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 and 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 as we trying to figure out how to roast a whole chicken.

Grill Mat

Eggs – Make sure the grill is level 🙂

Roasting pan I hope to use to cook a whole chicken

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.

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Our Final Trailer Decision – Part Three

Back in November 2018 I started to break down the reasons Karen and I have selected the 35’ Vanleigh Vilano 320GK as our next home. That was followed up with a briefer post concerning resources you could go to and find out more specific information from the manufacturer. I’ll continue with a few details in this article for those interested.  This might be worth reading as it could provide a few ideas when selecting your own fifth wheel. This is part three of what is becoming a four part series.

I’ll continue with the specifics from where I left off in November, having already covered available options, customer service and the appliances Vanleigh installs. This posting will cover furniture, electrical, trim and insulation. Part four will include foundation, plumbing, mechanical systems, cargo capacity and additional comments about the exterior and interior.

Furniture:  This is a category we test in every fifth wheel Karen and I considered. You quickly learn there are brands like Thomas Payne (by Lippert) and then the others. Over the years I paid particular attention to brands used by some of the more upscale trailers as well. Regarding the bed mattress; we are leaning towards a queen size to allow more walking room around the sides.  In most new trailers it’s common for dealerships to ask that you not lay on them.  Well, we snuck in a few tests anyway. Personally, I prefer one with inner springs but mostly you find some form of foam used. Vanleigh uses a cool gel memory foam and without living with it for a while I can’t give an honest opinion of its comfort. As this fifth wheel is a wide-body it comes with a full-size 80” sofa while still retaining enough room for small shelves at each end. In this short of a trailer you should also consider the width of the theater seating which in this case, and all 2019 Vilanos regardless of trailer length, is 60”. In the mid- 2019 models they started using Franklin furniture which is custom built for Vanleigh. I first noticed this brand as a luxury when finding it in the 2016 DRV Mobile Suites.  As a side note many manufacturers including Vanleigh are installing theater seating with power recliners. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to operate the seats when not connected to shore power or a generator. A good way to see if you are looking at the most updated 2019 model is to look for the power seat button which was moved from the back inner portion of the seat arm to the front where it is more convenient. Small details like this really help when shopping for the most current version of a floor plan. 

Electrical: There is a lot to cover here but I’ll try and be brief. If you are looking to limit the number of things that could go wrong in an RV, then the Vanleigh Vilano might or might not be the brand for you. Tiffin took their 40 years of motorhome construction experience and transferred some of that knowledge to their fifth wheel. Their Spyder Multiplex wiring system is one of those systems. You will not find many old-style switches for lighting in the Vilano. Panels are well positioned around the RV on touch pads.  This includes the main control panel.  The lights are dimmable inside which is huge to me.  And there is a vendor working on a Bluetooth wireless interface for your phone. Just like Keystone’s inCommand system, you can control the awnings and more from the interface. This system is standard in the Vilano. Motion sensing lights are used in key areas. If it’s important, the living room television is 50” but is not on an arm to view from the kitchen as far as I can find; presumably because the TV also sits on legs for stability when traveling. The Vilano “solar prep” is a joke where you can only add a portable panel plugged into the front of the trailer. Compared to a Keystone Montana who includes wire runs to the roof. Lighting on the celling is recessed for a cleaner look. The trailer is setup with two batteries and an electric cord reel for that heavy 50-amp cord is standard. Personally, I would rather have a manual winding reel. What’s different here is the cord reel is tucked out of the way with the guts concealed behind the wet bay. As far as I know Vanleigh has not added any preparation for WIFI or cellular connectivity which Keystone is now doing. Here is a big one; Vanleigh uses external water and sewer tank level monitors rather than the ones that are installed inside tanks which corrode or cover with toilet paper. Owners on their Facebook page seem to be satisfied with the tank monitors. Of course, as with others in this price point, they are using LED lighting. But go a step further by including LEDs on the outside of the trailer. I have no idea what brand of power converter they are using and can only hope it has multi-stage charging which is more efficient. Nor do I know what brand of inverter they use in the case of the residential refrigerator option other than it is pure sine wave. Twelve-volt tank heaters are standard. I appreciate how they hang the ceiling fan down from the ceiling attached to a large box for better air flow. Like the appliances the stereo and TVs are Furrion brand. They brag about wrapping electrical runs in plastic wire looms to reduce the chance of wires rubbing against framing. USB ports are everywhere but I could never find a 12-volt cigarette lighter style plug which would be beneficial for a portable inverter and more. I’ll probably add an inverter connected to an outlet or two (and the electric recliners) after the fact. And finally I appreciate the whole house vacuums hose feeding from and to an enclosed area in a wall rather than having to store the hose in a closet or otherwise.

Electrical runs in plastic wire looms

Trim Work and Cabinets: If folks buy what they can see, then they will buy this trailer. It’s beautiful with diesel motorhome level trim work and cabinets. This feature, as well as others, might be a reason the cargo capacity is not so great in most of the Vilano floorplans without the 8,000-pound axle option. Although that’s not an issue in the shorter 320GK as I will report about in part four of this “book”. The solid wood cabinets are tall, extending to the ceiling line. This includes within the 8’ slide heights. Karen liked the drawer and cabinet hardware in the 2018 models but not so much in the 2019s as they are knobs rather than handles. She is going to need a stool with two steps to reach the top shelf. With the 320GK being a relatively shorter trailer, the extra cabinet space could come in handy given the basement storage area is smaller than what you get in a 40’ trailer. The drawers are not soft closing, like the Cedar Creek, however I believe they are a tad better constructed than the Cedar Creek, Montana and Bighorn. There are two stain options and several finish gloss selections where the factory will apply whatever glossiness you want. They use off brand shades, meaning something other than the preferred MCD brand. There is no worry of light coming around the shades as the valences are solid wood which extend well around the corners of the shades. I also like the fact there is no carpet, to include the bedroom other than under the theater and dining seating. Another feature in the Vilano is a soft touch vinyl ceiling. I truly believe, and they advertise, the soft touch ceiling is good for noise reduction. The hardwood wainscoting on the bedroom sidewall is a nice residential touch. It seems minor but I really wanted a trailer with cabinets over the theater seating which is included in this floor plan. I think it will be convenient. The reason this is sometimes not found in other trailers is first, other trailers don’t have 8’ ceilings in the slides like the Vilano. And second, the extra cabinets cut out a good portion of what would be a large window on the entrance door side of the trailer. Fortunately this 35′ floor plan does come with a pantry in the kitchen!

Photo from our first tour of the Vilano in January of 2016 – this is not the 320GK which was first built in 2018

2019.5 Vanleigh Vilano 320GK – 35′ Rear Livingroom

Insulation: The fully enclosed underbelly is a common feature. Perhaps not so common is the heating duct to the basement area has a return air for circulation. R45 ceilings and floors with an R11 sidewall that’s slightly better than average. The ceiling has a thermal wrap. There is no venting of the attic space like in the Montana which is used to vent off condensation. Better rolled insulation is used to cover the attic space rather than cutting and filling gaps with foam insulation.

Please let me know if you have any questions in the comment section. I’ll be back later with the final chapter regarding the features of our trailer decision which we thought were important.  Then maybe I’ll have time to announce we bought a truck this past week. It’s a slightly used 2018 Ram 3500!

Final Fifth Wheel Selection: Part 2

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

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

2018-Vilano-Value-Guide

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

2018 Vilano Price Sheet

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

2019 Vanleigh Beacon Price Sheet

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

2019 Vanleigh Unpublished Options and Questions

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

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

Google map search for Ram truck dealerships in Nebraska

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

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

Fifth Wheel Features: Why We Selected the Vanleigh Vilano

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

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

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

320GK – Photo from Vanleigh Website

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

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

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

Options:

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

Service:  A top priority in our search.

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

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

Appliances: 

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

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

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

Trailer Selection – Boondocking With Our New Generator

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

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

Vilano 320GK – Stock Photo

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

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

Pull Start Generator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boondocking During Annual Festival

Mary has her trailer all decked out.

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

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

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

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

Ryan and Deanne from California

Montana with Nice Ram

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the view approaching Cincinnati

WAIT FOR IT

 

 

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

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

Keystone Montana 3120RL

Forest River Cedar Creek 34IK

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

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

Buying Used vs 35% Off New MSRP

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

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

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

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

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

Redwood Interior

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

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

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

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

P1000781 (800x505) (798x503)

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

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

Bighorn 3270RS

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

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

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

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

 

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