RV Shrink: RV buying – Decisions, decisions

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Dear RV Shrink:
We are future RV owners, I think. We have become professional lookers, but so far not buyers. It is very confusing. I am sure for people who have done a lot of RV travel the mysteries are few, but we have never done anything but read about it. Two of our biggest decisions seem to be tow or haul, and slide or no slide. Let me explain.

My husband wants a big diesel truck to haul a fifth-wheel, and I want a motorhome towing a small vehicle. He wants a unit that has four slide-outs, and I want a unit with none. Slides look complicated and repair-prone to me. I think I would be comfortable driving a small motorhome, but not a giant truck and fifth-wheel. These seem to be the two issues that keep us from making a buying decision. Can you give us any clarity? —Unfocused in Freeport

Dear Unfocused:
You are absolutely right about the mystery surrounding the RV lifestyle. It is not that complicated once it becomes familiar. I can’t give you the clarity you are looking for, but I can tell you how to find it.

Stop reading and go talk to a hundred RVers. You will find them a friendly bunch. They tend to congregate in campgrounds. Stop talking to salespeople and talk to owners. Owners will be your best source for honest opinions. I have good friends that took a class in RVing before they bought their first rig. Unfortunately, the instructor was a guy really into “Heavy Haulers.” He talked them into a large fifth-wheel, hauled by a small semi-tractor. Lots of room and power – they just couldn’t park it in many Forest Service campgrounds. After living on the road for a couple of years they came to see the errors of their ways and bought a 30-ft. motorhome and tow a jeep. 

It all depends on what you plan to do with whatever you buy. I know a lot of people that buy big and travel less because they just don’t enjoy, or are uncomfortable, maneuvering around a large RV. They end up parked somewhere instead of traveling.

I wouldn’t be afraid of units with slides. They are very common in today’s market. Like all other systems on an RV, they will need to be maintained. Precautionary maintenance will be an ongoing duty that will come with trouble-free RVing. 

Finding like-minded people, already enjoying the lifestyle you are imagining, will take you a long way toward the clarity you need to make a buying decision. Getting most things right the first time around will save you a ton of money, hassles and headaches. 

You will also want to consider the convenience of transportation when camped. Will you be comfortable with what you have to drive when not traveling? Example: a large truck vs. a small toad. If you opt for a motorhome and do not pull a toad, you will be forced to drive the motorhome everywhere you want to explore. 

Lots of things to think about. Visit some campgrounds, walk around and discover what others are doing, what they think, how they operate. A consensus will follow that will assure you wise decision choices. —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.

##RVT950

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TravelingMan
1 month ago

This was a fantastically written article!

Everyone of us is different. We all have different expectations from RV’ing. Only YOU know what’s right for you. But by asking all of us that own an RV, we’ll give you facts! NOT sales pitches.

Slides… You’ll be amazed at the room that they provide. But as you point out, there is maintenance. Someone will need to keep the seals lubricated. Our unit has 4 slides. 2 are hydraulic. 2 are electric. For the hydraulic, you will likely be good. For the electric, keep a spare motor (about $200) unless you know and understand what it takes to disengage the motor and push the slide in manually (and it ain’t easy!). Plus, understand that you will need to secure the slide with boards on the inside to keep it from coming out when driving down the road once the motor is disengaged. It’s (the motor) not all that hard to replace but if you choose to have someone do it, it can take several weeks or months and about $150-200 an hour for labor. If you don’t lube a slide, seals can tear. They need to lubricated with a special lube every 6-8 weeks. It’s money and time. We recently replaced all of our seals after 6 years but that was because we had other work done at the same time. IF they have to remove slides to make repairs (of any kind), there will be a charge of at least $1200 per slide. That’s just to remove the slide. It’s labor intensive and they have to have the right equipment to do it. If a floorboard rots because of a faulty seal, that can be $600-800 extra for each floorboard. Depending on availability, it can take 2 months to get one. We got our in 3 weeks. Some are easy. Some are custom. Our unit is 6 years old. We replaced 3 slide-out floors and all seals. The seals for the electric slide-outs are a lot more expensive as they have support brackets that they are attached to. Having said all of this, WE APPRECIATE TO SLIDE-OUTS! It’s tight enough as is with a 42′ 5th wheel. GO VISIT RV SHOWS! Talk with other owners!

Motorhomes versus 5th wheelers… Again, personal preference.

