Oct 29 2011

Lessons Learned: Truck & Trailer

Written by Boyink · Short URL: http://b4a.us/a/5237

Picacho Peak outside of Tucson, AZ

Picacho Peak outside of Tucson, AZ

While we are home from our one-year adventure of a US-based RV road trip with our family, we aren’t settling back into life as we knew it.  We are resting, making some large decisions about our house and remaining possessions, doing client work, beginning a large update/change to one of our businesses, getting the kids back on track with a more formal curriculum, and caught up on their orthodontia.  We may be putting down some roots, but think of us as potted plants with shallow roots easily moved…

So, while we intend to “do it again” and return to full-time travel, this first year of mobility is something that can be looked at as a unique chapter in our family story.  We’ve been asked what would we do differently if we were to do it again as a way to educate other families considering a similar trip.  Would we buy the same truck?  Leave at the same time? Take the same route?  Do church differently?

So here goes - the first in a small series of “Lessons Learned” posts.  In this one I’ll talk about the big pieces - the truck and trailer.  In subsequent posts I’ll look at internet connectivity, technology, working/schooling/worshiping on the road, clothes, eating, our timing, and our route.


We bought a 2002 Chevy 2500HD Crew Cab short box with 89K miles on the odometer. It was a Florida truck with no rust and the cleanest undercarriage of any vehicle I’ve ever owned.

But I felt like I settled when we purchased it.  What I really wanted was a 4WD diesel version.  Still smarting from selling my toy Jeep, I had visions of doing some mild off-roading with a 4WD truck.  I wanted the diesel engine for power and fuel economy.  However I wanted to pay cash and our budget was simply too small for a 4WD diesel in any kind of condition or mileage I was happy with.  I know diesel engines have higher longevity than gas, but having >200K miles on seats, steering components, rear ends, and suspension etc, wasn’t acceptable.

Our truck has an 8.1L (or 496 cubic inch) gas engine, and the same Alison transmission as the diesels get.  The engine had plenty of power. There were only two times the entire trip I had my foot on the floor. The transmission was awesome - in tow/haul mode it had plenty of “hold-back” - I was often on the gas going downhill. Because of this I always felt in control while towing and was never concerned about cooking the brakes.

I ran some rough calculations based on the purchase price of the truck, the miles we drove, our fuel economy and the average price of fuel. I ran those same numbers factoring the higher initial purchase price of a diesel truck, the higher fuel economy but also higher average fuel price.  I calculated our truck costing us $1/mile while a diesel truck would have cost $1.10/mile.  Call it a wash - at least for a year long trip.

And that off-roading I wanted to do?  It would have happened exactly once - on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where you can drive on the beach in a 4WD vehicle.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have wanted to jeopardize our tow vehicle by doing even mild off-roading, and in reality the truck is so long & big that there aren’t many trails it would realistically fit on.

The longer the trip went on the happier I was with the truck - other than the normal maintenance the most significant issue we had was a rear window lift failing.

Lessons Learned

  • Staying on budget is more important than perceived needs
  • Common wisdom doesn’t always apply to your situation
  • You don’t need a diesel puller to go full time
  • You don’t need 4WD to pull a 5th wheel full-time


Ah, the trailer.  So, we were literally on our way to a dealer lot to commit to a new 5th wheel when we drove past this one for sale.  It was the same floor plan, looked to be in great shape, and was thousands less than new.  The owner seemed genuine and the deal felt right. 

But we made a critical mistake.

While we had the truck inspected by a mechanic before purchasing, we didn’t have the trailer inspected.  And we should have. Looking back, I’m not sure why we didn’t. Probably because we bought the trailer first so didn’t have a way to get it to a RV service center ourselves.

We had issues with the septic system, the slide roof needed attention, and we ended up having to replace the entire roof on the trailer during our trip.  If I add the cost of the repairs we’ve made to the purchase price we could have just bought the new trailer and had warranties (some new trailers have 7 year warranties on the roof, but it only applies to the original owner).

We’ve made it work, and still had an awesome year but now have a higher balance on our credit card than we’d prefer.

Functional issues aside, the size and floorplan (once we made the furniture changes) have been perfect.  The changes we initially wanted but didn’t get to (interior paint, wood floors, different window treatments, etc) would have been nice, sure.  But after a few weeks in the trailer our world was much more about where we were and what we were doing than the aesthetics of our trailer.

We’ve camped rustic yet beautiful national parks where a bigger trailer wouldn’t fit, made U-turns in just 3 lanes, navigated small parking lots, all while still having enough room to live.  Yes, we have to share a bath.  Yes, we have to take turns in the kitchen.  But that would be true for most of the options we considered.  Yes, we dream of a trailer with a funky interior, a bath and a half, a place for me to work that’s not in the thick of things, and a bit more space around the bed so you don’t have to be a contortionist to get the bottom sheet on. 

But do we need that stuff? Nope.

Lessons Learned

  • Have used RV’s professionally inspected
  • Bigger isn’t always better
  • RV furniture can be easily replaced with more comfortable and flexible pieces
  • Be prepared to make repairs on any RV - new or used
  • The trip isn’t ultimately about the RV or how cool you look going down the road
  • After a year living in an RV, we view space and the usage of it much differently. Our 1000 sq ft. house seems ginormous and there’s no reason my office can’t be in a corner of the sunny living room


A Google Map of where this post was written.

15 comments on Lessons Learned: Truck & Trailer

  1. Picture of Rick

    Rick writes:

    Great post. Fantastic pictures. I didn’t realize you were on Hunting Island, SC. It’s home to one of my favorite family vacations ever.

