RV: To purchase or not ...

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RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by smilemore » Tue Oct 14, 2014 9:48 am

This year, our first, was an incredible experience.

From the privately arranged RV rental to being turned back due to rain and spending an unexpected and wonderfully "could-not-have-planned-it-any-better" opening night on the shores of Pyramid Lake to the no wait at the gate (in or out) to the week of eye opening, smile inducing, foot grooving interactions on the playa and, even, to the missed flight on the way home. It was all awesome in some way or another ... and we will be coming back.

This year we rented an RV out of Sacramento ... a private rental. It went very smooth, with excellent owners and good equipment. It cost us about $4000 (rental, ins., other fees but not fuel). In effort to make our return next year a bit more affordable, we are considering our options. One of those options is to purchase an RV or trailer for use while there. This, of course, may (probably will) be more expensive at the outset but if we are able to use repeatedly it may be the wiser financial choice. This is where you all come in ... I am looking for your unabashed advice, opinions, experiences, etc., in order to help us come to a better educated decision.

Why we are considering an RV / Trailer:
1. We want the toilet.
2. We want the comfortable bed.
3. We like the fridge.

Things we have considered:
1. Making a purchase in California/Nevada while living in Ontario, Canada ... tricky.
2. Storage while not using at Burning Man.
3. Licensing, insurance, registration as a foreigner.
4. Offseason renting it out.

Thanks for all input, snark or otherwise!

Cheers,

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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Ano » Tue Oct 14, 2014 9:58 am

After doing two years of too many fucking days in the desert, I've come to the conclusion that a trailer or RV is going to be necessary in order to fully enjoy the latter half of my week... I don't know the challenges coming from that far away, since I am lucky to be in Sacramento, but I'm going to be watching this thread carefully.

I do know that some people like to just file DMV paperwork to list their trailer/RV as non-operational for the months they aren't using it. Also, water damage is the hidden and silent killer of used trailers/RVs across the used market. I've also heard that RVs are like boats, and the two happiest days in the life of the RV owner are the day they buy the RV, and the day they sell it...

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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by sadie » Tue Oct 14, 2014 10:26 am

I would be real picky about who I rented it out to.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by JayBobBoy » Tue Oct 14, 2014 11:59 am

Hi Smilemore,

After attending in 2002 and again in 2009, I came to the same realization as you. I needed those basic creature comforts (toilet & bed) so I could get the most out of the event. Especially if you have early entry and spend 10 to 12 days there. So in 2010, I bought a used travel trailer that has been a great Playa home for the last two years. I'm in the SF Bay Area, so I can pull it back and forth to the event.

Here are some tips if your looking at used RV's or trailers. I spent roughly $2K on the initial purchase. After a couple of test camping trips, it became obvious that there were issues with it that needed to be fixed before I would trust it in the desert for a week. I ended up putting another $1.5K or so into upgrades and repairs. After that, it's been maintenance free!

*My refrigerator would fire up using the propane, but would not get cold. The old ones become clogged within the coils and while they look like they work, they don't. Total replacement is the only fix for this! We've used dry ice and coolers instead, and it's really no big deal. The fridge is now our pantry.

*Unseen water damage can be very difficult to find. Especially if the seller has done a good job hiding it. I ended up rebuilding the front wall of my trailer. It is now stronger than it was before. I know that there is more water damage in spots, but it's nothing I can't deal with. It is still structurally sound. (And then of course it rained on us in the fucking desert! But again...no big deal)

*STORAGE FEES AND ONGOING MAINTENANCE! This is the biggest drain. Paying a monthly fee to have it parked somewhere can be very expensive. You must factor this into the cost of ownership. It's painful writing that check every month if you only use it for a week each year! I've been able to use it on many other occasions which has helped to justify all the time and effort. I'm not sure I would have purchased it just for BM. Maintenance for an RV will be different. Engines (generators and truck engines) that sit idle for long periods of time have their own specific set of issues that I don't have to deal with.

