Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Stocking the Outside of the Trailer

So. Much. Stuff.

Reason #1 why you should by a RV with a healthy amount of headroom for cargo carrying capacity (the difference between its GVWR and dry weight)? There's a lot of required stuff you'll need to have on your camping trips. Heather covered the inside, here's what I needed for the outside of the RV. Some of this stuff now lives in the trailer, some of it stays in our garage, but either way my Amazon Prime membership got a workout.

Dump hose (we went with the Camco RhinoFLEX system, which does not fit into our Lance's host storage area) - Amazon
Box o' latex gloves for dealing with the dump hose - Costco
Tank flush hose - Amazon
Fresh water hose - Amazon
Fresh water pressure regulator - Amazon
Fresh water inline filter - Amazon
"Dirty" hose storage bin - WalMart
"Clean" hose storage bin - WalMart

Leveling and chocking:
Lynx Levelers and chocks (for the campsite) - Amazon
Trailer life yellow chocks (for storage) - Camping World
Screwgun and stabilizer jack adapter - Amazon
Bubble level - Amazon
Coupler lock - Amazon

Tire care and emergency changing:
Mechanix gloves (I finally have an excuse to get a pair!) - Amazon
Lug nut socket set - Amazon
Lug nut wrench - Amazon
Camco Trailer Aid Tire Changing Ramp - Amazon
Adjustable torque wrench (manufacturer recommended way to tighten the lug nuts, but never to be used to remove them) - moved from my garage to the trailer
12V portable air compressor
12V extension cable
Digital tire pressure gauge - had it in my garage, I now keep it in the truck
Tire covers - Amazon

General maintenance:
Boeshield T-9 waterproof lubrication (for stabilizer jacks) - Amazon
303 Protectant (for slide-out seals) - Amazon
Marine wax (for the slide-out) - Amazon
3M Dry Silicone Lubricant (for slide-out tracks or moving awning parts, if needed) - Amazon
Duct tape - Home Depot
WD-40 - Home Depot
Plastic carrying caddy for the above - Amazon
Schumacher marine battery trickle charger - Amazon
Distilled water - WalMart
A pair of non-marking, high-grip boat shoes to climb up on the roof in - Amazon

Tools to keep in the trailer:
Rubber mallot - Home Depot
Screw gun driver bits - Home Depot
Screwdriver set - Home Dept
Utility plier set - Home Depot
Utility knife - Home Depot
Crescent wrench - had an extra
Small tool box - Home Depot

RV Antifreeze - Camping World
RV Cover - TBD, will probably buy it in the fall.

Actually having fun:
Awning anchors - Amazon
Picnic table table cloth clips - Amazon
Campfire log tongs - Amazon
Fireproof fireplace/campfire gloves - L.L. Bean
Camping chairs - Camping World (we wanted to sit in them before we bought them)
Outdoor window thermometers - Amazon
Indoor humidity monitor - Amazon

Stocking the Inside of the Trailer

I don't even know where to begin this post. I knew that stocking the inside of the trailer was going to be a lot like stocking a new, albeit mini, home. I just wasn't prepared for how much we were going to hemorrhage money!

We needed things for the bedroom, kitchen, dining room, and bathroom. Not to mention storage and cleaning supplies.

Sheets - JC Penny
Pillows - IKEA
Blankets - IKEA (and one I "stole" from our closet at home)
Alarm Clock - WalMart (I have a thing for needing to see what time it is... all of the time)
Clock Batteries (for wall clock & alarm clock) - had at home

Kitchen: (you name it in your kitchen, we needed it for the trailer)
Mini Keurig - Bed, Bath, & Beyond (gotta love those 20% off coupons!)
Eating utensils - IKEA
Various cooking utensils/gadgets - IKEA
Steak knives - IKEA
Cooking knives - IKEA
Cutting boards - Bed, Bath, & Beyond
Paper plates - Costco
Paper bowls - Costco
Ziploc bags - Costco
Aluminum cooking trays - Costco
Pots & Pans - pilfered from our camping supplies; bought at LLBean and REI last year
Collapsable strainer - Bed, Bath, & Beyond
Collapsable bowls - Camping World
Kitchen Mat - WalMart

