I'd always associated full-time RVers with a motor home or Class A RV. So naturally, I envisioned our "house on wheels" as a motor home for our road schooling expedition.
We set out to find the best lay out to fit our family and our budget. We got pre-approved for an RV loan through our financial institution. We highly recommend America First Credit Union. We've banked with them for over 10 years and they have been fantastic to work with on all of our loan needs.
Many RV dealers offer competitive financing options. Having a "ball park" range from your financial institution isn't a bad idea when starting the shopping process. Class A motor homes can be financed up to 20 years and fifth wheel trailers up to 10 (up to 12 years if you choose a variable rate).
Recreation Vehicle "Class" Explained...Who came up with these "classifications" anyway?
Class A - Resembles a bus in design with a flat front end and large windows. Constructed on a commercial truck chassis. Diesel and gas engines available.
Class B - A conventional van with a raised roof. Not a viable option for a large family.
Class C - Characterized by a cab-over profile that usually contains a bed. Constructed on a truck chassis. Diesel and gas engines available.
Bus Conversion - SO cool! Endless floor plan possibilities.
Travel Trailer - Designed to be towed by larger vehicles with a ball hitch. Has less towing stability compared to a fifth wheel trailer.
Fifth Wheel - Trailer body extends over the bed of the truck. Towed with a truck that is equipped with a special hitch installed in the truck bed. A truck can tow more weight with a fifth wheel hitch.
Toy Hauler - Part living space, part garage space for storage. Available in Class A, 5th wheel, and travel trailer models.
Some people associate Class A motor homes with those found on the "Extreme RV's" tv show. But, motor homes come in all price ranges. Even with our puny budget we knew we could find something functional, just not fancy.
We would need a tow vehicle or "toad" behind our motor home. We wanted the flexibility to get our "home" parked and have the ease of driving a regular family vehicle to various destinations close by. We've had several positive experiences with CarMax. We decided for date night (cuz it was a red hot romance kind of night) that we'd head on in and find out what our options were for a tow vehicle to accommodate a family of 6. Landry McKinnon (our aweseom rep) enlightened us with the Dinghy Towing Guide courtesy of Motor Home Magazine.
Luckily, we owned a Ford Flex, one of very few vehicles that seat 6 and fulfill the Dinghy Towing guidelines. Because a Ford Flex is all-wheel drive it would require the vehicle to be towed on all 4 wheels (flat towing), not up on a 2 wheel trailer attachment.
Many older and used Class A motor home floor plans seemed geared towards the stereotypical retired couple. We also noticed that when RV's claimed to "sleep 6" it really meant: sleeps 4 comfortably. With more research we knew we were looking at an RV that could "sleep 8" to be the most comfortable for our family of 6. We narrowed our search to also include a set of bunks. Bunk beds meant a more efficient use of space for family needs.
Google reviews led us to Access RV in Salt Lake City. We got into a motor home we'd been looking at online and made arrangements to test drive it the following day. The RV lots usually have those monsters crammed in there and it requires some maneuvering on the lot to have them driveable. The floor plan and storage space was what we were hoping for, but after touring the inside I started to panic about the size. This? AND a Ford Flex attached to the back?? Yikes! Fear crept in and I started to imagine all of the worst case turning scenarios.
Another concern was a diesel-pusher was out of our price range and limited us on our towing capacity. A gas engine motor home had the towing capacity of 5,000 pounds and the curb weight of the Ford Flex was 4900 pounds. eek! That night we reevaluated the motor home and decided to look into a fifth wheel set up for comparison.
After online shopping a bit I was immediately drawn to a fifth wheel located at Motor Sportsland in Salt Lake City. We toured the rig and got all the spec information. We tried to mask the fact that we were motivated buyers. :) The salesman told us he'd been working with a guy on the sale of the same RV (or not...but it made for a good story). They had been going back and forth on negotiations for a couple of days, but hadn't heard from the gentleman and so the sale seemed to be dead. He pulled out the sales receipt written up for this guy offered at his lowest price point. It appeared to be a fair deal. (But, we're all aware of the depreciation as you drive a new rig off the lot. Boo! Buy used, if you can.)
Now we needed a TRUCK!?! Since Carmax didn't have any diesel trucks in our price range or within a reasonable shipping distance, several days of yucky truck shopping ensued. I loath car shopping! And if you want my 2 cents I can definitely tell you about a couple of dealerships to avoid along the Wasatch front. **shudder**
Autotrader.com led us to a car dealership in Clearfield, UT. We drove up and met with Jason - owner of Chariot Auto Sales. I didn't get that creepy feeling meeting him or being in his establishment. We test drove the truck and decided it would fit the bill. Jason made the car buying experience SO easy. Within a few minutes he'd matched the trade-in value offered us at Carmax for our Ford Flex, paperwork was printed & signed, and we were driving away with a 2010 Ford F-350.
I LOVED our Ford Flex so there was a little sadness as I adjusted to a gas-guzzling beast!
Bye, bye Ford Flex...
We firmed up the purchase of the fifth wheel. We had a fifth wheel hitch installed while the fifth wheel was being "prepped." We were told "prepped" meant it was being cleaned, propane tanks filled, and ensuring everything was in working order. A few days later we were scheduled for an orientation and pick up of our new house-on-wheels. This is where *we wish* we could give Motor Sportsland glowing reviews. :(
Let's just say we're really happy we took the rig out for a couple of test runs. We've read enough from full-time RV'ers to know that new rigs usually have some bugs to work out. But we feel needing to have the AC unit, microwave, water heater, and wire stays replaced within a few days of use is a little excessive! They sold us the wrong power adapter too! Ugh!
Also, after being in the shop for over 10 days on a repair we went to pick up the trailer and the batteries were completely dead. We didn't realize the implications of the batteries not being "deeply charged" until a few days into our road school journey. But we'll leave that for another blog post. :) Honestly, this is the short list of complaints we have with Motor Sportsland and their "service" department.
This was our pros and cons list of the motor home vs. the fifth wheel...
Motor Home - The PROS
The kids could be more easily entertained while on the road (i.e. table and couches for gaming, toilet access for road tripping)
The kid noise would be further away from the driver and navigator
Higher seating and crazy big windshield for amazing views
Motor Home - The CONS
The floorplans that fit us best were significantly more expensive
Tiny common living, kitchen, and bathroom space...to be expected -- but still -- Wowzers!
The proximity of beds or bunks near the master bedroom (if you know what I mean) ;)
A queen bed that would be used every night in the common living area
Wear, tear, and miles on a tow vehicle.
Turning radius nightmares
5th Wheel - The PROS
More square footage for living and storage (i.e. kitchen w/island & pantry)
A separate bunk room for all four kids
King-sized master bed
For an RV - the bathroom is ginormous
The payment for a truck & fifth wheel combined were less than for the motor home itself
Not as many turning radius nightmares -- pivot point closer to the front seemed more manageable
5th Wheel - The CONS
The kids in ours and each other's grill when we travel
Wear, tear, and miles on a truck
Prior to purchasing a fifth wheel we couldn't see many cons. But our "PROS and CONS RV List" has changed a bit since we've been on the road. To be continued...