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Frustrations in Buying a New Rig

Just think, my current rig (Ford Econoline van pulling a 21 nominal foot travel trailer) has given me shelter (and massive amounts of storage) 365 days per year for 15 years and for 200,000 miles. The combined cost was $26,000. I would say that I got my money's worth. Call it beginner's luck: I bought these units despite never having slept in an RV before, and despite doing very little homework.

But their respective careers are winding down. Now that I'm only a year-and-a-half away from robbing the piggy bank (IRA withdrawals), it's time to knock the ball out of the park when buying new rigs. And this gives me a chance to play RV Wannabee, instead of RV know-it-all. This time around, homework will be done; I demand significant improvement from myself.

Once again I will be looking for a low cost rig intended for dispersed camping near the desert-grassland/forest interface. This is usually where you can still get an internet signal, have the most variety in the scenery, stay acceptably cool in the summer, minimize transportation expenses to town, maximize dog happiness, and where the best mountain biking starts. The various components of my lifestyle really do fit together perfectly, and I want vehicles that keep it like that. Four wheel drive will remain an unnecessary expense. (A more serious hiker might disagree with that.)

So I'll stick with a two vehicle combination, such as a pickup truck with a CapriCamper on top, pulling a small utility trailer full of bicycles, water jugs, generator and gas can, and perhaps containing the "house" batteries, and even the bathroom.

Option #2 is to stick with an Econoline van, but this time pulling a (self-contained) Carson Kalispell travel trailer, whose box is 6 feet shorter than my current travel trailer, and whose tires are 15 inchers instead of my current ghastly 13 inchers. Also, it will weigh 500 pound less. Ground clearance and easier turn-arounds in the back country will be the main benefits.

Much to my surprise, the "housie" half of the total unit was the easy part. Perhaps this should have been expected; after all, a box is a box. Most of the complexity and maintenance of a total rig pertain to the "motor vehicle" half.

I expected it to be easy to find a pickup truck, since they are so common. I started with Toyota Tacomas. What a shock! It seems that most used Tacomas lack a "towing package." (Transmission lubricant cooler, hitch, connector and wiring, and a couple other things.) Perhaps most original buyers of Tacomas are actually thinking like an SUV buyer, so they omit the towing package. They also want the inside of the truck to have all the amenities of a high end living room. It's terrible to see the pickup truck become suburbanized, but that is the status of pickup trucks these days.

My eyeballs have been strained reading about cupholders, vanity mirrors, alloy rims, 6 disk CD players, four or six speakers, electrochromic mirrors, electric power windows and seats. On and on it goes. There is no cargo bed left to the average pickup these days -- it's all seating. Sigh. If I get a Toyota, I'll probably have to go with a Tundra to get a towing package.

The Ford F series truck is virtually the best selling model of car or truck in North America for decades now. So buying one should be easy. Wrong again.

Considering all the computing power on the internet these days, you'd think that you would go to a standard search engine (,, ebay, yahoo, or Craigslist) and type in your selection, and ka-pow!, all these choices would instantly appear. But it doesn't work like that. Craigslist is the worst. Perhaps this is because entering complete and accurate information into these databases costs money. Or maybe they are more interested in shuffling you off to an insurance or finance company.

This has been very discouraging, and yet look at recent success stories on the blogosphere about people buying older motorhomes with low mileage, all at a great price. This is an example of irrationality and emotionalism on the part of one segment of consumers (the buyers of new motorhomes) creating a marvelous opportunity for shrewder consumers.

Perhaps the moral of the story is that the internet really isn't the place to find a real bargain, and that you should do it the old-fashioned way, looking for distressed sellers advertising a rig with a crude sign in the parking lot.

Ideally I need to find a guy who has screwed the resell value of a two-wheel-drive pickup or van with a towing package, perhaps by chain-smoking; or maybe his 100 pound dog has had an accident or two on the passenger seat; or he spilled a can of paint inside it; or chose an unpopular color. Maybe he parks it every night underneath a mulberry tree that hosts a small flock of birds. I couldn't care less about any of that. But it would drive the price down.


Unknown said…
As I've been looking for my first rig, I've found my mood go from confused to overwhelmed to frustrated to ticked off to determined to hopeful and now.... excited!

Every thing I see gives me a clearer idea of what I do and don't want and every one I talk to helps me learn something new.

Quite an adventure it's turning out to be, I'm having loads of fun, and I hope you have loads of fun in your search too.

