The RV fun continues. Or when will it start?

When I left off, I was taking the coach into get some routine maintenance done as well as get the alternator checked out. $2,000 later, we have it back home safe and sound with everything working. Everything except the toilet that is. So still no big trips for us.

I took it into the local Detroit Diesel service center to get some proper work done. On the way there, the engine died on me several times. 5 if I remember correctly. Not happy times. I finally nursed it there. As I mentioned before, the oil change on the engine was just shy of $300. While it was in, I had them change all the filters and also do the same for the generator to make sure all the important stuff was up to snuff. I also had them check the air brake system to make sure everything there was safe. And of course I had them try to determine why my engine died so many times on the way there. Good news is, the brakes looked good and the oil and filter changes went off without a hitch. Bad news is the alternator was shot. As was 3 of the 4 batteries. Yeah, the batteries the place we bought it from replaced with “reman” units. What a bunch of crap. For 2 chassis batteries and 1 house battery it cost me just over $500. The engine dying was apparently due to the alternator issue. When voltage drops too far there is a solenoid that shuts off the fuel.

After the shop had it for a week, we got the call at 4:00 a.m. (my fault, I told a 24 hour service shop that any time was fine to call) saying the coach was ready to be picked up. We went in and got it at 6:00. Started up fine. Drove it home. Let it idle in the driveway for a bit while we tried to decide if we wanted to take it on a 600 mile trip in a couple hours. We decide to chance it. So I took it over to Costco for some diesel. I turn it off, and go to get fuel. I still hear an engine running. And it’s not the guy next to me. So I walk around to see if it is on the other side of the coach. Nope, it’s my engine running. And the key is in my hand. Awesome. I go inside and try dicking with the key. It won’t shut off. Screw it, I’ll just fill up and use the main battery switch to kill it. Works on the racecar anyway. I call the place that fixed it. They want me to bring it back right away so they can fix it. OK, fine. Trip is off I guess. At least taking this on the trip.

I get back there and the engine won’t die. Even when the main battery switch is turned off. Took it in because the engine was dying, now I can’t kill it. They fixed it a bit too well. They spent an hour trying to figure it out until I told them I need to leave town and told them to keep it as long as they need it to fix it right.

Fast forward a week, turns out the alternator they got was wired a bit different than the one Country Coach uses normally. So they fixed it. Now it seems to work great. The thing drives amazing. Can’t wait to get it on the road for a real trip. However, there is still the toilet issue. It turns out the toilet is an electric porcelain toilet. No shitty (pun intended) plastic RV toilet in this mansion on wheels. Problem is, there is a plastic disc that operates the flap. The thing is cracked all the way through. We tried super-gluing it together and putting it back in. It just snapped again. So I ordered a new one. The company that makes the toilet is not far away, in California. They won’t sell to me, I have to go to their dealer in New Jersey. That stupid 2” diameter flat plastic disc with a setscrew is $28 shipped. Holy crap! $0.10 of plastic, $0.05 of setscrew, and $0.50 of shipping for the low low price of just $30. Uggghh. Hopefully that is the last of our issues.

Oh, BTW, I don’t know if I mentioned our water flow issue before, but we had no water flowing out of the kitchen sink and shower. Turns out they were just clogged with garbage. Cleaned them out and they work fine. We will still get new ones eventually anyway, but not until all issues are fixed.

The RV Adventures Continue:

One of the reasons I started this category was so that people new to RV buying could learn from my mistakes and find out exactly what purchasing and owning a used motor home entails. I think today’s post is the beginning of a possible series of these lessons.

The 3 things to cover this time:

  1. Preparing for the first trip
  2. The voyage to the destination
  3. The voyage home

First of all there is the preparing. We bought all the things we thought we needed to stock the motor home up one. Cups, utensils, drinking water, camping chairs, etc. Then came time to fill the fresh water tank. I put the hose in the fill hole, and turned on the water. After a minute or so, water was overflowing somewhere around the center line of the coach. I assumed because it was full. Of note: the gauge inside showed the fresh water tank was full before I even started, but the warning voice thing tells me the fresh water supply is empty. So there is some sort of discrepancy already. At this point I go inside and turn on the water pump to test the sink. Nothing. I got a tiny drizzle for about a second. That’s it. Keep in mind, the dealer supposedly checked all this out. Well, at this point there was a noise outside the wife noticed that turned out to be some pipe near the water heater that had a plug removed. We turned off the pump and screwed the plug into the pipe and turned on the pump again. Still nothing. Well, this trip is just a day trip and we can go without water this time. So I will dig through the owner’s manual and see if I can find out what I am doing wrong. This topic is to be continued another time…

