RV How To 101:

We made a list of all the stupid questions we had (before we forgot them) – with RV FAQ and “How To Buy an RV” sections.

Happy Camper For Sure! – Day One

This ongoing discussion is meant to help first time RV buyers choose the best RV for their needs and answer some basic questions about RVing in general. Please send us your thoughts and questions at gregyver@fixitwise.com

My goal is to make this evergreen by continually updating with your comments and suggestions. This is detailed, because you need to know this to prevent you from making a mistake that could cost you $10,000 or more a year or two from now. New RV’s depreciate drastically as soon as you drive them off the lot!

It really helps to do your homework, so you can pick one of good quality, that’s been well maintained (if used), with the right floor plan, that fits your needs and budget.

It’s all too common to hear about Rv’ers (new and experienced folks alike) who buy the wrong RV and end up selling it a year later.

With this knowledge, you will be well on your way to a much more enjoyable RV camping experince.

We were fortunate and got lots of good advice from friends and neighbors who are very experienced RV’ers. We wanted to share our journey through the “Eyes of Newbies”, before we got too much experience under our belts, and forgot all of the “dumb” questions that we had early on.

This article started from notes that we send to our non-RVing friends that are enjoying our Facebook pictures from our trips and asking us questions about it, thinking they might take the plunge too.

This article is geared more toward people who plan on traveling around from one RV campground to the next for extended trips of a week or more. However, weekenders will find this useful as well.

What is an RV?

Let’s clear up something that is kind of confusing. An RV (Recreational Vehicle) includes any type of camper that is designed to go down the road. These include both motorized types of campers (motor homes) and trailers (towables).

We’ll be discussing the more common types of RV’s. Full disclosure, we tow a 34′ – 5th wheel trailer, so this somewhat limits our knowledge on other types of RV’s. However, we grew up with family, neighbors and friends that own these other common types. We also shopped extensively looking at all models. Every day we camp – we observe and talk to the owners of other types of RV’s. We will update as we learn.

Our Background

Our hope is to share our unique perspective. Me coming from a very “mechanically inclined” background. I grew up in our family Ace hardware stores. I went on to manage them after college. We successfully sold them and I went to work for Ace Corporate for 10 years, setting up and consulting other Ace owners. Today, I own manufacturing and construction businesses.

My wife is a successful independent management consultant. … As far as camping experiences for her go… well lets’ put it this way. They made the movie Family Vacation after her family trips in the station wagon when she was a child. She told me early on that the only way I would ever get her to camp was if a Four Seasons resort was at the end of the trail. Now she’s a happy RV camper too.

Why do you want an RV?

For my wife and I, our traveling goals were to explore different areas of the Untied states with our two large dogs. After two years of looking at every option – from short and long term rentals, to VRBO’s – The dog issue kept landing us back to an RV. The final hurdle was convincing my wife that this was a much finer experience than her disastrous family vacations in that a station wagon and a tent.

In the back of our mind, we also wanted to explore possible areas of the country that we might like to retire to one day. When deciding on a retirement area, the best financial advice I ever got was “Rent before you buy”. Too often retirees, buy a home in their favorite vacation spot, without getting to know ALL of the seasons, and ALL of the locals. Already, our RV is allowing us to experience this. In fact, we think it’s actually a better way to get to know the local community, because RV campgrounds are so social. Many times the locals will avoid the VRBO “renters”.
Update 07.15.18 – Our little experiment worked quicker than we thought. We discovered our dream community in another state and got both our moms to move with us after just 18 months of RV-ing! Now we look at this from our backyard lake house. No way we would have ever discovered this area flying around the country in a plane to our vacation spots.

We found this home, on the water while traveling in our RV

As mentioned, early on my wife stated that she would never go camping with me, which is odd, because she loves the outdoors, and absolutely loves to hike. The actual joke was that she said she loved to hike, as long as there was a Four Seasons at the end of the trail!

I had a tall order to fill after we took off in our (new to us) rig! The best news is that after our first restful night of a sleep in our full size queen bed, drinking coffee on the couch in her white Four Seasons robe, she gazed out the rear panoramic window, looking over the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico and exclaimed “This is better than a hotel room… we can take our living room with us.” And the Fifth Seasons was named!

Before we get into some Buying Tips and the various types of RV’s you can buy, let’s go through some Questions and Answer that we had early on. You might have the same questions, some you may not have even thought about. Hopefully these Questions and Answers will get you thinking about your needs and help you understand a little more about the camping process – so the types and floor plans will make more sense.

