Monday, August 26, 2019

How's That Trailer Working Out?

People write asking how the new trailer is working out.   OK, with some hiccups.

The new trailer is pretty good, but there are some things I am a little disappointed in:

1.  Anti-Gravity:  The trailer was advertised as having anti-gravity properties, but the most I have been able to levitate it is about 6-8" which is enough to slide a leveling block under a tire, but that's about it.   I was hoping for at least a few feet, here.

2.  Time-Travel:  I paid extra for the time-travel capability, but what they don't tell you is that it can only go back about 28 minutes in time.   What's the point of that?  They stop selling lottery tickets an hour before the drawing, so that's no help.  And no, you can't just keep hitting the "reverse" button over and over again to go back in time further.  I tried.

3.  Warp Drive:   They claim this trailer has warp capabilities, but the fastest I could get it to go was warp 1.1 - hardly faster than a shuttlecraft! (which it sort of looks like).  What's the point of that?  At that speed, it would still take me four years to reach Alpha Centuri - and let's face it, there's nothing there worth seeing, anyway.   Sure, you can use it within the solar system, but its considered bad form to engage warp near a gravity well.

I guess I can't complain - technically these features work, but the way they were advertised, I expected much more.

* * 

Of course, I am mocking what some people write on review sites - criticizing every last detail of a product - usually as a result of buyer's remorse.  And yes, we all do this - even me.  I threw a tantrum over the crappy shocks in the F150 and the flaky right side camera.   And part of this was perhaps being nervous after spending more money than I had ever before on a motor vehicle and then wondering whether I made a very, very expensive mistake.   But new Bilsteins seemed to solve the shock problem (which is apparently common - and I may even go further to Bilstein HD's) and the camera mysteriously started working again, and the leaky tire seemed to seal itself somehow.   With the passage of time, you get comfortable with a vehicle and seem less alarmed.

With the trailer, well, this is RV number five for us, and we know what to expect.   These things are hand-assembled, one at a time, and the components are all pretty much the same - Dometic, a division of Electrolux, makes almost all of the hardware - the air conditioner, the refrigerator, the power awning, and whatnot.   After you've owned a few RVs, you've owned a lot of Dometic products (or A&E, Carefree, Suburban, Coleman, Magic Chef, or whatever).   They are all about the same, and have their own separate warranties.

The structure of the thing is key to us.  After five RVs, with three of them having typical "stick built" quality issues - rubber roofs leaking and inflating, fiberglass sides delaminating, and so on and so forth - we know what is important and what isn't.  Fancy fru-fru like power slide-outs are nice, but basic structural integrity is much nicer.  When we bought the Casita, we never expected to own it for fifteen years.  But we sold it for nearly what we paid for it, and it's still out there, trucking around, as we speak.  Fiberglass RVs rock.

Sure, as with anything put together by human beings, there are some screws loose (besides the owners) here and there.  The compartment latch screws came loose, and one compartment door wouldn't open (Mark had to crawl under the bed to release it).   But then again, the same kind of compartment latch screw came loose on the Casita - nearly 20 years to the day, after it was built.  That's not a quality issue, it's a "shit happens" issue.   There are literally thousands of fasteners in an RV, so you have to expect one or two to come loose over time.

Oddly enough, for many people, an Escape is not their ultimate camper, but their very first experience in the RV world.   And fiberglass campers, like any niche product, attract a lot of oddball people, myself included.   Just the way they are marketed insures that they are not in the mainstream.   They are not "sold" to people by slick salesmen in RV stores, you have to really want one, and you have to drive 3,500 miles to Chilliwack, BC to pick it up, often paying cash.   This acts as a great filtering agent.   But it filters both ways.   We are all a little whack-a-doodle as a result.

For example, in the Escape forum, people ask the weirdest questions.  "Should I get Air Conditioning for the camper?  I live in BC and it never gets hot here," they ask   Maybe true, but then again, we were just there and needed the A/C the first day we had the camper.   It does get hot there, despite what people say.

But moreover, a "travel trailer" is designed to, well, travel, and even if you live in cold climes, the idea that you will never, ever, decide to go elsewhere where it may be warmer, is kind of shortsighted.   Arizona is calling, as is Yellowstone.   Both can get kinda warm.   And if you decide to sell the trailer, well, it will be awkward without A/C on it.  And besides, it's not that expensive.

We ordered nearly every option on the camper except a microwave and a power inverter.   Both can be added by a future owner for about the same cost as factory installation (the power inverter, wired into all the sockets, was well over $1000).   The idea that you can charge a bank of batteries and then run your 110V Crock Pot out in the boondocks is flawed.   You'll end up draining the batteries pretty quickly, and there are propane or 12V alternatives to almost anything you want to do with an inverter.  And besides, you may end up burning down the camper.