Because I did not spend a huge fortune on my rig, I have no problem bringing it to the desert. Or anywhere for that matter. Dirt, dings, and scratches are a fact of life. You have to be ready to deal with it!

I hope this is somewhat helpful. Feel free to PM me if you have specific questions. Good Luck!
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by smilemore » Wed Oct 15, 2014 6:33 am

sadie wrote:I would be real picky about who I rented it out to.
Ya ... the whole renting it out when we're not using it really only comes into play if we purchase a newer and much moe expensive model and then use an RV rental management company ... we basically give them our unit and they take care of all the details and send us a percentage of rental income. No experience with this system but have spoken with some people who are currently doing this and it works for them.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by smilemore » Wed Oct 15, 2014 6:39 am

Thanks for the input JayBobBoy ... you make some good points.

With buying a trailer we would still be left with renting a tow vehicle when we show up so that would cost us another $1000 per burn. I was also wondering if you are "allowed" and/or able to rent a pickup truck and then mount a truck camper onto it. Or do the rental folks frown on that sort of thing? I'll give them a call directly to see.

With regard to storage I had mused about offering the unit for free use to anyone for the rest of the year in exchange for free storage. We could find a $4000 camper to buy, use it for the week, store it with someone "trustworthy" for the rest of the year and if we got 2 years out of it we would come out ahead.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Elliot » Wed Oct 15, 2014 12:09 pm

I’m thinking that the worst you can do with a camping vehicle is to leave it outside and unattended most of the year, with nobody to open the windows in clear weather, and close them when it rains. The thing will leak, and the moisture must be aired out to minimize rot and mold.

I wouldn’t even consider the old style exterior walls made of corrugated aluminum stapled to a flimsy wood frame.
Smooth fiberglass walls have fewer seams to come apart. And I would try to find one with aluminum framing behind the fiberglass, not wood. They exist.

Slide-out rooms are huge potential water-leaks, and also potential mechanical jams.

Not sure what else to tell you….
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by smilemore » Wed Oct 15, 2014 7:06 pm

Elliot wrote: ... And I would try to find one with aluminum framing behind the fiberglass, not wood. They exist.

Slide-out rooms are huge potential water-leaks, and also potential mechanical jams.

Not sure what else to tell you….
Yes ... I suppose leaving something closed up for that length might lend to some nastiness. I have spent considerable time looking into Casita models ... I believe (at least some of) them to be aluminum / fiberglass mostly thus preventing rot and rust. And some of those that I have looked at (photos anyway) are very simple inside and out, smooth surfaces lending themselves to easy('er) cleaning.



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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Jackass » Wed Oct 15, 2014 7:17 pm

casa.jpg
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Elliot » Wed Oct 15, 2014 8:04 pm

From what I can see, the Casita body is pure fiberglass. I like that a lot. Click on this link and scroll down to "Reasons to buy a Casita".
http://www.casitaclub.com/forums/links/ ... ers-guide/
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by southern crone » Wed Oct 15, 2014 9:12 pm

What about a Volkswagen Vanagon ? You could store it in a garage. Could buy a camp potty and use the chemical bags and buy a solar pop up shower.

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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Elliot » Thu Oct 16, 2014 7:02 am

As I contemplate the concept of storing any kind of camping vehicle at a remote location for 51 weeks a year, it is tempting to "think outside the box". Have you considered driving back and forth instead of flying in? Obviously, you would need to take several weeks off from work and other obligations, and this may or may not be possible. And I would even suggest spending a couple weeks on the road in each direction, to minimize the driving fatigue and enjoy other attractions.

