Updated Summary of Trailer and Truck Purchase Decisions.

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 month 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- 🙂

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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). 
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

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12 thoughts on “Updated Summary of Trailer and Truck Purchase Decisions.

    • Debbie, how’s the Montana holding up? Any more issues with the screws in the roof? Also, any specific problems with the cabinets holding up to all the roads you guys have traveled? And if you had to ask Keystone customer service for help, how did that go?

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      • Just came across this. Our Montana is holding up great. All main systems working well, all fit and finishes holding up amazingly well as are the cabinets with the exception of the large slide out desk which slid out and off its track after a very bumpy road. It needs the track replaced. Roof, while not the smoothest looking, is fine after all the staple removal work. We did just recent have a section of the rubber membrane slip away from the front cap. I go up there to inspect every couple weeks. I put on some of the roof sticky tape (forgot the name) and will bring it in for repair and inspection later when we return to AZ. Very, very happy with appliances, frame everything else!

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  1. Mark, Thank you for documenting your decisions. We are working toward a plan of retiring and hitting the road about September of next year and I’m amazed at how similar our decision making processes have been as compared to yours. We also over think and over plan but I think this will all pay off in the future. Unfortunately we aren’t as good as you at documenting via a blog. Maybe we’ll get to that soon…

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    • Thanks for reading the summary Jerry, adds a lot of confidence knowing someone else has a similar process in making decisions. You will be about a year ahead of us on the road. Looking forward to following your journey should you start blogging.

      Back in September of 2014 I barely knew what a blog was much less knowing how to start one. It just made since to have a place to park my notes which I frequently refer to. And the wonderful comments I’ve received from those more experienced has been awesome. Even managed to met a few fulltimers whom I met through blogging.

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  2. I am sure you are getting pretty excited to get something and start getting the kinks worked out before you pull the trigger. I to am looking forward to seeing what you end up with. Just expect a few problems and hope there is nothing major and if there isn’t much then so much the better.

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    • Hi Russ, I’m also looking forward to narrowing the list down to three trailers and then start the real shopping. Over time I’ve come up with a pretty fair list of sources to purchase different brands.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your planning and decision point processes.We are in a similar mode, but have first prioritized the structural integrity. I have found that Augusta and New Horizons are top.They are more expensive, but in that we plan to make this purchase our forever home, we think that in the long run it will be well worth it, even if we have to finance a portion.There seems to be more New horizons used out there, but I agree, difficult to find a more recent model.But, if I could not find a recent model, I will look into buying an older one and then having it upgraded. At least I know I am starting with good bones.If that is too expensive, I would buy a 30′ Air Stream Classic.Better yet, the new 33′ are awesome, with theater area and recliners! May have a better opportunity to snag one of those used in a couple years.
    Best,
    Cheryl

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    • Cheryl, I’m replying to your post a month later. That’s because Karen also brought up the topic of buying a relatively expensive trailer compared to a more moderately priced one. She used the same analogue that you referred to which is planning “to make this purchase our forever home.” She sees the extra money would be well spent; I see it as taking away from what we have available for later, once we decide to or are forced to come off the road. I also know the better built trailers are very heavy and that counts against fuel mileage which will become an everyday expense.

      One can talk themselves into most anything and it’s very easy to create a spreadsheet fudging the numbers until they are in line with what we really want and think we can afford. But, the other side of me says what have we been saving for and we never know how long God will allow us to stay on earth. I’m thinking out loud here… I also say to myself the best years of Karen’s and my life may very well be ahead of use. But who knows how long those best years will last, especially if health issues come up.

      I’ve moved my opinion, although very slightly, as to what price point we may buy from. I’m more willing to spend money now at the risk of having less later – total new concept for me for sure. The other day I priced out a Montana fifth wheel with the legacy package, full paint option and all the bells and whistles. Not that I’ve decided on a Montana yet. I compared that against the Redwood which is one of the few that originally started out as being built specifically for full time use by the baby-boomer generation. In this case the Redwood did not have full body paint. The prices were actually close. But – the Redwood has a few foundation features the Montana does not even offer as an option such as larger drum brakes, H rated tires and 8,000 pound axles.

      Now, having it in mind a fully optioned Montana (at around 16,000 pounds gross weight) is near the same price point as a Redwood (17,900 pounds in a specific floor plan) with it’s better foundation. Well then, one could spend the same money regardless. Compare that to an Augusta Ambition (without full body paint at 19,000 pounds), you will have to spend another $20,000 or so. But, other than an independent suspension, there is nothing to change on the Augusta and it can be a forever home.

      I should add if the Augusta Ambition does not come with a gas/electric fridge option then that might take it off our list. When we toured the factory in late 2016 it was an option, although not listed as one on their website.

      Before we purchase our forever home I will be sitting down with Karen and showing her the effects of the decision on what we have left to spend later. She will have to agree with the effects of it should we decide to increase our budget.

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  4. Thanks Mark for sharing your process to find the best full-time 5th wheel and truck. As a fellow research junkie, your considerations are helping validate the conclusions I’m leaning toward in anticipation of adopting a full-time RV lifestyle sometime in 2018. Once mobile, I’ll be splitting my time (with mother in tow) between slowly traveling coastal areas boondocking from CA to FL and low-cost parks inland when we want/need to be stationary for a while. Our main considerations are a well-built 5th wheel with quality components, hopefully promoting a long lifespan, plus a mid-floorplan den/office/bonus room that can be used as a small 2nd bedroom, like the Keystone Montana 3950BR (currently my top choice). As noted in another post, I plan to haul with a new or slightly used Chevy Silverado diesel dually.

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    • I’ve been in the 3950BR. Real nice that it has a cargo capacity that it does given all the features. The loft space over the bunk room is interesting. When we were in it last month I thought how nice the bunk room would be if converted to an office as well. Would be a nice space for your mother or whomever to call their own.

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