RV - voice of experience

My wife thinks that an RV would be awesome. We went to an RV show today. We are total noobs.

I’m sure there are some dopers with RV’s and I would welcome the voice of experience. I don’t even know half the questions to ask.

We’re a family of 5. Three girls 14 and twins are 10. Will want to be able to travel with them all as they grow. Overnight/3 day weekend trips in Northwest Washington, take it when we go crabbing for the day, spring break week, 2 week trip in the summer, maybe something at Christmas or winter break.

Also have a sister in law and set of in laws that would be nice to travel with but only occasionally. If an RV is big enough to accommodate all 8 of us, then we could also invite another small family or friends of the kids when the relatives aren’t with us.

Some rambling background:
However, I have never driven anything so big. I’m thinking while a 33 foot Winnie Minnie would be great once you’re at the destination, not only would it be a pain to drive, there are probably roads that you can’t take it on getting to National Parks or even California Highway 1. And I know once you get to the campground, it’s probably too big to want to take it to get to the store much less the trailhead. And I know I don’t want to pull a car behind an RV.

I want something on the Ford F350 or F450 platform. Just 'cause unless one of the teeming can convince me otherwise.

Looked at the Itasca Spirit. I think it was 25 or 28 feet. That looked a lot more practical for just my family. We do have to decide (if we do the RV thing), if it’s just for the 5 of us or trying to do more folks.

Also have looked at some Forrest River RV’s. The one with the bunk bed is too long. The extended family liked the Winnie Minnie better anyway (and it’s cheaper).

So, like some practical feedback on sizes? What’s too big or too restrictive because of size? How do you deal with the sewage waste when you get home? Assume you dump it at the last RV site, but what do you do when you use it on the way back home? Can it just stay in the tank or do you need to empty it? I’ve got a 45 foot driveway, so I assume I can just park it there, but do you find that a convience or a hassle and try to find a parking place somewhere for the low usage season? What are the gotchas newbies never think of? How much is insurance? How much is upkeep?

I’m sure I’ll have more questions but would really appreciate some RV owners chiming in on their experience.

Try some rentals. Too many people buy one, use it a few times, decide they don’t like it–and lose tens of thousands of dollars when they resell.

Another vote for rental - but rent it for a full month.

You’ll find an excuse to use it the first 2 weeks.

Then you’ll get a taste of “the thing in the driveway” that WILL NOT go away.

I put stuff in storage while moving - and noticed the RVs on the lot - they almost all looked like they had not moved in over 5 years (at $100/mo).

As an experiment: place toothpicks in the treads of a stored RV - place it upright on the ground and let it lay back.
Come around after labor day - how many toothpicks are still in place.

When I moved in, there was an enormous RV at the end of the street - a very expensive cover, and even expensive covers on the wheels (sun rot of expensive tires). It never moved until the day it disappeared. Then the house went up for sale.
My hunch: they took out one of those foreclosure-special mortgages to get the money for a toy. Then the mortgage went south.

Or that the ones they’ve seen in RV parks have some features they wish they’d known about before buying.

Renting is definitely the efficient way to figure out what you really want.

Another vote for renting first. We did a lot of RV camping when we were first married in the middle 60s and then didn’t camp for 40+ years. When we retired, we thought we might like to have a trailer and bought an old used 19 footer. We used it enough had so much fun with it we upgraded to a newer (still used) 27’ trailer with a slide-out. The 27 footer fits in almost all developed campgrounds. I prefer the trailer to a self-propelled RV because when we camp, we drop the trailer and still have a vehicle to get around in. In the early days we had a succession of campers up to a Class A motor home that we borrowed from the in-laws. they pulled a boat, so that was how it was. We had to break camp every day for side trips. It works, but the pickup and trailer rig works best for us now. You will find there is a pretty good learning curve when you first start camping, but the folks in the next camping space are usually very willing to share advice and stories. As you are gaining experience, take it easy and stay within your limitations. When we camp with family and grandchildren, we often pitch a tent for the kids and they like that a lot. Not all parks allow it, but most do. You can put treatment chemicals in the holding tank for a time, but you will want to find a dump station before you store it for any length of time. Be prepared for gas mileage shock, no whining, it is what it is.