Dining Room:
Napkin dispenser - IKEA
Place mats - IKEA
Cloth baskets (for things like fruit, etc) - IKEA

Shower mat - IKEA (this was actually hard to find one that fit in the space)
RV compatible toilet paper (yes, there is such a thing) - WalMart
Shower caddy - WalMart
Shower curtain - JC Penny (Yes, there's one already in the trailer. It's also fabric... and we've been known to hit them while they're wet and then they'll leak all over the place.)
Towels - JC Penny and IKEA

Silverware holder - IKEA
Knife holder - WalMart
Storage bins - WalMart
RV compatible closet hangers - Camping World
Collapsible hamper - from our house (bought at Target a few years ago)

Door Mats - WalMart
Outdoor rug - IKEA

Cleaning Supplies:
RV black tank chemicals - WalMart
Lysol wipes - Costco (also pilfered from my stock at home)
Windex - WalMart
Simple Green - WalMart
Dryer Sheets - WalMart

I'm not even sure if this is a full list - but you get the picture. I kind of wish I would've started buying things a while ago so that it would not have hit all in one month. I also recognize that some of this is purely "nice to have" and not necessary. We just wanted to have the trailer as stocked as possible before we went on a trip.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Our first tow: bringing it home

Our factory authorized Lance Dealer was Parkview RV in Smyrna, Delaware, and they were an absolute pleasure to work with. Whether it was answering our initial questions over the phone, setting up an appointment to see their inventory, working through the sales process, doing our pre-delivery inspection (PDI) and schooling, getting all of the title and warranty paperwork in order, and even riding with us around the block to make sure we were comfortable towing it home... bottom line, we would do business with them again. We found Parkview RV through Lance's website, but Heather soon realized that she had a friend who had "liked" their Facebook page. After consulting her friend and getting the inside scoop (family-owned business that has been in the RV industry for years, and other good news), we got the ball rolling. A great first-time buying experience all around.

Fast-forward to delivery day. I had towed trailers working a summer as a landscaper, but that was years ago. This being our first travel trailer, I was reading a lot "For Dummies" and "Complete Idiot's Guide to" towing books. I was also asking all the towing veterans I knew for advice. Everybody was telling me that with my F-150, I'd "barely know my trailer was there." This is both a good thing and a bad thing, and I was admittedly nervous about our first tow.

Our delivery tech at Parkview RV was patient with all of our questions, and after we'd completed our schooling session he made doubly sure we understood how to couple and uncouple the trailer. He first showed us how to hitch and unhitch, and then he watched me to do everything myself. He even let us video tape the entire PDI and schooling session, because it was just a ton of information to absorb at once. He rode around the block with us before we left: helping me to adjust my mirrors, take the turns wide, and get a feel for the trailer braking behind the truck. He recommended the truck route out of town (which Heather had already scoped out), and we were off.

My first concern getting out of town was staying in my lane, negotiating narrow turn-lanes, and braking at stoplights. After we got out of town without jumping any curbs (which as I understand it will always be a concern when towing), I started focusing on my speed. The truck did great, and I now fully appreciate what a tow/haul transmission mode does for towing. Could I tell the trailer was behind me? Absolutely. It's like having a gigantic parachute on the back of the truck, so there's no way not to notice it. At highways speeds (I cruised at 60 per the owner's manual, and only touched 65 a couple of time changing lanes) you can get comfortable, but I was constantly checking my mirrors to make sure the trailer was in the lane. The trailer is wider than the truck, so I discovered it was much more important to stay in the sweet spot between the lines on the road.

Then we got to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which in case you're not familiar with it is a really long, really high bridge. Really, really high. Did I say high?  It's high.  Even when I'm not towing, this bridge gives me the heebie-geebies. I have to do the tunnel-vision trick of focusing on the lane and only the lane, because the moment I glance down at the water (which is quite easy from the cab of a F-150) I'll get a bit of vertigo going.

