One RV and Home Free

Another keynote done. My friends at the Hitch House had me back again to speak at their fall event on Saturday. Six hours of driving for the two-hour segment. And probably close to three days of prep work. But I do enjoy the process of creating and delivering a presentation.

I’ve pulled a few of the slides from the deck (I had 76 slides in total).

Always start a presentation with a catchy image and title as it will set a great tone for your story. This was the title slide.

An audience wants to connect with the speaker at a personal level. I like to share a few personal details to let the audience know that we are all in this together — trying to live life as best we can.

Spoke at length about our decision to sell our home and to travel full-time in our motorcoach. This was our house. We lived in the country on 7 acres. We had about 5,200 square feet of living space and almost 2,000 square feet between the two garages. We went from all that space to about 450 square feet in our coach. Quite the change.

This was the senior executive team from my corporate life. I’m the guy in the suit on the far right. I held senior technology roles in several of Canada’s largest financial services company over the past 35 years. I spent the last ten years of my career as the Chief Information Officer for this company. And I started to sense that it was time to consider retirement.

It was this book, Younger Next Year, that made me think about retirement. Coincidently, I had just turned sixty.

I took this shot in the Great Smoky Mountains. Sink Falls. A waterfall with someone going over the edge. That sound, the sound of the waterfall, the sound of mortality, was far more present in my life back when I was working. It still is today.

Inspiration to retire came from a variety of sources including Nikki and Jason Wynne. This was their advice to me.

We had started looking at coaches way back. In 2006. I still have the brochure on the Newmar Dutch Star from that year. It took ten years before we finally got one. This was definitely a process for us and it did not happen overnight.

To get to one RV we had a decision framework with a few major considerations.

Money

How much were we prepared to spend on this lifestyle? Not just the initial purchase but for life on the road.

Lifestyle

Weekender? Vacationer? Part-time (extended)? Full-time? What lifestyle would we take on? That lifestyle will have an influence on what type of RV we might consider.

Type

Based on budget and desired lifestyle, the type of RV is another decision factor. We always wanted a Class A although I’ve often debated about jumping into a Prevost conversion.

Brand

Which brand should we buy? The RV industry is highly consolidated with three companies holding almost 90 percent of the market (Thor, Forest River and Winnebago). All of them build their products using parts from a small number of suppliers. There is not as much differentiation between the brands if buying new as some might argue. All RVs will have issues. It comes with the lifestyle.

I did point out that there has been quite a drop in inventory. The RV industry shipped 487,893 units in 2018. The forecast is for 344,790 units in 2019. That is a drop of over 140,000 units.

New or Used

We bought new. If we were to do this again, we would buy gently used but here are the pros and cons.

 

Floorplan

What floorplan will work for us during this stage of our retirement? We had a few non-negotiable items for our coach: Class A at least 40-feet in length and equipped with two washrooms and a king-size bed. This is the floorpan of our current coach.

There was a lot more content shared in the session. Lots of audience interaction and I really enjoyed the time. I closed with another quote from Younger Next Year. The rest of our life can be great. We think it is awesome right now!

 

In a couple of weeks we arrive to our site in Florida. Good friends, sun, warmth and palm trees. Life doesn’t get much better than this. I shared this item with the audience. Lorraine and Tabby enjoying an amazing sunset view from the front of our coach.

And, after a couple of hours, the session was done. I slept well that night.

Tire Pressure

Tires and inflation. The great mystery for many motorcoach owners. I found it a bit confusing when we first took delivery of our coach. Our dealer had inflated our front tires to 120 PSI and our rear tires to 95 PSI. The factory had installed a sticker which showed the steer at 120 PSI, the drive at 90 PSI and the tag at 85 PSI. After taking delivery, we took our coach to KAL tire before a major road trip — at that time I did not carry an air compressor — and they inflated all the tires to 120 PSI.  I had the coach weighed on a CAT scale and I made a guess that the tires should be 110 PSI on the front and 85 PSI on the rear. When we were at the factory earlier this year, Newmar weighed the corners of the coach and inflated the tires to 110 PSI at the front and 75 PSI to the rear.

What tire pressure should I use? Unfortunately there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to that question.

The tire pressure you should use depends on the type of tire and the weight of the coach. There is no substitute for getting the coach weighed, preferably on all corners.

