Thursday, August 1, 2019

Why a Different RV - Part 2

This is a no-picture post as it just documents our search process.

When we were in Palm Springs last March, we went to an RV dealer next to the Thousand Trails park where we were staying. Our initial requirements were pretty minimal:
  • Diesel pusher, Class A
  • Around 2004 - 2007
  • Length around 35’
The salesman showed us an Itasca unit that met those requirements plus more. But we had just started looking. As a result, we added more items to our list based on what we learned and added "required" and "preferred":
  • fiberglass roof - required
  • basement A/C - preferred
  • minimal carpet - required
  • side radiator - required
A few weeks later while we were in Corvallis and my mom was willing to watch the dogs, we went down to Coburg and Junction City. Both locations are a few miles north of Eugene. We were shown multiple Monaco, Holiday Rambler, Newmar, and Tiffin models. Three were in the “premium brand” category in the Motorhome Comparison Guide and one was in the “above average” category. None really met all of the criteria and they showed a lot more wear and tear than the units we looked at in Palm Springs. You could easily tell which units were stored in either covered or indoors.

Since then, we added:
  • Cummins ISL over Caterpillar - preferred
  • engine brake over exhaust brake - preferred
  • independent front suspension - preferred
  • front disc brakes - required
  • tires < 5 years old
  • 10k towing capacity - required
  • over 4K carrying capacity - required
  • computer table style dining room instead of a booth - required
  • propane oven - preferred
  • residential refrigerator - preferred
  • Diesel generator hours < 750
  • Mileage < 75k
  • Heat pump - Preferred
  • Double pane windows. - required
  • Heated basement storage - required
  • Freshwater capacity >= 100 gallons
  • Aqua hot system - preferred (This was dropped after reading of problems)
  • Raised rail chassis - required
  • Aluminum wheels - required
  • At least one slide tray in the full pass-through basement storage - required
  • Hydraulic slide mechanism - preferred
  • Automatic leveling - preferred
  • Heated mirrors - required
  • Side hallway - preferred
  • Washer/dryer - required
  • TV not in the front - preferred
The Mandalay was in the “above average” category in the Motorhome Comparison Guide along with Winnebago, Itasca, Holiday Rambler and others. We would have preferred something from the “premium” category.

From the first requirements block, at 41.5’ it wasn’t around 35’.  Bigger is not necessarily better. Several of the models in the over 40’ group had a tag axle which is two more tires behind the dual rear wheels. These add stability and an additional 10k# in carrying capacity. I don’t think we need more carrying capacity than the 4,426# that the Mandalay has. Maybe if we were actually full-time. For comparison, we only have about 1400# of stuff in the 5th wheel which is well under its carrying capacity.

From the second block, it did not have basement A/C. I’ve since learned that Winnebago and Itasca are about the only ones that have the basement air at least during the years we are looking at. The benefit is that there are no A/C units on the roof so two fewer openings that have the potential to leak. And they are more efficient. The downside is that most shops don't know how to work on them.

In the third block, there were multiple “misses”. To me, a big one is that it has a Caterpillar C7 instead of Cummins ISL. My preference for the Cummins was potentially lower-cost service/maintenance as Caterpillar no longer provides engines to the RV market. I’ve been told that they didn’t want to deal with all the new emissions stuff. But it’s not like they don’t make engines anymore but only for the off-road market. Engine brakes didn’t seem very common in RVs until after 2008 and even then only in the larger Cummins engines. But a two-stage engine brake would’ve been nice. The rear tires are 6 years old but show no weather checking and have lots of tread life. They may be changed in the next year or so. It does not have a propane oven or a residential refrigerator. Like many RVs, it has a convection microwave which, obviously, needs electricity and don't work as well as a regular propane oven. For a long time, I have been opposed to residential refrigerators. Especially if you want to boondock. But the real benefit is no propane flame. The downside is you need a lot more battery capacity to keep it running. A compromise may be the 12VDC compressor system that can be retrofitted to many RV refrigerators. The Aqua hot preference was dropped after reading about expensive failures on systems that weren’t in everyday use. And the TV is mounted up front above the front windshield like just about every other class A of that age.

