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

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

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

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

Installed a Dash Camera in the Truck

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll Be Upgrading our Fifthwheel RV Suspension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delayed With Trailer Brake Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Equipping an RV – 50/50 Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The puppy color matches our furniture 🙂

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

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

 

 

 

 

Had Our Rig Professionally Weighed

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

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

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

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

Vilano 320GK and Ram 3800 Dually Weights

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

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

Regarding Combined Gross Weight Ratings for the Truck:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regarding the Rear Axle Rating for a Truck:

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

THIS IS IMPORTANT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The decision is yours to make.

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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 15 (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…

 

Click here for part 2 of the story.

Click her for part 3 of the story.

 

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.

Augusta RV Factory Tour

We all spend so much time trying to find a new or used trailer that fits our needs. Much time is spent researching the components, frame size, what slide systems are used, do they have disc brakes and more. Most likely the trailer, no matter what upgraded parts it comes with, are only as good as the people who assemble them. Then we consider if something breaks how easy is it to get repaired under warranty; and repaired right the first time. Then comes consideration whether the company who built the trailer will stand behind their warranty.  Like you, I’m spending the necessary time to understand the components of an RV and the reputation of the company that built it.

For my family who reads this blog, and may not be that interest in shinny new RV’s; I’m working on a post regarding Aunt Tancy.  Mary, glad Russ was not with us when we looked at the Mercedes class B’s – we never would have gotten out of there.

Continue reading

RV Research – Augusta RV’s Ambition Fifth Wheel

(update 12/4/16 – Here is a link to our factory tour)

I’ve been doing some research within the 19,000 pound class of fifth wheels to see what’s available compared to the 16,000 pound class.  We are planning to pull our rig with a one ton dually pickup. It seems like staying below 20,000 pounds is recommended for these trucks.  Others say the “better built” trailers are going to be the heavier ones. I’d been watching Augusta RV for some time now and first noticed the company with the introduction of their Luxe fifth wheel. They advertise their trailers as fulltime rigs.  The Ambition caught my eye and someday I hope to tour it. For now, I’ve just been looking at what is published on the web along with photos. For our purposes I rated the Ambition high on my sheet.

 

Karen is in Michigan visiting her family. The next time I’m able to go with her I’d like to take a slight detour and visit the Augusta RV factory. They only sell factory direct and there are no used units in our area. I’d appreciate knowing what you think about buying from a company with no dealerships? To include your opinion concerning if it would be harder to find someone to repair it other than the factory?

I found a great two-part video with details about the 2017 Ambition 38RL construction and amenities.  After spending months studying construction methods I’m feeling more confident about what I’m looking at when comparing rigs. Four pages of notes later I came up with a few of the Ambitions features that were impressive, especially compared to trailers in the 16,000 pound class:

  • Basement is fully finished with no exposed pipes and wires.
  • 40 pound propane tanks compared to the usual 30.
  • The Equalizer six point auto leveling jacks which are found in motor homes.
  • Outside stereo controls with Bluetooth connectivity so you don’t have to go inside to change the channel.
  • 8,000 pound axles.
  • Standard Dexter disc brakes (although the Kodiak brand is higher rated by some).
  • Standard 17.5” wheels with Goodyear H rated tires.
  • MORryde SRE 4000 suspension. (Their Luxe trailer comes standard with the MORryde independent suspension.) As of 2016 many of the trusted sources in the forums say they would not own a trailer without the MORryde independent suspension.
  • Nice separation of bedroom/bathroom space from the living area by a hallway with storage.
  • Nice entryway closet with a seat.
  • Hand laid tile back splashes.
  • Very modern interior design/colors.
  • Standard soft close drawers which are dovetailed. They place the hardware on the bottom of the drawers to allow for a slightly wider drawer space.
  • Real residential four burner stove and oven compared to the smaller RV style.
  • Lights are dimmable and zoned.
  • Heating and cooling temperature sensors spread around the trailer.
  • Thoughtful consideration of which way cabinets open such as easier access above the bed. Outstanding storage in bedroom!
  • Water shut off valves below the sinks.
  • Built-in wireless cell phone charging.
  • 85” sofa and upgradable furniture. The upgrade is Lambright which Augusta claims to be exclusive to them.
  • Colored ceiling.
  • Molded sink in bathroom.
  • Standard king size bed with option for a queen. You can even upgrade to the Sleep Number bed.
  • Heavy closet rods.
  • Up to 4,000 pound cargo capacity.
  • 2.25” exterior walls compared to others with 2”. The trailer is also wrapped with a thermal barrier.
  • Electric rack and pinion for the larger slides.
  • They publish how-to videos on Youtube.
  • 16 gallon hot water tank.
  • Slam latch doors are 1.25” rather than 1”.
  • Full prep for generator to include a button inside the trailer.
  • Setup for Direct TV standard with option for Dish TV
  • True high gloss gel coat exterior.
  • 12” I beam frame with slightly thicker steel. Slide out-rigors are also well designed.

I had a few concerns and have not had the chance to call Augusta RV for comment:

  • Because they have no dealerships I wonder if service work will be harder to get.
  • Not sure there is room for more than two batteries without some changes in the compartment.
  • They advertise as coming standard with a residential fridge running off an 1800 watt inverter. Right now we would prefer an RV type fridge. Again, I’ve not been able to call them to see if that’s an option. (Update – I sent Augusta RV an email asking about a option for a gas/electric fridge. I received a call back and there is an option for this but it is not advertised as an option). I also received an email from the president of Augusta as well as a timely call from one of his staff.
  • I could not find their warranty listed on their web page.
  • I’m still not sure about hung wall construction vs laminated. Although the successful Cedar Creek has hung walls as does the DRV. (update 8/16/16 – There has been a lot of comparison by trusted sources who say their laminated walls were quieter and heating/cooling was easier. However they were comparing hung walls with their laminated walls that had the Blue Dow Foam insulation which is the best of the best.)

In the Ambitions price range we would most likely have to buy a used trailer to meet our budget.  For those that missed it, Howard at RV Dreams posted his article on what trailer he would buy today. This is a well done article using several examples.  In the end, not that he is looking for a new trailer, but he would buy used and spend money hauling it around and getting upgrades.  In one example he suggested he would buy a used quality unit for between $30,000 to $40,000. Then upgrade to a few essentials costing about $8,000 to $10,000. Then spend another $25,000 to $30,000 to remodel it.  That would total $63,000 to $80,000 but includes full body paint. Several others have also suggested that we buy a quality used heavy unit and upgrade it as needed. I’d want to make sure whatever used unit we bought had a frame capable of handling the weight for the upgrades.

I’ve also been spending some time looking at a few trailers which are less costly such as the Jayco Eagle, Grand Design Reflection (my favorite in the class at the show), Montana High Country and Keystone Laredo to name a few.  Some of these trailers are approaching the price range of the 16,000 pound luxury models but would not require a dually truck.

For now, Karen and I are sticking with our goal to “buy our third trailer first.” I suppose this is making our selection more difficult.  The practical side of me says buy something in the middle of the price range. It’s nice to see folks traveling, and having a good time, in rigs within a wide selection of price ranges. I’m sure our budget will dictate what we end up buying.

Below is a good post about a factory tour – where they learned Augusta pays employees by the hour rather than by the piece. Others say only two other custom builders pay by the hour which include New Horizons:

“We just returned from touring many RV manufacturers in Elkhart, IN.  By far the wife and I favorite was the Luxe 39-FB.  We also toured DRV, which isn’t a bad 5th either.  Honestly, it comes down to taste.  I would absolutely chose a Luxe over a DRV.  Mainly because of the color schemes offered and the placement of the vents.  Another thing that really bothered me was the complete chaos at DRV manufacturing.  It left room for error for sure.  They were producing 11 a week compared to the 2 a week at Augusta.  Yes Augusta is new and not well known but they are also hourly employeed and not set to a production number.  I am a commercial aircraft technician by trade and for me its about the little details.  An example would be the insulation being laid in the belly.  Augusta’s was flawless no gaps and went up the side of the frame as well.  DRV not so much, gaps in a lot of places and none on the side of frame.  DRV used screws to hold their side wall structure together.  Augusta welded.  Wall insulation is glued on by both.  Augusta went over the top with the glue using ample, DRV not so much.  They both are custom and say they can make alterations sometimes for the customer.  DRV offers only dark wood.  I asked if a lighter wood could be used as a custom wood.  Nope????  THe icing on the cake for my was usb ports.  Usb ports are becoming a norm in all hotels and you can now get them for your home.  They are standard on a Luxe.  I asked DRV if they could install and the guy laughed and said that was just bling and who really uses them? I wouldn’t worry yourself too much with warranties and all that stuff because anyone whos been doing it for a minute will honestly tell you they are all the same.  About 1 year and after that its like pulling teeth.”