Great deals are out there.... just gotta sniff them out. Hey what a great job for Coffee Girl :)
As I have a 2007 - 5.7 Crewmax tundra with 389 hp ..I can tell you the thing is built like a Nazi concrete bunker, when I tow a 7,000 lbs trailer its like a ghost, you can't even tell its hooked up. Towing the loaded trailer it gets 13 mpg city or highway no difference at 55

I would hope to get maybe 300k from that thing. You won't find one cheap because they are built, like I said somewhere between a Nazi concrete bunker and a Leopard tank. I would not trade it for the world even if it got 6 MPG gas and it costs $10 gal. Also I was in death valley at 125 deg and the ac kicks butt when it was new.
Maria, if you are a first time RVer, your biggest difficulty is the chicken or egg syndrome: every rig excels at a certain style of camping, of which there are several. But how can you guess which style of camping you will choose? It might fluctuate quite a bit the first couple years.

If I were you, I would buy something inexpensive and versatile, so you can experiment with different camping styles, and your rig won't absolutely preclude each camping style.

Then sell it.

overthetopcargotrailer, thanks for the comments about the Tundra. I've given up on Tacomas.
Pat said…
I'm sure quite a few trucks will come on the market in the next few months due to Hurricane Isaac. Of course, those are the ones to stay away from. Check the carfax and if it says it was owned down near the bayou, stay away.

You might try reverse prospecting in Craigslist. Put an ad in asking to buy a used truck. I did that for my nephew. Said we only wanted a car that a little old lady drove to church on Sundays. Had to have full service records, yada, yada, yada. Sure enough we bought one from a lady old lady.
Bob Giddings said…
I have had very good luck in Craig's list.

But you've got to get out of the boonies, Boonie. The rigs you want are sitting in people's driveways all over large SW cities. Phoenix, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Dallas. The place to find what you want is far from where you want to use it. Or even to be.

It's slim pickings out in the sticks. And even in the cities it is a matter of taking your time.
Wayne (Wirs) said…
Boonie: I found both my truck and camper on Craigslist, but I used front ends (Craiggers and SearchTempest ) to make the searches easier. Hope they help!

When I got my tundra in 2008 I looked at the smaller truck - they were 90% of the price for 50-60% of the truck - so Tacoma was dead for me too !!! In calif you can get the best deal is in Sacramento the city is in deep doo doo money wise. I got my unit in Vallejo for 36 out the door, now they are 55...INSANE

Hey Maria try building your own... I'm giving you million ideas - complete blue print as I know you read my blog already.
Anonymous said…
Ken from Calif here.

Not knowing anything about your current trailer but reading your statements about it make me wonder why you don't have some larger wheels put on it for more ground clearence?
I would think even if you needed rearched springs to raise the wheelwell clearence you might get another 10 years use from it.

Thanks for the great read.
Bob Giddings said…
I can offer a little advice on pickups, since I just sold and bought one. The sold pickup was a 2000 Ford F250 V10 4WD. It did everything I asked it to do for 11 years, and got a consistent 11 mpg. Might vary 10 % when I added on a 7000 lb trailer. It cost me $27500 new, and I sold it for $6000. I never had ANY trouble with it in 160K miles, other than normal wear items.

The new truck is a 2011 half ton Dodge Hemi 4WD, bought new 6 months ago. It now has about 8000 miles on it. The mileage is very inconsistent. Cruising empty I have gotten up to 19 mpg. It has some sort of trick where it switches into only 4 cylinders when driving very carefully empty. Normally I get about 14 overall. Loaded down with a 4000 lb trailer, I get 8-10. Once in Kansas, pulling that trailer into a headwind at 70 mpg, I got 7. It has plenty of power, but it sucks gas when you ask for it. I never got that bad a mileage in the Ford. The Ford V10 didn't care what you loaded on it, it got 10 or 11. Very consistent, empty or loaded. And completely dependable. I probably should have kept it, but every 11 years or so I go crazy.

The upside of the Dodge? Well, it's new. And it only cost $21500. I hope to get 10 years out of it, but who knows. The Ford was the best truck I ever owned, but I didn't want to shell out $40K for a new one. Also they don't make that engine any more.

So there's a couple of data points. Good luck.

Ken, people who have conventional steel leaf springs and axles can remount the axles above the springs for a few more inches of ground clearance. But that does affect the stress and strain in the frame, so it invalidates your frame warranty; you also need to inspect the frame for damage on a regular basis.

