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.

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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.

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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)

A System to Evaluate RVs Before Buying

The Six Fifth Wheels I Would Buy Today
And How I Came to the Conclusion

October 2017 marks three years of blogging. Starting a blog seemed like a good place to keep notes and better yet meeting those that have done it or are going to live fulltime in an RV. Last evening Karen and I meet a wonderful couple from New Hampshire. We met last year also. It was excited to go and check out their solar setup and see how our new friends have been doing.

Before you read any further, it’s okay to skip this if you are not interesting in shopping for a new RV.  And beware, this is a very long blog post with lots of information compiled after three years of research. You may think I’m strange by the time you get to the end of this. I enjoy figuring things out and the research – I really do have a life!

As I read back it appears I’d spent considerable time analyzing and discussing with readers what makes for the best RV given Karen and my expectations for living in one. It has been a fun process and I thank everyone for the input.  Although we have not decided on the exact trailer, the field has been narrowed considerably. Not wanting to make this a two-part blog post I’ll try and be thorough when describing the process I’ve been using to select a fifth wheel. It begins with this list of steps and comments:

First decide on budget.

  • Currently maximum is $84,655 for the camper and $65,000 for the truck.
  • Budget includes inflation because we are not buying this year.
  • Budget includes everything to equip the trailer, truck, taxes and licensing.
  • I’m making a run at staying under budget.

Then decide what type of RV.

  • We decided on a fifth wheel because we want to be more comfortable when parked rather than during travel days. If we thought we would move around constantly, we would have gone with a class A motorhome.
  • We have owned a travel trailer, borrowed and rented a class C motorhome and decided against them.

Then decide on floor plan and basic needs of a “full time” unit.

  • We decided on a rear living room.
  • The best space in a fifth wheel is in the rear area. We expect to spend the most time in the living room so selected that floor plan.
  • Four season living so good insulation, tank heaters and such.
  • Spaces arranged so they are usable, such as kitchen, walking around the bed inside the shower or wherever.
  • I could go on with the list, but you get the point.

Then decide what manufacturers build the floor plan or close to it. 

  • A lot of discussion went into what Karen and I believe to be our list of needs or choices.
  • After three years of following typical luxury fifth wheel brands I’ve come down to a short list of contenders and have an evaluation system I’ll report about later in this blog post.
  • A difficult part is deciding what gross weight class you want to buy from. Heavier trailers generally have heavier construction such as in the suspension. For us the decision was do we go with something around 16,000 or 19,000 pounds. In my humble opinion trailers weighing less do not require the heaviest suspensions. A few areas of construction from the heavier trailers come to mind as something we might also want in a 16,000-pound trailer. Those are disc brakes, 12” main beams, G or H rated tires and cargo capacity. We now only look at trailers with good storage with no less than 3,000 pounds of cargo capacity. Because we plan to camp without water, sewer and electrical hookups at times, the water/waste tank size was also heavily considered. For example, lack of cargo capacity or good size water/sewer tanks took a couple manufacturer’s floor plans off the list. We could upgrade the tires and brakes later.
  • It helped to have decided we wanted to stay at 40’ or less in trailer length. A few manufacturers do not build a floor plan we were interested in. I followed blogs where others travel in 40’ trailers. They always seem to find a place to park. However, as we are not wanting to limit the places we stay anymore than necessary, we both felt a shorter trailer is preferred. For example a park may have one space left that could handle a 40’ but even more spots for a 36’ trailer. It seems the floor plans changed considerable at the 35’ mark for fifth wheels.  We could not find a trailer under 35’ with a floor plan we wanted to live in full time.

Then decide which of several manufacturers appear to have best quality for price and the best after purchase service.

  • Done and will report on the system I used later in this blog post.
  • Everyone’s needs are different, and this is just based on what we think are important.
  • It took a lot of time to learn about RV construction. There was not one place I could find to go to for comprehensive reports or explanations about all construction methods. In the end, you will not be selecting a trailer just because the slide mechanism is better or it does not have USB charging ports! Pay attention to the bigger concerns such as water tank size.

Then select one manufacturer with a floor plan we prefer and buy new or used depending on budget

  • We are leaning towards buying last years model as a new unit. From my research this appears to be the best way to get a new RV at the greatest discount, maybe as much as 35.7% off MSRP.
  • We tour specific used units every time we go to a dealership to get an idea of how they hold up. We had no way of knowing if the trailer was used full time or not. I’ve read plenty of blog posts regarding required maintenance or stuff that breaks in less than three years. I’m worried about hidden problems a used unit might have if I don’t know the person that owned it. Although it’s fair to add one can hire an inspector and hope they don’t find problems after you spent months shopping.
  • Over time, I’ve studied the 2015 through 2018 models, to include each year’s model changes to get a good idea of any major changes.  Years 2017 and 2018 are most likely to be from the years we buy and hence those are the years I’ve spent most of my time studying.
  • I started seeing 2018 models announced as early as March of 2017. It seemed like by around July the new models started to arrive at local dealerships. Heck, in January 2018 they were already announcing changes for their 2018.5 year units.
  • I’ve not eliminated buying a current year model if there is good value for the price and a new floor plan.