    By the way, I was hoping your chairs would have been named the “Two Harlows”. :)

    Can’t wait to see where 2012 takes you guys.

    Posted on October 29, 2011
  2. Picture of Jenn

    Jenn writes:

    Congratulations on a year well spent!!!!!!!!!

    That’s rad you bought both for cash!  We didn’t have the money to buy both our truck and trailer for cash.  We initially thought we would finance the trailer and buy the truck for cash.  We ended up finding an amazing deal on a killer 5th wheel (through a private seller) that had every thing we wanted so it was easier to financed the truck.  We felt exactly the same about getting an older diesel with high mileage…too much wear on other components.  We ended up finding another great deal (way below blue book) on a diesel with very low mileage and a year long bumper to bumper warranty.  We have a payment (which we planned on) but it’s very manageable so it all worked out. 

    BTW - I like that bike rack!

    That’s funny about “how cool you look going down the road” regarding RV interior!  I’ve never been able to see the interior of an rv going down the road!  ;-)  We’ve only been in ours a week and I’m SOOOO GLAD we redecorated it!  We had a blast doing it and created some special memories in the process!  I do totally, agree the trip isn’t about the rv but it sure is nice coming home and snuggling in a place that feels and looks like home. 

    BTW - Like your bike rack! A roof rack didn’t even occur to me.

    Posted on October 30, 2011
  3. Picture of Boyink

    Boyink writes:

    I see you guys just got bikes. If your intent is to carry them on the back of the trailer then learn what we learned : bike carriers attached to the rear of a 5th wheel will fail. The bouncing action of the back of the trailer is too great. We started with ours back there and even after triangulating the carrier with winch-cable to the trailer bumper it failed. We bought the roof rack as the solution and it worked great - but it is a team effort to get bikes up and down.

    Posted on October 30, 2011
  4. Picture of Boyink

    Boyink writes:

    Ah Rick - thanks again for the chair delivery.  The Ikeas/Harlows were well used…

    Posted on October 31, 2011
  5. Picture of brandon Burie

    brandon Burie writes:

    Glad your back

    Posted on October 31, 2011
  6. Picture of PXLated

    PXLated writes:

    I’ve been envious of your adventure - Am hoping to become a nomad myself at some point. Looking forward to your coming ruminations.

    Posted on October 31, 2011
  7. Picture of Colin Burns

    Colin Burns writes:

    Congratulations on completing the adventure. It’s amazing how quickly time goes :)

    Thanks for the look back, hopefully some of the lessons you’ve learned will help when we come to the states for our road-trip. Thinking that will probably be late 2012 or early 2013.


    Posted on November 01, 2011
  8. Picture of Boyink

    Boyink writes:

    Cool - didn’t know a US leg was planned!

    Posted on November 02, 2011
  9. Picture of Colin Burns

    Colin Burns writes:

    Yep, RV’ing through the US is very very high on my plans :)

    I lived in Colorado for 6 months as a 21yo working in a Ski resort and absolutely fell in love with the countryside.

    Hoping that come late next year we might head on over, hopefully will have a few things set up better so I won’t need to be working so many hours (but we’ll see :).


    Posted on November 02, 2011
  10. Picture of Judith

    Judith writes:

    I am still in awe of everything your family has seen & done this past year. Can’t wait to see where your travels take you next.

    I do have one question- is there a post that describes how you went about gaining the sponsorship/advertising for the companies featured on your trailer? Those are very subtle compared to most of the payed advertising options I’ve come across in researching the topic. TIA

    Posted on November 03, 2011
  11. Picture of Boyink

    Boyink writes:

    Hi Judith -

    I wasn’t planning one because the sponsorships were such a small part of our trip. 

    But I can give a quick summary of what we learned:

    If your trip doesn’t have a philanthropic purpose, a hook, a theme - some way of it being more than just a family out driving around seeing the sights, sponsorships will be difficult to impossible. 

    You might see your RV as an empty billboard just waiting for someone to pay to put their message on it, but there’s no way to put metrics around and measure that investment.  Sure, a lot of people might see it, but are they the right people?  Will they take action based on seeing an RV-based message?

    And have the right expectations - if you think sponsorships are going to make an otherwise unaffordable endeavor affordable think again. Think “$100’s” not “$1000’s”.  Think gear/goods in exchange for blog posts or meetup coordination.

    Our sponsors grew out of existing relationships where it made sense to do so.  Success was mixed as business goals shifted on their end and trip realizations/realities became apparent on our end.

    Posted on November 03, 2011
  12. Picture of Margie Lundy

    Margie Lundy writes:

    Great post! I’m looking forward to more, especially technology and church. We’ve learned a lot! Still looking forwarding to meeting on the road one day!

    Posted on November 03, 2011
  13. Picture of Judith

    Judith writes:

    Thanks for the reply. Definitely not expecting much more than a conversation starter/point of interest out of ads. I will be doing a couple of free ones to raise awareness {Wounded Warrior Project & one for vision learning centers} as well as any paid ads. If we make some cash that’s awesome. Which is why I was curious how to get the smaller ads rather than the huge ones.

    Thanks again, I look forward to your continuing adventures.

    Posted on November 03, 2011
  14. Picture of JJL

    JJL writes:

    Just wondering how it went without a table inside your camper. Were you able to eat outside most of the time? I like the open look of the changes you made, but…just wondering how you managed.

    Posted on November 05, 2011
  15. Picture of Boyink

    Boyink writes:

    Stay tuned…:)

    Posted on November 06, 2011

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