This story really starts at our Credit Union.
Since we were foiled in our attempts to get a good idea of what we could afford at the dealer in Moorpark, we decided to go check out our Credit Union. I had gone on their website, and they had loans specifically for RVs advertised there at very good interest rates.
Laura and I went over there and had a chat with a loan officer. We discussed what we wanted, and filled out a loan application to get pre-approved for an RV loan. The entire process took about a half hour. The loan officer said he would call the next day with results. We ended up getting a call later the same day.
We were approved for a loan, but at a lower dollar amount and a higher interest rate than we liked. We also had other limitations. No coaches over 10 years old. No coaches over 30K miles. Can’t buy out of state. Maximum term was 10 years, instead of the 15 to 20 year maximums that are widely available, at least for new coaches. As I was talking to the loan officer on the phone, I was just shaking my head. I’ve been with this Credit Union since 1978. They used to be tied to my employer. Now they have expanded to service anybody who wants to belong due to the new Credit Union regulations, and they changed their name too. But they haven’t really changed how they operate. For loans, they are very restrictive and very strict. In all the years that I’ve been with these folks, I’ve never been able to get a decent car loan from them, and in the early days, I couldn’t even get loans from them for things like appliances. The last few car loans I’ve gotten have been from the GM loan company (GMAC)….I always tend to buy GM cars since I still get the GM Employee Discount. I always got a much better deal from GMAC than the Credit Union would offer. Better terms, better interest rates. I was hoping that since I’m a lot older and have a lot of resources at this point, I’d get better treatment from this credit union. Nope. Probably won’t bother with them again. We still use them for savings accounts, of course, but I’m not sure why.
After that fun experience, Laura and I started looking in two directions. First, we would see what we could get for the amount of money that the Credit Union would allow us. Second, we would go to one of the big RV dealers in the area and talk money with them on new and slightly used coaches.
If we were to try to stick to the Credit Union limits, we would have to walk a tightrope for a Class A Coach. We would have just over 70K to spend, including the required down payment of 15K. There are lots of fairly well made coaches out there from the 2006-2009 time-frame available for that price or less. It knocks out almost any diesel coaches, but at this point we aren’t interested in those anyway. The term of the loan was probably the biggest problem. If we go with the longest term offered, we get an interest rate that I just flat-out don’t want to pay. If we go with the shorter term that has a better rate, we are going to be looking at coaches from the earlier years – 2006-2008 or the monthly payment is going to be too high. Going with a coach that old is risky, in my opinion. Coaches from that vintage that have been used and maintained correctly will be pushing on the 30K mile limit. Coaches that age that have very low miles (I’ve seen as low as 3000 miles) have been sitting. And sitting. And sitting. Motor Homes that are parked in a storage lot and forgotten for years at a time develop some really bad problems. Dried seals. Roof or window leaks that weren’t found and fixed right away, which can lead to mold and dry rot. Tires in need of replacement because of sun damage. Paint problems. Gummy engines. Gas and oil that have absorbed a lot of water. Some of these are multi-thousand dollar problems. I’m also a little worried about 2008-2009 coaches, because they are from the time when the RV industry was experiencing one of the largest downturns ever. Many old guard companies went out of business during that time. Some of them got swallowed up by Forest River and Thor, but there was a lot of worker displacement and probably a lot of bad morale. Fleetwood is a good example. They are still in business today with new partners, but they went bankrupt during the downturn, and moved their manufacturing out of California overnight. Finally, if we wanted to buy a rental unit from an outfit like El Monte RV, the 30K mile limit would make that impossible.
Why would we even consider buying a rental?