Select a truck capable of pulling the trailer with a safety margin.

  • I’m keeping in mind that no matter how much planning we do, there is a chance we would upgrade the rig later so the truck should have more capacity than what we are using. A dual rear wheel truck with four rear tires can handle more pin weight and cargo than a single rear wheel truck with its two rear tires.
  • We are going with a diesel one-ton dual rear wheel truck.  It will most likely be a Ram Laramie edition or a Ford Lariat.  And it will most likely be last years model with no more than around 20,000 miles because from my research you can save at least 22.24%. After finding a survey conducted on the Keystone Montana forum I was shocked to see the Ram dually owners (178) outnumber the Ford owners (76) by more than double. If you combined the numbers for the GMC/Chevy owners (71) they were nearly equal to the Ford owner numbers. But then again, the slightly used models cost almost what the new trucks are selling for. You have to go with something two or three years old to get a better deal.
  • We will most likely wait until around September 2018 for our purchase as the pricing come down and make sure a new truck is outside our budget.
  • Because we have a short-list of specific trailers we are buying from, and it will be a dually diesel truck, I feel safe in buying before the trailer.

For those interested, for the first time, I am willing to provide links to my spreadsheets, word documents and everything else used to make our selection. I’m putting it all out there for better or worst. I wish someone would come up with a subscription service where you could check a bunch of boxes and it would create a list of specific RVs you might be interested in. The program would be relatively simple to design however I suspect the data collection from RV manufacturers would be an issue.

Several have commented in the past they would be interested to see what we end up buying.  Well, if I had to decide today it would be one of the following six trailers in order of preference: (update, even found a couple new floor plans of interest at the 2018 show. That’s why our trailer selection will not be final until we buy one…)

My Top Six Fifth Wheels for Full Time Living – As of Today

  1. Forest River Cedar Creek Hathaway Edition 34RL2 (37’11”)
  2. Heartland Bighorn 3270RS (35’2”)
  3. Heartland Bighorn 3160 Elite (35’10”)
  4. Heartland Big Country 3155RLK (35’10”)
  5. Keystone Montana Legacy Edition 3720RL (39’7”)
  6. Redwood 340RL (36’9”)
    • Today this is our #1 trailer if we decide to spend at our max budget.

I’ve mentioned it before but want to make it clearer that everyone has an idea of their needs, budget and favorites which may be different from Karen’s and mine. And, for my cousin Lee, I did not manipulate the spreadsheet scoring to justify any pre-conceived idea of the trailer we most wanted😊

I did however, keep the Redwood 340RL on the list when initially intending to get our selection down to the top five. Because it was one of those trailers we walked into and said, “we could live in this.” Thank you to a local RV sales manager for pointing the trailer out. Redwood started making changes in their price point and I think they made the right move. So does the local sales manager. I called a new Redwood 340RL owner who lives in North Carolina. Got his name off the Redwood Owners forum. The trailer is at the top of our budget as a current model year (he told me what he paid for it).

Not that I would do it, but if I threw out a few categories of what is important to us, such as trailer length, cargo capacity, tank size and budget, the list would change for trailers under 19,000 gross trailer weights. I have come to the opinion the Heartland Big County may very well offer the greatest value for the dollar out of the trailers we have considered.  And the expensive Augusta RV Ambition is my favorite overall.  Thor bought the Redwood brand and it’s yet to be seen how that will go. I am very impressed with the “Heartland Family” to include their owner’s forum and owner’s association. The Heartland Landmark is comparable to the Redwood but does not have our desired gas/electric refrigerator option in their Oshkosh model.  As a side note, Thor bought the DRV Mobile Suites brand and it’s under the management of Heartland.

I’m prepared to back up my humble opinions. We all learn from one another and I certainly am willing to reconsider anything I’ve posted. Thank you again to those who have posted comments during this search for a rig we would like to own and to those who have been emailing me at mseneker@hotmail.com.

An important note is Karen and I are planning to spend up to six years in whatever we buy and do not intend to trade out our trailer during those six years.  Others have convinced me the average time someone is on the road full timing is under five years. And I’m convinced with the proper research, and having a reasonable amount of experience RV camping, one really can “select their third trailer first.”

