Recently my wife and I were talking about our upcoming long term tour of the country. I will be 62 and we both have dreamt of traveling the country and seeing everything we have always wanted to see. We own a 32 ft. travel trailer and a Dodge 3500 diesel dually that we would be towing it with. For whatever reason, I started thinking that it would be nice to get a Class A. She had apparently been thinking the same thing. So off to the dealers we went.
Having no idea of what to look for, what kind of budget for the rig would be needed or even the operating costs we decided it would be a good idea to ask as many questions as possible. We are not new to the RV world, having lived full-time in a fifth-wheel for 10 years, has taught us a lot. We are familiar with the problems of freezing water lines, dumping the tanks, setting up and tearing down. How to economize the storage space and shopping while living on a limited budget. So we knew what we wanted on the inside. But a Class A is totally different from a fifth-wheel on the outside.
We had to look at things differently when getting on the road. Our current fifth-wheel is 42 ft. long. It is a toy hauler or garage unit. The back 14 ft. was used as an office instead of carrying around toys (motor cycles, ATV etc.). Storage on the outside was simply the basement area. With a Class A you have a lot more storage. But even that seemed to raise questions. Why were some models offering pass through and some not? Why do some models have a lot of storage and some don’t? Also almost all Class A RVs have a generator, why? What kind of maintenance do they need? How big would we need? How long will it run, etc.? It seemed the more we started looking the more questions we had. Then the really big question, gas or diesel.
We really needed to narrow down the selection and get an idea on the costs of a Class A. If you have looked around at Class A’s at all you know that diesel units cost more than gas units. Sometimes a lot more. But are they worth it? Our first problem was actually justifying a Class A over the rig we already have and paid for. My son kind of answered that. His feelings were that a Class A offered more options. If you are on the road and broke down, you had your TOAD (car that you towed behind the Class A for getting around town) that you could unhook and drive to get help. Second was the storage. Regardless of the type of Class A (gas or diesel), you still have a lot more storage than a travel trailer. The operating costs of a Class A versus the truck and trailer are also better. My truck gets about 8 MPG average towing the trailer. A diesel Class A is about the same. But once camped, my car (TOAD) gets 30 MPG and the truck 16 MPG. Gas is currently 30 cents a gallon cheaper than diesel. Our overall cost for travel would be cheaper.
Next was the size of the rig. We found out that if you are going to keep your camping expenses low, your best bet was National and State parks along with dry camping. Many parks have a limit on the size of the rig that they will allow. The closer you get to 40 ft., the more parks you will be limiting yourself to. 36 ft. seems to be a sweet spot. Plenty of storage and comfort and small enough to get into the maximum number of places. It’s funny how a little bit of information can go a long way. Just knowing that we wanted to stay around 36 ft. helped eliminate a lot of the rigs.
So now to tackle the big problem, gas or diesel. Up front this seemed like an easy problem. Gas is cheaper, gas engine RVs are cheaper. All Class A’s offered a comfortable ride. All Class A’s offered sufficient storage. Having worked on engines in my youth, I knew that a gas engine would not have the lifetime of a diesel, but I also knew you could rebuild or replace them fairly cheaply when the time came. SO gas it was… but why were diesels so much more in demand? That bothered me, so I started asking questions. Seems that diesels get better mileage, more get up and go in the mountains, have more towing capacity, have better basement areas (storage) and in general last a lot longer. When I applied my math skills to the numbers, it turns out that diesels had a lower operating cost, better resale value and lasted longer than the gas RV. Now I was really torn, gas or diesel? Enter my Son-in-law, a mechanic. He had simple advise… get a diesel. They are quieter (engine is normally in the back), come with a bigger generator (more electric to run things) and will last forever. Now we knew what to start narrowing our search down to. A diesel rig around 36 feet long.
Living space has always been a concern for me. I get slightly claustrophobic at times. Add a few people in a small space (think elevator) and I am close to losing it at times. So living in an 8 ft wide home on wheels could be an issue. The answer is slide outs. Diesel RV can have a lot of slide outs. These expand the interior room quite a bit. But the more slides the more expensive the unit and the more potential problems. After thinking about it we decided that two slides would be enough and one big slide in the living area would be our minimum. After all, we only sleep in the bed room. But we eat, read, entertain and relax in the living area.
We don’t have any kids living with us any more so a single bedroom was our next thought. Then the mother-in-law said how she would love to travel the country. My wife also brought up the fact that she would love to have the grandkids travel with us from time to time. I know some of you also have kids that you can’t leave at home (although you may want to at times). We did see a few Class A’s that have bunk rooms and were actually very nice. That may be an option.
It was time to look at the budget. We had a basic idea of what we now wanted in an RV. The issue became how much did we want to spend and could we afford to buy what we needed.
I have always had expensive taste. Going to RV shows, I learned quickly that if the price of the RV was less than $300,000 I really didn’t seem to like it. I also knew that we could not afford to pay $300,000 on a new RV. Sitting down with the budget and financial information we figured out what we could afford. We have a situation that is slightly different from almost all of you and that is a pending settlement of an insurance claim for my wife. For us, the settlement will be a determining factor on how much of a rig we can buy. But for now, we knew that a new rig was not in the question, used was going to have to do.
New set of problems. Used means someone else’s problems. Now there are all kinds of things that you can do to limit the issues you run into. Insurance and aftermarket warranties, good inspections before the sale by a qualified mechanic, talking to the previous owner, buying as new as possible, reading reviews on the forums, asking questions of professionals and users. In short do as much research as you can.
So how used is used? Researching the web, you can find all kinds of used Class A rigs. Some with very low mileage. All different sizes and all different ages. Taking my list of requirements I started looking at the local dealerships, then eBay, then web searches. I can tell you this; there is no shortage of Class A Diesel RV for us to look at. Good Sams will cover a rig up to 14 years old. But each year it gets more expensive. So you can cover yourself for major issues.
So there you have it, how to select an RV. With lots of research and a little luck you can find the perfect rig for your travels. Decide what you need, what you want and what you can afford. Then search the local dealers so you can see what it is you are saying you have to have versus what you want to have. Then search the web for units in your price range.
There are a lot of good quality check list on the web to use to check out the RV of your dreams once you have a few narrowed down. Use them as well. Know a good mechanic? Take him/her along; it never hurts to have a unbiased eye looking over a major purchase.
Raymond Laubert and his wife Daisy live full time in a fifth wheel recreational vehicle and love it! Married for over 40 years, they have four children and 13 grandchildren and a great grand child. Camping has always been, and remains, a large part of their lives. If Ray isn’t camping with his wife, you can find him cooking or playing with his two dogs, Misty and Princess