Assuming that you are running a coach with a tag, here is the process that Michelin recommends to obtain axle and wheel position weights. Not necessarily easy to do on a CAT scale. Before we had our corners weighed, we did a rough calculation based on axle weights only.

We’ll use our coach as an example.

We run on Michelin XRV 305/70R 22.5 LRL tires.

Our coach was weighed with 3/4 tank of fuel, 2/3 fresh water, empty grey tank, 1/3 black tank and no passengers.

Our corner weights:

7,290 lbs. left front, 7,115 lbs. right front
8,270 lbs. left drive, 8,645 lbs. right drive (duals)
4,275 lbs. left tag, 4,345 lbs. right tag

Tire pressures need to be the same across an axle which means that we use the heaviest tire weight on an axle to determine the load/inflation for each side of that axle.

Michelin provides the following table for our tires:

A cold tire pressure of 110 PSI will support a weight of 7,300 lbs. on a single front tire. Our heaviest single front is 7,290 lbs. therefore 110 PSI would be the target tire pressure for our coach.

A cold tire pressure of 75 PSI will support a weight of 9,530 lbs. on the one pair of duals on the drive axle. Our heaviest weight is 8,645 lbs. on our drive duals therefore 75 PSI would be the target pressure for our coach.

A cold tire pressure of 75 PSI will support a weight of 5,375 lbs. on the single tag tire. Our heaviest single tag is 4,345 lbs. therefore 75 PSI would be the target pressure for our coach.

How do you get the required tire pressure for your coach?

You need the tire model. You need the load/inflation tables from the tire manufacturer. Michelin provides an online PDF which you can download here.

And you must know the actual weight of your motorcoach. You cannot determine the correct pressure for your tires unless you know the actual weight of the coach. Preferably the corner weights.

The consequence of running tires underinflated or overinflated can be deadly.

We carry a precision tire pressure gauge suitable for our type of tire which means that it is accurate to at least 120 PSI which is our maximum load. We carry a portable air compressor that can inflate tires to at least 120 PSI. We have found through experience that we cannot count on the tire pressure services at fuel stops to provide enough pressure to inflate our tires to 110 PSI.

Before any trip on our coach we check our cold tire pressure and we use an air compressor to inflate the tires as required. We visually inspect our tires for any signs of wear or distress.

Battery Disconnect Switch

There is one switch in our coach that glows red all of the time. As far as I know, this switch has never been used. Probably because the ominous glare of the red light is so frightening, particularly at night.

Not hard to miss when you open the command panel. A piercing red light beside a switch with the label BATTERY DISCONNECT.

Newmar seems to overlook even the most basic industrial design practices. Newmar elected to use a momentary rocker switch for the battery disconnect. Looking at the switch, the operator will not be able to determine whether the battery disconnect is ON or OFF. The switch stays in the middle position. And what is the purpose of the red light? If the red light is on, does that mean the BATTERY DISCONNECT switch is on? Or is it off?

And why would I need to use the battery disconnect switch?

I have 65 manuals for our coach all digitized in Evernote for easy access and reference. There is but one mention of the Battery Disconnect switch. And this is what it says:

Battery Disconnect Panel

The battery disconnect panel for house batteries is located above or near the entrance door. There are two switches on the panel. The top switch is used to measure the battery voltage. The lower switch is used to disconnect the battery when the unit is stored for any period of time. Pressing downward disconnects the coach batteries, not the chassis batteries. This is done to prevent the coach batteries from being drained during storage. It disconnects all of the 12 volt circuitry from the batteries, with the exception of the LP detector. When taking the unit out of storage, press upward to re-connect the batteries. This will make the 12 volt system ready for use.

Depending on the chassis of the coach, diesel pusher motorhomes may be equipped with a second disconnect switch strictly for the chassis batteries. If equipped, this “Master Kill Switch” may be located in the rear engine compartment. This switch disconnects all power to the coach so that it cannot be started. It is used to prevent accidental ignition when the engine is being serviced.

“There are two switches on the panel.”

There is only one switch for the battery disconnect panel.

“Pressing downward disconnects the coach batteries, not the chassis batteries. This is done to prevent the coach batteries from being drained during storage.”

This is the intended function of the battery disconnect switch. It disconnects the house batteries if you are storing your coach for longer periods of time and when your coach will not be connected to any form of shore power in storage. Pressing down will disconnect the batteries (OFF) and pressing up will re-connect the batteries (ON).

