A Beginner's Guide to the World of RVing
This is the first installment of what will hopefully become many as we dip our toes into the world of RVing. My wife has no experience in RVing beyond what she has seen on the various TV shows. I have limited experience in the arena as my father had first an overhead camper for his pickup then later an actual RV, one of those a person drives from location to location. But having never actually owned one I can honestly say that we are true beginners when it comes to the decisions involved in picking one out, the upkeep involved, and the assorted requirements that go along with ownership.
We have our work cut out for us and look forward to learning and passing along any information we gain.
"What do you think about getting some kind of an RV?" A statement by my wife which was something to this effect is what set our feet on the path to a new future, a path on which we actually get to travel and enjoy a different style of life. I've written elsewhere of my desire to show my family the country and of some of the mini to short trips we've taken over the last couple of years. But this: this is a little larger than a short few days spent in a neighboring state; this is a door to the entire country.
Monetarily, our future is looking better than it ever has. Our children are growing and I am peering intently at a time when I can actually retire. And hopefully with that will come an unfettered ability to see the country at our own pace. At least, that's the plan.
A note here: it is strange to look into the not so distant future and realize that retirement is nearer than you thought.
So, we decided: we would take a look at what types of RV's there were in our area and how we might go about learning what would best suit our needs.
The First Decision: What Kind Of RV To Buy?
Well, actually we had to make several decisions. The first decision was what type of RV we should buy. Would we go with a full blown RV, one of those behemoth vehicles you see driving down the road? Should we go with a smaller travel trailer, a pull behind that would work with our Trailblazer? How much could we commit monthly to the payment? How much would we want to spend overall? How much trailer could our SUV pull? Where would we park it? What are we planning to do with it? How many of our children might be along at any given time? Do we plan for the maximum, the minimum or somewhere in between? Where would we be going? Some parks have limitations on length within their boundaries.
These are but a few of the questions that we would need to answer even before we decided on what we would buy. So, first off is what type of RV to buy.
We knew that, while it would be very nice, buying a full blown RV is beyond where we are at this time. We still have two children at home; one in college and one in middle school. So we weren't going to go crazy and drop a hundred thousand on an RV. So, what else was there?
Pull behind travel trailers and fifth wheel trailers are both good options. However, unless we wanted to buy another truck to be fitted for a fifth wheel, we would limit ourselves to something we already had: an SUV. Our 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer EXT is an extended body SUV, capable of carrying up to eight passengers. When we bought it several years ago, we still had all five kids at home so this was a necessity for those moments when everyone would pile into the SUV and go with us wherever. It is 4WD, so gets us around quite nicely. Also, it is what is called a Special Edition, being a North Face Edition. Now in the beginning I had no idea what the North Face was, so it didn't impress me a lick. Still doesn't really but I now know that it means (to me) that it came with a tow package, a somewhat stronger 4.2L six cylinder engine and the capability of towing a decent sized RV. Now, that matters to me.
How Much Travel Trailer Can We Pull?
The first thing to do was determine how much our SUV could tow. Looking in the Owners Manuel I found its capacity as 5,700 pounds and the tongue capacity 400 pounds. This capacity has several factors which play a part. Engine size and horsepower, how heavy the SUV itself is being foremost. I never thought about the SUV's weight playing a part but it definitely does. Because ours is an extended length, it weighs more. It is 4WD, so that adds more also. The engine is slightly stronger so this offsets the extra weight to a degree but still, the total weight of our SUV makes it able to tow less than a similar vehicle that is not an extended version.
So I began searching websites of various manufacturers and comparing floorplans, total weights, lengths and tongue weights. One of the factors we were looking at rather intently was a trailer with a slideout. This is a relatively new enhancement of the travel trailer that electrically slides a portion of the RV out to allow for more interior floorspace. Unfortunately, this also adds considerable weight to the trailer, so unless we wanted to forego length for width we wouldn't be going this route.
So we are looking for a lightweight, reasonably decent sized trailer which can sleep more than two or three, it cannot weigh over 5,700 pounds and the tongue weight must be 400 pounds or less.
