in Mods & Upgrades, Not Quite What We'd Planned, Something's Always Broken

Go big or go home? Went big. Bought new home.

And yes, it’s on wheels. See?

This is the way we want to live until it becomes unfeasible to do so.
We’re still looking for that permanent place to park ourselves and put down roots, but it’s no longer the focus of our travels.
Like so many of our adventures together, we’ll figure it out along the way.
And if we’re paying proper attention, we’ll know it when we get there. 
We have found several cities we enjoy visiting, but what we enjoy more is the freedom of not being tied to any of them.

I know what you’re thinking. In our most recent annual update, we said we weren’t going to buy a new RV. That we were going to keep making modifications and upgrades to our 2008 Heartland Bighorn “until we feel like we’re done.”

Welp, by late September, we felt done, for a few big reasons.

First, we’d realized something about Own Less, Do More: that what we were doing disproportionately more of was maintenance and repairs. That’s… that’s not really what we’d had in mind, although yes, we know it’s all part of the cost of ownership.

Second, Tim has fallen into a ground-level opportunity on an RV-related programming project that excites him, and whether or not that turns into a profitable gig, it means he really needs to be able to put in more hours at the keyboard than under the RV.

Third, we’d begun to feel as if we were surrounded by ticking time bombs — like the roof, the air conditioning, and the refrigerator — and that replacing those big-ticket items was likely to cost us more out of pocket than the value of our 10-year-old coach.

Along those same lines, the remaining upgrades we wanted to make — adding solar power, having the exterior painted, installing double pane windows and a quieter cooling system — mmmmaybe didn’t make economic sense when all of those things come standard on newer 5th wheels designed for full time living.

This was one of the last straws.
We’d noticed some odd bulging behind the trim in a living room corner.
We thought it might be due to water intrusion from the roof, and then a mushroom grew there. An actual mushroom!
I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s a very clear sign of having a moisture problem.

In the course of repairing the source of and damage from that issue, Tim found a mystery puddle at the base of the toilet.
He stepped out of the bathroom, looked at me, and said, “That’s it. I’m done. I can’t keep up with this.”
And as the primary (OK, sole) fix-it guy in this partnership, he is the one who gets to make that call.

The scales had finally tipped. Our original intent was to run that baby into the ground, but it ran us down instead.

Although we hated the idea of letting go of all the work and money we’d put into The Toad over the four years we’d owned it, we also knew that we were merely putting lipstick on a pig, and that we were ready to say goodbye to what we now refer to as our “Training RV.”

I’d say that’s when and why we started RV shopping, but the truth is, we’re always kind of looking. You know how when you own a house, you go to home shows for the latest ideas, you monitor real estate sales in your area, and maybe even attend an occasional open house, even if you’re not actually looking to buy? It’s the same with RV ownership, but this time, we were looking with intent.

We put together a long list of  Gains & Gives, and we both agreed that any new (or new-to-us) coach would have to offer enough in the Gains column to offset the incurred hassle and debt, and to make it worth walking away from all the work we’d done on the Bighorn.

A few of our prospective Gains

  • 6-point automatic leveling
  • better suspension
  • newer appliances
  • improved HVAC, insulation, windows, and body paint
  • manufacturer’s warranty
  • less worry over aging RV
  • time recovered from long-term future repair projects

A few of our known Gives

  • leaving the Heartland Owners Club
  • the freedom to modify 10-year-old coach however and whenever we want
  • going from a paid off RV to one requiring monthly loan payments
  • nearly new furniture and flooring
  • trading the devil we knew for a devil we’d have to learn

Out of the Old, Into the New
The friendships we’ve made through the Heartland Owner’s Club are a gift to us, and the support and advice we received as members kept us on the road both literally and figuratively.
We will repay that debt by continuing those friendships, and also by continuing to recommend the Heartland brand.
They did right by us.
Our brand switch is due merely to being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a deal.

