So far, this is what I’ll be looking for in a rig. These notes will be constantly updated. In 2015 we decided on a fifth wheel. In 2017 we finally decided we want a real living room floor plan, preferably with no more than three slides. We also know our max length will be 40′ but prefer something closer to 35-38′. Gross weight for us will be under 19,500 and am leaning towards 16,500 with minimum of 3,000 pound cargo capacity. And we want proven exceptional customer service from the factory. October 2018 we decided on the Vanleigh Vilano 320GK.
I plan to go on the forums with our final build selections for truck and fifth wheel to get detailed feedback. Saw this done by someone else and he made a lot of changes based on forum comments. Turns out, after one gets enough research about truck options/capacity/build and a general understanding of trailer weights, others opinions on the combination are not needed. Pay attention to pin weights on fifth wheels which are about 20% of the total gross weight. That will go a long way is selecting what truck you need. Pay attention to the trucks gross cargo weight and subtract the pin weight of the fifth wheel. What are you left with? Enough for cargo, fuel and passengers? As of October 2018 I’m searching for a Ram 3500 or Ford F350 dually to buy. Most likely it will be a Ram with Aisin transmission, Laramie trim.
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Refrigerator: Going with a gas/electric. Norcold 18.3 cubic foot Polar Max or something slightly smaller. We are not starting with a large battery bank and solar so a residential is not going to work as we do not want to limit where we stay with only electrical connection or running the generator for hours on end. Trust me on this, you will need a large solar bank if you plan to boondock more than a couple days with a residential fridge. If I was to go with a residential fridge I would plan to ultimately have six batteries and solar enough to charge them in the shade.
Washer/Dryer: We had initially decided to start out with one. Something to consider is the combos are about $1,500. If you budget $25 a month for laundromats you would have to us your combo for about five years to justify it by cost. When we rented an RV and used campsite laundry, Karen had decided she wanted the luxury of doing a load in the camper and maybe using larger machines at campsites when needed. $12 to do the laundry was expensive at the campsite. Of course if we workcamp we might get a break on price. She would want it located in the bedroom or near someplace she can fold clothes, like the bed. If we went with a combo unit it would be a vented combo unit. We have also been looking for floor plans that allow easy access to the washer/dryer which for now would not be spaces in the master closet that face into the hanging clothes should we add a unit later. One floor plan we are considering has the water connection in a bedroom slide, off the hallway. Not sure yet if I have concerns about a water line moving in a slide. A blogger I followed has already been through two combo units and so far, on their third attempt, is liking the Edgestar. We made a final decision in April of 2019.
Recliners: Either separate recliners or theater seating is fine. The reclining mechanism has to be easy to operate. We prefer leather recliners and cloth sofas, but not one builds them like that. Not a deal breaker for us. After years of RV research I’m learning the better brand names such as La-Z-Boy, Franklin and Lambright. Also, some of the 35′ trailers have narrow theater seating which is tight when seated. To avoid this they sometimes take out the center arm rest. Electric open would be fine, even heated would be okay. I’m not big on massage features which I’ve sat in and they just vibrate. Beware the electric ones require 110 so you would need an inverter to use them if not on shore power or a generator.
Stove and Microwave: We want the new Furrion oven that started showing up in 2017. It’s self igniting so you don’t have to get on the floor with a match like in the Suburban models. You loose using the stove top, with cover, as a counter top but also don’t have to move everything to use it. Sealed burners would be nice, so you don’t have food falling down under the burners. A 30″ convection microwave. Personally I think the Whirlpool units are more bottom of the line but we are not particular in what brand. Furrion or Kitchenaid are the preferred brands. We prefer the microwave to have fans that vent the stove to outside the trailer. We briefly considered a induction cook top. But the electrical needs are to much for boondocking. Our theme has always been to, as much as possible, not limit where we stay.
50 amp service is a no-brainer for fulltime RV living is a large fifth wheel or anything with two air conditioners. The power retracting reel would be nice for the heavy cord.