Second is the voyage North. For this trip we went a whopping 50 miles or so from home to an autocross. This was one of our main reasons for getting a motor home was to take kids with us to these races and have a place for them to hang out. I got in the motor home and started it idling for a bit since it essentially won’t run until it is warmed up due to the ECU cutting almost all power until water is up to temp. I get in, back it out of the driveway, and pull up to the stop sign in front of my house. There is this annoying beeping noise. It does this if something is not in travel ready condition. I looked all over, made sure the slide-out was fully retracted. Made sure the steps were in and the door was shut fully. Made sure there was no warning lights anywhere. Tried turning off the coach and restarting. Tried running the generator. Tried turning off the house battery. Nothing made it go away. Don’t want to be late for the race, let’s just go. Hopefully the noise will stop. Well, about 5 miles from home, I stop at a stop light, light goes green, I step on the throttle. The engine died. I tried restarting it and on the 4th time it finally fired back up, the noise was gone, and she ran fine all the way to the destination. Curious. I asked some people when I got home what it could have been, nobody had any clue. My best uneducated guess is that maybe the glow plugs were stuck on and got cylinder temps high enough it detonated and the ECU shut me down. Hell, to be honest I don’t even know for sure that the 40e even has glow plugs. I assume it does.

And lastly, the voyage home. After the race, I loaded up the kids, pulled the slide-out in, started the engine. That noise did not come back. Everything worked great while we were there. Except for the water of course. Just after I got on the freeway, the little voice tells me there is an alternator charge failure. Oh, this is great. Bitch couldn’t tell me this like 100 yards earlier before I got on the freeway. I looked down and saw that the tach bounced a couple times then went to zero. I can’t think of a lot of things running off the chassis battery other than maybe some lights, and the ECU, so maybe it will last. I kept an eagle eye on that voltage gauge. Normally, it would run at about 13V. But it was sitting at 12V, sometimes dropping to 11.5 then coming back to 12. Once I got off the freeway, when I would stop at a light, the voltage would drop to 11 at every light and slowly come back up to 12 while I drove. The little voice repeated herself every several minutes reminding me that my demise was inevitable. But she made it home without much drama (other than me stopping for a red light and locking up brakes, next time I will just run it if I have that much time). I plugged in the battery tender and it is keeping the battery good for now. I checked the belts, they are super tight, I assume that is normal for this big of an engine, but again, I don’t actually know. Just add it to the list of things I am learning by becoming a long haul trucker overnight J

Now my plans are to learn more about the water system by reading the owner’s manual in more detail. And I can do this while my coach sits at a service center getting once over. I know the dealer supposedly did it, but I don’t know how much I trust them. So I am taking it to a place that works on semi-trucks primarily, but is authorized by aftermarket warranty companies to do coach work. They also happen to be the state’s Detroit Diesel service center. I will have them do an oil change since I have no clue when it was done last. I will have them check out the alternator. And lastly I will have them just give the drive train a quick inspection to make sure all is well in Country Coach land. Oh, another thought for the new guys; the oil change on this sucker is about $260. This seemed a bit high until I did some research and it looks like this engine requires 30 quarts of oil. That’s right, almost 8 GALLONS of that black gold. I guess $260 isn’t that bad after all.

On a side note for new guys that are thinking of doing the insane like me and jumping from never having owned a motor home to owning a 40’ diesel pushing monster coach. She drove like a dream. So smooth. So quiet. So easy to keep in the lane. But braking an air brake chassis after racing a 3,000 lb car on race pads, can cause for some missteps / miscalculations. I will leave it at that, but mention, be careful when braking a behemoth like this.

BTW, the race went well, I got second in class if you care. Woot woot!

You can find previous posts in this series here:

Changes to format

WordPress decided to go and change the way media is put into my posts sometime in the last few months. I would have noticed this earlier if I would have posted more regularly, but I didn’t, so it went unnoticed. It is less automated now and I was having trouble finding their replacement method to make it consistent with my previous format. I have since discovered that they pretty much have no replacement method other than kicking it old school and manually adding a link to the photos.

What this means: Pictures are back to appearing smaller, but clickable for the larger version to open in a new window just as they were before. What their change was doing was taking my 1920×1080 pictures and scaling them to fit the width of the post. So, I went back a few posts and updated them with the new older format. So no real updates here, just cosmetic.