To cut through several pages of further details: we ended up trading in the Bighorn, and buying a 2018 DRV Mobile Suites 38KSSB. It had all the Gains, and because it was still sitting on the dealer’s lot at the end of the model year, it was marked down to a price we were willing to pay.

Gain: residential refrigerator
No more glorified dorm fridge!

Gain: updated decor, in subtle colors and patterns that (we hope) will not look dated within 5 years

We purchased from ExploreUSA RV Supercenter in Alvin, TX, and this floor plan photo came from their original ad for our RV.
We are not likely to do business with them again, but I won’t go into detail here until we’ve given them a chance to respond to our list of grievances.
(If you’re dying for details, go to this Yelp review and read the entry by J R., dated 5/10/2018. Our experience was very similar.)

Now, we’ve done a lot of moving in our 27 years together, and whether we count this RV as our 12th home or our 13th vehicle, the transfer process out of the old and into the new was every bit as time consuming and complex as moving into a new house — not just to make everything fit, but to store it in places that made sense. In other words, just because I have room in a bedroom drawer doesn’t mean I want to store 2 cans of corn and a jar of applesauce in there. 

Speaking of bedroom drawers, here are two of mine (note lack of room for corn or applesauce), along with my entire collection of hanging clothing.

Little decorative touches we’ve made to turn house into home

We are happy with our purchase. The upgrades in quality and technology were worth it, but yes, after only 3 weeks onboard, we’ve got a list of items that need factory attention — because RV manufacturing seems, sadly, to be focused far more on quantity than on quality, no matter what the sales brochure says.

Our first warranty visit to DRV is scheduled for mid-February.

Oooh, northern Indiana for Valentine’s Day. Yay?

I had this decal custom made after a discussion with friends about RV manufacturing quality.
There was wine.
And there was one slightly tipsy friend who said, “When you get right down to it, every single one of them is just a shitty box on wheels.”
Truth.

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20 Comments

  1. Thank you for the comprehensive information. I truly look forward to my time with Brian on the road; want less, and really desire to do so much more!

  2. Congrats! Your new unit is beautiful! I’ll be interested to see how your dealer story plays out. We bought from the same dealer at the Mesquite location but it was worse. We love our unit but won’t do business there again. We had to take it back for a repair and they basically had it for a couple of months and didn’t resolve the issue.

    And separately, a mushroom??!!!?? That was a clear cut sign it was time to move on!!!

    • I have heard unsatisfactory reports of a third location as well. Argh! These people.

      As for the mushroom, we didn’t even have to smoke it to benefit from its potentially hallucinogenic qualities, that’s for sure! We saw a new RV in the sky…

  3. Emily, congratulations on your new DRV. We traded our 2004 Carriage for a 2006 Mobile Suites 36 TKR two years ago and we have been very happy with it. We needed a new truck and new rig at the same time so new truck/old trailer. I know it is hard to leave your Heartland family but I would encourage you to join SOITC Suites Owners International Travel Club. It is a great group of people – regional rallies, one national rally, forums and facebook group. We found there is lots of help with all things DRV from other owners. You all might need that since it seems your dealership is less than helpful. There is also a second group on facebook – DRV Owners Group (DOGS) that is also helpful. This past year the DOGS also started having “rallies” so they could get together and put a face to a name. We are enjoying both groups. Enjoy your beautiful new home.

    • Thanks, Sharon!

      I didn’t mention it in my post, but you’ll see us on both Facebook groups (Tim has already asked several questions and received invaluable assistance), and our check for SOITC membership went in the mail last week.

      We look forward to years of friendship!

      • Wonderful. We will be at the Eastern Region Spring Rally in Alabama in April and the SOITC International Rally in Elkhart, IN in June. Hope we see you both at one of these events. Good luck at DRV in February.

  4. Welcome to the DRV family! We too purchased from ExploreUSA (Kyle) and will NEVER go back. I minced no words in telling the poor guy leading our DRV factory tour in October about them. Fortunately there are other very good dealers and repair shops out there who will take good care of you. We typically winter in Austin so give me a shout next time you are in the area.

