Visiting Family in Missouri – New Dash Camera and Upgrading RV Suspension

We stopped in Kansas City Missouri for a month to visit our daughter and ended up taking a two week trip without the RV to Howell Michigan to visit Karen’s elderly mom. The RV park in Kansas City, Basswood Resort, gave us a good deal on a monthly spot. One of the employees we know kept an eye on our trailer. I always let management know if we are going to be gone longer than overnight. We have placed the RV in storage in the past while taking an extended trip without it. If the price is right, compared to the storage lot cost, I prefer to leave it in the campground.

We then traveled to central Missouri for a wonderful campout with family on Lake Pomme De Terre outside Hermitage Missouri. Site H413 is one of the best in the loop which I reserved about two months earlier. My sister Mary setup her vintage camper next to ours and family came from miles around as they pleased. We celebrated everyone’s birthday at once, enjoyed the conversations and lake front fun. Missouri passed a special tax in 1976 for conservation which has resulted in some of the best, and affordable, state parks in the nation. It’s 7:00 am here at the campground as I type this. There was a storm overnight. Everything is peaceful now. The dog and I just came inside after an early morning walk. There are only six campers in the park, the lake is smooth with early morning sun reflections. Can’t live anywhere better for $20 a night.

Site H413 Hermitage Campground Pomme De Terre State Park Missouri. 50 amp only. We used our 30 gallon water bladder and portable “blue boy” waste tank in order to extend our stay. All worked wonderfully.
Wyatt is now 17 months old. His swimming skills are much improved.

Installed a Dash Camera in the Truck

After more than two years of travel, I decided to install a dash camera for two reason. Of course to capture images of anyone who cuts us off on the highway that could result in a crash. Secondly, after our trip out west in Montana and Wyoming we really wish we had better video of the landscape. Karen can record on her phone but who wants to ride around holding a phone out the window just in case you see a once in a lifetime view.

I began researching cameras under $50 but found I’d need to spend closer to $100 for the options I wanted. This includes a camera that does not have lithium batteries that get hot in the sun. I wanted one that fits behind the rearview mirror, out of the driver’s view. All dash cameras will save video in the event of a crash. This one also has a button to push should you want to save a video such as the scenery. Karen pushes the button from the passenger seat or, as our camera is expandable, I can order a $20 remote button that links the camera via bluetooth. The camera has a WIFI feature where I can change settings or review video using my cell phone. A long USB cord came with the package so the camera is hardwired to an outlet. The power cord was easily cancelled behind the trucks interior trim. I purchased the VIOFO A129 without the rear camera option. I did not purchase the add on power cable that allows for a parking feature whereby if the camera senses something touches the truck the recorder will start.

The camera attaches to a small clip on the windshield and can easily be removed to check video using a cord and laptop or from a memory card. I can remove the camera in order to use a front windshield shade screen when parked in the sun without the camera being in the way. The base of camera has a GPS feature that records the location of videos. For now, I’ve disabled the interior microphone feature.

Here is an RV tip: While planning a route and wondering about the condition of roadways, driving through cities, elevations or whatever, go online and watch other’s video while they drive down specific highways. I’m amazed by the volume of videos out there.

Camera lens is on the other side and is adjustable up and down.
Baseplate where I slide the camera on. I take the camera off if I want to use a solar shade or I suppose to stop someone from stealing the camera. Although my truck has an alarm system and you can barely see the camera from the outside.
Karen saved a video of cloud formations by pressing a button. The camera saves those videos in a separate directory so they are not overwritten by other video.
Location on Google Earth based on camera GPS coordinates where Karen saved the video of cloud formations.

I’ll Be Upgrading our Fifthwheel RV Suspension

If you don’t have 12 things to fix, change or upgrade on an RV then you are not using it enough! If planning for a future traveling fulltime in an RV don’t be fooled thinking buying a rig is a one time expenditure. You will be replacing parts more often than you planned for.

Back in the 1980’s there was a recession and RV sales plummeted with many companies going out of business. Lippert bought up 80 percent of the patents so now every RV trailer on the road has plenty of parts in common all provided by Lippert. Each RV brand manufacturer adds their own construction parts based on their capabilities and buys the remainder to install on their rigs. For example, many buy a single chassis consisting of the frame, tires, suspension, brakes and more. Then the RV manufacturer bolts on their walls, slides, water tanks and more. Televisions, air conditioners, microwaves or whatever are purchased and installed. There are several different companies you might have to contact for warranty work, especially after the first year of ownership. Joining an owner’s forum online for whatever brand of camper you have is a must. Others who own your particular RV brand are the best source for help! When you are researching to buy an RV and can’t find a decent online owner’s forum, for example on Facebook, then don’t buy that brand!

RV repair and maintenance is just as concerning as finding all the RV parks reserved during a holiday. Many have stopped long-term RV travel because of broken rigs which can be safety issues. You better be mechanically inclined if traveling fulltime. We lost our brakes this past year on our fifthwheel while on a trip. I called around and no one could help us within three weeks. We were stuck but fixed it ourselves in order to continue the trip. It’s a hollow feeling to be stuck in a strange place with a busted rig. Getting used to thinking outside the box and going with the flow will be required to survive the lifestyle. Beware however if you become a knowledge junkie and want to know everything that could potentially break on an RV because it’s downright scary. Sometimes I think it would be better to drag this trailer around totally unware that a single suspension part could fail, breaking a spring, losing one side of an axle or worse. I’ll write more about our suspension upgrade after it’s completed hopefully later this month. For now I’ll pass along what I know to date.

Below are a few photos and explanations about what suspension parts to keep an eye on. I took some time to narrow this down. I’ll also mention improper tire inflation is the leading cause of tire blow outs. Get a pump, check your tires before every move.

On a fifth wheel or travel trailer are hangers that extend down on both sides of the RV undercarriage. Use your fingers and eyes to check the welds. There are heavy forces put on these hangers for example when backing into a camping spot. As the trailer turns the suspension pushes on these hangers, side to side. There are add-on components to improve their durability and safety.
These are U-bolt nuts. It is absolutely important to know the torque values and keep these bolts tight. If they loosen at all then the trailer axle will move. If you ever remove the U-bolts they should be replaced with new ones as over time the bolts, for lack of better words, reshape themselves when tightened. It is imperative to check the bolts with a torque wrench when new and after a few hundred miles of travel. I visually check everything at every stop.
These are shackles, and in my case they are the thin ones. Reputable RV manufacturers are now installing thicker shackles, which now includes our brand of RV. In our case, there are bolts that hold all this together that must be lubed. Sometimes you have to take the weight off the trailer to get any grease in. There is lots of discussion on what type of bolts to use, specifically about the type of bushings. I trust Morryde engineers and have to think bronze is best. They all fail over time. Lippert offers a “Never Fail” bushing that requires no maintenance. Well, at least they used to but now have stopped selling them. Their technical support folks tell me they are not sure why they stopped selling them but suggested it might have been a falling out between Lippert and the company that built the Never Fail bushings. Believe me when I say if you are a full time traveler all these parts have a chance of failing because we haul and drive our rigs 6,000 miles a year.
This is a photo where two of our tires make occasional contact with the underside of the RV, probably when going over pumps. Our clearance when the trailer is under load (not stopped and leveled on a site) is down to 2.5 inches on one side. Probably our springs are flattening out. Lippert springs use inferior steel in the opinion of far more knowledgably repair techs who don’t sell springs. All the suspension parts work together in spreading the energy of bumps in the road to various places on the trailer.
This photo is for Debbie and Steve. Some companies are welding cross members inside the spring hangers to reinforce them from side to side. Some who own heavier rigs are buying bolt on beams that run under the trailer from one side to the other between the hangers. Those upgrades have been proven not to interfere with the normal operation of the suspension systems.

I’m doing away with the shackles, bolts and bushings for the most part by having our factory service center install the Roadmaster Comfort Ride System with Slipper Springs and Shocks. Several others who own our brand trailer have done the same over the past two years. I’ve yet to find a negative review. Roadmaster has been building parts for a long time and bought the patent to the system. Some have suggested money would be better spent upgrading to disc brakes but I’m fine with what we have and our trucks ability to help stop the trailer. The Roadmaster system is as close to an independent suspension as I can afford. I’m not wanting to add the better and highly praised Morryde Independent suspension which add a lot of weight to the trailer.