RV Adventures Continued

Our new behemoth has finally made it home. After almost 3 weeks of waiting after we purchased it, it has finally come home. Not without issue though…

The dealer we bought it from delivered it to our house to make up for the wait we went through. We spent the night cleaning it up and loading all of our vacation stuff in it. We ran the generator the whole time and made sure things were still working. Our new secondary home was being made to feel more like its designated role.

Country Coach-1-2

The Behemoth. 1998 Country Coach Magna 40′

The next morning, we went out to play with it again and discovered the batteries were dead. The main switch was off for the chassis battery, but it was down to 8V. I threw the 50a Harbor Freight battery charger and it got the batteries enough charge to turn the engine, but not start it. Meanwhile that super high quality charger started to smell like it was on fire. The batteries were only up to 10.5v, so I unhooked it from the battery.

It turns out the batteries that were “checked” were bad. At least 3 of the 4 batteries were. So the dealer sent a guy out to replace them for us. We spent the remainder of the day shoveling snow to make room to try getting this monster into the back yard to avoid any possible neighbor aggro. I know this thing is one heavy bugger, so we figured our best chance was to wait until morning when the  ground might be frozen and have a bit more strength thereby giving us the best chance of making it to the backyard without getting stuck or screwing up the grass.

So, the next morning rolls around and we make the move. And fail miserably. It turns out to get the proper line from our driveway I would need to remove a tree to make the turn. And of course the frozen ground didn’t help much. So we ended up with three inch deep troughs across our grass and one sprinkler head sunk well into the ground. So our next adventure is coming up with a solution to our parking issue. Meanwhile our new toy is parked at a property owned by the wife’s family that they use for parking such things. And it will likely stay there until we come up with a solution for the house.

Country Coach-1

The Behemoth. 1998 Country Coach Magna 40′

Lessons learned: Dealers don’t always check everything they say they did. 30,000 lbs empty is too much for a lawn, even if the dirt under that lawn is mostly gravel. A 40′ coach has a LOT of storage space that needs to be cleaned prior to filling it up.

Until our next installment…

Short Motorhome Update:

Well, during the systems checks, there was an issue found with the furnace in our Country Coach. It had air in the diesel line. To fix it, they had to drop the fuel tank which, if I remember correctly was about 3/4 full putting it at about 75 gallons or so. Then there was an issue with some coil in the heater so they have ordered a new part for that. Today they say we will have it tomorrow, but we have heard that a few times now.
On one hand, it makes me feel good that they are being thorough. On the other hand, it concerns me that it has been almost 3 weeks since we bought it and it has been in the shop the whole time.
On a side note, our weekend plans fell through so we don’t have to have the motorhome as soon as we anticipated.
We went crazy buying all the weird necessities for the motorhome this week. Things like drinking water hose, fuses, water pressure regulator, 50a-30a power adapter, etc… So since we don’t have the coach yet, we just have a huge pile of stuff for it in the kitchen and foyer. Not excited at all are we? Alas, the adventures have yet to begin.

Fixing up the Motorhome

So we bought the coach 2 weeks ago. We still have not taken possession of it. I don’t know if it is common practice in the world of motorhome purchasing, but after we bought our coach, they wanted a week to go through it, do a systems check, clean it up, do the emissions and safety stuff. We also had them add an awning during this time.

As it turns out, it took a little over a week for the awning to arrive. Also, we had made a short list of things that needed looked at like locks on storage doors, and the back-up camera. Well, during the systems check the hydraulic motor (I assume the electric motor that drives the hydraulic pump) went out and they needed to replace it. I am glad it happened on their dime, not ours, but it delayed getting to take our coach home.

The wife was itching to work on it, so the first weekend after we bought it we went down and pulled 3 panels out of the bedroom area. They were this terrible mauve color. One of the things showing its age in there. So we threw them in the truck, took them home, and got to work.

Here is what the panels looked like stock:

Before-1

Factory panes

One panel was the headboard for the bed. The other 2 were on the walls. We went down to the local fabric shop and found enough material to do the headboard and maybe some throw pillows out of the brownish grey faux leather. But there was not enough to do all 3 panels. We were unable to find anything we liked that complimented the brownish grey so we went home to see what we had in storage. Luckily, the wife had some leftover material from a previous project that looked great. Catch is, it has stripes. And stripes are pretty critical for alignment. But I think we did OK:

After-1

Factory panes

Those studs on the leather piece are a brushed stainless decorative nail. That really will no go with anything in the coach just yet. But some day, all that brass will be changed or covered.

