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Author Topic: Thinking of moving to a motorhome  (Read 2285 times)

DavidM

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Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« on: February 10, 2020, 10:07:37 AM »
So, given that this forum is in its winter dormant state, I thought I would share my current thoughts of moving to a motorhome with the membership for its insights.

We have done some pretty extensive trips with our Nissan Pathfinder pulling our 16TBS, in one case all the way up from our home in Connecticut to the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada. But we are thinking about even longer trips and longer stays. One plan is to leave in September for the west and camp in Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico for three months before heading home in late November. This is a trip we did twenty years ago when we were between jobs and I absolutely loved the western states.

First let me describe the motor home I am thinking of buying and then talk about the why. I like several things about the Mercedes Sprinter diesel based Winnebagos for this mission. The Sprinter chassis is solid and is aerodynamic unlike many Class C MHs and the diesel is a plus and minus. Fuel economy is 20% better than a gasser but diesel is 20% more expensive at the pump than gas, so cost wise it is a wash. Diesels provide more torque which makes hills easier but don't do much engine braking which is a downside on mountainous downhills. For those who don't know about diesels, unlike gassers which throttle the air supply for combustion control, diesels don't and as a result have much less engine braking. Jake brakes and similar have been developed to compensate but are not available for the Mercedes diesel. Diesels contrary to popular opinion do require more maintenance: adding DEF and dealing with routine problems on a low volume sold engine although you would think that the Mercedes Bluetec engine should be fairly washed out by now. RV reviews don't seem to indicate that though. But I have not been able to find a similar layout in gasser versions.

I do like the layout of a couple of models of the Winnebago View Classs C. One has a unique rear end slideout where the queen bed folds out at the end which allows a complete 270 deg walk around queen bed that you never have to make and unmake like many Sprinter based MHs. Another has two twin beds aft just like our 16TBS. Both have nicer inside living accommodations than our 16 TBS with a similar sofa slide out but also the driving seats rotate to provide two useful chairs that the 16TBS doesn't have. And the Winnies have much more comprehensive systems than the LLs: a generator, heating that keeps the tanks and plumbing from freezing, heating and air conditioner with ducted air, etc. These make long term camping quite comfortable. Also we dry camp 95% of the time in USNF, SP and NP campsites and prefer them to crowded full hookup campsites, so the generator is a particular plus to keep our batteries charged up.

So two issues with doing this: driving safety and RV comfort. So let me start with driving safety:

I have been comfortable towing the 16TBS with our Pathfinder but Joan is only comfortable towing on smooth interstate highways. That has been ok so far, but I don't think it will work in the west where distances are long and once we get into Wyoming, roads won't always be interstates and I don't want to do all of the driving. Plus I think that a Sprinter chassis motorhome will be inherently safer on the road than our Pathfinder towing our 16TBS.

Also maneuvering into campsites will probably be easier with the 26' LOA Winnie than our combined 37' TV and trailer, although I am pretty good at backing and have gotten into many so called tent only campsites with the LL. And on this 3 month long trip we will probably move every 2-3 days, so lots of maneuvering and setting up will be involved.

The comfort issues were pretty well described above. The Winnie will be similar to our 25' fifth wheel that we used for our previous western adventure. We actually lived in it for 4-5 months until we bought a condo and started new jobs in SoCal. It was quite comfortable.

Here are a couple of links to the queen and twin versions discussed above:

https://www.rvkountry.com/default.asp?page=xPreOwnedInventoryDetail&id=8205133&p=1&s=Fuel%20Type&d=A&vt=motorhome&year=2018&fr=xPreOwnedInventory and:

https://www.leesautoandrv.com/default.asp?page=xInventoryDetail&id=7781100&p=1&vc=class%20c&s=Year&d=D&fr=xAllInventory

I appreciate any and all comments and will respond with my counterthoughts.

David

« Last Edit: February 10, 2020, 10:55:36 AM by DavidM »

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2020, 12:58:11 PM »
Enjoyed your reasoned narrative, DavidM. Different RVs for different stages in life. I've been known to drool over nice class C diesel especially of the Mercedes variety. IMO such a unit is consistent with a well built, long lasting, efficient and modestly sized RV philosophy. As such, I look forward to your future posts. GK

DavidM

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2020, 03:44:36 PM »
Thanks for your comments, GK. Let me expand a bit on the pluses and minuses of diesels. Hope I don't burst your bubble too badly:

I have already spoken about the fuel economy. It is a wash due to the higher cost of diesel at the pumps. I have read maybe a dozen postings about problems with the Mercedes Bluetec engine in the Sprinter chassis in an RV. Almost all have faced a fairly costly fix during their ownership. Most have to do with failure of the level sensor on the DEF (diesel exhaust fluid, basically urea) tank. That failure shuts the engine down, no get home mode, and costs $2-3,000 for the dealer to fix it and reset the system to run again. Not to mention having to tow the RV from some remote camping site halfway or more across the state to get it to a Mercedes dealer to fix it.

