We are getting much closer to making a decision on which RV to buy. This past Saturday, we went over to Ancira RV, in Boerne (pronounced “Bernie”), Texas, just outside of San Antonio, to take a look at a couple of their 2017 Newmar models. We want to have those models fresh in our minds, as the 2018s start hitting RV dealership lots, so we can more easily spot the differences.
It was raining heavily, when we arrived, but the rain subsided to a very, very light shower, shortly after we arrived. The end result was that it was a lot cooler, walking around the lot than we had expected.
We talked to Griz, who was very helpful and very knowledgable. I thought he was just a little opinionated. But in his case, that was a plus. After all, I’ve always felt that being opinionated is only a bad thing, when you’re wrong. In his case, his strongly held opinions only helped to confirm what I had already determined to be factual. Griz went out of his way, to help us, even though he knew that we were not planning on buying that day. I hope that when the time comes, we’ll be able to make our purchase through him.
At this time, we are leaning slightly toward the 2017s. But that could change, once we actually walk through a couple of 2018s.
We realized some months back that, whatever motorcoach we ultimately purchase, we will need to have it professionally inspected, before we drive it off the lot. Interestingly, I’ve learned that even applies, albeit to a lesser degree, to brand new motorcoaches, purchased at the factory. But when I got to thinking about what kind of inspector I would want to hire, to inspect our prospective motorcoach, I realized that there was going to be a problem.
That problem is that very few people on the whole planet have been able to achieve my exalted level of Obsessive Compulsive Prowess (OCP). Note that some people call it Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). But being Obsessive Compulsive does not mean that you have a “disorder”, to be cured, but rather, that you have been given a great “gift”, to be nourished and developed. 😂 But I digress.
What this really means is that I doubt I could find an RV inspector, who would be as anal as me.
So I got to thinking (which is something I’ve tried to avoid, since retiring). I’m an engineer. At least that’s what my degree says. To get that degree in electronics, I put myself through college, in part, by being a motorcycle mechanic. I’ve also rebuilt automobile engines. Later, when I was running large computer departments, I had to learn all about backup generators and HVAC (high volume air conditioning) and its associated plumbing and electrical issues. In fact, when looking at the list of tools that an RV inspector needs, I realized that I already have all of those tools and more, in my tool box. In other words, I have, not only the aptitude and background needed, to become an RV Inspector, but the required tools and a knowledge of how to use those tools. It seemed like a natural fit.
Long story, short… I decided to become a Certified RV Inspector, so I can do my own inspection. That way, I’ll know that the guy doing the inspection of my prospective motorhome, is as knowledgable and obsessive as I would be, since that inspector will be me. And, who knows? I may find some folks on the road, who need a really obsessive compulsive RV inspector.
I’m looking into classes, now and expect to have my certification, before we make our purchase.
OK. This is one great product for holding your smartphone, in a motorhome.
Although I originally purchased the Newward Universal Car Phone Mount for my truck, I immediately saw that it will be a great addition to our motorhome. The key feature is that it’s LONG – long enough (13 inches) to be of use on a motorhome windshield or side window. Most smartphone windshield mounts give you nowhere near that long a reach. It’s also rigid enough to hold even a large smartphone, like the iPhone 6+/7+ or Galaxy. But it’s not absolutely rigid. It’s still bendable – just not with the weight of a smartphone.
The arm is basically a thick piece of aluminum wire, with black thermoplastic insulation around it. It’s not round, like most wire, but has an oblong cross section. I imagine that if it were round, it would be about 2 gauge or thicker (for those of you who are not engineers or DIYers, that’s thick). Since it’s wider than it is thick, it means that there is more strength from side to side, than up and down. I’ll get into that in a moment.
On most motorhomes, your windshield is generally a fair distance from the driver. So a smartphone mount that is only 5 or 6 inches long leaves your phone out of reach of the driver. At 13 inches, this is the longest smartphone windshield mount that I’ve found. So whether you are using your smartphone to keep up with Waze or some other GPS/mapping app, or you just want to be able to see who’s calling, without taking your eyes off the road, this mount should place your smartphone close enough to the driver to make it useful. Though I tend not to touch my phone, when driving, I do occasionally tap a couple of icons in Waze, to report traffic congestion, an accident, or police spotted. But with the phone just barely out of my line of sight and close to me, I can place the heel of my hand on the gear shift, to stabilize my hand, and tap the phone, without having to look away from the road.