Do it! Killer fun!

But rent, as is the consensus. No winterization, no registration, no upkeep. Just the fun.

Think of it as a hotel room on wheels.

I’ve got cab-over camper that was damn cheap, but it only gets used maybe once a year. But I still have to mess with it all the time.

Rent sounds like a good option.

I’d first look around your area and figure out what storage fees are.

Then do some calculations on what it costs to drive one somewhere and fees for a campsite.

Then figure out the cost for taxes and insurance.

I think you’ll find out in the long run its cheaper to stay in a cabin or a lodge at a resort.

I you decide you are going to but. Look at used ones. Your first owning one you will use it a lot. Ands as time goes you will use it less and less.

We had one when my kids were in High School. Over the summer days they would go to Great America amusement park in the morning or early afternoon. When I would get home from work I would drive to the park and fix dinner. They knew to come out about 6:oo PM. We would eat then go back in to close the park. It was dun. It also ment if I was tired of the park I could go out to the RV and read a book in confort.
My wife and I are considering on purchasing a trailer when she retires and seeing the country. Buy it used use it for 5 years then sell it.

On the motor home I got about 12 miles per gallon on highway driving. But the short trips around town or at the campgrounds I got about 4 miles per.

She’s right, they are awesome, once you get used to using them. But like everything, there is a learning curve.

Then you might be limited in what you can do. If you’re gonna RV much, you’ll probably need to tow something. The only question is what. You’ll quickly tire of unhooking the water/sewer/electric, running in the slides, and lowering antennas/etc. just to go get a gallon of milk (or to sight-see).

FTR: I use “RV” to mean any camper-type vehicle. Tent camper, 5th wheel, travel trailer, or motorhome. I think you’re referring only to motorhomes in your question, right?

As for me, we’re on our sixth “RV”, having owned tent-campers, travel trailers, and 5th wheels. We’ve been RV-ing since we got married in 1981, and have rarely been without one.

My advice (like many posters above) is to rent one and try it out. We’ve tried a motorhome as renters a few times, but find the expense and constant rattles of the kitchen to be tiring. Also, many of them really don’t have good, belted seating for a large family.

As you mentioned, the length of the motorhome can be a problem in some National Forest and National Park settings. Some limit the length, and many of the drives through cannot accomodate a 33 foot vehicle. If you’re towing, you unhook your jeep (or whatever is behind) and venture into the interesting areas, leaving the motorhome at a nearby RV park. Ditto with a pickup truck / trailer combo.

Sewage waste: Empty at each campground before you travel, and on the last day just use restaurants on the way home. If you have to use the onboard facilities on the way home, most RV dealers have a dump station. If you need to find a dump station, there’s an app for that (really). It can stay in the tank for a week with no problems, but you’ll need to empty it after that.

Parking: If your city/HOA/covenants allow parking it in your driveway, you’re lucky. I think most incorporated places forbid this, one way or another. It would be good to check on this before bringing it home. Also, we’ve found that the roof equipment (vents, A/C, etc.) and coatings aren’t like a house. After ten years of sun and rain you could be facing some expensive repair. We factor in the cost of covered storage when we buy. I believe it’s cheaper in the long run.

Insurance: You’re in the old, slow people demographic. You’ll be surprised at how cheap it is. IIRC our 2015 Windjammer costs about 300/year. I assume a motorhome is more, but I haven’t checked on them.

Things you don’t think of:

Winterizing: All the lines, water tanks, pumps, etc. will freeze in the winter causing extensive damage. You absolutely must winterize all these, including sink and shower drain traps (and outside shower, if installed). It’s expensive to hire, but you can do it yourself if you care to learn, for just a few bucks. It’s imperative to go through the manuals and find everyplace water travels and drain it (I almost forgot the water filter this year).

First trip: Our first “camping” trip with ours was actually in the driveway. We loaded the camper and then tried to spend an entire 24 hours without re-entering the house. We didn’t make it, but took good notes on what we had to go fetch. Also, you need to get experience driving around the neighborhood and then extend this to highways. It’s better to get a few miles under your belt before launching on the trip. You wanted advice and here’s my big one… DO NOT make your first trip a thousand mile journey across the country. Spend a little time getting used to it, and staying close to home/walmart so forgotten items aren’t a big hassle.

