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Tips from a Tech on picking up your new RV
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Posted 2013-10-12 11:53 PM (#7765)
Subject: Tips from a Tech on picking up your new RV

Posts: 5
Location: Texas

The question of buying a new or used RV is often debated at length and there are strong arguments for either side.  This is such a good discussion for folks wanting to transition to this lifestyle or even folks looking for their next rig. Perspectives from an RV Tech and full-timer are that there is no guarantee that new or used the rig will be sound. There is no truth whatsoever that a new RV will be problem free. 

Personally I favor first timers buying used to let the reality of RVign hit them so they can develop the proper perspective and character that is required for survival and prosperity in this amazing lifestyle. Every RVer has stories that developed their character. Stories happen! If you cannot handle the stories than better to find out right away instead of sugar coating the stories and tip-toeing into the lifestyle hoping that a story never happens to you.

That is not to say that folks that buy used will have more stories happen to them than folks that buy new but there is a higher cost associated with these stories for the folks that buy new. I guess it can be said that folks that buy used get their stories at a bargain price but there is no way to avoid it. Stories Happen!

I love sitting around a campfire and hearing about amazing character building stories of how an RVer adapted and overcame in a situation. My wife and I certainly have our stories from 9 years on the road that will fill many-an evening. How boring to sit around a camp fire with RVers and have no stories – save that non-discussion for the suburbia back yard bar-b-Q. Let the stories begin!!!

Below I ramble on about what takes place at a typical RV Dealership to get your rig ready for delivery. I even include some tips for you to try and beat the system - but the moral of the story is, regardless of what you select, new or used, have a certified RV inspector perform a thorough inspection on it before you sign on the dotted line. That will not guarantee you will be free of problems but the inspection will reveal many things that the sales guy will not or cannot tell you. It is also very important to get the signed PDI sheet to take with you on your walk-through. I show you how to use that document as a very powerful tool towards the end of my rambling.

So let the rambling begin: 

 At the dealership I work at I have performed a PDI (Pre-delivery Inspection) on both brand new and used rigs. The typical shop rate for this service is about 4 hours to perform this task (higher end rigs pay more but I will use 4 hours on my story here) before the folks take delivery of the unit. The shop charges the sales department for this service and ultimately the customer is charged through various fees (both real and imagined) on their bill of sale. 

A good tech can inspect an RV rather quickly including testing the LP system, plumbing, refrigerator, air conditioner, furnace, safety escapes, alarms etc. There is a sheet we have to fill out and sign-off on should there be a lawsuit or something. This is the same sheet regardless of if the unit is new or used. Most techs’ have that sheet memorized and have a flow in how we progress through a coach and have found the quickest way to knock it out. For example on a typical rig, because I have done so many of these things, I can perform an entire PID in about 2 hours. I still get paid 4 hours for this job and that is how I increase my take home pay because I can flag 8 hours in 4 hours of actual work if I were to PDI two units in a day.  Again using a simple math example here…

Here is the first tip: Ask the dealership for a copy of the PDI sheet that will be used to inspect your rig. By company policy we have to use that sheet but there is nothing preventing you from providing your own more detailed PDI sheet that you either found online or created yourself. You may need to pay the shop the difference in our inspection vs. your more thorough inspection but that may be worth it for you. As badly as I would love you there with me while I am doing an inspection on your rig most company insurance policies simply will not allow customers back in the shop. Sorry. More on how you can use this PDI sheet in a later tip...

So in these 4 hours that we are paid there is no way we can test for and find everything but we give it our best effort. If it is not on the PDI sheet it is usually not inspected. You do not want to be the tech performing work on a unit that was not authorized and accounted for – you would be giving away work for free! A PDI is just that – an inspection. When I perform these PDI’s I am working on the customers behalf because I am actively looking for things that may be wrong so I have a change to get paid to repair them. Having said that I don’t want to take 6 hours on a 4 hour PDI and look for EVERYTHING, even things that are not on the sheet, because I would be losing money in my pay check.

