It’s now been three years since I bought my Winnebago Rialta, the small RV that’s a Volkswagen Eurovan with a Winnebago camper body on it. RVs are funny commodities, as you can spend as much or as little for them as you want. It’s common for people to buy used RVs, take them on one or two trips, and park them in the yard—and before they know it, time ravages them.
The battery running down is just the beginning. Sunlight dry rots the tires, and the myriad vents on the roof cause leaks, and the interior begins to mildew. Add 40 gallons of bad gas to the picture and the result is something that’s often worth next to nothing. Because of this, you can essentially set your target price for an RV—right down to “free”—and find one for that price if you look. Perfect for a bottom-feeding do-it-yourselfer like me, right?
Read the full article on Hagerty.com: https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/mini-adventures-in-a-mini-rv/
Fun article. We too got into cheap campers about 2 years ago. Spent $5,000 on a decent enough 5th wheel. We have had good luck so far, having to only tinker on little things about every trip. Recently the grey water holding tank has started leaking though, and it is where a pipe connects to the tank on top. That means I'll have to drop the whole tank. It's fun to go camping with the family, but every time I am hooked up to it I just keep thinking how much it's going to cost when my 20 year old 1 ton breaks down to get all this towed back home. I could've spent 5k in a lot more fun ways (at least to me) on one of the project vehicles sitting around.
Great article, very good synopsis of the systems, pros & cons, etc. One small detail-the 110vac to 12vdc "converters" are also sold under the name inverter, so some may get confused at the statement you don't have an inverter. A great addition/option if your camper doesn't have a voltmeter already is to add an inexpensive one ASAP, as they (inverters) often fail in as little as 3 years under heavy use. Once it fails and your battery goes down, you'll eventually lose control power for most everything and especially bad in cold weather-the blower fan in the furnace. The solar panel is a great addition, but it probably won't run the blower or bump up the battery(s) enough between furnace cycles.
I've known several people who have been bitten by the RV bug. I'll never understand why people don't just rent them. To paraphrase Charlie Sheen, "you don't pay them to spend the night, you pay them to go home."
I'm with you Rob...old backpacker. Never did care for car-camping. My brother had a 21' 'cuddy-cabin' [boat], and yes, the 24' version had all of the things the 21 footer was lacking.
All the maintenance of a truck chassis added to the maintenance of a small house. Plus constant roof leaks. When you drive these things in mountain country, drain the water tank. That's just dead weight to haul up the hill.
In 2008 I bought a Buick Rainier V8 and my wife decides right away we will buy a trailer and go camping with the kids. So we bought a 2004 27 foot (ended up being around 32 feet with tongue) trailer a month later for $11,000. It was a lightweight and we used it a few times a year, usually between 2 and 4 times annually. We never went too far, usually about 20 miles away. I think we took it on two 100 mile trips, but I would take it easy on my Rainier, and it made it to 198K with no issues. Ended up moving to a new home in 2012, where I built a barn, and reserved a section for the trailer. Got a Chevy Tahoe in 2014, which made me more comfortable for towing, but we only used the trailer two times after the move and everything. More or less if we used it 20 times it would surprise me. The kids grew, my wife and me did all the work, which ended up being a pain since our children would not help at all, so we got frustrated with camping. We sold it this spring for $3000, it was really clean inside, no smells or odors since it lived indoors since 2013, I could have gotten more out of it, but I was tires of having it around, it had a slightly bent frame where I think we must have run over something like a ditch and we did not know it.
All said and done it was $400 for the 20 or so trips, The only things we had to fix was I forgot to winterize the outside shower, so I had to replace a few pipes, and the fuse panel had to have been the cheapest panel in existence. Otherwise it was a great rig.
Great and insightful article, but some of us have dipped our toes in the camping pool and believe camping is driving for hours (or days) for conditions you wouldn't accept if you had stayed home. As for me, I just got an email that I have a free night at Red Roof coming. So I won't get to watch the next campsite as they pull up in a converted schoolbus and their eight kids put up their party lights and their custom carved "We're the Jones family from Johnson City, Tennessee" sign.
I hate RV's. Had one for ten years, supposed to be one of the best made, a Newmar Mountainaire with a tag axle. What a piece of crap!