Our First RV Questions:

Q. How many creature comforts will we give up, once we leave our home. A. Zero, if you plan it right.

Q. Will I save money over VRBOs or hotels?
A. No! Especially when you consider the purchase price, storage, insurance, maintenance and gas. Plus, an awesome campground along a beautiful lake or river, is going to cost as much as a decent hotel room – and we all like awesome campgrounds! Expect to pay $60 to $100 a night for a good private campground and $25 to $50 for a government campground.

The Funniest RV Question of All:

Q. These RV’ers look like a partying crowd. Will they keep us up all night? A. Absolutely not, this is the quietest, nicest, most respectful bunch of folks you’ll ever see. I’m sure there are exceptions, but so far, in our three years of R’ving, and a many different campgrounds – every single one of them was lights out by 9:30pm – super quiet. (Note: public campgrounds near cities and party destinations tend to be louder)

Q. Are RV parks Dog Friendly.
A. YES (most are). In fact the joke is that these are just really expensive dog houses. Seems that everyone has a dog with them. Now, keep in mind and please respect the park rules about dogs and also know that the fastest way to get kicked out of a campground is to have your dog barking it’s head off, non-stop 24-7. Aggressive dogs are not tolerated at all! Please, do us all a favor – don’t buy an RV if you have one of “those” dogs. FYI – National parks seem to the the most pet unfriendly places. The good news is that there are often numerous RV campgrounds in the near vicinity of National parks.

Q. Do we need reservations at a campground?
A. Reservations are a really good idea (a must if you ask me). Our biggest fear is not having a spot when we are ready to sleep for the night. Plus the good ones fill up fast – and you want a good one – see next question.
Note: Just like a hotel, campgrounds have a check in and check out time. Usually check in is 2 or 3pm, Checkout can vary between 11am and 1pm – All campgrounds are different – get to know their rules.
Tip: Reserving at least one month out seems to give us the best choices of campgrounds and campsites available with in an campground. Two months is ideal – of course the very popular spots fill up a year in advance!

Q. How do I make a reservation?
A. Most campgrounds will have a website with a map of the campground and the campsite number listed on them. I pull up Google Satellite view and compare it to their map. Some, you can make a reservation online, some you have to call – It’s about half an half. Usually you will be required to pay the first night in advance, this guarantees you a spot. There are usually cancellation fees (or loss of deposit) for short cancellation notices.
Tip: Print out a copy of the reservation with the manager name and phone number and put it in a folder labeled for that trip. I ALWAYS call the day before we arrive to double confirm that I have a spot. This has saved us on more than one occasion!

Q. Are all RV parks good.
A. Absolutely NOT! Use Google Maps to read the reviews. Most of the good ones will have a drill sergeant as a manger – and that’s a good thing. Obey the rules!

Q. Are all the RV spots equal within a campground?
A. Nope! (Tip: Use Google Maps “satellite view” to inspect the various spots and the local terrain. I look for as much space and privacy screening (trees, gullies, etc.) as possible on the “living side” (right side/ door side/ passenger side)

Q. How do I pick a good spot.
A. Every campground has the primo spots and then there are the ones back by the dumpster. The key here is to plan and reserve ahead. At least a month, and for some super busy parks, an entire year or two! Especially during high season. Some tricks we use are Google Maps (read the reviews). Also, put Google maps into “Satellite mode”. We like to look for spots were we have the most privacy. You are going to be spending a lot of time outside (we hope). All RV’s have the entry door on the passenger side. Every campsite is set up this way too. Usually with a little green or paved area and picnic table right there. The utility “hook ups” for both your RV an the campsite are on the opposite “driver’s” side”. Look for simple things that might give you a little more “space” (both physically and visually) on the door side. A geographic feature like a creek or hill that is too steep to put a spot in. A natural corner, or bend in the lake or river. Anohter tip is to try and camp on off days, or seasons. We like to arrive Sunday or Monday night to avoid the weekend rush and feeling like were all packed in like sardines!

Q. I had a great spot in a campground, can I reserve the same spot next year?
A. Not often. A few will let you reserve a specific spot number. with most, your reservation just holds one of the various spots that will accommodate your rig. It’s length, sewer, water and electrical (amperage) needed. They will only have a certain number of these designated spots with these specific parameters. Your reservation only guarantees you a spot with these parameters, so it’s first come first serve for those spots.