Some additional features that I didn’t expect but welcome are the power front window shades. Basically sun visors that are controllable from the driver's seat. The 50 amp, 220 VAC power cord is large and heavy. The Mandalay has a power cord reel to manage that awkward cord. Having 50 amp service allows you to draw 70% more power than the 30 amp service. No more tripping the breaker if you are running the A/C and the microwave at the same time. There is an extra flat-screen TV in one of the storage bays on an adjustable arm. I can see me moving that into the bedroom replacing the small TV. The 41.5’ length means that there is a lot of basement storage. According to the specs, 190 ft3. Window awnings are nice to have. And unlike many RVs we looked at, the colors of the upholstery and window treatments aren’t obnoxious.

There are some less welcome “features” but none were deal breakers. It has a macerator toilet which adds complexity and I’ve heard that they use more water. I wasn’t able to tell if the washer/dryer combo unit was vented or ventless without removing it. The swivel recliner is where we would have put the dog kennels and it’s a huge piece of furniture. The lighted curio cabinet is cute but not sure of its utility. And it’s missing a shelf. The salesman said that they will find one but I have my doubts that they will have a safety glass shelf made. It has a central vacuum system but I didn’t see any hose or attachments. It has a safe installed in the bedroom but I’m not confident that there is any documentation.

This post is probably long enough. It is mostly written to remind me of the decision process.


  1. A very thorough and methodical set of lists for record. What is the expected MPG for the beast? Up until recently, I'd not heard or noted the concept of "Tag Wheels"....must pay closer attention next time I see the larger Class As....

    The curio cabinet could be your "LAN in a box". :)

    I of course envy your massive amounts of storage space....though of course you'll now have to exercise more "cargo discipline"....I bet you can put the e-bikes in the basement storage eh?

    1. I'm kind of expecting something around 9 mpg. On some of the forums, I see 8.5 to 10 depending on what kind of vehicle is being towed. The 8.5 was a half ton pickup.

      I haven't figured out where some of those things are going. Bridget wants a cell booster this time and I've been doing a lot of looking around for that as well.

      I was planning on the e-bikes in the basement storage. Maybe in the one that currently has a TV. Or they could just be stored in the back of the Prius...

  2. The wife is going to add her 2 cents. We had problems with the cabinets falling apart in the 5th wheel, probably because of the poorer quality. We had doors falling off and shelves breaking. This new RV has solid wood cabinets and lots of them. I think the dogs and cat will enjoy more living space. The curio cabinet is cute, but not realistic. If I "display" anything I'll have to be setting them up and taking them down when we travel. I love the bathroom layout. There is a hallway with 3 windows that will add light.
    Pros on purchasing this lesser expensive coach: We get to keep the truck and 5th wheel in Alaska. We will have the Prius as the tow vehicle.
    Cons: have carpet instead of tile-it's a cleaning thing. I don't really care about the central vac, if they find parts that would be great. I really love my Shark vacuum. Another con is we don't have the extra money for solar, cell boost, BUT we can budget and save in the next year to get them.
    Pro for Parkway-no haggling. Neither of us are comfortable trying to make a deal.
    Richard, In your list you said what you preferred and what is necessary, but you never said whether or not what we bought meets the criteria.

    1. I did mention which of the criteria the Mandalay didn't meet but didn't specifically say that if I didn't mention it, the criteria was met.

  3. You guys seem to have put a lot of thought into this project. I hope all will work out, and you'll have lots of fun.

  4. I have found the whole purchase process to be an impossible jigsaw of various parts that don't meet our preferences. Fortunately in looking at a gas class B (no diesel emissions and DEF for me thanks) there are only two choices and I have no preference. The interiors never quite work so finding someone to build what I want and not having to deal with salesmen or RV Trader has been a relief.

    1. Finding what you are looking for “ready made” would be impossible. You are not the buyer that RV manufacturers are targeting. Our needs and preferences were tailored by what was available.

  5. As usual, I am months behind in reading, but impressed (and not surprised, of course!) with your thorough method of decision making. However,I will that after living fulltime in our coach for 8 months now, as well as traveling in it for 4 years prior, I wouldn't give up our residential fridge or our Oasis hot water/furnace for anything! We are enjoying being toasty here in the Gorge's early cold snap as I type this! 😊

    1. I was originally looking for something with a diesel fired boiler for both hot water and heat. But it was one of those things that degrade if they are not used on a regular basis. We found a couple with an AquaHot system but the repair cost was high. One even had the ability to heat the engine in addition to the interior. I’m not a fan of the propane furnaces as they are inefficient, noisy and consume a lot of battery power.