The Six Fifth Wheels I Would Buy Today
And How I Came to the Conclusion
Update April 2019 – We bought a Vanleigh Vilano 320GK fifth wheel which was not on the list at the time I wrote this posting. The floor plan came out in 2018 and was built by four different companies. Vanleigh improved their trailers after coming on the market in late 2016.
October 2017 marks three years of blogging. Starting a blog seemed like a good place to keep notes and better yet meeting those that have done it or are going to live fulltime in an RV. Last evening Karen and I meet a wonderful couple from New Hampshire. We met last year also. It was excited to go and check out their solar setup and see how our new friends have been doing.
Before you read any further, it’s okay to skip this if you are not interesting in shopping for a new RV. And beware, this is a very long blog post with lots of information compiled after three years of research. You may think I’m strange by the time you get to the end of this. I enjoy figuring things out and the research – I really do have a life!
As I read back it appears I’d spent considerable time analyzing and discussing with readers what makes for the best RV given Karen and my expectations for living in one. It has been a fun process and I thank everyone for the input. Although we have not decided on the exact trailer, the field has been narrowed considerably. Not wanting to make this a two-part blog post I’ll try and be thorough when describing the process I’ve been using to select a fifth wheel. It begins with this list of steps and comments:
First decide on budget.
- Currently maximum is $84,655 for the camper and $65,000 for the truck.
- Budget includes inflation because we are not buying this year.
- Budget includes everything to equip the trailer, truck, taxes and licensing.
- I’m making a run at staying under budget.
Then decide what type of RV.
- We decided on a fifth wheel because we want to be more comfortable when parked rather than during travel days. If we thought we would move around constantly, we would have gone with a class A motorhome.
- We have owned a travel trailer, borrowed and rented a class C motorhome and decided against them.
Then decide on floor plan and basic needs of a “full time” unit.
- We decided on a rear living room.
- The best space in a fifth wheel is in the rear area. We expect to spend the most time in the living room so selected that floor plan.
- Four season living so good insulation, tank heaters and such.
- Spaces arranged so they are usable, such as kitchen, walking around the bed inside the shower or wherever.
- I could go on with the list, but you get the point.
Then decide what manufacturers build the floor plan or close to it.
- A lot of discussion went into what Karen and I believe to be our list of needs or choices.
- After three years of following typical luxury fifth wheel brands I’ve come down to a short list of contenders and have an evaluation system I’ll report about later in this blog post.
- A difficult part is deciding what gross weight class you want to buy from. Heavier trailers generally have heavier construction such as in the suspension. For us the decision was do we go with something around 16,000 or 19,000 pounds. In my humble opinion trailers weighing less do not require the heaviest suspensions. A few areas of construction from the heavier trailers come to mind as something we might also want in a 16,000-pound trailer. Those are disc brakes, 12” main beams, G or H rated tires and cargo capacity. We now only look at trailers with good storage with no less than 3,000 pounds of cargo capacity. Because we plan to camp without water, sewer and electrical hookups at times, the water/waste tank size was also heavily considered. For example, lack of cargo capacity or good size water/sewer tanks took a couple manufacturer’s floor plans off the list. We could upgrade the tires and brakes later.
- It helped to have decided we wanted to stay at 40’ or less in trailer length. A few manufacturers do not build a floor plan we were interested in. I followed blogs where others travel in 40’ trailers. They always seem to find a place to park. However, as we are not wanting to limit the places we stay anymore than necessary, we both felt a shorter trailer is preferred. For example a park may have one space left that could handle a 40’ but even more spots for a 36’ trailer. It seems the floor plans changed considerable at the 35’ mark for fifth wheels. We could not find a trailer under 35’ with a floor plan we wanted to live in full time.
Then decide which of several manufacturers appear to have best quality for price and the best after purchase service.
- Done and will report on the system I used later in this blog post.
- Everyone’s needs are different, and this is just based on what we think are important.
- It took a lot of time to learn about RV construction. There was not one place I could find to go to for comprehensive reports or explanations about all construction methods. In the end, you will not be selecting a trailer just because the slide mechanism is better or it does not have USB charging ports! Pay attention to the bigger concerns such as water tank size.
Then select one manufacturer with a floor plan we prefer and buy new or used depending on budget
- We are leaning towards buying last years model as a new unit. From my research this appears to be the best way to get a new RV at the greatest discount, maybe as much as 35.7% off MSRP.
- We tour specific used units every time we go to a dealership to get an idea of how they hold up. We had no way of knowing if the trailer was used full time or not. I’ve read plenty of blog posts regarding required maintenance or stuff that breaks in less than three years. I’m worried about hidden problems a used unit might have if I don’t know the person that owned it. Although it’s fair to add one can hire an inspector and hope they don’t find problems after you spent months shopping.