Unfortunately my trailer frame and axles were of the "intelligent" Euro Green design which precludes such an easy "lift job". My axles are welded to the frame, so they had to be cut free and rewelded to effect a lift job. It was an expensive adjustment but I got 2.5 inches higher that way. I need more.

overthetopcargotrailer, you've got me convinced to start search Tundras from now on.
Ed said…

Your right about the problems with 'flipping' the axles. Brian at Going RV Boondocking just recently found a cracked spring hanger.

Good luck with your truck search. I'll keep my eyes open for a Tundra.
Anonymous said…
Good luck on the hunt, Boonie.
I like the pickup/camper idea... then pull a small cargo trailer. Put 4 12 volt jacks on the camper and unload your home... that frees up the pickup for fun or grocery trips. That worked well for us.
Anonymous said…
Hi Boonie,

As you know, I shudder at the thought of anyone purchasing a Ford, but if you DO go for a Ford pick-up, avoid the ones with Triton engines. Mechanics cringe when they see one of those pull into the shop's parking lot. They've got issues.

Another piece of info I recently discovered is that Tacoma's don't get much better gas mileage than the Tundras. I was surprised. Personally, I love driving Tacomas over Tundras, but the smart choice would be the Tundra.

If you decide against Toyota, I'd recommend a GMC or Chevy pick-up over a Ford any day. I can't stress this enough: Ford engineers are the absolute worse.

As for searching online for a vehicle, it takes time when you are very specific. Check every day, or several times a day if you can. You'll eventually get what you need, I'm sure.

Good luck!
Johnny, I DO take your advice seriously and I appreciate your comments. Consider how much more useful they are likely to be than mere anecdotes and untechnical hearsay from an average consumer!

I'm leaning towards another van to pull a smaller travel trailer, this time a Carson Kalispell. The storage capacity/convenience is drastically superior in a van compared to a pickup, even one with a tall $2000 cap. It's the capabilities of the van that ENABLE one to be comfortable in a small travel trailer. RVers seem not to understand that.

So if you spook me away from a newer Ford Econoline van, my only choice is the Chevy Express. How would you compare the Chevy Express van to the Ford Econoline?

Sprinters have been discontinued and/or are too expensive.
Bob Giddings said…
I can't compare the two vans, but I know someone who hauls a trailer with the Chevy Express. She might be able to give you some pertinent info:

Anonymous said…
How about those Nissan high-top vans? -b-
Anonymous said…
Also wondered if any opinions on standard vs automatic transmissions. I've always driven standards. It seems the automatics add complexity and cost, but I haven't seen any late model vans with standards. Trucks are still being produced with manuals. -b-
b, wow! I thought you made a typo with the nissan high top vans, but you're right! The NV cargo van is new for 2012. It's fun reading the reviews. It will be a few years before there is a good inventory of used ones, of course.

Since I'm interested in towing, a manual transmission sounds dreadful. Imagine even getting hitched up on hill, or doing a 15 point turnaround, again, on a hill.

The newer trucks and vans include traction control, which seems quite useful as a poor man's 4 wheel drive. I assume that it is only available on automatic transmissions.
John W. said…
For a more robust, lightening fast CL (and all others auto site including ebay) search use Auto Tempest:

Non automotive use: :

Have you thought of a used Mercedes Benz
/ Sprinter / Dodge van in the 250K mileage range? They come standard w/auto trans and 5000# tow capacity. Get one that some contractor "used". Keep it empty for the bikes & Dogs, get 21MPG, and tug a 17" fiberglass Casita. Guy named "bobinyelm" over on swears this is the best combo going. His fixed base I believe is in TX. Good luck, John
John Wells, I haven't thought too much of the Sprinter van because it is orphaned and overpriced.

"250 K mileage range?" Are you kidding? That's too many miles.

I have looked into Casitas a bit.
1. I like their light weight of course. But they are marginal for a full timer who is just under 6 feet tall.
2. Those uninsulated walls are a turn-off. (And don't tell me a quarter inch of indoor/outdoor carpeting glued to the walls counts as "insulation.") How do you even mount furring strips inside without putting a through-hole through that fiberglass skin?
3. Aren't they overpriced for what they are? Most units that are "cute" in some way are usually overpriced. (Consider how the RV wife's brain works!) I am the kind of no-nonsense consumer who won't pay a nickel extra for cuteness or style.
-b- said…
I don't know if you've ever read Shalyard's blog. He's a boondocker with a Casita and wants something different. I'm not sure what all his reasons are, but I believe insulation is one and losing rivets getting into tight spots is another. -b-