With our RV dealer in Delaware and us living in Virginia, we had to cross the Chesapeake Bay somehow. The Baltimore tunnels to the north prohibit any vehicles carrying propane tanks, and I didn't really want to have to drive the long way around the Baltimore beltway when I was already going to have to deal with the DC beltway on the cusp of a weekday rush-hour. So we made for the bridge, having spent an entire week obsessing over the wind forecasts and having already rescheduled our pick-up date once due to high winds.

We made it over without incident (if you don't count the pucker factor), and I was feeling pretty good. Maryland Route 50 led us onto the inner loop of the DC beltway, which got a bit crowded near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge into Virginia, as it tends to do. We hit the Springfield "mixing bowl" and left the beltway for 95 south, and soon enough we were upon our exit in Woodbridge, where we store our trailer.

Rookie towing mistake #1 (as I am sure there will be more): we took an exit that required us to immediately cut across three lanes of traffic to squeeze into a very popular left-hand turn lane, right as the evening rush-hour was starting.

In retrospect, we should have gone down another exit to make right hand turns back north to our lot, but instead we were at the mercy of my turn signals and the good people of Woodbridge. I don't know whether my sheer size scared the hell of out them or they just took one look at the temporary tags on my trailer and took pity on me, but I made it across. We sat through some stop and go traffic while Heather was cross-checking the lanes I needed to be in between my Garmin GPS and Google Maps, but we made it to our storage lot without incident.

Now, I just had to back it into our parking space.  Heather and I spent most of the trip discussing hand signals and safety rules. I told her if it took an hour to back it into our spot, I'd call that a success.

To the best of my recollection, it took about 5 minutes to get it into the spot and about 20 more minutes for me "to stop fussing with it," according to Heather. I used the "hold the bottom of the wheel and look out the rear window" technique, and I rolled all the windows down so I could hear directions from Heather. I also climbed in and out of the cab about ten times checking to see how I was lining up. Overall I think we did great, though I probably was trying to be too much of a perfectionist.

Why Lance?

As I previously stated, we had several features that we really liked in many of the RVs we walked through and/or had seen floor plans of online.
  • Dry bath
  • Walk around queen bed
  • Bench dinettes
  • Kitchen in the front or back of the RV
  • Trailers around the "18" range
  • Power awnings
  • Flat, fiberglass sides
  • Bathtub instead of corner shower
  • Slide-outs

Over our many discussions, we also decided that we really liked these other things:
  • Optional solar power
  • 4-season rated to do cold camping, if we wanted
  • Heat & air conditioning
  • Power jack
  • LED lighting
  • Sink in the bathroom
  • Stove
  • Microwave
  • Separate refrigerator and freezer
  • Lighter interior

As we started to narrow down our choices (and kept dreaming), we decided that we needed to put things into "must have" and "nice to have" buckets. We looked at what we felt like was every. single. manufacturer. It was exhausting, quite honestly.

After going through a million and a half models at different RV shows, we eventually narrowed it down to a couple of Forrest River, Kodiak, Lance, Dutchmen, and Heartland models.

The one thing that made the Lance stand out was the 4-season rating. Another big deal for us was the construction that Lance uses: all aluminum framing, smooth fiberglass sides, and lightweight composite woods.

Beyond that, from looking at the pictures online, Lance just seemed to be the most high-end (outside of an Airstream, which we had decided wasn't for us, mostly because of price) of the "smaller" trailers we were interested in. The interiors were so light when the windows were open. So many of the other RVs were so dark.

We REALLY liked their layouts, trim, and color options. For us, the only debate we were really having was the 1885 or the 1985. When we decided to go look at the Lance, we both knew we'd be happy with any of the 3 interiors. That's saying a LOT. Most other companies, we were going to have to order our trailer so that it had the interior we wanted.

Lance 1885

Lance 1985

The day we went to look at the Lance's, we looked at the 1575, 1685, and 1885. We didn't even look at the 1985 (they didn't have any on the lot).

The main difference between the 1885 and 1985 is the door placement and where the fridge is. There's about a foot more in length and the storage setup is completely different. We ultimately decided that the shower tub wasn't worth the door being right next to the bed. There was just something about it that we didn't like.

Ultimately, the Lance 1885 was the right choice for us, for what we want to do with the RV now and for (hopefully) the years to come. We are really looking forward to the trips we are planning to take with it!