“It disconnects all 12 volt circuitry from the batteries, with the exception of the LP detector.”

We have an all electric coach and we do not have a liquid propane detector. And there is some debate on the forums as to whether some devices still draw power from the house batteries even when the battery disconnect is activated (e.g., smoke detectors).

We have stored our coach for several months over the years. I made sure that we had power to the coach in storage and I would go in and check the water level of the batteries on a regular basis.

A battery disconnect is a simple and safe way to disconnect the house batteries. No need to get out to the battery bay and remove battery leads. It is used when storing the coach without a source of power. It could be helpful for certain types of electrical work although I would prefer to leave that decision in the hands of a knowledgeable electrician.

Top Snowbird Tips and News

Canada’s one-stop resource for snowbirds: snowbirdadvisor.ca. The promise of free and useful information built on a platform for advertising travel-related services targeted at wealthier retired Canadians.

Difficult to get a precise number, although some estimates suggest that over one million Canadian seniors go south to the United States for at least a month or longer. Many will stay three to six months.

Canadians represent the largest international tourist group for the state of Florida. And Canadians are the number one group of international buyers of real estate in Florida. More than half a million Canadians own property in Florida.

Canadians pay cash for U.S. real estate. Very few take out loans.

Canadian snowbirds represent an attractive market for a number of services: insurance, real estate, tax and legal, and destination marketing.

I am a member of the snowbirdadvisor.ca website and I receive regular updates from them. They had recently published an article on an introduction to the RV lifestyle for snowbirds.

The Canadian Recreational Vehicle Association has noticed that retirees are choosing RVs over rental or ownership options when wintering in the United States. There has been a big surge over the past decade in the sale of RVs to the mature market. Over 60% of all Canadian RV buyers are first time buyers.

We were first time buyers. We bought our coach three years ago. Many of our Canadian RV friends did the same as they neared retirement.

The article suggests the following reasons for choosing the RV lifestyle in retirement:

  • Freedom to travel to different destinations each year, or multiple destinations in a single season
  • Ability to leave and return whenever you want
  • Flexibility of schedules and planning
  • Very relaxed lifestyle
  • Your home away from home and your own things are with you all the way
  • Affordability – compared with airline trips, hotels, rentals and vacation home ownership
  • Enjoy the outdoor and camping lifestyle, but with all the comforts of home
  • You can use your RV for summer trips too – or as a cottage

I’d challenge the affordability reason. Yes, if you spend a few thousand on an old travel trailer and boondock for free, your costs will be quite low. For most, the RV lifestyle is just as costly when compared to airline trips, hotels, rentals and vacation home ownership. You have to buy the RV, insure it, fuel it, service it, store it, park it and, when all is said and done, it would be far less costly to rent a condo south for the winter.

The article raised a number of questions. These are my thoughts on those questions.

What types of RVs are most popular for snowbirds?

Travel trailers. They represent the largest number of RV shipments in the industry. Fifth wheels would be the most popular for Canadian snowbirds. We see a significantly lower number of Canadian Class A motorhomes in our travels.

Should you rent an RV before you buy?

No. You should research carefully and thoroughly before you buy. We spent considerable time looking at all of the options, manufacturers, and floor plans. Even then we did not buy the perfect coach. They don’t make one yet.

Should you buy a new or used RV?

Used. The depreciation hit is so significant for Canadians that it is really unwise to buy new. We bought new and we have learned a rather expensive lesson. Next time we will buy used.

How much does an RV cost in Canada?

More than it should. Our government insists on impoverishing its citizens through its policies on taxation and devaluing the Canadian dollar. Roughly 90 percent of all RVs sold in Canada are made in the United States. We pay a premium due to our devalued currency and, of course, we pay taxes on the total purchase cost. The cost of an RV might vary between a few thousand for something quite basic to a few million for a luxury Class A. The question isn’t how much an RV might cost. The question is how much are you prepared to spend on an RV?

What are the other costs associated with the RV lifestyle?

More than you might think. As part of our research we looked into all of the following costs: fuel, park fees, RV insurance, travel insurance, currency exchange, maintenance, storage, extended warranty, coach improvements and accessories, roadside assistance, RV clubs and memberships, entertainment (satellite TV and satellite radio), Internet (cellular and WiFi), tow vehicle and accessories (tow bar, supplementary braking system), license fees, toll fees. Those incremental costs can really add up.