Lippert will want to send out a new set of the same springs to replace the old ones under warranty. Maybe going to 4,000 pound springs from 3,500 would help as well but the ride would be worse. All this after just 13,000 miles of usage. Not to get technical but our trailer brand had a recall where they replaced shorter shackles with longer ones. I suspect that might have allowed for more travel distance between the top of the tires and the bottom of the trailer when going over bumps. I’d also not want longer spring hangers to allow for more clearance as longer hangers might be less durable. Vanleigh has been good to work with and Lippert answers the phone when called. They are a huge company and so far I like their customer service. We can discuss all this in the comments section if you are interested.

Roadmaster Comfort Ride with Slipper Springs and Shocks – Everyone is having trouble getting parts so order well in advance of installation date. We have to double back 200 miles to the Mississippi factory service center once our parts arrive – which includes new U-bolts as we are removing the old ones and you should not reuse them per E-Trailer and others. I also liked the Morryde 4000 equalizers with heavy duty shackles which are shorter than what we have now.

Here is a video with two guys actually riding in the back of a fifthwheel comparing basic equalizers against the Roadmaster Comfort System (previously called the Liberty Rider). I noted there are better equalizers than the stock one of this trailer such as the Morryde 4000 and some say the newer Lippert Road Armor. Here is an E-Trailer video review. Additional E-Trailer information can be found at this link.

One word of caution if you decide to start replacing suspension components when the trailer is still under the Lippert three year frame warranty. They may deny a warranty claim if Lippert parts were not installed. We will have four months left on our frame warranty when we start changing suspension components.

I can see why dealerships have trouble getting parts which delays RV repairs, sometimes for months. It was a nightmare to negotiate the process of identifying what parts I’m having delivered to the repair center in advance. I suggest if you order parts that you compare them against images of what is already on the trailer as there are slight, but important differences. In my case Lippert suggested I order a kit to replace the U-bolts which I noted have flanged nuts. I was worried flanged nuts require a different torque value than what we have now which is nuts with washers. Vanleigh has a parts person one can call who knows everything about what’s on our particular rig and told me what to buy.

In my humble opinion, no one builds an RV for fulltime travel. Some just build better rigs than the others with parts that hold up better with extreme usage. That’s why they are called recreational vehicles, built to stay together through the one year warranty period and good enough to keep the government from regulating their business. And also for what people are willing to spend. I’ll bet a lot of rigs are sold because of floor plan and what the customer can see when they walk in. I can tell you, for sure with less expensive toy haulers, not many get underneath and look at the suspension in detail. As a new customer I knew very little myself. Costs money to go to college! Paying for trailer repairs and upgrades sure has taught me a few things. As well as good neighbors who don’t think it’s strange when I ask to climb under their rigs to see if anyone is using better suspension parts compared to even 2019 when we bought ours.

We are currently parked in southern Missouri and will be heading to Laura Ingles Campground east of Springfield Missouri.

Delayed With Trailer Brake Issue

Well, I can’t think of a better place to extend our stay other than along Lake Michigan at Traverse City because of a trailer brake issue. Especially as we have dear friends we met in Florida who live here and our campground could care less how many times we extend our stay as they have plenty of parking. More on that in the next post. Ray and Charlotte – you guys are the best. Had we lived near each other back in Missouri, we would have been friends for life. That may be the case now…. Can’t wait to see you again in Florida!

Anyone planning to travel fulltime in an RV needs to know this. You will met the most fantastic people. Folks you never would have had a chance of getting to know without being on this journey. I have told others about all the friends we have met – you know who you are and we are thinking about you. Those friends are planted all over the United States. When we have a chance to text, call or meet up that unfortunately has to be good enough, for now, even if we want to live next to you forever.

The following photo might not make sense unless you happen to own an RV with electric brakes and can climb under it to see what I’m writing about. I’ll post the photo as a introduction regarding our trailer brake issue.

This is a set of brake wires that come out of the underbelly near the wheels/axles. These wires feed the power and ground wire leading to both axles and all four wheel brakes. They move up and down with the suspension system as you move down the road. Those two wires are connected to the main trailer brake wires that run from the front of the camper to the back. No worries, I’ll explain further in this article. In our case, the butt connectors used at the factory were adequate, but not installed correctly. Some asshole on the assembly line decided his/her/they wiring was adequate. They caused much delay, expense and worry because the extra 10 minutes to do the job correctly was not on their mind. This is not an over-reaction. Trailer brake failure on all four wheels could kill you and those around you. I also know for sure the Tiffin family, who build our fifth wheel, would not be proud of this. “Built for fulltime travel” is a slogan used by some manufacturers. To me this now means simple things like expert brake wiring needs to be included with the package.

If I had to summarize this in two sentences I would write: If you have intermittent brakes then go to the underside of the trailer at the axles and check the connections up inside the trailer underbelly to see if any of the wires are broken or not connected. I believe the brakes were shorting out as the positive electrical wire, with exposed wire, was rubbing against the nearby metal frame of the trailer.

For this lifestyle, you better have average skills for mechanical work. If you don’t have the skill, moving around the country fulltime in an RV might not be the best place to be. Because, as was the case for us, it might be a holiday in a smaller town when you break down with limited services. You may be stuck with a major issue and no one to repair it for weeks – other than doing it yourself. I suspect, however, many of us are used to figuring it out.

Following is the background on this issue: We ordered our 320GK Vanleigh (Tiffin) Vilano in 2019. Picked it up at the dealership a week after it arrived from the factory. About a year later we were in a campground and our then 2018 Ram truck brake controller gave a warning across the dash that our brakes were disconnected. Karen checked online and advised shut the truck off and restart. That worked and we were on our merry way.

About a year later, to now, we were traveling down the highway in the rain. Truck said (across the dash) “check brake wire” “brakes disconnected”. This was an intermittent problem and we limped into the campground for DAYS of future investigation into the matter. I would never tow a 16,000 pound trailer with no trailer brakes…. That’s not safe for my family nor anyone moving around me. This is serous folks. Its not like a slide being stuck out on the day you plan to move from a campground or an awning that will not retract all the way. Thankfully we have a dually diesel truck with plenty of stopping power, rated for a much heavy trailer. Tow with a barely capable truck and you might be facing a danger you never suspected. Not to get off track, but this example supports what I learned earlier in terms of selecting a truck. Get one with plenty or towing capacity.

So we arrived to Traverse City Michigan, with big plans to travel the northern parts of Michigan’s upper peninsula. The trailer brake issue now became the priority. Called around and no RV dealership could see us for weeks. Thinking outside the box, I called trailer repair companies. After all, this might be an RV but it’s on a trailer. Received recommendations to various mobile techs from the trailer repair facilities but not the RV dealerships. Had a tech that could make it out a week later, despite being backed up 50 service calls as the northern portions of Michigan are backed with vacationers. He knew we were stranded and God Bless felt for us. He found what I believed to be an unrelated issue which was a single brake magnet not connecting very well with the brake drum. The mobile tech believed his fix had a 50/50 chance of being the issue and knew electrical problems are hard to track down.

I was not going to move this heavy trailer without a surety we had found the problem. That lead to hours of searching online, finding bits and pieces of advise. I called a 30 year trailer guy back in Texas, called the factory service center and got a couple technicians on the phone from dealerships. This revealed there could be several issues associated with the error code my truck’s built-in trailer brake controller was telling me on the dash.

Logical thinking was going to be required in order to troubleshot the problem, starting with the most likely issue. And I was intent on avoiding a situation where a RAM truck dealership would say the problem was the trailer or an RV dealership saying it was the truck. That’s no help… I can say we did find a dealership here in Traverse City who cared even though we they had not bought the trailer from them. They wanted to help but just could not guarantee a fix anytime soon. They could “look at it” on July 5th after the holiday but part shipments and labor shortages could delay the fix.