Q. I’m not very mechanically inclined, will this be a problem.
A. Only if you are not willing to learn! There are no excuses for not knowing. Between YouTube, RV Blogs, Facebook User Groups – and all of the help that your camping neighbors will offer, and with practice – anyone can learn this. It is very helpful to have a travel partner that is willing to pitch in as well. I feel sorry for these guys (or gals) out there busting their ass, setting up, or checking out their camper while the other spouse sits in the cab playing on their phone…Being mechanically inclined helps. Having the desire to learn how to be mechanically inclined is a must. The good news is that other RV’ers are more than willing to help with informative tips and even answers to your questions on various RV forums, Facebook groups and blogs. Evidently there are a whole lot of skilled, wise (retired) campers out there with some free time on their hands to share their thoughts with you.

Q. What type of electricity do I need to hook up to?
A. Most RV parks will have a choice of 30 amp electric hookups or 50 amp. Many of the newer ones offer a choice of both 30 and 50 in the same spot. (30 amp and 50 amp use different plugs BTW) some older parks and government parks will only have 30 amp. A good rule of thumb is that your RV will have a 50 amp if you have two rooftop air conditioners and a 30 amp for one air conditioner.

Q. How does the Electricity work?
A. You have two electrical systems on a typical RV. One system runs off 12 volts DC current (just like your automobile) and the other 110 volts – just like your house. All of the lights for the entire unit are 12 volts. There is something called a power inverter, which converts 110 volt to 12 volt DC once you are plugged into AC power at your campsite. The inverter also charges the batteries on the RV whenever it’s plugged in (you’ll have one or two automotive type of batteries on your RV).

Q. How does the AC and Heating Work?
A. Most new RV’s have a rooftop air conditioner. There are only a handful of manufacturers – so they all look similar. For heat, typically you will have a propane (gas) furnace, pumping heat through floor registers.
Note: The AC’s will only work when you are plugged into a “High Amperage – 30 or 50 amp” rated plug at your campsite, or through an on-board generator.

Q. Do I need a generator?
A. That depends on the type of camping that you are doing. We though we did and bought two Honda Tandem “suitcase” type generators. 2000 watts each, capable of hooking up together in tandem to supply 4000 watts – which is just enough to run one of the roof top AC’s.
My wife (Miss Four Seasons) does not like to rough it too much, so we always seek out the nice campgrounds with full hook ups and amenities. We do not even bring the generators with us anymore. This will change (hopefully) as we experiment with doing more remote “Dry Camping” – Where you are basically self contained.

Q. What is “Dry Camping”
A. This means you are totally self contained. You are in a spot “Off the Grid” Therefore, you have to supply your own electricity, water and sewer.

Q. How does the plumbing work?
A. Most RV’ers like to have all of the comforts of home. (for an exception – see “Dry Camping” below. So, in order to have your creature comforts, you’re gonna want normal city pressure hot water, and an easy way to get rid of it after it goes down the drain. Almost every RV campground supplies water and electricity. Note that most government campgrounds do not provide sewer hook ups at your site, however, they will usually have a community dump station located somewhere (which is kind of a pain) See below.

Q. How does the toilet work?
A. It’s not the same as you toilet at home. Everything drops straight down from the bowl through a pipe into a holding tank. To flush, this chute “valve” is opened by a foot lever. See more in the section on Dumping

Q. How does the refrigerator work?
A. Now here’s a marvelous piece of technology. The typical refrigerator can run off of two different power sources and switched automatically between both – as needed. 110 volt when you are hooked up at your campsite and Propane when not. (yeah, it uses heat to cool – wow!) This is really good, because you do not want your food to spoil once you unhook and start driving all day to the next campsite! (please note there are dangers and laws regarding running a propane appliance (a flame) while driving. and is especially dangerous when pumping gas. You must turn off the refrigerator before you pull up to a gas pump.

Q. What is a Dump Station?
A. If a campground does not provide a way to hook your sewer up continuously right at your spot, then “most” will provide a community Dump Station”. This means that every day or two, you will have to unhook your electricity, unhook your water, let your jacks down, re-hook to your hitch (if you have a trailer type) and drive over to the dump station – a literal pain in the ass, but we have stayed at some amazing parks, where the views and park experince outweighed this inconvenience. Some even offer a “honey wagon” service.

Q. How long does it take to set up and take down an RV, once you get to your campground spot?
A. Depending on your unit’s setup, plan for 20 to 30 minutes going at an easy pace. Go slow, there are many things to remember and you are dealing with heavy equipment. One rainy day, while in a hurry checking out, my wife slipped on a slime covered timber that outlined our site, and broke her rib in a free-fall onto the rear bumper sticking out of the RV. It was bad, could have been a lot worse! Take your time and plan for it.
It really helps with two people. It takes both of us working together with walkie talkies to back in, or pull in to the site itself, unhook from the truck and level the unit. Then I stay outside and hook up the electricity, water and sewer hose, while my wife is inside preparing to slide the slide outs out, getting the dogs situated and setting things up.
Note: One of our very experienced RV neighbors and good friend just upgraded to a luxury motor home. He and his wife have owned numerous 5th wheels. So I asked him what the number one difference was? “It takes just minutes to setup!”