It puzzles me that some folks will install a bank of batteries and two solar panels, but decide that compartment doors or air conditioning are an obscene luxury.  (The rear compartment doors are an option, but without them, it is nearly impossible to access those compartments, other than to lift up the dinette seats.  Not practical for real storage!)   But to each his own.   One option that is not on the option sheet that is well worthwhile getting is the A/C with the heat strip.  The propane furnace works great, mind you, but it burns up propane (a lot of it) when you use it.  Most campgrounds don't meter electricity, so there is no point in running a propane furnace (which you pay for) when you can run the electric heat strip on your A/C unit for free heat.   And by the way, all three HVAC sources (A/C, furnace, heat strip) run off the same easy-to-use thermostat.

A full stove is another option worth getting.  Some folks say they prefer to have the cabinet underneath a cooktop for "storage" but frankly, we seem to have more storage than we need (particularly coming from the Casita).  We did opt for the extra cabinet next to the bed (replacing a television shelf that we don't use, as we don't watch television - and besides, televisions can mount on a wall).   Having a full oven gives you more options for food preparation, but then again, I suspect that more than half of all RVers go to restaurants all the time or merely thaw out frozen entrees in the microwave.

The cabinet for the microwave is prewired with an outlet, so it is easy to install one - go to Walmart, buy a $50 microwave, and throw it in the cabinet.   In terms of storage, having the oven and scotching the microwave works best for us.   But then again, we cook (I know, weirdos!) and don't nuke.  But it is easy to change this, otherwise, we would have ordered the microwave simply for the resale market.

We did get the solar panel and dual six-volt batteries - not so we can generate 110V with an inverter and run a television all day in the wilderness, but so we can "dry camp" without issues.   We are in Bamberton Provincial Park right now, and there are no hookups.   But other than the lack of A/C, you wouldn't know the difference - everything else works, either on 12V or on propane.   And it is pretty seamless, too.   The refrigerator automatically seeks out the best power source, while the hot water heater is a matter of throwing a switch.

Such automation comes with a price, though.  Unlike our all-manual Casita, which required a match to light the hot water heater, and a manual knob to switch over the refrigerator, this new trailer (like anything else 20 years newer than our Casita) has electronic controls.   And we've been down this road before with our Class-C motorhome.   They work great (most of the time, until a circuit board fails) but if you lose 12V power, well, everything goes dead.

While these appliances run on propane, they need 12V to run the controls.   You run out of battery power and everything goes off.   So while a single 12V battery to run the lights and water pump was fine in the Casita, I wanted something more for this rig.   With the solar panel and dual 6V golf car batteries, we can be sure that we can live "off the grid" for days on end without difficulty.

(And no, you don't need a generator. The only reason you might ever need a generator is if you were leaving your pet in the camper and it's hot out and you need to run the air conditioning. People bring a generator with them so they can run their microwave to make their breakfast. It makes no sense at all. And often these generators are loud and noisy and inconvenience other people. Just say no to generators.)

But if we went with an inverter, it would have meant only minutes of 110V power available to us - maybe a few hours, tops (depending on load).   And once you've sucked that battery bank dry with your TeeVee, then all your other appliances shut down as well - the water pump, the refrigerator, the hot water heater, the lights, the awning, and so on.    People don't get this, but then again, I'm an Electrical Engineer.  Just leave the home appliances at home, and learn to live with less or live with something different, in the RV.   Cook on the stove, not in your Insti-Pot.   Watch a video on a laptop, a pad device, or a 12V television - or not watch videos at all.   You'd be surprised how easy it is to do.

And for God's sake, don't try to run the air conditioner from the house batteries through an inverter. People who try to do this just don't understand basic Engineering or Physics.   Folks who try to "take it all with them" as many in the motorhome set do, end up being frustrated as all this technological fru-fru simply doesn't work or runs into the inexorable laws of physics.   Some of these motorhomes have banks of batteries, which sounds like fun and all, until about five years into the game when you have to replace them all.

These are the same folks who complain the loudest when all these toys don't work as advertised.  "Warp drive?  You call this warp drive?   It's so slow, I might as well be walking!"

So to answer the question set forth in the title, "just fine, thank you!" because we have realistic expectations of what an RV is all about, and we tried not to go after trouble-prone esoteric options like power inverters (which the staff at the place sort of even discouraged, which they also do by the prices quoted).

Overall, I would say the assembly quality is very good - far superior to what we've seen come out of Elkhart, Indiana.  Like anything else, it is built to a design price - in this case, about $30,000 USD, (which is a lot more than the stick-built crap from Elkhart).  The interior is nice, but not all the wood is real, of course - if it were, it would cost thousands more.   The main thing is, it is comfortable and just the right size for us - larger than the cramped Casita, but not so large as to be difficult to tow, maneuver, and park.

In short, it is exactly what we expected, which is the definition of quality.   It  should give us many good years of service - more years than we have left in life, or left in RVing - and when we sell it, like the Casita, it will return a substantial portion of its purchase price.

You really can't beat that!