Getting ahead of myself I’ll add although there were numerous places to shop for wires, connectors and more, many of the shops I visited did not have recommendations where to find what part I might need. No idea if this was because of inexperienced employees or not. For example, I need 18 gauge wires that were shielded. Trailer supply company had none. Found the best wire at a marine supply store after my friend Bill in Florida said marine wire is the best and found a supplier in Traverse City.

So now I’m armed with a big bag of various wires and connectors. As well as advise from at least five people as to what they would check first. My friend from Traverse City (Ray) is better to have around than me because his attitude is to fix things better than new. I also wanted to fix the problem on a permanent bases but knew there might have to be a temporary fix for now. Such as if you can’t find double strand 14 gauge wire readily available. Think outside the box. Electrical extension cords are found in 14 gauge and will work even if you only need to use two of the three wires. Okay – best stop here and explain what I learned about electric trailer brake wiring. I’m committed to explaining this further as others will be reading this article after I posted the issue on our brands Facebook page.

I’ve got no fancy diagrams to post for those that learn visually. You will have to read closely at my attempt to explain electric trailer brakes on a two axle trailer. Inside your tow vehicle is a brake controller. This sends power to the trailer brakes based on how hard you press on the brake pedal. In our case, the truck also sends a signal every four seconds down the wires to make sure there is no trailer brake problems. In our case it found both a wire problem and warned the brakes had disconnected. At highway speeds, when the trailer was bouncing over pumps the most, we had a trailer brake disconnect warning. At low speeds there was no problem although I still left plenty of room between us and the next vehicle.

There is a plug that connects the tow vehicle to the trailer. No shit you say… Some are seven pin connectors like ours where the bottom two pins are for trailer brakes and a ground wire. That plug runs to the hitch area where one ground wire (usually white in color) and a blue wire providing the electricity for the brakes and run back to the axle area. It is possible to have trailer lights but not brakes as each of the seven pins control different areas.

The wiring system is not sensitive to polarity where it finally connects to electro magnets inside each brake drum that cause the brakes to work. You can hook up the power wire and ground wire in any order and still have “continuity” meaning there is a closed circuit. Okay, that’s a technical as this gets so don’t worry. I’m an idiot about electrical stuff and my friend Ray was not, so I felt comfortable. I also spent a lot of time finally learning how to use a multimeter to test wires for continuity and more. Get one now for future use. The mobile tech that came out to look at our brakes never got a meter out which was a warning sign he hoped to just find a problem somewhere and say it was good to go. In our case, a brake magnet that did not have a good connection.

So the wires that go from the front of the trailer to the back obviously should be connected somewhere. The white wire is a ground and we found it connected to a place on the king pin and inside the front basement on a metal grounding bar. Then the ground runs to the axles along with the positive blue wire that provides three amps of power for each of the four brakes. In our case, Tiffin runs both those critical wires in a plastic conduit all the way back to the axles. Great feature to avoid damage. They do this on all their wires running throughout the trailer. Sign of a rig built for fulltime travel!

We have two axles and four wheels. Each wheel has an electric brake. Inside the brake drum is a magnet that causes the brakes to work when power is sent from the truck. In our case, there is a setting in the truck we can dial up or down to send more or less power depending on how much braking we want which is dependent on road conditions and trailer weight. Remember, we had intermittent brakes warnings from the truck and to check the wiring.

At the back of the trailer at the axles is where the two brake wires end up leading all the way from the truck connection. Our ground wires a the front of the trailer were perfect. As was the power wire which was blue.

At the axle inside the underbelly of the trailer is a splice in both the ground wire and power wire. Because we have two axles they have to feed the opposite side of the trailer with brake wire. In or case, this required the factory place two wires inside a butt connector which is normally used for just one wire. This is common. This connection is the one shown in the photo above. Here is the photo again for reference.

You can see the underbelly of the trailer in the photo. The holes surrounding the two wires I have been mentioning had foam insulation around them. Remove the insulation and pull down on the wires so you can see if the two wires are connected. Ours were not. Those two yellow connectors are called butt connectors. One is for the ground wire (white in color) and the power wire (blue/white). These connectors are intended to be used based on wire size. Because we have two axles they must place an extra wire on each side of each connector to feed the brakes on the opposite side of the trailer. So they put two wires on one side of the connector which is usually used for just one wire. There is a professional way to do that which was part of my fix.

When I pulled down on wire from the underbelly I found the ground wire just dropped out of the butt connector. That ground wire had not been pinched inside the connector and was held in place with black electrical tape. The person that installed this wire knew the connection was poor and decided to tape the ground wire inside the connector. The power wire was located alongside the trailers metal frame and I believe bare wire was contacted the metal, causing a possible short. The power wire only had half the wire strands inside the connector and over time, with the trailer suspension moving up and down over bumps, the remaining wire inside the connector were in poor condition. I’m thinking this is why we had brakes sometimes and sometimes not. A poor connection.

With two axles you will have two sets of wires dropping down from the underbelly. One is for each side of the trailer. They feed the wires from the brakes on the opposite side through small holes in the axles. Some others have had those wires frayed when rubbing inside the axle, especially where they exit out the hole of the axle. Ours were fine but I replaced them with better wire. The originals were 18 gauge and not shielded by an outer layer of wire insulation.

I post this because I want to pass along there will be times in this journey when stuff happens that cause much stress and delay. Our future in an RV will be laced with problems. But this is a way of life and not a vacation. Slow down, stay longer and work it out.

I’ll be testing the brakes individually and not while towing. Raise each side of the trailer, have the wife press down on the trucks brake pedal. Spin each tire separately to make sure each has brakes.

So now you know one of several reasons you may loose brakes…. Still want to haul this thing around the country daily?

Equipping an RV – 50/50 Decisions

We have lived in our current RV for about a year, having bought it several months prior to moving in fulltime. This should be a good time to provide feedback about several hard decisions we had to make while equipping our new home. For more detailed explanations please click on Our Choices Page (a must read) where you will find links to prior blog posts and more.

Karen and I will be leaving our current location north of Kansas City on 7/26/20. As usual we have booked our camping areas for destination spots. We will also book our first stop on the route and leave times between the first and final stops open for flexibility. We will be at Fort Robinson State Park in western Nebraska on 8/16. We scheduled a month long stop at Broken Arrow Horse and RV Camp near Custer SD beginning 8/23. It’s so nice to be able to “live” in the Black Hills for a month.

At the end of this blog post I’ve included photos of our new Cocker Spaniel puppy Wyatt who is doing great. We are having a wonderful time training him to be an RV dog.  Slowing down travel because of the virus thing has presented an opportunity to spend time getting Wyatt used to his surroundings and allowing us to equip the RV with puppy stuff.

There were dozens of tough decision we made while equipping and purchasing our RV. I cut the list down to 10 for this blog post.  Hope it helps those making the same decisions. Of course our style of RV life may very from yours.

Refrigerator: Might as well start off with a topic I’m still not completely decided about. We went with a double door RV gas/electric. You will have to do your own research for this decision. So far a residential fridge would have worked for us. Our underlying idea when making all decisions was not to limit where we stay any more than necessary. Hence the 35′ trailer, small generator, very capable tow vehicle, RV gas/electric fridge and more.  We have lost power at four campgrounds which only required we run the generator to charge the batteries on one occasion. We have not camped without an electrical connection but plan to as yet another way of experiencing the journey. We turn off our propane when we travel which shuts down the fridge. I’ve left it running when traveling as well. The initial cool down of the fridge takes some time but is not an issue when it’s off a few hours. Personally, I would not own a residential fridge without four batteries, a generator or capable solar system. I’ve never had a residential fridge in an RV. Experience with a residential fridge in an RV might influence my feedback. I have several friends with one. We paid hundreds $$ for the RV gas/electric as an option when installed in the camper. Residential fridges are less expensive and require less framing and venting to place them in a camper. If RV gas/electric are not installed correctly to include framing the box around it for air flow then there will be problems. Ours is located in a hydraulic slide and there is no issue with the weight. We have an ice maker which I’d never want to do without. We had to disconnect the water line under the slide one time when in below freezing temperatures as a safety measure. The water line is braided metal and probably could have handled even lower temperatures. Others have figured out how to add a valve to drain the line which I might later do myself. We have replaced one plastic door handle as you have to learn how to open RV fridge gas/electric doors. The light fixture is out and a plastic hinge where the doors come together could use replacing. I’m convinced RV gas/electric fridges are harder to repair. I’m satisfied with our decision at this point but still wonder about the long-term as our type of travel evolves. It’s nice to click the fridge over to gas when we only have 30 amp electric service. Camping without electric service is not a concern.