Do you need a special driver’s license for an RV?

Possibly. Rules vary by province and by class of RV. In Ontario, the laws governing license class are based primarily on weight. Our coach exceeds 11,000 kgs and we are required to hold a commercial driver’s license. Our coach has an air brake system and we are required to have a special endorsement for the air brake system on our license.

What are the most popular RV winter destinations?

Snowbirds on the eastern side of Canada tend to go to Florida. Snowbirds on the western side of Canada tend to go to California and Arizona. Last winter we travelled both sides. This winter we will stay in Florida.

We love the RV lifestyle and we wouldn’t change our decision embrace the RV lifestyle. Retirement is freedom and we are loving our time in retirement and living out of our RV.

Your Door Is Ajar

The classic Dad joke: when is a door not a door? When it is a jar.

I know. Let it all out. The groaning and the moaning. All set? Feel better? Okay, let’s continue.

Today’s button is not really a button. It is a door handle. Simple enough. You can open and close the door. Lock and unlock the door. And there is also a deadbolt lock for the door.

That assumes, of course, that the door that Newmar installed works like a door.

It doesn’t.

Many Newmar owners have found themselves locked inside their own coaches unable to get the door to open. It happened to us a few years back. Another wonderful feature of these doors on some models? They can open. On their own. Unexpectedly. Like our awnings. This can bring a bit of excitement to those long, boring drives on the Interstate. “Sorry dear, it appears as though the dog has just jumped out the open door.”

Our door seems to prefer being locked. Even when we want to get out.

We had to learn the hard way that there is a specific protocol that must be used to avoid being trapped within our coach.

Curious to know the magic trick?

First the door handle.

The top latch is the deadbolt. As far as I know, it doesn’t seem to play a role in keeping us trapped inside our coach. The big handle is, of course, the door handle. It suggests that raising the handle will let you out of the coach. And it does most of the time.

Except for when it doesn’t.

The red latch underneath the door handle is the door lock. Sometimes the coach will automatically lock the door when it is begins moving. Not sure if it does that all the time. For example, at a fuel stop, I might pull the coach forward and unlock the door for Lorraine to enter — she usually goes back to pay the fuel bill as I clear the pump area. Sometimes it stays unlocked after she steps back in the coach and we start moving again.

But this one thing I do know. Never, ever attempt to open the door without unlocking it first. If you fail to unlock the door before exiting the coach it may cause the locking mechanism to get jammed which will prevent the door from opening.

This happened to us at a truck stop a few years ago. We pulled in to fuel the vehicle and Lorraine opened the door, assuming that regardless of the state of the door lock, it would just open. If the door was locked, it would unlock and open by raising the door handle. No need to push the red latch up.

Except it didn’t.

The door would not open.

We could not get out.

When this happened, we were really quite stunned. How could we be trapped inside our vehicle? What if there had been a fire at the back of the coach and we needed to get out of the front entrance door in a hurry?

This really poor door design means that if you pull up on the door handle when the door is in the locked position, the locking mechanism could get jammed and you will be stuck, unable to exit the door.

I suspect part of the problem is related to getting an airtight seal for the door. To do so you really have to slam the heck out of these doors. Ask any Newmar owner with a bit of experience. They know that these doors need slamming when driving the coach.

This door slamming technique triggers a secondary latching mechanism which holds the door tight to the frame. And that same latching mechanism can prevent you from getting out. The lock can get stuck in this locking mechanism forcing you to use some brute force methods to get the door to open again.

We spent about an hour on the phone with Newmar that day trying to figure out how to get out of our coach. At one point they even asked us to jump out the emergency door in the back.

No thanks. Getting in and out way back there would be a pretty big jump. No extended ladder for the rear exit was provided for our model year. That feature came in subsequent years.

Ultimately we called a couple of guys over from another fuel lane and with much pushing, shoving and pulling from both sides of the door it finally worked its way open.

The complete story from when it happened back in 2016 can be found here.

Seems a bit funny now. Didn’t seem that way back then.

How to use this door from the inside? Always unlock it BEFORE you open it.

The door does stay put once we are in transit. Only our awnings open unexpectedly now and then although hopefully that particular issue has been fixed now.

The joys of owning a motorcoach.