Choosing our tow vehicle (Part 2)

So I'd concluded that I would be uncomfortable towing a high-waller with our 2012 Toyota Highlander V6. This brought our RV research to a grinding halt. Almost ever trailer we had been looking at was in the 19-23 feet long, 3500-5000 pound dry weight range. I told Heather that I would probably be comfortable towing a trailer that was 2500 pound dry, 3500 pounds fully loaded behind the Highlander.

We gave up for awhile. Whenever we started daydreaming again, two completely opposite trains of thought left the station:
  1. Find something under 3500 pounds loaded that we could tow with the Highlander
  2. Find a bigger tow vehicle
It was really #1 that kept leading us back to #2. Online, we looked at Rockwood Roo's, Forest River RPods, Heartland MPGs, Little Guy Teardrops, A-Liners, Livin Lite Camp Lites, Lance 1575s... even pop-up tent campers from Rockwood and Somerset. GVWR and tongue weight dictated our research: I wasn't going to buy it if I didn't feel it could be towed safely and comfortably by our Highlander. That led into lists of must-have features versus nice-to-have features. What were we willing to compromise on? Heather has already described a lot of that decision making process in her blog posts, so I'll cut to the chase.

What we really wanted was a trailer with a walk-around bed so that we weren't climbing over each other to go to the bathroom at 4am, a dry bath (which is what normal people call "a bathroom" and RV people call "a bathroom where the toilet does not get wet when you shower"), and enough cargo capacity to haul Heather's triathlon gear from race to race. We wanted it to have heat and A/C, because Heather usually picks races that tend to occur during extreme weather patterns (though not on purpose, she swears to me).

Add all of that together, and you end up with a trailer that really warrants being towed by a truck. For the hell of it I started researching trucks, starting with the Toyota Tundra and Tacoma. Why? Because every single vehicle Heather and I have ever owned has been a Toyota. We love our Toyotas.  We swear by Toyota. We recommend Toyota to other people.

That's when I waded waist-deep into the ongoing holy war that is the Great American Truck Debate. I knew it existed, as I've seen the TV commercials. I have friends, relatives, and co-workers who have fought in it. They've all got their own war stories and dogma. I thought "well, Toyota makes trucks, I'll just look at those." I started looking at towing features, powertrain options, cab configurations, fuel economy and reliability ratings.

When I looked at the marketshare numbers, I was shocked. Toyota was a distant fourth to Ford, Chevy, and Dodge in truck sales.  Ford dominates the U.S. truck market, so I started doing more research. The (very) long story short? Ford offers the following features in their F-150 Max Trailer Tow package:

  • 7-pin and 4-pin trailer wiring harness/connector
  • Class IV hitch receiver
  • Dedicated tow/haul transmission mode
  • Auxiliary transmission cooler
  • Upgraded radiator
  • Upgraded rear bumper
  • Built-in, fully integrated trailer brake controller with trailer sway control
  • In-dash trailer brake controller monitoring system
  • Backup camera and radar sensor system
  • Power telescoping and power folding mirrors designed for trailer towing

No other full-size pickup on the market offered all of those towing amenities out-of-the-box. Ford's twin-turbo 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine also really appealed to me: more power and torque for towing at lower RPMs than the standard F-150 5.0L V8 engine, with higher rated fuel-economy (a subject worthy of its own post).

So we ended up buying a 2013 Ford F-150 Super Crew 4x4 with the 3.5L EcoBoost V6, 3.73:1 axle ratio, and the 157" wheelbase (6.5' long bed). It's huge. I'm giddy driving it. I tower over other cars and can see everybody trying to text discreetly on their smartphones. It could also tow every single travel trailer that we really wanted, so Heather and I set out to go take a look at the one brand we kept coming back to: Lance.

As Heather has already explained, we ended up with a 2013 Lance 1885.  23' 9" long including the tongue, 4200 lbs dry according to the DOT sticker on the side (advertised as 3700 lbs dry), GVWR (max weight loaded) of 5700 lbs. Our F-150 is rated to tow 11,100 lbs with proper weight distribution and trailer brakes, so we're well within our limits. Better to have too much tow vehicle than not enough, I figured. Our Lance dealer recommended the Fastway e2 weight distribution hitch with sway control, and set us up with the e2 model that features 1000 lb weight distribution bars (the maximum recommended by Lance).