If you want to go very cheap, a former rental unit can be a good choice. I’ve done a lot of research on this. El Monte RV tends to sell their coaches after 4-6 years. The rapid turnover is important to their business. They rent mainly to foreign customers. Most of these folks are German, but there is a mixture of Europeans that come over here and rent RVs. These customers want a clean, modern coach with the latest electronics. That means that 4-6 years is the useful life. It’s also important that these coaches be reliable – El Monte RV doesn’t want customers getting stranded. That’s bad for business. So these coaches have been maintained by the book. Laura and I have looked at some of their coaches from the 2010 model year. They had 50-60K miles on them. Problem areas were fixed for the sale – you often get a new mattress and new upholstery inside. If the tires are too old, they are replaced. All the systems have been tested and repaired. El Monte also supplies the complete maintenance records for their coaches, so you can see everything that was fixed on them, when the oil changes happened, and so on. I would be more wary of buying a 2008 non-rental coach with 5K miles on it than one of these rentals of the same vintage, because I know the extreme low mileage coach is going to have problems due to sitting, and I’m not going to have a reliable look at the history of the unit. Bottom line is that, if I chose to go with the Credit Union loan at the shortest term, former rentals are probably the best choice, but the 30K mile cap ruins that idea. It’s funny when you think about it, because the lack of knowledge on the part of the Credit Union is going to cost them in some cases. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.
Orange County RV Show Again!
As we were making plans to go shopping again, I got an email from the largest RV Dealership in So Cal. It was the same one that held the Orange County RV show that we went to a couple of months ago. They were holding the Orange County RV Show again at the same location, and it was starting the next day. This was perfect….our plan was to go check out what they had in the way of used coaches in the Credit Union price range, plus take another look at the Georgetown 329 and talk some dollars. We didn’t need to worry about having somebody there to have that kind of discussion. It’s harder to leave this dealership without having these kind of discussions! There was another Georgetown coach that I wanted to see as well. I’d seen it on the Forest River website and on some dealer websites. It looked very good, even better than the 329. This coach is the Georgetown 328.
We got to the show on Friday afternoon, after a nice lunch with Laura’s mother and aunt. We just got into the gate when we were approached by a salesman. He seemed to be a nice guy, so I explained what we wanted to do. This guy was very open to our ideas.
We walked down the row of new coaches, toward the Georgetown 329. On the way, he pointed out an Itasca coach, so we went in to take a look. This is a Winnebago product, and it looked very nice. It was a 31 foot unit – The Sunstar 31KE. There was one “must have” that this coach didn’t offer. Dual air conditioners and a 50 amp electrical service with 5500 generator. That wasn’t going to work for us. This one is also on a very small chassis – only 16,000 pound, which puts it in the same league as the entry-level units that we had decided not to consider. So it was thanks, but no thanks on this unit.
The salesman also pointed out a Windsport 32A, and asked if we would like to see that. This is a floor plan that Laura and I liked quite a bit, so we took a look. This coach didn’t have any show stoppers for us. It has a nice sized kitchen counter with plenty of work space, and a wrap around dinette. As I’ve gotten more experienced at looking, though, the Thor products like the Windsport and Hurricane look pretty shoddy. This unit has a large kitchen counter, but it’s solid surface counter doesn’t look very good. There was a strip of wallpaper about a foot wide that was used as a back splash, and it wasn’t even installed very well. It wasn’t completely straight, and it wasn’t pushed into the corner of the wall. Look how it wraps over to the wood, and isn’t even cut straight. The stove has the cheap black metal cover over the burners like low-end RVs do. The LED TV was small, and not a desirable brand. The floor looked cheap. The vent in the roof over the kitchen area didn’t have a fan in it.
There is a wrap around dinette in the Windsport. It’s nice, but a little small.
The bathroom had a china bowl toilet, which is nice, but you can just see the white plastic sink on the edge of the picture.
Laura and I initially thought these models looked pretty good, after checking out coaches on the lowest end of the price scale like the THOR A.C.E. line, the FR3, and the Coachmen Mirada. After looking at mid-range coaches, I don’t think I could live with the Windsport or Hurricane. It’s entry-level quality at a midrange price. MSRP on this coach is the same as the Georgetown 329….119K.
