Tour of the Columbus Fifth Wheel

Karen and I met friends at a local restaurant that happened to be down the street from a Liberty Missouri RV dealership. We are hoping to find a couple floor plans we like which is step three out of seven in our search for the nearly perfect home. So we drifted over to the dealership and spent time looking at Palomino’s Columbus fifth wheels.  Palomino has been around since the late 1960’s and is now owned by Forest River.

On a side note, I had figured the last step in purchasing our rig would be buying the truck.  I’m now leaning towards getting the truck first knowing the trailers we are considering are under 20,000 pounds in gross weight and by then we should have a couple trailers in mind that we would buy. I’ll explain this decision in a future blog post related to transitioning from a stick and brick home to a trailer. My seven steps to selecting a trailer are:

  1. Decide on budget.check-mark-md (2) (update 11/20/16 – we are considering increasing the budget)
  2. Fifth wheel vs Motor Home?check-mark-md (2)
  3. Then decide on floor plan and basic needs (such as 4 season rig) of a “full time” unit.
  4. Then decide what manufacturers build the floor plan or close to it.
  5. Then decide which of several manufacturers appear to have best quality for price and the best after purchase service.
  6. Reduce selection to one manufacturer and buy new or used depending on budget.
  7. Select a truck capable of pulling the rig with a safety margin.

I’ll get to my notes about the Columbus shortly.  In the rating system I’m using it comes in at 167 points out of a possible 260 which makes the Columbus, for our wants and needs, one of the lowest rated.

Last Christmas I bought a family member one of those gifts that you want to keep for yourself. Well, after nearly eight months thinking about it and at least a few incidents needing one, I bought a portable jump starter power pack for myself. What took so long to decide is the notion Karen and I are limiting what we buy knowing we will be disposing of our stuff and hitting the road in a few years.  I also try and avoid buying camping gadgets thinking we will need them later.  A friend at work bought a similar power pack more than a year ago and highly recommended getting one. He has jump-started several cars and never recharged it. This included a diesel engine. I checked the specs on his power pack and went a couple sizes larger in terms of battery capacity and cold cranking amps. Two weeks after the purchase Karen’s car would not start. Not a problem. I opened the engine hood and 30 seconds later she was on her way to the store. I threw the power pack in the back seat after showing her how to use it.  No more having to fetch an extra vehicle to jump start the car. No more having to worry about getting close enough to jump start a car. And as a bonus we can charge our phones, have a handy flashlight and a very bright blinking LED light as a warning devise. I bought the power pack at Amazon because Walmart had a limited selection.

Regarding the Columbus fifth wheel. It comes in two variations, one being the better equipped Columbus and the other being the Compass model.  Frankly, in this price point the Forest River Cedar Creek or Cardinal may be a better option for full time living. Here are my notes on the 2017 Columbus 320RS 38’ rear living room (video) for those interested:

Options: Thirteen available floor plans in the Columbus. No advertised 8,000 pound axle options, G/H rated tires, disc brakes or better pin and suspensions. A lot of what other brands come standard with are options which may be nice if one wanted to keep the price down.  The number of floor plans will improve my score for this category.

Service: Not advertised in their brochure as being for full time use nor even extended stay. I’ve been getting mixed opinions about customer service by Forest River.  Here are a few interesting comments on their brochure: “Forest River dealerships are independently owned so priority service and scheduling is at their discretion and is often provided to customers that purchased their unit at that dealership.” “Purchasing locally allows customers to establish meaningful relationships with a dealer.” “Scheduling timely warranty repairs and adjustments through a local dealership provides far greater flexibility and convenience to the customer.”  I don’t know if they are pushing for buying locally to help the dealership or warning if you take the trailer to a dealership where you did not purchase it then don’t expect prompt service. Or maybe they are just being honest and setting customer expectations. Forest River has a very active owner’s group forum!

Appliances: Comes with a residential fridge. Did not see an option for a gas/electric but a photo showed one. Uses a Eureka brand central vacuum. Karen wants a hand-held Dyson. The appliances are typical at this price point.

