Karen and I started touring RVs in January 2015 with a visit to the local RV show. In time, I came up with an outline of seven steps we might consider leading to the eventual purchase. As usual my personality provokes me into over-thinking every aspect of the decision. It has been a fun process as I enjoy research and meeting others who have gone through the process of selecting their rig. Karen and I agree with the concept of buying your third trailer first. In other words, whatever we get we are planning to keep for a long time and avoid taking a hit on depreciation should we trade out the trailer within a couple of years. I have read several times where others estimate trailers depreciate quickly in the first five years.
Of course, it does not take years to find a rig. With years to wait and plan why not spend the time researching and dreaming. My last RV decision, a 30′ Terry travel trailer with a walk-through bathroom, was a bit less involved. I owned a pop-up camper before that and found myself spending three weekends a year at a nearby fishing lake. One day on the way to the lake, I stopped at a local RV dealership and toured the trailers. I asked what was the most popular travel trailer brand they had on the lot. Walked through the floor plans and thought about the decision for maybe a few weeks. I swung by the dealership and bought the floor plan that looked like it would work for my purposes. I had it towed to a lake lot which I had rented on a yearly basis and never moved it after that during the six years I owned it.
I thought I would bring everyone up to speed on where we are in the process and summarize a few points. Karen and I are hacking through the list which is down to only 38 possibilities- 🙂
- Decide on budget: This completed step involved a well thought out financial plan which for me had to include an inventory of our financial assets, expected income and expense in the month we decide to hit the road fulltime. I changed this budget after researching what it was going to take to purchase the trailer and truck with the construction and amenities we eventually learned we wanted. Our budget for a new or used trailer is $74,655 which has to include most of the added expenses such as hoses, sewer lines, maybe a generator and more. Our budget for a one-ton dually truck is $65,000 which I know I can lower by buying a one year old truck. It is somewhat of a guess but we plan to travel for at least six years. My planning includes financing an exit strategy which leaves money in savings to purchase and furnish another stationary home.
- Fifth wheel vs motor home? We decided on a fifth wheel in 2015. Having owned a longer travel trailer in the past we knew what to expect in terms of livability and storage capacity. Renting a class C helped eliminate that as an option and taught us a little about traveling in an RV. The best advice I heard was from the general manager at the Kansas RV Center. He said if you plan to be stopped for longer periods of time (which we are) then get a fifth wheel. If comfort while driving or stopping for breaks is more important then get a motor home. I am not that concerned with having a large pickup truck as a daily driver. Karen and I enjoy riding together when we travel so a second vehicle, although an option for later, is not in the plan at this time. We have been in quite a few class As and since 2015 have had zero second thoughts about going with a fifth wheel. Travel in a diesel motorhome class A also appears to be the most expensive option.
- Then decide on floor plan and basic needs of a “fulltime” unit: We finally completed this step January of 2017. We decided on a rear living room model where the television is located directly across from the theater seating. Here is a link to a few of our observations as we toured trailers for more than two years. Maybe the leading reasons we went with this floor plan is because they are popular and I am betting therefore easier to sell later. We wanted the taller ceilings in the area we would be using the most which is the living room/kitchen. This floor plan also allows for a very large basement area. Also, we wanted to stay at 40′ in length or less which ruled out several floor plans. The rear living room plan also did not place a slide under the main awning which is important to us. There are several variations of the rear living room floor plan which remain under consideration.
- Then decide what manufacturers build the floor plan or close to it: I will post more details on this later as the step is yet to be completed. We started the year with a list of 38 rear living room floor plan trailers we are interested in which are 40′ or shorter in length. If we decide the max length we want is 38′ that would bring the list down to 23. Then if we threw out any short on cargo capacity (3,000-pound minimum) or grey tanks (75 gallons minimum) that would bring the list down to 18. All but two manufactures we are interested in have dealerships in the area or display them at the local RV show. So far, we have completed one factory tour which was at Augusta RV. This is a trailer out of our price point. We would have to purchase one used or increase our budget. The “best” trailer length for fulltime living is a heavily debated topic. For us, we have yet to find a floor plan under 35′ that we were interested in. I found this link to an article where the writer researched all the popular National Parks and their advertised trailer length limits. Without getting into the trailer length debate, I will say that Karen and I wanted to make our decisions based on avoiding as many limitations as possible as to where we travel and camp while still having a trailer that was comfortable for longer stays as we will be workamping at times. I follow blogs where the authors travel in 40′ campers so have an idea what to expect.
- Then decide which of several manufacturers appear to have best quality for price and the best after purchase service: This yet to be completed step is a complex one. Over time I began to agree you generally get what you pay for. Construction techniques were hard to research because there really is no single source of information. I am learning more each day. Having a budget up front really did help eliminate a few manufacturers! And many are not in our budget if purchased no more than two years old. There are several opinions out there as to what trailer materials are best for fulltime living. Fortunately, many of the “best have” construction methods can be upgraded to later. Such as 8,000 pound axles, disc brakes and H rated tires. For us, to not further limit where we stay and when, a four seasons trailer is a must. So, good insulation, tank heating, dual pane windows and more are on our list of choices. Service after the sale may be subjective. We all know those with complaints tend to tell more people about their problems than those that are satisfied. It makes them feel better. Super satisfied customers may become evangelistic in telling others about their experiences. The decision matrix I have been using to evaluate trailer brands includes scoring for all parts of the purchase decision listed in this step. Someday, I will provide a link to the spreadsheet and criteria I have been using to evaluate trailers for our wants and needs. The system has evolved over the past three years. This year (2017) was an important year to get our wish list down because that is the first year from which we would most likely buy a used trailer. Although I have been using the decision matrix since 2016 and have already begun evaluating specific floor plans for 2018 (yes, some are already being built).
- Finally reduce selection to one manufacturer and buy new or used depending on budget: This is going to be a very easy step to complete. Because we already know our budget and the process of elimination from the last step will help. I have a good knowledge of trailer brands we are interested in for those built in late 2015 and after. We may buy our trailer no later than the spring of 2019 or as early as next year.
- Select a truck capable of pulling the trailer with a safety margin: I am keeping in mind that no matter how much planning I do, there is a chance we would upgrade the rig later so the truck should have more capacity than what we are using – within reason! I placed this step last because a lot of people told me it was the last step (other than taking delivery of the trailer). Okay, I can go out on a limb and say I now know enough to disagree. With the right amount of planning, a properly equipped truck can be purchased before the trailer. In fact, many already owned a truck when they decided to buy an RV. They simply bought a trailer that was within the capabilities of their truck. Karen and I already know what trailers and the gross weights we are considering within our price point and budget. We already know we can find a trailer under 20,000-pound gross weight that is very livable. We already know what our truck budget is. In fact, I already know the exact two trucks I am interested in which are the 2016 or newer, dual rear wheel, Ford F350 Lariat edition or Ram 3500 Laramie. So, if I know the truck we are going to buy and eventually have a short list of three specific trailers and their weights we are interested in, then why can’t the truck be purchased first! I have a plan for the most likely way we will transition to our future in an RV. This includes a scenario that would provide the least lead time. This is selling the house maybe six months before we take off, requiring us to live in the trailer while I am still at my current job. We are going to be prepared to drive off in our new trailer should we find it for sale on a dealership’s lot or in a private owner’s driveway. And I’ll use the truck to haul items when downsize our home.
Thank you for reading. I know there are several topics discussed above that leave room for more explanation. The blog post may be too long already but it does cover a summary of research over the past three years or so. I’m happy to discuss anything in your comments.