Monthly Archives: February 2014

RV Shopping Part 2

Fountain Valley RV Show

Fountain Valley RV Show

And so it resumes. Now that we are home from our driving trip, we are back on the RV search.

January 2014 Dealer Show

To start things off, we went to a “dealer” show in Fountain Valley, California. It was put on by the largest RV dealer in Southern California, a dealer that we haven’t had the best experience with in the past. These guys can be really pushy, as I mentioned in an earlier post…..we were subject to high pressure sales at their location in Santa Fe Springs, followed by the third degree from a sales manager as we were trying to leave, and then frequent phone calls for weeks afterward. This really soured me on the company.

I must say that I was very pleased with this show at the Fountain Valley location. We walked onto the lot, got a welcome from the girl at the front desk, and then were allowed to wander through a large number of new and used motor homes at our own pace and without any harassment by sales people. We talked to the yard manager briefly at one point, and he was friendly and helpful. Perhaps it’s well worth the extra 15 minutes to drive past the Santa Fe location and go to Fountain Valley instead.

Since we are focusing on Class A motor homes, that is all that we looked at. The new coaches were up front, so we went through those first.

The A.C.E. and FR3 – Small A/C Hybrid Motorhomes

Early in our days of RV shopping, we were quite taken by the entry level Class A/C “hybrids” like the A.C.E. by Thor and the FR3 by Forest River, as well as the entry level Winnebago Vista 26HE, the Coachmen 29, and the Fleetwood Storm. A/C Hybrids have drop down beds in the front, which is supposed to make them like a Class C with the over-the-cab bunk.

Most of the coaches in this niche are between 26 and 30 feet long, on the small Ford V10 chassis – 16,000 to 18,000 GVWR. This puts them between the Class C and Class A from a size standpoint. Wheelbases are on the short side….an example would be the 30 ft version of the A.C.E. at 190 inches. My favorite of all of these, from a floor plan and features standpoint, was the FR3. Before Laura and I did a lot of research on RVs, we could see ourselves in an FR3. This coach is basically a rip off of the A.C.E. 30.1, but the fit and finish look better, and it has some desirable features such as a double sink.

Over time, we ended up deciding that we aren’t interested in the entry level A/C Hybrid coaches.

Why? Several reasons.

In the early days, the thought of driving around a large motor home was scary. Seeing a short motor home like the Winnebago Vista 26HE sitting next to coaches that are 34 feet or more made the small coach look a lot easier to deal with. We’ve changed our mind about that.

Late last year, we bit the bullet and rented a Class A motor home from El Monte RV. The coach was a 2007 Fleetwood Flair 33R. These units are 34.2 feet long. On the day that we picked up this coach, it looked just enormous to me, and I had a good case of the butterflies as I climbed into the driver’s seat.

As it turned out, driving this monster was absolutely no problem at all. I had read several internet articles on driving Class A’s, and watched some good YouTube videos as well, and that was helpful. The rig handled quite well, had plenty of power, and was actually relaxing to drive.

Scratch one reason for wanting to stay with the entry level short coach.

Just as important was living in the bigger coach for a few days. We really appreciated the size. While a 34.2 foot coach isn’t huge, it’s substantially larger in scale than the entry level hybrid coaches we had spent time in at shows and dealerships. Laura, Izzy, and I had plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy time in the 34 footer.

So, driving a larger coach was no problem, and we found that the extra size of a larger coach was really nice. What else led us away from the entry level hybrids?

Initially, we were thinking we would buy one of these entry level coaches new. They can be had for a pretty good price – in the mid 60 to low 70 thousand dollar range. After doing a lot of reading on RV forums, and looking closely at these machines in person, we realized that entry level often can mean shoddy. The forums are full of stores about this part of the RV market. There are always a few people on the threads who jump in and say these coaches are great, but by and large what you read about is:

  • bad handling due to the short wheelbase;
  • cheap woodwork that falls apart quickly;
  • lousy quality furniture;
  • terrible quality beds;
  • bad wiring;
  • doors that don’t fit, and other problems.

I would say that on average, even including input from the happy owners of these coaches, the perception is that they are only adequate for a couple vacation trips per year plus a few weekend outings here and there. Nobody seems to think these coaches will stand up to frequent long trips, or any kind of heavy duty or full time use. In fact, the owner’s manual for one of these coaches that I saw online states specifically that the unit was not designed for full time use.

Onto The Next Level of Gasser

Now that we have eliminated the entry level coaches, what’s the alternative?