I don't know if Canadian culture is any different from the U.S.. But if we lived in Europe, where they place a higher value on enjoyment of life, a five week leave would be perfectly realistic.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Elliot » Thu Oct 16, 2014 7:11 am

I'm starting to think of buying another school bus, outfitting it with four "apartments", and going into business as the "Black Rock City Motel". Somebody please stop me before I think again. :lol:
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by some seeing eye » Thu Oct 16, 2014 8:24 am

Elliot, that is a brilliant idea! You could rent it out at home through AirBnB(TM) - a friend rents a tiny Airstream in their back yard that way - and then rent it out on playa through the same ______(TM). You have bikes too. I'm envisioning a "wall of school buses", all flashing their little stop signs to the street. School bus camp. Get some little desks, uniforms, a cafeteria, bells! Programming by PlayaskoolTM. You could even have a bus divided into 4 sound insulated piano practice rooms - just open the windows for a piano quartet! That would even make a great piano MV (with good players of course).
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Elliot » Thu Oct 16, 2014 8:48 am

Make him stop! Make him stop!




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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by some seeing eye » Thu Oct 16, 2014 9:03 am

Back on topic - I had a fly in friend who prevailed upon a Reno burner friend to find an RV, store and maintain it, I think even register it, in Reno. You are not going to save any money vs a rental, unless you can get a Reno person to do a huge amount of free work for you.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by smilemore » Thu Oct 16, 2014 11:37 am

Southern crone ... re: your VW camper suggestion.

I have thought of a VW camper but keep coming back to the limited interior space part of that option. Then I recall how my grandparents who, each winter, would drive their '71 VW Westfalia from Ottawa, Canada to Yuma, AZ. They would spend 5 months living in that little camper ...in the middle of the desert ... totally off grid. HEY! That is starting to really sound fun!!! They did that until into their 80's. Will reconsider ...

Elliot . While our Canadian society does 'generally' place more importance on personal time we are no where near as smart as the Euros. My empoyer allows me plenty of time off (a very large employer) but Taschia works for her family business (commercial fishing) and her particular position does not easily allow for extended periods of leave. Add to that the fact that we are not yet interested in bringing our girls to the burn so 10 days away is good for now.

Re: the bus ... I saw what looks like a black beauty of a bus conversion on CL - Michigan ... $4000 ... it looks great. The owner used it mostly for infield camping at the Michigan Nascar races. The conversion has left quite a bit of room for modification. Here's my plan ... I'll buy it. Drive it west for next year's burn then sign it over to you for future Black Rock City Motel residency considerations.

Now ... time to work on a plan to convice Taschia that:

a) this makes good economic sense,
b) this will be soooo worth the extra 2-3 days of driving at the front end of our trip,
c) this not the beginning of my long and painful fall into a midlife crisis and,
d) this is clearly an absolutely rock solid plan that will bear only wonderful things.

Time to get on it I say!!!
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Elliot » Thu Oct 16, 2014 11:45 am

I sure hope we are not serious about this bus business. :lol:
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by smilemore » Thu Oct 16, 2014 11:55 am

Jackass wrote:
casa.jpg
Love it! It reminds of the old MAN truck that my dad used to have in the 80's.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by andy » Thu Oct 16, 2014 12:22 pm

Seriously have you considered a yurt? I built my own for about $750 in materials (we used Velcro). I have a fridge, A/C, and a queen-size air matress on top of a playatech (slot plywood) frame, though a regular mattress would fit too. I do camp in a camp with power but a Honda generator would easily power this if I didn't. My camp shares a truck but you can bring a yurt on a trailer which is far, far cheaper than an RV. The yurt set-up time is maybe an hour including the bed, A/C, etc, and tear-down is about the same. I'm currently storing my yurt on a flat portion of my roof.

Regarding the toilet, you might consider renting a private port-a-potty. One of our camps got together and rented one for about 20 people for about $800. When only a few people are using it, it doesn't get gross. By contrast, I've been told that RV toilets can start smelling bad after a week with no pump-out.

