We spent hundreds and hundreds of hours researching RVs this summer (whiling away our time in the air-conditioned boat). A class B van was our best option. We will not be staying put in a campground for a week at a time, so we don’t need a 40-ft house with 50 pull-outs. We’ve got too many people and places to see, so we think we’ll be on the go all the time. A van is easy to drive, can park in a normal parking spot, is relatively “under the radar” as far as appearance and gets superb gas mileage compared to all other RVs (we averaged 17 mpg on our first 1000 miles).
We wanted to be self-sufficient so we could “boondock” or go unplugged for several days at a time. This means we’d need solar panels on top and a battery bank…similar to boat living. Road Treks and Pleasure Way vans were too expensive (even used), some layouts were unlivable, and we’d still have to add lots of money to make it “boondockable”.
The new Travato
Winnebago just started making the Travato a couple years ago. While cheaper than the others due to economies of scale and some lower-quality materials, enticingly, it included 100 watts of solar and a 12v fridge. But it was still too expensive; and used ones, since they are new to the market, are on short supply and hardly discounted. In July, we stopped by a Phoenix dealer before our flight just for kicks and were laughed at after we told them what we were willing to pay.
Build an RV?
So we then determined we could build an RV out of a new van cheaper than we could buy one. You’re joking right? Nope. And more people do it than one might think. Just Google “van conversion” or “camper van”. We decided on the Ford Transit van, mainly for its rear-wheel drive and V6 Ecoboost engine which is supposedly a real powerhouse.
Diesel was out completely. We met a guy here in San Carlos who was in the process of building out a Mercedes Sprinter diesel. He had to carry extra diesel jugs in his van because Mexico does not sell the ultra-low-sulfur fuel that the new Mercedes vans require. Not only can you not buy the proper diesel in Mexico, but it is illegal to transport fuel across the border. When he was eventually caught with the jugs he had to explain to the Mexican border agent “What am I to do, you don’t sell the right fuel here?” He let him go, but what happens the next time he gets a stickler agent? So for that reason AND the fact that many people have had expensive to fix problems with the Mercedes, diesel is not an option, despite its slightly better mileage.
We’d planned on purchasing said van next year and building it out in about 2-3 months. We would eliminate some major luxury items like an air-conditioner, water heater, generator and built in heater. But while Brian is adept at all the necessary electrical, woodworking, appliance installation, etc., the intimidating factor was time. How much time is this REALLY going to take? And it could become a monthly money drain until it was finished.
At the dealer
When we were in Michigan, Brian’s step-father asked if we wanted to go to an RV dealer. We thought, sure, why not? We’ll show him the various van models so he can picture what we are going to build and we can scrounge for ideas. We inspected the Travato again and liked it even more the 2nd time around. Our salesman was super nice, low-pressure and when he finally got around to asking us if we wanted to talk further, we were skeptical.
“You don’t want to hear my price”, I said. It was a low-ball price. We weren’t committed, just throwing it out there. We said it, but he didn’t laugh. Hmmm. He brought out his manager, as they always do…. “We can’t go that low.” He writes down a number significantly higher, well out of our comfort range. “What do you need your payment to be?” I hate that game. We only want to deal in hard numbers. No, I want to pay X, including tax, title and license.
Now I’m paraphrasing here: “Hmmm, OK since we certainly can’t do your low, low number, knowing you need to go up some from that, give me your next best low number. At that point, we will have to call the store owners to see if they are willing to stoop to your price. The good news is, winter is coming and they are looking to get rid of vehicles since we drive many of them down to Florida to sell. They may very well take it.”
We went back home and thought hard for 2 days on our “next low price” and whether we should do it at all. Crunch time. Make a decision.
Man, it sure would be nice to have it already all finished. Just walk away with the completed vehicle? No van-buying hassles, no components research on a hundred items, no wiring, insulating, woodworking, plumbing, installing of sink, stove, fridge, toilet, shower, water tanks, batteries, solar panels, no thousands of Home Depot runs… no headaches. Wouldn’t it be nice to just have it already done? Isn’t that worth the several thousand dollars over our budget? Well, when you put it THAT way…
We returned on Monday and gave him our revised (still low) price. Done deal. On Oct 12th, we officially became snowbirds.