Selecting our first Class-A RV

The Learning Process:

Our learning process on Class-A RV’s started with our looking at a lot of RV’s, new and used on a number of RV and Auto sales lots.  Now, this is a painful process to a certain degree as you have to listen to, and eventually reject a lot of dealers.  Remember, they all want a fast sale, and when you push back, they lose interest, so you really have to play their game up to a point by feeding them words they want to hear like:

“We want to get into RVing, and have decided on a Class-A, but we don’t know a lot about them.  Could you show me a few, and explain why I would want this model?”

“We have looked at a few, but we don’t know a lot about this brand!”

“We just came into a little money, and we are looking in this price range”

“I don’t see exactly what I want.  I really would like for it to have – – – – – — – -.  Here is my phone# and email, could you check around for me, and let me know if you see what I want?  Oh Yeah, could I have your card?”

I could go on and on, but you get the drift here.  You need to talk to a lot of them, and take the time to learn about the differences in brands, models, potential problems and drawbacks, and pricing.  You need to make an informed decision.  These things cost a lot of money, and you don’t want to make the mistake I made (more on that later).

The second thing we did in our learning process was to take advantage of eBay.  There are always hundreds of Campers and RV’s listed on eBay, by private owners as well as dealers.  And, the listings have pictures as well as a lot of detailed data.

SO, I recommend that if you do not have an eBay account, get one.

eBay allows you to search for and find items (RV’s) and add them to your own personal “Watch List”.

I went on line once a week, and reviewed what I had listed, and I did not hesitate to call the individual or dealer, and draw out whatever new information on what they were selling.  Each one would brag on their unit and tell you what was better about theirs than any others I might mention.  A Great learning experience.

I also went to the NADA site (NADA.COM), on the web and went through the tedious process of entering the details on any RV I was interested in, and printing out the pricing which included the 4 values they provide;

  1. Low Retail Base, 
  2. High Retail Base, 
  3. Low Retail w/Options, and 
  4. High Retail w/Options.

These are supposed to be the range of the potential value for the RV that you entered the Data for, but there is  another number that the NADA data does not include, and that is the approximate discount off of Retail that the dealers work with in making a deal.

This discount is generally 10% to 12%, in a normal economy, and can be higher if; the economy is down, the model you are looking at is not a popular one, the manufacturer has gone out of business (this has happened a lot over the past year), the unit you are looking at is not in good condition, or has obvious repairs needed.

My First RV Purchase:

After about six months of looking on lots,dealing with dealers and individual sellers, I was comfortable enough to start making offers.

Helen and I decided we would find an older unit in pretty good condition, and use it for a year to confirm that this is what we wanted to do.  We figured that either way, good of bad, we would fix up the easy things on what we bought and after a year, sell it ourselves, and then get ourselves a new unit that fill our personal requirements.

I had made several offers and not closed the deals, when I finally found a 36-foot 1996 Pace-Arrow Vision in the Tampa FL area that looked good and was reasonably priced according to everything I could find out about it.

The only problem was that I was a little “car-poor” at the time with 3 vehicles in the driveway.  One of them was a Ford Explorer that I had run up a lot of highway miles on, over it’s 5 year life, and although being in great condition, and looking great, it did not get very good gas mileage, thus it was proving to be very hard to sell.

In my negotiations with the owner of th RV, I casually offered to trade him the Explorer, and to my surprise he asked for pictures and details.  I sent what he wanted, to him, and he counter offered a price including the Explorer.  We negotiated for a couple of days, we closed the deal, and I sent him a deposit.

The next week, Helen and I packed some linen, some food in a cooler, and a few other necessities, and hit the road to Florida.

Inspecting the Pace-Arrow:

We arrive at the sellers house, and – – – – – well the RV did not look as good as the pictures, and Helen and I went into a spin with the seller, but – – –  we finally we calmed down, walked around the block, and decided to give the unit a thorough inspection before we made up our mind.

We spent the next hour climbing all over the RV, and considering it’s age, it was actually in pretty good condition.  What had made it look worse was that the owner had let it sit for several months and it had gotten dirty, and there were a number of easy to fix cosmetic things on the inside, all easy to repair.

On the plus side we had the seller concerned enough to offer us a nice discount off of the agreement, and we finally went to the bank and closed the deal.

Driving my new (used) RV home.

I had planned and mapped our return trip in great detail, and we felt comfortable pulling away from the sellers house, and finally onto US-95 North.

We were somewhere just south of Jacksonville, when I decided to get some gas, so we checked my travel package of maps, phone numbers, etc, and we saw that we were coming up on a PILOT Stop.