Getting ready for our first tow off the lot

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Choosing our tow vehicle (Part 1)

So when Heather says we spent two years researching our tow vehicle and our trailer, she's not kidding.  It became our favorite pastime.  There are a staggering number of RV manufacturers in the United States, far more than there are auto manufacturers.  Each RV manufacturer can offer a different set of brand names, and each brand name can feature a wide array of models.  So once Heather and I knew we wanted a towable travel trailer (called a "camper" by anybody not researching RVs), we began to face two very conflicting questions:
  • What travel trailer did we want?
  • How much could we tow?
So while Heather was checking out floorplan after floorplan online, I started educating myself on the basics of towing.  I read blogs.  Online forums.  Books, both in physical and electronic format.  I read success stories and horror stories.  I watched YouTube videos of trailers and their tow vehicles being blown off the highway by high winds.  What I learned began to congeal into the following 10 rules of thumb, which were echoed by everyone I spoke to who had experience towing.
  1. The tail should never wag the dog.  The tow vehicle has to be sized to the trailer, and "pushing the limits" of a tow vehicle is not a good idea.
  2. Auto manufacturers regularly overstate their vehicle's tow capacities.
  3. RV manufacturers regularly understate their trailer's weight.
  4. Any trailer weighing over 3000 pounds features electric brakes, which requires a brake controller in the tow vehicle.  Auto manufacturers who are serious about their vehicles towing a trailer over 3000 pounds pre-wire them for brake controllers, so that they are simple to install.  (The converse is also true: Auto manufacturers who are NOT serious about their vehicles towing a trailer over 3000 pounds do NOT pre-wire them for brake controllers.)
  5. Any trailer weighing over 3000 pounds generally benefits from a "weight distribution hitch," some of which come with "anti-sway" functionality.  You want a weight distribution hitch with anti-sway functionality.  Generally not a good idea to pinch pennies here.
  6. Body-on-frame construction is generally preferred in a tow vehicle, for a number of reasons.  Towing with a unibody vehicle will raise the eyebrows of every gray-haired towing veteran on the road (who are sometimes referred to as members of the "towing mafia").  Upon meeting these gray-haired towing vets at a rest stop with a trailer proudly behind your unibody tow vehicle, they will politely inquire as to your destination, sincerely wish you well, and then give you a wide berth on the highway.
  7. Body-on-frame construction SUVs are a dying breed.  "Crossover" SUVs are very much en vogue these days because of great fuel economy, ride comfort, and overall versatility.  Every crossover SUV is also by definition a unibody design.
  8. There are about 10 different weights and capacities that you need to pay attention to when matching a tow vehicle to a trailer.  Dry weight, GVWR, GCWR, hitch weight, GAWR... the list goes on.  The bottom line here is that your tow vehicle needs to be able to tow your trailer fully loaded with all of your camping gear, carrying two tanks of propane on the tongue, with its fresh water tank full of water, with your family and dog seated in the tow vehicle, up a mountain facing 30 mph headwinds, all without breaking too much of a sweat.  If you find yourself compromising on any of the above criteria ("Oh, I'll just pack light.") you will again start getting stern looks from the aforementioned gray-haired towing mafia.
  9. No auto manufacturer advertises a vehicle's fuel economy when towing.  The reason for this?  Fuel economy sucks when towing.  Regardless of tow vehicle.
  10. You can pull onto the RV lot driving a Mini Cooper, and the RV dealer will try to convince you that it can pull a 30 foot trailer.  You are entirely on your own when it comes to determining what a given tow vehicle can tow safely (first) and comfortably (second).  Do your homework.
  11. Bonus rule: Never tow a trailer in high winds.  Ever.
So after all this research, where did we stand?  Well, we owned a 2012 Toyota Highlander V6 4WD with the optional towing package.  We honestly had to dig out the window sticker to confirm this, and I even went to the trouble of popping the hood and visually verifying the auxiliary oil cooler.  Why is this important?  Because with the towing package, Toyota claims the Highlander can tow up to 5000 pounds.  That's a lot for a V6 SUV.   At first I was ecstatic, as all of the trailers we were looking at weighed between 2500-4500 pounds dry.  We could tow them with our Highlander!