So for doing a PDI I have already been paid 4 hours for it, regardless of how long it takes me, but let’s say I find several things that will pay two additional hours to fix (regardless of how long it actually takes me to fix them). I want to fix these things to increase my pay to 6 hours on that rig that is already in my bay with my tools at hand. If I am fast I can still get the entire unit done in a total of 3 hours, PDI + repairs, so there is my motivation to find more stuff to fix and get paid for. In this example I can make 6 hours for 3 hours of actual work! It doesn't always work out like that but it is great when it does.

Inevitably I will find (or a good tech will find) things that are wrong with the unit – new or used. Believe me, there is ALWAYS something wrong with a unit if you are looking for it. Like I said, I am already going to get paid 4 hours for the inspection so if we, as techs, want to make more money to take home we need to find things we can get paid to fix right… So we make a list and turn it in to the service manager with the hopes of getting approval to go ahead with the fix. That list is turned over to the sales department with a Go/No Go decision. At this point the price with the customer has already been agreed upon and it is up to the sales manager to cut into the dealer profit and fix things at the dealer expense or let it go as is. Now some dealerships PDI a unit before it even goes on the sales lot but that is usually what we call a major system check and does not get down to the granularity of a more through PDI but there is no standard to this. Having said that, before delivery there is still another PDI right before the customer takes delivery and that is the PDI I am talking about here. That is the one that counts and where my strategy below will really work for your behalf.

Guess what typically happens? If it is a new unit, and we have time before the delivery, we typically get a GO decision because it is all warranty work. Everything has to be documented and the shop/parts coordinate with the mfg to resolve the warranty issues at no cost to the dealership except all the paperwork and man-hours to document everything. It is a lot of work before I actually pick up a tool. The Mfg doesn’t want to come off of their money either!

If there is not enough time before delivery of the brand new than it goes as-is and it is up to the customer to discover these warranty items. These are typically the disgruntled customers that have to bring the coach back to the dealership numerous times and we get the horror stories on blogs and forums. In a high volume sales operation this is typically the result because the dealership is more focused on getting these units off the lot as fast as they can so the shop never gets the opportunity to fix things before the delivery takes place... And sadly the tech never has the opportunity to fix or get paid to fix the things they found. 

This is a delicate balance and tells a lot about the ethics of the business. At one extreme the dealership is so focused on maximizing profit that they let the new unit go as is - hoping you will bring it back to the shop for the warranty repair (not expecting to even have to take your wallet out) and they can hit you for an up-sell on vent covers or electric jack stands or just about anything. There is always SOMETHING they can up-sell you on and remember you are going against 'professional' sales guys here. So the more you come back for a warranty repair the more they have the opportunity to get more money from you. On the other end of the ethics scale they hang on to the coach before letting the customer have it making as close to perfect as possible but losing confidence in the customer and tying up the shop at the same time. I am thinking of the movie ‘Flywheel ‘here. Great movie if you have not seen it. In that movie he figured this dilemma out… All I will say – go watch it!

Here is another tip: If the tech that performed the PDI is the one that performs the walkthrough with you ask him/her point blank for a copy of the PDI report. He may just tell you about everything he found. The down side is that after you leave he is going to have to answer for his honesty when the sales guy finds out what he told the customer. Personally if I am asked this question I have no issues telling folks the truth – but I am not going to voluntarily reveal it. I am certainly not afraid of a sales guy – they need me more than I need them!!! It just makes for an awkward working environment that is all… I still have more tips on how to use this PDI sheet below and a way that keeps everyone honest and builds-in ethics in the transaction... 

Now if the rig is a used unit the dealership and/or sales guy do not want to cut too deeply into their profit and they start to really push the extended warranty because the shop has told the sales department that they found issues. Careful putting ALL your trust in these extended warranties being a magic bullet to fix everything and all you have to do is pay a deductible. Make sure you fully understand the process to file a claim and get the unit repaired. Many times those companies will send out inspectors and if they cannot verify that the issue is happening than they will not allow the claim. The dealership cannot fix anything without prior approval and if they do then you most likely lost the coverage for that repair. It takes time and lots of documentation and it has to be a defective unit and not just something that doesn’t work like you thought it should. I am not saying they are bad. I even have one on my rig but read all the fine print when all the paperwork comes. At the dealership most of the repairs on those lists get a NoGo decision unless it is safety related - opting to sell you the extended warranty policy which is a huge profit maker for the dealership. If it is a high end coach (with a high profit margin) we will get a GO on some of the items but rarely a GO on everything we find. Ergo the importance of a Certified RV Inspection so you know exactly what you are buying and the cost to make repairs if they are not part of the used sale price. Don't be afraid of buying used - I prefer it over new any day - but just go into the deal with eyes wide open. Most things are fixable but you may decide after the inspection that you would be better off with a different unit. With over 10 million RV's on the road you are bound to find one that will work for you.