RVs certainly have a huge convenience factor but the costs are significant - storage, fuel, registration, insurance, and repairs. I'm not putting down your choice of RV just asking what it is you really want - if it's a fridge, A/C, and a bed, I think you can do that much cheaper in a yurt. If it's zero setup time (or being able to c amp on the shores of Pyramid Lake in an emergency) then an RV may be for you.

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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Elliot » Thu Oct 16, 2014 1:49 pm

andy wrote:... I've been told that RV toilets can start smelling bad after a week with no pump-out.
....
Not a problem in my 16 days on Playa. You just have to use proper RV tank anti-stink chemical, which you can buy even in hardware stores and department stores.
Of course, I use more than the manufacturer's recommended dosage. They seem to brag about how little is needed. "Super-Duper Concentrated!"
And with the vehicle stationary all the time, there is no natural mixing of the waste with the chemical from the motion of driving, so you may want to add chemical during the week.
I use it in the gray water tank also, but less of it.
I probably used a $20.- bottle for the whole BRC expedition.

But do empty it when you get home, or on the way home. Don't let it sit until next month's trip. Common sense.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by ygmir » Thu Oct 16, 2014 5:05 pm

Elliot wrote:
andy wrote:... I've been told that RV toilets can start smelling bad after a week with no pump-out.
....
Not a problem in my 16 days on Playa. You just have to use proper RV tank anti-stink chemical, which you can buy even in hardware stores and department stores.
Of course, I use more than the manufacturer's recommended dosage. They seem to brag about how little is needed. "Super-Duper Concentrated!"
And with the vehicle stationary all the time, there is no natural mixing of the waste with the chemical from the motion of driving, so you may want to add chemical during the week.
I use it in the gray water tank also, but less of it.
I probably used a $20.- bottle for the whole BRC expedition.

But do empty it when you get home, or on the way home. Don't let it sit until next month's trip. Common sense.
:D
proper venting also helps with no smell, at lot! creates vacuum in the black water system.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by EspressoDude » Fri Oct 17, 2014 7:03 am

comments on Casita: FoxFur has one.

Shortly after getting it home, it was discovered that the plywood floor had rotted where the walls are fiberglassed to the floor. Cut out the rot, replace with fiberglass. Days of smelly work in cubby holes.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Elliot » Fri Oct 17, 2014 8:44 am

ygmir wrote:...proper venting also helps with no smell, at lot! creates vacuum in the black water system.
Sounds right. My vents just point straight up, but seem to work fine. (Which reminds me I ought to put screens on them to keep leaves and birds out.) I wonder if those clever rotating venturi vent caps do any good? The concept is certainly sound.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by ygmir » Fri Oct 17, 2014 8:55 am

Elliot wrote:
ygmir wrote:...proper venting also helps with no smell, at lot! creates vacuum in the black water system.
Sounds right. My vents just point straight up, but seem to work fine. (Which reminds me I ought to put screens on them to keep leaves and birds out.) I wonder if those clever rotating venturi vent caps do any good? The concept is certainly sound.
I put one on the chimney of the Hof,and it made a good amount of draft...........when thewind blows, that is.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by smiffman » Fri Oct 17, 2014 1:49 pm

I'm having the same issue Smilemore. My bro and I went this year with just a truck and a tent. We came to the conclusion RV or Yurt is the way to go, much easier to sleep during the sweltering heat.

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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Canoe » Fri Oct 17, 2014 6:20 pm

The Vanagons are great, but somewhat underpowered. There are TDI conversions available. Can be costly. More so if you're taking over from someone who screwed it up.
If you get an Ontario Vanagon, or one near there, it's pretty much guaranteed to have have serious rusting seam rot. Watch out for fresh paint.
And if you get a south-western one (like everybody wants - usually premium $), watch out for its seams rusting if you bring it back North (residual winter salt on roads), or anywhere there's moisture, you'll get rust in all little dings and imperfections too.

