The Hunt for the Perfect Dog RV is On
It’s hard work for a Newbie-RVer-Wanna-Be with Commitment Issues to choose from a myriad of RV types, floor plans and features.
I want an Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Dog RV. Some kind of interactive app or decision tree. I couldn’t find one, so I muddled together my own.
Defining Perfect … For Now
At first, I was overwhelmed with RV choices and fell down the rabbit hole of feature shopping.
Then I heard a rumor: many RVers trade in their initial RV within the first 3 years.
Phew, the pressure was off! I no longer had to find the Most Perfect-est Dog RV Ever and Forever. I just needed a decent rig for this trip.
Set Priorities …
So, I regrouped and declared my RV priorities so I wouldn’t be swayed by emotional impulse later (a trick I learned when buying a house):
- I need to keep an RV cool for the dogs, even when parked.
- I want an RV that retains its value so I can sell it later without losing too much investment.
- I hope for the sportiest version of whatever meets my other criteria because we’ll be driving back roads and highways (not interstates) most days.
… and Go from There
I then researched the options that satisfy our priorities, and made decisions as best I could.
The Short Story: My RV Choices
After much research and many questions, I decided:
I want a used, affordable Class “C” (or “B+”) Winnebago, Lazy Daze or Phoenix motorized RV about 25’ long with 0 slide-outs. Floor space enough for two sprawling big dogs, and a full-time bed for me.
Bonus points if it’s less than 8′ wide and 11′ tall, has leather(ette) seats, a shower head at least as high as my eyeballs, 2 “fantastic fans”, solar panels, and does not have a semi-circle dinette.
The Long Story: the Decision Tree
I read many on-line RV forums, stalked RV bloggers (preferably those with pets), went to an RV show, toured RV sales lots, visited private RV sellers, and talked to real live RVers. I compiled notes and created spreadsheets.
Until I was satisfied I could make decisions to narrow my Dog RV hunt field considerably…
New vs Used? –> Used
Some say RVs can be bought for almost ½ the cost of new, and that most of the bugs get ironed out by a first owner. Therefore, used is better.
But the real reason to buy used is that I’m not rich. A new RV of the type I’m looking for starts around $80,000, which is simply beyond me.
Length? –> Between 23’ and 27’
What is more important: driving agility or interior comfort? I still haven’t answered that question.
But I do feel that a length range of 23’ to 27’ works for us because:
- I know from experience that a 21’ RV has 0 floor space once the dogs get in it.
- From eyeballing a number of RVs, 27’ seems to be the longest we’ll need.
- The shorter the RV, the fewer campground length limits we’ll run into (I’ve seen 25′ limits on camp spots I’ve liked).
For agility, I’ll look for the smallest I can get away with given the rest of our RV requirements.
I’m zeroing in on a 25-footer.
Towable or Motorized? –> Motorized
Towable RVs are just what they sound like: housings that get pulled behind (or on top of) a motorized vehicle.
The biggest advantages to Trailers are:
- You can detach your vehicle and go on side-excursions without having to break camp.
- They’re cheaper.
Motorized RVs are all-in-one: the vehicle and housing portions are combined as a single unit.
The biggest advantages of Motorized are:
- Once you park, you’re camped. No detachments necessary.
- You don’t need to move (aging dogs) back and forth between vehicle and house.
I just don’t see myself attaching/detaching and hauling a trailer since I’ll be on the go most days anyway.
Type? –> Class “C” or “B+”
Bus-like. A rectangular housing box on wheels with panoramic windshields. They tend to be taller, longer and higher off the ground.
Sitting in the driver’s seat I feel like a Queen! I came way-close to buying a shorter (26′) Class “A” because it felt so luxurious.
Souped-up vans. They tend to be the smallest of the Classes.
I love the idea of zipping around in a van as opposed to a bigger RV, but it doesn’t quite meet my Requirements.
A pickup truck mated with a rectangular housing box that extends both behind and over the truck cab.
From the driver’s seat, a Class “C” feels just like you’re driving a truck. Because you are.