Solar: I’ll use the phased approach to solar. Meaning, I’ll start out with very little to nothing while monitoring our typical electrical needs applicable to whatever level of boondocking (camping off grid) we do. Whatever equipment we do have I’ll want to be expandable without having to throw out most of the old stuff. From what I’m reading about residential refrigerators, you would need solar capacity for six batteries to do it right. And then keep a generator for rainy days. Glad we are not getting a residential fridge. I could see us starting out with two six volt batteries and quickly deciding on an inverter wattage and adding that. Inverters draw down on the battery even when not running electrical appliances. The larger the inverter the more they trickle off the battery charge. Leave an inverter on all night and it will kill the batteries so we want a shut off inside the coach.
Regarding a generator. Went with a Champion 3400 inverter gas type. The model I selected only weighs in at 78 pounds. Need to be able to run one AC unit. This will save on basement space but require we also haul gasoline or go with one that is dual fuel for propane. These things burn through 20 pounds of propane in less than 14 hours on low settings. So I went with the gas only unit and really am glad I did. Honda, Yamaha and Champion are the popular brands in order of preference. The single larger 4500/5500 watt Onan units with push button start are nice, especially when used at a rest stop. They just take up to much space that we will need for solar later.
We want the living room TV on a swivel arm so can be adjusted for kitchen viewing and all the seats. Regarding an outside TV. We could see that being a fun option but can take or leave it. 50″ in the living room and a smaller one in the bedroom is preferred. Regarding brand, we will have to take what comes with the trailer. I personally like the Vizio brand for value. A 12 volt option would be nice but that’s not a standard in a full profile fifth wheel so we would have to have an inverter.
Dimmable lighting. And accent lighting would be a plus but hard to find in a price range under $70K. Not a deal breaker, just something nice to have. By the way, some overhead lights are mounted flush in ceiling which is attractive. We also know we may trade out hanging light fixtures or shades because most of what I see are not attractive. I’ve been looking at ambient lighting options rather than dimmable switches. I prefer not to have any stand alone lamps as that would be just another thing to worry about breaking when towing.
I’d like at least one 12 volt outlet. That we could use a portable 12 volt pure sign wave inverter to charge stuff. I’d like a built in inverter in an RV capable of running a television and a couple small appliances. I’ll most likely have one installed later after we know our electrical requirements when off grid.
Batteries: I’ve re-thought this twice now. Originally I supposed we would go the cheap route and add a 12 volt battery to the one that generally comes with a trailer. Still might do that. Now I’ve thinking about having four six volt AGM batteries someday. That way if we later add solar panels we will not have to change out the batteries. Also, for boondooking four batteries looks to be more doable. But — if there is not space near the existing battery compartment, we might reconsider the four batteries. To clarify, we are still not going to add solar until we know what are requirements would be. I’m just trying to avoid throwing out any good batteries. If you add a battery to another that is older than six months, the new battery will trash the older one. I may just take the single battery than comes with the new trailer. Then sell it after I add the four AGM six volt batteries. We have a full-time RV friend coming to town again and I’ll work with him to decide on our batteries and inverter.
For tire monitoring: I would prefer a system that comes with the truck and allows the trailer tires to be added – but that might not be possible. That way I don’t have a separate gadget to mount in the truck. I’m holding off until the year we buy the trailer to make a permanent decision should we have to buy an independent system. By then, the technology could have changed or we would know if our truck’s system will handle the trailer as well. There are monitoring systems that offer temperature readings also which are preferred. Rapid temperature changes are early warning of tire failure. Improper inflation is the #1 cause of failure. . Also – get metal stems on tires for high pressure.
Progressive Surge Protector: I also understand they can detect issues in your power cord or maybe trailer when the pedestal type just monitors at pedestal and campground power. A portable unit might be nice to check the site power before you bother to park but there might be a better/cheaper device for checking the pedestal first. Progressive has a lifetime warranty. Still not 100% sure on a pedestal or hardwired unit. Keeping an eye on Ebay to get a used one.
