February 2, 2007
Volume 35
Issue 05
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Tuesday, Dec 01, 2020



RV basics
RV basics
by Rev. Barbara Allen, CMP - SGN Contributing Writer

For many of us the world, words and structures of boating, or RV'ing are foreign. To briefly clarify, I offer the following summary, which will be followed by my personal observations and prejudices.

The letters "RV" are an abbreviation for "recreational vehicle," a unit built for land use exclusively, self contained with it's own mobile power source (engine), or towed, or carried on a truck. Personally, I'd ad that a primary motivation for having an RV is usually wanting to have fun, recreate in comfort, adventure, as a business convenience, or to live in full time as a travelable home. RV's come in a variety of shapes, sizes, types, and may range in price from a few thousand dollars to over a million each.

Towables are designed to be towed behind a motorized vehicle such as a car, van, or truck. These units usually have sleeping, cooking, and dining fittings, and may include toilets, kitchens, electrical and water systems, or modern appliances.

Conventional travel trailers are towed behind a vehicle by means of a hitching arrangement usually welded to the frame or attached to the rear bumper. Today, they come with all the amenities and some folks live in them full time, in one place, or traveling throughout the Americas -- with entertainment centers, microwaves, comfortable beds, dining and kitchen areas, and bathrooms with showers. They're usually between 12 and 35 feet in length, some may be smaller, some larger, depending upon what's pulling them and licensing requirements. These are the most popular RV types in North America.

Camper canopies are rigid canopies that are attached to the bed of a pickup truck, but do not extend further than the back bumper. Campers may use these for weekend bunkhouses, but there's no headroom for standing up, and no amenities beyond a place to throw a mattress. They're more like small caves.

Fifth wheels are trailers with a raised forward section that slides into a large metal receiver mounted in the bed of a pickup truck. The forward area rides over the truck bed and may overhang the cab in front as well. They're "towed" by trucks properly equipped for this type of unit and are said to be more easily maneuvered in reverse than trailers.

Folding Camping Trailers are usually lightweight units with collapsible sidewalls, canvas or rigid construction, which need to be opened or set up before being usable. They may contain many of the amenities found in small trailers, usually at a lower cost, and don't need as much muscle from their tow vehicle.

Slide-on Campers are not towed, but instead slide onto the bed of a pickup truck, from which they can be removed by using specialized jacks. A slide-on is secured to the chassis of a pickup truck. Many have similar amenities to trailers. Slide on or out's can be occupied when on their jacks but not on any truck bed, carefully. (One of the first things I learned from RV awareness classes was that this is the rig most likely to roll over because it's top heavy.)

These are self-propelled units which provide complete daily living quarters that are readily accessible -- whether parked or in motion -- from and to the drivers area. Motorhomes are the only vehicles under state law in which passengers may move about while under way, sleep, dine, and go to the toilet. Riding in a travel trailer or other non-self-powered unit while under way is prohibited. One of the advantages to motorhomes is that those aboard can take turns driving or sleeping, covering lots of miles in a day or so.

Motorhomes fall into several categories:

Class A Motorhomes are built on a specifically designed motor vehicle chassis and usually offer more living comforts than any other RV group. Some pricier units contain washers, dryers, dishwashers, ice makers, home theater, and wet bars, etc. The bigger and more equipped come at a price, up to a million dollars, or more. Others are a good buy.

Class B Motorhomes are a panel-type truck, to which manufacturers add various standard and optional living conveniences. A roof extension might provide enough headroom. They can be claustrophobia inducing for some.

Class C Motorhomes are close to Class A's in standard and optional amenities, with a van like front leading to a class A type rear.

Van Conversions may be manufactured by an automaker, or converted by handy owners or third party contractors, and may be the first choice RV for new buyers who use it for day trips, with occasional weekends, and trysts, but do seek the amenities found in other RV's.