And away we go!
What Kind Of Hitch Do We Need?
So we traveled to the largest RV dealer in our area. We determined this after hours of research on the Internet and settled on our target style, size and weight. When we arrived and spoke with a salesman, we found that although we were on the right track there are other things to consider. It turns out that there is something he called an "equalizer" which allows for transference of tongue weight to the entire vehicle chassis so as to allow you to purchase a larger and/or heavier trailer. Not enough to allow us to get a decent sized unit with a slideout, but larger nonetheless. He showed us several in our range and we found one we liked.
So What Do We Buy?
The one he showed us and we really liked is a Coleman 274 BHS and features a semi-private master area, a couch that makes out into a bed, a dining table makes out into a bed, and it also has a set of bunk beds. So if we wanted to, we could actually have six adults/children stay the night at once. Tight, but good planning abilities for us.
It also has a microwave, nice sized refrigerator, antennae for TV, cable hookups for TV, both interior and exterior speakers for the AM/FM/CD/DVD unit, a mini tub, a shower, toilet and even an awning that extends out electrically. It also has a three burner stove and an oven to cook in as well. It has heating throughout and air conditioning for those hot summer's days. The beds are comfy, the seating ample and altogether it is a good entry into the world of RVing for us.
And so, we forged ahead. We signed the documents, put our down payment down and headed back home very happy. Then we received a call the next day that put a damper on everything. Somehow, from our signed document to the bank aspect the down payment went through the roof! They asked for far more than we had expected to put down. We decided we weren't going to put the amount they were asking for down and were going to walk away. No square pegs in round holes for us anymore, which means we weren't going to force an issue: if God wants it to happen, it will. If not, okay.
The next day we got another call. They apologized for their mistake and were willing to knock a good percentage off the trailer if we agreed to come up a bit on the down payment. We hedged, hemmed and hawed and then they threw in the hitch system for free which would allow us to tow the trailer with ease. That was a thousand dollars by itself. Well, we couldn't say no to that.
TIP: There is always room to negotiate whether the dealer wants to admit it or not. In our case, they dropped the price from the beginning price of $19,995 to under $14,000 and threw in the hitch system. I'll take that.
What's A Trailer Brake Controller?
And so we began our journey to bring home the trailer. First problem: we needed a trailer brake controller system. This trailer has electric brakes which are a magnetic system of braking as I understand it. Our SUV has it pre-wired into the 7 way plug for trailer lights and such but there is no actual brake system in place. Back to the Internet! Research led me to a local farm and home store which sells trailer accessories. I purchased one for less than $60 and began to learn how to install it. Once I dropped the panel under the steering wheel I found that I would need a harness to adapt from the controller to the SUV due to the fact that some Trailblazers came with a plug in panel for this and others only had wires in place. Of course, ours is wires only. Back to the farm and home store, another $20 and a reasonably easy installation followed (thanks youtube!).
One of the videos we watched
What Type Of Trailer Lock Do We Need?
We also knew we would want to protect our new trailer from theft. So more hours spent on the Internet watching videos, reading reviews and searching for the best lock we could get. Incidentally, there are several videos where people have purchased various types and styles of locks and literally destroy them in order to show you which one is the best for your money. Some which looked impregnable were actually fairly easy to remove with nothing more than a crowbar. Others could be drilled out with a cordless drill, still others hit with a sledgehammer and shattered.
In the end we selected one called the Gorilla Lock. It is difficult to pick, as it is not a standard keyed item; the key is underneath the unit as opposed to on the side or front; and it appears to be made of very strong steel. I guessed (yeah, I know) on the size as being a 2" hitch ball and we ordered one. It was delivered to our door in less than two days! We opened the box, tried it out and learned it was the wrong size! So on to my little trailer it went. We then ordered a size larger (2 5/16") and it was delivered in two days once more.