- Over time, I’ve studied the 2015 through 2018 models, to include each year’s model changes to get a good idea of any major changes. Years 2017 and 2018 are most likely to be from the years we buy and hence those are the years I’ve spent most of my time studying.
- I started seeing 2018 models announced as early as March of 2017. It seemed like by around July the new models started to arrive at local dealerships. Heck, in January 2018 they were already announcing changes for their 2018.5 year units.
- I’ve not eliminated buying a current year model if there is good value for the price and a new floor plan.
Select a truck capable of pulling the trailer with a safety margin.
- I’m keeping in mind that no matter how much planning we do, there is a chance we would upgrade the rig later so the truck should have more capacity than what we are using. A dual rear wheel truck with four rear tires can handle more pin weight and cargo than a single rear wheel truck with its two rear tires.
- We are going with a diesel one-ton dual rear wheel truck. It will most likely be a Ram Laramie edition or a Ford Lariat. And it will most likely be last years model with no more than around 20,000 miles because from my research you can save at least 22.24%. After finding a survey conducted on the Keystone Montana forum I was shocked to see the Ram dually owners (178) outnumber the Ford owners (76) by more than double. If you combined the numbers for the GMC/Chevy owners (71) they were nearly equal to the Ford owner numbers. But then again, the slightly used models cost almost what the new trucks are selling for. You have to go with something two or three years old to get a better deal.
- We will most likely wait until around September 2018 for our purchase as the pricing come down and make sure a new truck is outside our budget.
- Because we have a short-list of specific trailers we are buying from, and it will be a dually diesel truck, I feel safe in buying before the trailer.
For those interested, for the first time, I am willing to provide links to my spreadsheets, word documents and everything else used to make our selection. I’m putting it all out there for better or worst. I wish someone would come up with a subscription service where you could check a bunch of boxes and it would create a list of specific RVs you might be interested in. The program would be relatively simple to design however I suspect the data collection from RV manufacturers would be an issue.
Several have commented in the past they would be interested to see what we end up buying. Well, if I had to decide today it would be one of the following six trailers in order of preference: (update, even found a couple new floor plans of interest at the 2018 show. That’s why our trailer selection will not be final until we buy one…)
My Top Six Fifth Wheels for Full Time Living – As of Today
- Forest River Cedar Creek Hathaway Edition 34RL2 (37’11”)
- Heartland Bighorn 3270RS (35’2”)
- Heartland Bighorn 3160 Elite (35’10”)
- Heartland Big Country 3155RLK (35’10”)
- Keystone Montana Legacy Edition 3720RL (39’7”)
- Redwood 340RL (36’9”)
- Today this is our #1 trailer if we decide to spend at our max budget.
I’ve mentioned it before but want to make it clearer that everyone has an idea of their needs, budget and favorites which may be different from Karen’s and mine. And, for my cousin Lee, I did not manipulate the spreadsheet scoring to justify any pre-conceived idea of the trailer we most wanted😊
I did however, keep the Redwood 340RL on the list when initially intending to get our selection down to the top five. Because it was one of those trailers we walked into and said, “we could live in this.” Thank you to a local RV sales manager for pointing the trailer out. Redwood started making changes in their price point and I think they made the right move. So does the local sales manager. I called a new Redwood 340RL owner who lives in North Carolina. Got his name off the Redwood Owners forum. The trailer is at the top of our budget as a current model year (he told me what he paid for it).
Not that I would do it, but if I threw out a few categories of what is important to us, such as trailer length, cargo capacity, tank size and budget, the list would change for trailers under 19,000 gross trailer weights. I have come to the opinion the Heartland Big County may very well offer the greatest value for the dollar out of the trailers we have considered. And the expensive Augusta RV Ambition is my favorite overall. Thor bought the Redwood brand and it’s yet to be seen how that will go. I am very impressed with the “Heartland Family” to include their owner’s forum and owner’s association. The Heartland Landmark is comparable to the Redwood but does not have our desired gas/electric refrigerator option in their Oshkosh model. As a side note, Thor bought the DRV Mobile Suites brand and it’s under the management of Heartland.
I’m prepared to back up my humble opinions. We all learn from one another and I certainly am willing to reconsider anything I’ve posted. Thank you again to those who have posted comments during this search for a rig we would like to own and to those who have been emailing me at email@example.com.
An important note is Karen and I are planning to spend up to six years in whatever we buy and do not intend to trade out our trailer during those six years. Others have convinced me the average time someone is on the road full timing is under five years. And I’m convinced with the proper research, and having a reasonable amount of experience RV camping, one really can “select their third trailer first.”
