Purchasing A Used RV

Have you been thinking of joining the RV community?  Besides the different types of RV units available and deciding what will best fit your needs, you also have to navigate whether to purchase from a private seller or a dealer. We have done both and want to share our experiences with you to help make your RV ownership go as smooth as can be. Today’s post will focus on private sellers.

Our first three RV’s were purchased from private sellers; two of which where found on Craigslist. Craigslist can be a very useful tool but it is also full of scammers. Learning to spot a scam will help you weed out the ads that are “too good to be true” and focus on the potentially good deals that are out there. Craigslist also takes diligence; if you do not see what you like in the beginning, keep looking.

Buying from a private seller can be a positive experience for both parties. As a buyer, here are some tips that can help ensure you have a positive experience.

Determine The Weight of the Camper:

The weight of the camper is an important consideration. The seller should know the weight but if you find they are vague with the number do some research. Assuming the owners manual is long gone, campers usually have a metal tag on them with the weight information. The internet is another resource to help you determine the weight of the camper. Dry weight is the amount the camper weighs off the factory floor. Gross weight is the amount of weight the camper typically weighs, with empty tanks,  loaded with all of your belongings and is a more accurate number for towing.

Know Your Tow Limitations:

Probably the biggest mistake a person can make when buying a RV unit is to not know the limitations of their tow vehicle.The owners manual is a good place to start but researching online will take that one step further. There are several factors that can impact how much weight your tow vehicle can handle. These would be additional considerations: the age of your vehicle, if your vehicle has a tow package, or does it have mirrors made for towing.

Set it UP/Hook it UP!

If you are looking at pop-up campers, set the camper up. Make sure all the cranks work, the latches latch, the stabilizers come down, the support arms support, and make sure the canvas is in good condition. The same is true, except the canvas part, about travel trailers.

The next thing would be to hook everything up. Do not buy a RV unit without knowing that the electrical outlets have power, the lights illuminate, the air conditioners cool, the heater heats, and the water lines have no leaks. Check the manufacture date on the batteries. These are important things you want to know before you decide to buy.

The bottom line when buying from a private seller is this simple fact: Unless you are a buying a newer RV with a transferable warranty, RV’s from private owners do not come with any type of warranty. If something is wrong and goes undetected that is on you and the expense of fixing that is on you.

Cash or Finance/Clear Title or Lien

There are a few last considerations that are helpful to have worked out before making a decision to buy. Will this purchase be a cash transaction or will you need to secure a loan. If buying from a private seller with cash, be sure that the you’ll get a clear title without a lien holder. If you are financing the purchase you will find that loan terms for RVs are not like terms for automobiles. It’s not uncommon to find loan terms from 12 to 20 years, depending on the cost of the RV. Also, be sure to check with your tax adviser,  some RV loans are tax deductible!

These are our few simple tips that we hope you find helpful. If you have others, please let us know!

 

Favorite Destination of 2015: Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park

Unanimously, The Taylor’s and The Todd’s agree that Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park was our favorite 2015 destination. Johnson’s Shut-Ins is located near Lesterville, Missouri which is just over 100 miles south of St Louis, under 200 miles east of Springfield, and 295 miles southeast of Kansas City, MO, which is where we are based.

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Park Details:

  • Johnson’s Shut-Ins is a state park.
  • Senior Citizens receive a discount.
  • Special sites are designated ADA and can’t be used by the general population.
  • There are 5 different loops with a total of 85 sites.
  • There is designated sites for camping, hike-in camping, camper cabins, electric only, electric/water, and electric/water/sewer sites.
  • Due to the 2005 Taum Sauk Reservoir breach, the campground was relocated to a new location in the state park and is brand new.
  • There are ample pull-through and back in sites.
  • Each site in loop 1, 2, 3 and 4 have concrete pads.

Camping Fee’s

Basic camping (non-improved site) is $13.00 a night. Electric Premium sites (50 amp service) is $23.00 a night.. Electric/Water Premium site is $25.00 a night and full service (sewer/electric/water) is $28.00.

Booking:

Missouri State Parks uses an online registration system. The site is relatively easy to research and select a site. We use the campground map as well as the online photos. There is also a toll free number if you prefer to speak to a person instead of the online registration. Missouri State Parks allows advance registration six months prior to your trip.