5th Wheel Tow Vehicle: Cost – a diesel truck (new) can run $80,000-$90,000. That’s for a dually. Dually’s are safer as they have more wheels on the rear; they can haul more weight; there is extra bed space for hauling more “stuff”. We have a 2014 Ram 3500 long bed we bought brand new at the time. We have a strong box in the back. The new 2020 Ram’s have 1000 ft lbs of torque, 380 HP, a 4.10 axle ratio available and as we have, a 4×4 on-the-fly capability. Ford owners can provide you with their info. At least with the older Fords, you had/have to get out to lock in the 4×4 hubs. Not pretty when in the mud. Mountains are a challenge for any truck (period). Some people worry about fuel mileage with trucks. ALL diesel trucks regardless of engine, HP and axle ratio while towing will get about 9-11 mpg (average). We crossed over many in Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Utah and others. Grades vary up to 13%. The steeper, the slower you will go up (maybe 20 mph). Coming down, you need the engine brake and 2nd gear on a steep decent. Knowing what we know after 6 years on the road (and if money is not an object), then our next vehicle will be a 2020 Ram 5500 Chassis with a special RV bed on the back. Why? Because I don’t like a truck maxed out in it’s towing, or gross combined weight rating. Our rig is at 20,000 lbs. That’s doable in our current truck but close to limits. I “try” to maintain an 80% ratio so as not to cause excessive wear and tear on the truck. The 2020 Ram 5500 has 900 ft lbs of torque, 380 HP and axle ratios of 4.44. or 4.89. I prefer the 4.89 as we rarely travel over 65mph anyway. Fuel mileage will still be comparable. But the real difference will be while crossing mountains (and we frequent them). Higher axle ratios combined with HP will mean that you get over them faster. In addition, the Ram 5500 has much larger brakes than the 3500. More braking power. You’ll appreciate that when someone swerves in front of you or you’re coming down a steep mountain. Word of advice, only consider a Chevy or GMC if you have a much lighter 5th wheel. Just read the spec’s on GM and you will see a big difference from Ford or Ram.

5th Wheels” The sky is the limit. Bigger is better but weighs more and cost more. In addition, they are harder to park. They are harder to find a park with space for. BUT THEY ARE MORE LIKE HOME. And they typically have more storage space than a Motorhome. There are light weight units. There are heavier units. Know and understand axle weight ratings, wheel sizes, tire ratings. These are the biggest factor in performance and accident prevention. Also understand brake systems. There is a difference between a 2″ and 3″ electric shoes versus hydraulic brake systems. BIG DIFFERENCES!!!! Hydraulic are superior. Understand suspension systems. You don’t want to undersize the system. There are leaf springs, air bags and Independent suspension systems. Again, depending on money and the rig, it’s a safety risk. You can get 5th wheels (with slide outs) that have washer/dryers, dishwashers, residential refrigerators, solar systems, generators, fireplaces, big screen TV’s. What do you want? There are rigs with small storage spaces. There are rigs with large storage spaces. Carpet or vinyl floors? We prefer a LP/Electric refrigerator. It gives us a lot more options when boondocking.

Motorhomes: WE LOVE THEM! They have great appeal. BUT, they are a maintenance nightmare not to mention sticker pricing (new or used). And when you think about what you use the RV for, for us, the cost difference was just not worth it. Even used. Think about the price of 10 tires on a 45′ rig. 10-12 batteries. An oil change. Heaven forbid a tow. Go price these items for yourself and unless price is no object, you may be like us and go back to the 5th wheel idea. In addition, you have to have double insurance. One for the motorhome and one for the tow vehicle. Then, you have to have an elaborate braking system installed for the tow vehicle. If you plan to drive mountains, you’ll need the larger diesel engines and they cost considerably more. Need a tow? Expect a tow bill of potentially $2,000 or more. Need an oil change? That can be $400 each time. Registration fees are higher. Depreciation will happen just as fast. Fuel mileage will be 4-8 mpg. It’s much easier to back into a space. You can see down both sides. They ride MUCH better. They are easy to set up. BUT, need that big diesel engine worked on? Save a lot of money.

There is so much more that can be said about the differences. It sounds like you have taken the right steps to begin your journey. Ask a LOT of questions from people who actually OWN an RV. You did not mention how old you were or how you were planning to use it. That would be helpful. Are you retired or still working? That makes a difference on your “needs”. Will you travel a lot stay stationary? Are you rich or wanna be rich looking for middle ground?

We went to a lot of RV shows before we bought. There are owners there that can provide a ton of information. Stay away from the salesmen. They just want your money. Look at floor plans. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

Best of luck. Remember that an RV depreciates FAST! If you finance, it will cost you a whole lot more. If you are working and loose your job, you will loose the house or the RV or possibly both. Do this ONLY if it’s right for you. Once you decide, it sounds like the Escapees Boot Camp might be right for you. They will teach you driving techniques and how to work on your RV. There are maintenance classes available as well.

If this is right for you, you will never regret where the road can take you!

