Final Fifth Wheel Selection: Part 2

Earlier in the month I announced that we had finally made our decision on a future fifth wheel; the Vanleigh Vilano 320GK.  This is the second post regarding the features in this trailer that helped push it to the top of the list. I’ll add a few not-so good things about the unit in a future post.

For those just wanting to skip all this reading, I located a 2018 Vilano Value Guide which is published by the manufacturer. It does a fair job of breaking down why they think you should compare their brand against others.

2018-Vilano-Value-Guide

I found it notable in the Guide they listed the direct dial phone numbers and emails for top management. I’ve consistently read in their unofficial Facebook Owners Group where it’s not uncommon to call specific people at the factory for questions. I said it last post that an apparent excellent service record after the sale is a leading reason this brand scored high for me. For us future-full-timers it is most important to have good factory support rather than counting on dealership support as we will be away from a local dealer. Over on Facebook I had posted about the buying process. A reader contacted me within the hour and asked that I call him. Seems liked an organized fellow, who recommended I contact three dealers for pricing and let each know you are doing it. He ended up driving from Knoxville Tennessee and bought from the Kansas RV Center. I have downloaded their 2018 price sheet and now have a very firm grasp on options to include those options not published. Karen and I will use this information to specify what we want each dealer to bid on. For me, it was important to note Vanleigh started using the Franklin brand of furniture in May of 2018 (that’s huge). So I suspect if we were to consider a trailer already on the lot it would have to include that furniture. We could consider adding missing options later at the factory or dealership.

2018 Vilano Price Sheet

I know I have at least one reader considering a future upgrade to the Vanleigh Beacon which is a step up from the Vilano with standard features such as 8,000 pound axles, H rated tires and more. Here is the price sheet for the 2019 model:

2019 Vanleigh Beacon Price Sheet

If you are wanting full body paint you will have to go with the Beacon. When I emailed management about unpublished options and other questions it became apparent one could outfit a Vilano to the point a Beacon should be considered as the price went up.  Here is a copy of the email response I received:

2019 Vanleigh Unpublished Options and Questions

I’ll dive into a few of the most important features we considered during my next blog post. I hope looking through these links will give you some ideas for your list of must have options and features regardless of what brand or price point trailer you are considering.

I should add we are wanting to purchase our trailer and have it at home in April or May to give you an idea of where we are in the buying process. And I’m after a truck no later than February. I’ve got three specific truck models/builds I’m interesting in and have been watching out for slightly used ones which I’m prepared to buy today. Any of four different colors will work for us so that broadens the search. I’ve contacted my first dealership up in Nebraska. I’ve not figured out a truck buying/negotiation strategy yet other than I’m willing to compromise on a one year old truck and bid at least two dealerships if we end up ordering one. Seems like most of the larger dually truck inventory are in what could be considered more rural states. I Googled “map of Ram truck dealerships Nebraska” for example. That produced a map where I could drag my curser around and see how many reviews were posted on the dealership. That led to finding a volume dealership or what I presumed must be a more popular dealership in the area. The dealership I found has 94 Ram 3500 trucks on their lot today.  Good selection within easy driving range of my home.

Google map search for Ram truck dealerships in Nebraska

Good to see Vanleigh is growing in dealerships. I suspect they have better than average access because of the relationship to the Tiffin family. I’m also hoping their pockets are deep enough that they will be around for a long time.

Vanleigh Dealership Map as of 11/15/18 per Website

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Fifth Wheel Features: Why We Selected the Vanleigh Vilano

The RV evaluation system I followed was to rate how an RV compared to what features were most important. As always, Karen’s and my ideas of what we want out of our new home may be different than yours.  For the sake of thoroughness I feel the need to throw in a little of the reasoning I’ve followed in the past which may have already been stated in earlier blog posts. This will be a series of posts. Feel free to pass these up if you are not into RV shopping.

In short, the system I use takes into account the score I give each trailer based off what is important to us. And then the suggested retail price, or as close as I can get to it, is considered. In many cases I was able to locate a factory order sheet with pricing. Obviously, a trailer that is relatively expensive might contain more attractive goodies. But the price blows it out of contention, or in better words, each of those points earned are expensive.  The final step in the evaluation became dividing the points a trailer earned by the retail price which equals what I called a value score. Hopefully this resulted in a final list of trailers with our most desired features at the least retail price.  Here are our final four:

Ranked #1 – The 2019 Vanleigh Vilano 320GK.
Tied for #2 – The 2019 Keystone Montana with Legacy Package 3120RL
Tied for #2 – The 2019 Keystone Montana without the Legacy Package 3120RL
Ranked #3 – The 2019 Forest River Cedar Creek Hathaway 34IK
Ranked #4 – The 2019 Grand Design Solitude 310GK

320GK – Photo from Vanleigh Website

What all four trailers have in common is all are nearly the same 35′ rear living room plan. But, if you peel back the skin there are differences to consider.

There were 15 categories I used to evaluate trailers. Not to repeat previous posts, but I believe its important to note each category was assigned a weighted average (points) based on what is most important to us. For example, insulation is a 5 and the exterior is a 3 in importance to us.  I have a written criteria, some of which is subjective, whereby a trailer can receive 1 to 5 points based of it’s features in that category. For example, if a trailer rates  a 3 in the insulation category then its total points in that category is 20 (5×3). Or if it rates a 4 in the exterior category then its total point in that category is 12 (3×4). Hope that makes since.