So here are the four tools I’ve been using. I trust the links in blue text will work: 

Snap 2017-10-22 at 15.46.50

Current Grading Criteria: This is a Microsoft Word document that lists what is important to us by category. It’s not perfect but it’s the best I can do without another three years to study. Each category shows what it takes to get a score of up to five points. If you do nothing else in terms of making a list, do this step. After you have spent time walking through trailers and surfing the internet, stop and make a list of what features are most important to you in an RV. You will not find the perfect rig. It’s all about compromises.

 

Snap 2017-10-22 at 15.55.46

2018 Luxury 5th Wheel Decision Matrix Notes: This is the above grading criteria for actual trailers I evaluated out of the 2018 models. It contains every note I found important. In some cases notes are highlighted. I take those notes to the RV show or a dealership to get the answers I’m looking for. I have the same document for trailer years 2016 and 2017.

 

Snap 2017-10-22 at 16.12.22.png

2018 Trailer Ratings: This is an Excel document I use to score each trailer by category. This is a decision matrix and each category is weighted by what features we believe to be most important.  If I believe a trailer is somewhere between a 3 and a 4 rating then I’ll use 3.5 for the rating. The points are determined by multiplying the category weight by the rating.  An example would be I think insulation is very important so I weigh that category as a 5 which is the highest. If I decide a trailer’s insulation is a 3 based off the grading cratering then the score in the insulation category is 15 (3×5).  I hope when you load the spreadsheet you will have a better understanding of this part of the process.

 

Snap 2017-10-22 at 16.31.45

Spreadsheet of Scores for 2018(update – I’ll be using this spreadsheet when I look to buy. I’ll use the actual selling price to see where the trailer comes out in the ranking.) This is a summary and evaluation that considers the cost of each trailer.  I may need to write a separate blog post on how I used this document. I’ll try and explain it here.  I’ve concluded you basically get what you pay for in a fifth wheel RV with a few exceptions.  In this document I have considered what is the closet manufacturers suggested price (MSRP) I could find for a specifically equipped trailer. During my research, using the above documents I scored each trailer using the points system I wrote about which has evolved over time.

Try and stay with me here because it is an important point. I divided the MSRP by the total points score I gave to each trailer. I call the final product a Value Score. Here are examples of how this can change where a trailer ends up on our short list to purchase.  The trailer that ranks the highest in points, based on what features are most important for us, is the 2018 Redwood 340RL. But when you look at the price we would be paying for it as a new 2018 unit, the value of it is ranked as 16. The Heartland Big Country 3155RLK price makes it the number one trailer for us based on price. But when compared in points it scored eleventh. For now the Forest River Cedar Creek Hathaway Edition 34RL2 comes out overall the best when I averaged the price and my points rating.

Wow, I think I got through that in a clear way.  Or just confused you.

Now that is all out in the open, there is one final point to make and is the reason I can’t tell you today which fifth wheel we are buying.  Unfortunately for us it’s because of financial considerations.  Full timing in an RV is more than finances for sure. Emotions play a role as does everything else in our individual hierarchy of needs.  I’ve tried to not make this all about finances, but overspending could ruin an otherwise pleasant future. I mentioned already we are considering buying last years floor plan to save a little. Well, I’ve a got spreadsheet for that.

Snap 2017-10-22 at 16.38.08

2017 Trailer Prices End of Year: (update – buying last years model appears to be the best way to get around 35% of MSRP on a new unit.) Here is a list of 2017 fifth wheels using the same system of evaluation but at advertised prices in September of 2017 after the 2018 models were out.  Again, the advertised pricing is the best I could find. The Heartland Bighorn 3270RS advances to the top and the Forest River Cedar Creek Hathaway 34RL drops to third place.

I’m hoping to use all this when we finally go to the dealership’s negotiating table for a trailer.  In short, the trailer we most want could change if the price is not right.

I really would like to get the list down to maybe two trailers. So far, I have been researching dealerships who sell the trailers on our short list. And, although we are not ready to buy a truck, I’ve found a couple we would be interested in.  If we find the right truck I’ll buy it early because we have a need for a truck to haul stuff off as we downsize and repair our sticks and bricks house. Karen and I also talked about downsize to one family car.

Oh, almost forgot to answer another question. When are we making the move? Our house will be paid off this year and is our largest expense. We have no other debt. Figure we will get the truck the middle of next year and the trailer by September of 2018. We will be able to haul it around during the nine weeks of vacation I’ll have to burn up and make sure everything works before we go full time in an RV. Karen is already retired. That way we will already have a fifth wheel to stay in if the house sells early in 2019. And to have for vacation! Or we may hold off on the trailer late winter in 2019 to save up more $ before the purchase.