So, we took the appropriate ramp and at the Stop sign, I lookedy and instead of a giant Truck stop, here I am at a facilit slightly larger than your neighborhood gas station.  Well, I was committed now, so I saw that I could pull around the station and line up for a pump (barely) where I could get my gas, and still get out of the station and back onto the road.

Here is where I should mention that an RV has a totally different turning profile than a car, and that your RV povits on it’s rear tire. (See my other Blog for details on this penomenon and how to handle it.

SO, I pulled past the pump, and made my turn to line the RV up.  I suddenly heard a screeching sound and looked back and immediately slammed on the brakes.  It seems I had just tried to move the concrete and steel protection post that you see at most gas stations near the pump, with one of the side compartment doors, which by the way is made of thin aluminum.  The POST WON and I now had a concave baggage compartment door, with very little paint on the bottom part.

Added salt to the situation, came when the gas station manager came out laughing, and telling me that it looked lik his post was OK, so there would be no extra charge for cleaning my paint off of his post.  He then went on to tell me that that happens every week or 2 to an RV, so he was used to it.

Helen and I humbly filled up with gas and left to continue on our trip home.

We crossed into Georgia and stopped at a nice campground for the night. We actually had a good night, everything on the RVworked for us, we had a hot dinner, and sat outside with a bottle of good wine to celebrate our new lifestyle, even if the RV was somewhat bruised, so to speak.

The next morning, over a hot breakfast, we cheerily decided that “this was the life”, we had learned a valuable lesson, and finally hit the road again.

I should mention here that it turns out that probably 75% of US-95 was under construction, and we were seeing more Orange cones along both sides of the road than we had ever seen before this trip.

We had driven an hour or so, and we were nearing a bridge.  The Cones had funneled all traffic into 2 narrow lanes with a speed limit of 60-mph, when we saw a bridge ahead.  Then about 1000 feet before the bridge, the speed dropped to 55-mph, and there were construction people and equipment everywhere.

I slowed down, and stuck to the right lane, but was noticing that the double-lines on my side and the white line on the passenger side were barely wider than my tires, so I backed off some more as I approached the bridge.

Suddenly, my mirror filled with a very large Tractor truck with a wind cowling on it, and the Truck’s right tires were right on the double lines.  I looked to the other side, and the cones were right in the white line. This meant that my RV itself was wider than the allowed lane width.

My immediate choice was, Truck or cones, or brakes. IfI chose Brakes the RV directly behind me would hit me, If I chose Truck, it would either hit me, or hit the bridge, so I took out 8 cones (yes, Helen and I both counted the thumps) while the Truck passed me like a bolt of lightning, and obviously speeding. I pulled back to the left immediately, but I didn’t stop, basically because there was no place to stop without getting hit in the rear by the Class-C motorhome behind me, as I mentioned.

By the time I crossed the bridge, I had decided that I was not stopping until I got to the next Rest Area on US-95. Well, it turns out that Georgia doesn’t believe in Rest Stops, I guess, because the next one was in South Carolina.

As I drove to the Rest Area, I had previously noticed that the Class-C was always a mile or so behind me, so by the time I did stop, I was expecting all kinds of terrible things to happen.

I finally pulled in to the Camper parking area, and was getting out my tools to work on whatever damage I had to the RV, when the driver of the Class-C RV pulled in and the man and woman came over to our rig.

They looked at the damage, turned to us and started laughing.  They said that when I hit those cones they were obviously not made of rubber, because they exploded into a million tiny reflective pieces of orange and white plastic and that flew everywhere.  While continuing to laugh, they said they drove through this beautiful cloud in time to see 5 construction workers jumping over the end of the bridge abutment.

Helen said “Oh my God, were they hurt?” and the other woman said that “probably only their pride, the ground was on the other side of the abutment, and was at the same level as the road, so it looked like they just jumped and rolled away out of surprise more than anything.”

They continued on in to the rest rooms still laughing at us, and we surveyed the damage.  It came down to, a piece of the front fiberglass fender missing, a door mutilated on the battery compartment, and a cracked piece of fiberglass right in front of the door.  Luckily I had the two best car body tools for this type of job with me;  A drill, a pop-riveter, and a roll of Duct Tape.

Helen fixed lunch and I performed a makeshift repair job.  We had lunch, and finally hit the road again, on our way home.

We got home, unloaded the RV, and finally relaxed enough to survey our experience.  And, it had been an experience.

We opened a bottle of Chardonnay, sat down, and went over the whole experience, slowly and in detail. Our own laughter started, and by the time we got to the bottom of the bottle of wine, we calculated that the most expensive thing we had to do to the RV was repair the results of our trip, so we went to bed!

It turns out that we did fix the RV, and we used it for over a year and had many great times in it.  We also sold it for a small profit and went on to buy the WRONG NEW RV.

That’s another story.

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