Or could we?  I first started having doubts when I began to Google search phrases like "Highlander towing travel trailer experiences."  I found at least two different accounts of potential travel trailer buyers initially asking for towing advice on various forums.  "I want trailer X, can I tow it with my Highlander?"  Mixed responses from the forum members.  "The Highlander is a crossover, I'd be worried towing anything over 2500 pounds with a unibody."  "No tow-haul mode, your transmission will probably spend a lot of time hunting... you might have to keep it in fourth gear."  "Get a good brake controller."

That led me to start researching brake controllers.  How complicated would they be to install in the Highlander?  That's when I learned the difference between a 4-pin trailer wiring harness (which my Highlander already had) and a 7-pin wiring harness.  I learned that trailers with brakes required a 7 pin harness for the proper braking signals to be passed from the brake controller in the tow vehicle to the brakes in the trailer.  Ok... so I needed to upgrade to a 7 pin wiring harness and install a brake controller.  How hard could that be?

Well, it turns out that if you work on cars regularly and are fully comfortable modifying your vehicle's electrical system, it's not that hard at all.  I was neither of those things.  So, I was going to have to pay somebody to run the proper wiring and install a brake controller.  How invasive would that be?  Would that void my warranty from Toyota?  I got different answers from different sources.  Most people agreed that if a vehicle was pre-wired for a brake controller, it wouldn't void the vehicle's warranty.  Some people even called Toyota to ask, and those poor souls often got conflicting answers from different Toyota dealers or customer service representatives.

Bottom line: the Highlander isn't pre-wired for a brake controller.  It's only pre-wired for the 4-pin trailer wiring harness, which includes brake lights... but no actual brakes.  Which makes no sense at all, considering that all trailers over 3000 pounds feature electric brakes and require a brake controller.  The Highlander with the tow package is rated to tow up to 5000 pounds, so why wouldn't it be pre-wired for a brake controller and 7-pin wiring harness?  Other Toyota SUVs like the 4Runner and Sequoia are pre-wired...

That's when I learned about unibody construction versus body-on-frame construction.  The more I researched, the more I began to realize that there were very few "crossover" SUVs on the market pre-wired for brake controllers and 7-pin trailer wiring harnesses.  In fact, I could only find two: the brand-new 2013 Nissan Pathfinder and the Jeep Grand Cherokee.  Now, I did not perform an exhaustive search by any means, so I'm sure there exist other unibodies out there ready for serious towing.  But model after model, manufacturer after manufacturer a pattern began to appear in my research: the vast majority of vehicles that actually featured factory-installed 7-pin wiring harnesses and brake controller pre-wires were trucks and full-size SUVs.  Virtually all of those were body-on-frame designs.  None of them were my 2012 Highlander.

So I had to ask myself, "Why would Toyota put 7-pin wiring harnesses and brake controller pre-wires in the Tacoma pickup, the 4Runner SUV, the full-size Sequoia SUV, and the full-size Tundra pickup... but not the Highlander?"  Not only did they not offer them in the Highlander, they wouldn't install them even if you tried to pay them to.  Toyota simply didn't want anything to do with brake controllers in the Highlander, according to most of the posts I read.  Since a brake controller requires a direct connection to a tow vehicle's battery, I read stories of people having to drill through the Highlander's firewall to run the proper cabling.  Others got creative, and found existing cable runs and grommets with just enough space to pull the cable through (this sometimes led into healthy debates over the proper gauge cable to use).  In either case, owners had to install additional fuses in order to power the controller.

I pondered this situation for months.  I read accounts of people who had installed brake controllers and 7-pin harnesses in their Highlanders.  I followed their forum posts as they joyously ordered a 17, 18, or 19 foot travel trailer (some of the very same models Heather and I were considering), and departed in their modified Highlanders to go pick them up from the dealer.  "Hooray!" they seemed to proclaim.  "Today I pick up my new trailer!  I'll post again as soon as I tow it home!"