Size of the Campground:

The entire state park is over 6,000 acres. The campground is large. The sites are spacious. There are five camping loops at Johnson’s Shut-Ins.  The first loop is designated for Equestrian  and has ten water and electricity sites. Loops 2 and 3 have a total of forty, 50 amp service some with electricity and others have full hook-ups. Loop 2 also has six camper cabins. Loops 4 is designated for walk-in camping and has 14 sites, and Loop 5 is designated basic for tent campers and also has 14 sites.

johnsonsshutins1Campground Details:

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park became a state park in 1955 but people have been enjoying the Shut-Ins longer than this park has been in existence. What is a Shut-In? Well, simply put it is a constriction in a waterway. In this case, granite boulders from the St Francois Mountains have jutted up to the surface in the Black River. The Black River is constricted with these boulders and the erosion has made pools of water, water falls,  and chutes in this canyon-like gorge. People love to come and spend time cooling off and playing in the Shut-Ins.

In December 2005, the Taum Sauk Reservour that is housed high above the Shut-Ins breached and sent 1.3 billion gallons of water rushing down Proffit Mountain. The water brought down boulders, trees and other debris with it and literally almost destroyed Johnson Shut-Ins. The campground, then located near the Shut-Ins was destroyed. The campground host and his family barely survived. The ecosystem at Johnson Shut-Ins was severely damaged. Since 2005 this park has been under restoration. Cutting edge technology has been used to try and save the ecosystem and the campground area was relocated to higher ground as a safety precaution.

We expected to find very little shade at Johnson’s Shut-Ins due to how new the campground is. Instead, we found the exact opposite. Sites 2, 3, and 4 had great tree coverage.

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Amenities:

There are a total of three stores in Johnson’s Shut-Ins. One inside the Visitor Center, one by the Shut-Ins and a large general store in the campground. The Campground General Store does have wi-fi available but you do have to go and visit the store in order to get the wi-fi. Our teenage boy spent a lot of time sitting outside the general store!

The general store also has a coin laundry room. There is a changing room outside the store at the Shut-Ins.

Each camping loop has one showerhouse with a separate restroom. We visited the showers during our stay and found them to be very clean and nice. Due to our too close encounter with some of the parks wildlife, we took early showers so that we were not walking around the park in the dark.

There is no pool. Visitors/guest of the state park have access to the Shut-Ins. Parking is limited at the Shut-Ins. I am told that day visitors line up for parking spots. The good news, registered campers are given passes to special parking that we found to be easily accessible.

The Visitor Center is a nice amenity that should not be overlooked.There is so much history and science alive in this area and the videos and displays do a great job of helping to educate the public, young and old. New history has been added as well. The entire 2005 reservoir breach and subsequent efforts to recover have been documented and are available for viewing. We found the visitor center to be informative, entertaining, and a cool place to hangout on a hot day!

Overall Thoughts/Feelings about the Campground/Visit:

We loved this campground and this park. We went into our trip expecting to love the Shut-Ins but not loving the campground. As I indicated earlier in this post, knowing this was a “new” campground we expected to find a stark campground with no shade or trees. I can’t even express how happy we were to find the exact opposite. The campground sites were concrete and spacious. We honestly felt like we were at a private campground with the extra space of a state park.  We had a fire ring and a picnic table. We had a pole with a hook that allowed us to hang both a lantern or our trash.

Going into the vacation, our research taught us that hundreds of people visit the Shut-Ins each weekend so we made plans to visit them during the week. Swimming in the Shut-Ins was fun. It was a new adventure. The water is cool and clear and the force of the water create the most spectacular water park you can imagine. The only thing to remember is; this water park is not made from tubes or pipes. This water park is made of rocks; and some are sharp and jagged. I am glad our children had life jackets and we all had water shoes on. In the end, we only played in the Shut-Ins once. Perhaps if we were staying a full week at this park we would have gone another day but due to our limited four days we had other exciting things to pack into our trip. johnsonsshutins5We like camping at state parks and enjoy our contact with nature. We have been fishing, caught crawdads, observed birds,  gotten close to deer, spied lizards , and maybe even inadvertently feed a raccoon or two. During this trip, we learned our limitations….snakes. On our first night, as the kids were busy riding their scooters around our loop and the adults were sitting by a campfire talking about our travels to the park, the Park Ranger stopped by. He pointed out to us that a copperhead snake was right in front of our campsite heading in our direction. Of course the majority of us had flip flops or sandals on our feet at the time. Thankfully the Park Ranger used a stick and safely scared the copperhead away from us but we decided to call it a night and go to bed early. Interestingly enough, the snake appeared again but never bothered us.