If you're going to get an RV, instead, get a nice truck and a 5th wheel unit. You'll save a BOATLOAD of money and have a nice truck for free. When you decide you've had enough of the RV insanity, you can dump the crappy 5th wheel and still have a nice truck.
RV's are for suckers. I was one for ten years and learned my lesson the hard way.
A two-foot square piece of 3/4" plywood will keep a jack stand from sinking into the asphalt. At least, it will with my van and '40 Ford. You might want to stiffen it up with a 2x4 or angle iron frame for your rig.
Unfortunately my idea of camping is the nearest Hyatt. However, I would imagine it is much like boating which we did for over 12 yrs. but even at that it was a 42’ Carver with all the amenities of home. (Full head with stand up shower, “Master” stateroom, full size frig, generator if needed, AC/heat and yes, 2 90 gallon fuel tanks to feed those twin big blocks) but it was fun and very social. That is as close to camping as I want to come!
Wow, just finished reading the comments, lots of strong feelings and opinions. Great article though, I am currently a boater and looking at timing out, turning 73, and moving on to RV'ing. Here on the west coast of Canada my wife and I have enjoyed exploring our coastal waters, however boat ownership is not inexpensive, maybe the costs of moorage, insurance and maintenance would more than cover the expense of a used RV.
We are thinking "Sprinter" size and would love to read comments regarding folks who have experience with those. Our country is vast and largely empty, there are after all more Californians that Canadians, so going off the "grid" would be an available option.
What are people's opinion of these "allwheel" drive RV's that are starting to show up, practical or just a gimmick to sell to a broader audience?
I’d be interested on Rob’s take on the RV vs trailer and tow vehicle. I tried a Westfalia but had to rebuild the engine after only a few times camping. I now have a vintage fibreglass trailer that I can tow with a 4 cylinder SUV. That way I’m not fixing 40-50 year old mechanicals, just less complicated trailer bits.
Hard to argue with any of the comments here, they're all 100% correct for the authors of each. I'd rather take a 2-seater or limo 1000 miles to a hotel, but I have a 34' Montana RV trailer in a permanent RV site 150 miles from my home. Cheaper than building a cabin in the woods, with minimal yearly taxes and if the neighborhood changes in ways I don't like it just takes a phone call at the end of the yearly lease to have it taken somewhere else. Shower but no bathtub, queen bed but no guest room (couch pulls out) stove top only has 3 burners, oven, microwave, satellite TV. Roughing it compared to the Essex House on Central Park South, but they won't let you build a fire and pull up chairs to it.
We bought a Class C (ford van with a big tail), 1993 with a 460. Drove 5000 miles across the US, stopping and camping when we got tired. Two technical issues got us. One was a weak fuel pump (in tank) that petered out whenever the altitude and/or heat was high enough (mountain passes were really, really scary). Cut a hole in the floor in Colorado and replaced the pump and it was fine (doesn't everyone travel with a reciprocating saw?). The second was a blowout where the tire tread crushed and ripped the fuel fill tube (when filling the fuel would go on the ground about at the same rate as into the tank). Fixed it with a crowbar and rocks and jb weld. The grand canyon, and so many other cool views along the way that you would never see if you flew. Six kids, we could walk around and cook meals and go to the bathroom without stopping. Very memorable trip.
I agree with the renting comments. We just returned from Rocky Mountain National Park after renting a 25 foot Sprinter RV in Denver. We had a great time and when the week was over, I handed the keys back to the owner and did not have to worry about owning, storing or maintaining the RV.
There have been several cautionary articles this summer about RVing and the pitfalls and costs, presumably because so many people are taking the plunge thanks to our countries much worse than others Covid situation. I've owned RVs for about 14 years and honestly, I can't see why someone would buy a motorhome for all the reasons in the article. I own vintage cars and if I drove them the way I use my RV I'd sell them, or they'd fall apart. You can't beat a trailer. You don't have any of the mechanical issues in the article, no calling, ball joints, bad gas, etc. And when you get to your destination, you can unhook and drive around freely. In a motorhome you have to pack up and take everything with you if you want to roam. No thanks. So I love having a trailer RV. In fact, I hope the lockdowns are received soon so I can get more use out of mine without everything being jammed with folks who feel they have no other options...
Have been trying to get my spouse excited about RVing for several years to no avail. After reading this article, I think I'll just shut up. Thanks!