Washer/Dryer: Would probably be a good idea to have Karen type this one out. I’ll do my best and change whatever she might not agree with after she reads the post. We decided not to have one installed but are glad to have the option with water and electric hook-ups in the closet. Also glad that if we ever installed a unit the door would face forward and not require we fish around in the master bedroom closet to gain access.  We figured out sources for $40 a month in quarters as we use campground facilities and sometimes travel to small town laundries (that don’t have security bars around the windows.) Like others said would happen, it seems Karen often does multiple loads at a time when a lot of machines are available, thereby knocking out the laundry once ever couple weeks. Sometimes she does smaller loads prior to taking off to the wilderness on a trip. We have lots of extra towels, perhaps clothing and bedding which I feel we would still have even if we could do laundry in the fifth wheel. Glad we don’t have the added weight of the unit. If I ever had a unit in the trailer then separate washer/dryer would be nice but at the least a combo unit would be vented to the outside for sure. Glad we don’t have to worry about having a sewer and water connection to do laundry. Glad we don’t have to listen to a tiny combo unit running and shaking. Glad we have two bars in the bathroom to hang clothes we don’t put in dryers anyway. As a side point, Karen still irons using an apartment sized board or at times, during longer campground stays, she uses ironing boards commonly left in the laundry room (Update – Karen wants a full size ironing board that will store behind our theater seating. Small things make this lifestyle more enjoyable) .  Personally, I wear shorts and shirts that don’t require ironing. We both still want our clothes to look clean and ironed just like we still live in a sticks and bricks house. This is our lifestyle and not a vacation. We want to feel “normal”. Karen dresses up more than I do and still likes to wear her shinny jewelry. I appreciate that!

Generator: Went with a 3500 watt gas portable inverter (quiet) unit that rides in the bed of the truck. Someday I’ll post how I finally figured out how to secure it in the truck where it does not move and exhaust out the back of the truck. Propane generators eat propane quickly and filling a gas can is way easier than hunting down propane. By the way, I use our extra 30 pounds propane tank that came with the trailer for our gas grill. Our 3500 watt unit provides a full 30 amps of power. If we had two of the smaller and lighter units then we could do the same. Ours weighs 75 pounds because I left off the option of remote starting or even push button starting which requires a battery that has to be maintained. We used the generator a lot when our trailer was in storage to power the RV and top off the batteries when needed. I even left off the generator prep option when we ordered our fifth wheel which freed up space in the storage area which we need as our 35′ trailer does not have the same basement space as a 40′ trailer. 100% satisfied with this decision even if so far we don’t use the generator much. The portability is nice as we can power stuff when away from home. Even used it to vacuum the truck once.

Batteries: All decisions regarding electric were made keeping in mind to start with the bare minimum and add on later once we figure out what we actually need. Decided to just have the dealership add a second 12 volt battery. The 50/50 decision was if to ditch the initial 12 volt battery and go with two or four 6 volt batteries. Wish we had the type of batteries that don’t require checking the water level. Glad we don’t have the space of four more batteries taken up. Maybe our next electric decision will be to purchase a folding portable solar panel which I’ve talked to others about. Again, we started small and will build upon our electrical needs as necessary. I also know if we change out a battery or both that it’s not good to mix older batteries with newer batteries. For our current style of travel two batteries has worked perfect.

Tire Monitoring: At this point in the learning curve I’ll have to agree most tire blowouts are caused by improper tire inflation which is another topic. Because it makes pulling the trailer less stressful I added tire monitoring. Our unit has an easy to read color display and monitors tire inflation and tire heat. Fun to watch the numbers change on warmer days or when I might purposely run the tires five pounds lighter in air. So far I trust the unit to check the tire pressure before I decide to get out the compressor. I check my tires before every move. And while I’m down there inspecting tires, I check the suspension before we leave and at every stop. Glad our tailor tires came with metal valve stems. I still think the nitrogen filed tires might be  B.S as I still have to add and lower air at times. I’m helping you big time by saying get a unit to start off with rather than taking a long time to decide which unit.  Does add yet another thing to the dashboard to be looked around. I take mine off the dash for longer stays but the portability is nice during move day when I can turn the unit on in the trailer to precheck the tires.

Electrical/Surge Protection: Took me months to decided on which unit. As fulltimers there will be more chances for electrical issues at a campground power pole compared to if we only used the trailer a few times a year. Because we use it all the time I decided to spend money on the best unit which is any that monitor low and high voltage. Especially on days when everyone is running their AC units. So we don’t leave the monitoring unit at a campground our rule is it goes in the box in trailer storage as soon as we disconnect. We don’t place it anywhere but in the box! I decided to purchase a 15′ cable to lock the unit to the trailer which adds yet another step for move day. At least all our locks are keyed alike or have a user set combination. I decided to get the optional wireless display that I placed in a cabinet inside the trailer. It’s handy to check when the power goes out and has a side benefit of displaying our power consumption which is informative. I was fine with delaying the decision until we figured it out. Months ago a nearby camper ended his trip when his wiring inside the camper was fried. I’m not sure if surge protection would have saved him or not as the surge was due to a lightening strike at a tree five feet from his class C camper.

Window Shades and Dual Pane or Not: Glad we have daytime shades in additional to the night shades. Makes a huge difference in hot weather. Provides added privacy when we want at least a little light coming through the windows. But dual window shades adds yet one more thing to adjust or fix.

Dual pane windows also make a difference and are worth the cost and weight to us. Last winter there was no frost on our windows inside the trailer. I think they make a difference in blocking some outside noise. The factory said most RV’s they built in our price point did not have them installed as an option which I was surprised by. We have plenty of cargo capacity for the added weight. Maybe other than cost/weight the biggest concern is if the rubber seal breaks between the panes then the windows will haze and need to be replaced or repaired.  Tiffin (Vanleigh brand) owns the windows company so I’m hoping if we have issues it’s a easier fix. Again, as we live fulltime in the trailer I felt comfortable with the decision to get dual pane. I’d not have them for a vacation unit or worry if resale would be better or not. Many of the would-be fulltime trailers we walked through at RV shows did not have dual pane windows which I’m thinking is the dealers attempt to keep the price down as many people do not consider the decision. It’s not the end of the world to skip dual pane windows. I’ve had both.

By the way, if you can get a second outside awning as an option then get one or have it installed later. Shading the entire side of a camper makes a massive difference in cooling inside during direct sunlight. Some trailers have very long single awnings that might be braced in the center when closed so they don’t bend the roller. We can also walk around 75% of our fifth wheel trailer in the rain and not get wet. Under the awnings, under the front overhang and under the bedroom slide with access to all the outside storage doors.  We prepare for storms by moving stuff under the fifth wheel overhang. If we are awake and at home where we can monitor the wind, it sure is nice to leave both awnings out to keep stuff dry.

Water Filtration: Still deciding on yet one more aspect or addition. So far we are fine with an external filter at the campground water connection. We also have a built-in single filter inside the trailer. Thinking about adding a filter for drinking water under the kitchen sink. Personally, so far I don’t see a need for a water softener or elaborate double filter outside but I’ve researched them.

Air Conditioners: Glad we have two 15,000 BTU units. In high humidity and heat they make a difference. I’d consider a third unit in a 40′ trailer. Some brands equip the front bedroom area with a 13,500 BTU unit. Our living room unit has a heat pump which we use down to 40′ degrees. We sometimes use the living room unit to cool the bedroom as our tailor AC system is ducted throughout the trailer (central air so to speak). That way it’s even quieter in the bedroom. We always use the front bedroom unit to help the rear living room unit, even partially closing the vents in the bedroom during hot days which forces more air into the living room. For full time living I don’t see how folks stay cool in lets say a 30 trailer with one AC.  The guy parked next to us says the single AC cannot keep up on hot days by noon.  Glad our trailer is 35′ with less space to heat and cool using the exact same furnace and ACs installed in a 40 and above trailer. On hot days with high humidity you should run the AC on high fan settings to avoid freezing up the unit with ice. If it does freeze up then turn off the cool setting and run the high fan which will thaw it quickly.  I had been using the auto fan setting until our rear unit iced up which you will know has happened because the air flow is dramatically reduced and there might not be any condensation dripping from the roof.

