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Subject:  Re: Considering an RV Date:  5/12/2012  1:16 AM
Author:  warrl Number:  2256 of 2369

My wife and I are considering getting an RV in the next 3 to 5 years for an extended vacation (maybe a couple if we really like it). Growing up, her family used their trailer for many trips, so she'd like to get back into that. I've never done much RVing, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Our plan is to take an extended vacation - 6 to 10 weeks - and travel around the country, with an emphasis on things east of the Mississippi, as that is farther from us and has lots of places we haven't seen. We'd probably set up in one spot for a couple of days, visit the local sites, then move on to the next place.

We've done many driving vacations - that's our preferred way to vacation - but have always stayed in hotels or with friends/family. But for a long vacation like this, that can get expensive in a hurry.

So can driving an RV. We rarely drive as much as 200 miles in a day, but I figure that every day we move the RV costs $100 (vehicle costs & space rental) whereas a day we don't move the RV is almost always under $30 and frequently under $20.

(If you were talking about renting an RV then I would say to fly, or take your van and drive every day, to somewhere interesting east of the Mississippi; and then pick up an RV there. You would of course reserve that RV somewhat earlier.)

If you can arrange things so that you stay in one campground for a week at a time, that usually will help lower the (average) overnight rate; a month is even better. But details vary.

Oh, and stay away from KOA campgrounds and parks with "Resort" or "Motorcoach" in the name. They tend to be priced like hotels. And not cheap hotels.

Memberships: Passport America and Good Sam's strongly recommended; Camping World may be a good idea too. All three can be bought at Camping World. All others are optional, most of them in the same sense that sauerkraut is optional on chocolate ice cream. (For fulltimers I also recommend Escapees, particularly if using a Texas mail-forwarding service as your mailing address is viable for you... but I am not convinced it's a good deal for vacationers.)

My thought is to tow our minivan and carry his wheelchair there.

Since you need a small (compared to a motorhome big enough for three) vehicle that can carry the wheelchair, and your minivan is probably already equipped with a lift or ramp for it, this is a good possibility to consider.

First check if your minivan is four-wheel towable. Otherwise you'll need at least a tow dolly (lifts two wheels off the ground) and possibly a flatbed trailer (your minivan would be parked on the trailer).

If your minivan is still under warranty and you want to keep it that way, the manufacturer is the definitive answer on whether it's towable - and if they don't say, the default answer is no.

Otherwise, check as there are quite a few vehicles that require no modification but the manufacturer hasn't signed on. Unfortunately, there are also some vehicles that require several modification$ to make towable.

Then there is the question of weight.

Go look at the door jambs on the van. On one of them, probably the driver's door, you'll find a plate that lists - among quite a few other things - the van's Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). Now load up the van as it will be when you're driving it, including with your son's wheelchair, and find a place you can weigh it. The state of Washington and several other states leave state-run highway weigh-station scales turned on when the weigh stations are closed, so anyone who wants to check weight can do so for free. Or maybe there's a weigh station that is open but not very busy and will unofficially weigh you in order to have something to do. (Avoid being officially weighed. If you're overweight, they may feel obligated to cite you. Or demand that you fix it on the spot.) If necessary, pay. You have ONE question here: is the weight of the vehicle, as loaded, less than the GVWR? If not, there's a problem; find a way to fix it. If you're good, then assume the fully loaded vehicle will weigh the GVWR.

Now you want a motorhome with a GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating) bigger than its GVWR by at least the GVWR of your minivan. Ask the dealer to show you the rating plate on the motorhome BEFORE you sign anything committing you to buy it.

Some "Super C" motorhomes may have the towing capacity, but you have a better chance with a Class A.

Next is braking. Trailer brakes are legally required on all trailers over a certain GVWR which I don't know offhand, and your van counts as a trailer when it's being towed. There are devices (some intended to be permanently installed, some easily removable) designed to fit into a towed car and respond to either momentum changes or brake-light current by applying the towed car's brakes. With one of these installed, your motorhome will stop BETTER while towing the van than without the van. I believe I've read that Canadian customs is in the habit of checking for the presence of one of these devices on cars being towed behind motorhomes, and not letting people into the country if they don't have it.

Expect to spend a couple thousand on a good quality towing rig to connect the minivan to the motorhome. DO NOT accept a ball hitch. Stock spare locking pins. (The locking pins do not take any load; they simply make sure the load-bearing parts don't bounce out of place.)

There also needs to be a place to connect a cable from the motorhome to the minivan, to power such things as lights.

One other bit of advice: if the instructions for prepping your minivan to be towed include pulling any fuses, make sure you have a spare of each pulled fuse in the glovebox (which means that if you pull two identical fuses, you stock two identical spares). If you do this, you will never need those spare fuses; if you don't, you'll lose or blow at least one.

Now for the motorhome, you have a few things you must specifically look for. One is that there are sufficient seats that are passenger-rated, which among other things requires seatbelts. Another is that there is a good place for your son to sleep; since he's in a wheelchair I doubt that a bunk above the cockpit will work. And another is the toilet facilities. Be sure to look at them (and particularly the ability to get TO them) both with any slides extended and with all slides pulled in.
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