Great article. I’m a former backpacker and tent camper too, and our family of 3 recently rented a 24 motorhome based on the HD Ford Transit Van. We loved it and now understand the appeal of the RV life. However, we also learned quickly we’ll never own one. Besides the maintenance, storage/reg/insurance costs alone would exceed renting one 2x/year.
We learned that 24 ft is too small for more than 2 people. Our next rental will be at least 30 ft w 1-2 slideouts. If you’re taking kids that’s the way to go. It also depends on where you’re taking it. We live in TX and AC is a must anywhere you go, so you’d want full hookups. But if you’re in a climate like Rob and u can use water sparingly you won’t need full hookups.
IMO if you wanna try the RV thing, go w a new-ish 28-32 ft Class C and take it to a nice RV park. Otherwise you’re basically renting a large van w a bathroom which is only slightly more comfortable than a tent.
I've owned 2 class "A" motorhomes. I remember back in the 70's & early 80's you could get a Trans Van that was a cross between a van body in the front & a small camper in the back. If they still made them today I think they would fit the bill for a lot of us not wanting to "go big".
Great article. I retired 16 years ago with fantasies of RVing for several years, my wife was not sharing my fantasy. For 5 years before retiring, I shopped, went to RV shows, talked to RV owning friends, went on weekends with them numerous times...she never learned to share my fantasy. Among other differences, we were split on whether we would be Rialta type or Diesel pusher type RVers. Long story shortened, our retirement RV morphed to very nice condo in St. Pete, Florida. I still fantasize what life would have been in an RV for several years or more, my wife still gets cold chills of gratitude for our condo when we pass RVs on the highway, every time she "says she's so glad it's not us", after Rob's article and at age 80, I agree with her.
Not a bad article, however it did not address tires adequately. Any vehicle purchased that is over 8-9 years old NEEDS new tires (check the dates on the tires - if you don't know how, Google it!) -PERIOD! It doesn't matter if they 'look good' or 'new' - don't take ANY chances. Any tires that old or older WILL fail on the highway, putting you on the side of the road, IF you are lucky. If you are not lucky, you could end up in a ditch, or worse. What we're talking about here are essentially truck tires, which may not show aging, but older tires can be very dangerous. Not only that, they tend to be quite more expensive - 3-5 times what a regular car tire can cost, and a lot harder to change.
DO NOT 'skimp' and just replace the front tires, or just the 'outside' tires on the rear - replace them all, INCLUDING the spare tire. Make sure you go to a known truck tire shop, and be sure to check the dates on those new tires as well. While doing that, be sure to replace the valve stems (or have the seals re-built, if they are permanent/metal ones).
AND, while you are at it - get some DECENT RV roadside assistance insurance - To save you from having to work on your RV, should it break down on the side of the road. Very inexpensive, especially for the 'peace of mind'.
I've had both a trailer and a 35' diesel pusher with two slides. Bottom line, there is no perfect solution. The trailer was fun with the kids and was sort of a playhouse for the kids when not in use. After the kids were out of the house I had a 10 week sabbatical coming and wanted to do a big trip in an RV. Did the math on buying versus renting and the buying actually worked out better, but only if I sold it when I returned, which of course I didn't. It was a great trip as we hit Yellowstone, Tetons, Grand Canyon, Arches, Bryce Canyon, etc. Did about 5K miles and towed our 2004 (1 year old at the time) Mini Cooper S. Did a few trips up the CA coast into Oregon and Washington and had a lot of fun. But, was working a lot and it sat a lot, and even with a cover, it's a lot of wear a tear on a $100K+ asset. Also, you can't back up when towing 4 down, so you really have to plan every move ahead, especially parking lots and gas stations, and bypass places you'd like to stop at if no RV pull though slots are available. My current thinking is, first, you should be retired so you can you use it anytime you want. Second, you need your house set-up so you can leave it for weeks at a time without issue, and probably have a yard service. Third, storage on site in an enclosed garage is ideal, or at least a covered structure, as you would be shocked at the cost of storage, even just parked in an asphalt lot. Pet's can also be a PITA if you can't, or don't want to, take them with you. As Rob said, you really need to decide if your an RV person or not, and renting an RV or trailer, several times, is the way to find out. Oh yeah, and as for some of the small Sprinter type RV's I've looked at, if it doesn't have an enclosed bathroom, I don't want it. Do you really want to sh#t in you living room? Also, if you can't get a good nights sleep in it, like I can't on a foam mattress, why bother?