BTW, tomorrow is the day we are supposed to finally go pick up our new to us Country Coach. So maybe I will be able to get some decent pictures of it.

RV Adventures Volume 2, Narrowing Down The Search:

Last time I discussed where we were at prior to choosing an RV. And some of the priorities we had for said RV. In this installment, I will discuss our budget and experiences shopping around and maybe even some lessons learned through that process.

Budget: Our budget actually changed several times during our shopping. At first it was dependent upon the age of the vehicle. Then it came down to whether or not we were going to finance it. Then we finally settled on a monthly budget. I of course had some input on the budget, but really it was mostly on the wife. She recently paid off some of her vehicles which put her in a position of being able to afford to have some fun. So when we first started looking, I asked her how we planned to pay for it. Her response was “I’ll pay for it; you pay for the fuel and insurance.” OK, sounds great to me. But that is why the budget fell mostly to her. And in the end, what we finally decided on was $350 per month, plus or minus a bit.

It turns out, that the price of the vehicle will determine how much and for how long you can finance. The older it is, the shorter you can finance easily. At the same time, once you go over $25,000 purchase price, the length of the loan increases. Also, as the length of the loan increases, so does the interest rate. And, once you get to a certain point, which honestly did not seem to be a consistent number, you can go with a balloon payment which I hear used to be a popular option on houses. Basically, your payment is sized for a 12 year loan, but you only pay on it for 7 years then have a 5 year balloon you have to pay at the end. And again, depending on age, price, quality, or number of birds in the air, that balloon loan type can be 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, or others I’m sure.

As I mentioned in the previous post, we eliminated the class B motorhomes from the very beginning. They were too small, not enough power to tow, and insanely expensive. At the same time, we eliminated diesel class C motorhomes from our search since those appear to all be based on semi-truck chassis and even when 10 years old, they are still bringing in north of six figures. And not too far into our search, I mostly eliminated any class A motorhome with gas engines unless they had the 8.1L GM engine, as that thing seemed to be the best for power and reliability. And if we got a motorhome, it would need to tow the racecar.

Pretty much from the beginning, we also eliminated trailers. We had looked at some before, but without the ability to tow the car, they just are not what we wanted. Therefore, that leaves us with class A diesel, a narrow allowance of class A gas, and class C gas motorhomes. Given our decided on budget of $350 per month, that still left us with a wide array of price ranges to consider given the variety of finance options available to us. I figured setting a budget would help us narrow our search. It did not. We did have a mental threshold we did not want to exceed, even if we could get it and stay in budget, just because the large numbers involved, knowing you have that much debt can make you nervous. So, we tried to be as frugal as we could as this was something we would have in the family for years to come.

We started out by looking at a class C rental that they fix a bit and sell. These are newer units with extremely high mileage. The ones we saw were 2011’s with 130,000+ miles on them. I balked at the 130,000 miles on a gas engine, but the interiors on these looked great for the mileage they have endured. With the V-10 engine on the Ford E-450 chassis, they are rated to tow 3,500 lbs. which is barely enough for our car, but may be sufficient if we decide to go that way. But a 130,000 mile transmission concerns me when towing. They are available in 23’ – 29’ and go for about $30,000. People were trying to sell these same things that were 5 years older for the same and more money. So on the plus side, if we go this route, we likely would not lose a ton of money provided the drivetrain didn’t bleed us dry keeping it going. The smaller versions of these were on the E-350 chassis with the V8 and are only rated to tow 2,500 lbs. That eliminated all E-350 chassis class C motorhomes from our shopping list. Great, we have at least made some progress.

Next we looked at older class C motorhomes that we figured we could pay cash for and not worry about financing. This obviously put us well below our previous budget. It also provided some disgusting vehicles to choose from. My wife likes a project. And I like her to have a project. But some of these old ones are really gross and I don’t want to breathe the air they contain. And due to the disgusting factor, old and cheap was thereafter eliminated from the search, more progress.