The Neward smartphone mount comes with a dashboard support pad that you can attach, to stabilize the phone. My phone actually rests on the dashboard. But I suppose that for some installations, this pad would be useful. I just attached the pad to my mount arm, as a place to store the pad, in case I ever need it in the future.
Now let’s talk about that oblong cross section. With the phone mounted, with the widest cross section horizontal, as shown above, it’s greatest strength is from side to side. This keeps the phone from swinging around, on sharp fast turns. But, unless you’re completely insane, that’s not going to be an issue in a motorhome. However, if you plan on installing this mount in your car or truck, you should know that I have tested this side to side strength in my truck and found that the phone moves from side to side only about an inch, when I accelerate into a sharp turn (almost, but not quite, drifting the truck). That’s stable.
But what this means for mounting it in a motorhome, is that you can mount the device on your side window, with the long cross section vertically oriented. This will give you additional weight stability for your phone, so it won’t be bouncing up and down, even on a bumpy road. The narrow axis will then be oriented from front to rear. However, since you aren’t going to be doing any jack-rabbit starts in a motorhome and will be doing everything possible to avoid slamming on the brakes, the strength on that front to rear axis is not going to be an issue.
One of the other things that I like about this smartphone holder is that it’s very easy to attach and remove your smartphone. Most smartphone holders have an awkward spring-loaded clamp that requires both hands, in order to spread the spring-loaded mount to attach or remove your phone. This one is spring loaded, but in the opposite direction. By that, I mean that it’s spring pushes outward, to open the jaws of the mount. To attach the phone, you simply hold your phone into the open mount and squeeze the mount shut, with fingers of the same hand, until it is tight against the phone. You’ll hear little clicks, as the mount passes each detent latch. To remove the phone, place your hand around the phone and press the release button with a finger of the same hand. The button releases the latch that is holding the mount closed and it will spring open. Your phone will be in your hand.
You can mount the phone either vertically or horizontally, thanks to a 360 degree mounting ball. If mounting the phone vertically, there are two support arms that can be folded out from the base, to give the phone additional support. Since these arms fold, it means that you can adjust them in such a way that they won’t block your power cord or other attachments. Since I mount my phone horizontally, I just keep those arms folded in all the time. That ball mount also makes it easy to swing the view of the phone to the passenger, without taking the phone out of the mount.
Also, since I mount my phone in landscape mode, I have chosen to add a piece of narrow vinyl foam tape to the clamp piece that sits on the dashboard. This allows me to just press down on the upper clamp, to lock the iPhone into place. Without that foam tape, the act of pressing the clamps together, by pushing the clamp against the dashboard, would risk marring the dashboard, over time.
Becky and I will be attending the world’s largest all indoor RV and Motorhome show some time this weekend. We have not set an exact time. We want to make sure that whenever we go, all of the manufacturer reps are on hand.
If you have never been to the Houston RV and Motorhome Show, then watch the video that I’ll post, after we return. I think the only major production motorhome brand that will not be represented will be Entegra, since we don’t have an Entegra dealer in Houston. That’s too bad, because we would like to have been able to go back and forth between Entegra and Newmar, comparing the two in fine detail.
Expect the video to be very professional looking, since I’ll be using my Zhiyun Smooth-II 3-axis iPhone gimbal. The thing is awesome. OK. I admit that what I produce won’t be Hollywood style. But the gimbal produces remarkably stable videos. I’ll be using it with two 14 inch extension poles, so I’ll be able to get shots more than three feet above the crowds. I’ll try to capture the enormity of the show.
We will be focusing mostly on Newmar and Tiffin, at this show, but we’ll check out everything, even the booths. We are close enough to a decision that this could wrap it up for us. On the other hand, I still might allow my OCD to run amok for another month or two. There is one thing for certain. We won’t look back in a few months, after buying our motorhome, and say, “I wish we had done xxx , got yyy , or known about zzz .” We will have done our homework.