And so it begins. I’ll now summarize what the Vanleigh Vilano offers within the 15 categories. Sorry, I don’t plan to compare it against our other top trailers in extreme detail, other than to maybe drive home major differences. Bear with me for all of this. Many questions someone might have could be answered once I get through all the categories.

Options:

  • A couple years ago when I thought about which company offered the most factory options to me it was clearly DRV or custom builders like New Horizons. All of which are outside our budget if bought new and therefore taken off our list. DRV was known for modifying cabinetry at the factory based on what the customer wants and New Horizons builds them from the ground up to your specifications within any given floor plan. Karen and I have consistently been drawn to the newer versions of trailers. I can defend that position but will spare you the extra reading…
  • Some companies have options available that are not published.  In its price point, Vanleigh exceeds everyone I know of in this category. Back in 2016 and again this year I contacted a factory sale representative for the unpublished options.
  • An option that is close to a deal-breaker if not available is a second outside awning over the living room windows. I’ve been convinced by others the second awning shades the trailer windows and thereby helps with air conditioning. One thing that counted against other trailers for us was having a slide under any awning which is common in floor plans like the front living room. The 320GK (GK stands for grand kitchen) can have the second awning. Another deal breaker for us was if a trailer did not have an RV gas/electric fridge option.  More on that later in the appliance category.
  • I’ll warn everyone if you start adding all the options available in the 16,000 pound gross weight class 320GK you might as well buy the next price point up which is the Vanleigh Beacon. Or if you start optioning out a Cedar Creek Hathaway you might as well consider going to the Cedar Creek Champaign edition.
  • But having options is a good thing. When selected in moderation they can make the difference.
  • Here are the unpublished options for the Vilano. You can get 8000 pound axles, disc brakes, H rated tires, Goodyear tires, slide toppers, aluminum awning covers, CPAP stand, induction stove top. That’s a heck of a list when you consider what the Vilano comes with as a standard and the published options.
  • Here’s a big one. I continue to read when people go back to the factory for repairs they are able to have cabinet changes such as adding shelving. You can also get installation of any option the trailer did not have if you happened to buy it off a dealership’s lot.
  • They also offer four different trim finishes in varying degrees of gloss finish.
  • I’m seriously thinking if we order a trailer to skip the generator ready option because I want extra space in that compartment by eliminating an inside box on the trailer. The National Sales Manager does not think skipping it will hurt resale.
  • I’ve joined or monitored owners group forums for many of the trailers we looked at. I constantly read where someone thinks, to include me, that a certain manufacturer should change one thing or another.  Well they can put the best of the best on their trailers but it’s been proven most people will not pay for it. I believe Vanleigh has done an extremely good job of balancing the price with what’s important in features. And frankly, I wonder if they are able to take advantage of material discounts through their relationship with Tiffin Motorhomes?

Service:  A top priority in our search.

  • I can tell you with absolutely little chance of being wrong that Vanleigh and Grand Design offer excellent service after sale in their price points. Just read the forums and join the Facebook groups and you will find I’m right. The Montana owners forum is second to none, with thousands of owners who will answer questions.
  • Here are a couple examples for the Vilano about customer service. I sent an email to their customer service email on a Sunday afternoon stating I had questions about their product. Three hours later the National Sales Manager emailed me back and said send all my questions to him, he will answer all of them. Once during Thanksgiving day a customer had an issue and sent in a customer service email. They received a phone call that day and by the next morning all the repairs were scheduled. I’m in awe when day after day I see someone post a problem on the Vilano Facebook owners group page about an issue. If it’s not answered and resolved by a fellow owner, it’s common to see factory support people chime into the conversation. They even publish direct dial phone numbers to important contacts at the factory.
  • As we are going to be full-timers I don’t put much weight on the dealership we end up buying from that we will also use the same dealer for repairs. I plan on keeping a list of first year repairs and taking the trailer back to the factory when in the area. I’ve read how it’s common that warranty repairs can be handled by mobile repair people as well. Factory repairs, according to every comment I’ve read are outstanding with zero exception.
  • For those that know motorhomes then you know Tiffin Motorhomes. I have to add a comment here that’s important. Bob Tiffin, during an interview says you have to build a quality unit at a fair price to stay in business. Leigh is his grandson and Van is his son. Hence the name Vanleigh. Both started the fifth wheel side of the family. They are still a family owned business. Not being managed by the restrictions that can come with a huge corporation is an advantage. Not that long ago Jayco would talk about that when they were family owned prior to their buyout by Thor. And I still don’t know what to think about a couple guys that started Keystone (way back in the 1990’s :)) and created the Montana, then left to start Grand Design, selling that off a few years later to Winnebago. The Tiffin family has been building RV since 1972 if that’s important.
  • All the service after the sales can fly out the window if a company does not stay in business (think Lifestyles RV who remade the fabulous Carriage RV brand when they went out of business.) Lifestyles lost their financial backing and closed down a short time later as well.   Bob Tiffin is a co-owner in Vanleigh.
  • I once got a look at a fifth wheel RV sales chart. It’s common knowledge the Montana is the number one brand for sales, with trailer #100,000 coming out of the factory last year. Montana is the undisputed champion for sales and for good reason. In 2016 the Vilano was listed as having sold 239 units. The top three were rounded out with Heartland’s top selling Bighorn, the Montana and Grand Design. Cedar Creek placed fourth if the chart is correct. At the time I looked at the chart Vanleigh had something around one brand, the Vilano, and two floor plans. Fast forward to their 2019 trailer offerings and they are now three brands with multiple floor plans. And still keeping up on their customer service!
  • Maybe in a small way I’m thinking Vanleigh being built in northern Mississippi (two hours east of Memphis Tennessee) is an advantage. Compared to like 80 percent of the other RVs being built in Elkhart Indiana. Perhaps they don’t have to compete for labor like everyone else? Because we all know the quality of these trailers can be only as good as those that build them. I’ve not been on a factory tour at Vanleigh but have read more than once the place is run like everyone is family with workers stopping on the line during a tour to answer questions. I’m hoping their surge in trailer orders in 2017 is caught up and the pace for building is reasonable.