Storage Unit: Throwing this in among the topic because from the storage unit we move equipment stuff in and out of the trailer when we are near family back in Missouri. I view storage unit expenses just like insurance expenses. We have a 5×10 climate controlled storage unit and glad we made that decision. If for some reason we did not like full time RV travel the first year or so then we still have important stuff we did not dispose of in storage. I could have also seen us getting a larger storage unit with agreement we would downsize in a year or so. Our 5×10 is not full. We must have done some good planning as we are taking less than a small box back to storage and only retrieved a few items. Glad I can pick up my bike when in town and leave it behind or not. Glad we still had some dog stuff in storage for Wyatt.

Thanks for the toys Aunt Lisa. Wyatt loves his stuff.

The trip home from the breeder. Wyatt raised a hell of a fuss when he wanted to stop the truck for a pee break. Good sign? Or will route planning take on a new meaning?

Everything is new. Mom explains stuff to Wyatt. I laughed when he experienced rain the first time. He figures it out and is somewhat headstrong, wanting to do things his own way.

Thank you Aunt Mary for the puppy equipment. Wyatt figured out how to roll the portable play pen around so now we are using a wire fencing. He sleeps through the night in the pet carrier.

Wyatt does this all the time beginning at 9 weeks old. He tries to climb in the truck. Frankly, anywhere Karen might be heading or sitting he will do what it takes to get near her.

The puppy color matches our furniture 🙂

Wyatt is so smart and fearless!  Started using a leash the second day he came home. Loves to ride in the truck where thankfully he is also content to sleep for a couple hours at a time. Having pets on the road is a big decision. Getting a puppy is a way big decision. We will talk about it later. Thankfully he sleeps through the night in his kennel. The first two nights at home with Wyatt were sleepless nights.

Here are a couple videos if you enjoy them. I don’t bother with editing video so sorry they are less than professional.

 

 

 

 

Had Our Rig Professionally Weighed

Merry Christmas to all.  We miss our family but had a great day despite it. Had a meal with eight strangers at the park event and met some new friends. The park organized the event. We donated $4 each for the meat and drinks. Everyone at your assigned table brings two dishes and we sat around like a family at the table.

I am keeping detailed notes regarding establishing our domicile while here in Texas. I planned to include other non-domicile topics that we just happened to have completed during the same timeframes. It became apparent with the amount of data that I should report about our rig being weighed in a separate blog post.

We paid the $55 and had a Weight Master here at the Escapees RV Club weigh the rig. I wrote in the title we had it “professionally weighed” because this is no drive on the truck scale and get a printout. The Weight Master goes over the results in detail and can provide recommendations as needed. The lady who handled the scales teaches at the Escapees Bootcamp. Among other discussions I asked about people having their rigs weighed and complaining about tire blowouts.  She says almost always those people have overweight RVs and do little to maintain proper tire inflation.

I tried but could not get a PDF file to work correctly within this post.  The file has a feature that allows you to hold the pointer or click on a highlighted area on the downloaded form, notes would then appear regarding each highlighted area. Please email me at mseneker@hotmail.com and I’ll send you the PDF with the ability to view the notes.  Otherwise, below is a link to our weight form.

Vilano 320GK and Ram 3800 Dually Weights

If you are towing or buying a fifth wheel in the 16,000 pound class, which are common for full-timers, then our weights will really help.

Because I could not get the darn PDF form to work correctly and to save you asking me to email it; I’ll include two areas of my notes from the form that are most important:

Regarding Combined Gross Weight Ratings for the Truck:

Before I knew more, this weight limit was what I used to pick a truck. I knew I wanted something capable of hauling 19,000 pounds or less. Because a couple of the heavier trailers we liked had max trailer weights that were 18,000 and 19,000 pounds.

The gross combination weight rating (GCWR) is a specific maximum weight limit determined by the truck manufacturer. The GCWR takes into account two individual (yet attached) vehicles — the tow vehicle and the trailer. Doing the math, our truck is maxed out with a 19,800-pound fifth wheel trailer. (33,800 gross combined weight limit less the max truck weight of 14,000 GVWR).

This was a tricky number for me as the weight charts for our truck clearly indicate it has a max trailer weight rating of 25,020 pounds. I assume this is based on the truck not being at its max weight load to start with.

Our actual truck weighs 9,500 with occupants – and the dog, full fuel but no trailer hitched. Therefore, if the gross combined rating is 33,800 less the actual truck weight of 9,500 you would think I could tow around a 25,020-pound trailer. Apparently I can tow the 25,020 as long as I don’t have the truck packed with cargo.

Our truck has a 3.73 axle ratio. Change that to a 4.10 axle ratio and the gross combined weight limit goes up to 39,100 pounds.

As I found out talking to the Weight Master the truck can only handle the weight limitation of any one component such as on an axle, tires and more.

Regarding the Rear Axle Rating for a Truck:

The rear axle on our dually truck is rated at 9,720 pounds. That’s the max weight of cargo the rear axle can handle. The rear axle, on the same truck without dual rear wheels is rated at 7,000 pounds. I downloaded the charts way before I went truck shopping. And I don’t mean the charts that merely provide the “towing capacity” as those are close to worthless. Get the charts that show the axle weight ratings at the very least. And here is why:

THIS IS IMPORTANT

With the trailer attached the weight on our trucks rear axle is 7,450 pounds. This includes the stuff we are hauling in the bed of the truck, the hitch/pin weight of the trailer, loaded the passengers, fuel and whatever is shifted to the rear axle.

At 7450 pounds on the rear axle the weight exceeds the rating of the same truck that does not have dual rear tires by 450 pounds. Our hitch alone weights 220 pounds. I suspect if I took everything out of the bed of the truck, other than the hitch, I’d be closer to 7200 pounds. THE REAR AXLE RATING may set the actual limit of what you can tow.

Our trailer is rated for a gross weight of 16,000 pounds. We are 800 pounds under weight with a full tank of water and loaded for full time RV living. The rear axle weight on our truck would go up if we add more weight to the trailer.

If you want to guess at what would be the pin weight of a fifth wheel RV you can take the gross max weight of the trailer x 20%.  The Weigh Master  suggests using 25%. Either way, also add in a little for whatever you think you will have in the bed of the truck.

END OF MOST IMPORTANT – Know your truck’s rear axle rating.

I can see why not having a dually, long bed, diesel truck would be a benefit when you drive it every day. I really can.. Any long bed truck is harder to park and turn especially if you add two extra outside tires. If I only used the trailer while on vacation, there is no way I’d want a dually. But then again, I would not have bought the trailer we have if that was the case. Or if I flat out would not tolerate driving a dually then I’d buy a lighter trailer regardless, maybe something under 14,000 gross weight capacity or less.

The best advice I received before buying a truck was to get one setup to tow. Because towing is when you need to be the safest you can get.

I figured as we are fulltime RVers then our chances of having a crash or weight related issue would be more likely than if we used the trailer for vacations, if for no other reason than we are towing a lot of miles in one year compared to someone who uses their RV for vacation. And these dually trucks are very stable in high wind. If a tire goes flat in the back I’ve got three left to handle the weight while I drift to a stop.

The decision is yours to make.

I don’t have the charts for Chevy and Ford truck capacities. I had them when shopping for a truck however. All three brands build great trucks with almost identical warranties.

If you are towing anything near a 16,000 pound fifth wheel with a single rear wheel truck please watch what you put in the truck bed as you may be very close or just above the max weight the truck can handle per the manufacturer.