Furniture: This is going to get them some points. They use La-Z-Boy in the living room which is new for this year. The sofa was a bit stiff to sit on but Karen liked it. Did not test the bed.

Electrical: Has separate stereo controls in basement for outside speakers which is nice! I noticed USB charging ports inside the trailer, again very nice although you can use adaptors with other outlet types. 40” TV in living room on swivel. Not sure yet what size we want. TV size has to do with how close you sit to a TV so surely there must be an optimal size. Can get up to a 55” TV. As usual, I’m rating the trailer as if it comes with their “best” options. 32” TV in bedroom that is framed inside the cabinetry rather than just hanging on a wall. They have really done a nice job with charging stations for electronics, although I did not see any readily apparent 12 volt connections. Not sure what kind of tank water level monitoring system they are using. Whatever trailer we buy will have the better system for the black tank sensor such as the SeeLevel II. Also do not know if there is a remote control for slides. It’s not something I’ve seen in any other unit but the Columbus has an additional sound bar in bedroom. Not sure it’s needed but is interesting to note.

Trim: The kitchen island is on rollers. They have to be buckled down when towing. Karen liked the idea of moving it around to an angle. This was in the model with no sink in the island. They use plastic one-piece bathroom sinks and the other counter surfaces are lower grade than others in the price point. Hardwood cabinets with hidden hinges. They make use of interior doors on slides which I don’t like because they frequently need adjustment. Nice metal drawer hardware with dove tail joints. Stove top cover folds up rather than having to remove the cover completely which is a feature we like. Cabinets over the sofa and chairs that some competitors don’t offer. Lighting fixtures and fabric colors are modern. Cabinets are not so modern in design and hardware. Karen liked the built-in table areas next to each side of the living room sofa. Dining table slides back into the table which is easy to use compared to having to put a leaf in. Lots of windows to include one off the kitchen sink which Karen liked. Coat closet at entry which is a must per Karen. Wood steps up to bedroom which are better than carpet for durability but maybe not as nice as having a rubber topping on wood stairs. Separate closet in the bedroom for washer/dryer rather than having to move clothes to get at a unit from inside the closet. We like the trailers with super slides in the bedroom that have a separate area for the washer/dryer but that floor plan is not available in the Columbus. Shower had a textured glass door which we feel is better for not showing water marks than flat clear glass. Karen mentioned there is no storage over the bed which she said was fine because those cabinets would be hard to get at. They raised the headroom above the bed by 6” this year. That’s nice because many trailers, especially with cabinets over the bed, feel tight between the bed and cabinets. In the bedroom closet they are using a closet rod with the individual hanger locations rather than a smooth bar. Not yet sure what we prefer for a closet rod.

Insulation: Forced air heat to basement (which also helps heat the bedroom). Heat pads on tanks with separate controls inside trailer. No mention if the forced air has a return air vent from the basement. R-38 rated floor, R-34 roof and R-11 sidewalls. The sidewall insulation is a little better than the typical R-9.  No mention of slide-out values. In the past I assume if a manufacture does not mention a feature then it’s because it’s less than the competition in that area. They use foam block insulation on the floor, walls and ceiling. Front cap is rolled fiberglass with Astro Foil as well as above the plastic underbelly. Appears to be rolled fiberglass around the tanks. The reflective material, Astro Foil, is under the slide-out floors. At the dealership I noticed some of that beaded foam insulation (low quality) material that had never been cleaned out near the bedroom television. I have no idea where that came from. Perhaps it was from packing material for the components? Overall the insulation is a little better than typical (as always in my opinion).

