Jeep? Not RV?

I first started out thinking that I would get an RV and tool around the country in that. I bought a lot of books on RVs, particularly on full-time RV’ing. Right now, I’m not so excited about getting an RV, as they don’t seem to be as great an idea as I first thought they might be. Here are a few of the tips I’ve picked up:



  • One book I read and found useful covered a retired couple’s year-long RV trip.
    • The couple was comfortably well off, so they had the luxury of choosing any RV that suited them. They opted for a small Class B RV (essentially a fancy and very expensive van conversion, or a van that’s been extended, had the roof raised enough so that you can stand inside it, and has compact versions of RV features like a generator, kitchenette, shower, and head).
    • They never said as much, but it was clear that by the end of their year, they were sick of the RV, sick of each other, and sticking it out just to say that they stuck it out for the entire year. Oh, and they golfed a lot, and spent probably a third their trip at resorts, a third visiting friends / family / doctors / mechanics, and a slim third doing actual RV’ing.
    • The book was very useful for planning. They really did a great job of covering the details of financial, legal, and medical prepwork for the trip, and for estimating the trip costs.
    • My impression was that they were both smart and dumb to pick a Class B:
      • These were people who were accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle, and they seriously cramped it by choosing a compact RV. They didn’t have enough space to take all the clothes they wanted, not to mention the various little things that would make their RV feel more like home.
      • Plus, they didn’t have enough space to get out of each others’ faces while on the road. They eventually resorted to separate jaunts when they stopped: one would go shopping or take the RV in for service while the other went walking around town, for example.
      • They actually didn’t save much over the price of a Class A. Their RV still cost $80,000, which is astounding to me. That’s a lot for a gussied up van.
      • But they were smart in that their RV didn’t take up much more space than a standard full-size van, and wasn’t woefully underpowered like most RVs. So they could go pretty much anywhere that the wanted to, including up steep grades, into small campgrounds, and crowded mall parking lots.
  • The other types of RVs are Class A, Class C, and various forms of trailers.
    • Class A is a “classic” RV, essentially a customized bus or heavy truck chassis with a house bolted to the top. Think of something 25 to 60 feet long and costing $100,000 and up. They’re wide, they’re tall, and they’re really heavy. They can go pretty much where semis can go, which limits them from a lot of rustic roads with low tunnels and old bridges.
    • Class C is the “minnie winnie”; it is a pickup truck or van cab and chassis with an apartment where the bed used to be, the RV for the rest of us.
    • The non-motorized RVs are travel trailers (Class A’s without an engine), fifth-wheel trailers (big travel trailers designed for easier towing), pop-up tent trailers, and hybrids between the three designs. And the old standby, the slide-in or camper-shell that goes into the bed of a pickup truck.
  • Motorized RVs suffer from all of the same problems as trucks, and all of the same problems as houses. Like all big trucks:
    • They’re really hard on engines, transmissions, and brakes.
    • They’re top-heavy. They’re prone to tipping over and to being squirrely in windy conditions and when passed by semi trucks.
    • They weigh a lot. Many weigh so much that they leave little allowance for people and cargo. A few weigh so much that they literally are overloaded as soon as the water and propane tanks are filled (never mind groceries, clothes, books, etc.).
    • They need balanced cargo; it must be loaded so that there isn’t too much on one side or the other, and isn’t too much behind the rear wheels. Forget putting your book collection on the shelf over the left window or just throwing everything into the back closet.
  • Like houses:
    • They have roofs. The roofs leak. This might not be visible, and can lead to mold and dry rot.
    • They settle onto their foundations, twist, flex, and sag.
    • They have plumbing, heaters, air conditioners, vents, electric wiring, etc. All of which can clog, die, smell, or just need a lot of TLC and money.
  • Towed RVs have all of the same problems. Except that they’re hard on the engine and brakes of the vehicle that’s towing them.
  • Jeep Wranglers like mine aren’t powerful enough, or, more importantly, long enough to safely pull much of anything beyond an ultralight (which I still don’t quite get the point of). So for me, it would be a motorized RV or nothing. Plus storage fees for the beast for when I’m not RV’ing, added insurance, etc.
  • Many federal and state parks have limits on maximum RV length, usually 25 feet. Sounds good to me, as I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving anything that long anyways, and could live without 8 MPG. Oddly enough, a lot of the real bargains in used RVs are for 30-footers and longer. Hmmm.