I’ll squeeze in one more category of the 15 before I end this for now.

Appliances: 

  • This category was dear to me because I recently replaced all the appliances in my home and had looked at a lot of brands in doing so.
  • Call me crazy, but I downloaded every owners manual for every appliance used in the 2018/2019 Vilano. Read all of them and wrote down the specific model numbers.
  • People say all the trailer brands pretty much use the same appliances, furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters and much more.  When it comes to appliances, and to a degree electronics, that might not necessary be the case. Especially if you bother to look at the specific models within a brand.
  • At the time of this writing, the Vilano appliance and electronics are mostly one brand which is Furrion. The standard convection microwave does vent to the outside of the trailer and the model they used is more costly than the Maytag I just put in my house.
  • You got to love the two piece combo Furrion stove top and oven that came out last year and is used in about every competitors brand at this price point. It’s self igniting so there is no need to light the pilot.
  • I should add if you go with a residential fridge then they use Samsung. Nothing wrong with that brand for sure.  Their gas electric RV option is the four door Dometic brand. Personally I don’t know if it has any advantage over the Norcold four door. The one used in the Vilano has a built in ice maker. I’m not sure having a water line in a slide is necessary the best idea, but at least there is a water shut-off valve for the ice maker in the utility bay should there be a water leak or a need to winterize the ice maker. We are going with a gas electric because a residential fridge requires at least four batteries, extensive solar or longer generator hours when boondocking.

I want to end this for the night. But have to mention something about price point and the fact you are going to pay a little more for a Vilano when compared to a Montana Legacy Edition.  Right now there are three 2018 Vilano 320GKs prices at $59,000 on rvtrader.com without the second outside awning and with a residential fridge.  In rough numbers, I’ve seen the 2019 Montana – non Legacy version going for about $53,000 at a big discount dealership.  You would need to add about $6,000 more for the Legacy package. And I’m expecting the 2019 Vilano, decked out the way we want, to end up costing maybe $7,500 more than the Montana we would have bought.  So is the Vilano technically in the Montana price point?  Maybe not.  The Vilano might better be compared to something like the Jayco Pinnacle for price. I think when I’m done with this novel outlining why we are going with the Vilano 320GK you will see it’s worth the premium.  Bear with me because some of the final categories I’ll be writing about are among the most important reasons.

Hope I’m adding enough details that are not specific to the Vilano to make this interesting and give the reader something to think about. I’ve got some not so good and average points to make about the Vilano as well.  To be continued…

Trailer Selection – Boondocking With Our New Generator

Last post I left everyone out in the open regarding what Karen and I have selected for what will become our new home.  I’m still working on the post regarding our fifth wheel selection. I’ll later attempt to bring together about four years of research which will explain our selection and perhaps give you something to think about during your own search.

Our trailer will be a Vanleigh Vilano 320GK fifth wheel. Here is a link to my 2016 blog post about it for those anxious to know more. The unit with options has changed over the years. I’ll highlight those later.

Vilano 320GK – Stock Photo

One of reason I delayed making this announcement was to get in touch personally with a few readers whom I’ve been corresponding with for a long time. Many have already bought their trailer. I wanted them to be the first to know. I’ve always tried to preface my research that it’s based off what is important to Karen and me. Other’s choices will be different. For those who have decided on their new fifth wheel or those still shopping, I hope my research has been usable and never misleading. We purposely waited years to make a final selection because each model year there are changes in what trailers are being built. The 35′ floor plan we selected, for example, came on the market last year and is now duplicated by four different companies. More on the trailer decision in next months blog posts.

Items we might use on the road which are influenced by technological changes for me are targets for delayed decision making. Perhaps even more than a new fifth wheel, which can often just be a revamping of an old floor plan, electronics change rapidly. Generators are in that group. There was no better time to buy a generator than before a trip to southern Missouri to spend time with my sister, boondocking in her wonderful new to her camper. I delayed the decision until it could wait no more.

Pull Start Generator

I’ll spare you the winded version of why I went with this generator.  The Champion pull start 3400 watt inverter generator is what I bought.

In short, I decided I did not want to take up any more room in the camper storage area than necessary, I did not want to spend $5500 on a self-contained unit that drains propane when in use, being able to operate a 15,000 BTU air conditioner was a necessity and I wanted the weight to be as light as possible. Of lessor concern for me was dual fuel (gas and propane), having to carry around a small gas can and having electric or remote start. I’ll add I was not particular fond of the idea that you could get two smaller units and hook them together for increased electrical capacity. That would mean taking care of two engines rather than one. It’s also an expensive option.

It’s worth noting some air conditioners, to include bedroom AC are 13,500 BTU. Ours will be 15,000 and the Champion 3100 Watt version of this generator may be borderline for running a larger AC.

