dealers who are coming to the show. They just don't have the inventory to fill the space.

"There are ten times as many people wanting to buy RVs as what's available," Bradley said. "Some dealers will be closing down their lots and bringing everything they have."

A Good Time To Do Your Homework

Twomey said typically, only about 10% of the people who attend shows are there to buy. The rest of the people are dipping their toes into the idea of RVing or doing their research to pin down what sort of RV they want to buy.

Fall is still a great time to do that, whether you go to a show or visit dealerships.

Here are a few things to consider if you're just starting to think about joining the RV trend.

Different Types of RVs

RVs and trailers come in a variety of styles and sizes. Here's the common terminology:

  • Camper/trailer: Towed unit that varies in size and can include minimal or luxury amenities.
  • Truck camper: Attaches to a vehicle, sliding over the bed of a truck. These often include a toilet, kitchen and shower.
  • Popup trailer: Light, easy to pull and expandable. These can include a kitchen, shower and toilet.
  • RV: Stand-alone RVs (with motors) have a broad range of amenities. They are grouped into size classes ranging from A to C, with A being the largest.

Know Your Needs

As you look around at the different options, think about everything you could ever want and pare it down to your must-haves.

This is a good time to be honest with yourself. What kind of camping do you really like to do? If you want an off-the-grid experience, and all you need is a comfy mattress, then a small, simple trailer might suit you. If you really want a stocked kitchen and daily shower, then you might look for something a little more elaborate.

Size Considerations

The size of the RV you buy will significantly affect several things:

  • Price: Bigger RVs with more bells and whistles usually come with a higher purchase price and higher fuel costs.
  • Towing: If you plan to buy a trailer that you tow with your truck, you'll need to know your vehicle's towing capacity. Now is a good time to brush up on towing weights and measurements.
  • Parking: This is a factor both on the road and for storage. We'll get into this more in a bit.

Cost of Gas

Gas is an ongoing cost to think about. The smaller and more fuel efficient the RV, the less you'll pay to travel.

  • Towing: Gas mileage on your towing vehicle decreases from pulling a trailer, but towing will likely take less gas compared with filling a less-efficient, larger RV.
  • Small RV: Fuel efficiency of small RVs is similar to large pickup trucks used to tow trailers.
  • Large RVs: In addition to paying more for lots of features in a big RV, be prepared to pay more for fuel. You'll have to track down diesel fuel stations (truck stops are an option) and carry two methods of payment. Your credit or debit card is often programmed to authorize up to a certain dollar limit per fill up. Some larger vehicles might exceed that limit when you fill them up.

Think About Insurance

Just like for your car, the price of insurance for an RV depends on a variety of factors, including your driving history, where the RV is stored and the type of RV you buy. Your RV policy is separate from your car insurance policy, although many insurance companies offer bundling discounts when adding an RV policy to other policies you have with that company.

Also consider that different types of policies go with different types of RVs: A stand-alone RV is insured as a vehicle while a trailer is insured as a piece of equipment hauled by a vehicle. Talk to an insurance professional to get an idea about the monthly costs you'll be adding to your budget.

Driving Skills

Although you don't need a special license to drive an RV, the A-class vehicles are big and can take practice to drive and park. Pulling and backing up a trailer can also be challenging.

Be sure you're up for learning new driving skills so you can safely enjoy your new vehicle.

Parking and Storage

If you live on a big piece of property with space to spare, you're all set for parking your RV. If you live in a downtown condo or you have HOA restrictions in your suburban neighborhood, you have a logistical challenge.

Here are a few options:

  • Rent space from a nearby storage facility.
  • Rent space from a storage facility that's farther away from where you live but less costly.
  • Rent space from an RV-specific storage lot.
  • Park at a family or friend's home or property. (They may be willing to charge you less than a storage facility or offer you free storage in exchange for letting them use the RV.)

Research Your Financing Options

Before you get too far down the road towards buying an RV, do your homework on how you'll pay for your new purchase. Shop around for the best interest rates and talk to lenders about different financing options.