 

P.S – Here is a good September 2017 Trailer Life article on the subject of a full time fifth wheel. As usual the article does not list every trailer brand in the class they are describing. Articles like this, lacking comprehensive content, is the reason I found myself needing to come up with my own system.  It’s still a good article however.

It’s All About the Travel – Cost to Equip a Rig

It would seem to be common sense that one should know there are additional costs beyond just buying a trailer and truck as part of a new full time RV lifestyle. I had not actually written down a specific list of additional equipment costs until now. A long time ago I simply came up with a budget based on how much of our net worth we would be willing to spend on a rig, guessing we might use it for six years. That became the budget.

I had little to no real idea which trailer and truck we wanted and therefore what the true cost would be. Heck, I didn’t learn what the dealerships were referring to as a “price point” until well into my research. Of course, the “budget” should have quickly become more of a limiting and necessary factor as Karen and I began to tour trailers and learned what the anticipated discount off the listed price might be.

I should go ahead and apologize for the sarcasm that you are about to read. It has a point in that it demonstrates how I can become ridiculous in my quest to find a simple trailer and truck.  I’m also not intending to criticize anyone that has the means to purchase whatever rig they want. And hope I don’t loose any readers over this one as I depend upon your comments and suggestions. I am hoping this post helps others in a similar position come closer to selecting their own rig.


Luckily it did not take but a few hours at an RV show to know a big Newmar diesel pusher was not in our future. Internet searches taught me there were specific categories of fifth wheel trailers lumped together within any one manufacturers list of products. In our case this category was the luxury full profile trailers. Simply put, these are the ones that are nearly 13′ tall in the front. Examples being perhaps the Heartland series to include the Big Country, Bighorn and Landmark.  Or the Keystone Montana and Alpine. The choices for a new trailer are overwhelming. Especially if one throws in the idea used trailers from several higher price points might be within a budget. So I kept them on one large list within this blog site thinking I’d eventually know the pros and cons of each trailer.

For some sadistic reason, I also decided to learn about all the nice options one could add to a trailer, pushing the base model into a higher price point.  I had to go out and read a dozen blogs about what others had added to their campers, sometimes a short time after buying the trailer. Such as a MorRyde independent suspension, heavier axles, H rated tires, full body paint jobs and disc brakes. What to do? I guessed just check them all out and see how much the stuff, I mean excellent equipment, costs added at the time of initial purchase. And then dream as if the budget could be increased to a magical level. As if my pension and savings would grow to the necessary level by the time I retired six years early.  Hmm – that seems reasonable…. for about 10 minutes when you think about it.  At least that mindset took less time to flush out of the decision process compared to the “let’s spend more of our savings now on a depreciating asset and buy a shed to live in later.”

Then a voice came out of heaven (actually from a blog follower’s comment). That comment was “it’s all about the travel” and not the trailer. Thanks Ingrid! I have thought about that comment for many months and it truly helped. I should have included the concept from day one when the initial budget was created.  To me “it’s all about the travel” includes a long definition. Among which at the very least might be the trailer and truck get you from point A to point B so you can enjoy the scenery. Intuitively we all know a new car, boat and RV will someday loose its luster and become just another object to get rid of or replace. Just like the homes many of us are now downsizing and selling off.

All this being said, for us we still don’t want to take the fun out of travel by moving into a new home we will not enjoy. Or worst yet, perhaps be the deciding factor why we give up the lifestyle. I’ve owned a popup camper and there is no way that would work for us. Nor do I have any dreams of quickly mastering backing into a spot with a 45’ trailer towed by a Volvo semi truck after avoiding the trees, vehicles and other objects next to the campground roadway.

I was thinking it would someday be nice to go back to a few ideas mentioned in prior blog posts and let the reader know if the idea or plan worked once we had been on the road for a period of time. I think I can attempt that now even without having spent a day in our future fifth wheel. At least when it comes to developing a truck and trailer budget. And I might add I am taking to heart and very much appreciate all the great advice I’ve learned from experienced travelers . There are so many ways to travel in an RV and all methods offer great points of reference.