It the first two installments of this series, we have made decisions about what type of RV to buy and how it should be equipped, what we need in a floor plan and amenities. In this installment, I’ll discuss what add-ons we will need. These add-ons may be manufacturer options or after-purchase items.
This is NOT an option. We have lived with a whole-house water softener in each of our homes, over about 15 years and to say that we have become spoiled would be a great understatement. Once you’ve lived with soft water, the thought of taking a shower in hard water leave you with a feeling of dread. It takes a lot of fun out of travel, when you know that when you get back to the hotel, you’ll have to take a shower in hard water. That’s why we will have a water softener.
After seeing some of the videos about single tank water softeners and how much trouble they are, we’ve decided to go with a water softener that has a separate brine tank and is plumbed into the motorhome fresh water and gray water tanks. That way, the regeneration process that has to be done every so many gallons (about three or four fresh water fills) will be simply a matter of pushing a button or turning a switch and filling the brine tank with salt pellets after every four or five regeneration cycles.
A plumbed water softener, with a brine tank, is installed between the whole-house filter and the fresh water tank. It also has the ability to take water from the fresh water tank, for back-flushing, during the regeneration process. With a two-tank system, the brine water is drained into the gray water tank and emptied the next time you empty that tank. Regeneration can be fully automatic or semi-automatic.
By contrast, single tank systems have to be manually regenerated, requiring the driver to get out of the coach, hook up hoses to reverse the flow for a while (I think 15 minutes) and then reverse the hoses again, and flush the system for a while, before you can hook it up to your coach. All of this takes quite a bit of time. It’s certainly not something that you want to do in the cold. Also, you have to find a way to drain the brine water, when flushing a single tank system.
In either case, during regeneration, you will still be using soft water from your fresh water tank.
A Dometic® Freezer
We have recently learned that there are certain uncivilized parts of the United States, where Blue Bell® Ice Cream is not available. This, of course, cannot be tolerated by people of even moderate civility and refinement. This is not to say that we are either civil or refined. OK. Becky is. But even an insane person, like me, has to have standards. Actually, we need a freezer for more than just Blue Bell Ice Cream. I just use that example, so anyone from Texas, who reads this, will understand the importance of an extra freezer. It’s an easy add-on and not expensive. This one is a no-brainer.
We have no idea where we might find ourselves. We just know that we will be full timing, with no fixed plan, more than a couple of weeks out. We don’t plan to live off-grid for great lengths of time. But we will be doing some dry camping and who knows? We may decide that we like it. On the other hand, we would rather be safe than sorry. Also, the way things are going on the solar technology front, solar may marginally increase the re-sale value. But more importantly, in the future, a used motorhome that doesn’t have solar will likely take longer to sell, regardless of whether it increases the re-sale value. So, it’s a pretty safe bet that we’re likely to add between 400 watts and 1,200 watts of solar.
Cell Booster/Repeater and External Antenna
Since we’ll continue to manage some of our business affairs, while on the road, we will need to have the most reliable communications. A good cell booster will turn our whole motorhome into a cell tower. That means that we will be able to make phone calls and access the internet in areas, where cell signals are weak. It may not be a cure-all for bad cell signals, but it goes a long way in that direction.
In-Motion Satellite Dish
Most satellite dishes work only while the motorhome is stationary. There are, however, some dishes that will stay focused on the satellite, even when you are traveling down the freeway. We figure that the cost to upgrade to a full in-motion satellite system will be nominal, after spending well over a quarter million dollars on a motorhome. With an in-motion system, Becky will be able to go back and watch TV, when she gets tired of watching the road go by.
Dashcam and Cyclic DVR for Rear Camera
Because expensive motorhomes are often targets for insurance accident scams, we will have a forward facing WiFi dashcam on the windshield. That’s easy. I already have a GolukT3 Car Dash cam with SD Card (pictured) that works just fine. However, as we make our purchase decision on a motorhome, we will be looking for one that will give us the easiest way to insert a cyclic DVR into the line between the rear camera and the dashboard screen. A cyclic DVR is a small box that works the same way as a dashcam, in that it runs continuously and overwrites the oldest files, when memory fills up. The camera plugs into the DVR and the DVR feeds the same signal on to the monitor. So what this means is that anything that the rear camera sees, is saved in the memory of the DVR. That way, in case of an accident, you have it recorded. Note that the DVR pictured below may not be the best product for this purpose. It is only shown as an example of the class of device.
