RV Shrink: Size matters – Clarify RVing goals before choosing RV

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Dear RV Shrink:
We are in the final steps of making our RV buying decision. Maybe we overthink things, but we are now at an impasse. My husband and I have recently retired, sold our apartment in New York City, and have temporarily moved in with our kids while we transition into RV life. We are both avid wildlife photographers and have had this dream of traveling to every wildlife refuge in the country and spending a good amount of time at each one shooting stills and video.

We know we want a motorhome so we can tow our Jeep. The controversy has come down to size. I am arguing for a small Class C, but my husband is insisting on a larger Class A. My argument is that smaller is better. I contend we will get into tighter campsites, be more nimble in our travels, and have fewer maintenance issues. He thinks a 30-foot motorhome is a perfect size but, to me, we don’t gain much more in living amenities, lose fuel efficiency and reduce our camping options.

My husband recently found your column and has enjoyed sharing it with me. I thought I would like to hear your two cents’ worth as we mull over our options. —Small Problem in the Big Apple

Dear Small:
I think you are on the right track for the lifestyle you are imagining. Your question brings a few things to mind. As for the length issue, there is one inconvenient truth about a smaller rig that could have a big impact on your plans. Depending on what you mean by “spending a good amount of time at each [wildlife refuge],” the rig size could be important. You will find that many wildlife refuge areas offer no overnight camping facilities. Those that do will have no water, electric or sewer.

To stay close to many remote refuge areas, you will often find yourself boondocking. How long you desire to stay in one place can be dictated by power, water and waste capacity. A 30-foot Class A motorhome will have twice the fresh/gray/black water capacity of a 24-foot Class C.

I have nothing against your choice, but compact does not always equate to efficient. I spend part of my year living out of a small backpack, on long-distant hiking trails, with everything I need weighing under 16 pounds.

But when it comes to an RV I want a system that allows me enough water, sewer and power capacity to last at least two weeks at a stretch. This means a rig large enough to carry that extra capacity yet small enough to allow me into the wild places where I prefer to spend my time. The fact that your husband is not arguing for a 40-foot rockstar bus tells me you are not that far apart in your desire for a rig that will meet all your needs.

Another plus for going to a bigger Class A would be fuel capacity, the extra storage space for gear, battery space for a solar system, add-on opportunities for bikes and kayaks, and perhaps extra propane.

Make a list of everything you might want to start out with or add later. Will it all fit into the storage space of the rig you are most interested in? If not, you will eventually want to step up to something bigger. Why not get it right the first time?

I can only think of a few places we enjoy visiting that exclude us because we are 30-feet long. In all those cases we have found nearby camping options that still work out perfect for us.

We often boondock with friends who are forced to leave early because they are out of power or need to dump and fill. Having the real estate on the roof and basement of a rig for solar and storage will be important whichever rig you eventually choose.

So, the bottom line is, do your homework, decide how you will be using your new home on wheels and what you will want to carry along with you, then find a unit that fits.

This is a common mistake even backpackers make. They buy a pack, then buy all the stuff they want to fit into it. Just turn that thought process around and you will discover things will work out a lot smoother.

It reminds me of criticism Dolly Parton would often get from her father about her tight dresses: “Girl, you’re trying to put fifty pounds of mud into a five-pound sack.”

Good luck; see you on the road.

—Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Can’t get enough of the Shrink? Read his e-books, including Book 2 in his two-book series: Dr. R.V. Shrink: Everything you ever wanted to know about the RV Lifestyle but were afraid to ask or check out his other e-books.

 ##RVT933

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John Koenig

Dr RV Shrink writes: “Make a list of everything you might want to start out with or add later. Will it all fit into the storage space of the rig you are most interested in? ‘

A VERY important point the Dr did NOT mention was; in whatever RV is chosen, will it have the CARRYING CAPACITY as well as a SAFETY MARGIN that will be needed to carry “all that stuff”? MANY “smaller” RVs are close to their MAX rated capacity when they leave the factory. Start adding “stuff” (fuel, propane, people, food, gear etc, etc, etc). and, it is INCREDIBLY EASY to exceed the placarded limits (or at best, wipe out the safety factor you need). The original poster mentions that a vehicle will be towed (“toad”). That will likely add hundreds of pounds just in tongue weigh (yes, that MUST be taken into account). Also stated is that they’ve sold their NYC apartment and will be RV newbies (and likely to bring more “stuff” along). The FIRST thing I’d tell ANY newbie is to find and attend an “RV Boot Camp”. Mistakes made with RVs tend to be expensive and, sometimes dangerous. RVBC graduates are safer RVers and, SMARTER RV buyers. Over a weekend, attendees will have all the systems commonly found on modern RVs explained and demystified. This includes weight ratings (a commonly misunderstood issue which, when NOT accounted for, tends to bite RVers in the butt). RVBC is what the Escapees RV Club call their educational product. FMCA calls their product “RV Basics” (and both are usually offered over a weekend; especially just before an Escapees Escapade or an FMCA Conference). The RVSEF and RD~Dreams offer a similar educational product that runs a full week. Mark Polk at http://www.RVEducation101.com has a very informative series of DVDs that cover much of what will be taught at RVBC. Going back to the “toad” issue, CAREFULLY read and understand ALL the limitations. Some (many?) RV builders claim a tow capacity of “X” pounds (for arguments sake, let’s say it’s 10,000#). DOUBLE CHECK the TONGUE WEIGHT LIMIT! A 10,000# tow weight rating can be EASILY compromised to a MUCH LOWER TRUE rating if not coupled with the proper hitch (which of course casts more and therefore is substituted to achieve a lower price point). The ACTUAL tongue should be 10%~15% of the hitch rating (and you DO want a safety margin too) Again, LOTS of “gotchas” and, it’s ENTIRELY up to the RV buyer / newbie to figure it all out. Just take the RVBC training; you can thank me later.