Next stop was the Georgetown section, and we took another look at the Georgetown 329. This is the one that we liked at the last show. What a world of difference from the Windsport for a unit of the same price level. Take a look at the picture below. Note the solid surface counter, a real glass tile back splash around the stove area, and the nice looking plumbing fixtures for the sink. You can’t see it in this shot, but the sink is a double basin stainless steel unit. There is also a nice cover over the stove burners that blends in with the counter top, instead of the cheap black metal of the Windsport.
You also get the wrap around dinette with this unit, and it’s quite a bit nicer than the one in the Windsport. The it’s about twice as big, for both the seating area and especially the table space.
I asked the salesman if there were any Georgetown 328 units available. He told us that there wasn’t one of those at the show, but there was one at the Colton location. This is our salesman’s home base….he was at the Fountain Valley location to help with the show. He offered to bring the 328 to this location for us to look at, if we were interested. He said he had to go over there the next day and pick some stuff up to bring to the show anyway. I asked him if the price for the 328 was close to the price of the 329, and he said that they were fairly close. The MSRP is on the 328 in Colton slightly higher than the 329 on this lot, but that is partly due to options. Laura and I told the salesman that we could come back to the show on the next day, as long as it was after about 3:00. He said that was perfect for him, and that he thought he could get the coach to Fountain Valley by about 4:00.
There were two used coaches on the dealer’s website that looked interesting to me, and weren’t too old. We walked over to the used coach row, but neither of these coaches were there. The salesman didn’t know if they were sold or what, but he said sometimes the website is a little behind on updates. There was only one coach there that was not too old. It was a Windsport 31D. We looked at it, but knew we weren’t going to be interested. This is a model I’ve mentioned before, that has a folded kitchen counter. This one was a real bare bones unit…plastic sink and other cheap stuff. Here’s a picture that I took at the last show. Might be the same unit.
We suggested that we take a look to see if we could financially quality for either of the new Georgetown coaches before we went any further. The salesman agreed, so we went into the office to get that process started. Low and behold, we were fine from a loan standpoint for either the Georgetown 329 or 328. So it was off to Redondo Beach for the evening, with plans to come back the next afternoon, which was Saturday.
In the evening, I scoured all of the RV Forums looking for any bad things about the 329 or the 328. I had seen almost everything on both of these coaches already, but wanted to check one more time. From what I could tell, people were happy with these models. Of course, neither model is perfect, but over all there were few complaints about either of these models, or Georgetown in general.
Orange County RV Show, day two
We got a little bit of a late start on Saturday afternoon, and the salesman got stuck in traffic on the way over from Colton. By the time we finally connected, it was about 4:30.
The salesman had just pulled into the parking lot at the Fountain Valley lot, and was unhooking his small pickup truck, which he had towed. The coach looked very nice. It appeared to be about the same size as the 329. Looking at the specs, it’s 1 inch longer at 34’4″. Wheelbase, size of tanks, height, and width are the same. The 328 has one more slide than the 329, on the passenger side of the coach. This will probably make the 328 a little bit heavier than the 329.
We entered the coach and took a look. Since the slides were all in, we got a good look at what the coach looks like inside while in driving mode. There is enough space to walk from the front to the back easily. This isn’t the greatest picture, but you can see how close the widest part of the kitchen counter is to the wall on the other side of the coach.
The salesman asked if we wanted to take the coach out for a spin. We said yes, and he drove back out of the parking lot. We went around Fountain Valley in a big circle. This coach felt very much like the Fleetwood Flair that we had rented, and that’s not surprising. It’s got the same engine, and is about the same size and length. I was surprised at how quiet this coach was – really not much rattling around in there, although it was not loaded with gear yet, and that probably helps.
When we got back to the lot, I asked if we could see how the coach looked with all the slides out, so he drove into the main part of the lot and parked it in a spacious spot. Then he went to the control panel, which is in the hallway between the front of the coach and the bedroom, and pushed the buttons to open each slide. After that he fired up the generator and got the main air conditioner going. Cold air came rushing out quickly.
Having both of these salon slides out gives a lot of floor space….this coach seemed much bigger that the 329 as a result. In the picture above you can see that the counter top needs to come out further than the more galley-like straight counter on the 329 below. This is because of the refrigerator in the 328. It’s a full size residential refrigerator instead of the Propane/Electric convertible unit that is used in most RVs.