So here are the four tools I’ve been using. I trust the links in blue text will work:
Current Grading Criteria: This is a Microsoft Word document that lists what is important to us by category. It’s not perfect but it’s the best I can do without another three years to study. Each category shows what it takes to get a score of up to five points. If you do nothing else in terms of making a list, do this step. After you have spent time walking through trailers and surfing the internet, stop and make a list of what features are most important to you in an RV. You will not find the perfect rig. It’s all about compromises.
2018 Luxury 5th Wheel Decision Matrix Notes: This is the above grading criteria for actual trailers I evaluated out of the 2018 models. It contains every note I found important. In some cases notes are highlighted. I take those notes to the RV show or a dealership to get the answers I’m looking for. I have the same document for trailer years 2016 and 2017.
2018 Trailer Ratings: This is an Excel document I use to score each trailer by category. This is a decision matrix and each category is weighted by what features we believe to be most important. If I believe a trailer is somewhere between a 3 and a 4 rating then I’ll use 3.5 for the rating. The points are determined by multiplying the category weight by the rating. An example would be I think insulation is very important so I weigh that category as a 5 which is the highest. If I decide a trailer’s insulation is a 3 based off the grading cratering then the score in the insulation category is 15 (3×5). I hope when you load the spreadsheet you will have a better understanding of this part of the process.
Spreadsheet of Scores for 2018: (update – I’ll be using this spreadsheet when I look to buy. I’ll use the actual selling price to see where the trailer comes out in the ranking.) This is a summary and evaluation that considers the cost of each trailer. I may need to write a separate blog post on how I used this document. I’ll try and explain it here. I’ve concluded you basically get what you pay for in a fifth wheel RV with a few exceptions. In this document I have considered what is the closet manufacturers suggested price (MSRP) I could find for a specifically equipped trailer. During my research, using the above documents I scored each trailer using the points system I wrote about which has evolved over time.
Try and stay with me here because it is an important point. I divided the MSRP by the total points score I gave to each trailer. I call the final product a Value Score. Here are examples of how this can change where a trailer ends up on our short list to purchase. The trailer that ranks the highest in points, based on what features are most important for us, is the 2018 Redwood 340RL. But when you look at the price we would be paying for it as a new 2018 unit, the value of it is ranked as 16. The Heartland Big Country 3155RLK price makes it the number one trailer for us based on price. But when compared in points it scored eleventh. For now the Forest River Cedar Creek Hathaway Edition 34RL2 comes out overall the best when I averaged the price and my points rating.
Wow, I think I got through that in a clear way. Or just confused you.
Now that is all out in the open, there is one final point to make and is the reason I can’t tell you today which fifth wheel we are buying. Unfortunately for us it’s because of financial considerations. Full timing in an RV is more than finances for sure. Emotions play a role as does everything else in our individual hierarchy of needs. I’ve tried to not make this all about finances, but overspending could ruin an otherwise pleasant future. I mentioned already we are considering buying last years floor plan to save a little. Well, I’ve a got spreadsheet for that.
2017 Trailer Prices End of Year: (update – buying last years model appears to be the best way to get around 35% of MSRP on a new unit.) Here is a list of 2017 fifth wheels using the same system of evaluation but at advertised prices in September of 2017 after the 2018 models were out. Again, the advertised pricing is the best I could find. The Heartland Bighorn 3270RS advances to the top and the Forest River Cedar Creek Hathaway 34RL drops to third place.
I’m hoping to use all this when we finally go to the dealership’s negotiating table for a trailer. In short, the trailer we most want could change if the price is not right.
I really would like to get the list down to maybe two trailers. So far, I have been researching dealerships who sell the trailers on our short list. And, although we are not ready to buy a truck, I’ve found a couple we would be interested in. If we find the right truck I’ll buy it early because we have a need for a truck to haul stuff off as we downsize and repair our sticks and bricks house. Karen and I also talked about downsize to one family car.
Oh, almost forgot to answer another question. When are we making the move? Our house will be paid off this year and is our largest expense. We have no other debt. Figure we will get the truck the middle of next year and the trailer by September of 2018. We will be able to haul it around during the nine weeks of vacation I’ll have to burn up and make sure everything works before we go full time in an RV. Karen is already retired. That way we will already have a fifth wheel to stay in if the house sells early in 2019. And to have for vacation! Or we may hold off on the trailer late winter in 2019 to save up more $ before the purchase.
P.S – Here is a good September 2017 Trailer Life article on the subject of a full time fifth wheel. As usual the article does not list every trailer brand in the class they are describing. Articles like this, lacking comprehensive content, is the reason I found myself needing to come up with my own system. It’s still a good article however.