And then reality set in.  The next forum post I'd read from these very same individuals after their first towing experience in the Highlander was always sobering.  I heard three common themes, echoed over and over.
  1. Single digit gas mileage, and the transmission hunted for an appropriate gear constantly.  Manual control of the transmission was almost always required.
  2. Towing a "hard walled" trailer of the type Heather and I were interested in, even with a properly configured weight distribution hitch with anti-sway, made for a very different ride feel in the Highlander.
  3. Lots of white knuckle moments on the road.
Some of these guys began actively questioning their decision to tow a hard walled trailer with the Highlander on the various forums I was reading.  This broke my heart, I really felt for these guys.  I was on the precipice of making the same type of decision, and I wasn't finding a lot of good news.  Story after story, forum after forum, towing a hard walled with the Highlander just didn't seem like a good idea.

I kept coming back to the 7-pin wiring harness and brake controller pre-wire.  I finally said to Heather one night over dinner, "I just can't believe they'd rate it to tow 5000 pounds and not pre-wire it for a brake controller."  Heather had already made up her mind.  "Honey, it's pretty clear Toyota doesn't endorse towing a trailer that requires a brake controller with the Highlander," she told me.  "If they did, it would have the pre-wires."  I could not find fault with that logic.

If you're reading this and you're pulling a high-waller with a V6 Highlander, good on ya.  I'm sure you've found a comfort zone.  Myself?  I just wasn't willing to try it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Narrowing Down the Trailer

As I mentioned before, we struggled to narrow down our requirements. We had visited a couple of RV shows in the area and saw so many things we liked and so many we didn't.

For instance, we found that we liked:

  • Dry baths
  • Walk around beds
  • Bench dinettes
  • Kitchens at the front or back of the RV
  • Trailers around the "18" range (the interior being about 18 feet, not necessarily the exterior)
  • Power awnings
  • Flat, fiberglass sides (on the outside - easier to clean)
  • Bathtub instead of corner shower
  • Slide-outs

We found that we didn't like:

  • Wet baths
  • Beds with one side up against the trailer
  • U-shaped dinettes
  • Dark interiors
  • Entertainment center at the end of the bed

These are all things we learned just by walking around RV shows. The biggest lesson we learned? That you'll have to make some compromises in the RV you end up buying.

From our list of "we like", we started to narrow down what were must haves, and what weren't. Many of these things will depend on what you can get in the trailer you can tow. Jon will write the tow vehicle post, but our "final" decisions came down to two we could tow with our V6 SUV and one we couldn't.

We went back and forth so many times about what to get and when. For us, it came down to the fact that I do triathlons and we're constantly traveling during the summer. We wanted something we could do together for long weekends & week-long vacations regardless of season, and we wanted something we could do with friends & family. (A few of our friends & families have RVs/travel trailers/pop-ups.)

We narrowed our choices down to four VERY different options (none of which we had seen in person before coming to the decision of these four):

Sylvan Sport Go - Tent/pop-up trailer that could be used as a toy hauler, could be kept in our garage, and could be towed by the SUV with NO problems. Also the cheapest option. The biggest compromise of all of the options.
Forest River R Pod 177 - Teardrop trailer with hard sides, wet bath, small kitchen, bed up against the side of the trailer, but could be towed by the SUV. The biggest compromise of the hard sided trailers.
Lance 1575 - The biggest of the trailers that could be towed with the SUV. We really liked the Lance brand when we saw found it online. The biggest draw-back to this one was the bed.
Lance 1885 - The trailer we really wanted, but meant we'd need a new tow vehicle. We weren't crazy about the u-shaped dinette or the corner shower, but the space inside meant the bed was turned around so that it was a walk around. Big plus!

We contacted Sylvan Sport to put us in contact with the people who live locally to see one of theirs. They don't have stores, so they use their customers to help make sales (essentially).

Shortly after, we went to a local dealership and saw the R Pod.

Dinette with the table down
Bed against side of trailer - dark linens
Wet bath
Fridge & microwave
We liked the unit enough that after talking about it, away from the dealer, we decided to go ahead and order one. We weren't thrilled with the dealer though. Well, they never got back to us. Their loss... and a confirmation that we were right to not be thrilled with them.