It’s also worth noting if you decide on a remote start model it’s suggested you not start it with anything plugged into it. That’s in the Champion generator manual.  In other words, the remote start feature, where you can start it up to 80 feet away, will require you kill the main shut off in your camper before starting. Or not…

The dual fuel version may be more popular as well as having an electric start or remote start. I lifted all three models and the 3400 without the electric start is considerably lighter.  Other brands I considered were the Honda, Yamaha and Harbor Freight’s Predator.

The Honda 3000 inverter generator is a beast. A friend brought his over and I needed help lifting the 130 pounds. Another friend bought his Predator 3500 on sale as Harbor Freight frequently runs adds. The Predator is an economical choice.  I preferred the 3 year warranty that comes with the Champion.

We ran the Champion gas generator over-night to power a larger heater for three nights. I would not want to have to make the several trips that would have been required to re-fill a 20 pound propane bottle. Although had I purchased the dual fuel version there would have been the option to use gas.

I most liked the handle the 3400 Champion has. It’s like pulling around a cart. I could lift the 78 pounds in and out of the back seat of my car. Other models are heaver with their battery and push button start. It ran quiet and even comes with a 30 amp RV outlet.

Boondocking During Annual Festival

Mary has her trailer all decked out.

Karen still has a smile on her face after being able to decide between four trailers. She picked a version of the Vilano out four years ago and kept quite about what she wanted. Her happiness is priceless. I’m personally satisfied with the trailer which would not have made the final four had the new floor plan not recently come out.  I’ve read glowing reviews of Vanleigh’ s after-sales service. Most important!

Trip to Michigan via Nashville – Visit with Fulltimers and RV Shopping

Karen and I finished up a trip to see her mother and family in Howell Michigan a couple weeks ago. We first stopped off in Nashville Tennessee to pick up her brother who joined us on the trip. Unfortunately we did not have much time to spend in Nashville touring. Karen’s brother is a professional musician and has lived in Nashville for years.  Figure we will make an extended trip there in the future. I’ve already got some ideas for a campground which is Seven Points Campground, a Corp of Engineer Park.

Karen ran off shopping with her sister and mother in Michigan while I took a couple day trips.

Ryan and Deanne from California

Montana with Nice Ram

For quite a while I’ve been sending emails back and forth to a reader of this blog. Ryan and Deanne are from California. Ryan is originally from Michigan and as luck would have it they were in town visiting his father. So off to the south of Detroit I drove for a day trip. I got a grand tour of their wonderful 2018 rear living room, 35′ Montana 3120RL. And a ride in their new beautiful Ram truck that’s equipped for maximum towing with 4:10 gears, dual rear wheels, Aisin transmission and the high-output Cummins diesel engine. We drove to a local joint for Coney style hotdogs which is apparently a Detroit original. As would seem to always be the case, when meeting fellow lovers of RV’s, it took only a few minutes to feel like I’d known the couple for a while. Great conversation for sure. Thank you Ryan for all the valuable conversation in-person and through the internet! Thank you Deanne for the tour or your home. She had a list of what she would change in this fifth wheel. Wonderful input for us who are still looking to buy one.  As a side note, one of the things I like about the Montana is the very large user group. The Montana Owner’s Forum is huge.

My second day trip was to the Haylett RV dealership in Coldwater Michigan. Home of my favorite RV tour videos and one of several dealerships we might buy from if we go with the Montana. Although I’ve known three people who bought their Montana fifth wheels at Lake Shore in Muskegon Michigan. It’s the volume – lowest price dealership. All three seemed to have had good experiences.

While at Haylett RV I was able to compare the 2019 Montana with the newer 2019 Anniversary Edition.  Funny how in just a few months there have already been two significant changes to the same 2019 trailer! I’ve also been reading Keystone is incorporating more technology in their upcoming fifth wheels. That will be the third significant change in one year! So far they plan to hardwire cellular and WIFI into the trailer using some kind of Furrion system.  Here is part of the news bulletin:

“At the end of September, Keystone RV Company will launch another industry first, all Keystone RVs will be 4G LTE and WiFi ready, standard. New Furrion technology offers an antenna that integrates 4G LTE and Wi-Fi with standard VHF/UHF/AM/FM reception. WiFi and cellular signals are routed to a wall-mounted base inside the trailer.”

The trip to Michigan from Tennessee lead us through Kentucky. This was the first time I’d been on Interstates through south to north Kentucky. I was impressed with the scenery. Karen’s brother Steve had made the trip a number of times and alerted us to an upcoming view of Cincinnati Ohio as it entered our view on Interstate 75/71. I cut some photos out of Google Maps that don’t do it justice. Basically, as you approach from the south, down a hill there is a curve. As you make the curve Cincinnati’s tall downtown buildings suddenly come into view.

Here is the view approaching Cincinnati

WAIT FOR IT

 

 

Bam! As soon as you come around the corner the city appears.

North of Cincinnati is Jeff Couch’s RV Nation’s Dealership. Home of the low price volume dealer for the Forest River Cedar Creek. A trailer which has a ton of changes for 2019. Most importantly is their introduction of a 35′ trailer in direct competition with the Montana 3120RL. Wish we would have had time to stop to look over the new model. Karen likes the double bowl sinks in the Cedar Creek which come at the expense of a deep pantry.

Keystone Montana 3120RL

Forest River Cedar Creek 34IK

So that now makes a total of four RV companies who are building our top floor plan. The others are Vanleigh with their Vilano 320GK or Beacon 34RLB and Grand Design’s Solitude 310GK. Subtle differences in some parts and major difference in others among the four trailers. I’ll not get into that unless someone asks in the comments section. If you are looking for a 35′ “luxury” fifth wheel, these are the four we looked at.

