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:
Terrible cell phone picture of our Country Coach
To be continued…