We put 65,000 miles on an early 5-cylinder Sprinter Pleasureway. It was a terrific travel vehicle, rode and handled great, smooth at 70+ and got 19mpg. Maybe a little cramped but with just two adults and an occasional cat, it was sufficient to spend 5 weeks aboard on a trip from Florida to Hyder, AK, California and home. I found the Sprinter to be the perfect compromise of driving capability and living. For long trips, having the ability to have cold drinks and snacks on demand and a bathroom truly makes for superior road trips. Drove to Indy for the first MotoGP race and stayed (free) right across from the track. I carried a Vespa on the back sometimes, mostly I towed a small trailer with a motorcycle or two, The van pretty much never noticed. Only sold it when we decide we weren't going to be traveling much. Our friends bought it and added another 50,000 miles to date.
Grew up backpacking, but now that I have a family have ended up in the RV world. Had two trailers, a Class C and currently a 36' Class A gas. There's always pros and cons to any vacation "lifestyle". Unless you buy really cheap and DIY all repairs, or you are going to travel a lot, you won't save any money owning an RV vs. staying in reasonable hotels. But the plus is you are always living in your own space with your own stuff and can make the food you want. Successful RV ownership is helped considerably by mechanical aptitude and a willingness to DIY - OR - a fearless checkbook and a good, honest RV shop.
For the curious, the forum at IRV2.com contains a vast wealth of knowledge.
Just my 2c.
I spent a couple years researching RVs and trailers before I retired and decided against them, because: 1: basically, you're camping in an aluminum tent, with all the disadvantages that camping brings. Or as one wise woman put it "if I'm going on vacation why would I take the cooking and cleaning with me?" 2: on every RV or trailer forum that I followed, no matter what the original question was, if the thread went on long enough it turned into a discussion about "black water," aka poo-poo peepee tank. After reading enough discussions about the right way to put a large wooden stick down the toilet to stir up the solid contents and similar topics I decided staying in a hotel sounded pretty good. 3: unless you use the RV or trailer at least 2 or 3 months a year it's a lot cheaper in the long run to drive your nice comfortable sedan to a nice comfortable hotel and stay there. Or better yet, take a package tour once or twice a year on Amtrak. 4: if you don't have a large enough lot to park the vehicle on, and most of us don't, you're going to have to pay to store it somewhere. 5: if the roof leaks you probably won't notice it until enough water has run between the interior and exterior walls to completely rot out all the wood framing behind the wall, a very expensive repair that isn't covered by insurance. Lastly, it all depends on what your vacation goal is. Some people just want to sit in a quiet setting and commune with nature, while others (like me) want to see the sights the area is known for and then move on. Incidentally, I have noticed that people with trailers will typically go to a state park and stay there for 2 or 3 weeks, sometimes longer, whereas RV people usually only stay a few days.
I like'em small. The GMC '70 was too big (only considering continuous 'glass shells'). After that I sought a Vixen but could never get one close enuff to home to visit/possibly buy. This Rialto seems about right too.
I use asa base camp...come back to once a wk or 2x, head out to back country w/a bivy (justa tent extension of the sleep bag) and travel light. This way I get above the tree line (Modnock here, Tolmie Peak @ Yosemite) travelin lite AND havea relaxing shower/bed/toilet/kitchen. Oxytocin, Dopemine & Serotine junkie here...
Thank you, will consider it more deeply (right now). - -Chad, Amherst, MA
Had my 'fill' of camping during my 20+ years of military service. Now, my idea of 'roughing it' is a hotel without 24-hour room service. And, I am not about to impose a 'house with wheels' upon either myself, or my wife (at least not if I want to 'live') - LOL!