So again, here is the moral of the story. GET YOUR RIG (New or Used) INSPECTED BEFORE YOU SIGN THE DOTTED LINE!!! Personally I like the idea of settling on a price with the dealership and THEN telling them you want to have an independent RV inspection performed at your expense. This way the price is locked in and anything the inspector finds can be used to negotiate a better price. Things like new tires and/or new batteries would be great bonus after the price had been locked in. Neither of these items are cheap. But the inspector may find other things that are not so obvious. I know it is sneaky but believe me the sales professional’s mission is to make money for the dealership and if they do that effectively they get to keep their jobs. Just the nature of the business. This little technique puts one back in the customers corner. Remember the inspector works for you and not the dealership. The results of his inspection should be kept confidential and reported directly to you. If the dealership wants to know what he found in the inspection than they can pay for their own inspection right... 

So, from talking to different techs in different states and different dealerships, both large and small, we all have a different experience but my story is what typically happens behind the scenes. It is all motivated by money. 

Remember some best practices would include:
1.) Have your rig inspected after you agree on a price but before you sign for it

2.) Get a copy of the PDI form the dealership will use on your rig. If you are not satisfied with everything they will look for provide your own (you may have to pay for the difference, because the shop still has to fill out their own to cover their assets)

3.) Now for my favorite tip here it is:  Ask for a copy of the completed PDI sheet and all issues found by the tech BEFORE YOU GO ON THE WALKTHROUGH!!!. Now you have to ask for that sheet at the most opportune moment so they don’t have time to doctor it or re-write it to show a more favorable picture. If they take more than 5 minutes getting it to you I would become a bit suspicious. That sheet is with the files for that coach and is how the shop gets paid. Believe me they know exactly where it is... Techs are notoriously sloppy in their paperwork. The original will most likely have smudges and crinkles in the page. (If they won’t provide a copy and throw up all kinds of policy saying they cannot show you that than all the more reason to provide your own and require they fill it out as a condition of sale. But you need to know that BEFORE you get to this step so they don't undermine your strategy here.) Now here is the best use of this document:
 Things that you have issues with that were checked off as inspected but really were not or were only half-done can be used in your favor. With signed-off PDI sheet in hand before the walk-through and best case, before you signed the dotted line (This works even if you have already signed for it but the motivation of the sales guy is not as high since the dealership already has your money) - proceed to go over everything that was checked off with the tech BEFORE YOU TAKE THE UNIT OFF THE LOT! This is not as through as a full Certified RV Inspection but it is the next best thing. So basically you are auditing the PDI while you are getting your walk-through and learning how things work. If you need to take the unit back to the dealership than here is how the conversation could go: “This item is checked as being fixed/inspected but look at it!” It gives you leverage – which gets back to the dealership ethics issue I alluded to above. Once you leave the property it is your problem baby!

4.) The best time to schedule your walk-through is right after lunch so you can have a lot of time with the tech before it gets time for him to go home. The later in the afternoon the quicker he will go through the walk through with you. First thing in the morning is bad because, like so many airports, a cascaded delay will happen and mess up the whole daily schedule. After lunch is best – his stomach is full and he had the morning to knock out a lot of work and typically he will have more time to spend with you.

Hope this helps to develop some wonderful stories and make sure you are getting a good home for your family.  Don’t rush the walkthrough even if this is your hundredth coach.  This is where you find issues that the dealership is still on the line for before you pull off the lot.  Once you leave the lot – even if you got a smokin’ hot deal that you feel great about you are still driving or pulling an asset to your family that you need to ensure is in the operational condition you expect it to be in.  The mantra should be ‘Trust but Verify’…

Darren Koep/RV Tech

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