These are general guides. There are many varieties within each group. Consider carefully what you know you want to do with an RV, as well as what you'd do if you had the right one, and, who you might be traveling with. Some vehicles have more storage space and amenities than others. Motorhomes do not make good mileage per gallon, nor do trucks carrying or towing RV's. Some smaller RV's get better mileage than others.

I've had canopies, trailers, and two type A's. My personal preference is for type A's.

THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW Regardless of what type you seek, understand that financially none of them are a good financial investment. They will do nothing but depreciate in dollar value. However, they may contribute to wonderful adventures and fond memories. Most of them also make great emergency shelters for their families. If power and, therefore, heat and electricity go out in your home for a while, your RV is equipped with propane gas heat, refrigerator, and a 12V lighting system, can provide light, heat, and cooking facilities. It helps to keep a limited but thoughtful pantry on board for such times, and make sure that the toilet facilities are ready for use, and that there's water in the fresh water tank for drinking, washing, and flushing.

While my Southwind had exterior accessed storage, she drove badly and didn't have much power. My GMC has limited storage space inside and none outside except the pod on the roof. But, she drives like a conventional station wagon and has everything I need and nothing I don't need. Self-contained, she has a fresh water holding tank and hot water heater, three burner gas range, microwave oven, built in quadraphonic sound with speakers front and rear, gas or electric operable refrigerator, two roof air conditioners, a small bath room with a "dry" shower.

The bathroom now has a state of the art SeaLand porcelain toilet with spray, small sink, small medicine cabinet, and separate stand-up shower stall with curtain and sitting bench. The front seats can pivot for conversation when not under way, the dining area seats 4 on two bench seats, but can convert quickly into a comfortable bed for one adult, or two who are very friendly. A virtue of the GMC's as well as a drawback, is their panoramic windows. This looks great from the outside, but limits overhead cabinet storage. There's one tiny closet for hanging things. In short, Mariah has everything you need, if you travel light, and nothing you don't need. Part of her plumbing includes a combined gray water and septic holding tank, which, if used, needs to be dumped in an appropriate, legal, receptacle and, meanwhile, treated with chemicals to avoid mal-odor. Most RV's offer sleeping, cooking, refrigeration, propane, water tank, holding tank(s).

You've seen what she looks like. She suits me, but some day I might need to consider something smaller, which would not be able to tow a car behind, under 21 feet in length, that could be driven in a city or town. Vehicles Mariah's size and larger cannot readily maneuver in small spaces, but vans and smaller motorhomes (under 21') can.

I personally would hesitate to do the ALCAN in a pop-up tent trailer that any of the local wildlife (hungry bears, caribou, elk, or moose) could enter or slash through easily. I'd also hesitate to be in an RV that didn't have it's own indoor plumbing. Ever ventured forth into the night heading for a toileting place and encountered a bear or two in the dark, or skunk?

So, if you're at the age and stage where you seek comfort in adventure, think RV, not necessarily new, but consider your needs and the possible advantage of having one as a "guest facility", or emergency shelter. Do your research, don't rush blindly into it.

Take the time to visualize daily use of the unit, including hooking it up to electricity, water, septic, and unhooking it. Go through all of the procedures and see how convenient they are with the equipment you're considering. Get a mechanic or professional to survey the unit for hidden problems, dry rot, whatever, unless you're already proficient at such things.

If it's a brand new vehicle, be aware that not all are equal, some have too long an overhang in back behind the rear wheels and others may not be well constructed. Find out what warranty is offered and if it's good throughout the USA. Be sure to ask where warranty service providers are located?

Have whoever is selling the vehicle demonstrate how things work and make sure they work properly, before paying or signing a contract.

Once you've got your RV, properly equip it for your needs so that if you want to travel -- if only for a weekend -- you can do so at almost a moments notice and without having to pack suitcases. This means having basic shelf stable foods on board, clothing, extra parts which might be needed, and first aid kit, etc. Beds should be made and have their proper bedding. The on-board fresh water tank should be full of fresh potable water to drink, or for washing.

My next article will deal with preparing for a journey over land and sea of 8,500 miles and getting under way.

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