IMO The best way to own an RV is a slide in pickup camper . There's no tires no motor no tags or lic required no insurance. Its covered while on your pickup . You always have your pick up for your daily transportation and home owner needs . I have owned a few over the years and love them. You can park anywhere you can park your pickup . You can still pull your boat or your classic car or hotrod or race car to the show or track or camp ground . You have plenty of power to pull any mountain range at the speed limit. Especial if your truck has a diesel motor. You still get decent fuel mileage . You pay any where from 500.00 dollars to 50 or 60 k depending on how nice or how new camper you want . I have a nice 2007 Lance that has built in Propane gen . Shower inside and out . 3 way fridge with freezer , oven, stove, bathroom. Sleeps 4 . A/c heat mic, stereo , TV , solar, Elec Jacks with remote . Very easy to take on off the truck in 20 to 30 min . I paid 14k for mine three years ago had been stored indoors and still looks brand new inside & out . I haul it on my 2012 Duramax Silverado extra cab, 4x4 2500 short bed and can easily run the speed limit 75 80 mph while pulling my boat or my 62 vette on the trailer and the truck is not even breathing hard ! I think its the only way to go for size convenience and price & maintenance and storage . Plus it looks sharp . I get so many complements on it every where I go and have been from coast to coast and everywhere in between it. And when we go visit friends or family you can park right in their drive way in any neighborhood . Unlike if you have a big 30 or 40 foot diesel pusher . I looked at everything when I retired and felt this was the best bang for the buck and way to go . Plus you always have a truck and it holds its value a lot better than most RVs and is a lot more reliable . Plus when your driving down the road its quite because your in the cab of your truck . Unlike a motor home or van type where your listening to all the pots and pans and silver ware and everything else rattle as you go down the road !
Enjoyed the article but have a slightly different twist. Way back in 1977, my wife and I, after two years of marriage and a 6-month old son were able to “retire” from work, school, and suburbia with the help of 1972 F-100 and a 24 foot fifth wheel camp trailer. We decided that combination was the most versatile of the motor-home/slide-in/tag-along options we considered. Even though the pickup was about 18 feet long, with the overlap the combined length was just under 30 feet.
Heading north from California, we circled the country visiting 22 states, zig-zagging through the Rockies, the plains states, Great Lakes, New England, and some of the South.
We planned no special routes nor made many campsite reservations, landing in public and private facilities - at that time mainly rural, quiet and enjoyable - using “Good Sam”, AAA guides, and the CB radio for assistance. Many times we disconnected for a day or more from our house-on-wheels for sight-seeing jaunts, staying in more unique accommodations. The pickup was a very versatile and dependable vehicle and together they were maneuverable and easy to handle - even in the Rockies and rural southern roads.
With a five year old truck starting the trip with about 60,000 miles on the clock and new tires and brakes, it was remarkably reliable. One end of a heater hose split at the continental divide, repaired with a pocket knife and screwdriver; and an overheated automatic transmission in the Utah desert cured with a radiator style cooler.
The pickup, purchased new and now at 48 years of age, on it’s 3rd engine and at over 500k miles, (still the original C6) still looks good at 20 feet and will remain a member of the family (at least as long as I do, I hope).
I've never owned one but they've been in the family, from a mini to a diesel pusher with slides which spent most of its time parked at a storage facility racking up even more expense. Somehow the bug never bit me. If you're at all cost conscious (maybe that's my issue)...(yeah, that's probably it) just load up your most comfortable passenger vehicle and stay at Air BNB's.
Forget about the names of those campers/RVs. I'm more curious about where the trend got started to apply all those "swoosh" graphics to the sides and back. I owned an Airstream Interstate for several years, and one of the nicest parts of the appearance was the lack of any graphics at all over the M-B Sprinter silver paint.
My wife and I and another couple often take weekend trips. We have considered the "RV route" but like the convenience of a nice hotel. However, what would be cool is a "travel van", one with comfortable "captains chairs", a table and a toilet, that's all. No searching for disgusting public facilities and when your "travel tired', just pull over and chill for a while. Oh, I guess I need a mini-fridge too.
What you describe could be my wife and me. A word about the oil cooler and more particularly, the oil temperature killing the transaxle. I have installed gauges to monitor both engine oil temperature and transmission oil temperature. To maintain appropriate temperatures for both requires much more than the “recommended” transmission cooler.
I’ve installed the largest transmission cooler that could possibly be crammed between the grill and the condenser and a thermostatically controlled water spray. Without both it’s not possible to keep the temperature below 200°F on a warm day in the mountains.
I also installed a thermostatically controlled fan cooled engine oil cooler. Without this it’s not possible to keep the engine oil temperature below 220°F on a warm day in the mountains.
And lastly, I use the very best Amsoil products including their auxiliary oil filters on both the transmission and the engine.