Foundation: Using Schwintek slides which others say suck. Bedroom slide was encased in the slide so I could not see what type it was. Salesman did not know. Many higher end units are using a cable slide for the light bedroom slide. Saw no advertising for frame size. Warning, the shorter units are 6,000 pound axles. This trailer must be built with lower weight in mind so I’d assume the construction is lighter for that reason. Using hydraulic six point leveling and electric slides. Video says with electric slides you can bring them out one at a time. I’ve noticed others may use hydraulic on larger slides and electric on smaller slides. They use pinched-rolled laminated construction for sidewalls. Slide walls are vacuum laminated and sounded solid when I hit them. They claim a 5/8” tongue and grove sub flooring. When walking in the trailer the floor felt spongy. I wonder if the floor joists are spaced to far apart which is causing the spongy feeling. Coupled with the E rated tires and everything else, I’m not rating the foundation very high. Knowing if the frame is 10” or 12” I beam would have helped. To be fair, they are building a lighter weight unit. Welded aluminum studs but no mention if welded on both sides of studs.

Plumbing: Karen really liked the kitchen sink being along a wall. I noticed there was not a flush backsplash on that wall which could cause water to leach into the wall and cause bubbling like I saw in a used trailer bathroom sink.  I could add a piece of rubber trim or tile to fix this. Using three, 20 pound propane tanks, compared to usual 30 pounders. Some say this is because 20 pound tanks are easier to disconnect for refill.  I noticed all the propane tanks are on the same side of trailer which, although not much, shifts weight to that side of the trailer. I assume they balance the load on the other side of trailer. Propane has an auto change-over and although not typical, they include a slam-latch door where others use the crappy silver twist locks, assumedly because you don’t get in this door much. Ten gallon hot water tank which is okay. Has a built-in water purifier. 64 gallon fresh water, 78 grey and 39 black. Tank sizes are just a tad under others at this price point with fresh water size being marginal for boondocking. Not sure what they are using for water lines, the pipe feeding the water filter was not Pex. Something different was a 2” heat duct leading to the docking station for hook-ups in the basement which is a nice feature. By the way, I heard recently full water tanks are not counted as part of the dry weight rating.  At about 8 pounds per gallon, water will take away from cargo capacity in a hurry.

Mechanical: AC is ducted and whisper quiet. Floor duct work out of the way of where you walk. Heat is 30,000 BTU furnace. I’m not sure yet what the best size for a 38’ trailer would be.  This is a 4 seasons trailer. Typical zoned heating/cooling with sensors. They don’t mention if the system is ducted throughout the trailer such as if the bedroom and living room AC units work together or not.

Cargo Capacity: Most are a little below 3,000 pounds max. Capacity is marginal for full time living. Oh my – I noticed in a video the basement area may not be a drop-frame. That’s huge because a drop-frame is done to increase basement area cargo and is a standard amongst all others in this price point.  That is going to hurt their score big time. I did not see any access panels to the components from the basement.

Exterior: Slam latch doors are way thin compared to others, again maybe keeping the weight down. Liked the exterior color options (3). No full rear cap on the unit we toured but it is an option. Four entry steps are not aluminum.

Interior: Radius roof but ceiling is flat. I used to want radius ceiling but now don’t care. Their ceiling is 6″ aluminum construction which should limit how much insulation they loose towards the outside of the trailer where the ceiling cavity is thinner because of the radius in the roof. The 320RS, according to the video, was the first floor plan they offered. I find that “first floor plans” appear to be given much thought. Shades are on rollers with night and day shades. They are not using the MCD brand. Modern colors.

Notes: Salesman said there was hardly any change from the 2016 models. There are lots of changes since I looked at a 2014 model to include better exterior color options. Overall, I did not get a good feeling about the trailer’s build quality, but then again it’s a 1,000 pounds lighter than others in the class.  New campers all had very heavy chemical smells. The Forest River Cedar Creek or the Cardinal are better options for a full time rig at this price point.

 

Thank you to everyone for following my blog and all the excellent comments which I learn from. If you are reading this blog for the first time feel free to post your comments on early blog posts a well. I will read them and post a reply. As I read blogs others are keeping I learn a lot from the comments section.