Towing: All around us are big trucks. These are not driven by supermen, nor by some special humans with above average spatial abilities. They learned, and so can you. Our biggest RV/combo was a truck/5th-wheel/boat setup that was almost 70 feet long. Once I got used to it, driving was no biggie, just careful lane changes and some planning about where to refuel.

Fueling: Whatever you buy, it’ll be much larger than you’re used to and you’ll find many of the “normal” gas stations won’t accommodate you. Sometimes your best bet is a truck stop.

Look Up: The height of the vehicle is a big “gotcha” for most newbies. Look up at trees overhead, awnings, and even a few low bridges. You’ll really need to think about this for a while before it becomes second nature.

Best of luck to you. Hope I haven’t come off as lecturing. I hope you enjoy is as much as we have…:slight_smile:

pullin has nailed it down pretty well. The OP is looking at the right RVs (Class C) for a group that large, although I’d say that for eight people he’d be better off with a trailer or a 5th wheel that can be parked and left while sightseeing or shopping, rather than a motorhome. Drawbacks to trailers/5th wheels: the cost of a towing vehicle, and learning to back them into a space.

As someone who both owns a motorhome (I’m on my third) and who has sold them in the past, I’d rank the coaches in the OP thusly:

  1. Winnebago Minnie Winnie: solidly built, longstanding reputation for quality.

  2. Itasca: Made by Winnebago, but not the top of the line

  3. Forest River products: I would NOT recommend these, based on what the products were like ten years ago. You can chin yourself on a Winnebago cabinet. Try that in a FR product and you’ll likely tear the wall down.

If you want top of the line, then go with a Born Free. If you really want a step higher than that, go with either the Born Free diesel puller or the Jayco Seneca diesel puller, but you’re going to pay out the ass for that engine/chassis.

Towing a vehicle is no big deal. I towed a Saturn Vue from Alaska with my 2004 Bigfoot (F450 V-10), and we spent five months on the road. Unhooking the car is quick and easy, once you learn the routine (Roadmaster makes excellent towing equipment). The problem the OP has is too many people. Towing a vehicle that seats eight could be problematic. In the case of towing a trailer with a pickup, I don’t know of any pickups that seat eight, and you can’t safely tow a trailer that has people inside. You could always have a family member follow you with a car, of course. If you do decide to tow a vehicle, it’s far simpler to tow something with all four wheels on the ground so you don’t have to screw around with trailers. Check RV message boards for recommendations.

As for size: Any RV of larger size is going to be a problem at turnouts and side roads. You REALLY don’t want to venture down any road unless you know that you will be able to turn around at some point. My Bigfoot was 27 feet, but I always parked it in a campground and drove the towed into the parks. We now have a 20’ Class B, which is perfect for two people. I can take it anywhere a car can go, which is a huge plus for the narrow, winding roads that go out to some of Oregon’s coastal sites.

Engines: it really doesn’t matter whether you have a V-10 or a V-8, other than the V-10 is a little quieter. Either way, you’re going to crawl up inclines in the extreme right lane. The Ford Econoline chassis is a workhorse; I never had a problem with the tranny overheating while towing, nor have I yet had any engine issues.

A last note: An RV is not economical. You will never save enough money on hotels or meals to offset the $100K+ price of the motor home. Your gas mileage will suck, even with a diesel, so don’t embarrass yourself by asking the salesman what the mileage is. If you have to ask, you can’t afford to buy an RV.

Okay, another last note on tires: keep in mind that even though the RV says “2015 Model!”, the chassis is most likely about two years older than the coach (my 2010 sits on a 2008 E350). This means that it’s been sitting in a storage lot all that time, which is very hard on tires. In addition, it will sit in your driveway for extended periods. What this all boils down to is that you will most likely have to buy new tires when the chassis hits about 5 years of age, regardless of how much tread is left. Those tires take a LOT of abuse from all the weight, potholes, etc.

Oops, let me retract my comment on Forest River, who makes Coachmen RVs. I was thinking of Keystone products.

