Libbys on the Loose:2 Humans. 2 Great Danes. 1 RV.: 2018

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What We Wish RV Manufacturers Knew About Full-Time RV Living

What is it that separates the full-time RVer from the casual "weekender" RVer? Aside from the usual obvious things, there are many things that the weekender doesn't have to think about.  While the list is as long as a northern summer day, there are a number of important things to consider when thinking about full-timing.  In our experience thus far, we've found that a majority the manufacturers are either clueless to the needs of the full-timer or simply just don't care.  Cynicism has us leaning to the latter, but of course we know the former may play a role.  Hopefully, this post can shed some light and get in the front of some of the powers-that-be in the RV world.

Don't know what this is, but wow! Photo credit unknown
First and foremost is build quality.  Since we started full-timing, we have looked at hundreds, probably thousands (including friends, etc) of different shapes, sizes, and styles of rigs.  We have come to the conclusion that most (especially newer) RVs are built as cheap and light as possible.  While this may be great for the weekender to save costs in both fuel and upfront purchase, for the full-timer that's living in their rig and using it constantly, the daily wear and tear is exponentially higher and thus requires better build quality.  We didn't really learn this until we moved on to our current rig, a 2001 Country Coach Magna 40' class A.

With our first trailer, a 23' Weekend Warrior toy hauler, since we weren't using it full time as of that point, it worked perfectly for our needs.  For a couple day trip or even a week, it worked for what we needed.  Little did we know at the time that this would change dramatically as the weeks passed.  As we started to get reservations on our house in Cocoa Beach as a vacation rental, we started to realize that we wouldn't just need something for weekends here and there - we were going to need to have a full-time second residence!  While we had no problem staying smaller, it wasn't just the two of us in the trailer.  We also had a disabled Great Dane, Guinness as well as another young Great Dane, Nyx.
Two full-grown adults and two (nearly) full-sized Great Danes...we needed to go bigger.

Ok, maybe not this big!  This is an actual 5th wheel built by Weekend Warrior - photo courtesy of Weekend Warrior
With the experience we gained with the travel trailer, we went in search of our next rig.  We knew we wanted a 5th wheel (living space vs. cost was very appealing) with slides.  Maximizing living space while minimizing costs was paramount.  We found what we wanted in our 2006 36' Holiday Rambler 5th wheel.  It was the first and only 5er that we walked in that truly felt like "home".  While it was perfect in terms of size, etc, it was not built for full-time living - especially four seasons - what we really needed!  After spending two seasons in Breckenridge, Colorado the 5er was showing signs of wear.  After getting back to Florida this past spring (2017) we uncovered a multitude of small issues that added up to a whole lot of dollars to get everything fixed properly.  We weren't willing to spend the money to fix those things that required attention so we decided to take the same cash and put it towards a new rig.
2001 Country Coach at Dick Gore's RV World - Florida

The purpose of that background information is to showcase both our inexperience and naivt√© in looking at RVs.  Instead of looking for examples of better build quality (i.e. insulation, real wood, and real screws - not staples), we focused more on layout and amenities.  Not that those things weren't important, but they are things that are easy to fall in love with but eventually fades because the rest of the RV is slowly falling apart!  Seeing the deficiencies in the previous RVs and how they were impacted by travel, weather, and time, our needs for moving on to a Class A were pretty specific.  We had it narrowed down to just a few makes - Tiffin, Prevost (older), Beaver, Eagle (older), Monaco, Foretravel, Country Coach, and Newmar.  From the research we did between the internet and talking with owners, we found that these makes in particular lay claim to the old adage, you get what you pay for.  Unfortunately, Warren Buffett isn't any relation to either of us and our last name isn't Gates, so we couldn't even begin to afford a new, newer, or even moderately new version of any one of these coaches.  Fortunately, since nearly all of them tout the fact that their coaches are built to last a lifetime (with proper care and maintenance), we could confidently look at older models (even back into the 1980's for Eagle and Prevost) without worrying too much about whether or not they were
This is an example of an 80's Eagle Bus - This one was one of Willie Nelson's
going to last as long we we needed as well as being able to hold up to extreme environments.  While we knew that older would likely mean a higher probability of having issues, we were banking on the fact that these coaches were extremely well built and were purposefully seeking out one with excellent history of maintenance and care.  We found all of that and more.