It was good to know that at this point we have 2,780 pounds of cargo in our trailer if you include a full fresh water tank with a weight of about 660 pounds. With no water we are at about 2,120 pounds of cargo.  Glad I set a minimum cargo capacity of 3,000 pounds  when we were shopping for our trailer. Deciding on your budget for a new RV rig and the minimum cargo capacity sure helps lower the number of RV’s to consider. Of course some required a lot less stuff when they travel.  And others travel with an overloaded RV.

When the tires of the trailer are weighed individually we are more than 1,000 pounds under weight per tire.  These Westlake G rated tires are rated at 4,400 pounds when the Goodyear G’s are rated for less weight. That’s a big reason you are seeing Westlakes on new trailers. Some call them China bombs but they are actually a South Korean Company.  So are car companies Kia and Hyundai. So are the tires on all new Ram heavy duty trucks (Nexen).

Now to get Karen used to driving this truck. She drove our last truck but it was not this huge and the long truck bed is harder to turn around corners or in parking lots. Use of mirrors is important. She should have the freedom to drive wherever she wants.

Howell Michigan Camping

We are stopped at a state park near Brighton Michigan for six nights to visit family. Running on electric only. Our tank sizes are 70 gallon fresh water, 10 hot water, 90 gray and 45 black. We are being more conservative on water usage than our last longer stay without hookups. So far it looks like we will have no problem spending a week off hookups. Paper plates and taking a shower at the public building is about all we are doing to preserve water and tank space.  Karen is being more careful when washing dishes as well.

We have finished 850 miles of a 1700 mile trip. I purchased a one year subscription to RV Trip Planning Wizard and really like it.  I also jump over to campground reviews.com for additional ideas for camping areas. Those years of planning are coming in handy as I’ve got an arsenal of ideas for trip planning provided by friends and readers.  Thanks for that!

One comment that makes since is trip planning and navigation are two separate concepts. Navigation might be using a GPS or map during the drive. Our 2018 Dodge navigation system is working great. As I’m still so new at hauling a monster fifth wheel, I still look at Google Earth for the entire route to check for tight areas. Used to even look over interstate’s on Google Earth as well but now feel comfortable with only checking lessor roads, especially if they are not divided highways. RV Trip Planning Wizard also contains a low bridge database so at this point I’ve not bothered to find a third party application to check for low bridges. At this point, I’ll not purposely take side routes that are not part of the original route planning. Tried that in Indianapolis to get around major highway backups. Was a fun trip to include my first time on a larger road in a residential area and a first time trip through a round-a-bout. That got my nerves sparking but keeping it slow and watching those back tires in the mirrors, along with reassurance from Karen I was going great, were big boosts to morale. Have I said I really, really love Ram’s tow mirrors!  They are awesome. Even if you get a 2500 to tow with, make sure you have the factory tow mirrors!

For now, when I book a camping spot I copy all my notes to Google Calendar. That way we can look things up quickly while traveling or upon arrival.  Click this link to see what my typical notes look like:  Calendar view

For now, because I’m so new at this, I print a campground map prior to arrival so I know how to get to our spot and where dump stations are located. Before we park I make sure I know how I’ll pull out assuming all the surrounding spots are taken and I’ll be maneuvering around cars and other campers. For that matter, when I park in a cramped grocery store lot in the dually truck, I make sure I can get out if someone parks on both sides of me and the travel lanes are narrow.  On the way into the current state park there were two low branches (ya have to look up to see them). It was like driving threw a serpentine course as I weaved in and out of other camping spots to avoid low branches. Just learned I’ll be keeping my tree trimmer with the extendable handles. And I hope not to go to jail for cutting a branch every now and then.

This lifestyle is really going to be healthy. I’m walking more and am generally more physically active. Karen and I are loving our time together. It’s nice to wake up in the morning in our new home then step outside to remember you are dead center in a wonderful state park. It would be hard to explain the wonder of it all in words. Just imagine if you are in your sticks and bricks house, unaware of what is outside, then open the door to amazement.

We are going to try out spending two nights at each stop on the way back to Kansas City. We had a couple overnight stops on the way here and tried to stay around 200 miles for each travel day. RV Trip Planning Wizard has an excellent system for showing travel distances between stops. Really helps with picking campgrounds along the way. So far we are booking our stops when we can. All this helps keep the stress level down for us new guys.  Finding less stressful ways to do things is important during this first year I’m sure.

One stop on the drive to Michigan was at a county campground which does not take reservations. We called and the lady at the county office said there would be spots. At $20 a night with 30 amps, within five miles from the highway in a secluded location, what a find that was. Get your notepad out and mark this one down.

Snap 2019-07-26 at 09.15.54

 

I’ve been using my make-shift office setup to get some work done. Right now I’m sitting at a chair outside the camper. But for more serious work I take five minutes to setup a more involved space at the dining table. Like most everything else, the way we do things seem to be evolving into something that works well.  I might add the process of evolution is also occurring for places we store things to include the basement space where for the most part we started off with containers we already owned. Yup, I’ve already discovered how you setup for the stay has a lot to do with how long you stay. For example, moving a storage containing out of the basement to under the camper to make room to pull other stuff out. I’d say don’t sweat over all the details such as how you arrange storage. Your unique system will just seem to happen on it’s own.

20190723_101242_resized

Current office arrangement

 

20190723_103707_resized

Yesterday’s view from the “office”

For the short-term you may notice a few changes in my writing style. There is a lot going on that I want to report on. I’ll just have to bang out the thoughts more quickly for now.

A sad note is that we lost our dog Johnny-Ringo to illness on this trip. I can’t write much about it. I live around death nearly every day on the job back home. Loosing a dog hurts just as much as when other loved-ones die. Seeing Karen sad hurts . Dogs have such unique personalities. He had a long-term breathing problem and it finally caught up to him. I can’t find the strength to even post my favorite photos of him. At least my mom now has another dog to play with in heaven; I like to think.

We went to bible study with Karen’s mom the other day. It was wonderful. The minister is so educated and smart about the bible. We are looking forward to stopping in at other churches on this journey. Tonight the minister is coming out for a campfire. His wife appears to be equally knowledgably. There were several older folks at the bible study and I got a lot from listening to their wisdom.

To my sister Mary – We saw an R Pod camper across the street from us being pulled with a full size SUV. Most of the campers of that size in this campground are the hybrid travel trailers with hard sides and the pop-out beds at the end. During this week I’ve noticed what appears to be moms with kids coming out during the week presumably when dad is at work. I’ll bet you see the same in your trips.

By the way, we have a contract on the house. Closes August 26th if all goes well. I’ve got to hook-up to the city sewer system and there might be a delay in getting that done as the contractor is backed-up. With the help of the real estate agent, who knows how the city and contractors work, we have a plan B should the sewer connection be delayed. We gave the new residence permission to store personal items in the basement. They are staying with relatives but had to get the kids registered in school. I’m thinking we are going to have a good relationship during the process with the new owners who are over the top excited about the house. They already finished their inspections and I’m waiting for the results. The realtor has us sign everything on-line and I can tell is making sure to allow us to enjoy our vacation time.

A final thought for sure is that I’m thankful to all our new RVer friends and readers of this blog for the last four years or so of planning. So much of what we learned and are now applying will ensure we make it through the curves in the road that pop up in this lifestyle.

Mark from Missouri

Taking Delivery of our RV and Trip Home

Here I sit at our dinette table in our new home on wheels with a view of a wonderful state park from every window. On the way from Kansas City to the dealership in Tulsa Oklahoma we stopped at each point we would be visiting again on our return trip. Such as one fuel stop and a campsite. Being new to towing a fifth wheel, especially a larger one, I wanted to help ease the tension by reducing the chances of any sudden surprises. As it turned out, after spending three nights camped near the dealership, we received a sudden call from a Oklahoma Park Ranger that a campsite we planed to spend time in at the Grand Lake of the Cherokees was flooded. Darn, I thought as I’d visited the actual spot we intended to back into during the trip down. The Ranger offered an alternate site which I had not researched. I was ready to find a commercial RV park but rightfully, Karen insisted this is a vacation and we are staying in a wonderful wooded state park near a lake. So blindly I agreed with the Park Ranger we would just find a spot when we arrived at our new destination which was the Honey Creek State Park in Grove Oklahoma.

