Tag Archives: advice

Comparing a 5th Wheel and a Diesel Pusher Motorhome

After 6 years in a 2007 34′ 5th wheel we moved to a 2005 39′ Diesel Pusher. Since the two rigs are from the same general timeframe I think they make for good comparisons. However, please understand that some observations are specific to these rigs – because of that our experience might be different than that of others. Both rigs were gently used by their previous owners. The motorhome only had 34,000 miles on it and the 5th wheel had been garaged and well cared for. The 5th wheel was a Hitchhiker II LS – a mid-level unit from a first class manufacturer. The motorhome is a Safari Cheetah, basically an industrial twin to a Monaco Knight – another mid-level unit. The 5th wheel was pulled by a 2008 Ford F350 with a 6.4 engine. As you read, remember that I am comparing our experience in these two specific rigs. Here are some observations on the two rigs.

Liveability: 5th Wheel
The 5th wheel has more storage and a better living layout. We did move the motorhome TV from over the driver’s area to over a couch on the side. It helped a lot. We originally thought the motorhome would have more storage but that didn’t prove to be true. It has less room inside and the bays don’t offer as much space as the big basement did in the 5th wheel. Things like heating and cooling are pretty much the same with either one.

On the road: tie
The motorhome is more comfortable and the big window up front offers the best view. When towing the car the motorhome can’t be backed up. Generally, this isn’t a problem, but if you make the wrong turn somewhere the car has to be disconnected, the motorhome moved, and then the car reconnected. Not a huge deal, but a negative when it happens. Some people said that the ride would be much smoother, but we haven’t found that to be true with this motorhome, even with new shocks. Getting fuel was better with the pickup simply because it could be filled up when not towing the camper.

Landing in a campground: tie
The motorhome is easy to park. The backup camera makes backing into a site a snap. Also, since the motorhome doesn’t bend in the middle it is easier to situate. However, in an unlevel site the 5th wheel wins. It doesn’t care how high you have to crank the landing gear. With the motorhome, you can easily end up with the front wheels off the ground. Some people say that doesn’t matter, but in the manual that came with our rig it clearly says not to do that. Getting level can be a challenge even with the hydraulic levelers.

Local Transportation: Motorhome
With the 5th wheel, the daily driver is a big pickup – poor mileage and challenging to park in tighter spaces. We now pull a small car with the motorhome. A much better daily driver.

Maintenance – Repairs (engine/chassis side): 5th Wheel
If the pickup needed work, we could take it to most any shop that worked on diesel pickups while the 5th wheel was comfortably parked in a campground. When the motorhome needs work, we have to find a shop that works on big trucks that will also work on a motorhome. You see, some truck and trailer shops will work on motorhomes, some won’t. Then, while the work is being done the house is in the shop too. If that work includes an overnight stay arraignments have to be made for accommodations (although it should be noted that depending on the type of work, many shops will let you stay in the motorhome overnight in their parking lot). In addition: work on the motorhome is almost always more costly than on the pickup.

Maintenance – Repairs (camper side): tie
Getting camper stuff worked on (or doing it yourself) is about the same on either one. Refrigerators, water heaters, awnings, etc. are pretty much the same. It is much easier to get work done by mobile techs on the camper side of the motorhome than on the engine side.

Cost of routine operation: motorhome
The motorhome gets about the same mileage as did the pickup when towing the camper. However, once in the campground, we drive a small car that gets much better mileage. Oil changes, etc. cost a lot more on the motorhome, but only have to be done yearly, making the annual cost about the same. Also, remember, the motorhome is only run when actually changing campsites, keeping mileage low compared to the pickup which is also a daily driver.

Storage accessibility: 5th wheel
I’ve already touched on this, but looking at it only from ease of access, the 5th wheel bay is much easier to use. All the bays of the motorhome are under the 4 slide outs. I wear knee pads and have to get down on my knees to reach into the bays. It is harder to get things in and out of the motorhome bays.

Propane: tie
The 5th wheel had two big removable propane tanks. A bit heavy, but taking them out and getting them filled was a reasonable amount of effort. On the motorhome the tank is built in. You either have to take the rig to a station and have it filled or you have to see if anyone is delivering (not all that uncommon in larger parks with long term residents).

Dry camping: motorhome
This is only about our specific rigs but I have the idea is it more common than not. The motorhome has a big diesel generator, an inverter, and 4 6-volt house batteries. It has larger holding tanks too. There are ways to do all the above with a 5th wheel, but the motorhome is pretty much ready to go without any special add-ons (neither had solar of any kind).

In-motion convenience: motorhome (but not as much as you might think)
Prior to getting the motorhome we were told how great it would be for the passenger to be able to get up and move around while in motion. We haven’t found that to be the case. It is downright dangerous for anyone to be up and moving around while on the road. Sometimes we take advantage of a stoplight or a nice straight stretch of open interstate to get up and do something, but most of the time the passenger needs to stay strapped in.

Getting in and out: 5th wheel (but not as much as you might think)
There are more steps getting into the motorhome and they have to be navigated every time you go in or out whether on the road and traveling or stationary in the campground. On the other hand getting in and out of the pickup is just a bit harder than getting in and out of a car. Then, in the campground, there are fewer steps coming and going from the 5th wheel. However, this advantage is somewhat diminished by the additional steps going up to the bedroom and bathroom. I’m giving the 5th wheel the win here, but not by much.