I think I did it right in September of 2014 when I dusted off the old financial plan for retirement and brought it up to date. Also later when I took an inventory of financial assets at the time and future in the case of investments. I’ve got a fairly good idea of what will be our net worth at the time of retirement. Karen and I have discussed ad nauseam what our expectations will be for purchasing a home once we come off the road and how much cash to hold back for that. It’s not fun for Karen but is amusing to me that some of the conversations include her telling me we already talked about that three times. Someday I’ll be able to tell her “don’t you remember we talked about that three times” should there be a flaw in the plan. I do like it when she suggests we may not need to worry about a new place to live beyond buying a new trailer to continue the journey. I however like plan B’s that allow us to change course 180 degrees if necessary.

I’ll get to the point now.  And that is I should have taken the time to come up with a close list of extra costs to equip a trailer and truck rather than just assuming it would fit in the budget. Because that would have helped narrow the selection of a rig even further. Admittedly, much of these costs would be learned perhaps after finding them on someone’s blog, an article or through my own study. Others appeared to have figured out the real costs rather quickly, having bought their rig in a matter of months.

I’ve been compiling lists on pages in this blog as I learned about equipment others are purchasing for their trucks and trailers over years of travel. I’ll never have those lists complete with every possible item to choose from. In about four hours I wrapped that research up using a large Camping World catalog. And had fun dreaming about all the cool junk, I mean important equipment, one might need that was not already on the list.  I then took 30 minutes to go to my States Department of Motor Vehicles website to get an idea on what the taxes and fees would be to register a new to us rig.

I don’t have this perfectly worked out and don’t intend to even attempt that. But I’m assuming we will spend 5.25% for State and local taxes on the truck and trailer purchase which could be in the neighborhood of $5,400.

For equipping the new truck and the trailer that could start out as low as maybe $2,517 to drive it off the lot and plug it into full hookups at a campsite. This includes a fancy fifth wheel hitch. But more likely we will want to spend about $6,367 on new equipment initially to include more costly items Karen and I have talked about, apparently during at least three individual conversations.

Yup, I did a spreadsheet with all those items listed using the catalog price, my notes or taking an educated guess.  If I’ve linked it correctly you can look at it here: Items to Purchase

I went a step further and ranked each item in order of priority based on what we might purchase at the start and at various increments.  In total that list came out to $25,308 if one was to add all the previous mentioned upgrades, solar, built-in surge protection, a truck bed cover and much less expensive items.  You can look at the list for ideas. I could see us spending up to $9,775 in the first year or two of ownership to equip the trailer and truck on top of the $5,400 to license it. That’s a $15,000 bite out of what we have decided to be our rig budget. That pushes several trailers out of our budget by price point.  To include many if bought used that I’d want to own.

I do want to make one very important point that I learned from those more experienced than myself.  For the most part, we will do our best not to purchase any of these non-essential items until we have lived in our trailer for a period of time. Yes, we did buy an inflatable boat and use it now. Karen has an Instant Pot and uses it now. I guess I must also admit we bought a $15 grill top and a new light on a camping trip. But I did pass on the 50% off Weber Q 1200 grill at Walmart.  Bet I’ll regret that one.

It has been fun researching and dreaming because I had the past three years to do it. Kind of my right now RV fix I suppose. But realistically, deep down it surely must become all about the travel rather than the junk we will someday want to sell off. Especially for most of us who are on a budget. And for those who are not on a budget, it might be safe to assume they already bought their rig and spent the $25,000 for extra stuff. And it’s all been parked in their driveway at home for at least the past six months. For me, I’ve been there, done that and have a motorcycle to sell to prove it.

Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope you found this post amusing yet beneficial.

 


R.I.P Officer Gary Michael of the Clinton Missouri Police. Last call August 6, 2017.

Cargo Capacity

One specification that will get a fifth wheel knocked off the short list of what we would buy are those with a lighter cargo capacity. Since first starting to research trailers in late 2014 I consistently read 3,000 pounds of cargo capacity or more is suggested for fulltime RV living. A quick check of nine full-timer rigs, who weighed their trailers and posted results, averaged closer to 3,448 of cargo capacity.  Some say their next trailer will have way more than that. I would really appreciate your opinions on the matter!

For us we might be hauling around the following “extra” items:

  • Full grey and black tanks at times: We plan to boondock at times so I could see hauling in fresh water and adding to that tank from jugs. If we are looking at trailers having in the range of 75 grey water capacity and 45 black water I suppose just the water in these tanks if full would be 996 pounds. What’s the chances of having to haul that any distance outside a camping area to dump? I have considered we might purchase a blue boy. We have stayed at electric only sites and found not having to worry about water or sewer connections for shorter stays is a bonus.
  • Hobby items for entertainment: We are not yet sure of what hobbies we might haul around with us. Board games, bikes and tent camping equipment. We already own an inflatable kayak and love it. I’d think all that could add up to less than 200 pounds. And Karen loves real books she can hold in her hands so we are going to haul a few around.
  • Extra battery and maybe solar someday: Although we are leaning towards an RV gas/electric refrigerator we might go with a residential. For sure we are starting off with at least two batteries. If we add a solar system we could see adding several more batteries. At 60 pounds apiece or so that can add up. Six batteries could be around 360 pounds plus the solar panels and components.
  • Washing machine: Karen wants at least a combo washer/dryer for smaller loads of laundry. We have used the ones in campgrounds and she is thinking it would be convenient to have a unit in the trailer. I’d rather just have two weeks worth of clothing and haul it to a laundry twice a month. That adds 148 pounds. I don’t view any compromise as reasonable if both persons can’t live with it. In this case if she wants a combo unit then we are getting it.
  • Generator: For sure we will have at least a portable setup that can power up to one air conditioner. That adds about 94 pounds. And if we were to go with a full size 5500 watt propane unit that would add about 279 pounds.

These above items total at least 1,973 pounds. We could see having a few other lighter weight amenities we read about such as solar shades that hang from the edge of the awning, a screened room for the picnic table and such. From what I understand when an RV manufacturer lists the estimated cargo capacity in their advertising the weight assumes what comes with the basic build. The advertised cargo limit does not include optional equipment such as a second outside awning, backup camera and more that are of lighter weight. But what about upgraded insulation packages, larger propane tanks, a heavier pin or whatever?

Realistically one should be able to compromise and just be willing to give up what would not fit within the weight limits. We can do that. But I’ve read where people can’t fill half their cabinets because of weight capacity limits. Or they found out they enjoyed Rving so much they were going full time and only had a couple hundred pounds capacity remaining, having used their trailer for extended stays.  In one extreme I read where a motorhome technically did not have the carrying capacity to haul all the passengers.

I started this year looking at 38 trailers with the basic floor plan we were interested in which is a rear living room fifth wheel. The list is now 24, chiefly because the floor plan comes with less than 3,000 pound of cargo capacity. More importantly, this knocked out a few serious brand names which are trailers commonly used for full timing.

We are going with a dual wheel truck and I suppose one needs to research methods of storing items on the truck rather than the trailer.

Am I thinking in the wrong direction on this one?

(8/17/17) Update: The more I read about possible upgrades to a trailer and the stories people tell about being over weight, the more I want to go with a high cargo capacity trailer. For example, for those of you who might want to upgrades your suspension, tires, axles brakes and such, read this forum thread.

(9/3/17) Another update: I’ve been zooming in on the labels for various trailers as I pull up photos. I’ve found a few that advertise X amount of cargo capacity on the manufacturers website, which I know is an average figure. However, the actual labels of any given trailer might show less cargo capacity. I assume this is because of all the options such as heavy dual pane windows. It still remains reasonable, I’d think, a trailer that starts with a larger cargo capacity will be left with the greatest capacity after the options are installed.


July 13, 2017 the 100,000th Keystone Montana rolled off the factory line.


Good video compilation on what we wish we knew before we started Rving from seven full-timers.

These Things Break – Do You Really Want to Buy One?

This blog post may turn out to be just another summary of the bad side of RV repairs as reported by so many other writers.  I’ve thought about the topic for the past several months and had started research well before that.  I found myself asking why post it at all? I thought surely everyone has read about the potential for catastrophic RV repairs blamed on poor manufacturing. I suppose the best reason to write this is to make sure my wife has an idea of what can go wrong with our future RV and maybe readers would appreciate sharing this information with their spouse.

It is no secret that RV sales are at a historic high and the forecast for next year is even more units will be built. Record production has the potential (that’s a safe way to describe it) of putting an increased demand on repair shops and manufacturers/dealerships completing warranty service.  Unfortunately, my research has been focused on fifth wheels so you will have to bear with me if you own another class of RV.

Most have surely read how RV manufacturers can be terrible at handling after-sales service. Even if we have not owned a unit for years, it does not take long to drift through the forums and read even owners who have few problems will write “they all have issues.”  If you look back in the recent history of RV manufacturing you will discover many of the existing companies are not that old. Many have closed their doors and many have had their brand names bought out by another. All this causes management change and perhaps a step back in customer service.  A short list of what I’ve seen in the past three years include; NuWa stopped building the Hitchhiker then Peterson (builders of the Excel) produced the Hitchhiker only to shut down operations a short time later. NuWa invented the fifth wheel so what a shame they could not stay in business. Lifestyles Luxury RV was said by many to be a dependable brand but suddenly closed their doors.  Some say because of losing financial backing and others said they were so intent on fixing every warranty problem they could not stay in business. Management came from another defunct company to run Lifestyles. What about the Carriage brands which were also popular by full-timers as late as 2010. Gone – sold the brand names to Crossroads who has stopped building the Carriage and the Cameo is just another among average fifth wheels (in my opinion). I could go on. The point is even todays companies who care about the customer may be gone when RV sales eventually decline. And especially if management does not think long-term, guiding a company in a better position for the future.