We drove four days on this trip with a little over 500 miles between destinations each way. Karen and I really enjoyed the quick brake from our sticks and bricks home. We both still can’t wait to get on the road sometime next year. Till then we keep downsizing and fixing up the house.

Buying Used vs 35% Off New MSRP

I’d like to cover a few topics in this post. Buying used vs 35% off new MSRP and cost of depreciation. Also buying a brand of RV that has less chance of going out of business than another.

What got me to thinking about this topic had to do with someday knowing we would have to buy a new home and the money we would have left to do so. After I crunched all the numbers I believe I came up with a relatively accurate figure as to what money we will have left to buy a new home. Hate to already be thinking about an exit strategy but the plan would not be complete without it. Karen and I talked briefly a few months ago about what that left over money would buy in a house today. Not nearly what we live in now for sure; not that we are ever going back to the same lifestyle/house. We took a look at the current houses that are for sale to get an idea of what we could afford later – scary.  I might have to build one..

Let’s assume you get 35% off MSRP on a new $90,000 fifth wheel. The selling price would be about $58,500.  After five years that “$90,000” trailer could depreciate as much as 55% off original MSRP and might be sold for $40,500.  That is about $18,000 less than you paid for it.  So, it cost you $3,600 a year or $300 a month to own it – or worse.  Now consider if you bought a couple year old quality trailer of any brand(add an extended warranty) for maybe $46,800. Then sold it five years later for the same $40,500.  You spent just $6,300 or $105 a month over five years for ownership excluding taxes, insurance and added equipment. And assuming the used RV market is not saturated with used units the baby boomers are moving out of.

It goes without saying the fix for trailer depreciation is finding an exceptional deal to start with.  But I still stand by an earlier view about RV depreciation which is I’m not letting that stop us from buying one.

I’ve been studying the 2015 and newer models for some time now.  One of the problems are new floor plans and our attraction to them.  If we stay more flexible we might be able to save a ton on our upfront costs and leave more for a replacement trailer or a new sticks and bricks once we come off the road.  At least this is how it works for those of humble means.  Some of our favorite floor plans were offered back in 2016 but far fewer than I’d hoped for.  Lack of a certain floor plan could have an effect on what trailer makes it as the one we finally decide to purchase – if we decide to buy gently used.  I’ll be plugging the numbers into my spreadsheet to figure out the value of any specific used trailer. I’ll bet a used one would easily come out ahead of a new one for value if we can find the same floor plan.  And I’d be asking for a lot more than 35% off original MSRP to make the deal.

Redwood Interior

Redwood Interior – Rated with 8,000 pound axle capacity, H rated tires, extra large brakes, all solid wood cabinets with soft closing drawers.   RV gas/electric fridge is an option! The 340RL comes in at just 36’7″ in length and was first built in 2017. With over 4,000 pounds of remaining cargo capacity.

It was only a few years ago when several popular brands for full time RV living went out of business. Some had been around a long time. Some models were reinvented where the brand had been bought out by another company. Lifestyle Luxury RV comes to mind.  As does the original fifth wheel which is the Hitchhiker. The list goes on to include trailers built by Newmar and Peterson.  You and I have been studying fifth wheels for a few years now. Bet you would be less likely to buy one that is no longer in business or built!  And some people may not have even heard of a once great brand they now find eroding on a used trailer lot at a fraction of the price it once sold for. This brings up the risk of buying a model today that is out of business or discontinued tomorrow.  That already happened to my once favorite which was the Augusta Ambition, replaced by the Augusta Luxe Gold and it’s laminated construction.  Oh well, it was out of our price range anyway and yesterday there was only one used model I could find for sale in a floor plan we are not interested in.

And what about getting service advise when something breaks, especially if the company itself is out of business? All those who bought new Lifestyle Luxury fifth wheels were left with a useless warranty and a much stepper depreciation curve as the used price dropped considerably.

The Redwood is our number one favorite when compared to others in our budget range.  Although it’s not at the top in terms of value or when comparing what it costs for the features we want.  The Redwood came out in 2010. Per Redwood, they decided from the start to build a full time trailer for the baby boomer generation. Well, Redwood has gone through some changes. For the best I think. However, at least here in Missouri the baby boomer generation peeks out in 2020 and starts to decline as a percentage of the total population thereafter.  I’m thinking that is why RV companies have begun focusing on the next big generation of buyers which are the millennials. Heck even the Escapees RV Club started the Escapers RV Club to focus on that next younger (and larger) generation.  Wonder if the millennials will have the same disposable income to buy fancy new Redwoods years before retirement?  Maybe or maybe not. And that’s what is worrying me about our most current favorite trailer that’s in a price point higher than say a base priced Montana, Cedar Creek or Bighorn level trailer.

P1000781 (800x505) (798x503)

2018 Montana 3120RL at 35′ in length. With many features of a 40′ rear living room! Pantry, front facing washer/dryer closet, usable kitchen and bathroom. And over 4,000 pounds of cargo capacity. Unfortunately the floor plan is brand new. They made some needed changes in the 2018.5 version by the way.

Anyway, hope that gives you a few more things to think about when it comes time for you to buy an RV. The other day Karen said she thought we had found the trailer we were finally sold on. It’s a Montana 3120RL. Well, need I remind her we are not done until we buy one.  Things change, and deals might be out there that are too good to pass up. Being able to spot a good used one is a benefit of having studied these things for the past few years. Now I’m just hoping there are no new 2019 floor plans we are more interested in😊.  Believe it or not some of the 2019 Heartland models starting showing up and other brands will follow as soon as March of 2018.