Cost: 5th Wheel
Bear in mind that I’m talking about used rigs here. The cost of a big late model diesel pickup plus good 5th wheel is at least in the same neighborhood as a used low mileage diesel pusher motorhome of similar vintage. However, you have to then add in the cost of a small towed vehicle. Then, chassis-engine repairs will cost more on the motorhome. The price difference is offset a bit by the better motorhome resale value. The results are mixed – but I give a slight plus to the 5th wheel. Frankly, the startup on our motorhome has been very expensive for us as we found issues that had to be fixed. I’m counting those costs in with the purchase price – hopefully, these expenses will come to an end very soon.

Prestige: Motorhome
If you like compliments on your rig (and who doesn’t) the motorhome is the hands-down winner. I’ve had guys in a pickup truck pull up beside me in traffic and give me a thumbs up (never had that happen with the 5ver!). It isn’t unusual for people in campgrounds to complement us on our rig. Honestly, the first thing that got our attention about this motorhome was how good it looks. Apparently, a lot of people agree. This kind of stuff is no big deal to us, but it has happened often enough to convince us that it is more than a coincidence.

So the jury is still out
As you can see, at this point it’s a mixed bag. It would be untrue for us to say we haven’t missed our 5th wheel. Of course, after living in it for six years we knew all of its quirks – we are still learning the motorhome. At this time the thing we like best about the motorhome is the small car we tow – making it a pleasure to go sightseeing or just to run to the store. The thing we like least is how much more difficult it is to get work done on the chassis side of it. It is a much more difficult thing to find a shop to work on it and then to take it there as opposed to taking the pickup into the Ford dealer.

Note: this article is a work in progress. I’ll likely be back to add/edit items as things become apparent to me.

Just thinking: Make every day count

As we’ve enjoyed the fulltime lifestyle we’ve met some interesting people. Many fulltimers tell me they have a blog, and if they do, I bookmark their site intending to keep up with them. To be honest, I tend to forget those bookmarked sites and seldom look at them.

Tonight, something brought those blogs to mind and I decided to check in on those folks we’ve meet along the way.

To my surprise many of them have left the road. As far as I can tell, the lifestyle changes were pretty much voluntary although I know of a few folks who have had health issues that forced a change of lifestyle (I wrote about that here). The others, I think, just came to a “been there done that” time in life and decided to find a place to land and start a new chapter in their lives.

While I was surprised at the number of fulltime RVers we’ve met that are no longer traveling it comes as no surprise that things change. In fact, as someone has wisely said, change is the one constant in life.

It is, though, good to be reminded that as enjoyable as fulltiming is, for most of us it’s an all too brief passage of life. Hopefully, for us, the adventure will end because we done all we wanted to do and are ready for a different sort of adventure. There’s a pretty good chance though, that it will involve something less voluntary.

I guess the point of this philosophic rambling is a reminder that the fulltime lifestyle, as enjoyable as it is, is a temporary passage in life. We don’t want to take this blessing for granted and we don’t want to get sidetracked from it by anything that doesn’t measure up, although it is reasonable to be reminded that some things do measure up and can make an unexpected appearance at any time (we’ve had that happen once). As it is, though, this chapter will end soon enough. Whether we have a short or long time to go in this adventure we want to make every day count.

The more things change the more they stay the same

camping

It goes without saying that moving to fulltiming from a traditional “stix and brix” life is a major transition. We made the move and have never looked back. While the many changes are obvious, I’ve concluded that more stays the same than some might think. In spite of the downsizing involved, I think most people morph to a life that is similar to what they lived before. Now, let me hurry to say that if the move to fulltiming is connected to retirement or a new livelihood lots of major changes are baked in, RV lifestyle or not.

P2248680.JPG If, for instance, you enjoy watching TV, there’s a good chance that you’ll want a decent TV solution in your RV – probably satellite TV and a nice TV to watch. If you spend a lot of time surfing the Internet, you’ll want the best cell Internet package you can afford.

P2248685.JPG I see people on forums debating whether or not to have a washer/dryer in their RV. The answer is actually pretty easy: if you had a washer/dryer in your house you’ll probably want one in your RV. If you enjoyed going to a laundromat before, you’ll probably want to keep going to one. Admittedly, this approach has its limits – for instance, while dish washers are available, they aren’t all that common so you might have to surrender to dish washing in the RV even though you always used a dish washer in your old life.

Without doubt, living as a fulltimer means that some things will be more challenging than they were in your pre-fulltiming days. There will be times when you won’t be able to get the satellite signal or when you are camping without a sewer connect, thus limiting your use of the on-board washer. It’s all part of the adventure and you will have to find ways to accommodate such things.

Still, though, thinking that one is going fulltime and that once you are “out there” that everything will be different is probably mistaken. Lots of things will be different – hopefully, in great ways. However, you will still be the same person who wants oatmeal for breakfast most mornings, wants to do your laundry “at home,” and wants to watch the evening news on TV. Knowing this will help you make decisions about stuff like whether or not to sign up for a big data cell plan or buy a combo washer/dryer or get a fancy satellite setup.