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RV Ordering Process/Negotiations

There are several subjects worth writing about in this post such as; come hell or high water we are putting the house on the market no later than July, I already have enough hours in at work this year that I can leave anytime, getting the truck ready to travel, another garage sale and more.  However, while it’s fresh in my mind I’ll pass along what I learned while negotiating a price and ordering a new RV. Hopefully enough of this applies to all RV brands and not just the one we ordered.

Negotiating a Price

First of all, I’m not very good at negotiating for the lowest price possible. Personally if the deal is fair to me and the other guy thinks so then lets come to an agreement. Just do the necessary homework so you have a good idea of what price with options to expect before entering negotiations. Of course there is always sticking to your budget to add a dose of sanity.

In my humble opinion the prices displayed at RV shows, particularly in the price range we bought within, are not even close to the bottom dollar deal. And in my experience RV show units lack some of the hidden options such as dual pane windows or an extra awning if you want them.  In our price point 30% off true MSRP is possible when ordering from the factory and 35% (or better) off one already on the lot from last years model is possible.

For the Vanleigh Vilano we ordered I started off finding three dealerships within a partial day’s drive from home. I used the Owner’s Facebook page to research referrals for dealerships. And there was an online map of them provided by the manufacturer. Seriously, there was no need to phone anyone until late in the game. Emailing or texting back and fourth worked well.

I drafted a document outlining exactly the options we wanted on our fifth wheel.  Here is that document if you are interested: Seneker Vilano 320GK

I then sent the document to each of three dealerships, having first sent them an email via their website which prompted a salesman to reply. Other than the local dealership where I’d gotten to know the Sales Manager and phoned him. I found out one dealership (the Kansas RV Center) gave up their Vanleigh dealership so I contacted the Vanleigh National Sales Manager via email and he recommend another dealership who turned out to come in second after it was all done.

Keep in mind we are going fulltime so a local dealership is not that important. We are leaning towards Texas as a domicile and as it turns out the dealership we ordered from is on the way there. And Vanleigh is at the top for customer service where you can go to the factory and have things fixed or options added the RV did not come with. If I was to purchase one off the lot I’d get a factory price sheet so I knew the actual MSRP based off the options on the RV. Then you would be able to compare apples to apples between dealerships who have the RV on their lot. Just make sure the RV has the options on it that can’t easily be added later and happen to be important to you.

It was hard to determine the actual shipping cost that is part of the MSRP until one dealership at least broke that down on their bid.  After I had all the initial bids I emailed or phoned two of the three that were way high and simply said they had to do better to which they lowered their price substantially. Yup, it was as simple as asking for a better price.  Then for the final blow I notified each dealership of what price they would need to meet to make the deal. I gave them an exact figure which I had already calculated to be 30% off true MSRP to include freight and dealership fees. One met it without hesitation and the other two came down yet again but not to my price. I warned them the one that met the price got the deal. The local dealership lost out and the Sales Manager complained (slightly) I should have given him another chance. To freaking bad for him.  Keep in mind I’d decided all three dealership were worth buying from so just going at the low ball bidder was not part of the plan.  I had a price in mind before I started.

I’ve met several other’s online who have or are ordering the same fifth wheel and now know I could have maybe done 1%  better on the deal. But – the price we received was fair, I trust the dealership and it’s only four hours from our current home and a couple hours from family we frequently visit.

The Ordering Process

We are buying from Bob Hurley RV out of Tulsa Oklahoma.  Our salesman is Terry Jelinek at 918-630-8304 or email terry@bobhurleyrv.com. I noticed they deal in new Alpine, Cardinal and Cougar fifth wheel as well.  They claim to be a top 10 volume dealerships with many brands.

The first price Terry sent me in writing combined everything into one total price and did not list freight separately. In other words the bid was not as detailed as I would have preferred but was based on the options I provided in writing. They asked for $1,000 down to place the order to Vanleigh. I thought that was fair given the dealership would be stuck with a custom trailer if I backed out.  And using only open source search areas on the internet I found out Terry is from a town in Michigan near where Karen grew up. And I know he would most likely have to try and make it through Missouri if he went home for a visit. So it’s doubtful he would play any tricks!  All jokes aside, Terry came down with the flu during the bidding process and I waited for him to get well before sealing the deal with his dealership. So far, he has been great to work with and his sales vocabulary must be limited to “Yes, we can do that and let me know if we can do anything else for you.” When I called back and asked for my price, along with the extra battery and whatever he sat the phone down, went to his manager and agreed to the deal.

I knew from contacting others on the Vanleigh Facebook Owner’s Group that the current lead time to build our trailer was 10 to 12 weeks. I also had the email and phone number for every vital person at the Factory involved in the process. After the order, the wait to get the conformation from the factory was next. That took too long so I sent an email to the lady that processes them at the factory and got our possible build date. Maybe two weeks later they sent the same information to the dealership who then forwarded the factory build sheet to me confirming all our options were correct. Then I told Terry I was happy so far and wanted to make sure there would be no surprises the day we pick up the trailer. He sent the price we agreed to in an email, including that was the out the door price and there would be no surprises from him.

I am to get with the dealership  in a week or so before the trailer is ready at the factory, to work out a few delivery details and the paperwork.  I know the dealership does their own inspection of the new trailers but I’m armed with my own, having received a Pre Delivery Inspection List from another owner.  Here is a link to the  PDI_Check_List (1) if you are interested. Karen and my inspection, along with the dealership walk-though, should take half a day.

Here is another version of a PDI as well. PDI Inspection List from Travel with the Tanners blog on Heartland Forums

When Terry notifies me of the delivery date that’s when I’ll let him know we should plan for a full day to get our inspection and delivery in.  I figure he will know I’m taking the pre delivery inspection seriously so best have that RV is top shape when we arrive. There is a campground directly across the street from the dealership with pull-through spots.  I’m sure we will be expected to take delivery at their lot before moving it across the street. Assuming there are no major issues during our inspection that will be no problem. If we find other minor issues that night at the campground I’m planning for worse case is the dealership will not care and want to schedule those repairs. And we already plan to go to the factory during the first year for repairs adding at least some more shelving.

So there you have it.  This is what I have experienced so far when ordering our new home.  We are planning our route home from the dealership to include maybe one fuel stop. Or we might just take a week off and do some camping along the way home.  I’ll report back after we get it home. First time pulling anything that big so I’ve got the common concerns.  YouTube videos are helping with what to expect.

Bought a Hitch

We now look closer to real RV owners when riding around in our truck, having just bought and installed our fifth wheel hitch. I got amazingly lucky one day last week. I wondered if by chance there was a B&W Companion hitch on Craiglist.  Found a brand new one that had already been installed on the same year and model Ram truck we own. The lady selling it used to transport RVs professionally but gave it up after a major accident in the snow. The insurance company replaced her truck and equipment. Thankfully she was not injured.  She never used her new replacement hitch and gave me a heck of a good deal.  Karen and I met her in a Walmart parking lot and moved the hitch from her truck to ours in 10 minutes.

It’s easy to start a major debate on what hitch to buy. I’ll just say my final two selections were the Curt and B&W. And I’ll explain why I went with the B&W simply as it’s beefier, with a 25,000 pound fifth wheel weight capacity and more than a 6,000 pound pin weight capacity.  Compare the locking jaws on hitches and you will see what I mean by beefier.

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You will notice in the above photo how the legs of the hitch attach to the truck bed. That’s the RAM puck system that is part of the fifth wheel prep option. Ford and Chevy have something similar. This allows you to remove the hitch by breaking it down into two parts by turning the handles to lift it out of the truck. The base of the hitch weighs 135 pounds so that’s a two person job. The coupler or head is 75 pounds. Of course you would remove the hitch in case you ever wanted to lay something flat in the truck or hauling large objects.  I’ll repeat this for those that are truck shopping.  Make sure you get the factory fifth wheel prep option with the puck system. The cost of installing a hitch is large without it. 

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I was happy to learn the top of the hitch is below the bed rails of my truck. Although I had studied photos before and expected that. Because – in my garage is a truck bed cover that I’ll report about after it’s installed. This hitch is very adjustable up and down by a few inches and front to back over the rear truck axle.