Power management system: Some trailers have options of having these. What it does is shut down items like the air conditioner when you are on thirty amp service and want to use the microwave. A convenience feature for sure so not a necessity.
Flooring: We want what we have in our current (2015) sticks and bricks. Engineered wood or similar in all areas but the stairs and bedroom. We have vinyl under the washer/dryer and in the bathroom. I’m fine with carpet under the sofa, chair in the living room slide which would actually help with insulation and noise.
Shades: MCD manual day/night shades only require a slight tug to raise. No way do I want to deal with the shades with strings. We prefer a two shade system, one for daytime solar and one for night time black out. I’ve also discovered some builders do not use MCD type shades on every window so we will watch to make sure we can live with the windows that don’t have the shades. The shades must be adjustable for stopping points otherwise they roll up to tight and are hard to grab when pulling them down.
Foundation/Structure (Is Most Important)
Slide-outs: I’ll bet we will not be deciding which RV to buy based on the slide technology. We want our slide to be fully laminated with the same material used on the outside walls. The insulation should be appropriate for a four sessions rig, including the floor and ceiling of the slide. I prefer hydraulic over electric for heavier slides. I’m still considering the benefits of slide toppers especially to prevent water from freezing on the top of the slide? The slide seals are something to consider and I’m thinking when we find the perfect floor plan we will have to trust the engineers did their job and are using good seals. I’d like to have carpet on the slide, other than maybe a kitchen slide, to help with sound reduction and insulation. I’ll make sure the slides operate smoothly and with reasonable speed. I’ll also watch for how electrical is hung in moving slides and especially that none are pinched in the process. I’m thinking having plumbing in a moving slide is not a good idea. There must be access to the bed, fridge and bathroom with the slides in. There must be a way to manually bring in the slides in case of malfunction. I’d prefer to have each slide operated independently and via remote control so I can stand outside and make sure the clearance is good. We will not have a slide under the main awning. I’ll be considering if floor vents are covered up with the slides in for those times we can’t roll a slide out. Lastly, there must be a decent amount of headroom inside the slide. Here is a big one that helped eliminate floor plans – we are sticking with three slides max. The five slide units don’t allow for a second awning.
Second Awning off the living room slide: Basically, this would allow for the entire door side of the trailer to be covered. Extra outside seating and keeps the sun off the windows which allows the air conditioner to keep up with the heat. Some trailers with this option also have an outside TV which we could take or leave. The second awning is a must have option for us, although it could be added later. This option is one of many that stops us from having anything more than two large slides off the living room (and one off the bedroom) compared to a four or five slide trailer.
Cargo Capacity: I’ve heard 3,000 pounds minimum quoted as the suggested least amount of capacity. A couple hours research showed it closer to 3,448 pounds on average when reading what nine other full timers are living with. We want room for a lot of stuff that are not among the bare essentials such as a combo washer/dryer, full water tanks, generator, inflatable boat, maybe solar panels, inflatable boat, bikes, camping gear and more.
Pin Box: My first choice is the MoRryde pin matched to the appropriate hitch and suspension system. I’m still studying hitches but am leaning towards having an air bag on the hitch with the MoRryde pin. My second choice is the newer Trailair – Flex Air pin. Again, the pin would be matched with the appropriate suspension and hitch. And this could change if the Flex Air is limited to an 18,000 pound capacity. The Trailair – Air Ride is my third choice. We may be buying a used rig so I want to keep the option open to using what comes with the rig. As of today (9/9/15) Lippert is still selling the Trailair Air Ride pin. In October 2018 we decided on a trailer and will start off with the stock pin box.
Tires and Wheels: At least 70 mph rated LT radial tires with aluminum wheels. I’ll use tire covers when parked and metal stems. I’ll make sure they are balanced when new. Looks like the Goodyear G114 “H” tires are it but I’m satisfied with the G rated tires on the right trailer. Just make sure the trailer can handle the 17.5″ tire. Years ago I learned the value of great tires, not just because of durability but also because you can trust them for traction in bad weather. Saliun also makes great tires so I’d take those also. Get metal stems for tire monitoring.