Daily, the camp rangers came by and invited all the kids and adults to the educational program of the night that was held at the parks amphitheater. Ironically, the first show was about snakes! The kids went and learned a lot of information. The second night the show was about comets. The show was high energy and involved glow sticks and again, the kids came back talking about the stars all night long.

Regional Activities:

We found so many activities in the surrounding Arcadia Valley that we honestly were busy every day during our stay. Other than stopping by a few convenience stores for drinks, we did not eat out on this trip so we did not visit any local restaurants.  Here are a few of the things we found and highly recommend:

  • Float Trip: Nothing says summer in Missouri like a float trip down a river. The Black River is perfect for floating; cool and clear water. The Shut-Ins prevent canoes from passing through the part of the river that runs through the state park, you actually need to go into Lesterville to find a canoe outfitter.

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  • Taum Sauk Mountain: Taum Sauk Mountain was approximately forty-five minutes from Johnson’s Shut-Ins. We packed a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon hiking one of the trails to the highest elevated waterfall in Missouri.  Taum Sauk Mountain also has the highest elevation point in Missouri and you can access it easily from a parking lot near the elevation point.

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  • The Ozark Trail runs through Johnson’s Shut-Ins in continues through the region. Wayne has actually added hiking from Taum Sauk Mountain  to Johnson’s Shut-Ins to his bucket list.
  • Elephant Rock State Park: Another short drive from Johnson’s Shut-Ins (25 minutes) is another state park that is for day use only. Elephant Rock State Park is scattered with giant red granite boulder. There is an ADA braille trail that winds throughout the park. Children and adults have enjoyed climbing all over rocks that look like elephants from a distance. All of us loved visiting this park. When we ran our of steam from climbing and exploring we found ample picnic tables for our midday meal.

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What we did not like:

Our main complaint was with the dump stations. There was no spigot of water to flush the black tanks. Luckily for us, there were openings in the full hook up sites and we were able to pull into one of them and empty and clean our tanks. It does baffle me that this campground and park that is so newly rebuilt and amazing for a state park does not have water  at their dump station.

The playground is a secondary concern of ours. There is a playground and it was nice but it is near the campground store and not near any of the camping loops. The distance was far too far for us to feel comfortable sending the girls to play there.

We did have a near close encounter with a poisonous snake, a copperhead. We drove 300 miles (clear across the state) to visit this park. That is important because copperheads are just not that common in Kansas City and they were not even on our radar. Thankfully, nothing happened and a very nice Park Ranger educated us in the nick of time. I wish we had been warned about the copperheads at the time of our check in. I would really have like a brochure on the types of animals we might encounter and safety precautions to avoid contact or minimize contact. I know during my visit to Yellowstone National Park we were given ample brochures explaining how to interact with the animals in the park and how to keep ourselves and the animals safe.

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In closing, this was our favorite trip of the year. It is high on our return list. If you are planning a trip to Missouri, or if you are a Missourian, we encourage you to get out and head to this state park.

 

Vintage vs. New

The very first camper we ever owned was a 1973 Argosy. I purchased it from a relative who had it sitting in a field being used as storage.  It was pretty banged up and needed some work but I was hopeful and in love with the yellow camper we were rolling home.

Rehabing the Argosy turned out to be a different reality. While there were some amazing things about the Argosy, the camper needed a complete tear down Wayne and I just did not have the know-how or the time to learn how. Wayne seems to think if we had a garage large enough for the Argosy, we would have worked on it year round. However, in hind sight I think we wanted that to be true.

We sold the Argosy a few years ago. It did get rehabed, but not by us. At times I have missed the idea of owning it. I still get weak knee’d anytime I see a vintage camper. We have gone on to own four campers since then.  Wayne just rolls his eyes. Our truth is, I doubt we ever own a vintage camper again. Below is a list of reasons why I believe this to be true for us:

Safety. While vintage campers are all the rage, owning one should come after careful consideration.  When I think back to us hitching up that old camper after it had sat in a field for years, not knowing the condition of the tires or the wheel bearings, I am honestly thankful we made it the hour drive home. When hauling a vintage camper, or any camper for that matter, you have your own safety and the safety of everyone else on the road to think about.

Size. Is it me, or are vintage campers small? Yes, I have seen some larger Airstream’s or Avion’s but the majority of what I see is under 20 feet.  This makes them lightweight and easy to tow but it means they are just not designed for families. Children come with stuff and stuff is what they bring camping. Over time, we have learned to accommodate the younger humans in our life. Simply put we need storage; inside the camper and out.