  • Another interesting book is by some full-time RV’ers. “Full-time” is one of those confusing phrases, as full-time RV’ing is something between living in your car, living in a trailer park, and living in a rolling resort, depending on your financial resources. The people who wrote this book used a fifth-wheel trailer RV. Partway through the book they admit to writing the book to keep their adventure going, as there aren’t many jobs besides “travel writer” that can be done from an RV.
  • Popular ways to save money while RV’ing for long periods include:
    • Boondocking in someplace that an RV can get to, aka parking for free in a WalMart or casino lot.
    • Long-term visits to RV-friendly destinations, aka spending a few months in a trailer park.
    • Living off the grid, aka investing in solar panels and wind generators, and staying in lovely places like Quartzite.
  • RVs aren’t the “insta-camp” convenience that they’re made out to be. When stopping for the night, some or all of the following must be done:
    • Unhitch the towed vehicle if driving a Class A. With a Class A, the “toad” is almost a requirement, as it’s the only realistic way to get around town.
    • Back into the camping spot, unless it’s a pull-through spot or a parking lot. Not a trivial or fun undertaking with something that’s both really valuable and 30 feet long.
    • Level the RV. This is needed so that the fridge can be turned on. And so that things don’t keep rolling off the table during meals and out of the bed at night. Without built-in power levellers, this can be a special joy involving jacks and combinations of boards under the wheels (which involves more jockeying of the RV).
    • Hook up the “shore power”, aka the AC electricity. Use a tester to check for miswiring or shorts before trusting your RV’s fancy electrical systems to Bert’s Kampin’ Fun Korner’s wiring and the Podunk grid. Dig out the adapter so that you can plug your 15-amp connector to their 30-amp outlet or vice versa. Run a couple of tests like turning on the microwave and/or air conditioner to see if that 30 amp service can really handle 30 amps of load.
    • Hook up the “fresh water” line. Hopefully that Podunk water is clean enough to wash dishes in. Drinking it might be a completely different question.
    • Hook up the “gray water” (sink and shower drain) and yucky “black water” (toilet drain) lines.
    • Hook up the cable TV line or align the satellite dish.
    • Hook up the telephone line for the computer modem or connect to the wireless network.
    • Undo all of the above and re-pack everything when you leave. Don’t forget to clean out the blackwater and graywater tanks and stop by the dump station if needed, ewwww.
  • It’s funny to note that both books and most RV websites advise keeping a day’s driving to a couple of hundred miles, then pulling in early. Mostly because it’ll take a while to do all of the setup chores, and they’re even less fun when attempted in the dark.
  • One thing I could have done to make the Jeep a bit more RV-ish was to add an inverter and possibly some “coach batteries”. The inverter takes in DC electricity from the car’s battery and puts out AC electricity. With an inverter, I could use standard appliances like a real microwave oven. But that whole option gets really complicated and expensive:
    • Most appliances use quite a bit of power. For example, a compact microwave that’s rated at 700 watts of cooking power likely requires 1000 watts of input power to run.
    • The inverter needs to put out at least as much AC as the biggest appliance needs. Plus a little headroom just to be safe. And it needs to handle the momentary surge that many appliances need at start-up, which might be double the run-time power. So, our 700 watt microwave needs a 1200 or 1500 watt inverter with a momentary capacity of 2500 watts.
    • Like chicken parts, watts is watts. But 1200 watts requires around 10 amps from 120 volt AC, but 100 amps from 12 volt DC. That’s a lot of amps!
    • Running that many amps from the car battery will discharge it pretty quickly.
    • Car batteries aren’t designed for being totally discharged like that. It damages them. So, a second (or more) deep-cycle “coach” battery is needed. This battery will need a vented yet protected place to live, and will need extra circuitry so that the car’s alternator can charge both the car battery and the coach battery.
    • Or the car needs to be running so that the appliance is powered by the car’s alternator. (That’s what I’m going to do anyways with my DC cooking appliances, just to be safe. In theory, I shouldn’t need to, but in reality I’m sure to leave something running for too long and will kill the battery.) But that microwave will need somewhere around 100 amps, which is uncomfortably close to the Jeep’s alternator’s 110 amp output.
    • And, of course, the Jeep is already going to be pretty full. I don’t think there will be room for a microwave. And a big inverter. And a deep-cycle battery (OK, to be honest, there is a spot under the hood for a second battery).

So, all in all, at this point, RV’ing is looking both expensive and far from hassle-free. And doing fancy camping out the the jeep is looking better all the time.

This entry was posted in boondocking, casino camping, class a, class b, class c, fifth wheel, full-time, jeep, minnie winnie, rv, trailer park. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Jeep? Not RV?

  1. Carol Hermann says:

    Nice blog John, Alanna just sent me the link. Isn’t it a bummer when you think you’ve come up with a simple plan and then it turns complex? Who knew that RVing around the country would be so much work?

Comments are closed.