KCK Badge

 

R.I.P Captain Melton, Kansas City Kansas Police  – Final Watch 7/19/16

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Tour of the Columbus Fifth Wheel

  1. I am reluctant to weigh in on your choice of a rig, as it is so personal a decision. Let me just offer an opinion based on having owned Jayco and Forest River products: Never again, due to quality and support issues. But that was more than five years ago; I hope things have improved. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the heads-up. I added service after the sale to our list of must haves when selecting a rig. Several people I know said they would put that at the top of their list. So far I keep seeing people bragging on Heartland and Grand Design about their customer service. I also like how Augusta RV is building a rig specifically for full time use but wonder if they will be around for the long term. A couple years ago folks were writing about the Lifestyle Luxury RV building a quality product and providing great service. Now they are out of business.

      I reluctantly write about my trailer reviews because of the chance of offending someone, however it’s a great place to park my notes. These are only my opinions based off what Karen and I think are important. I appreciate other’s opinions and rely on them.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  2. Nice read, Here is my opinion based on several things I have seen in the market and if your are really considering full time living in a fifth wheel you might want to shop around a bit more.
    After shopping a number of units in various places I came to the conclusion that the DRV Mobile Suites or Elite Suites are the best quality and construction you will find on the market.
    I have also seen and heard from several folks that the Grand Design rigs are a great quality and good price point, but they still fallshort of what I have seen in the DRV. With that said, the DRV is a much heavier unit, with a 15 inch frame and typically better breaking, suspension systems, and insulation than most anything out there short of the custom build at 1.5 to 2 times the price.
    Our insulation is rated at R25 in the ceiling, R29 in the basement and all the walls are R16, I don’t think you will find many others out there that are insulated that well.
    We went from a 43Ft. 2011 Dutch Star with 3 15,000 BTU AC/heat pumps down to two 15,000 BTU heat pumps and the DRV stays cool even in the hottest of days far better than the motorhome with 3 units.

    Our current unit which is a 2015 39DBRS3, bath and a half, weighs in at just over 16,000 lbs. dry, with a gross of roughly 21,000 lbs., because of that I went for a truck that would haul 3000 over the max weight of the rig. I ended up buying a 2015 F350, 6.7L diesel with a 3:73 gear set, which still gets me upwards of 18 MPG empty on the highway, average of 15.4 mpg around town. Towing at 65 I was getting 9.4 mpg and when I slowed down to 55, I actualy got 11.4 mpg towing. The truck is capable of hauling 24,000 lbs on a 5th wheel hitch or gooseneck and has several nice options to make it creater comfy also with the 4 door cab, and premium interior stuff.

    I can say that overall I am satisfied with the overall quality of the DRV, like most I had a few minor issues, but overall nothing major.
    There are a lot of flashy and glitzy looking rigs out there, but when you get past the gleaming tile backsplashs and such and start looking at the real fit and trim and materials being used you will see the true quality differences. If you are serious about doing this and don’t want to waste money, shop around and maybe spend the little extra, or shop the used market for a 2 or 3 year old, better quality rig like the DRV, rather than buying a new one that looks pretty, but just isn’t all it appears to be.

    Happy shopping! Hope you find something that fits you well!

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment Rick. Also like your web site and learned a lot.

      We are still shopping around for a floor plan. I’m leaning towards a trailer in the 19,000 pound range but am also considering the fact many fulltime in something around 16,500. I’m a long way from the decision.

      The Palomino Columbus, unless a lot changes, will not make our short list. DRV is high on the list so far, but in that price point and below there are so many trailers to consider.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mark, Your research is excellent, but I thought I would add my opinion. We chose to start with a quality used unit. We saved about 75K, by doing so. It is also nice have a unit that when you ding it, you don’t freak out (I would). We have grown to love our unique trailer, but if it ever becomes unserviceable, we will buy another used one, and still be way ahead financially.

    I say all of this knowing that if something in my trailer breaks, I can probably fix it. I am a pretty good mechanic and I understand RV systems fairly well.