Now for the meat of this blog post. I want my wife and others to know there is a chance so many things will be defective in an RV that you might decide to leave the road, be injured or take a financial hit.  Personally, I believe the chances are relatively rare as a percentage of RVs that are on the road today. But then again, they are not all used as full time living quarters.

I have been following full-timer’s RV blogs since October of 2014. So far, I have read or talked personally with four of the 23 RV owners I follow who had significant issues with their unit. The brands include DRV, the original Carriage Carri-lite, Lifestyles and Forrest River Cedar Creek. In one case, the person left the road disgusted after trying other brands.  Another had their RVs frame welded and eventually continued on their journey. Another sat in a motel room for months, even working a part-time job, until the manufacturer built them a new trailer. And finally, another has sent their trailer back to the factory for 70 or more issues to be addressed.  Yes, they “all may have problems.” Yes, these may be just a few unique examples. And yes, they may have eventually been repaired. But, these four examples represent 17% of this small sampling. Each was built by what are considered good companies. But most of all – what if we become one of the percentage with major issues? And is it ever satisfactory that any single purchaser, much less these 17%, should have to worry about it. Especially when manufacturers can get banks to finance these things for 20 years which to me implies they will last that long. Of course, if you buy a vacation travel trailer for a lot less than a $60,000 – $120,000 fifth wheel which is built as a “full time or extended stay” unit, most would not expect to get the same longevity.

Okay you can stop reading if you agree or feel warned there could be major issues with an RV that could cause major inconvenience when you are on the road – Or dare read on-

Please don’t get this blog post confused as only a rant, because it’s not. The chance our RV will breakdown in a major way is really a concern of mine. I’m personally willing to risk it and buy a trailer for the likely chance we will not be hindered with a catastrophic repair. If you want to read about the true nature of these issues then click here. This is the only place you will need to go to learn about what is truly behind the problem with RV manufacturers.  Greg Gerber is the past Editor of RV Daily Report and wrote this series of articles titled “RV Industry Death Spiral.” To me, he is a whistle-blower and I appreciated his candor.  Mr. Gerber may have correctly forecasted 2017 would be the year of lawsuits for the RV industry. If his research is correct, there are more than 2,500 active lawsuits by customers after the time he wrote the articles. He predicts 2019 will be the legal turning point for the RV industry as state and federal officials look to pass consumer-friendly legislation. I’ll leave out the politics of his prediction relative to if or if not government is willing to push forward with legislation.

I first became aware of government influence when reading in 2015 Forest River got themselves into a little trouble with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for not sending out prompt recall notices for safety issues.  Later Forest River announced positive changes potentially effecting the timeliness of RV repairs and certainly response to recall notices. Now their dealerships are taking issue with the new warranty policy per an RV Daily Report article written May of 2017. Why is this example so important? Because Forest River is among the top producers of RVs and is one of only a few competing against fifth wheel brands, and others, owned by Thor. And just think, Forest River gained that market share during their short 11-year history.  Personally, I view Forest River’s initiative as a good thing in that they are trying to introduce a system to better supply parts to customers in immediate need. RV Business published an article by June of 2017. Called a Parts Initiative in which they wrote; “An all-industry working group led by members of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) and RVDA of Canada continues to quietly work on a series of parts delivery issues that could ultimately help improve dealers’ abilities to expedite warranty and other consumer repairs in the field.” Is this the start of RV manufacturers finally taking responsibility for producing sometimes inferior products?

Yet other manufacturers are taking a slightly different approach to better avoid major repair issues in their new units. During my research, I’m finding Grand Design, founded in 2011, is a company where potential customers are looking to provide exceptional customer service. Grand Design recently sold the brand to Winnebago. The founders came from Keystone which is a company claiming to be the #1 builders of recreational vehicles in North America. Keystone is another relatively new company founded in 1996. By 2001 they were owned by Thor. Talk about management changes!  Now back to the Grand Design’s business model, designed to catch flaws before they leave the factory. They built a huge facility where all their products pass through an inspection – after construction.  In their own words;

“Following construction, every Grand Design product goes through an initial quality inspection process. This is usually the final step other manufacturers take before shipping their units. We at Grand Design RV believe that this “industry standard” process falls far short of producing what we would regard as a quality unit. So, at this point in the manufacturing process, we send each unit to our dedicated pre-delivery inspection center where it is meticulously taken through a rigid point-by-point inspection process and final finished.”

