Introducing our new motorhome

January 31, 2013

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!

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The Search for our RV (Part 2)

January 26, 2013

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!


The Search for our RV (Part 1)

January 23, 2013

Buying an RV is an analyzer’s worst nightmare.  There are thousands of new and used RV models to choose from in North America.  Only a few of these are great.  Some are downright dangerous.  Some key decisions that need to be made are:

Type – Should we get a motorized RV (a motorhome), a towable RV (e.g. travel trailer or 5th wheel), or a truck camper?

A generic white motorhome

One of many styles of motorhomes

A generic white travel trailer

An example of a travel trailer

A gerneric white camper on a white truck

An example of a truck with camper

Each type has pros and cons.  We decided that a motorhome would be best for our intended style of travel.  They work well for both wilderness and urban camping, whether staying in a campground or free camping.  The S&M Motel that we used in Europe as part of the ‘Great Trans-Atlantic Camper Van Swap is a motorhome.

Picture of the S&M Motel (the RV we're traveling in)

The S&M Motel

Intended Use  —  Very few RVs are suitable for heavy usage.  Most are designed for vacationers who use them less than 4 weeks a year.  These aren’t built to last or to stand up to daily use by full-timers or snow-birds.  The few that are are usually very expensive.

New or Used – We intended to purchase a used RV.  New RV’s typically depreciate about 30% in the first 3 years.  Like used gym equipment, it’s possible to find lightly used RVs at a significant discount.  In addition to the new car smell, new RVs typically come with a lot of small issues that need to be addressed.  A properly maintained used RV should have had all the bugs worked out, but careful research and inspection are required to avoid buying someone else’s problems.  Between our intended travels in 2013 and those of our friends Sue and Martin in 2014, we expect to put on between 50,000 and 80,000 kilometers over the next 2 years.  This is much more mileage than most RVs receive (typical usage is 6,000 km per year), so it’s essential that we buy an RV with very low mileage.

Size – We want the shortest RV that would meet our needs.  This makes driving and parking much easier.  Although larger units are impressive and tempting, and sometimes not much more costly, they don’t work very well in the city.

We attended a couple of RV shows and researched the major manufacturers online.  This helped us to develop a feel for what was available and to identify 38 RV models (yes, 38) that might work for us.  We used the reliability, value, and highway control ratings in the RV Ratings Guide from RV Consumer’s Group to narrow down our list a bit, removing those units that were rated as unsafe or of exceedingly poor quality.  We next developed our own key criteria list, 11 must-have and high priority features that our RV needed to have:

  • Full-time bed – that doesn’t need to be made up to  sleep
  • Full-time dinette – so we don’t have to set up a table to eat
  • 3-burner cooktop – the 2-burner ‘camp stoves’ in  some units just won’t do
  • Gas oven – a convection microwave just won’t cut it.  Very few RVs have gas ovens these days, as apparently most people don’t use them and end up storing things inside      them instead.
  • A slide – A wall that lides out to create more room inside when parked
  • Short cab overhang – for better visibility
  • Enclosed shower – so the whole bathroom doesn’t get      wet
  • Generator – more electricity on demand
  • Suitable for cold weather use
  • A model that is still manufactured – increases the      likelihood of getting parts
  • North American service network – dealers across      North America that can provide warranty repairs and service the RV

Applying these criteria only narrowed the list down from 38 to about 20, so we added 8 more criteria:

  • Fiberglass roof – more durable and easier to maintain
  • 1-piece fiberglass nose cap – fewer leaks in the most leak-prone area
  • Awning – manual or electric, the bigger the better
  • Front seats rotate – allowing them to be used in conjunction with the living area.       Very few motorhomes offer this, but some could be upgraded afterwards.
  • 2-way refrigerator – operates on propane and 110 Volt electricy.  Every unit offered this, but almost none had a 3-way fridge that could also run on 12 Volt electricy.
  • Counter space – the more the better
  • Double sink – makes doing the dishes easier
  • 110 Volt Water Heater – works on propane but can  also run on 110 Volt electricity when connected to ‘shore power’ (the RV term for being plugged in to external power)

This brought our list of potential RV models down to a more manageable number of 10, but it was still too many to begin detailed evaluations.  Analysis paralysis began to set in…


Our Next Adventure

January 19, 2013

Happy New Year!  Another lap around the sun.  An occasion for new beginnings.  The perfect time to begin another adventure.

When we returned from Europe in September, 2012, Diane and I had already agreed how we would spend our 2013, though it was not what we had in our minds when we left for Europe in April.  We had intended to return to Vancouver and settle down for a while.  Then our friends Sue and Martin asked us if they could defer their trip to the colonies by another year, meaning that they wouldn’t be needing the RV, the one we haven’t purchased yet, until 2014.  Since our home is currently occupied by foreigners, this gave us an opening to buy an RV a bit earlier and to use it in 2013.  A great opportunity to do some more traveling, and to make sure that our soon-to-be RV is fully tested and ready for our friends.

And so it was that we decided to pursue another travel adventure in 2013 – a circumnavigation of the United States and Canada!  We plan to leave Vancouver in January 2013 and quickly make our way down the west coast to the warmer weather of Southern California and Arizona.  We’ll cross the southern states during the winter then follow the sun up the eastern seaboard as the weather warms.  We’ll cross back into Canada by mid-summer, careful not to overstay our welcome in the U.S. (Canadians tourists are allowed to stay for a maximum of 6 months).  We’ll explore the Maritimes and Eastern Canada before heading back across the Prairies in the fall, hopefully crossing the Rocky Mountains before the heavy snow flies.

Other than this vague outline, we have no specific plans.  There are a few friends and family that we hope to visit along the way, mostly in the west.  We’ll follow our whims and the weather, travelling on the highways of life and the byways of experience.

I’m excited about what lies ahead and we invite you to participate in our adventure.  We hope that you enjoy the stories of our journey.  Because many of you have traveled in the United States and Canada, we look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions.  As it was when I started this blog, it remains my intention that we will all benefit from the experience.  Thank-you for participating and have a great 2013!