Bighorn 3270RS

Bighorn 3270RS at 35’2″ with over 3,000 pounds of cargo capacity.  This brand has and will be around for a long time. The Bighorn is Heartlands top selling luxury fifth wheels and among the top three selling luxury fifth wheel manufacturers.

Congratulations to a reader of this blog David who found a heck of a deal on a gently used 2016 Bighorn 3270RS. A trailer that has routinely been in the top five for us as well. That floor plan was still being offered in 2018. Go to the bottom of this comment section for the dialogue. Or maybe David will post something in this blog post comments about his success?

Next weekend is the local truck/car show. I hope to be back with a post about our tour soon. I’m also considering a post regarding RV friendly clothing and laundry concerns.

One final point you might be interesting in hacking apart. Right or wrong I’m leaning towards starting negotiations for new fifth wheels at 35% off the dealerships MSRP. And even more of a discount for last years models as a new unit.  And for new dually trucks, I’m going to take a swing at 22% off MSRP to include promotional savings. And I’ve started to lean towards shopping on the internet as a way to negotiate upfront before I walk on a sales lot.  More on that later I’m sure. (update 3/3/18 – I am researching the merits of negotiating for a new truck from invoice price rather than MSRP while keeping an eye on factory incentives so I don’t give the dealer any of that money. ) A friend just bought a completely loaded 2018 Ford F350 dually lariat at about 13% off MSRP. And he is a tough negotiator.

 

new flash From blog reader Peter who mentioned a couple products you might consider for your new RV. Added RV fridge safety shutdown – ARP Controller prevents fridge fires; see arprv.com, material cost $175. Add soft starter for air-conditioning (ramps amps up slowly) for single A/C when boondocking, called EasyStart; see microair.net, material cost $300.

This Was our Last RV Show?

Karen and I once again made the rounds at our local 2018 Kansas City RV show.  I call it a national holiday!  This year we focused on the small details of living in any specific trailer. Such as does the shower size work for us, kitchen storage and more.

If you’re interested you can read back about our preparation for shows beginning in 2015.  That year we decided between a motorhome or a fifth wheel. The 2016 show was more about selecting a price point and did we want to go with a heavy or “lighter” trailer. We also started the process of selecting a floor plan. A common theme we both share was that we did not want to limit the places we would be staying any more than necessary. The debate between a 35’ and 40’ trailer would begin. At the 2017 show we finally decided on a rear living room floor plan. Go figure, it’s the most popular floor plan. Guess we had to prove it to ourselves.

The 2018 event very well may have been our last RV show – for the purposes of selecting a fifth wheel.  Nope, we did not decide to buy one, that may come closer to the end of the year.  The beauty of this years show is being able to walk past dozens of trailers we knew we were not interested in.  We also knew that even though a specific floor plan for any given manufacturer might not be at the show, lots of spaces are similar between floor plans and still worth a tour. For example, any given manufacturer may use the same bathroom setup in several different floor plans.

Redwood 340rl

Redwood 340RL – 36′ 9″

A local sales manager, unfortunately for him, met me four years ago. As usual he was standing outside the top priced brand his dealership sells. I can always find him there😊.  He is a good guy and very much up to speed on what his dealership sells. I stumped him with a question regarding the Redwood fifth wheel – nice. The Redwood RV company president and an informed factory representative were at the show and provided the answers.  Near the top of our list is the 340RL. It’s also at the top of our budget in it’s price point.  The floor plan came out in 2017 and I can’t find any used ones.  Redwood made a few changes over the past two years and I think they have done well adjusting into a niche price point. Two observations about this trailer which the factory representative helped out with include the bedroom AC unit is not piped into the same duct work as the living room. Because Redwood does not think that is an efficient way to move air.  Secondly, for those interested, Keystone did not purchase Redwood as rumored.  Thor already owned Keystone and Crossroads (builders of the Redwood). All Thor did was start having Keystone handle Redwood warranty and service. Because it made since in that Keystone has a more developed department for service work. Redwood management has also been involved with decisions regarding other Keystone products. Redwood is one of the companies that started with a single idea in mind. To only build trailers intended for fulltime use.  Oh, almost forgot, the Redwood is where I also learned not all drum brakes are built the same.  You can get disc brakes on a Redwood but the standard drum brakes are larger than normal. Then again, the trailer’s gross weight capacity is 18,500. I’ll bet if was lighter they would engineer it with more standard brakes.

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Larger Redwood Drum Brakes on Right

Another trailer jumped out at us during our tour. Keystone is finally building a 35’ trailer again in a rear living room plan.  The Montana 3120RL.  With little doubt, it’s closest competitor is the Grand Design Solitude 310GK. More than likely I’ll never get around to writing any details comparing the two, but if you are in the market for a 35’ rear living room – one of these could be the one for you. (Update – Go to Bugsmacker.com for a comparison)

Montana 3120rl

2018 Keystone Montana 3120RL – 35′

 

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Grand Design Solitude 310GK – 34′ 11″

What comes to mind most about the Montana 3120RL is that it lacks nothing such as a pantry, forward facing washer/dryer closet and extremely narrow theater seating found in other short trailers. We really like that it comes standard with double awnings outside and they did not downsize construction details. They are built like the heaver trailers to include keeping the 12” frame. That increased cargo capacity to over 4,000 pounds after all the options are added.  I noticed the first units that were built have already been improved upon. They added back cabinet doors above the living room TV, are now swinging the pantry door away from the fridge (so the knob does not dent it) and they went with hard sided window trim rather than curtains. Told ya we took time to “live” in the trailers for the details! This Montana floor plan is built at a very competitive price.