    • Hey, Julie! We’d love to meet up sometime. We’ll be at Granger Lake next week for Christmas, but I don’t think we’ll be getting any closer to Austin again until we return in the springtime. Our younger son graduates from UT in May!

      And hey, if you’re willing to share the name of one of those good dealers and/or repair shops, especially if they are in central or south Texas, we’d be sure to check them out.

      • The two best DRV dealers are RVs for Less in Knoxville, TN and Rolling Retreats in Elk City, OK. I know neither of those is close to you in TX but Rolling Retreats might not be that far if you need help. I think almost everyone who has dealt with Slade and Alicia at Rolling Retreats or Butch and Karen at RVs for Less has been pleased with their work.

      • In addition to Sharon’s two excellent suggestions I can also recommend Jay at Twin Lakes RV Repair in La Grange, IN. He did some work for us in October and we were very pleased with him and his shop. Not exactly Texas but….
        When we are parked near Austin we use RV Specialists (mobile RV repair) out of Leander. We request Preston for our technician.
        Meetup Christmas week? We might be able to make that happen. Stay tuned…

        • I’m adding both of those to my collection. Thanks, Julie! And I’ll send you an email for easier contact re: potential Christmas week meet-up.

  5. Congrats on the new home! We’ve been pretty lucky with ours as far as repairs go (we’re not full-time, just 3-4 months at a time), but on the third day of our first trip, our refrigerator started to go out. Fortunately we were within an hours drive of Oregon RV Appliance Repair, and Earl went the extra (several) miles to get us back on the road the same day we came in. He was amazing, and I highly recommend him to anyone who needs appliance repairs.

    Also, I could really use that “Dear Brain” sign! 🙂

    • Thanks for the tip, Amy!

      And I’d love to tell you that the “Dear Brain” sign is effective, but no. I still sometimes lie awake for *hours* at night, making all the lists and solving all the things. Sigh.

  6. So sorry to hear about this experience….everything about it just leaves a sick taste in the back of my mouth. We thought our ‘07 Newmar KSDP would be our step-Entry into FullTime life and are still happy with that decision…..but have a fear of the next RV partly due to stories like yours.

    • Thanks for the sympathy, Susan. We knew from other RVers that buying a brand new RV did not necessarily mean we’d be free of all defects, failures, and other issues. Still smarts a little, though! But we do plan to maximize our warranty coverage by keeping our schedule as flexible as possible over the next year, so that we can return to the factory to have them make good on their promises.

      And the dismal purchasing experience at ExploreUSA was due primarily to their own nonsensical and frustrating policies, which are geared toward making the sale and getting the unit off the lot — not on earning customer satisfaction or loyalty. We are 0 for 2 on purchasing RVs from dealerships we’d ever be willing to do business with again. I guess they’re like unicorns?

  7. I heard about your blog while waiting in security line in Atlanta. A friend of yours told me.( I didn’t catch her name) I am sitting here waiting for my plane. My plan is to purchase a 5th wheel in the next year. I am a single 60 year old female. Am I biting off too much? Any advice you have for me will be appreciated! I will continue to follow you on your adventures.

    • You met Amanda! She told me about it. Good to have you here, Dori. I guess I can best answer your question by telling you that if I were single, I would not be living full time in a 5th wheel. Towing an RV (or towing a car with a motor home) is just too complicated and fraught with peril for me. Too many tires, wires, and mechanical things that need maintenance and repair.

      If I were RVing on my own, I’d go with a Class B or C, or a truck insert — but that is my fear talking. You may already be used to towing and trailers and tires (Oh my!) and be totally ready for the lifestyle. The drawback to Class B’s & C’s, though, is that if something goes wrong with your vehicle, you also lose your home while it’s being repaired. A truck insert camper can be set up independently.

      That said, there are solo women RVers out there, doing their thing and doing it well. I interviewed three of them here. I think you’ll find the information (and inspiration!) you need by seeking out that sisterhood.

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