Cindy
1 month ago
Reply to  TravelingMan

A dually cannot always haul more weight. The extra axles and wheels weigh enough to offset their advantage. The advantage is probably in pin weight – it can take more. But the GVWR isn’t always better. Check the owner’s manual on that aspect.

TravelingMan
1 month ago
Reply to  Cindy

I’ve done a lot of research on this in my own purchase. Can you cite an example where this is not true?

The 4×4 configuration can reduce the overall GVWR capacity, but I cannot find an example where any single wheel can haul more than a dually.

Deborah Mason
1 month ago

Oops! Forgot to include MANY national park, state park, forest service and older commercial parks have a 30 foot limit. Some are hard & fast, others negotiable. But, those extra 2 feet have kept us out of many places we’d like to go.

Deborah Mason
1 month ago

In our search for our current RV we were looking for certain must-have features – a usable (for me; I can get by with little space) kitchen, a walk-around bed, bathroom accessible without putting out the slides and spacious enough for my big butt, “homey’ feel, all in the shortest space that had it “all”. We wound up with a 2012 Coachmen Mirada 29DS. It’s actually 31’11” (call it 32′) long. The one thing we never thought to look at was where the gas filler is. It’s on the back wall. Not near the back on left or right, but left of center on the back wall. As a result we have to be very careful selecting a filling station to be sure we can get the filler close enough to the pump without our toad (2013 Honda Fit) sticking out in the street and not blocked in by convenience store parking in front. With the toad we cannot back up without unhooking. The homey touches are small but meaningful to us. The countertops are curved rather than absolute rectangles. We also found it smart to carry an extra change of clothes in the cabinet over the head of the bed for those times we don’t put out the bedroom slide – all the drawers are blocked by the end of the bed. A major smart move we made was to have a built-in surge protector/line analyzer installed. It has saved us several times from poor electrical hookups. Well worth the $300. (It also helped us get the power company at our house to adjust one of their transformers when we could tell them how much too much power was coming to our home circuits.)

Aktravler
1 month ago

We have experimented with every size and type. What worked for us 12 years ago when we started full timing doesn’t work today. Today in the continental US, our home is a 42’ 5th wheel with 5 slides. We park in RV parks, military campgrounds on lakes, boon dock and spots on family land. Summers we switch to a truck camper with 1 slide and head to Alaska or somewhere where the weather is cool. Although there may be some, I have never met a full timer in the same RV they started in. My advice would be to rent and research, research, research!

LadyBug
1 month ago

How long are you planning to be on the road? We had a very comfortable fifth wheel but after being on the road for 6 months there were some big things missing. So we traded our truck and fifth wheel for a A class and are much happier. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, it depends on your wants and needs. Originally we researched all units and thought we would be happy with a fifth wheel. Things change what can I say. We love that the A is much easier to set up and we can be more flexible with our travel plans.

Tom Smithbrother
1 month ago

maybe it is different now but I read the Repair section of ever RV Magazines I could find before buying a Used class A about 15 years ago . The number one issue , by far for mechanical problems was slide-outs. That helped me make the decision not to have them. In addition, not to dissuade anyone, but A class A RV coach is much more user friendly , while on the road, without the slide-outs in the way. IMHO

Arlene H
1 month ago

Whatever you choose it will involve trade-offs. No slide means a much tighter living space, Will you be in this space just for a week or weekend or plan to travel a month or more? What you can tolerate for a short period may become intolerable on week 4. The lessons of life during the pandemic may help with this aspect. A longer rig means fewer Campgrounds that can accommodate you. Do you want to stay in state/federal parks that are scenic or commercial parks, which will accommodate larger rigs but have much tighter spacing. Some folks are happy in these parks as they are merely a place to sleep while seeing the area. Some find the campground is the destination. When my husband and I bought our pull behind trailer, soon after retiring, we had NEVER camped before. We chose a trailer we felt was roomy enough to live in for several months. And it worked beautifully for us. However site seeing in a large truck is not easy. They don’t fit in a standard parking space, etc. We’ve now gone to a Class C towing a car. The trade-off is less living space but easier set up and site seeing. Try to talk about how you will live in the space not just how it drives. Good luck!

tom
1 month ago

Suggest you rent an RV for a visit to a campground about 250 miles away from you. This would give you an idea about the driving of the style you rented. 250 miles is a reasonable amount of time on the road. You would also find the fun of backing into a campground spot and hooking up the systems.
Remember, the bigger the rig, the less spots available for you to use. And, think of where you intend to store it when you are at home.
Love my slide.

Ed K
1 month ago

You could not give me a slide equipped unit. Everyone I know who has one has had some problem with them from simple water leaks at the seals to full failure. You are right that they require maintenance and that is an expense or chore I don’t have.