If someone claims that you changed lanes and side swiped them, you have evidence, for the police and your insurance company, that you were in your own lane. If someone pulls in front of you and brake-checks you, to cause an accident, you have that, as well.
Many dashcams and cyclic DVRs have a parking mode that records, only when it senses motion, so they will work to provide security around your motorhome, when you are asleep or away in your toad (tow vehicle). This means that we will also be considering a DVR for the side cameras, as well. It’s a small cost, for the extra security that they provide. Dashcams also give you a way to capture those “Did you see that?” moments, for later playback, to show friends.
Please share your ideas. We are newbies and welcome all types of input. We are soaking up all kinds of information about motorhomes. Give us your input. Do you have a favorite solar setup? What is your favorite cell repeater? Is Comfort Steer® worth the money? We aren’t stuck on but a few things. We will have IFS. We will have no less than 450 horsepower. We will have a dual tank water softener. We will have a dashcam and DVRs. Those things are carved in stone. Everything else, including those things we are leaning toward, are still subject to change.
As Number 5 said, in the movie Short Circuit, “Need input.” We hope we have given you some valuable input. Pleas give us some of your input.
In part two of our search for the perfect motorhome for full-timing, I would like to address our decision process on floor plan and amenities.
We are a couple, who is retiring to a life of full-timing in a motorhome. We may occasionally take a friend or two with us for a few days. But by and large, it will be just us. Therefore, we will have no need for extra beds, other than the typical sleeper sofa that virtually all motorhomes include.
Neither of us want a pass-through bath, so that means a rear master bath. Since we’ve already decided that we want a 42 to 45 footer, this pretty much means a bath and a half plan. Also, I’m a tall guy, with long arms, so I need a large shower. Of course, to maintain peace, we would really like to have hers and hers vanities. (Sure, I know they’re called his and hers vanities, but I’m just being realistic.😃)
We’ve seen motorhomes that have TVs at the front of the coach or on a wall at the back of the living area. But something about sitting on a couch or sofa and having to turn my head almost 90 degrees, to watch television, just doesn’t make sense. Becky agrees, since if I’m closest to the TV, my big head will get in the way. 😃 So this means that we want a plan where the living area TV is more or less directly across from the sofa or recliners.
Since we will both still be involved in some of our business interests, including my writing economic policy books, we will require at least a small amount of full-length closet space for our professional clothes. After all, I don’t want to go to a book-signing, wearing shorts and an island print shirt.
Finally, we are both coffee connoisseurs and we have some sizable equipment. Our coffee roaster is 20″(w) x 10″(d) x 14″(h) and our automatic espresso/cappuccino machine is 11″(w) x 18″(d) x 14″(h). Both machines also require space above them, to add coffee. Of course, we also have a smaller drip coffee-maker and grinder. So what all this means is that we’ll need kitchen counter space for all that coffee equipment, without it filling up the counter. (We also need space to store all that equipment, when on the road.)
Those are our requirements that directly affect floor plans.
At the top of my list is what affects my driving, since we’ll be spending a lot of time on the road and I’ll be driving most of that time. At the top of my driving list is a clear and unobstructed view. This eliminates anything built on a Prevost chassis, since it has that not-to-be-sufficiently-damned bar down the middle of the windshield (It’s the 21st Century, Prevost!). It also gives a significant advantage to Entegra.
Also, related to driving, is steering. I covered independent front suspension in part one of this series. But I must mention that Newmar offers a decided advantage, with its Comfort Steer system. This isn’t a requirement. But it’s certainly something that has to be considered.
Moving back to the kitchen, we definitely want a dishwasher. We prefer a stainless steel sink, but a purpose-built Corian® sink is acceptable. We definitely do NOT want one of those glued-together box sinks, like you see in the high end Tiffins. Since we already determined that we want an all electric motorhome, it will have an induction stove top. We like the Newmar stove top that will lift out, to allow for use outside. But that’s a convenience that we don’t rate as a major. It’s just a nice feature.