Q. How many hours do you drive.
A. We like to keep our trips under 6 hours – 5 is ideal. Driving or pulling something this big takes a lot of concentration which can wear on you. Plus, we like to arrive early to set up (and enjoy) the next campground. It’s a real pain to be setting up in the dark – plus your going to be bother your neighbors, who will probably be setting up for a nice dinner outside, watching you hook up yoru sewer hoses. We know people who plow through it for 8 to 10 hours at at time. That does not seem enjoyable at all to us!
Note: Our friends with smaller motorhomes tend to be able to go farther. It’s just not as tiring to drive a smaller motorhome.

Tip: Plan extra time between campgrounds. Even though Google maps says it will take 4 hours. You should plan on 5. It’s wise and safer to drive a little slower than the speed limit. Plus, you’ll want to stop along the way at your leisure – enjoy the ride : ) DO NOT be intimidated by tailgaters when you are driving slow!

Q. What is a 5th Wheel and is it harder than a regular trailer to tow?
A. A 5th wheel has a gooseneck “pin” type connector that extends from the bottom of the “overhang” part of the trailer (the part that hangs over the bed of the truck -usually under the upstairs bedroom). The pin sticks out from a round metal disk (about 12″ in diameter) extending over the back of the truck bed and attaches and pivots on top of a super heavy duty hitch assembly (called a 5th Wheel Hitch) that is secured to the frame of the truck and centered over the axles – usually located in the center of the bed of a truck. This hitch assembly has a “jaw” type clamp that wraps around and clamps around the pin – as you back the truck up to it. This jaw/catch is inside an opening that is centered inside another matching metal disk. Once the jaw/clamps are locked around the upper pin, the upper and lower metal disks pivot on each other with a thick Teflon pad between them to reduce friction. Maneuverability is greatly improved, because you are pivoting directly over the rear wheel axles. This not only is easier to steer, because it creates more leverage, you also have more turning room and vastly improve stability, with the weight of the trailer centered over the axles, versus on the rear bumper, where it can push you around.
Bottom line: These connections are much stronger and easier to manage than bumper pull ball hitches. AND they are more expensive. The 5th Wheel Hitch for the bed of you truck can costs $1,500 to $2,000 for a good one.
Interesting fact: The term 5th wheel came from the old horse wagon days.
BIG NOTE: The is a limit to how far you can turn a 5th wheel until the cab of the truck hits to the front of the RV – Be Careful! It’s a great idea to make note of this when buying. Ours is one the smaller side for a 5th wheel, so it does not ever come close to the cab when turning.

Towing Note: While towing a 5th wheel is more maneuverable that towing a regular bumper pull trailer, it is also more daunting. I have been towing “normal” pull behind trailers all of my life, and it was a little daunting for me the first time. The good news is that a 5th wheel is actually easier to maneuver than a normal tow behind trailer. However, that is still a humongous heavy thing that catches cross winds like a big sail! This is where the diesel engine comes in – just for the pulling power.

Q. Do I need a dually truck to pull my RV?
A. It depends – We have a 34 ft long 5th wheel, which is on the shorter end of the 5th wheel range. I feel completely safe towing this with our standard Ford F350 (not dually). Note – Installing air bags helped us tremendously!
If you go any longer than 34′ you really need a dually truck, which I did not feel like driving around town in my construction business because of parking issues. A dual rear-wheel truck (DRW) – often referred to as a dually – is a heavy-duty pickup truck with two rear wheels on each side, allowing more road contact and width for greater stability, balance, and traction while driving.

Q. Will the brakes on my vehicle be enough to stop a heavy RV trailer?
A. Probably not! Most towable RV trailers come with brakes on the trailer itself. You then have to install a trailer brake controller on your vehicle. The trailer brake control coordinates the two braking systems, so that as soon as you hit your brakes in the vehicle, it activates the trailer brakes with the same corresponding pressure that you are applying to your vehicle brakes. There is a huge difference in pulling a trailer with brakes and one without – any trailer! No trailer brakes and that thing is just gonna push your vehicle around and create a very dangerous situation.