Jeff Craig

You mentioned towing a Jeep, so I’m assuming you will flat tow it like I do with my 4800lb Liberty. If you go smaller than 30ft, you can basically forget towing it (unless it is a Patriot/Compass on a dolly). We have a 35ft Class A Georgetown with a 26000lb GCVW and a 5000lb towing capacity. If you have a CJ or KK type Jeep, you will be pushing the towing/transmission capacity of most smaller rigs. If you are towing anything over longer distances, you will increase your maintenance requirements, as well. Believe me, replacing or upgrading the water pump and radiator on a motorhome is an expense you don’t want.
Just another thing you have to consider when ‘full timing’. That said, you will love every minute of it, and see so much of what really makes America great. Hope to see you on the road!

Willie

LOL, we love our 22’ diesel Class B with all solar, no generator, no LP, no toad We’d never go larger.

Living space is efficiently good, fuel efficiency great, 40 gal water and composting toilet. What’s best? We fit anywhere, in a city or wildlife refuge . That is key.

Look at alternatives to a 30’ Class A plus a towed car. That’s a crazy 50’ total. Hitch, unhitch, hitch, unhitch. Ug!!

Bret

Look closely at a Safari Trek. These class A rigs vary from about 25 thru 30 feet long, have capacities of even larger rigs and have HUGE living space because the electro magic bed stores in the ceiling during the day. It fits in those tighter spaces and will still hold out for two weeks or more. We lovingly say they are 25 feet outside, but 35 feet inside, best of both worlds.

Bret

Jerry X Shea

Great time to “split the difference.” Look for a 27′ Class C that has large tanks and adequate storage and go see America.

Ed D.

I can only add that “storage space” will be a problem for you if you choose to buy a smaller Class C and also intend to spend “extended” periods of time on the road. The Gas efficiency between a 24′ Class C, as opposed to a 30″ Class A will not be as big a difference as you might think. We owned a 34′ Class A to start and traded it in for a 32′ Class C. The Gas mileage was almost identical. Both vehicles had a Ford V-10 engine. Yours will most likely be comparable in size. My suggestion would be to opt for more storage space and a little longer RV than 24′. We purchased a 2016 Coachmen Leprechaun 319DS and the storage space is actually far superior to any other Class C we have found. We simply love it! Hope this helps and good luck!

Clayobx

Buy your last motorhome, first! JMHO.

Michael Roach

I have owned a 35′ travel trailer, a 42′ fifth wheel, and now I have a 22′ travel trailer. My father owned a 30′ Minnie Winnie motorhome. In my experience as far as travelling, getting in and out of fuel stations, etc. I would never buy a rig over 30′ in length. Just my opinion. Good Luck !

Suka’s Mom

Since you are towing a vehicle, the length added by the tow car will be of greater importance than the length of the motorhome. We drive a 30-foot motorhome, occasionally boondock, and have found there are very few places that we are too large to get to. In particular, forested campsites are sometimes too small for our rig. Otherwise, we can go almost anywhere…and I will repeat that a site that’s too small for a 30-foot rig is unlikely to be large enough for a 24-foot rig with a car.

Also, wheelbase is important. When we test-drove vehicles, we found that a 200-inch wheelbase made the rig impossible to turn in a small area. Our rig has a 190-inch wheelbase, and we can turn around in tight areas (although sometimes it takes a multi-point turn). I’d never buy anything longer than a 190-inch wheelbase.

As for efficiency, we get 7.5 mpg. It is what it is. Frankly, gas mileage is low on our priority list. The cost of gas is a minor consideration compared to the freedom to do what we want while living comfortably. Since you are planning to drive someplace and then sit for a while, you may find that fuel costs are not a big a part of your budget.

Alaska Traveler

13 years ago we started with a 32’ Class A. Picked up a used pickup/camper. Sold the motorhome and bought a 30’ 5th wheel. It had problems so we traded it for an entry level toy hauler 5th wheel. Sold the truck/camper. Entry level 5th wheel was too manual so we traded that for a more bells and whistles toy hauler 5th wheel. We also bought another truck camper. In the meanwhile changing out the gas tank on our truck to a 56 gallon. Then early this year we traded out the toy hauler for a 42’ really nice non toy hauler 5th wheel. I’d like to say we are done but since we are in our 70’s we will probably donate more money to the RV industry again in the future. We are full timers and good luck on your argument of what to buy.