We would prefer that the washer and dryer be in or near the master bath, for convenience. But if it’s in the kitchen area, we could live with it.
We like the idea of a reclining bed that leaves space to walk around it, when the slides are closed. However, we know that’s something that can be added later, in most of the motorhomes we are looking at. We’re willing to lose the storage space under the bed, in order to have the reclining bed and are willing to have such a system installed after purchase, if needs be. It would just be nice if it were included as either a standard feature or manufacturer option.
Heated floors throughout and an electric fireplace are also amenities that we really want. Since we have decided on an all-electric motorhome, we’ll have an AquaHot® or similar system for both heating the coach and heating the water.
Finally, we hope that we can find all of these things in a coach that has an over-sized generator and is pre-wired for solar installation.
Will we find everything we want? Almost certainly not. It’s likely that the only way we could get everything we want, would be if we ordered a custom build. But when buying a first motorhome, it’s probably not a good idea to go over-board on the coach, so we’ll stick with a production build and choose the one that requires the least compromise.
In part three of this series, I’ll discuss the accessories that we will probably add to whatever motorhome we purchase.
Today, I would like to discuss our thinking, regarding what kind of RV to buy for our full-timing adventure and how it should be equipped.
Motorhome or Fifth-Wheel
Once we had made the decision to go on the road, full time, the first thing we needed to decide was whether to buy a big truck and fifth-wheel or a motorhome. That was a pretty easy question to answer. Having spent time working as pipeline landmen, we knew many landmen and other pipeliners, who had fifth-wheels. In fact, Becky lived in a fifth-wheel, for a short time, in West Texas. So we knew the general rule of thumb was that, if you are going to spend most of your time parked, you probably want a fifth-wheel and if you plan to spend most of your time on the road, you will probably be better off with a motorhome.
The idea is that, if you are going to be parked most of the time, you don’t want to waste money on all the mechanical things that go with a motorhome, such as engine and drive train, just to let it set for most of the time. By contrast, if you’re going to be full-timing and plan to spend a lot of time on the road, then you can benefit from the extra storage, higher traffic sight-lines, and on-the-road conveniences of a motorhome. We soon verified the logic behind what we had heard, in this regard, and narrowed our search down to a motorhome.
Class “A” or Class “C”
The next decision was whether to go with a Class “A” or Class “C”. Engine and generator location, livable interior space, and sight lines made that decision for us.
A Class “C” has a problem in common with gasoline Class “A” motorhomes. The engine is in the front, so when you are in the driving, the engine noise is closest to you. The generator is in the back, so when you are sleeping, the generator noise is closest to you. That’s just the opposite, in a Class “A”.
Also, a Class “C” loses more than 10 feet of interior living space to the engine compartment and driver’s compartment (that is typically not designed to be a functional part of the living space), for a motorhome of the same length. This means that to get the same amount of livable interior space loss in a Class “C”, as in a Class “A”, you need to look at a motorhome that is 10 feet longer. So, if available interior living space is important and you’re looking at a 45 foot Class “A”, then Class “C” is not an option.
But far and away, the most important reason why I cannot go with a Class “C” is based on personal experience. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to drive a big rig (before the advent of Class “A” vehicles) to make some extra money during the summer. One thing that I learned from that experience was that you can’t see anything small, directly in front of the nose of the truck or off the right front bumper. Back then, most cars were long behemoths. But even something as small as a Ford Falcon or Chevrolet Chevelle (both larger than most cars on the road today) could be hidden in the space between the front bumper and my sight line to the road. Since most cars are even smaller today, accident scammers are epidemic. Many use the limited sight lines of a Class “C”, to perpetrate their scams. The following video was taken in a big rig truck, but the same could happen in a Class “C” motorhome. Keep in mind that in this video, the camera is mounted high on the windshield, above the sight line of the driver. It was impossible for the driver to see the small offending vehicle.
Insurance scam attempt shows sight line issue with Class “C”
Note that this particular variation on the common insurance scam called “swoop and squat”, tends to focus mostly on vehicles that have a forward blind spot, such as a Class “C”.