Q. Is it legal for people to ride in the trailer?
A. NO!! And it’s very dangerous!

Q. Do I need 4 wheel drive truck?
A. Well, I’m not going to tell you what my son called me when I told him that I was considering a two wheel drive truck for our RV. (it rhymes with sissy) Anywho – He said, “Dude, you are going to be pulling out of some campground on a rainy day and you will be the laughing stock of the other campers when your truck gets stuck.” – well, enough said… All joking aside – Four wheel drive trucks are more stable pulling on wet asphalt roads as well. Not to mention snow!

Q. What is the best way to find out specific information about my brand of RV.
A. Join a users group! Our trailer manufacture “Columbus” has an amazing Facebook group. Whenever someone poses a question or problem, you’ll get five answers in five minutes. Most RV owners groups are very willing to help – especially newbies.

Q. What are the people like that RV.
A. Well, that depends on the RV campgrounds and parks that you are seeking out. If you want to spend three months during the winter as a snow bird (we call them Winter Texans in Texas) where people usually haul down a permanent Mobile home to one of those “RV communities”, then you’re probably going to be hanging with the blue haired crowd, doing all sorts of social events, like Bingo.
In our experince, based on our hiking, biking, mountain and waterfront loving needs – they tend to be a little younger – 55 and up. It’s a mixed bag ranging from Full Timers (they have sold there home and travel from RV campground to another, but don’t usually stay in one spot for more than a week at a time), Part Timers, Weekenders, Family Vacationers, Couch potatoes, or extreme hikers and bicyclist. RV’ing itself is a pretty active lifestyle, so at least people are usually gettign up and moving around, walking their dogs, which alone can keep you in shape. All of the above are a super nice bunch – so there’s something for everyone.
Note: The RV’ers you meet are more that willing to help out “Newbies” with any questions.

Q. How to find a good RV Campground?
A. Searching for RV Campground seems to give the best results. Sometimes Google maps is kind of wonky. Once you zone in on an area, you can click “Search This area and for some reason more usually pop up. Please note that there is a huge difference in an RV Park and a Trailer Park. many trailer parks will also rent to “Overnighters” or “Short Term”. This is where Google Satellite view comes in handy. If you see broken down cars, a bunch of junk in the yard, and general untidiness, then you probably are looking at a trailer park, with full timers. Even the regular RV campgrounds need to have a “Drill Sergeant” as a manager to keep things in order. FYI – This is where knowing how to read reviews comes in handy. Just because someone gives a place a negative review, might be for the very reasons you would actually like the place. When the reviewer says “The rude manager kicked us out because… Our pit bull barked too much, or… Jr. was shooting out windows with his BB gun… or we were playing our music too loud.” Well… that’s a good manager if you ask us!

Note on KOA’s. We view KOA’s like we view McDonalds. Is it going to be the most wonderful, water front mountain view spot in the world? Probably not. In general though they are all pretty clean, and well managed – like a McDonalds Restaurant. It’s a great place for a night’s stop over when you are traveling across teh country and only need to stay for the night.

Reservations – Some you call in and they take your info verbally with out any payment, nor email confirmation. These always make me nervous. I would prefer to pay, then at least they have some fiduciary responsibility to hold our site.

Some have a slick website, where everything is automated and you can pick out your exact site, pay, and get an email confirmation. This is best.

One small cute little RV campground on the coast of Maine had us mail the check. So it was just a phone call, she took down my information, and told me the do not accept credit cards and to mail a check for half the fees, as a deposit. I did get an email confirmation when they received my check in the mail. It was a leap of faith, but I did feel comfortable with our phone conversation. But it was an awesome little family owned campground – sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

Q. What is the difference between a “Pull Through” camping spot and a “Back in”.
A. Based on our waterfront loving needs, our 180 degree rear view from our back windows “rear living unit” and my ability to back into tight spots comfortably (it just takes practice), “Back In” spots are usually better – for the view and privacy. The challenge (or opportunity – however you look at it) is that you have to back in your unit. We have observed that most RV’s are actually intimidated by backing their unit into a spot. There is no need to be this way – it just takes practice and a good pair of Walkie Talkies : ) A large empty parking lot is great for practicing!

Note: The exception to the back in option is when you are just “passing through” and only staying one night. Then a Pull through is great – often times we don’t even unhook the truck. Our goal is to keep “One Night Stays” to a minimum. It’s kind of a pain. Our rule is to try and spend at least two night in an area – so we really do our research to find the best!

