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

RV Supplies Increasing, but Prices Still High

Savvy RV shoppers often wait until after the summer travel season to find a great deal. Supply shortages are easing, but high demand and high prices continue to add challenges to the list of shopping considerations in 2022.

Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
BECU Community Content Manager
Jan 6, 2022 in: Everyday Finance

After nearly two years of high demand and pandemic-related supply chain problems, RV dealers' inventories are recovering. That means RV shoppers are likely to find more selection than they have for months, but prices remain high.

"Historically speaking, people who were ready to buy would bide their time and wait until after summer for sales to slow so they could get a lower price," said Scott Twomey, general manager of Poulsbo RV in Kent. "But manufacturing prices have gone higher and higher. The norm we're seeing is about a 12% to 15% increase across the board because of material cost increases and labor shortages.

RV Supplies Improving

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. By the end of November 2021, year-to-date shipments were 559,743, surpassing 2018 total annual production.

Twomey said some RVs are easier to come by than others. Poulsbo RV's supply of towable units, like travel trailers and fifth wheels are almost back to usual inventory levels. Larger motorized RVs and anything on a Mercedes-Benz chassis are still more difficult for dealers to buy.

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 was 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.

RV maker Thor Industries, which owns brands like Jayco and Airstream, had an $18.07 billion order backlog as of Oct. 31, and dealers may not be restocked until 2023, according to Business Insider.

"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 went from having about 1,000 units in all five stores down to a low of about 300 in September 2021. By January, inventory is up to about 700 units.

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

"The percentage of new to used was typically about 60-40," Twomey said. "The new normal is about 50-50."

Conventional wisdom is that new vehicles, including RVs, lose value the moment you drive them off the lot, but the high demand increased even the cost of used RVs. Those prices appear to be coming down, which is good for shoppers looking to buy used RVs. Twomey said it's also good for dealers who stock them.

Dealers Pivoted for RV Shows

The mismatch between supply and demand coupled with COVID-19 safety protocols made RV shows a little different this year than in the past.

Bill Bradley of Westlake Promotion arranged for more distance between displays for the Evergreen Fall RV Show in September 2021.

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

A more spacious setup suited a lot of the dealers at that time because they just didn't have the inventory to fill the space. Bradley said some dealers closed their lots and brought everything they had.

Bill O'Loughlin, of O'Loughlin Trade Shows is the show manager for the Tacoma RV Show, scheduled for Jan. 20-23, 2022. He said that with supplies increasing, shoppers are going have a chance to see RVs that haven't been available for a while.

"I think everyone is excited," O'Loughlin said. "All the dealers have product. People have been waiting because dealers didn't have the RVs they wanted in stock. Now they're going to come in and finally get to buy the unit they wanted."

The aisles will be wider than they have been in the past — at least 12 feet — but display spacing is up to the individual dealers for the Tacoma show.

Attendees can expect to follow state mandates and COVID-19 safety protocols. For example, all attendees are required to wear a mask and show proof of vaccination, O'Loughlin said, "just like people are used to now when they attend sports events." Show organizers are offering free on-site rapid testing prior to entry. Attendees will only be admitted if they can show proof of vaccination or a negative test prior to entry, according to the Tacoma RV Show website.

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.

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

O'Loughlin recommended thinking through what you really want in an RV and writing down your questions before the show.

"My biggest advice is to give yourself enough time to shop," he said.

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 luxurious.

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 Fuel

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

  • Towing: Fuel mileage on your towing vehicle decreases from pulling a trailer, but towing will likely take less fuel 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 all the bells and whistles in a big RV, be prepared to pay more for fuel. You'll have to track down diesel fuel stations (truck stops) 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.

Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
BECU Community Content Manager

Katie writes for BECU about personal finance and social justice topics. Her career spans reporting for newspapers and communicating on behalf of government agencies and private businesses.