There is some good advice in this thread, but it’s going to boil down to a they said/they said debate, which is pretty much useless. On the one hand, you have the “they” at the glamourous, glitzy, gosh-wow, You Deserve FUN! RV show… and then there’s the sour crabby “they” here. It’s not a basis to make a reasonable decision on one of the largest family purchase/investments you’re likely to make. So let me offer this -

[li] How much is each jaunt in the beast going to cost you?[/li][li] Is that worth it?[/li][li] Is there a more cost-effective option?[/li][/ul]
It’s all pretty much in the first question. Figure out, without flinching or cheating, how much that 4 to 6-wheeled beast is going to cost you, from first handshake to watching it get towed off down the street. Don’t skip or skimp on the component costs:

[li]Total driveaway cost - sticker, tax, initial registration, fees, options, any extras like covers or a parking tent or a new parking slab. The total cost to get it parked in your driveway for the first time.[/li][li]Finance costs for the life of the loan. You can be prim and positive you’ll never pay late fees or compounded costs from taking money from elsewhere to pay the due, but truth is over a 3-6 year loan that there will be added costs.[/li][li]Annual insurance costs for the period you expect to keep the vehicle.[/li][li]Annual registration, licensing, inspection costs ditto.[/li][li]Regular annual maintenance like oil changes, tire rotation, engine service, appliance service, propane tank certification, generator testing and tuneup.[/li][li]Storage costs of any kind, from a paid spot somewhere to keeping trees on that side of your property trimmed and power-washing the unit top to bottom once or twice a year. Replacement covers and wheel shades. Jacks. Jack platforms. Wheel chocks. These things add up.[/li][/ul]
And there’s your total cost without driving two miles down to the local park, ever.
Now, estimate your per trip/per mile costs, maybe figured for one medium-length trip - say, 1,000 miles to see Grandma and Grampa for a week.
[li]Stocking and loading: propane, gas, maintenance supplies, checkout costs at your local garage or dealer before long trips.[/li][li]Trip supplies unique to traveling this way - food, clothes, cleaning supplies, etc. Things you would not likely buy if you went by car or commercial.[/li][li]Fuel. Figure reasonable mileage and fuel costs. (Today’s absurd $2.25/gallon or so is not likely to persist. I bet the RV mavens at the show were piddling all over themselves about how *cheap *it is to drive one of these things right now.)[/li][li]Added insurance costs (sometimes). Tolls. Other road costs.[/li][li]RV parking/camping costs overnight. Rarely free.[/li][li]A subtle cost is that traveling in a beast that lumbers along in the slow lane is that trips will be hours or days longer - extra fuel, extra time, extra days, extra overall costs.[/li][/ul]
Now try to average that into a reasonable, all-in cost per mile for most trips.
Now you’re to step 2: how many times will you actually take trips of any length? Really? Or will the first few tiring, expensive, cabin-fever jaunts put you off a little and you find it easier to just drive to Mom and Dad’s next time? That it takes longer to get ready for a day or weekend trip somewhere close than it’s worth? That long trips have drawbacks (like taking forever to get wherever you’re going, while everyone is crammed in the box day after day, having “fun” with the video system and tiny appliances and toilet)?
So okay. You have some notion of total cost, including some number of trips you plan. Do the math. How much did each trip really cost you? If you think you might be a little starry-eyed about how much fun the next five years will be, cut that number by one-third to one-half and do the math again.
It is NOT unusual for people who buy the big units to find that each trip cost them between $5,000 and $20,000 per trip. I wouldn’t be surprised if you find that each weekend jaunt runs you $1,000; that trip to the folks, $4-5k. It often exceeds the cost of economy airfare and staying in mid-line or better hotels and resorts… and you had the “fun” of dragging your box along weary mile by mile.
So, do all the honest math before you let the show-buzz push you into a decision some great number of buyers end up regretting (and sometimes never quite figure out why - they bought all that “freedom” and still didn’t get happy). Maybe you’ll be the exception, and wear the damn thing out with one wonderful camping trip and cross-country jaunt after another, taking away far more in memories and pleasure than any calculated cost. But we’ve all seen too many of these beasts molder away in houses and storage lots, year after year, and just a moment’s thought on the costs should horrify anyone, even those with money to burn.
So: unless you’re certain you’ll get every dime’s worth from the huge accumulated cost, find another way. Rent a unit for your first year or two of trips. It will be far, far cheaper even if you do buy a unit a ways down the line. More likely you will find that it’s not really for you, all the marketing hype and fairy tales aside, and be glad you don’t have a giant white elephant you can neither afford, enjoy nor sell at any reasonable price.
(By the way, this line of calculation and cost assessment is called NCU, Net Cost per Use, and works for everything from a power corkscrew to a private jet.)