Contrast this to most gasoline engine sensor failures. They rarely shut down the engine and the onboard diagnostics quickly finds the offending sensor and it often can be replaced for a few hundred dollars, certainly not thousands. Probably 90% are O2 sensors which is in the exhaust stream so it is in a pretty tough environment, unlike a simple level switch on the DEF tank.

I have read similar horror stories about oil type in the Bluetec and the serious problems that can result, particularly to the particulate filter burning system. All of these problems relate to the emissions control systems. Apparently Mercedes (and others to be fair) is still working out the bugs of these systems. No wonder VW cheated to avoid DEF and particulate filters in their diesels ;-).

OTOH diesels are certainly more rugged than gassers and I would prefer a 3.0 liter engine pulling a 10,000 lb Sprinter chassis RV to my Pathfinder's 3.5 liter gasser pulling about the same weight with the 16TBS. The diesel will usually (barring one of the problems noted above) last longer and wear less. Some of this is due to more rugged construction and some is due to the better lubricating properties of diesel.

But I wish someone made a 4+ liter gasser installed in a similar RV Class C as the Sprinter based Winnie View. Still looking.

David
« Last Edit: February 10, 2020, 05:58:26 PM by DavidM »

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2020, 08:42:52 PM »
Hey, sounds like the new Volkswagen California would be a perfect option for you. Lots of talk about them, too bad they will never be sold in North America.

Have fun figuring it all out!

Merlin

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2020, 10:14:46 PM »
So here’s a few thoughts from someone who also seriously considered that route. Jan and I carefully looked through a couple of the Mercedes Sprinters at more than one RV show. I think it’s the right solution for many folks and looked well-made with nice finishing touches. I would have no reservations about getting one over the more typical class C motorhomes if we wanted that type of RV. In fact, some folks I know in off-road forums are buying the 4X4 version of the Mercedes and loving it for overlanding.

We decided to go the trailer (16TBS) route for several reasons that were important to either Jan or me. I won’t extol the virtues of your present camper, because you know those really well! The Sprinter has lots of virtues too, including wonderful convenience and comfort.

When we go on camping adventures, whether here in Michigan or across the country, we frequently park the trailer for few days and go on local sight-seeing/bird-watching/grocery/laundry trips with just our TV. And we often use the TV to carry our bicycles to trailheads for further adventure. That would not be reasonable with a Sprinter which would have to be packed and secured for local travel.

We camp at older campgrounds that often have length-wise room for just the trailer, so we have to park the trailer, unhitch, and pull the TV next to it. A specific example is Teddy Roosevelt National Park Cottonwoods Campground with sites so short the neighbors across the campground road from our site had to move their car so I could back in. Redwood National Park in California is another example of a short site. There is no way we could have parked something even 5 feet longer than our trailer there either. Some national forest sites here in Michigan are short too.

For me, the low 188HP of the diesel and lack of engine braking was a deal-breaker for mountain driving. Fine for routine use, of course, but there is no margin for error going up or down long grades with the Blue-Tec. I use engine braking extensively and both Jan and I are adept at keeping our rig under full control with just the transmission/engine in our TV. When we were pulling up the VERY LONG ascent to the divide going east out of Salt Lake City on I-80, I was very happy to have 380HP. It would have been much less fun with 200HP less.

For Jan, a deal-breaker was the Sprinter models we looked at did not have access to the bathroom (or much else) with the slide in. There were lots of places in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, and other states out west where rest stops were non-existent or questionably maintained. We use our on-board bathroom and our accessible kitchen while on the road even with the slide in on our 16TBS. Putting a slide out requires level parking and safe room, something not usually available while on the road.

Finally on our decision points, neither Jan nor I nor the dog like truck stops. Finding clean diesel at a non-truck stop is fairly easy, but I had no desire to be forced into a truck stop just to fuel up.

Have you considered renting a Mercedes to see how you and Joan like driving it and living in it?

I wonder why that point of failure you mentioned in the Blue-Tec engine has not been a recall? If you buy used, maybe you should consider replacing the DEF level control sensor as preventative maintenance?