At the show, we looked at new units that were a step above entry level in both size and quality, but still not out of range from a price standpoint. The brands they had that were close to our criteria were the Forest River Georgetown line, the Fleetwood Bounder line, and several levels of the Itasca line. Laura and I had a hard time finding a coach that we both liked. The only one that we both really liked a lot was the Georgetown VE 329.

IMG_1172

Step right up into the Georgetown 329

The Georgetown 329 had most of what we want…..a nice wrap around dinette, good-sized couch, Euro Recliner, double sink, and a counter with lots of room to work. It also had the TV in a very usable spot. The bedroom had the queen bed in a slide, with small windows by each side of the head of the bed – good for cross ventilation (this is one of Laura’s favorite features, since she tends to sleep hot). This unit also had the scale that we are looking for which should improve handling on the road. The GVWR is 20,500, and wheelbase is 208 inches. That is really generous compared to the entry level hybrids.

The long, long counter of the Georgetown 329

The long, long counter of the Georgetown 329

Wrap around dinette on the Georgetown 329

Wrap around dinette on the Georgetown 329

Looking forward on the driver's side - Georgetown 329

Looking forward on the driver’s side – Georgetown 329

We were a little disappointed that there was only one new coach we both liked. There were a couple that I liked but Laura didn’t. One of the Fleetwood Bounders looked good to me, but Laura hated the kitchen counter. She had a point on that one.  There was a lot of unusable space on that counter, and it was strange the way they integrated it into the slide.

Fleetwood Bounder 34M with crazy counter

Fleetwood Bounder 34M with crazy counter

A few words about bunkhouse models.

For a while we were thinking that a bunkhouse model would be a good idea. This was mainly my idea. We have a middle aged cat that we would need to take with us for long trips. I don’t want to burden the family with feeding him every day when we’re gone for a couple of months at a time. I could envision removing the mattress on the lower bunk and using it as a place to put a cat box and perhaps other pet supplies.

There are a lot of nice bunk house models out there in the 34-35 foot range. One we liked was the Fleetwood Fiesta 34 footer that El Monte RV sells. These, of course, are former rentals, but they are selling them before they get too many miles on them. We looked at a 2010 model while we were there that had about 60,000 miles on it, for an asking price of about 65K. I think we could have worked that price down into the mid 50K range, based on what I’ve read here and there.

We saw a nice Fleetwood Bounder 34B bunkhouse model at the show that was very similar to the Fleetwood Fiesta, but there were things about it that we didn’t like. It was, however, the only other new model that I could have lived with at this show – making a total of three that interested me. I liked it more than Laura did.

The problem with bunkhouse models is that you give up too much living space. It’s usually either the extra chair in the salon, or a big piece of counter space.

Laura came up with the idea that we could probably put the cat box in the shower, and pull it out when we need to. I have some problems with that idea, but over all it will probably work. She has a good point.

At this point, I would say that a bunk model would not be a target for us. If we found a nice one that had other features we also like, perhaps we would reconsider, but at this point this is no longer a focus for us.

Touring the Used Coaches

After only finding one of the new coaches that we agreed on, we decided to look at their used coach inventory.  The first one we went into was a Fleetwood Fiesta 32S. This coach didn’t smell very good, and we didn’t like the floor plan. The kitchen counter was way too small. That being said, it wasn’t in terrible shape, and they were asking 49.9K. I suspect somebody could have talked that down a little.

Fiesta 34S tiny counter

Fiesta 34S tiny counter

Next up was an Itasca Suncruiser 35 offered at 59.9K. This was a nice coach and it was in pretty good shape too. It had some recent upgrades, such as a new flatscreen TV (looked like about 37 inch) that still had the energy rating sticker on it. There was one huge problem with this coach. It was a 2004. Too old for my taste. And the price was way out of line for a coach that old too, no matter what upgrades had been added. The NADA low retail number for this coach is 40.8K. Enough said. I’m sure these guys would deal a ways down from 59.9K, but seeing a coach priced that far above what it’s worth is a turn off for me. It’s like they are looking for suckers.

Itasca Suncruiser 35 galley

Itasca Suncruiser 35 galley

Next up was a coach from one of my favorite companies, Newmar.

38 Foot Mountainaire by Newmar

38 Foot Mountainaire by Newmar

I was pretty excited to see this one, until I got close enough to see the year. It was a 2003. Way too old (I don’t think I’d go earlier than about 2009 for a Gas Class A). Then there was the asking price – 49.9K. NADA low retail for this one is 32.2k, so obviously this is way overpriced and needs to be negotiated way down. We went in to look at it anyway. Newmar does a nice job. Look at this shot, and then remember that this is an 11 year old coach!