Class “B+”, or “B/C”
Tend to be shorter in both height and length than a “C” but taller than a “B”. They often either pop-up or have a slide-out to create more living space.
A “B+” seems like a nice compromise between “C” and “B”, and they are popular.
Class “C” (or, a bigger “B+”).
For 25’-long RVs, a Class “C” apparently makes better sense than a Class “A”: I’ve read that Class “C”s are (generally) structurally more sound up to about 27’ than Class “A”s. Longer than 27’, it’s better to go with a Class “A”.
Classic “B”’s are just too cramped for us, but a “B+” might work.
Fuel Type? –> Gas (vs Diesel)
Updated 6/12/15 .
Diesel vs Gas is an old argument. Google “RV diesel vs gas” and you’ll not run out of reading material.
I reduced the arguments to just the few pro’s and con’s that matter to me. (For ya’ll who understand engines, forgive the over-simplifications.)
- Diesel engines last ‘forever’
- Are robust to carry more weight
- Have more torque to climb mountains easier
- Boast better gas mileage
- Diesel RV prices are generally higher
- Maintenance is more involved and expensive
- Gas Rvs are typically less expensive (by 10’s of thousands of dollars) than diesel
- Routine maintenance is cheaper
- Gas engines have less torque so slower going up the mountains (this is an issue for trucks hauling trailers over 12,000 pounds)
… Then There’s the Idling for Air-Conditioning
I’ve read differing opinions, but apparently some gas engines, like a Ford V10, idle just fine for longer periods of time in order to run the cab’s air-conditioner and keep the “house” cool enough for pets.
I like this idea.
Some diesel engines aren’t up to the idle-for-a-while-to-run-an-air-conditioner task.
With any RV, I’d first do due diligence to research the specific engine:
- its age (is it ready for an expensive scheduled maintenance)
- the availability across the country for service/repair shops and parts (I really don’t want to get stuck out in the middle of a vast desert)
- its idle-ability (for cab air-conditioning)
Manufacturer Brands? –> Phoenix USA, Lazy Daze or Winnebago
These brands seem to have the soundest structural quality (and resale value) reputations
|Great Brands||Beyond My Budget|
|Lazy Daze||Coach House|
Structural quality is really important to me because I have no patience when things break. The trim (maple cabinets vs oak, blue curtains vs red, gold knobs vs silver …) means less to me.
Winnebago, Lazy Daze or Phoenix USA.
Winnebago is the most affordable of the group (but still not cheap), Lazy Daze hold their value but are hard to find, and affordable Phoenix’s are very hard to find. Dynamax, Coach House and Born Free are, unfortunately, a little too rich for my blood.
Slide-Outs? –> No
Slide-outs are room extensions: you push a button and part of an exterior wall slides-out to extend the interior space. They are awesome, but there are down-sides.
- If you spend most of your time parked, slide-outs are great for increasing an otherwise cramped interior.
- Slide-outs (in RVs I’m considering) make the interior space too awkward when the “outie” is “in”.
- Slide-outs are a leading source of RV water leaks and can have mechanical failures (especially on rougher roads and when extended on less-than-level ground.)
No slide-outs … * most likely.
I’m going to be on the move more than not (when slides have to be pulled in anyway), plus I haven’t fallen in love with any of the slide-out floor plans in my search.
* However, I reserve the right to change my mind if I find a perfect RV that happens to have a slide-out.
There needs to be enough floor space for each dog’s bed, and I want a full-time bed.
Eating / Working
I want a full-time table for meals and work. I don’t want to be dismantling a table every time we move out.
And I don’t want a semi-circle dinette, it’s a waste of space for 1 human with 2 big dogs.
I’m not going to tow a car (aka “toad”) this trip, but I would like a hitch for a bicycle.
I want a used, Class “C” (or “B+”) Winnebago, Lazy Daze or Phoenix RV about 25’ long with 0 slide-outs. Floor space enough for two sprawling big dogs, and a full-time bed for me.
And I want it for the lowest possible price within my budget. Crossing our fingers and paws.
I’m so excited to be close to getting an actual Dog RV for our Perimeter Trip!!