Q. When is the best time to go camping?
A. Our main goal is to avid the crowds. that means that the Grand Canyon in the middle of the summer is OUT! In fact, we drove right by it without even slowing down on I-40 last summer – it was a madhouse, But just a couple of hours down the road was the Painted Desert, it was quiet and beautiful! So, other than picking a slower season, we also like to avoid the weekends. at bare minimum, you shoud try and arrive before the weekend crowd gets there so you can get the best spot. We like to arrive Sunday or Monday nights.

Q. Are RV parks safe? Do you have to worry about theft?
A. In general they are very safe. I researched crime statistics, and they are low for campgrounds in general. Why? #1 The bad guys don’t like to be visible. In an RV parks, everyone is looking out all of the windows. That’s a lot of eyes on a would be criminal – and they know it! #2 As mentioned earlier, RV’ers are a very friendly bunch. Your best security is to get to know your neighbors. We all watch out for each other. Of the hundreds of neighbors we have met so far, only one was rude, in the sense that they didn’t not even say hello back to us. Now we’re from Texas and that’s just plan rude! #3 Be smart. Keep honest people honest. Lock up and keep valuables out of plan sight.

Q. Can you get good internet service?
A. Not really. Many RV campgrounds will advertise “Free WiFi” Just imagine a park full of guests trying to stream Netflix movie all at one time – it’s paaaaaaainfully slow! I need a good internet connection for my internet based business – so we’re experimenting with a stand alone “WiFi Hot spot” that’s cellular based – with unlimited data from AT&T – We’ll see.

Q. What Are Slide Outs and How do they work?
A. It’s All About the Slide Outs!

Q. What are some quality attributes that we should look out for?
A. We’ll give you some tips that helped us. Just know that RV’s are ALL made with inferior components – as compared to your house. We’re talking from appliances, to wiring, to fixtures to Plumbing. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s kind of the nature of the beast. There is a balancing act going on here. If they used heavy duty components (like your house has) you would never be able to pull the thing around – it would be too heavy. It would also jack up the price so high that none of us could afford them. Do not be alarmed. Most RV’s are not designed for “Full time” living. sure you can and should buy one that is warranted for “Full Time” use if you plan to use it that way, but those are far less common RVs.
You have to be OK with knowing that things will break, and will need to be maintained a little more than your house. Educate yourself and pick up a wrench!
Our Tips:

  1. Look for the shower surround to be all one piece. if a manufacture uses a two piece shower, with a seam in teh middle, then it’s a good indication that other components are cheaper as well. Not a deal breaker here, but a good tip that one of our RV friends gave us.
  2. If you are not mechanically inclined, find a friend who is and take them shopping with you. Anyone with experince here can spot inferior components and workmanship. The more you shop for RV’s the more you will learn here too. Every salesman is going to tell you why theirs is better that the guys down the street. Sometimes their points are valid – sometimes not….
  3. Look for a good exterior. Not all gel coats are created equal.
  4. look at the finished details. Are there ragged edges exposed, caulk sticking out, unfinished looking components? These could all be sings of overall poor workmanship.
  5. Unfortunately, just like a car, you can get a lemon, even in the best know brands. who knows, maybe that shift worker was having a bad day…
  6. Join user groups and follow their issues. Do you see a lot of the same complaints? Are the owners generally happy? For example, we were alarmed at first, because our manufacturer was having some issues with “soft floors” Turns out that they did not put enough support in the framing under the floor on some models. You have to keep in mind that the majority of the population is overweight in the US, and 30% are obese. This turned out to be a non-concern for us on our particular model. Especially when we realized that the manufacture was willing to repair these issues.

Floor Plans:

Rear Living Unit

We love an open rear living area full of windows. We do not have a bunch of grand kids we need to stick in bunk beds in the back. We have no problem backing into a beautiful spot overlooking the water. Your situation might differ. Without a rear window, chances are that you are just looking at a neighbor on either side.
(to be continued)

Government Versus Private Campgrounds

Government RV campground versus privately owned. Federal, State and City government parks are usually cheaper, and many times right in the middle of where you want to be. However, most do not have full hook ups. In Federal campground, you are lucky to get water and electricity.
PLUS – government campground are well worn and tired looking from the constant use.

