Well, since today was a typical work day without much interesting to write about, I thought I would address a topic that has re-surfaced recently in emails and the Forum.
The new Forum topic in "Buying An RV" is "Extra Vehicle When Fulltiming In A Fifth Wheel?"
Like us, the poster thought they would be buying a motorhome, but determined they like the floorplans, the more homey feeling, the extra space, and the lower entry and maintenance costs of a fifth wheel.
So the questions for us are "Why did you decide to get an extra vehicle?" and "How's that working out?".
Much of what I'm about to write has been written in the Journal before, but I don't think I've ever put it all together in a single entry. Maybe I can just copy and paste this one on our FAQ page. :)
Why Did We Decide To Get An Extra Vehicle?
Well, we actually contemplated a second vehicle before we went on the road. Linda had a Suzuki Grand Vitara 4WD SUV and I had an Infiniti I30 four-door sedan. Both were paid for and in pretty good shape, but, from a practical standpoint, we thought the 4WD vehicle with a little extra storage space would be a better choice than the more comfortable Infiniti if we went that route.
However, we thought it would be a hassle to have a second vehicle and that we couldn't afford it in our budget. Plus, just starting out on our adventure, Linda didn't want to travel separately. So we sold both our prior vehicles.
As we traveled our first two years, we endured the rough-riding, tough-to-park-in-town Ford F-450 as our local transportation. The F-450 rides beautifully when towing and it's fine on good roads at higher speeds. But in the remote places we like to camp, the regular roads aren't that good and the local exploring we like to do often requires getting off the pavement.
Still, one of the benefits of a fifth wheel is having only one vehicle to maintain. In the "one trade-off for another world of full-time RVing", we just accepted the faults of the big truck as the trade-off for living in the fifth wheel we love. Now, we admit we didn't add air bags or put air in and out of tires like a lot of people do to improve the ride of the truck, so we don't know if that would have pacified us or not. My hunch was "not". :)
Things started to change for us when we took our first volunteer job at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas. We were there four and a half months. Driving the truck on the rough backroads ten miles to get to the grocery store got old. Driving the truck fifty miles or so roundtrip to see local sights also got old - we hitched a ride with someone else anytime we could. :)
While at that "job", we met another couple that were full-timers and workampers. They had a fifth wheel and had the extra vehicle and wouldn't do it any other way. The thought of a second vehicle for us popped back into our heads.
As we left South Texas and started traveling again, we hit Big Bend National Park. Getting off the main road and exploring in our truck just about jarred our brains out. Our high clearance was fine, but we had to creep along the rocky dirt roads. Big Bend is a huge place and it took us a long time to get anywhere. By the time we'd get to a trailhead we were worn out ... and we dreaded the drive back. :)
So the thought of a second vehicle simmered for awhile. We discussed and fantasized about the type of vehicle.
"Wouldn't it be fun to have a small, 30 mpg or more convertible?" "Maybe we should get a Heavy Duty Truck (HDT) where we could haul a Mini-Cooper or a Smart Car on the back of the truck between the cab and fifth wheel hitch or we could double-tow." "What about a Jeep for off-roading?" We even considered a motorcycle ... for about 30 seconds. :)
We dismissed the sporty little car idea - we like getting back in the boonies and we needed more ground clearance and 4WD. We dismissed the HDT idea - I'm just not an HDT guy and we didn't like the idea of double-towing at all due to the overall length (also, double-towing is illegal in many states). I did my homework and found the serious off-roading Jeeps didn't get very good gas mileage.
We put the idea on hold for awhile. It was in July of 2007 when we started getting serious. We were in Woodland Park, CO for a month with our friends Jack & Danielle. (Jack & Danielle have an HDT and they do double-tow). They let us borrow their Jeep Wrangler and sent us out exploring a road that would have been miserable in our truck. We loved the drive and we were convinced. :)
However, the practical side took over our discussions. We weren't really that serious about off-roading and we needed an off-road 4WD vehicle that would be comfortable on pavement 90% of the time and would still get decent gas mileage. Jack, our mentor since we started, suggested a Jeep Liberty.
We went through a pros/cons analysis of the second vehicle with the Liberty in mind.
More comfortable vehicle for local exploring and trips to the grocery.
Better fuel efficiency when doing lots of local driving.
Smaller vehicle for easier maneuvering on smaller roads, parking lots, and in town. The truck was fine most of the time, but, on occasion, parking options were limited and narrow roads were scary causing some frustration and a little stress.
Excellent off-road capability while maintaining "car-like" feel.
Extra storage while traveling to take weight out of the RV. Could travel with back seats down and then still have a four-passenger vehicle when needed.
Place to add a bike rack to carry our bikes. At the time we were hauling our bikes in the basement of the fifth wheel. That took up space, and they were a pain to get in and out of there.
Could park the truck and fifth wheel and explore campgrounds or boondocking areas for sites and use the Jeep to make sure we could get in and out.
Could use both vehicles and leave one at the beginning and one at the end of one-way trails or river put-ins/take-outs for our canoe.
Could use the Jeep to run interference when needing to change lanes or make wide turns.
Could use the Jeep to run ahead and verify turns, directions, and access for the rig.
Could use the Jeep to be the eyes in the back of the rig while traveling and provide an alert of any problems.
Would have two vehicles, so we each could go somewhere different when parked in a campground.
If the truck broke down while traveling, one person could stay with the truck/fifth wheel while the other went to get help. We wouldn't have to leave our home on the side of the road looking abandoned.
Up front cost of second vehicle. Since we wouldn't borrow the funds, we would have to use a big cash outlay.
Additional cost of insurance, maintenance, gas, registration fees for second vehicle.
Loss of traveling together and having a navigator side-by-side
Difficulty of parking an extra vehicle in campsites. Might have to park one vehicle far away from campsite.
