Monday, April 4, 2011

Life in our RV - Part 1 - Getting the RV

For those of you that have never been in or used or rented and RV, I thought I would do a some posts on the motorhome and its various systems and what it is like to live in one for 5 months.

I will try to logically split up the posts by content but they could be kind of long and not many pictures. They will also come rather sporadically whenever I have some time to kill.

Types of RVs

Tent Campers are the kind most people start with. They are a long box with a roof that cranks up exposing a tent with bed that pull out each end. They usually have a kitchen and a few have bathrooms.

Travel Trailers are what everyone knows. The hard sided boxes. They are fully equipped miniature homes. The beds are smaller, the fridge is small, etc. The smaller ones can be towed by most cars while the medium and larger ones would need an SUV or van.

Fifth Wheel Trailers are the ones you see being towed by pickup trucks where part of the trailer hangs over the bed of the truck. They are usually much larger and can have full size appliances and furniture. The bedroom is almost always in the part that overhangs the truck which usually means less headroom. Some of these are so large you need a 1 ton truck to tow them.

Class B Motorhomes are the van conversions usually with raised roofs and sometimes lengthened. They have all the conveniences but the premium here is on making everything fit so things are on the small side.

Class C Motorhomes are one with the van like cab with the part of the living area, usually a bed, extended out over the cab. They are usually built on a delivery truck sized chassis. Space is still usually at a premium so the appliances, bed and furniture are usually not full size.

Class A Motorhomes are the buses. There are two major types. The gasoline powered ones are usually based on a specialized RV chassis  built by either Ford or GM. Since these chassis’s have a gross weight limit of around 26000 lbs they are considered starter models and don’t have all the fancy features of the big guys. With a diesel powered class A the sky is the limit. 40000 or 50000 lb motorhomes are not uncommon. The sky is the limit on the price as well. Starter diesels are usually $100,000 more than most gassers. These are where you get the Corian counter tops, residential side by side refrigerators, etc. Also at least in Ontario you need a special license to drive the diesel units because they usually have air brakes and are almost always over the 22000 lb limit for the standard class G driver’s license.

Yes, weird and scary as it is, I can drive my 56 foot long motorhome and towed car combo on a basic driver’s license with no extra training required.

To increase the living space on all but the tent campers, RVs can have what are called slideouts or slides. Some of the furniture is mounted in a open sided box that, when parked, can be pushed out with hydraulic pistons. I have seen RVs with up to 4 separate slides. On some the entire side of the RV extends.

Of the motorhomes the advantage of the class B is that you don’t need to tow an extra vehicle. They are small enough that you can easily drive then in the cities and they fit in most parking spaces.

Most class C and A owners will tow a vehicle that they use to sight see. Most vehicles cannot be towed with all 4 wheel on the ground as the transmission does not get enough lubrication. In this case you get a small dolly trailer on which you place the two drive wheels and strap it down. 

The problem with towing is that you cannot back up with the towed car or “toad” connected. You have to be REALLY careful about where you go and the situations you get into. Gas stations are especially bad. If you do have to backup, you must unhitch the toad, backup and then hitch it up again.

Selecting and Buying the RV

Before you buy everyone said to rent. Previously we have rented a class C  for our 2 week trip to the Maritimes and one for the 2 weeks we spent in New Zealand. These were small ones in the 22 foot range so we did not tow a car.

We were hooked. Not having to pack and unpack everyday was wonderful. We could start driving in the morning while the girls were still in bed.

We have been going to the RV shows for many years. I have also been reading the online forums, learning what is important and what is not. I knew we would eventually buy one but it didn’t make sense for us until we were both retired and could use it a lot.

When the axe fell at work, it was time. We toyed with the idea of getting a fifth wheel but that would mean we would also have to buy a probably $50,000 pickup truck and I really didn’t want a truck. Jennie also liked the idea of being able to move around while we are on the road (even though you are really supposed to remain belted up).

We just couldn’t see ourselves spending a long time possibly trapped indoors on rainy days in a class B or C.

So a class A it was. There was no way we were going to spend $200,000 to $300,000 or more for a diesel so gas it is.

As far as size goes most of the online forums suggested around 36 to 40 foot long. At this size you get a decent bathroom and lots of room to move around. Some of the big guys go up to 45 feet.

As a huge bonus it also just happened that the Honda CRV we bought long ago in 2000 is one of the few vehicles  that can be towed with all 4 wheels on the ground. I have seen people use the dolly trailers and they are a pain.

At the shows and in various dealer visits we have probably been in over 100 different motorhomes. When we walked into this one at a show we knew it was the one. It was not perfect but the closest we had ever seen. Since we had never driven one before we said we would buy it only after a test drive.

So after the show was over it was back to the dealer for our test drive. A bit scary but I knew I could get used to it. That is also the first and only time Jennie has driven it.

The unit we bought is a new 2010 Georgetown 373ds by Forest River which is part of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate. Not to be crass but people have asked before so we paid $115,000 before taxes.

Enough for one post. Next I will show the layout of our unit and what we changed. Also overview of the RV’s various systems.

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