NOTE: I have had to modify the lock ever so slightly due to the trailer tongue being just a smidgen wider that the lock itself. No biggie; a few minutes with a Dremel tool, a couple of smacks with a rubber mallet to set it into place and all is fine. I do have to say that this thing is a beast! The steel it is made from is extremely hard. I highly recommend this lock.
Another issue or concern we had was that our driveway wasn't level, being an uphill slope that would require some firm chocks for the tires. In the end we purchased two larger and two smaller chocks so on each side we can block each of the two wheels. As this is a tandem axle trailer it has four tires, two to a side. With all four wheels blocked it isn't going anywhere.
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Our First Drive Home
So we headed up this past weekend to do our walk-through and bring it home. The walk-through took less than an hour and consisted of showing us how to operate everything, what type of cleaners to use, how to empty the waste water area and such. I took copious notes and will transcribe them for us to keep and refer to in the future.
One item caught our attention: the fact that evidently bugs off all types love RV's. On top, in the duct work, in the grates and filter areas, just about anywhere there is an opening on the exterior is a place we were warned to keep clean due to bugs setting up shop there.
The hitch system was installed and we were shown how to connect it properly. It also has an anti-sway bar attached and we were advised to remove it before backing up as "it will fold up on you right quick" if you don't. The propane tanks were filled up for us and everything made ready to go.
We purchased the trailer at Camping World and as they are associated with the Good Sam RV club we received a three year free membership in the Good Sam Club. This means we get special deals at all Good Sam RV resorts, at any Camping World facility, and also on Internet locations. I found a massive book containing all RV campgrounds in the US and was going to purchase it but turned out it was free for us that day as part of the Good Sam Club. Nice!
We hooked up and headed out. I can honestly say I was nervous as it had been some twenty odd years since I pulled anything close to this size. I have driven a thirty foot plus RV pulling a twenty foot boat on a trailer before but that was when I was much younger and not smart enough to be nervous. I even drove it one night when there were gusts up to 80 mph perpendicular to our direction of travel and didn't think much of it. But that was then; this is now. After only a short while of driving and adjusting the brake controller I had the knack once more. Taking our time and only driving 60 MPH on the highway to get used to the swing and sway, the semi trucks passing and the wind associated with them took a bit longer but in the end I was comfortable.
Driving through town and onto our street the nerves came back. I mentally plotted the route I would take to arrive at home in the best position to back into our driveway. Once there, I got out and looked things over. Wide driveway, good; moderate incline, bad; power lines overhead, really bad. But there was enough room and it only took two tries to center the trailer on the driveway and chock the wheels in place before removing the trailer from the hitch. Once that was accomplished we hooked up an extension cord so the refrigerator wouldn't run on propane and use up our gas then we all got inside of our brand new travel trailer and looked it over thoroughly, flipping lights on and off, getting in the beds, opening up the sofa bed and just getting a feel for it.
We will take a weekend shakedown trip in the near future somewhere nearby just to try it out. We can't wait!
From there we continue moving forward, learning at every corner. What type of cover do we need to buy? How do we keep the rain gutters from tearing holes in the cover? Do we need covers for the wheels? Do I need to keep the battery on trickle charge whenever we aren't using the RV? Do we need to keep the tires on wood all the time or only when we are setting up shop somewhere? How long of a sewer hose do we need? Is it a good idea to buy a water pressure regulator to limit the amount and pressure of water into the trailer? These and hundreds if not thousands of questions await us. I'm an old dog; do I have the ability to learn these new tricks?
As we learn and travel we will be describing our adventures, both those enjoyed and those we learn from. I believe in allowing others to learn from our mistakes and eliminating that possibility from their trips. We are planning to make our first major trip sometime after school is out and will be traveling to Pensacola, Florida. The land between here and there is reasonably flat so no mountains just yet for me, thank you. A stop in Huntsville for our son to experience the space program and museum there before digging our toes in the sand, swimming with dolphins (maybe!) and just seeing an actual beach. This is something my lovely wife longs to do so off we go!
Next year, maybe Colorado! And from there, who knows?!
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