By Dan Strumpf
NEW YORK (AP) — Those looking for a bargain on a vacation probably wouldn't have the figure $40,000 in mind. But a vacation on wheels is a great deal right now.
Sales of recreational vehicles have been in a slump for months, hit hard by the recession and the credit crisis. That's leading dealers to slash their prices as they try to unload inventory — good news for those with an itch to spend the summer on the open road.
RV shipments in the first quarter fell 63 percent to 30,400 from last year, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, or RVIA, the industry's main trade group.
"I can't think in my career when it's been a better time to buy than it is right now." RVIA President Richard Coon said.
Some dealers say they are offering as much as tens of thousands of dollars in discounts as they seek to clear out old inventory. Larry Troutt, owner of an RV dealership in Waller, Texas, near Houston, called it "the best time in 30 years" to go RV shopping.
Troutt, who is also chairman of the RV Dealers Association, said discounts of $10,000 or more on towable "fifth-wheel" RVs — midsized RVs, some of which can fit on your driveway — that normally retail in the $50,000 range are not uncommon. Many dealers are even willing to sell products at a loss simply to move inventory, he said.
One of his better deals: a 2008 Crossroads Seville — a 36-foot towable RV that normally retails for $57,119 — is selling on his lot for $39,995.
"There have been severe downturns, of course," Troutt said. "But this one is by far the most significant and far ranging, and the deals are really very good right now."
In addition, the economic stimulus package Congress passed earlier this year allows some buyers of motorhomes — the largest and priciest RVs out there — to deduct the sales or excise tax on the first $49,500 of the vehicle's purchase.
Obtaining financing for an RV, however, can be harder than it used to be. Troutt and other dealers said lenders are asking for bigger down payments and a shorter financing period, meaning larger monthly payments.
But with gas prices still low compared with last year and strapped consumers looking for a cheaper way to vacation, RVing may be the way to go.
"The lifestyle is becoming more and more popular every year," Coon said.
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By Dan Strumpf