    Shawn
    ktmissouri.blogspot.com

    Like

  4. If we ever buy another camper, I want to take you with me! We did lots of research but never this extensive!
    2 weeks ago we had time, and took a tour of the Grand Design factory in Middlebury. I’d highly recommend doing some tours to actually see the construction in progress. Something I love about Grand Design is how easy they’ve been to work with. We travel full time for work and they’ve approved and help set up mobile techs to come out and do warranty work for us. Also, they are kind of teaming up with Lippert, which I think is going to give them a tremendous edge. We had an axle replaced by Lippert while we were there too. And they showed us how to resync our Schwintek slide (actually very simple). They have been (surprisingly from the bad rap they get) really easy and more than fair to work with also.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We have been fulltime for just over 2 years now and our still loving our 2013 Montana 3582. We have had no major issues an only a few tiny ones. We were just talking about how nice all the finishes/trim/etc has held up. Things are tight, square, even and all still line up. We have an extended warranty since it’s our home. Haven’t used it yet. Also still loving our 2013 Dodge Dually Laramie Longhorn. We wouldn’t change our choice of either. Again, yes, it’s personal and a lot depends on your price range. I will say though, that we have seen others with very pricey rigs bringing them back constantly for repairs or even sold them and bought something else. Much of it is luck too I think. You’re doing a great job. Hope you’ll be on the road soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbie, I had to think about my reply overnight. Your comment says a lot.

      I have been following your blog and know you move around a lot, so your Montana gets a lot of road time compared to just sitting in one spot. Your trailer is in the 16,000 pound GVWR class, compared to some of the heavier rigs with heavier construction at 19,000 pound ratings and above. For me, I learned from you the 16,000 class with what comes with it, will work well on the road. I know the foundation of the Montana is a little better than the average in its price point.

      I have also talked to a couple long-time travelers who had the expensive trailers, in this case the DRV Elite Suites. Both had many concerns and problems and had owned several other trailers in the past. Both said it’s best to concentrate on which trailer company offers the best after purchase service. And, make sure the typical areas containing components are easily assessable. That’s one reason I look at the basement area for sliding access doors. I also look at the battery/hydraulic areas to see who takes their time rather than just running wires and such in big balls of mess – for lack of better words.

      Figure our budget and floor plan will lead us to the right trailer.

      Like

  6. Hi Mark,

    Found your blog a few months ago through another blog. I am just catching up on blog reading as we’ve been traveling in Alaska and Canada over the summer. We have been living full time in our Grand Design Solitude 369rl for 2.5 years and have had very few issues. In the weight and price point you are looking at many of the companies use the same components, sometimes it comes down to the after sales service. Being as we are full time on the road we aren’t usually near our selling dealer, for the few things we’ve needed Grand Design has been able to ship them to us directly, we’ve take the rig into the factory once too. We are part of the Grand Design RV Owners FB page, where we welcome those who are also in the looking stage. There is also a Grand Design owners forum where those who are looking are welcome. Don’t get me wrong sometimes GD rv’s have issues but both the FB page and owners forum have Grand Design folks also monitoring the pages, both pages were started by owners, the good and the bad are brought to light and not covered up. Good luck in your search, we’ll be following your adventures.

    Faye

    Like

    • Hello Faye, appreciate you stopping by.

      Grand Design is on my radar. It was a newer company when I first starting researching. The dealer was very impressed and hardly would show me a Montana because he wanted me to compare it against the Grand Design once I’d seen it.

      Montana, Big Horn, Big Country, Cardinal, Grand Design, Cedar Creek and more…. So many to select in this price point. And my scoring has several coming out at nearly a tie. A couple however have stood out in terms of what people are saying about service after the sale. Those are Heartland and Grand Design.

      We are still working on what floor plan we prefer. I’ve joined a couple owner’s forums to get a closer look as well.

      Like

  7. Could I ask where or how you came up with a rating system for the units you are looking at. My husband and I are starting our search for a 5th wheel for full time living. We started at the Tampa Super RV show in January and crossed a lot off our list. Now we’re down to a list of about 6. I’m so happy I found your blog. So much great information. Thank you.

    Like

    • Hi Laura and thanks for posting.

      I came up with my own rating system which is based off the features/construction that is important to Karen and me. Other’s might have different expectations. I would be happy to send you my spreadsheets and more if your interested. Send me an email at mseneker@hotmail.com.

      Mark

      Like

Comments are Appreciated

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s