Have fun with the decision! Lots to consider. Might also be an adventure to fix up the TBS with solar, new tires, new brakes, a Honda EU1000i genset, some fancy new stuff inside and go shopping for a new TV! If you go that route, I’d be happy to help with ideas on how to spend your money.  8)
Michigan

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2020, 08:34:59 AM »
Thanks guys for your comments. Merlin, you raised some issues I hadn't considered and put a sharp point on others:

The lack of engine braking is a real concern. I wonder how much extra capacity was built into the Sprinter's brakes to allow for that? I have had brakes fade going down mountain passes pulling a heavy pop up with a light car so I appreciate this problem. I now use engine braking extensively going down hill so I appreciate the effect.

When we camped in the west 20 years ago, we didn't drop our fifth wheel and head out in the TV as much as you do. The 7-1/2" wide Winnie is marginal for making a quick trip to the grocery store or a side trip. Most of these trips were done between campsites so packing up for traveling was not a big deal, but you make some good points.

I hadn't considered that having the slide in would block access to the bathroom. Will have to check that out. The chassis is 7-1/2" wide vs 7" for our 16TBS and if the LL can do it, the Winnie should be able to, although I do suspect that the slide is deeper on the Winnie. Pushing the slide out a foot to get by shouldn't be that bad although I do know that the switch is on the other side of the slide  :-[

I have never owned a diesel vehicle so the fueling issues are unknown. Seems like almost all gas stations have a diesel pump though. We often stop at Loves and similar high volume gas/diesel stations when traveling. Another issue I didn't mention is propane filling. The tank is built in, so you have to pull the coach up very near the propane filling tank and fill directly with a hose. It is 50 gallons though.

We looked at two yesterday, one a rear "bump out" queen and the other with twin beds like the 16TBS. Liked them both but the queen bump out had more interior room as expected. One had a diesel generator and the other propane. I like the diesel mostly because it keeps from running down the propane supply. Both were equally noisy, much more so than the Honda EU2000.

Upgrading the 16TBS is not under consideration. It just doesn't have enough hang out room to be comfortable when stuck inside on rainy days. Currently we generally pick our camping days for nice weather and only are gone for 2-3 days so rain rarely sneaks up on us. Come to think rain rarely locked us inside in the west over our three month trip either. We also would head down south during the winter to get a break from the Connecticut winter drearyness, so we definitely would get hit with rain then.

I guess towing safety is also a big issue in my mind which lead me to the Winnie. Years ago pulling a 5,000 lb fifth wheel with an F150 felt rock solid. Pulling our 16TBS with the Pathfinder is less so but quite tolerable. I am expecting that the Winnie will beat them both. Again renting will tell.

David





« Last Edit: February 12, 2020, 08:38:17 AM by DavidM »

Merlin

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2020, 02:42:02 PM »
Hmmmm........I showed the photos of the motorhomes you linked to in your first post to my wife Jan and her response was "I want one".  ;)
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DavidM

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2020, 03:16:20 PM »
You are in trouble now!

FWIW I googled renting a winnebago view and the first up was Outdoorsy.com, a peer to peer rental company for RVs similar to AirBnB. I checked further and noticed that they provide insurance coverage for both liability and collision losses while renting through them. That solves one of the big problems with renting vehicles- the owner's insurance may not cover commercial transactions.

They did have a listing for a 2017 View, not the queen or twin but the smaller corner 50" wide bed, but that would work to check out handling. It was listed by an owner an hour or so from our home in Connecticut so I may rent it and go camping for a few days to see how it all works later this spring. $225 per day. Not sure of any minimums.

So maybe a report will be forthcoming.

David

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2020, 10:52:19 AM »
For the most part, I would agree with Merlin.  In all our adventures we always (90%+) needed the TV for exploring, commuting, chores, etc.  So as much as we love the idea of owning a “driver” it always comes back to the fact that if we do decide to go that route we will need to pull a toad of some sort.  So that puts us back to TT or 5th wheel.

However, if we ever do decide to get a driver, I would probably go with Ford or GM gas in a conventional Class C.  Pros and cons there too, but having a chassis and drive chain that can be repaired by most any auto repair shop and parts availability would be pro #1 and #2. 

Anyways, after 5 years of journeys with our 21 RBS, in the peak of camping season last year, we sold it.  Overall happy with the LL but we are taking a break from traveling to focus on the house for a few years.  I thought long and hard about keeping the LL but poor insulation, and concerns with the the aluminum frame being the 2 main reasons I decided to let it go.  Loss of factory support wasn’t critical but it didn’t help either.  When we get itchy to go again, and we will, we’ll be going through all of the research again.  The good news is, the innovations in the RV world seem promising that smarter, lighter and better built options are coming down the pike.