So due to the engine and generator locations of a Class “C”, the poor sight lines, and the loss of more than 10 feet of interior living space, we decided on a Class “A” motorhome.
Then we had to decide on the length of vehicle we wanted. We learned that the largest legally allowed coach on U.S. roads is 45 feet. But we also learned that many national and state parks don’t allow coaches longer than 40 feet. Part of our decision on length is based on the fact that we’re coming from living in 4,000 square feet. Also, we lived in less than a thousand square feet a few years ago, in London, and that felt cramped. So, since the motorhome will be our full time home, we believe that, at least to begin with, the larger the motorhome, the better. Since there are RV parks within a reasonable distance from almost all state and national parks and we’ll have a 4-wheel drive dinghy to get around in, we decided to opt for the higher end of the length spectrum and forego the national park length limitation.
Along the same line, we knew that we wanted to tow a dinghy, so our motorhome would need to be capable of towing, with ease. This meant, first and foremost, that the absolute minimum size of engine should be 450 horsepower and the larger, the better. After lurking on the forums and speaking with some people who owned motorhomes, we also learned of the value of a tag axle, if you plan to tow anything. This further cemented our decision to go with a longer motorhome, since tag axles are not available on shorter coaches.
Our bricks and sticks home is all electric, except for the central heat, so to us, it makes sense to go all-electric. With heat pumps on the roof an AquaHot system down below and an electric fireplace, we could see no reason to have LPG on the motorhome. It would be just another thing to maintain and compressed gas can cause safety issues, if not properly maintained. So why have it, if we don’t need it?
In the end, we’re looking for a Class “A” motorhome, in the 42 foot to 45 foot (44′ 10″) range, with at least 450 horsepower, a tag axle, and independent front suspension. We would prefer a steerable (passive or active) tag, over one with only a dump. But either will be acceptable. We want all-electric. We are also looking for fuel and DEF fills on both sides of the coach. Of course, this doesn’t include any of the amenities or our floor-plan requirements. I’ll talk about that in a later post.
With memories of the Entegra fresh in our minds, from the Lake Charles RV Show, we headed out to Katy, Texas yesterday, to see the Newmars and American Coaches, at Holiday World and the Tuscanys, at Camping World.
Once again, I have to say that I think American Coach has, by far, the best interior designers in the business – at least for non-custom motorhomes. I just wish they had a model that suited our needs.
That said, Newmar offers an interior that is quite acceptable and they have a couple of models that would fit our needs. But thinking back to the Entegra, I have to say that their interior feels just a little more accommodating and comfortable than the Newmar. I also like the Newmar Comfort Steer technology. But I have to give the nod to Entegra, for their wide windshield field of view.
At Camping World, we looked at the Tuscany 45AT, again and something caught my attention, that I had missed in previous inspection. The driver sits quite a distance further back in the Tuscany, than in either the Newmar or the wide field-of-view Entegra. The Tuscany only has a TAG axle dump, instead of a passive-steering TAG. But it more than makes up for the difference, with a 60 degree wheel-cut. Not only does that extra five degrees decrease your turn radius, but passive steering TAG axle doesn’t help you when you’re backing up – that is, unless you’re driving a fully custom motorhome, with an active-steering TAG axle. The Tuscany definitely wins on TV size, offering a full 60 inch TV. We spent a lot of time sitting on the furniture in the various motorhomes this weekend and we both agreed that the couches in the Tuscany were not as comfortable as in the other brands of motorhomes.
There’s just so much to consider. We knew, going into this decision, that we would have to make compromises. Unless you are willing to pay the price to get a custom motorhome, there is no such thing as the perfect motorhome. We’re getting closer to making a decision. We just have to prioritize things and decide which features are most valuable to us and which ones we are willing to do without.
It’s certainly not a decision that we are taking lightly. If we were buying a motorhome for use only a few weeks out of the year, then it would be different. But we’re buying a “home” in which we will live for the next two years or more. Also, since we will be on the road 365 days a year, we need to consider maintenance and repairs, away from the dealer where we purchase the coach. A picture is beginning to form and it looks like the motorhome that is coming into focus may be either an Entegra or a Newmar. But it’s still quite a blur and it could be a Tiffin or Tuscany. The Houston RV Show, in February, should help.