This a long article intended for those shopping for trailers. For family members keeping up on the blog I’ve started using titles beginning with Life in Kansas City, which are far less about RV stuff.
There were two new fifth wheels among the larger models available for tour at the recent local RV Show. The Kansas RV Center brought them. This dealership is located two and a half hours from home so we made sure to see them while they were in town. Here is a link if you are interesting in our preparation before the show.
A goal of this blog post is to introduce everyone to the new Vanleigh Vilano fifth wheel. When comparing the trailers construction against heavier trailers, I found myself wondering if trailers in higher weight classes are really worth buying given the fact we really don’t know how long we will be on the road.
The Tiffin family brought the Vanleigh to market in September 2015. Tiffin would be high on my list if I were looking for a Class A motorhome, so their fifth wheel caught my eye. Tiffin has been around for more than 40 years. A motorhome builder entering the fifth wheel market is not a new concept. Dynamax did it with the introduction of the Trilogy, which is now owned by Forest River.
The second goal of this blog post is to solicit feedback comparing heavier 19,000-pound trailer construction against those in the 16,000 gross weight class. So I decided to use the Vilano as an example. This trailer is in the 16,000-pound range. The current retail price puts it well below the heavier DRV Mobile Suites and slightly above Keystone Montana which is in the same weight class as the Vilano.
I’ll use the Vilano to compare a few construction features against heavier construction such as in the all new Riverstone, by Forest River.
I’m absolutely no expert on fifth wheel construction and have never owned one. These are just my opinions after touring the trailers, talking to those that know more than me and looking over the published specifications.
Here are a couple questions for you experienced owners and shoppers:
- What are your opinions of heavier trailers vs. lighter trailers for use as fulltime homes?
- (Here on 2/12/18 I can now answer these questions. Heavier is better in terms of construction durability. Lighter is better on the budget to include the size truck you need and fuel to pull it.)
- And why did you decide on a 16,000-pound trailer rather than something around 19,000 pounds?
- (Because a 16,000 trailer costs less upfront.)
Like most others planning to live fulltime in a fifth wheel, Karen and I have no idea how long we will be living in the trailer. Some folks have a well-established goal, such as to take a year off and travel. Among other things, I have to think how long a person plans to own the trailer might have a lot to do with what construction methods are most important in terms of durability. Of course, buying something with heavier construction might have to do with how you intend to use it such as towing it all over the country vs. parking it at the lake.
Karen and I are planning to spend no less than six years traveling. Although we have rented a motorhome and stayed a week at a time in a 30’ trailer, we really have no idea if after a year we might have had enough and decide to come off the road. I read a recent forum thread where a trusted source estimated that only 20% of full-timers are still on the road after five years.
I find myself considering options other long-term owners have suggested. These include trailers in the 19,000 weight range, with H rated tires, heavy frames, 8,000 pound axles and disc brakes. Those trailers are above our budget if new so we would be looking at a two or three-year-old model. Then we look at the trailers in the 16,000-pound range, which seem to be the more popular weights, as a solution if we bought new. A third option might be to buy a used trailer and then haul it around having all the updates added such as suspension systems, tire and wheels and the better disc brakes. I worry that if we bought a trailer that is very old we might also have a lot of other updates to do such as flat screen televisions and LED lighting.
Karen and I are trying to buy our third trailer first. In other words, we are trying to avoid upgrading at a later date. Then I think why not go with a lighter rig, which can be pulled by a lighter truck. If we like being on the road fulltime after a couple of years, then upgrade. I suspect the decision has to do with how much a person wants to risk by betting they will stay on the road long enough to make the heavier trailer worth the price. Because we all know these things depreciate fast! Personally I am not buying into the idea that we will not know what floor plan or amenities we want in a trailer until we have lived in one long-term. I’m hoping that because of research and having spent some time in RVs in the past, there is a better than average chance we can select a trailer we end up keeping.
Stop Here if Not Interested in New Fifth Wheel Models.
Now on to a little about the Vanleigh Vilano 365RL we toured. Here is what you can get in a 16,000-pound trailer. At the show it was priced a little higher than others in the weight class at about $72,500.
- One of the better articles I read comes from someone who traded in their 2014 Keystone Alpine. Here is a link to the article.
- Here is the best walk-through video I could find.
- There are the typical features found in the average trailer in this class. Such as slam latch doors and frameless windows.
- I sent a request to Vanleigh Customer Service asking if they would be offering disc brakes at some time in the future. I also asked when they would post more information on their web site such as information on frame design. They have installed disc brakes for customers when requested. Currently they are building frames on both a 10” I-Beam by Lippert and a 10” G- Channel by MORryde; Exclusively the only manufacturer offering a MORryde frame.
A list of what might be considered a few upgrades are:
o Pull out desk over fireplace.
o The cabinet designs are amazing. I was told someone from the motorhome factory worked with the fifth wheel factory. Includes real glass tile back-splashes in the kitchen. Modern hardware with hidden hinges but no soft-close drawers.
o Dimmable lights in the living room and bedroom.
o Four aluminum entry stairs rather than steel. The aluminum is solid and does not give when you walk on the stairs.
o You can get G rated tires as an option. Some long-term full-timers would say not having H rated tires is a mistake and would never go back to G rated or less because of blow-outs. I read/hear this more from those that have been on the road over five years.
o The remaining upgrade options are fairly typical. They do offer a 50” television which is nice.
o They are using multiplex wiring with fancy motorhome push button light switches. You will not see this in any other trailer in its class. Although Keystone has released something similar with their In-Command system.
o Standard 12-volt electric gray and black dump tank gates with manual overrides. That should definitely help avoid gate issues.
o 101” wide body – although these are becoming more common.
o Hardwood window valances compared to the typical cloth valances. Should help avoid privacy issues or light coming from around the sides of the shades. Not sure it’s worth spending the money on however.
o Roof and floor insulation values are advertised as R45 and walls are R11. That’s a little higher than some. Of course there are other things to be considered when it comes to insulation materials such as vapor barriers and radiant heat reflection. I’ve not dissected their insulation techniques. It’s obvious this is a four-seasons trailer.
o Main floor slides are 8’ tall. That’s not typical.