The obvious route ON - NV - ON, SLC out across the flats and up over the hills in Nevada, could end up being scary windy if you're in a Vanagon, or the wrong RV. Heading back to SLC one year I had to hold the wheel around 1:30 to 2:00 for a 30' rental RV to stay going true on the perfectly straight road... and the bathroom roof vent was ripped open (stayed on somehow) and the wind coming in pressurized the bathroom and blew the panelling off of its walls. (I got my cleaning & damage deposit back too! ?!? They figured it wasn't my fault.) That much side wind and a Vanagon has a good chance of rolling.

From Ontario, if you push, it can be a hard four day drive one-way. Two people driving, and its a much easier four day drive, three if you push a bit. Less so if you're in South Western ON, more so if you're East or North.
If you plan to do that returning, watch out for being too tired if you don't get your sleep on the playa. You'll HAVE to hole up somewhere before driving home.

Rent a commercial pickup if you want to throw a camper on it. Not a yuppie rental that they want looking pristine for resale when its time is done. Renting a tow vehicle could be an issue. And many modern cars have had their towing capacity downrated, so watch out for trailer weight vs. towing capacity.

VW TDIs are an economical choice for getting from Ontario to Nevada, and then towing out to the playa. Or towing the whole way.

You'll likely want a trans-cooler on either an RV or a tow vehicle for the hills and heat.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Captain Goddammit » Sat Oct 18, 2014 4:48 pm

OK my turn at the podium.

You're on the right track with the camper or trailer idea; don't buy a cheap older motorhome, store it far away all year, and expect to jump in it and go without trouble!
To some degree, that's also true with a trailer. Wheel bearings, brakes, tail lights, etc. all like to give you trouble if you don't know what shape they're in. I've found LED tail lights well worth the cost because since converting my camper and trailer, for the first time in my life they just work when I plug everything in. Old original bulb sockets always get dirty and fail to light up.

You probably cannot rent a tow vehicle. Virtually no rental companies allow towing with their trucks, and they won't be set up for it. You'll need a good electric brake controller and you really ought to get a weight-distributing hitch. People tow without them all the time, but if you've ever seen a rig going down the road with the trailer wagging around and/or the front end of the tow vehicle too light, it wasn't the guy with the right hitch setup.
Same for renting a truck to haul a camper. They likely won't allow it and the trucks won't be set up for it. You need wide mirrors to see around it, camper tie-down brackets, wiring, and a very heavy-duty suspension. One-tons work best.

Owning a trailer and not owning a way to move it is guaranteed to be a headache. You're pretty much going to need something to tow with. If getting a bigger truck isn't an option, maybe you can work with what you have... have you considered a pop-up "tent trailer"? They can give you what you want, in an easy-to-tow small package.

The fridge is the most expensive item in a camper or trailer, so verify it works. If it smells of ammonia, the cooling unit is shot and its an $800+ fix. Don't listen to the common seller's line "It just needs a recharge" if it doesn't work. Camper fridges work entirely differently than home ones.

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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by smilemore » Sat Oct 18, 2014 7:55 pm

Thanks for the thoughts Captain ... and everyone else too. It has been a good exercise in "give yer head a shake boy". :D

We live in Ontario just about an hour across the border from Detroit, MI. So a pretty lengthy drive!

Not giving up on the whole thing but much more to figure out before making a purchase.
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Re: RV: To purchase or not ...

Post by Elliot » Tue Oct 28, 2014 10:01 am

My brother is shopping for a camping trailer, and he is finding water damage in practically every one. The scary part is that he is looking at trailers that are only 6 to 12 years old, and only units that are built in the current style of fiberglass over aluminum.
The phrase "planned obsolescence" comes to mind.

So.... It would seem that the thing to look for is a unit that has been stored under roof since new, or a unit that has always been in a dry climate. It might also be a good idea to talk to the owner about his habits pertaining to opening the windows for ventilation. (Of course, you would need to "trick" this information out of him -- not just give him a chance to answer yes.)
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