I also like how Montana and Redwood are now using a hard-plastic connector to link duct work. See the photo below. This should take care of problems where ducting collapses over time. Bet you will see that in other brands soon because it’s a valid concern.  When I graded the all-new 2018 Montana 3120RL using my system it shot up in the ranks to #1 for value in its price point. This is based on what we think is important using its base pricing with the legacy package. What they need to change is the off-brand day/night shades in their base model. When you retract them, they tend to wind up to tight, making it hard to later pull them down. Unlike the MCD shades which stop automatically at a point making it easier to lower them later. (update: apparently the shades are adjustable – see video) Small detail but something we even took time to look at this year while acting as if we were living in it.

 

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Keystone Duct Link – Plastic joins two pieces to prevent long-term crushing of air conditioning duct work.

 

What comes to mind with the Grand Design 310GK is it lacks very little as well. Customer service is perhaps their greatest strength according to many. The local sales manager (who also sells Montanas) and Heartland and Redwood, says no one can match Grand Design’s customer service. They treat the dealership as part of the company. He can get parts for Grand Design repairs in two days. It’s two weeks for the other brands.  He says Grand Design stocks something like 90% of the parts needed for repairs and can ship those parts quickly. While other brands mostly stock what they need to build trailers rather than for service and warranty repairs.  I suppose it might also help with sales that most Grand Design Solitude floor plans are built at a very competitive price.  Karen loves the window in the kitchen as well.  What I can’t get past is the 10” frame, 2900-pound cargo capacity and the bedroom AC appears not to be whisper quiet.  I’ve not yet graded the trailer using my system comparing it to others for its value.

A couple blog readers have contacted me via email regarding the 35’ trailers and I really have appreciated the conversation. Especially as we weigh the benefits of a 35’ trailer vs a 40’ trailer. My point system gives shorter trailers a higher point value in the trailer length category. Because we prefer a shorter trailer.

One last topic regarding the fifth wheel purchase, and truck for that matter. These things are very expensive for those of us with humble means. Karen and I decided long ago to buy our third trailer first. We don’t want to trade it a year or two later. Even if we know there is a chance our anticipated travel style could change over the years.  An RV forum member I trust had traveled 10 years in a 35’ mobile home, with no slides. He suggested only 20% of full-timers will still be on the road after five years. Author and long-time RVer, Sunny Skye in her book The Truth About the RV Life suggests the average time someone will spend on the road is three to four years.  For our own planning purposes I’ve been using a six-year timeframe. It would be hard to justify going all out on an RV or truck purchase for such a short timeframe. Of equal concern is not buying a comfortable rig which then becomes a reason to leave the road.

Karen and I are looking forward to the 2018 car show in February. I keep calling it the truck show because that’s what I’m interesting in. Karen is from Michigan and keeps reminding me it’s a “car show” and anyone from Michigan would think cars are just as important. Okay, I’ll give in and we will look at some cars for the fun of it. I’ll do my best to not stay too long sitting in the trucks.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos from the 2018 RV show.

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New Montana Window Treatments

 

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Nice Basement for a 35′ Trailer

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Pretty Wife in a Pretty Montana

 

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Montana and Grand Design Kitchens are Both Livable

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2018 Grand Design Solitude 310GK in Full Paint – WOW

 

 

 

Budgeting Part Two – Initial Start-up Cost for Trailer and Truck

This is the second part of three posts regarding our budget for fulltime RV living. You can hit the back button or go here for the first part. Thank you for the comments on the last post. 

And happy new year to all!  Karen and I are looking forward to 2018 for many reasons. One is the vacation time I’m able to store-up and roll into the following year is maxed out. Finally, in 2018 we will be taking all the vacation earned that year.  My fellow employees may not like it, but 2019 is going to be the year I’ll be able to take the equivalent of one week of vacation each month breaking in the future RV.

My first post on budgeting included a few comments of how we got to this point in the process. This next post is about the budget for initial start-up costs for the truck and fifth wheel. I’m working on the final post which is our draft expense budget. I’ve learned from others the first year on the road is most likely the most expensive time, so you will see I’ve planned accordingly.

I’ll be including just a few key points as explanations when writing about the truck and trailer budget.  

This budget includes purchasing the truck/RV, equipping it and all associated taxes, and licensing fees. At the advice of others, we are avoiding a few initial purchases for furnishings until we get on the road and figure out what works for us.

Earlier, I came up with a list of accessories to furnish the RV or truck. Landed a few Christmas gifts off that list. Thank you family!  But the real purpose was to establish a possible budget for equipment depending on how extravagant we might be. Here is a link for Items to Purchase in a spreadsheet you might want to purchase over time. Another blog post to refer to might be the summary as of May 2018 regarding the truck and RV purchase decision. Here is the link to that post. I should also point out, once a year I go back and look at our financial planning, which was first updated to include going fulltime to an RV in September of 2014. The plan includes our expected income at “retirement” and net assets. To get to what amount of cash we wanted to spend on a rig was a challenge. I suppose the best way to summarize that process is I came up with a conservative net worth, meaning I tried not to overestimate what we could sell stuff for and the return on our retirement savings accounts. I looked ahead to our retirement date and added on inflation costs for a truer picture of what it would cost to buy more stuff and how much less our old stuff would be worth. Karen and I had to talk – a lot – about how much we wanted to keep stashed away for when we eventually come off the road or whatever. I’ve had a financial plan since 2001 and have grown to trust the numbers.