Mountainaire interior shot

Mountainaire interior shot

Now on to a newer coach. Windsport is a line of coaches originally from Four Winds. That manufacturer didn’t survive the late 2000s financial melt down. Thor picked them up, and has continued on with many of their most popular models. The Windsport is very much like the Hurricane – in fact, one salesman told me that they are basically identical lines.

Since coach models are allocated to dealers based on the nearest competition, having both the Windsport and the Hurricane means they are selling these coaches at two dealers that might be right next to each other. I suspect Itasca and Winnebago coexist for similar reasons.

The coach we saw here was a 2011 Windsport 31D. Asking price was 69.9K. That doesn’t seem too bad for a 2011 coach until you look at NADA low retail, which is 59.3K. I see a lot of these 31D models of very recent vintage for sale….more than any other model. I wonder if there are problems with them. This model isn’t one of my favorites. I like some of this line, in particular the Hurricane 32A and the Hurricane 34B, but not this model. Why? Mainly because of the kitchen which is an L-shape “folded” kitchen – it just doesn’t look very handy to me.

Windsport 31D Kitchen

Windsport 31D Kitchen

This kitchen configuration is found quite a bit in short coaches from most manufacturers.

The last one of this group of coaches was another older coach – a National RV coach called a Dolphin. It was a 2006 model, which was priced at 74.9K.

Front end of the Dolphin 2006 model

Front end of the Dolphin 2006 model

I hesitated to even look at this one. Part of the reason was the age, and part of it was the company. National RV went out of business in 2008. That’s a pretty long time ago. Unlike other manufacturers that went out of business during the downturn, nobody has picked them up. It’s a dead line.

That’s a shame, because from what I can tell, these were really well made coaches. The interior reminds me of a Tiffin or Newmar.

Interior shot of Dolphin

Interior shot of Dolphin

I didn’t take a lot of pictures of the inside, and this shot doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s the best that I have. This coach is full of real wood and higher end details. And although asking price is too high – NADA low retail for this one is at 56.2K – it’s not bad for a 2006 coach.

Contrast that to the Windsport 31D above which is a 2011 model with a low retail value of 59.3K. An eight year old coach that is worth only 3.1K less than a four year old coach? The difference, of course, is build quality.

However, to give you a glimpse of what buying a 2006 coach really is……look at the photo below of the engine compartment. I know this doesn’t mean that the engine is shot, but it certainly looks like it’s been around.

Engine compartment, 2006 Dolphin

Engine compartment, 2006 Dolphin

Getting Pushed to Consider a Diesel

While we were ambling around the used coaches, we met the Yard Manager.  After we told him that we didn’t see any used coaches that we liked, he asked if we’d seen the used diesel pushers (DP) yet. I told him that those would probably be quite a ways above our price range, to which he said “you might be surprised.” That didn’t really convince me, because I know that most DP units cost between 200-300K new. But to be honest, we hadn’t really done much looking at DPs, so we decided to walk through them.

2006 Camelot 40 PDQ price

2006 Camelot 40 PDQ price

The first one we entered was a 2006 Monaco Camelot 40 PDQ. Asking price above. This was the only coach I had seen so far that wasn’t way above the NADA low retail value on the asking price. The NADA value on this one is 116.9K. MSRP on this sucker was 273.5 when it was new, but I’m sure it sold for a good deal less than that…..20% discounts off of MSRP are the norm. I was pretty impressed with this one.

Camelot entry

Camelot entry

It was obvious that the quality was there. It had wood laminate and tile floors, too. The kitchen was the best I had seen to date.

Camelot kitchen

Camelot kitchen

This one had the classic DP front entry (“bus style”) door. Note that the floor in the driving area is flat, and note the tile.

Camelot driver's area

Camelot driver’s area

So, why was I even bothering to look at this one, given that it was a 2006 model?

My age criteria is different for a DP than it is for a gas coach. I would like to stay at 2007 or newer for a DP, but under the right circumstances would consider a 2006. With a gasser, I would only go five model years earlier, or to a 2009 (and if we wait much longer, with 2015 models coming out, I may need to stick to 2010 or newer.)  These age limits are partly due to normal wear and tear, and partly because we may need to get some financing and most lenders have significantly tightened up on lending for older coaches.

Does that mean that I think a pusher is the way to go for Laura and I? I’m not sure yet.