I am not qualified to tell any RV manufacture how to run their business. I’ll let my purchasing dollars influence that – to a tiny degree.  But Dr. Deming is qualified!  And I’m not sure Grand Design’s model would be part of the way Deming would suggest the business be run in terms of checking for problems after the fact. How about building quality into the process to start with! In business college, I learned where during World War II Dr. Deming worked in logistics with the US Air Force. Deming would eventually draft what he called the 14 points for management. From what I was taught, Deming took his skills to Japan after the United States drifted into an economy based upon, in rather simple terms, why build it good when you can throw it away and buy another. At the time it might have been easier to get away with poor quality when most of the worlds manufacturing overseas was bombed into oblivion, while ours went untouched. But not for long.

US business management would not listen to Dr. Deming’s ideas. Well, the Japanese listened and with Deming – trashed the US auto market. Legend has it one Japanese executive was in the audience during a day Deming presented his principles. Kaoru Ishikawa listened and later was noted for his own quality management innovations. If you have studied the topic you may have heard of an Ishikawa Diagram which some refer to as a fishbone chart. This is a process of breaking down a problem into its root cause to truly fix the problem.

Dr. Deming believed in erasing anything wasteful. I was taught his motive was not to increase profits, but to rid the world of waste. This included wasteful human effort that could be better spent building something with zero imperfections rather than checking something later to make sure it is built right and if not, build it again. But I get it and I’ll bet Grand Design management gets it better than most. Sometimes things are currently out of one’s control. Perhaps the labor shortage in Elkhart Indiana is having even more of an impact on business. Perhaps Grand Design can’t trust their employees to build it right. Or maybe they have given up during prior attempts.  Who knows for sure.  Maybe they are driven by short term profits because the next recession or major gas price increase will bring an end to them. After a few short years of research, I’ve come to my own opinion of the current RV labor market. And I don’t blame the majority of the employees. If I must blame someone, then I think I’ll blame management because that at least goes with the salary!  I suppose there might be an argument that the consumer could be blamed because they are not willing to pay more for a better built trailer. Personally, I would have to disagree with that, especially since a lot of the parts that are installed into one particular brand of trailer are the same as another brand’s.  More on that later.

Certainly, the way employees are over-worked and paid in a manner that encourages speed over quality could have a little to do with it. Here is a  Reuters article on RV construction labor in Elkhart. Sorry in advance as portions of the article discuss politics. One model is to pay employees by the “piece” where in the employee can go home after producing X number of units with the same pay as if they were there all day. Some manufacturers do not subscribe to this “incentive” and still elect to pay by the hour. Augusta RV and New Horizons come to mind.

I’ll near the conclusion by saying there has to be hope the RV industry will improve either through increased competition, their own initiatives, or hopefully not – through government regulation. Seventeen percent of the 23 full timer’s RV experiences I started off writing about is not going to cut it. Perhaps there will be an awakening in this industry just as there was in the US auto industry brought about through stiff competition by the Japanese. Can you guys remember when one could buy a foreign car at a fraction of the price that lasted a lot longer than a domestic built car? Thank goodness those days are over.

I’m not ready to say the issue is profit driven although it might be. A reader posted this link to See Dealer Profit (thank you Ryan). If what the website is reporting is accurate, RV manufacturers sell to dealerships between about 35% to 50% less than manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). That would mean an RV manufacturer producing an RV with an MSRP of $100,000 is building it, with included cost and profit, for maybe $50,000.  Some may say “these things go through an earthquake everyday” when they are pulled down the road as if to make excuse for repairs even in a new unit.  Well, is that not what they are supposed to be built for? To me $50,000 is a lot of money and is more than most earn in a year.

Why can’t we ask that at least when an RV manufacturer installs another’s part such as a slide motor, water tank or refrigerator as well as their own plumbing and electrical runs or whatever, can’t they do it right the first time. And why would you pay an employee for doing it wrong to start with? And why would you pay a vendor for furnishing defective parts? That makes no sense, especially if it might be at the root of the problem.  And if they cover themselves with short one-year warranties and only build something to last that long well then shame on them. Because that RV might be financed through a bank by an unsuspecting family. And if the management and owners of these companies don’t care beyond a year then there might be a good seat in hell for that attitude.

I’m still buying one!  I’m taking my best shot at finding a good one and crossing my fingers from there on.  Maybe that sums it up as to why they are still selling so many. Maybe my second full-time RV will be a Toyota RV. I hope not.