I’ll get to the topic at hand. These numbers are accurate as of 3/2/17:

 Truck and Accessory Budget:  $65,000 for the truck and $1,700 for accessories.

  • I’ll not get into it much as to why, but I’m leaning towards a Ram 3500 dually. With 4.10 gears and air suspension. Our max trailer weight will not exceed 18,500 pounds and this truck will also handle the pin weight.
  • We hope to get the best transmission offered in whatever  brand truck such as the Ram Aisin. Ya, I know Chevy probably builds a better transmission even if their warranty is no better than Ford’s or Ram’s.
  • You can refer back to the decision on trucks by going to this page.
  • I’ve not given up on a Ford but generally believe the Ram is the best value when furnished the way I’d like it as a 2018 model.

2018 Truck Pricing

  • I’ve been shopping online for nearly a year, mostly to come up with pricing and typical availability. Same as others, I’m finding it hard to locate a truck within reasonable driving distance from home equipped the way I want it. Hopefully I’ll not need to order a new one. We are also not against buying one used if it has under 20,000 miles on it. These trucks hold their value, so we will have to consider the difference closely if not bought new.
  • If we keep our color choices to a few and bend on leather vs cloth, the selections of what are parked on dealer’s lots increase.
  • This time of the year and a bit earlier, I’m finding with incentives the new trucks are priced anywhere from around $8,000 to $12,000 below MSRP.  You might be able to save up to 22.24% off the original MSRP if you can find a one year old used truck with less than 20,000 miles on it.
  • We are buying the truck before the trailer, maybe as early as next summer. Ford made major changes in the 2017 heavy duty. Rumor is  Ram is making major changes in their 2019 models, having already added few minor improvements in 2018. Maybe we can find a 2018 priced to sell just after the 2019s hit the dealers lots! Also Chevy/GMC made some engine upgrades in 2017.
  • We are going to the February 2018 car show in Kansas City to check out the trucks in more detail. Yes Karen, we will also look at the cars. She is from Michigan and car shows are a big deal up there.

 

RV and Start-up Accessory Budget: $74,655 for the “luxury” fifth wheel and $10,000 for accessories:

  • It took a long, long, time for Karen and me to come up with or short list. We continue to fine tune that list as new floor plans and construction details change at least twice a year.
  • One of the tougher decisions has to do with what construction methods you prefer, especially for suspensions, tires, frames axles and more. Go here for my post on heavy vs lighter trailers.
  • Another good way to eliminate fulltime trailers from your own short list might be to consider cargo capacity. For us, we are looking for 3,000 pound cargo capacity and above. Just remember, added options take away from cargo capacity so look for the sticker on the trailer that lists the actual cargo capacity. Often, you will find dealers post a photo of the sticker in their adds.
  • Establishing a budget for the trailer is a big first step in deciding what price point you want to spend your money in. Unfortunately, this first step includes a ton of research and I hope being able to follow my own research has helped. As always, the details include what Karen and I want in a trailer, your expectations will be different.
  • We remain somewhat open to a used trailer, maybe as old as three years. But are leaning more towards a new trailer in last years model. The new trailers are announced around February and arrive on dealer’s lots beginning around July or so. Prices start to drop on current year trailers in October or so according to my own online research.
  • The new trailers announced in February will most likely have changes by the time they hit the dealership lots. And then more changes later in the year. For example, the 2018 Keystone Montana 3120RL is a recent new floor plan and just came out. That trailer caught our eye as a 35’ option that retains the same foundation construction as the longer units but with greater cargo capacity.

Montana 3120rl

  • I think we can reasonably expect a new trailer to be discounted 25% off MSRP. And if purchased as last years model, anywhere from 30 to 35% off MSRP. That’s my goal anyway. I’m not sure, but dealers may be able to manipulate the “MSRP” price so shopping around to get a better idea on starting price is a good idea. Either way, the deal has to be fair for both the seller and buyer.
  • We have been hitting the local RV shows hard since 2015, often spending two days touring. In 2015 we used the show to decide on a fifth wheel because we want to be more comfortable when parked. If we planned to move a lot more and wanted to be more comfortable when traveling, we would have gone with a motorhome. Between the 2016 and 2017 shows (and dealership’s lots) we were able to finalize a floor plan which is the rear living room model. We also learned a few of our must have items.
  • The 2018 RV show, considered a holiday around here, is next week. I’ve got my list of questions done by manufacturer. We plan to spend a lot of time checking the details such as do the kitchen and other storage areas work, shower size, electronics, seating and more. Thankfully our short list of brands to select from is down to a few and will most likely become even shorter after next week. All the brands we are interested in come to our local show other than one. A new RV friend toured that one for us earlier this year and reported back.
  • We expect to buy as earlier as next fall. I’m open to holding off to early spring of 2019 as a last resort. We want to use the trailer for vacation before “retirement.” And to a lesser degree the trailer might become our go to home in the event our current sticks and bricks sells quickly once we put it on the market in the spring of 2019.

I’m looking at the RV and truck budgets as a sum total. We might save a little on the truck and spend it on the trailer. Or we might try and beat the budget and put the extra in our account for travel. Some might think this is too much to spend for something that depreciates and especially with a big chunk of one’s lifetime savings. I’ve come to believe RV living and travel is a calling. It’s something we got to do.  I’ll leave it at that.


Budgeting Part Three – Draft Expense Budget and Details by Line Item (coming soon)