I personally have zero experience, but my parents owned several over the years and even my mother, who’s usually chicken about driving, could handle the 37’ beast without issues. Except when she backed into our mailbox. They did use theirs quite a lot - they loved going to Arizona from Maryland.

My husband and I looked into getting a smaller one, but we figured it’d be lots cheaper to just get hotels along the way. And we wouldn’t have had to store it, since we have 3 acres. Instead, we bought a small pop-up trailer, and it’s been sitting in the garage for about 2 years. Never used yet. Luckily, it only cost $1000. And we might use it one day…

Didn’t want to quote your lengthy post. Affordability is a primary concern for any large purchase, and I have no quarrel with doing the financial rigor.

As for being worth it, I think it’s a matter of what someone defines as ‘worth’. Most people I know who have a separate cabin or condo elsewhere spend a lot of their time worrying about it, and unless you have a serious love affair with a particular area, it limits you. The advantage to us for an RV was being able to go places where there is no hotel or other accommodations. I simply will not do tent camping any more, but in some places (like Chaco Canyon, for instance), that’s the only option. I used to feel guilty about the RV just sitting in the lot. But I bought it to use when I feel like it, not to be owned by it. The cost per trip just isn’t a factor for me. I don’t want to sleep in a hotel bed that’s been occupied by millions or that may be infested with critters, or to listen to people in the next room snoring (or worse), or to put up with screaming kids.

We enjoy our trips, short or long, and that’s the long and short of it.

Then the answer to the fundamental question is, “Yes, it’s worth the financial cost.” Simple enough.

I think that some very large proportion of RV, boat, jet ski, snowmobile, etc. owners would be shocked to put all these numbers in one column, and might not have bought the item if they’d done so in advance. Nowhere does the “Just Pennies a Day… and for Total Freedom and Fun!” kind of argument seem to have more power over common sense.

But yes, indeed, there are people who make these purchases and have no second thought about their value, even knowing the total cost.

There is, however, almost no worthy argument against “rent until you’re sure.” It’s a lot cheaper to “expensively” rent something a few times than make a huge personal/family financial commitment to it without being as certain as marriage.

Believe me, selling these things was a real eye opener and insight into just how foolish people can be. There’s a reason why you can get a 30 year loan on the more expensive models. Renting is the way to go. We did that during a visit home to Alaska in the 90s, and decided right then that we’d buy one at some point. Three years later, when we moved back up there, we bought a decent, small, used one that was about seven years old for about $14,000. We used it for five years, then sold it for about $10K and bought a larger new model.

A word to the OP about used RVs. You can find good ones with low mileage, but do a really thorough inspection for water intrusion damage (like siding delamination) and other coach problems.

Three teenage girls, essentially camping in one room, with one bathroom? You know your own situation best, of course, but you may want to think about how the family dynamic may evolve over the next few years and whether it will remain conducive to this kind of vacationing.

Actually most people would probably find it worth it to have it inspected by a professional.

With older RVs consider something like the tires. You see a 10 year old RV and the tires have plenty of tread–no problem right? Well if you look at tire code dates:
You could easily find out that the tires are the original equipment and at 10 years old need to be replaced for safety reasons. And that might be a couple thousand dollars or more…

How many more years are your 14 and 10 year old girls going to want to go on family vacations anyway?

Any wisdom for someone considering either a small travel trailer or cabover camper? Mr. Ko and I (and small dog) travel about 1700 miles to visit our kid and would like to go more frequently. And we hate hotels. We’d like to find about the smallest contraption we can buy that has a bathroom and would be reasonably comfortable for 2 or 3 nights per trip. If this is a nutty idea, we are completely open to being talked out of it. :slight_smile: