Tag Archives: Forest River

Help Name our RV Contest

We need your help!  We’ve been traveling in our motorhome for almost 2 months but it doesn’t have a name yet.  I read somewhere that it’s best not to force a name on one’s vehicle, far better to let it come naturally.  Perhaps we can help that process along a bit.

Readers of the blog already know lots about our motorhome and our plans (please see the archives in January and February), but here is some information.  Our motorhome is a Solera manufactured in America by Forest River.  The chassis is a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter made in Germany.  Our names are Patrick and Diane and, to the best of our knowledge, we were made in Canada.

The Prize – In addition to the glory of winning and our perpetual gratitude, the winner will receive a prize.

Contest Period – This contest will close on Sunday, March 24th at 11 PM PST.

How to Enter – Leave a comment on this blog posting.  Up to five entries can be submitted by each person.  The contest is open to everyone.

How to Win — A single winner will be chosen by the judge.  The judge’s decision is final and I am the judge.  The winner will be the person who proposes the name that best fits our motorhome and us.  Preference will be given to creative and fun names.

Details — The winner will be announced on the blog and notified privately by email.  The winner will have 7 days to respond with contact information or will forfeit the prize in which case the prize will be awarded to the runner-up.  The prize will be shipped anywhere in Canada or the continental United States.  If the winner lives elsewhere, alternate arrangements can be discussed.

Have Fun!

There and back again — Picking up our Motorhome

We purchased our Solera from RV Direct’s dealership in Des Moines, Iowa.  Why so far away?  There are no Forest River dealers in British Columbia that sell this model.  In fact, there is only dealer in Canada (in Laval, Quebec) that sells them, and they buy them at RV Direct, import them just as we did, and mark up the price for re-sale.

After viewing their inventory, including pictures and the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price sheet online, I received a quote for our Solera from RV Direct in under an hour.  The price was 30% less than the MSRP.  Unlike cars, RVs have high markups and can be purchased at significant discounts, typically 20% and as much as 40% off for clearance models.

I spent a couple of days finding all the dealers on the west coast of the U.S. with Soleras in inventory to try and get a price close to what I’d been offered by RV Direct.  There were 11 Soleras available in Washington, Oregon, and California, and all were priced considerably higher.  As I expected, part of the difference was the cost of delivery to the west coast.  New American motorhomes aren’t shipped from the mid-west (typically Indiana) where they are manufactured, but driven, typically adding about 2200 miles and $3500 (roughly $1.75 per mile) to their cost.  I was prepared to pay this, but not the thousands of additional dollars that these dealers wanted in profit for the same product. Driving an RV across the prairies in the middle of winter can be risky (weather delay, rock and salt damage, accident) and since the mileage for the warranty begins when you leave the dealership, it also meant that we’d be putting 2000 miles against our 1 year, 12,000 mile limited warranty before we even got the vehicle home.  But the savings by buying in the mid-west were so significant, that I just couldn’t justify doing otherwise.

And so it was that early on the morning of December 27th, Diane and my friend Lee drove me to to Vancouver International Airport.  I flew first to Minneapolis/St. Paul where my connecting flight was delayed by a few hours.  I had just missed a blizzard that had hammered the mid-west just after Christmas and had shut-down the airports.  When I finally boarded the flight to Des Moines, most of the people on my plane had been waiting in the airport or nearby hotels for 2 days!  I caught the shuttle to a cheap hotel nearby and, since it was late, ordered some pasta to be delivered from a nearby restaurant.

The next day I caught a taxi to the dealer’s service area, a difficult-to-find garage behind a warehouse north of town in an industrial area.  Our Solera was indoors in a building which had a faint sewer odour (literally ‘eau de toilette’).  The dealer had prepped the motorhome by de-winterizing it, filling it with fuel, water, and propane, and testing all the essential functions.

The pre-delivery inspection is critical when buying a new or used RV.  The technician should walk you through all the features and functions of the RV to demonstrate that they’re working and to orient and educate.  Because this would be my only chance to identify any issues before driving the vehicle very far away, probably never to return to this dealer, I was prepared.  I had my own 295 item checklist ready, which I had compiled from similar lists I had found on the Internet (prepared by other detail-oriented buyers).

The technician was good.  He ran through the key things with me and then left me to do my thing.  My appointment began at 1 PM and around 4 PM he needed to start re-winterizing the coach, which he allowed me to watch and explained while I took notes.  Hopefully I’ll be able to do it myself next time.  The service department closed at 5 PM and, even though I hadn’t finished all my checks, at around 5:30 I signed the Forest River warranty document that says that I accept the motorhome.  This document also says that after this point Forest River and the dealer are no longer responsible for any damage.  So it is very important to identify any scratches, dents, or other damage on the initial inspection and have them noted on the warranty form, perhaps even more so than manufacturing flaws or mechanical issues which can be identified and addressed under warranty later.

I drove out into the darkness in the middle of a snow storm…

Introducing our new motorhome

We purchased a new 2013 Forest River Solera 24S. You can read about our search here The Search for our RV (Part 1) and The Search for our RV (Part 2).  We purchased the Special Edition model which supposedly has a number of upgrades, but I believe that every Solera available is an SE, making it more of a mandatory or ‘feel good’ upgrade package than a true option.

Passenger side of white motorhome on flast desert ground taken from low angle

Our Solera is 7.5 meters (24.5 feet) long, but almost a meter longer (i.e. 27 feet) with the rear bike rack we added (more about that to come).  It is 2.3 meters (7 feet 7 inches) wide and 3.5 meters (11 feet 6 inches) high, which Martin will be pleased to hear allows an interior height of 2.13 meters (7 feet).

It sits on a Mercedes Benz Sprinter 3500 chassis made in Germany.  It has a Mercedes Benz V6 3.0 Litre BlueTec Turbo diesel engine capable of 188 horsepower and a 5-speed automatic transmission with overdrive and tip-shift (which allows optional manual shifting).  The rear axle has 4 wheels for a total of 6.

It has a 26.4 gallon (100 Litre) fuel tank and should get 12-17 miles per gallon (15.6 L/100km), for an estimated range of 400 miles (630 kilometers).

Motorhome taken from front at 3/4 angle in a parking lot at night

Solera Exterior at night

Our Solera has the standard exterior (white gel-coat fiberglass with stickers) which was cheaper than the full-body paint and should be cooler in the summer.  It has a fiberglass roof (more durable and easier to maintain) and a 1-piece fiberglass nose cap (fewer leaks).

It has 1.9 cubic meters (67 cubic feet) of external storage across 5 compartments including a large ‘garage’ at the rear.  It also has a 4.6 meter (15 feet) long electric awning that extends and retracts at the touch of a button.

The cab from the rear with 2 seats, dash, steering wheel, and multi-media system

The Cab

The cab has an open feel and plenty of leg room because it doesn’t have a large center console (unlike the Ford chassis), but there is still plenty of storage in the dash, doors, and above the visors.

The cab multi-media system is feature rich (7” touchscreen with AM/FM, CD, DVD, USB, Aux, weather band, Bluetooth, an iPod dock, and GPS) but it’s quality-challenged.  There is also a back up camera where the rear view mirror would normally be.

Kitchen on the left, bed and bathroom in the rear, storage and dinette on the right

The interior looking back from the cab

The interior has a kitchen, bed, bathroom, vanity, dinette, and storage plus an additional bed (or more storage) over the cab.  The woodwork is cherry and the fabrics are what Forest River calls ‘fieldstone’.

Our Solera has a 2.75 meter (9 foot) long slide on the driver’s side that can extend the dinette, closet, and drawers outward to create more living space.  Everything in the RV is operational and there is sufficient room for 2 people to function when the slide is in, but having it extended makes a big difference.  Diane has said several times how happy she is that we got a motorhome with a slide.

The kitchen with cupboards, cook top, oven, microwave, and fridge.

The Kitchen

The kitchen has a single sink, a 3 burner gas cooktop, a gas oven, a range hood with an exhaust fan and a dim light, a microwave, and a refrigerator with separate freezer.  The fridge will run on propane or 110 V electricity.

The bed with a comforter with windows on 2 sides

The Bed

We have a rear corner bed which at 50 x 75 inches (1.25 x 1.9 meters) is 10” narrower and 5” shorter than a standard queen-sized bed.  Yes Martin, there is room to sleep diagonally or dangle one’s feet off the end of the bed.  Because the bed is in a corner, it’s a bit awkward to make and to get out of at night, but it’s very comfortable after we added a memory foam mattress topper.  Diane is very happy in the bed department.

Bathroom with open door showing shower and toilet.  Vanity outside.

The bathroom and Vanity

The bathroom has a shower with a glass sliding door and a skylight above.  There is a porcelain commode that flushes with a foot pedal, but very little leg room when one is sitting on it.  We haven’t figured out where to attach the toilet paper holder yet!  There is also a vanity with a small sink, medicine cabinet, and mirror just outside the bathroom.

Closet, panty, and drawers in cheery wood besider a 4 person dinette

Storage and Dinette

Beside the closet, pull out panty, and storage drawers is the dinette which seats 4 people.  There are seatbelts in the dinette for 2 people (not for eating and drinking but for driving!).  From the dinette we can also watch the flat screen, 12 Volt TV that swings out from over the cab.  We can plug in to cable TV when available, receive ‘over the air’ high-definition television broadcasts with the adjustable roof antenna, watch video from our laptop, or play DVDs from the cab multi-media system.

We’re very happy with the layout and features of our new motorhome.  As we expected in a new RV, we’re finding a few glitches, but we hope to have them worked out soon.  Perhaps all that research was worth it!

The Search for our RV (Part 2)

After several weeks of researching motorhomes and narrowing down my list (see The Search for our RV (Part 1)), there were still 10 different models we were considering, with nothing significant to separate them.  With a bout of analysis paralysis coming on, we applied a bit of intuition and started to focus on the ones that we simply liked the best.  Feeling the need to step back a bit, Diane suggested that we go down to Seattle for a night to inspect and drive a couple of our preferred units.  Sometimes a change of perspective is all one needs.  Besides, what problem can’t be solved by a night away in nice hotel, a seafood dinner overlooking the water, and plenty of wine?

We inspected 5 Class C motorhomes (those built on a van or truck cab and chassis) in detail:

Winnebago View showing front and right side.

Winnebago View 24J

The View has good aerodynamics and the best fuel economy.  The driver seats rotate and it has the highest quality interior of these motorhomes.  Unfortunately, it only has a 2=burner stove and no oven, so these would need to be changed.  It is also the most expensive.

Winnebago Access showing front and right side.

Winnebago Access 26Q

The Access is the largest of these motorhomes.  It has a queen-sized, walk-around bed in the rear.  It also has good Winnebago quality.  It has the most counter, closet, and storage space, and the largest water and propane tanks.  It is also 8.5 meters (28 feet) long and has the worst fuel economy of the bunch.

Forest River Sunseeker showing front and right side with slide extended.

Forest River Sunseeker 2450s

The Sunseeker has a full Queen=sized bed with Serta mattress, and heated enclosed tanks and dump valves. It is one of the most popular Class C motorhomes in North America, offering good value with a lot of features for the money.

Forest River Solera showing front and left side with slide extended.

Forest River Solera 24s

The Solera has a long electric awning and a large slide.  It is similar to the Winnebago View but of lesser quality and has a lower price.

Jayco Redhawk showing front and left side

Jayco Redhawk 26XS

The Redhawk was just introduced this year.  It has a 32 inch flat screen TV and some other flashy features but cannot be ordered with any options. It is the cheapest of the RVs we considered, abd appeared to be of very low quality.

I compiled a list of 411 desirable features that Class C motorhomes might have.  We then completed this checklist (a spreadsheet actually) by reviewing the manufacturer’s specifications for each motorhome in detail.  Based on the knowledge I gained from How to Select, Inspect, and Buy an RV, also from RV Consumer’s Group, we physically inspected  each of the units.  Four were in BC – 2 in Kelowna, 1 in Abbotsford, and 1 in Langley, and 1 was in Mt. Vernon, WA (north of Seattle).  An inspection takes about 1 to 1.5 hours, and involves getting underneath and into every nook and cranny of the motorhome. Note that doing this can be hazardous to your health, as I learned during an inspection in Kelowna when I stood up into the corner of an extended slide from a neighbouring RV.

Closeup of Patrick's head with bandage pulled back to revearl a large wound on right temple

RV shopping is dangerous business!

The RVs we were considering are based on 2 different chassis.  Two are based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500 chassis which is shorter, narrower, lighter, has a 6-cylinder Turbo diesel engine, and is much easier to drive.  Three are based on the Ford E450 chassis which is 12 inches longer, supports motorhomes that are 10 to 12 inches wider, has a 12-cyclinder gasoline engine, and drives like a tank.  Sprinter-based motorhomes get 12-17 miles per gallon (mpg) using more expensive diesel fuel and the Ford only gets 8-11 mpg.  Sprinters also cost about $10,000 more, a difference in price that cannot be made up in fuel savings over the life of the RV.  On our upcoming North American trip, I estimated that a Sprinter would save us about $2,300 on fuel versus the Ford.

The biggest single influence on our decision was the test drive.  I drove one motorhome on each of the two chassis.  The Sprinter was much easier to drive and park, though it sways noticeably when driving over bumps, when walking around inside, and in high winds.  This is something that can be improved with after-market products like sway bars, enhanced shocks, air cushions, and stabilizer jacks, which could add as much as $6,000 to the cost of the motorhome.  The Ford felt rock-solid, but it was heavy, and I could hear the huge engine draining my wallet when we drove up hill.  Because it is wider it was harder to make turns while staying completely in my lane, and although we could barely fit its width in a parking space, we wouldn’t be able to open the doors if there were vehicles in the adjacent spaces.  Since Diane plans to drive the RV this trip, she wanted a Sprinter, but was concerned by the swaying.

In the end, we decided to buy a new RV in the United States. The cost of a new RV was significantly lower than an equivalent unit in Canada.  Even with the extra expenses associated with getting it back to and into the country, it cost the same as a used RV in Canada.

Which motorhome would you have selected?  In my next post I’ll reveal which one we chose!