That brings us to the discussion about dealers. There are big chains, that used to be privately owned and now they appear to all be part of the Camping World conglomerate. And there are small private dealers of varying levels of virtue. We went to one small dealer that was so tightly packed in to their small lot that it would take an hour of maneuvering to test drive any of their vehicles, the grounds reeked of cigarette smoke, and their knowledge of the motorhomes seemed very limited. We went to one small dealer that we had to drive an hour to go see, online their inventory seemed vast. Once we got there we found out nothing they list online is actually available for sale, even things they relisted just minutes after leaving their lot. Very dishonest place there in American Fork, which claims to be the biggest used motorhome dealer in the state yet didn’t have a single one for us to see unless we were in the market for a $250,000 land yacht. We went to a couple of the big dealers which had amazing machines if you are looking for new, but their used selection was somewhat limited. One lesson learned there though, is never pay sticker. While shopping for a used car you figure offering $2,000 below asking is an OK starting point, maybe $4,000. Without even trying to negotiate at the big dealers they were dropping the price $12,000, $15,000. And that’s before we said we were even interested in the product. Unfortunately, the ones they had, even after dropping almost $20,000 off the price were just too much for us.

Early on in our search we looked at a diesel pusher at a small dealer that was just under 36’, gets good mileage, was on a Spartan air chassis, and appeared to fit our needs. It was one of the first ones we looked at so we dismissed it knowing we wanted to shop around. Well, everything we saw after that seemed to be worse in several ways. So after shopping around for a few weeks, we went back and drove it. What a disappointment. It had the 5.9L Cummins. The same one Dodge trucks have. It had an Allison transmission that was only 5 speeds and is about the smallest they offer in motorhomes. And it just wasn’t enough for that big motorhome. It felt like I had to be full throttle all the time just to maintain the speed limit. The waiting continues, but at least we know now that we don’t want a diesel pusher with that small of an engine. I think it was rated at just 260 HP and 500 lb-ft torque. A little more progress made.

Throughout this process I had been consulting with my dad as he has had experience in the diesel industry and had a big gas motorhome at one point and countless trailers in one form or another. After a little more waiting a new listing showed up at the place that had that first one we looked at. This time a 36 foot Country Coach Magna. I did some checking and it sounded like Country Coach made some good stuff. I called up my dad to see what he thought and he seemed surprised that I could find one for the price we were looking at. He basically made it sound like Country Coach is the best of the best. And this bad boy has the 330 HP Detroit Diesel Series 40e engine (this is a re-branded Navistar DT-466) with 1050 lb-ft torque in it with a 6 speed Allison transmission designed to handle at least 1600 lb-ft of torque. This thing is a beast, I must see it. It was a little more money than the other diesel pusher we drove and it was a couple years older, but appeared to be a whole different class of coach. Yes, at this stage we will pretend we are elite and dealing with a coach instead of a motorhome even though the terms are interchangeable and those that says they aren’t are typically douchebags with no friends. Looking online at the same model and year, this one was priced on the very low end of what was available.

So we go drive it. It is very nice. As anticipated, it was in a whole different category. It drove and rode like a quiet bus rather than a motorhome. And exceeding the speed limit was not a problem even given the coach’s nearly 30,000 lb weight empty. For reference the previous diesel pusher we drove weighed about 10,000 lbs less. That is significant. This thing is a tank. It has one big slide out. And even though it’s a 1998, the outside does not look as dated as many of the mid 2000’s we looked at. The interior has the typical ‘80’s and ‘90’s brass fixtures. That needs to go. It has laminate wood flooring that is somewhat weathered combined with marble tile. Yes, you read that right, freaking marble tile in a motorhome. Excuse me, a coach, tehehe. It has a ton of storage. It’s rated to tow 10,000 lbs. It has a huge generator, at least it is supposed to, but we were unable to inspect that at first. It has 50-amp power, two TV’s, two couches that both make into beds, snazzy rope lighting around the windows (the wife is stoked about this feature), a good size bathroom, etc. It’s great. Then we measure it. It is not 36’ long. It is 40’. Great, that won’t fit in our back yard. Now what do we do? And 40’? Do we really want something that big? I know this is a mental block, as it actually felt smaller driving it than the 35’-8” pusher we tried out earlier. The problem is we already fell in love with it. Screw it. The fence can be moved or we can find somewhere else to put it. So we are the proud new owners of a 1998 Country Coach Magna 40’ with slide out. It has just enough things that need updating to keep the wife busy and happy and just enough pimp factor to satisfy me. Unfortunately we will be relegated to mostly camping at private campgrounds. The downside being they usually cost a little more. The upside being they usually have full hookups, more space, and more availability. And the sheer vastness of this beast will possibly keep us out of a few national forests, but at least we know that going in.

And without further adieu, here she is:

Country Coach

Terrible cell phone picture of our Country Coach

To be continued…