There are pros and cons. Briefly, on the pro side you get:

  • higher build quality with better fit and finish;
  • an engine that is probably good for a million miles;
  • increased scale (often a full-sized queen bed instead of the “short” queen);
  • much more towing and carrying capacity;
  • a better ride;
  • better brakes; and
  • a quiet driving area.

The cons are:

  • much higher price (but also better trade-in and resale prices);
  • much higher maintenance and repair costs;
  • more expensive fuel (even though MPG is better); and
  • just the sheer size. This Camelot is a 40 foot coach. I handled 34 feet just fine, but 40 feet?

The positive thing about starting to at least consider this direction is that it opens up a lot more possibilities for used coaches. The Camelot was an expensive coach, really beyond our price range even at the NADA value, but there are a lot of DPs out there with a NADA low retail value in the 80-95K range. That is a little more like it. Part of what makes the Camelot so expensive is the engine, which is a 400 HP unit. There are a lot of 330 to 360 HP units out there, often in 36-38 foot coaches that cost a lot less, but still have the very nice features and finishes.

My favorite of the DPs that we looked at, and also my favorite coach of the show, was a 2008 Monaco Knight 38PDQ.

Monaco Knight 38PDQ

Monaco Knight 38PDQ

This one was still above our price range, sitting at a NADA low retail of 114.5K. It was a little below 40 feet, which I like with a 360 HP engine. The interior was quite nice with plenty of storage inside and out. It just felt right to me. Not sure what Laura thought of this one. The asking price was pretty ridiculous – 159K, but the ad said “request internet price” so most likely that would be 20-25% below asking or somewhere around $120K.  I wouldn’t pay above 114.5K for this coach myself, but they might get somebody to. Here’s a few more shots:

Monaco Knight couch and counter.

Monaco Knight couch and counter.

Couch # 2 and Dinette. I think some of the upholstery in this unit needs replacement.

Couch # 2 and Dinette. I think some of the upholstery in this unit needs replacement.

Bed, with Laura's favorite windows

Bed, with Laura’s favorite windows

View from midships forward, showing tile flooring

View from midships forward, showing tile flooring

That was about it for the show.

Moving Forward

Where does that leave us in our search?

We are narrowing down now.

For Gas Coaches, we are going to focus on higher end 32-34 foot units from either Tiffin or Newmar. Price point we are looking at is between the mid 70K and the mid 90K range. We would like to limit to model year 2009 and newer.

For DP Coaches, we still need to do more research, but what I’m thinking as of now is 2007 and newer model years, no more than 60K miles, with a price below 100K.

We’ll see where we go from here.

Categories: The Hunt for the Wild RV | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Big Lesson Learned

Travelbyvwbus

I think we learned some things from this January trip:

The biggest one – this would have been a very different trip, perhaps a longer one, were we in a motorhome.

A Bit of Background

Last November we rented a motorhome, a 34 footer, for a short trip.  We took it to an RV park right by Joshua Tree National Park and probably would have taken it into the park had we the confidence to boondock.  But as it was our first time, we felt it was important to have full hookups and a dump station.  Partly to see how it was just being in a motorhome and partly to test out our abilities to drive the beast, do the hookups and dump our tanks.

It was a great learning trip – we cooked, we cleaned; we relaxed, read books (well, I did) and watched movies; took long walks around and watched the sunsets over the desert, and generally had a lovely time.  I did a lot of writing while there and we had time to be both together and companionably apart.  Privacy is important to me, probably a holdover from being an only child.

But renting was not cheap – we knew that going in and would not have chosen to rent for a much longer trip.  We also had one mechanical issue with the coach – the levelers never worked properly even with the rental guys trying to fix this before we left.  Their last minute fixing held us up in leaving the area and we ended up arriving at the RV park at night.  We never were able to lower the levelers properly and, although it didn’t ruin anything, it was a bit odd to be listing to one side for a few days.

So before we took our road trip in January we had the experience of a trip in a motorhome with which to compare, albeit a short trip.

A Matter of Cost

In the past, I have teased Bob a bit by saying, “every time we go on vacation, no matter where we go or how we go, we spend about a grand a week”.  Yes, that’s a lot of money, although maybe not outrageous to some.  I mean, some people can easily spend a grand a DAY and others, just a grand a month.  But over the ten years we’ve been together and vacationed, we have regressed to the mean of a grand a week.  Which, to remind you, is over and above our normal expenses of mortgage, utilities, etc.  (Note:  When we went overseas early in our time together it was more, but I wasn’t keeping track of the money as well in those days.)