While we were waiting on the Sylvan Sport owners to get back to us, we decided to go ahead and look at the Lance 1575. Well, in the week between the R-Pod fiasco and going to see the Lance, we ended up talking a lot about the 1885 and our tow vehicle. We liked the vibe we were getting from our dealer, which was a good thing! After buying a new tow vehicle, we ended up looking at the Lance 1575, 1685, and 1885.

Here are some pics of the 1575.

Bed against wall
Kitchen with microwave below stove
U-shaped dinette
Fridge & freezer

We liked that the 1885 was all season, and has the ability to add solar panels to it to charge the batteries. Here's the Lance 1885:
With the couch out
Folding the couch down to have the bed out
Kitchen - with microwave & oven!
Bathroom with corner shower and sink
Kitchen storage under the sink
We decided that we would've been "ok" in the 1575, but we were glad that we had the ability to go up to the 1885. We've been looking for about two years and when we walked into the 1885, we just knew that it was the one. It was pretty much everything we've been looking for that we were willing to tow. We were able to decide what we were willing to compromise on. The biggest things we compromised on were the corner shower and the u-shaped dinette.

Sure, we could've found EVERYTHING we were looking for in a bigger model, but we didn't want to go too long for our first trailer. We have some room to grow into this trailer and we hope to have many adventures in it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Research Phase

As I mentioned, we researched the heck out of this purchase. Anyone who knows us isn't really surprised by this AT ALL. What follows is a quick brain-dump of the research process.

At first, it was more of a basic learning thing. We had to answer questions like:

  • What kind of RVs are there?
  • Are we thinking about towing or driving?
  • What type of RV suits our vacation style the best?

Ultimately, we decided that something we tow would be best for us. We just couldn't see ourselves driving an RV and towing a smaller vehicle. Since a good part of the summer is spent traveling to triathlons, we needed the ability to drive a separate car once we got to our location.

Then, we started looking at floorplans. That led to another group of questions.

  • Bed up against the wall, or walk around?
  • Entertainment center at the end of the bed (separating the floor plan) or not?
  • Galley kitchen or in the front/back of the trailer?
  • U-shaped or bench dinette?
  • Wet or dry bathroom?
  • Sink in the bathroom or not?
  • How much storage is there?
  • Outdoor kitchen or not?

You get the picture. It's basically like buying a mini house.

Once we had the basics figured out, we had to figure out how we were towing this thing... and what length we'd be comfortable with. We had a LOT of discussions about whether we were towing with our SUV or buying a truck. Ultimately, we bought a truck. That's a different post though.

Then, it came down to brand, finishes, and things like that. There are SO MANY brands of RVs. You have to find something you like... and that's sold near you. We finally decided on three very different brands of three very different RVs. (Also another post.)

After the brand decision, you have to make sure that you like your dealer. You'll likely have to deal with them for at least a year after the purchase, so be sure to like them. Go to the dealers and get a feel for them. This is especially good if you haven't seen the RV you're thinking about buying (like the situation we were in). Be willing to drive a little bit to get what you want, where you're comfortable buying from.

We had a lot of fun doing the research. It was a bit stressful toward the end as we were coming close to making a decision, but that's just us being nervous about making the purchase.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Getting Started - The Decision

In 2011, we (Jon & Heather) started talking about getting an RV. We had NO CLUE that it'd take us almost two years to decide what kind (Class A, B, C, travel trailer, or pop-up) and what brand (who knew there were so many?!).

In January 2012, we went to the RV show near us and pretty much decided that a travel trailer would be good for us. One decision down! What length, what brand, and so many other decisions would follow... and be met with "well, what about this?" types of questions. We went back and forth so much,  and did so much research it drove us both crazy. 

Fast forward to January 2013 and we decided on a truck and travel trailer. Over the next few posts, we'll describe how we came to the decisions we made. We read so many blogs and forums to help us along the way; we hope this helps someone with their decisions one day.

Our Ford F-150 and Lance 1885
From the bed looking to the back of the trailer
From the door looking to the front of the trailer