So why did I take the time to go over all of that information?  Simply to point out what may have already been obvious - newer is not always better unless you can afford to pay the price.  "But what about the warranty?" you ask?  Again, warranties are great for the weekend RVer which is how a vast majority of RVs are used.  Have a problem, drop it off at the dealer, warranty takes care of it, pick it up a couple days or weeks later.  No problem, right?  Nope, not for the casual weekend user.  For the full-timer, this is a huge inconvenience as well as a potentially huge expense.  You live in your RV.  Your RV is in for service.  Most service places will not allow you to inhabit your rig while it's in their shop or on their lot.  Granted, we know of and have used shops that will allow you to stay in your RV overnight while they are working on it, but they definitely represent a very small percentage of dealerships.  Warranty is definitely great, but IF and WHEN the issue is actually covered and fixed
Not always what it's cracked up to be
may be the difference between a couple hundred and many thousands of dollars.  We know of a situation where a 5th wheel was purchased and shortly thereafter developed leaks in the roof.  After spending six weeks at the dealership, the 5er hadn't even been diagnosed or so much as looked at by any of the service personnel.  Deciding to take matters into his own hands, the owner hitched up the 5th wheel and drove it to the manufacturer and parked it in such a manner that it blocked one of the service bay doors.  He simply wanted the problem to be fixed and refused to move until it was completed.  Was he wrong?  I don't think so.  I'm not sure we would have gone to the same extreme, but should it ever be to a point where it gets to this?

If any amount of RV shopping is done, the likelihood of encountering rigs equipped with "Arctic" or "Four Season" packages is bound to happen.  While some of these are truly built for four seasons (Arctic Fox is one of the better ones), most are not.  To many manufacturers, four seasons means that the RV is capable of withstanding short durations of cold, freezing temperatures.  To answer this need from buyers, a small amount of insulation is added, perhaps some water tank heating pads, and maybe a heated basement.  While all of these things are great, they will not stand up to sustained freezing temperatures for weeks or months at a time.  Few rigs, with the exception of those listed above, fit the bill for being to handle extreme temperature climates.  Things to look for in a four season rig:

  1. Heated basement and/or heated tanks
  2. Double-paned insulated windows
  3. Extra thick insulation in ceiling, walls, and especially any slides (more slides usually means  more difficult to insulate effectively)
  4. Insulated water pipes
  5. Hydronic heating
  6. In-floor radiant heating
  7. Heated Water Hoses
  8. Heat Tape
This could be you!
Chances are, most "four-season" rigs are not going to have all of these items.  Some of the top manufacturers do provide a majority of these items.  There is always the option of outfitting a not-quite-a-four-season RV as well.  The links in the above list provide alternatives if your rig does not come equipped with all of these items.  You can also check out our posts about cold weather RV-ing.

Of the many things that we look for is how "easy" the rig is to "live with".  We have found that the higher end rigs typically put in a lot more research and development (hence the higher cost) and seem to have features that stand the test of time, not just fads.  Again, we choose durability, construction quality and materials, and layout/design over 'newer and fancier' - so take that for what it's worth!  Foremost though, is living the the RV.  Our primary concern (following the previously listed) was the ability to live in the RV every single day of every year and have as few issues as possible.  That means that one of those things we looked for in our new rig was "livability".  What we mean by this is:

  • is the floorplan feasible for everyday living?  Are things in easy-to-access areas?  Can you cook easily the way things are laid out?
  • is there sufficient storage?  Slide out drawers?  Underneath storage?  Locked and insulated?
  • are the storage areas well-planned and easily accessible?  Storage is great, but if you can't use it, or it's not well thought-out, it's pretty pointless
  • are the maintenance items easily accessible?  Are you working on things yourself?  Either way, the easier it is to access maintenance items, it's either going to save you time or money.  Time if you do things yourself, money if you pay someone.  
  • are the build materials durable?  Stay away from particle board, staples, glued wood, etc.  While all of these things save weight, they sacrifice durability.  We are not fans of any of the newer "Ultra-Lite" models and do not recommend any of them for full-time living.
  • are the features/amenities necessary (many manufacturers add 'fluff' amenities that drive the price up)?
  • is there a warranty and if so, what is the process for claims and will a warranty claim disrupt your living situation?  can you stay with your RV?  Do you have to get a hotel?  How long?
  • is it comfortable?  Sit on the seats for an extended time.  Lay on the bed/s for an extended time.  Is the recliner comfortable?  TV in the right place?

So what do we wish the RV manufacturers knew?  Let's do a list!

  1. Understand that full-timers have different needs than those using for just recreational purposes
  2. If you're going to offer a warranty,  offer hotel reimbursement or cost reduction, or like        many RV dealerships are offering - the ability to stay overnight in the rig (assuming it's habitable)
  3. Know that full-time RVers are a very small segment of the population of RV owners.  That being said, we all communicate with those who are not full-timers.  We, as full-timers, exhaustively test your products and will report, good or bad, to everyone we know.  
  4. If you advertise that your product is capable of withstanding four seasons of use, know that your potential customers are going to use it to the fullest extent!
  5. Offer a "Full-Timer" package that addresses the concerns listed in this post!

Did we get it right? Do you have experience or knowledge about this post? Please make yourself heard! Comment below and we will respond as soon as possible. As always, thanks for following us! Disclaimer: We are not paid writers. We write for enjoyment and to share information about our travels with our families, friends, and our followers. The information that we provide is based on our experiences with the products, services, etc, that we write about. It is 100% non-biased!