Main beam/frame: I am only looking at models with a 12″ I beam or better. We also want a drop frame because of the better basement storage. You will know the difference if you are looking at 35′ trailers and one brand has more cargo space than the other, especially if both are not “light” built trailers. Here in 2018 you can see the difference if you look at the specs on a Keystone Montana 35′ compared to the Grand Design Solitude 35′ which has considerable less cargo capacity. And not because Grand Design has better built fixtures that weight more. It’s because they are using a 10″ beam. I’m not knocking Grand Design by the way, in fact you have to watch out for this in some of the shorter Heartland Bighorns as well.
I’ll be selecting a rig that has been tested for how long it will hold heat in a chamber during the test. We will be getting a rig that has reasonably insulated slides and is setup to reduce noise coming from the mechanical systems (air conditioning). We want a four seasons rig but don’t necessarily require the “best” insulation as we will avoid harsh climates. We will be getting double-pane windows for insulation as well as noise reduction. Optional thermal reflective barrier will be something we are looking for. This is a sheet of reflective material below the roof and floor. I’m leaning towards foam rather than rolled insulation and if there are cut-outs in the foam there needs to be another layer of insulation above it. Here is a link to my blog post.
Quite ducted ac and heating system. We will be listening to the ac and furnace running before we buy any unit. We want two ac units that are ducted together with the return air not exposed under the unit but in separate intakes that are quite. I’d prefer the vents not be exposed on the open floor areas of the rig where dirt gets in them or we walk on them. Many units have the vents mounted on the side of cabinets or near the perimeter. By the way, another advantage to a 35′ trailer compared to the 40′ trailers is they have the same two air conditioning units. The shorter trailer will cool better. Watch out for the furnace size however, they like to cut those down in the shorter units. I’d like to have the heat ducts not mounted flush on the floor where you walk on them. But not a big deal, we have always had them in our sticks and bricks home.
Moderate priced luxury fifth wheel: We are looking at RVs in the range of $87,000 or less in 2019 dollars and would consider a gently used unit. For the truck I have budgeted $67,000 for a combined total of $154,000. This includes all the add on stuff such as generator, washer dryer, electric cords, truck hitch, sales tax and licensing fees or whatever. I’m finding one year old trucks for a big savings. As of 6/16/17. Here is a link to a blog post. I’m going to try and bet that budget to leave more in savings to replace the trailer or buy/build a home.
13 gallon trash bin in a convenient location. I like the idea of having a hole in the counter above the trash can rather than having to open the cabinet.
Roadside Assistance: We will have roadside assistance insurance. Coach-Net seems to be popular. As we will be traveling in areas unfamiliar to us, it would be nice to pick up the phone for help after a break-down. Don’t know yet about an extended warranty. 4/16/16
Extended Warranty: We are leaning towards a new trailer. So we would most likely wait until just before the manufacturers warranty expires before deciding on an extended warranty. We know the price for an extended warranty increases with each year the trailer ages. Another possible option would be to get a quotation from someone like wholesalewarranties once we have decided on a trailer and then just get the quotation for what if we bought it now or in one year. That way we will be prepared when the dealer tries to make an offer and claims it’s a good deal.
Fire/Security Safe: This is not something we are necessary looking for in a trailer purchase. Decided to wait and install a fire safe later.
Inflatable Kayak: We purchased a Sea Eagle FastTrack 385 in 2016 which is before we hit the road. This was 100% for sure something we plan to take with us so an early purchase, so we could enjoy it early, was reasonable.
We are holding off buying smaller RV items until we find out what others are using such as a portable ice maker, grill table, beach umbrella and more. In other words, we are starting with mostly just the basics.
To have a storage unit or not: We decided on a 5×10 which is the same size as our hallway bathroom (so we know what will fit). If we keep our artwork or not will dictate if we get a climate controlled unit or not. We also hope to store two totes of valuables with family.
Start up essentials: I’ll come back later and list the bare minimum in connectors, leveling blocks, water hoses and such. Forums are full of lists and all can be easily added when purchased at an RV store. We will probably buy this list of items before picking up the trailer. Here is a blog post on the subject. I’ve been updating my spreadsheet as we sparingly purchase items. That way I can stay within budget.
We will have a built-in black tank flush. Add on products don’t work. Minimum 10 gallon gas/electric water tank, preferably a 12 gallon in case we later get a washing machine. No plastic sinks and must have a one piece shower. Hate the bowl sink look and thankfully most builders are getting rid of them.
Tank Sizes: Prefer 75 fresh water, 75 or better grey and 45 black. A large grey water tank is a must because that is the limiting factor. I prefer not to have tanks split up such as were some models have a grey tank for the kitchen and another for the bathroom.
Pex water lines are best as they are proven in sticks and bricks homes. Also not having plastic connectors such as elbow would be preferred but seem like they are a norm. We want the ability to shut off individual water lines in the event of a leak.
Regarding the bathroom sink and fixture: Karen prefers the sink be molded into the counter because they are easier to clean. I also noticed some trailers come with faucets that are not tall enough. Although we can change faucets out and after checking what comes with the current kitchen sinks, I’ll be doing that.
Toilet: We will be going with whatever brand comes with the trailer. For sure it will be porcelain. Must be in a comfortable position with leg room and not in the way when getting out of the shower. Believe it or not, some trailers don’t have a very good place to mount a toilet paper roll, so will be watching out for that. We did a test to see which dissolves best. Charmin Ultra Soft was the winner with Angel Soft coming in second. We already switched out to Charmin Ultra Soft in our sticks and bricks home as of 2016. More than once I’ve been told the Dometic toilet (310 or 320) are much preferred over the Thetford toilets a lot of trailers come with. By the way, if the toilet is not tall enough you can purchase and install a 2″ riser for the base. For you tall guys.
Water Filtration: We have always enjoyed good drinking water. I don’t like the plastic taste of bottled water nor gung in the line, around fixtures and such. We are leaning towards having a pitcher with filter in it for the fridge for cold ready to drink water. And more than likely a dual or triple whole trailer filter system. Where both particles and chemicals are removed. If the rig does not come with one we will most likely start off with a single filter and pitcher then add something better.
A truck capable of handling an upgraded RV later: We have been looking at fifth wheel trailers in the 16,500 to 19,000 gross weight class. Here is a link to my blog post on the subject. We may be looking for a one year old Ford F350 dually with the Lariat package or a Ram 3500 dually with the Laramie package. Will be getting a long bed with large back seat. So far I’m thinking getting the best transmission the brand has to offer. Also a 4.10 gear ratio because we will be hauling heavy loads. The truck will be our daily driver and I know the 4.10 gear may lower fuel mileage slightly at highway speeds. But in town it will get slightly better averages than say a 3.73 ratio so it evens out. Here is a blog post on the subject. Update: Here on 1/11/18 I’m starting to lean towards cloth interior to save another $5,000. Such as a Ram Bighorn or Ford XLT unless we can find a great deal on one with leather. Because it’s hard to find one on a nearby lot equipped the way I want so we may have to order one.
Backup Cameras: I’ve been reading with some trucks you can get a rear trailer camera that integrates with truck. Might be a reason to not get a camera stock with the trailer in order to avoid having yet another box to mount in the truck.
Dash Camera: I’m just starting to research these. Others say it helps if you are in an accident and can show the other driver’s actions. I’d also think it would be a nice way to record scenery as you drive along.
Regarding keeping a second car: We have decided not to keep a second car. Because we like traveling together, Karen can look up campsites and I really don’t want the hassle of maintaining a second vehicle . Several others I know have second vehicles. The cost compared to saving for less truck usage range from a wash to $1,900. Here is a good post about it on a blog.