David, I have always regarded your knowledge as top shelf, happy hunting and I will be following your progress!   

DavidM

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2020, 11:33:38 AM »
Surfsup:
 
Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, the reliability of the Mercedes diesel with all of its pollution control equipment is my biggest concern. Unfortunately I have not been able to find an equivalent gasoline engine RV with these characteristics:

Overall length of about 25' for maneuverability in campgrounds and grocery store trips. When we camped out west years ago we did do a few site seeing trips by dropping the trailer, but those were definitely the exception for us. Usually we did our grocery shopping on the way to the next campsite and parked our rig out of the way.

Aerodynamic coach. I just can't stand the looks of the Minnie Winnie and similar MHs. I bet that they lose a mpg or two with their clunky aerodynamics.

Queen bed that you can keep made up all of the time, with walk around capability or twins with the center open.

I did find a Jayco Melbourne based on the Ford 450 chassis with the V10 gasoline engine that was aerodynamic and had a side pull out queen (But one review said the queen was a very short 70" long). But it was 4,000 lbs heavier and 4' longer than the Winnie Sprinter based coach. Gas mileage would be 10-12 mpg and maneuverability would be difficult.

I will keep looking for that ideal coach with a 4.0 liter or greater gas engine that meets the above criteria. The Nissan Frontier with a 4.0 liter V6 would be a good chassis if it weren't so narrow.

David

« Last Edit: February 15, 2020, 01:01:26 PM by DavidM »

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2020, 01:15:06 PM »
I've seen some with a Ford Transit chassis, still diesel but not Mercedes sprinter if that matters.
If it ain't broke it probably will be soon.

DavidM

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2020, 02:50:39 PM »
Thanks Mitch:

I somehow missed the Ford Transit based RVs in my search. Yes, since 2017 the Winnebago Fuse is offered based on the Transit with the new Ford diesel. I suspect all modern diesels are plagued with complex emission controls and may all have similar reliability problems. Not sure which is better, dealing with a Ford diesel mechanic or a Mercedes one. My gut tells me Ford.

It is a little lighter and smaller than the Sprint based RVs like the Winnie View, about 1,500 lbs less GVWR and a foot and a half shorter. Not all bad and they come in two layouts that work for me: a queen bed side slide and twins. Both compress living space a bit at least relative to the Winnie View with the aft slide out queen.

I will keep looking.

Thanks, David

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #12 on: February 15, 2020, 04:27:39 PM »
Man, am I glad I'm not going through that decision process again! Good luck, David  :) . That said, the discussion of engine breaking and reliability are recalibrating my thoughts on diesels. Always a new tidbit to be picked up hereabouts.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2020, 04:31:28 PM by charliem »
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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #13 on: February 15, 2020, 05:32:25 PM »
Man, am I glad I'm not going through that decision process again! Good luck, David  :) . That said, the discussion of engine breaking and reliability are recalibrating my thoughts on diesels. Always a new tidbit to be picked up hereabouts.


Ah c’mon Charlie, the research and shopping is half the fun!  But agree on the diesels.  Most of what I’m seeing with the newer diesels and all the pollution controls - they’re still a work in progress. 

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Re: Thinking of moving to a motorhome
« Reply #14 on: February 16, 2020, 07:38:54 AM »
To correct one misconception- SOME diesels do in fact have throttle plates.  I had a 2015 Transit with the 3.2 diesel- it has one and had outstanding engine braking- much more than my 2018 gas Transit.

Took some getting used to seeing 15mpg on the gas Transit when I was seeing 20mpg on the diesel...had to keep reminding myself I had done the math and it was going to be 150,000 plus miles to break even on the diesel.    Higher fuel, higher oil changes, higher fuel filter, DEF, and of course higher price for the diesel engine in the first place.

I loved that inline 5 in the Transit- unfortunately an idiot in MO totalled it for us when he crossed a 4 lane highway disregarding the yield sign in the median :'(

Alas the 3.2 is no more- Ford replaced it with a 2.0 for 2020- although it reportedly has even more torque and horsepower than the 3.2.
BTW the only repair done to the diesel in 50K miles was a $30 exhaust temp sensor I replaced myself rather than suffer through typical dealer incompetence.  Warranty would have covered it but it wasn't worth it, unload entire van, it sits for a week etc.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2020, 07:43:57 AM by ADR »