Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Life in our RV – Part 2 – The RV Exterior

Some more warnings about these posts. They are going to ramble a bit as I think of things. They are also going to have way too much information unless you are thinking about RVing.

I’ll start describing the outside, the inside, the driving experience and then some of the systems such as electrical, plumbing, TV and internet.

The motorhome we bought is 38 feet long, 101 inches wide (the legal limit is 102 inches) and just over 12 feet high.

It has just over 300 sq ft of floor space with the slides in and about 380 sq ft with the slides out.

Here is a link to the Forest River Site for our RV

It weighs just over 19000 lbs with a full tank of gas but none of our stuff. The maximum allowed weight for the frame is 22000 lbs. I am pretty sure we have not added 3000 lbs of stuff. I do need to find a place to weigh it some day to make sure.

This length is just about the limit for the gas RV frames. Besides the weight limit, the rear wheels are at a fixed place on the frame no matter what the length so any extra length just extends out behind the wheels making the RV more and more unstable. It also adds to the amount the rear swings out when you go around a corner.


The exterior is mostly white fiberglass with some decorative decals. We didn’t opt to spend the extra $10,000 to get the full body paint.


I think the full paint looks classier but I have read that everyone eventually scrape against some bushes or a tree  branch and the basic exterior hides it much better and is easier to fix.

This is ours. We love the two sets of floor to ceiling windows.



It has a 6.8 litre 360 hp V10 Ford engine. The diesel engines are usually about the same size but have MUCH more torque so they can go up the hills much more easily. With this one it is slow but steady on the hills. Even small rises over a railway track bridge can make it downshift.

Also the engine being up front essentially under your feet makes it a bit loud. Still easy to have a conversation but it is always there. The rear engine diesels are much quieter on the road.

As I have said I am lucky if I can get gas mileage of 30 litres per 100 kilometers. Driving in the mountains really hurts.

The diesel unit also usually have air bag suspension which results in a much smoother ride. Ours has leaf springs. It can get a bit bouncy. Jennie tried a few times to lie in bed when we were on the road but kept being moved around, much like riding in the back seat of a school bus.


It uses six 22 1/2 inch RV specific tires. I can’t wait until I have to pay to replace them!

They say you should replace them after about 6 years because the sun exposure will weaken them before the tread wears out. A lot of people buy covers to put over the tires to block the sun whenever they stop for a significant length of time. I have some but will only put them on when I store it for the winter.

There is also no spare. Physically the tires are just too big and heavy for you to change so you will have to call someone if you get a flat anyway. Some with this model have found a way to mount a spare underneath since the tires could be hard to find if they fail in the middle of nowhere. I am a little worried but have not gone that far yet.


Over the door and the windows in front of it there is a remote controlled awning. You actually get a key fob to extend and retract it. Because it is 12 feet in the air, to get over the door, it really doesn’t provide much shade on the ground. The only time we use it is to shade the side of the RV.

It also has a wind sensor that will automatically retract it if the wind starts blowing too hard. You cannot hang anything from the arms as it could retract at any time.


Getting In and Out

In a diesel class A the engine is in the rear so there is lots of flat floor space at the front so they usually place the door at the very front in front of the passengers seat. In a gasser the engine is at the front and the engine bulge in the floor would make it too tight so the door is usually in the middle of the passenger side. This takes up more valuable wall space but we actually like it there. You don’t always have to walk to the very front and the passenger’s seat is closer to the dashboard to rest books, etc on.

The living floor of the RV is a little more than 4 feet off the ground with it  taking 5 steps to get up. Two steps are inside the RV and the other three are in an automatic electric step that extends when you open the door. They stay extended until they automatically retract when the engine starts. There is a manual override.

Even I have a bit of a hard time reaching the door lock from the ground.


Under Floor Storage

Below the floor are storage bins all along each side. In a gas class A with the engine at the front and the drive wheels at the back you still have a tunnel in the middle under the floor for the drive shaft. The storage bins are about 2 1/2 feet tall and about 2 feet deep. Then they shrink to about 8 inches high as they pass over the driver shaft to connect to the bins on the other side. In a diesel class A the engine and drive wheels are both at the rear so the bins are usually full size all the way through.

I use the shorter middle section for things like a ladder, folding chairs, etc

I have seen some RV where the bins under the slideouts move out with the slide. This makes them easier to access but it means they can’t connect to the ones on the other side and you lose all that middle space.

The doors on our bins swing to the side. I much prefer this to the many that swing up or down. I have hit my head enough bending under the slideouts to know I would constantly do it if the storage doors swung up.

About 1/3 of the bins are taken up by RV systems such as water tanks, the generator and hot water tank.

Currently we are only using about 2/3rds of the available space.

A word of warning about the storage door locks. The key to the locks in most RV storage bins is exactly they same. The lock of my gas door uses the same lock. I tried at an RV dealer and I could open the bins on almost all of the trailers. If the key has CH751 stamped on then it is the common one. The bins on mine use a different key but even it is shared with all the other Georgetown RVs. The door latch key is also shared between like RV’s. Only the door deadbolt key is unique to your RV and even it seems quite simple.

One of my tasks is to find a proper deadbolt to fit on the thin RV door. I tried taking the bin door lock to a locksmith but he couldn’t rekey it and didn’t have another cylinder to fit.


Leveling Jacks

Since most campsites are not level you need some method to level the floor in the RV. It is amazing how much being even a bit off of level will bother me especially when walking.

Most class A motorhomes come with a set of 4 hydraulic jacks, 1 just  behind each wheel.

Most trailers have scissor jacks at the 4 corner that you manually crank down. Most class B and C motorhomes do not come with jacks at all. I am not sure why. It may be that they are too heavy for scissor jacks but the living space is too low to the ground to allow for the hydraulic jacks. In these cases people seem to carry a lot of boards and just find the low wheels and drive the RV up on the appropriate number of boards.

The jack system can run in manual or automatic mode. Once you do a manual level you can set the system to recognize that as level and after that you just have to push one button and it will do it in any campsite automatically.

That said I never use the automatic mode. The few times I have used it, I didn’t like the creaking and groaning sounds from the RV frame as it made some rather sudden movements of the jacks. I am wondering if it might have been responsible for the crack in the windshield we got last year.

To manually level, the jacks always move in pairs, 2 front together, 2 rear together or 2 right or left together. In this way it minimizes the twisting effect on the frame.

Almost every campsite we have been in the front is lower than the back. In this case I lower the rear jacks until they just touch the ground, then raise the front jacks until we are back to front level. Then I use the appropriate right or left pair to bring us into side to side level.

The manuals says you should never jack up high enough such that the rear wheels are off the ground. I think that the jacks are strong in the up and down but weaker resisting side to side movement. With the wheels on the ground the suspension will help resist the motion.

I actually never let any wheel get off the ground. If it is required to get level then I go beyond level, put boards under those wheels, retract the jacks and start over.


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