Most of the costs are obvious – we need to get where we’re going and when we get there, we have to pay for some sort of lodging.  Then there are costs for tickets, souvenirs, and so on.

On this trip, with the exception of the time at my dad’s house in central Florida, we paid for a relatively modest motel each night, and we ate out at least one meal a day, opting to utilize the free breakfast at the motels we stayed at.  For our lunches, we ate Clif Bars, packets of nuts, and apples or bananas.

We had expenses for the dog, too – most of the Best Westerns charged an additional fee for her (very understandable), although the La Quinta Inns did not (I’m voting for a La Quinta Inn in most cases for this reason alone).

But food costs are a bit tricky.  When we’re home, we eat rather simply and we tend to eat the same stuff over and over.  I remember reading something about how people actually eat and that’s pretty typical.  But when we’re on vacation, we spend more because we’re eating out, and we eat more because restaurant food has that novelty factor and that deliciousness factor and that “what the hell, I’m on vacation” factor working for it. (See my comments below on the “on vacation” mode of being.)

And then there’s liquor.

We keep a fairly well-stocked liquor cabinet at home because we do like our cocktails.  We also keep a fair amount of good beer around as Bob likes his IPAs.

When I buy a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin (yes, for martinis), I buy a big 1.75 liter bottle from Total Wine or Costco, so I get a bargain.  But when I buy a drink at a bar or restaurant when we’re on vacation, I pay a huge premium.  Now, we didn’t drink everyday when we were gone (nor do we drink every day when we’re home, either . . . just sayin), but when we did it was expensive.

So it’s obvious that in terms of cost, the cost of motorhome park fees would be less than even modest motels (and way less than the nice hotels that we have occasionally been to), fuel would be necessarily more, though, and eating in the motorhome most days would lower the food and liquor cost quite a bit and still allow for nights out on occasion.

But, I hear you saying . . . but there’s the COST of the motorhome to begin with.  That’s true.  They aren’t cheap and they don’t generally appreciate in value.

So why even consider one?

What Price Lifestyle?

I’ve been pondering this for awhile now.  And I think there are a couple of aspects to the lifestyle issue.

First, there’s the pace of life as both a journeyer and a sojourner (a sojourner is one who rests in one spot for awhile) that appeals to both of us.  We have always had that wanderlust and we found ourselves always curious about both the places and people as we traveled through an area.

In the car, the pace felt rushed, even on the trip back home which took about twice as long as the eastward trip.  It was mostly about moving through, or journeying.  In a motorhome, there is this, but often you stop for a few nights or more in one place  before moving on.   So there is that sense of the sojourn as well as the journey.

But there is another issue though that seems a bit, I don’t know . . . strange or unexpected to even me.  And that is the cozy factor of living in a motorhome.  None of them are huge, no matter how large the camera angles make them seem – certainly not as large as the home we currently live in which is about 1900 square feet.  Living sanely and with enough personal privacy in a space of 300-400 square feet (or less) seems counter intuitive, but when we did it, it quickly felt warm, cozy and homey to both Bob and I.  I was surprised and didn’t expect that experience, but it was true.

Lastly, To Be a Journeyer and Sojourner

I mentioned above that the “on vacation” mode was probably one factor in our eating out both more food and not as good food due to the novelty, the deliciousness and the “what the hell, I’m on vacation” mode of being.  I’m not sure that’s how it would be in a motorhome, though.

I posed this on an RV forum and got responses which mostly were in the vein of, “Well, we quickly realized that no matter where we are, we’re home” which I realized I felt when we were renting, too.  Even though we didn’t own that motorhome, I was making dinner in it, and washed dishes and then settled in to read a book or went outside to just enjoy the place we were in.  Yes, I was on vacation but I felt, intensely, like I was also at home.

I don’t know yet how it will be to be in our own motorhome, moving about the country for months at a time.   I think that having our own bed to sleep in nightly, not having to pack up our bags and unpack them over and over, and not having to worry much about check in and check out times will all contribute to this feeling of being home, rather than on vacation.  And having normal routines and rituals will help as well.

Ultimately, what we learned is that this new life in retirement is full of things we have yet to experience and we won’t be able to do all that we want to do or go to all the places we want to go to.  Being together and finding spaces to be apart is important, and finding meaning in our lives will be a challenge always.

I think, for us, life will be in the journeying and the sojourning wherever we are.  And in this, we will always be at home.

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Life on the Road, The Hunt for the Wild RV, Travel Plans | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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