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RVing Basics

Hey Dad,

Don’t you wish you could take a course on RVing 101? Here it is. On this page we talk about the reason behind RV travel, the types of Rvs, what to look for when you’re buying an RV, and quick look at the basic systems that make up a Recreational Vehicle.

Q — Why RV?

A – Because of this email I just got this email yesterday 🙂

“Hey, My wife gave me one of your tear-off desk calendars for Christmas, and I am loving it!  Was also glad to read about your RV adventures on the web.  Through an unexpected gift, we were able to fulfill the dream of buying a travel trailer several years ago, and from time to time, I will walk in it  (parked at our house for storage) and just pause and pray.. thanking God for the many happy memories we are able to make with our two boys, and with so many other families who join us on the camping venture.” ~ David G.


A guided tour of our Rig

Q — What kind of RV do you recommend?

A – Let me just say when we started the RV adventure we knew NOTHING…I mean nothing about RVing. Neither my wife nor I had ever camped in our lives, and my wife’s idea of roughing it was staying at a Holiday Inn instead of a Hilton. We were a little short on money and didn’t want to sell the farm just to try it out. We weighed our options, talked it over, and decided to look into buying a motor home rather than a pull-behind travel trailer (the bathroom while on the road is worth everything).

After looking at Class C’s (looks like a u-haul truck) and Class A’s (looks like a bus) we decided we liked the open feel of the Class A although the Class C often sleeps more (see below). Now we had to settle on a price…which also determined the age of the RV. There are also Class B’s, but they’re like van-RVs and would be way too small for our large family. My brother-in-law’s parents have one and they love it.

Had we known, we would have looked on-line, but we didn’t, so we searched all the RV lots in northern Indiana (The RV capital of world). We finally settled on a 1991- 30′ Mallard and paid $11,000 for it. It had a lot of miles but ran well and had ample storage. So we paid the money, spent 6 months getting it ready, and hit the road in the spring feeling our way through all the nuances of RV travel.

Within a month, a box-truck hit us on the interstate totaling our RV. Next, some nice people loaned us a 34′ Winnebago. It was big and old, and within two weeks nearly burned to the ground. Note: don’t go too ancient unless you have a gob of time and are handier than Goober down at Wally’s filling station.

Still convinced that RVing was the way to go, we bought a 1992 – 30′ Fleetwood Flair in Michigan for about $15,000. It had fuel injection, which gave us about 9 mpg (as opposed to 6 with the carbureted Mallard.) It turned out to be a great RV, and I’d highly recommend the Flair anytime. It is an entry level RV so it doesn’t have a lot of bells or whistles…but you don’t have to pay to fix them either.

Really, we had few problems with it although we ended up fixing or replacing most of the major coach components (like roof A/C, furnace, and fridge). Later, we replaced the carpet and had the seats recovered. It was like having a brand new RV at a fraction of the cost. The nice thing about gas RVs is that they’re no harder to operate and maintain than a big van. That ‘aint the case with diesel.

The problem with traveling with kids is that they grow and take up more space so unless we were going to train our children to sleep sitting up, we had to get a bigger RV. Since I knew that the gas RV’s we could afford all had the same size engine regardless of length, I decided that diesel was the way to go. We looked on Ebay and PPL Motorhomes and saw gobs of great deals.

We eventually landed on a design that we really liked–a Euro Premier. It was no longer being made but the price, the configuration, and the basics (engine,chassis, and transmission) were what we wanted. So we watched and waited and eventually bought one in Florida. I flew down and drove it home as happy as a…guy in a big diesel RV with an incredible air horn.

When I pulled into the driveway, my wife stepped inside and cried (although she tried to hide it). I failed to see just how ugly, rough, and outdated it was. No problem. Six months of hard work could fix that. So we gutted the thing, recovered all the furniture, the floors and walls, added new light fixtures, removed the washer and dryer and a big closet and built in triple bunk beds and got the thing running.

Gas Vs. Diesel

Let me just say that diesel is a different beast. Every part in it is big and expensive to fix…but it sure drives nice. The price tag was quite a bit bigger at $34,000 but it still is a fraction of the cost of anything new. In fact, the sticker price on our 15-year old RV was $165,000. It has all the bells and whistles, cherry cabinets, and solid surface counter tops instead of paper cabinets. Gas is easy…like a big car. You go out in the middle of winter and fire it up. Not so with Diesel. Diesel does get good mileage and it seems to have more power. If I didn’t need such a large RV and didn’t pull a trailer…I’d go gas.

My Advice When Buying

My advice when buying an RV is to look hard, look often, and wait for a deal. Go gas unless you’re absolutely convinced you need a big diesel. Class C is good for lots of beds but not as open as a Class A for a lot of on the road traveling. I’d buy on Ebay or PPL Motor homes…or some on-line RV seller. You have a huge selection and great deals are there to be had. Even if the RV doesn’t sell at auction, you can often deal with the seller afterwards.

I know some are afraid to buy used, but I’m telling you that every time I take my old RV into the shop, it is surrounded by NEW RV’s that are being worked on as well. In fact, I know new RV owners who have had many more problems than I have had. Also, when you decide to sell a new RV, you take a huge hit and are never able to recoup your cost. We took a hit with our old RV (sold it at the collapse of the RV market), but we’re talking a few thousand-dollar hit, not a $50,000 dollar hit or more.

After RVing for 15 years, I still love it and think it is the best way to travel as a family. My children and even my wife love it. It has allowed us to see things we would never be able to see if we were confined to a hotel budget and schedule. So my advice: pray for wisdom, watch the market and then do it!!! You may not get the best deal or the best RV but God is bigger than that. But you are guaranteed to make some incredible memories as a family…ones that will last a lifetime.

How They Work

OK, here’s a quick run down on how an RV is put together: 

Propane – Every RV uses propane for hot water heater, fridge, stove, and HEAT. It’s pretty efficient, works well, and so easy to use on the go. I get most of my propane from Flying J Truck Stops (get a store directory).

Generator – It’s the portable power that runs your roof A/C when you’re on the road, your microwave (we could get by with a microwave only), and anything that needs a lot of power like a hair dryer. Some folks have inverters (runs off coach batteries) that can do the same…but they eventually have to be recharged.

Plugged in to a land line – That’s when you have the luxury to plug in to someone’s power source. Then everything is easy…although you’ll still need propane for your heater/hot water.

Water – Water is gold in an RV, and I’m Mr. Water Miser. “Don’t let the water run,” I bark at my kids. Here’s the deal: when you’re on the road you conserve. Showers?? Not daily. It’s just too hard…especially when you’re making time. Our trick: We stop at a truck stop, dump our tanks, fill our water tank, take showers right there, and then dump and refill our water tank. Quite the ordeal. Plus now you have a bunch of wet towels to deal with (you can use the dryers in the truck stop if you’d like).

Waste – This is the part no one likes but is so ‘daily.” In fact, a family as large as ours must think about ‘dumping’ every three or four days. You can dump at Flying J’s ($7), Loves ($7), fairgrounds, some rest stops, and even waste water treatment plants.

Here is a state by state guide to free dump-stations.

Do I need to be a ‘Fixer?’

Read this article.