Many people we run into prefer them, as they are cheaper.
If it’s available, we prefer to camp in a privately owned campground just outside of the park. There are usually several options on the periphery of large government parks. Another plus for us, is that we do like to eat in a nice restaurant and experince the local flavor of the local town – and many private campgrounds located just out side of large government parks are in or near the town.
We do not mind loading the hiking or bikes / gear in the truck and driving to the trail head

Tips For Planning Trips

#1 Patience – a little effort here upfront can make the difference between an awesome trip and a miserable one.
#2 Google Maps is your friend. Google map tips. Type in / Search for the keywords “RV Campground & the city you want” (also try just “RV” and the city – I am amazed at how many campgrounds have not completed their free Google Mas listing). Note: There is a quirk in Google Maps that the list of campgrounds on the map will not be complete. You can overcome this by clicking in the little box above in the middle of the map that says “Search this area” Not sure why, but all the campgrounds will then populate after you do this. Click on each dot on the map and look at the pictures first. You can eliminate the bad ones pretty quickly just form the photos submitted to Google maps by other campers. Then, I like to then look at the “Satellite view” option on the map. Again further refining my choices – AND making notes of the area within the campground that I would like to be. Even the best campground in the world will have a few less than desirable spots. If the campground has a website it will be clickable form Google maps. (Note – most of the “good” ones do). You can gather much more information form their website. They usually show a map with the campsite numbers. Note: ony about 10% of the campgrounds we have encountered will actually let you reserve a specific site #. Most only allow you to reserve a site that will accommodate your size rig. many allow you to choose site “areas” like waterfront , versus pull through, versus “Back in”. Here’s a little secrete – Back in spots are typically the best, and more available, because most RV’ers are afraid, or incompetent at backing their trailer in!Once I narrow it down to this point, then I start reading reviews – then I’ll call the campground.* Read the reviews with a skeptical eye. Look at both good and bad reviews – You will begin to reveal the truth. Remember, there are mean spirited people reviewing and many times a competitor will leave a negative review. Plus, in general more people are compelled to write a review – when they are angry. So the tenancy is to get more bad reviews, many times unfairly. Things happen, campground employees come and go. Stuff breaks… So, not everyone is going to be treated right or have an amazing experince – even at the best campgrounds.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK ON THE DEALER!

YOU MUST DO A PROPER PDI. ONE NEW RV OWNER DISCOVERED THAT THE SHOWER AND THE TOILET WERE NOT HOOKED UP, AND BRAKE LINES MISSING

Great Suggestion from an RV forum that we follow:
“My last PDI was at the dealer where we stayed overnight, hooked up to all utilities, including the sewer. I’ll admit that the last PDI was the exception to the rule though.”

Insist that you are hooked up to water to check plumbing. Many times they only hook up to electricity during the PDI.

When I purchased my RV I asked the dealer to park the rig and hook up water and power. Then I asked them to leave me alone so I could go through and test and inspect. I opened everything up an tested all as all faucets shower an sink, tested all the lights, electronics ext. It took me 3 hours then I went through the PDI with the dealer employee – he was clueless.

Dealerships Don’t like it – Stand Your Ground! After you sign off on the paperwork the priority to get service is difficult. So my goal is to get it right before I sign anything and drive away. When making a big purchase like this I would hire an inspector, just like you would when you buy a house. This is especially true if you are new and not mechanically inclined. The dealers don’t like it because to finish the sale they must satisfy the punch list and they get it done or no money they understand that talk well

Test Brakes:
The first thing I do when hook up and start to pull forward is test the brakes manually.

Our dealer gave us a free weekend at a campground near the dealer, even sent someone out to help us with any questions we had during that weekend.

Another good story from a forum we follow: “I would like to throw in my 2 cents here, which is really only worth about 1 cent, Upgraded from a 295 to a 366RL 1492 package because it had some of the options that I was looking for. i have had a few things break, a couple modified, and a couple of things fixed. I look at it as it is part of the camper life. No, these thing are not perfect, but show me a new house that is either. One of the things to remember is that these things travel down the worst roads possible and thinks break, it is part of the camper life. If you purchased this and spent a lot of money doing so thinking that it would be flawless, maybe you do not know enough about RVing. This is why you get a 2 year warranty when you purchase it. My dealer is a good dealer, however they are 3 hours away from me, so I will wait until my camping season is over to take it in for repairs. I fix stuff as I go so I can do this. I am not sure if you live in it full time, or just for Recreational use as they are designed for, but if you chose this as a full time unit, it violates the warranty anyway because these are designated a recreational use according to the manual that you received with purchase. I rarely get on here and comment like this, however, I think some of your comments and bad talking of the product are a bit harsh, considering on what you said it was fine before and now its not, but also discussed very fast driving on the worst roads. Use your warranty, you paid for it, hopefully you also have a reputable dealer. Having this will make you a happy camper. As for legal recourse, your options are extremely limited if you do not allow the dealer to fix it. Just my 1 cent opinion as we are all allowed to have on this site, as long as it does not get too carried away.