It also has an articulating head that twists and turns with the trailer. Something very important to note when you go hitch shopping is to make sure the hitch works with whatever king pin you have on your trailer. Some king pins also articulate and can work against the hitch head with opposing forces. Maybe easier described as if the king pin moves one way and the hitch head moves another it could place unnecessary pressure and wear on both. I learned that by joining the Facebook users group for our particular trailer. I talked to friends who own this hitch and claim it’s easier to hitch and unhitch when the trailer is at slight angles.  It does not bind up as easy, if that make sense.

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I should also mention the professional RV delivery person I bought this hitch from has a word of advise. She says there are parts of the country where if you leave your rig unattended a trucker might just pull the arm and release the hitch from your trailer when parked. I circled the area in red above. She says replace the pin that holds the arm closed with a locking pin. She said the issue is more common in… well I’ll say it, the west and east coast.  She says in some areas of our country there are professional drivers that don’t appreciate sharing the road and parking spots with us RV people.

Update: 3/31/19 – It took a long time to figure out where I needed to apply lubrication for this hitch.  I bought a 10″ king pin Teflon disc rather than having to keep adding grease between the pin and hitch.  You also will need spray white lithium grease for the black plastic “saddles” where the hitch head sits on the lower stand.  And finally you will need some automotive lithium chassis grease, with a grease gun. There is a grease zerk under the hitch head. And use some of the same chassis grease inside the jaws.   I decided to go with anything NLGI #2 certified.  The Lucas red tacky is what I bought because I can use in on the truck as well.

What is MSRP – New Fifth Wheel Shopping

Everyone knows MSRP stands for Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price.  However, does the dealership use the same definition of MSRP as the factory?  Probably not…

I’ve been on the phone and emailing back and forth with dealerships in an effort to order our fifth wheel.  More on that later in a blog post once the deal is done.

As part of the process dealerships have been referring to MSRP within their price quotations. I started with three dealerships and added another after learning one was no longer selling the brand of fifth wheel we wanted. In all cases the dealerships MSRP numbers did not match other dealerships. Fortunately, I happen to possess the actual factory MSRP price sheet for our fifth wheel.  This document was not readily available but I happened to get it from a dealership and current owners on the forums or Facebook User Groups will provide it.  This document starts with a base manufacturers price plus line items for each option.  You total this up and you have the true MSRP as published by the manufacturer.

If you want a copy of the MSRP price sheet for the fifth wheel Karen and I are ordering just send me an email request at mseneker@hotmail.com. You can see for yourself how MSRP is actually figured.

What I have been discovering is possibly a method to cloud the deal, maybe not on purpose, by a dealership. By cloud the deal I mean confusing the customer.

I was asked outright what I was looking for in a deal and I was honest and said 30% or better off MSRP on a new custom ordered fifth wheel.  And an “out the door price” that includes all fees.

There have been other price figures to consider beyond factory MSRP when I asked for an out the door price. And those are shipping and whatever paperwork (referred to as dock or paperwork fees) added on by the dealership. They might also include fees for items not provided by the factory such as a second battery.

I’m not sure I’ll ever know the actual shipping cost but for sure think it’s fair I should pay for that to include a fair profit. And I truly believe a good deal ends with the dealership being happy with it as well as I’m happy with it – despite profit or whatever.

What I’ve discovered is dealerships sometimes include shipping and other fees as part of the “MSRP” and some don’t.  And mostly in whatever light makes their deal appear more favorable. Especially when a customer like myself is talking in terms of a percent off MSRP.  For example a dealership might quote MSRP as $98,000 and take X percent off without admitting their MSRP is loaded with other fees.  Then another dealership might use a figure that does not include shipping costs at a factory MSRP of $96,000.   So one dealership takes 30% off $98,000 which is $68,600 and the other takes 30% off $96,000 which is $67,220 then adds on considerable fees from there.

Of course the final number at the bottom of the page is in reality more important. And hopefully that number is an “out the door price” with no surprises.  But, as a tool to judge the honesty of a dealership – get a factory MSRP price sheet and know your true MSRP to include options before you start talking numbers with a dealership. You will quickly discover who is hiding fees in the “MSRP”.

I’ll also add if you receive an MSRP figure that is considerably lower than other dealerships you might want to make sure the quoting dealership has not made a mistake in adding up or including the options you specified for the factory order.

Finally, I’ll mention for me the price is not 100% all important. Selecting dealerships whom you want pricing from is a process all in itself. And that will be another blog topic once our deal is made.

Planning Update – Our Final Year

The clock is ticking down quickly. We expect to be off on our future in an RV by October and spending vacation time on the road before then.  So what are we up to regarding planning this close to take off?

Regarding the Truck: I replaced the front floor mats with the Husky X-Act Contour rubber mats. I also considered the Weather Tech brand but went with the Husky’s which are more rubbery and pliable for removal to clean. The feel of these mats are nice against our shoes. I am seriously considering adding a truck bed cover and plan to report back on that is a future post. Within reason, getting the truck ready to travel is important. I know we can finish it up later on the road and once we learn how we are using the bed space.  I’ve also selected the B&W as our hitch. Might buy that and install it in a couple months.

Regarding the RV: We decided to order a new Vanleigh Vilano 320GK. We both have been members of their unofficial Facebook Group where others have provided advise.  Karen and I agreed to a list of options and I contacted three dealership via email. So far we have pricing from two and are waiting for a third bid. I’ve corresponded with the local Factory Representative and the National Representative who have been incredible to work with. Build time right now is 10 to 12 weeks for delivery. We are looking forward to trips while on vacation and getting to know the trailer. More on this in an upcoming post as well.

Regarding Domicile:  This is a big one and right now we are down to Florida and Texas, having considered what other’s said are important factors such as available healthcare, taxes, vehicle licensing and insurance. I had planned to setup a mail service a couple months before we take off in order to start mail forwarding.  Having contacted a longtime RVer it was suggested before we settle on a state to contact an insurance agent for healthcare. We had wondered if we could get away with visiting family beginning in October and then heading to our domicile state in December to finish up the transition. He suggested transitioning from our current healthcare provider to a new one might effect the timing of the domicile move.

Regarding Tools:  I’ve been seriously looking into what tools I want to pack for the road. I suppose much of the decision has to do with how much I want to work on the camper and truck compared to hiring it out.  More on this topic later in a blog post for sure.

Regarding Cooking on the Road:  Over the past few months I really have enjoyed cooking on our Weber Q 1200. Keeping odors and sometimes heat outside the trailer is a good idea. Plus, I enjoy cooking outside especially as it gives Karen and break.  I had been wondering how to expand the food types we can cook on a common grill. After getting with a friend I purchased a set of BBQ mats. I’ve cooked bacon, eggs and all types of vegetables on these mats which are designed to sit on top of the grill grates, blocking food from falling through. The Weber and these mats have my vote of confidence for sure. Karen also found a roasting pan that sits on the grates used roast a whole chicken or ribs.

Grill Mat

Eggs – Make sure the grill is level 🙂

Roasting pan I used to cook a whole chicken

5.5 pound chicken came out perfect!

Regarding Budget:  I had updated our financial plan the last time in March of 2018, having adjusted it annually for several years.  Now that we are close to leaving, having made the truck purchase, getting bids on the RV, selling major assets and more the budget is more realistic. I’m happy to report we are within budget so far. I’m glad there have been no major surprises so far.  I’ve always been big on keeping track of the numbers in case we have to adjust something. For example when we built our current home if we were over budget in one area then we cut another. That way you don’t wait to the end when there is no chance of making up a deficit.

Regarding Preparing the House for Sale:  This has been hard because we are so busy. And we know that everything we have left to do can actually be condensed into a month or so of great effort. I’m guessing the closer we come to wanting to leave the harder we will work on the house. But, one piece at a time we are making progress. Boxes from work are full of stuff going into a future garage sale, a 5×10 storage unit, our future fifth wheel and family. We finished cleaning out our basement storage area and are now using it for box sorting.  Several rooms in the house have boxes sitting out for trash, burning and more. I’m happy with the progress but have to say, downsizing is always on my mind and is a major source of stress that’s hard to avoid.