Here is a list of my concerns:
o 10-gallon hot water vs. 12.
o The frame specifications are not advertised. To me this is important. At the very least, in case we want to upgrade to heavier construction such as 8,000 pound axles. Or better yet, the MORryde independent suspension should we decide to keep the trailer for a long time.
o Fresh water capacity is 54 gallons, which is a little low. A trusted full-timer told me the fresh, gray and black tank sizes are not balanced. We are trying to figure out what tank sizes are important. Right now, my goal would be to park for up to
month two weeks at a time without dumping tanks at a dump station. We would use a portable blue boy of course. (By 2018 I learned even the most experienced boondockers can’t go a month without dumping tanks or using a blue boy tank to haul of waste.)
o They don’t offer disc brakes as an option. In my humble opinion, that is going to cost them a few customers. Again, they will add disc brakes if requested. They just don’t advertise that.
o I have no idea what a “dual copper manifold” is. It’s listed on their web site specs page. Typical of other start-up builders, I’m sure they are still working on their web page.
o There is no option for a full rear cap. However, no one has convinced me a full rear cap is anything more than just for looks and maybe a little extra insulation.
o So far they are not mass-produced. But, according to a guy who went to the factory, there is a back-log as many have been sold and not yet built.
o Karen and I don’t want carpet in the living room nor on the stairs. Vanleigh goes a step further with no carpet in the bedroom. Not sure if that is an option or not. Carpet is nice for insulation and sound isolation.
o The washer/dryer space takes up master closet space. I know that’s typical in the weight class. However, I found no easy way to remove the shelves to put a unit in. The shelving in the master closet is abundant.
o Right now, there is no full exterior paint option. We don’t care. The model at the show had a paint issue on the fully painted front cap. The guy that masked it off did a poor job next to some trim. That may eventually cause the paint to flake off in a corner. They advertise as having high-gloss gel coat walls. I’m not sure yet how that compares to “true” high-gloss gel coats.
I use a rating system based on what features are most important to Karen and me. The Vilano comes in with 199 points out of a possible 275. Compared to the Keystone Montana with 216 points, Cedar Creek Hathaway at 202 and Grand Design Solitude at 194. I could see the Vilano gaining a few points after I learn more about the frame they are using and their customer service is tested. Eventually they will offer more floor plan options which may also increase their score. It would be nice if Vanleigh would steal some floor plans from the New Horizons Majestic!
Now here is what you get out of the 19,000-pound Riverstone by Forest River. Online I’ve been seeing prices in the $99 to $105,000 range. Definitely over our budget but maybe affordable as a used model:
Of course comparing a $100,000 trailer to a $70,000 trailer is not fair. I just want to point out a few of the options several long-term owners are telling me are absolutely essential for long-term durability. I’d prefer to use a DRV Mobile Suites for comparison. However, this is a good opportunity to demonstrate what comes with a heavier trailer while passing along our experience touring the new Riverstone 38TS floor plan. Using my ratings system, I graded the trailer at 214 points compared to a DRV with 242 points and a Heartland Landmark 365 at 207.5 points. What really hurt the Riverstone, for our wants, are the lack of stove and refrigerator options for propane vs. electric. I assume Riverstone will have more options later along with new floor plans. This trailer appears to be designed for RV parks with full hookups.
General pluses compared to the Vanleigh Vilano and others in the 16,000-pound gross weight range:
o Compared to Vanleigh, Forest River has a lot more experience building fifth wheels.
o Standard H rated tires, 8,000 pound axles and disc brakes.
o 32” entrance door with keyless entry.
o 40-pound propane tanks with quick disconnect for a grill.
o Aluminum wrapped awning cover.
o Full painted body with true high-gloss gel coating.
o Sliding battery tray for 4 batteries in their own compartment.
o One of the nicest docking stations I’ve seen outside a custom built trailer. Easy access to water line manifold, inverter and pumps. Very well organized to include labels for valves.
o Built-in sewer line with storage.
o 60″ long shower compared to a more typical 48″.
o Electric 12-volt power cord real.
o And a big one – the walls are 3.25” with an R value of 16.
o Power theater seating as well as Jensen and Boss components.
o Soft close drawers and LG counter tops. Others talk about having solid surface counter tops. Stick your hand underneath and you will feel they are not.
o Electric wall heater with digital controls in bedroom.
A Few Concerns for us:
o Again, no option for stove and refrigerator for gas/electric. Takes the trailer off our list.
o The washer/dryer connection is in the master closet. At least it faces forward rather than having to move clothes to get at the doors.
o Tank-less hot water heaters are still not a proven technology.
o Somewhat minor, but Kodiak disc brakes are higher rated than the Dexter brakes they are using.
o Again, this trailer is clearly better suited for RV parks rather than boondocking.
o The gray water tank is only 40 gallons which is a big issue when someone decides to stay at water/electric only sites.
o Cargo capacity, for a trailer in this class, is low at 3,149 pounds.