Here’s a better look at the residential fridge in the 328.
And here’s what a Propane/Electric fridge looks like. Much smaller, and a lot less deep. This one isn’t from the Georgetown 329….it’s from the Windsport 32A, but they are basically the same type. I didn’t get a good shot of the 329 fridge.
I was actually a little bit concerned about the residential fridge in the 328 at first, but I was also concerned about issues with the typical RV refrigerator. There are pros and cons to each.
Propane/Electric Absorption Refrigerators
With a Propane/Electric fridge or “Absorption” fridge, when you have electrical power, the fridge runs on electricity. When no electricity is present, the fridge switches over to propane automatically. The advantages are pretty obvious. If you are doing boondock camping (camping in a location without electrical hookups), the ability of the fridge to run on propane is a nice feature.
There are some downsides, though. There are two makers of this kind of fridge – Dometic and Norcold. Both of their products have had problems with fires. There are a lot of opinions on the reason for this that I won’t go into that here, but it is a real problem, and it’s related to how the technology works. To make matters worse, fixing this type of refrigerator is very expensive. This type of unit is also quite expensive to replace. A decent model goes for over 7K. That’s more than double what a residential fridge will set you back. And finally, since these type of refrigerators work using evaporation, they are very slow to cool down. They also aren’t very good at keeping a consistent temperature, and can get too warm fairly easily. You don’t want to be standing in front of them with the door open, taking a long time to find what you want. I’ve heard a lot of stories of soft ice cream and beer that wasn’t cold enough. Horrors! Finally, they are small. Really small. This isn’t a problem if you have two people going away for a weekend. It is a problem if you have a the same two people going away for weeks at a time. Imagine what they would be like for a family. Even the largest four door models are small compared to a residential style unit, and they are more prone to fires than the smaller two door units.
Residential Refrigerators don’t have the fire problem. They have no burner, and their operation doesn’t produce flammable hydrogen gas that can escape from the system. They just have a compressor and a fan, like the units in your home. They are also much bigger, and can hold a much more consistent temperature than Absorption units. If they crap out on you, the replacement cost is under 3K, not over 7K. They also come with bells and whistles such as water and ice dispensers in the door.
The main issue on the con side is battery consumption when you are not hooked up to shore power. I’ve seen a raging argument on the RV forums about how long your residential fridge will run on batteries when you are boondocking. If you are in a campsite with electrical hookups….no problem. The fridge will run just like your home fridge runs. When you are driving, no problem; the engine charges all the batteries as you roll, and this keeps the fridge batteries topped off. You can also run the house generator to re-charge the batteries for your fridge, so even if you are boondocking there is a way to get the batteries recharged. The problem some people see is that, in some cases, the fridge batteries won’t last an entire night – people wake up to a fridge that hasn’t been on for an hour or two. There was some discussion about this issue specifically about the Georgetown 328, with a few people saying they were only getting about 5-6 hours on the batteries, and other people saying that they were getting up to 24 hours on a charge. I suspect that the real number is somewhere between the two. We’ll see.
I finally convinced myself that the battery consumption problem with the Residential Refrigerator was a minor problem, and the advantages of a residential fridge far outweigh the potential problems. Why?
I don’t expect us to be doing all that much boondocking. If this was a big priority for us, we would be looking at different coaches. If you are going to do a lot of boondocking, you need to make that a priority when you are shopping. You want fresh water tanks that are at least 70 gallons. You want grey water tanks to be at least 60 gallons, and the black water tanks should be pretty close to that size as well. Remember that there usually aren’t dump stations at boondocking locations. They might be miles away. The Georgetown 329 and 328 have 50 gallon water tanks, and 41 gallons each for the Grey and Black tanks. That’s cutting things pretty slim for boondocking more than a few days here and there.
One thing I would look into with a Residential Refrigerator is Solar Panels. If you get the right setup, you can keep the batteries in pretty good shape during the day, and that can really help when you boondock, even if you don’t have a residential fridge.