Possible extra fees for having a second vehicle in a campground. Note: Those extra fees are usually to control additional people on a campsite and to cut down parking problems. Often the fees have been waived for us when we tell them we only have two people and are full-timers.
Well, the "pros" seemed to heavily outweigh the "cons". But the big "cons" were the extra expenses. Once we got past the upfront cost, we needed to decide whether we could handle the extra monthly costs or if we could lower our budget in other areas. I estimated the extra vehicle would cost us about $200 a month additional - no small decision.
Ultimately, we decided we could reduce expenses in other areas and that getting a used Jeep Liberty would be a good lifestyle addition for us. As fate would have it, when we made our decision in Woodland Park in July 2007, the local Jeep dealer in Colorado Springs just happened to get in a 2003 Jeep Liberty with only 39,000 miles. Plus, it had a sunroof which helped the fact that it wasn't a convertible. :)
We purchased the Liberty and haven't looked back.
How's The Extra Vehicle Working Out?
For us, the "pros" have all panned out just as we'd hoped ... and then some. I keep saying the purchase of the Jeep was one of the top two decisions we've made in our full-timing life. It gives us so many more options, provides tremendous flexibility, and adds safety and peace of mind on travel days.
Psychologically, it has had some interesting effects. Linda was an annoying, angst-ridden passenger in the truck on travel days. By having a steering wheel in her hand, she feels in control. When she is towing the rig, she has less anxiety. And when following in the Jeep, she not only has control of a wheel, but she feels good about seeing what's going on with the rig.
Another interesting phenomenon is that Linda no longer feels the need for me to go into a new town with her the first time. She has never minded driving the truck, but for some reason, when we parked at a campground and needed to make a post office or grocery run into an unfamiliar place, she always wanted me to go with her. With the Jeep, she has no reluctance at all to go by herself. We still haven't quite figured that one out. :)
As for the "cons", it has turned out that the monthly increase in expenses is less than half what I estimated. We still have insurance and registration fees, but the cost of extra gas by having one of us drive the Jeep separately while traveling is completely offset by the savings of driving the Jeep locally instead of the truck. The Jeep is costing us about $60 a month extra and we've easily absorbed that by reducing other expenses.
Many people were concerned and even dismayed that we would travel separately. Here were the stats we had at the time we purchased the Jeep to help us determine driving separately would be no big deal.
In twenty-four months on the road and 72 moves:
- We were averaging three moves per month
- The most we had moved in a month is seven times (once)
- Our average move was 132 miles
- We had moved over 200 miles only 10 times, over 250 miles 2 times, and over 300 miles 1 time
- Half of our monthly mileage was while not towing
Those were the stats back then being on the road for two years. Here are the stats as of today.
In forty-eight months on the road and 125 moves:
- We are averaging less than three moves per month
- The most we have moved in a month is seven times (three times)
- Our average move is 152 miles
- We have moved over 200 miles only 36 times, over 250 miles 10 times, and over 300 miles 4 times
- Almost two thirds of our monthly mileage is while not towing (over the last two years)
You can see the effect of additional workamping as our average moves per month as gone down and our average amount of "monthly mileage while not towing" has gone way up. The last two years we have spent in the west where it is farther to get from one place to another, thus the increases in our average move mileage and the increase in the number of longer trips.
So what is the purpose of those stats?
Well, first, they tell you we aren't on the move with our rig very much (19,000 miles in four years), and we drive a lot locally. That's why the cost of the extra vehicle is manageable. If you travel a lot more than we do, the cost of that extra vehicle might be prohibitive for you unless you can and are willing to double-tow. It's mostly just math - do the math! :)
Secondly, the stats tell you that we don't move very often, and when we do, we don't go very far. That's why driving separate is a "con" hardly worth mentioning for us. :)
With our walkie-talkies we still have communication during our trips and we have the same banter. Actually, since we are practically together 24/7, some separate time apart not a bad thing. Also, I discovered some additional "pros" of driving separately. Here they are for your amusement:
- No one sitting next to me telling me how to drive: "Slow down! Gear down! No whipping! They're braking ahead! Railroad crossing! Get over!"
- No unexpected shrieks when chipmunks cross the road or birds fly too low in front of the rig
- I can play whatever music I want at whatever volume I want
- I can sing as loud and off-key as I want
- I am uninhibited in talking to myself
- I can choose windows down or air conditioner on and not be wrong
- I can use the windshield wipers at my own discretion
- No spousal passenger inspections and comments about wild hairs growing from my eyebrows, ears, or nose
So, in addition to the many "pros" of having an extra vehicle, I learned that even one of my initial "cons" is actually a "pro". :)
As for having difficulty parking the extra vehicle in campgrounds, it hasn't been nearly as big an issue as I thought. In most cases we have enough room to park both vehicles in our site. Yes, that makes the site seem smaller, but that's not a huge issue for us.
Sometimes, we choose to park the truck in an overflow parking area to give us more room or because it just won't fit in the site. Most of the time we can park the truck where we can at least see it from our site, but not always. We usually don't worry too much about security in the campgrounds, but there is that thought in the back of our minds that something could happen to the truck overnight. So far, no problem.
In the two years since we've had the Jeep, I think we've paid an extra vehicle fee one time. As I said when listing that issue as a "con", we usually get any extra vehicle fee waived when we tell the campground we are full-timers and have only two people. Often, the campground treats the Jeep like a "toad" for a motorhome where an extra vehicle fee isn't usually charged.
So there you have it. The whole story about the extra vehicle in one convenient place.
Like full-timing itself, having an extra vehicle isn't for everybody. But it has been a terrific choice for us. We love having a fifth wheel as our home, but we have the advantage of a great running around vehicle just like those in motorhomes. It seems like the best of both to us. :)