Holding Tanks.  Holding tanks are another huge difference between vintage campers and modern campers. The Argosy had a fresh water tank but  no grey tank. If it had a black tank it was long ago nonoperational.The grey water just ran out onto the ground under the camper (something highly frowned upon in many parks).  In order to utilize the bathroom, The Argosy had to be camping with full hookups.

There are three main conveniences of RV camping that are basic to us: a bed, an air conditioner, and a bathroom. I do not know a single person who RV camps who  honestly likes waking in the middle of the night and having to walk to a shared campground bathroom. Children intensifies the need for an operable bathroom in the RV

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DIY Dream or Nightmare: Some people like to tinker. For those who do like to tinker they get a lot of enjoyment out of giving new life to something long ago set aside as junk. I would guess that for these folks, their destination is their path or journey.  For us every time a light stopped working, or a water leak sprung up, or the trailer brakes stopped working, or the toilet seals began to leak it was just another thing that was keeping us from our destination; camping and enjoying the great outdoors. Wayne spends a lot of time doing things to our new camper but never fixing anything that has to be fixed. I think he likes starting with a new “clean” slate. Knowing that when we hitch up things are going to work on the inside and outside of the of the trailer brings us peace of mind.

I so admire those people who rehab old campers and give them new life. I so wanted to be one of them but the reality is, I am not and I probably never will be. I am okay with that. Thanks to several RV manufactures, you do not have to rehab and old camper in order to have a retro camper. Manufacturers like; Paradise CoastRiverside, and even Shasta RV have created or re-created new RV’s with the look and feel of retro campers with modernized with today’s convenience. I know this is the path I would take if we were purchasing a smaller camper.

Deciding between a vintage camper or a new camper is certainly a personal choice. Safety should be your first consideration.If you find a vintage camper in a field, like we did, you really should consider how long that camper has been sitting before you tow it home.  Your second consideration should be your personal needs. Do you need hot water, or holding tanks, or simply is it big enough for your needs? The final consideration for you to consider is the the amount of time, effort, and money you will spend fixing the camper up for your use.

 

 

 

Group Camping vs Solo Camping

A study I read many years ago keeps coming back to me, it was a study about parental workload with multiple children. The study reported that as parents had multiple children their workload did not increase, in fact, it suggested that no more effort was required to parent three versus one. This was attributed to the idea that siblings entertained each other.

Whether this holds true for family workload, it certainly has some rings of truth to me. It also holds the basis for our decision to camp as part of a group versus solo camping. We have two children but their age ranges are wide (eleven years difference) which means they are just developmentally into different things. The Todd’s have one child who is the same age as our daughter.

Our very first camping experience was three years ago. We planned a long holiday weekend together at a local county park near a lake. We tented camped that trip and it was hot. Missouri hot; sticky and humid! Angie and I coordinated our meals that trip purely to address the “I want to eat what she is eating” potential. On the way home from that weekend, The Short Chic informed that she had the best weekend of her life!

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We all found that we could sit and relax because the girls entertained each other. They were happy just playing with dolls in the tent and we had more down time for us. We found the holy grail of family weekends: me time, us time, family time,  and friend time.

We have been group camping for three years now. Most of the time our group is just two families: The Taylor’s and The Todd’s.  Occasionally our group has reached nearly ten families as we have found other friends who RV or camp. We have also gone solo camping when work schedules just could not be coordinated. Solo trips still provide an opportunity to unplug, rewind, and allow us to connect to nature. However, there is something a miss during those trips; our buddies. We find we spend the weekend wondering what our camping buddies are doing. We communicate frequently through text message. And on solo trips, trust me, the girls have let each of us know they were bored and camping without each other was no fun!

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I am sure you have experienced at least one group vacation before and know that it is a very delicate balance to meet everyone’s needs. The smallest thing can upset the apple cart and leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.  To avoid that, group camping takes a little more negotiating and planning than solo camping.

We find ourselves talking about and negotiating the dates for trips, destinations, departure times, travel routes, as well as weekend menu. We divide up a grocery list.  We find ourselves balancing preparing food, with cooking, and finally with clean up.

I don’t want to sugar coat any part of our camping experience. There are moments, that everyone just needs alone time, moments when you do not want to be social and hang out, and even moments after a week’s vacation that you are just done. Those moments are to be expected and when they occur, everyone just backs up and provides that space.

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After three years, we have developed a ying and yang, a give and take, a sweet and salty pairing that works for us. Our common goal is to get away, enjoy life, and create an experience for ourselves and our children.