Real Life Story Overheard at the Campground about our Columbus Brand – recanting a disgruntled new RV’er rant…

Someone got a bad camper with all kinds of plumbing NOT hooked up. Add to that a dealer that failed to do their pre-delivery inspection (PDI) and faked the check-off paperwork that is signed by the inspection/repair technicians. Yes you the buyer can demand to see that paperwork as well as get a copy of it. That combination of factory as well as dealer fails is pretty far fetched. But again, lets pretend after 6 years of Columbus brand being out, it’s still happens.

Mistake #2 Now we are at the 2nd PDI level – the walk through on delivery day. This is were the dealer employee shows the new RV owner how everything on their camper works. Believe it or not, there are a bunch of dealers out there that do not hook water up to the camper to show you the plumbing items actually work and don’t leak. You the buyer go into this blind and make the huge assumption the dealer did their job and knows what they are talking about.

Mistake #3 OK you love the new camper, you don’t know there are any hidden MAJOR problems, you sign off the paperwork with service dept. as well as F&I (finance/insurance) dept. You’re all hooked up and tow your new camper out of dealer lot. Your biggest worry is don’t crash or hit anything. You go off on your dream vacation with the family and kids You failed to do a live dress rehearsal close to home to actually test out everything yourself before you went on vacation. During dress rehearsal you are by yourself and possibly your spouse. No kids, no pressure, just nice and slow to test and learn. You quickly realize 3/4 of the stuff dealer showed you is no longer in your memory banks. Instead, you are now finding things wrong on your dream vacation. Lots of pressure from pissed off emotions!!!! So bad you want to sue the dealer as well as the manufacturer.

Mistake #4 If I had a dollar for every time I’ve read a story like this on various RV forums I could buy myself free diesel for every camping season. This is an industry problem that has been going on for 40+ years. Dealers prey on RV buyers that are inexperienced or even better yet, virgins that have never owned a camper. Why, because the buyer doesn’t know any better. They are often very easy to sell to as you simply play off their emotions. Sign the paperwork, deliver the camper, get in line for warranty repair. The F&I dept. chalks up another sale. TADA!

NEW BUYER – NUMBER ONE RULE

Please let your first 2 or 3 outings be at your local park about 30 min from your house!!! It’s all part of the breaking in process.

Leveling. The difference between leveling jacks and stabilizer jacks. Leveling is not only important for comfort, but your refrigerator and door operations

Do not jack from the axels, especially in the middle of the axel. Derek Cox ….had mine lifted on 3 occasions…they always lift under the leaf springs hangers where it’s attached to the frame.

Be sensitive to “Truck Wars” Everyone has their preferred brand. Just know that power and stability are paramount. Diesels are known for their low end torque. Go with at least 20% more truck than the salesman or marketing literature recommends. Beware of “1/2 ton tow-able” marketing slogans.

Must Have Safety Items –
Flares – Triangles – Rain Ponchos – Wind Breakers – Blankets – Carbon Monoxide Detector – multiple fire extinguishers.

Types and Classes of RV’s

5Th Wheel RV

Provides the same types of accommodations as a conventional
travel trailer, but with these unique characteristics:
• The forward raised portion is designed to extend over the box of a
pickup truck
• Attaches to the truck via a 5th-wheel hitch mounted in the pickup bed
• Offers the advantages of improved weight distribution and towing
dynamics, since some trailer weight is directly over the towing vehicle

Conventional Pull Behind Travel Trailer – AKA Bumper Pull RV

Generally larger, rigid construction units offering more of the
conveniences of home, including such features as kitchen
sink, dinette, shower, refrigerator and flush toilet. Additional
benefits include:
• Widely varied levels of roominess, comfort and luxury – depending on
the towing capacity of your vehicle, and your budget
• Sizes usually range from 12 to 35 feet long
• Normally towed with a conventional weight-distributing hitch,
depending on weight

Folding Popup Camping Trailer

These are relatively inexpensive units providing campers with a
comfortable, dry, mobile shelter, plus these added benefits:
• Lightweight for easy towing
• Simple conventional weight-carrying hitch is usually sufficient for towing
• Compact, low-profile traveling package
• Easily maneuverable – generally 8 to 16 feet long

Motorhome (to be continued)


2012 RV & Trailer Towing Guide

Note from a Bumper Pull friend pulling a towable trailer with his full sized Toyota and bumper pull camper like you are getting. He says: “You must get a weight distribution anti-sway hitch. Brake controller, extension mirrors if you need them and I highly recommend a back up camera for the camper.” The main highlight here is that it needs to include weight distribution” with the anti-sway feature.

RV Buying Guide

Camping Tips