Laura and I spent some time going through the 328 in detail, opening up all of the cabinets and drawers, sitting on all of the furniture, laying in the bed, standing in the shower, sitting on the toilet, and asking a lot of questions. I went outside and looked in all of the storage compartments, the dump station compartment, and the electrical compartment. I climbed up the ladder in the back (which was quite sturdy) and checked out the fiberglass roof.
Over all, we were very excited about this unit. It’s got a lot of features that aren’t on the 329, and it’s fit and finish is way beyond most other units we’ve looked at in this price range. It isn’t an entry-level coach. It’s pretty firmly in the Mid Range.
The Mid Range vs. the High End
Is the Georgetown 328 as nice as a Newmar or a Tiffin? Nope, but the price difference is pretty large. Take the Newmar 3308 that we looked at in Moorpark. It’s very comparable to the Georgetown 328 from a size and features standpoint. The MSRP for the Newmar 3308 coach was 147K. The MSRP for the Georgetown 328 is 126K. That’s a 21K difference. When you compare the two coaches, you find that they have a lot more in common that you think.
The Newmar has it over the Georgetown with woodwork and furniture. The Georgetown has a better roof, a better fridge, a larger TV, and space/plumbing for a washer dryer. The Georgetown also has an oven big enough to cook a pizza in. The Newmar has the same kind of cook top that the Georgetown has, and a “Convection Microwave” that is supposed to serve as an oven. I wouldn’t try to cook a pizza in that. I’m not even sure that a frozen pizza would fit in the small Absorption refrigerator in the Newmar 3308. You could fit several in the Residential refrigerator of the Georgetown 328 and have plenty of room left over.
I like the storage compartments in the Georgetown better than what I saw in the Newmar. They have a roughly equivalent amount of space, but the Newmar has plywood structure in the compartments with indoor/outdoor carpet covering it. The Georgetown has rotocast plastic, with large drain holes that have screw in covers. You could hose them out and not damage the coach.
If I were going to boondock most of the time, I’d probably look around for lightly used Newmar or Tiffin. Both of these coaches have larger fresh water, grey water, and black water tanks. If I was going to live full-time in the RV, I would prefer a Newmar or a Tiffin, because the build quality of the furniture is probably going to hold up better.
Theoretically, Newmars and Tiffins should hold their value longer than a Georgetown, but that is dicey, from what I’ve seen. I don’t see a huge difference in asking prices for Newmar and Tiffin units on the market, but the only way to find out what these coaches really go for used is to start making offers. One thing I have noticed – there aren’t nearly as many lightly used Newmar or Tiffin coaches available on the used markets – I think people tend to keep them longer, which tells me two things. First, they hold up very well over time, and second, the people who buy them are not newbies. They are more knowledgeable. I think this level of coach tends to be an upgrade for somebody who has been in the lifestyle for a while, and enjoys it.
After getting finished with our inspection and all of our questions on the Georgetown 328, we were ready to make a decision. We asked the salesman if he could get us a deal on this coach, with our down payment amount, that would give us our monthly payment target. He said he was pretty sure that he could. He left us in the coach while he went to work things out. With him gone, we did more inspection, and I took a bunch of pictures, posted below. He came back saying that the numbers worked out, and showed them to us. Laura and I agreed to the numbers. The salesman shook our hands, and said he’d go get the paperwork started. We could go in and sign in a little while. He left us in the coach again, and we continued checking things out.
I think we got a pretty good deal. It worked out to 24% off of MSRP, and is affordable to us. The interest rate was better than what we were offered at the Credit Union, and for a longer term. We signed all the paperwork. There’s a LOT….more than a car. We made an appointment to do our PDI (Pre-Delivery Inspection) in about a week, which gives us time to move money around for the down payment, and find a storage spot. The PDI will be done at the dealership in Colton. There is an RV Park close to Colton that the dealership has an agreement with. We can get a couple free days of camping there, so we will take them up on that and give it a good shake out. Now we are counting down the hours!