Over the years, I have done a lot of camping with my family, kids, dog and friends. With the kids, we have enjoyed a lot of under the tent camping, all seasons, including winter camping in the snow.
As the years have gone by, we also tried, Rental RVing, in class A, in a class C, with a folding camper, but at years pass by, definitely nothing is more comfortable than a motor-home, I consider it at high end camping, even if it comes with some interesting experiences. In 2010, I finally decided to take it a step further, as I was looking for a five weeks rental for business purposes, I looked at the cost and when I realized that between the rental and the millage billing it would cost me approximately $10,000 leaving nothing after except probably a similar bill the following year for my round trip of out of town customers and shows, I started looking at second hand motor-homes. The first one I made an offer on was a 30 footer on a Ford base, fitted my budget, and I figured that with some minor work, it would to the job. Unfortunately, the dealers financial officer apparently forgot to transmit my financing request, and after a while, I learned that they had sold it to someone else and that their financial officer being gone, they had no answer for me.
They offered me another unit, a Condor 29 that I eventually purchased under the condition that I would be able to have it inspected as soon as it had past the local authorities inspection to go on the road (it was a unit imported from the States to Canada). Things being what they are, by the time I was due to leave, the unit wasn't ready, and they had to lend me another one for the first week of my trip, and I was supposed to pick up my unit on the way back from West to East without having the time for a professional inspection. We were able to do so a week later and had a crash course on the various parts of the RV, at night, done by people that as we later discovered barely new this unit better than we did. The agreement was that in lieu of an inspection, if we had problems during our trip (approximately 6,000 miles planed), we would list them as we went and they would solve the issues after we were back in town. Trust me we discovered quite a few issues, to be precise, about two full pages typed, with small spaces and font size 11.
As we were back, we then brought them the unit to have these problems fixed. What a mistake! It took them another month and a half if not two month to "fix" the problems, and once again, we got the vehicule back at the last minute, just as they were closing for winter, and about two week before we had planned to leave for a private trip this time. So once again, they convinced us that everything was in order, told me that despite my intimate conviction that the wheels needed an alignment, on this type of vehicule it wasn't usually done...
So we left two week later for a trip that was actually very interesting and during which despite some technical difficulties, we really had fun. The objective was to meet some friends/clients in Atlanta where they have now lived for the past 7 or 8 years. As my first trip starting on the snow out of Montreal at night, and under the snow until Atlanta with an RV which after a few hundred miles revealed windshield wipers strange behavior, and a fairly bumpy ride on highway (as I had noticed already and mentioned to the dealer), I learned a lot about handling a more than 7 tonnes box on wheels that catches the wind very easily. We did the trip in two and a half days, with a couple of stops, once in a Walmart for the night and once at a 7/11 that accepted us on their parking for the night. In both cases, great places to stop as we were able to complete our daily shopping needs in both cases before we left the next morning.
We spent the next two and half days in Atlanta where we had arrived at our friends to directly go to a Christmas neighbors party where every body had someone they new with RVing experience. Before we left, we went for a visit to the new Coca Cola Museum downtown Atlanta, and after a bit a challenge to park our house on wheel in the area, we had a great tour (even if I liked it less than the old museum).
Next day, next stop at a friends winter residence in Florida, for a Christmas Turkey on the 27th of December (he had kindly been waiting for us with his fabulous turkey supper). After a fantastic evening, as we could not stay for the night in the park where our friend has his house, we went on for a stop at a nearby Wallmart and discovered on of the most gigantic Wallmart we had ever seen, open 24 hours a day (unknown to us in Canada). Again, this allowed some shopping the next morning in order to return to our friends place to offer him our morning brunch. I also had the opportunity to appreciate the kindness of the Wallmart staff as around 5h30 in the morning I discovered that the battery on my watch had died, went inside and they very kindly, replaced it; the first clerk that attended me could not do it but she made sure to find someone that helped me on the spot.
As we were leaving that same day, I wanted to get an oil change done as we were due, after trying a few places, that couldn't take vehicles as big as ours, we finally ended up at an RV dealer. And this is where we started discovering interesting things...
As they where doing the oil change and checking a few other items including tire pressure, and other items, they discovered that most of the bolts holding up the from part of the vehicule were either missing or broken and as they were asking me how far we had been coming from they were surprised that we didn't end up off the road. They didn't have the exact right parts but kindly repaired with available parts they had and recommended that we check with a dealer upon our return home.
Our next stop was to take some gas at Kenwood CITGO in St-Petersburg where apparently the gas seemed to be cheaper than other places around, as it was already late in the day, and as the day had already been a long day, I didn't realize that it was written in small characters that the mentioned price was only for cash purchases or CITGO credit cards. As I am not a US resident, and therefor I don't have a valid postal code in the US, I went inside got a $150.00 pre-approved purchase for gas and went to fill up; I was in for a big surprise... Paying with a visa card made it considerably higher to fill up there than any other place I had seen on the road, and definitely more expensive than at the Shell across the street. I therefore went back inside and asked for a refund. It's only once back home that I realized that the amount had been taken off my account, never refunded, and as I looked at the receipt, I realized that the cashier had made it like a cash refund and never given me the money. I called the gas station manager right away and got hung up on. I contacted CITGO, and after many month of back and forth emails withe their customer service manager, was finally offered a small coupon to still be received (the original problem goes back to more than a year ago) and recommendation to ask my credit card company to cancel the transaction (indirect answer from the station manager) when it is not possible more than 90 days after the fact.
Conclusion: I don't fill up at any CITGO anymore, I recommend to any one not to fill up at CITGO or to be very careful when they do so, and now, when I ask for a refund, I definitely check twice what's on the refund coupon before I move from the cashier, even if this means a delay for the line up behind me.
So we went on with our trip to the keys. A bit shortened as by now we where already more than 3 days late on our trip. We unfortunately couldn't stop in the Everglades and will have to return for a special trip for this. We were able to go to Key-west, but unfortunately because my son had to go back to school and myself to work, we were not able to stay more than a few hours. But, this is beautiful, the Carabians attached to the continent. Another place that deserve a special trip.
Then on the way back to the north and the snow. As we were on our way, enjoying the east coast of Florida, going to Savanna (we made a special stop to be able to spend part of the next day in the beautiful city) we slowly made our way back to the cold. One morning, in North Carolina, as I was doing my routine visual inspection before leaving Flying J, I noticed some metal on my front wheels. Oups! It didn't seem quite normal. As I am an RV member of the CAA/AAA, I called them and got the worst one of the two tires changed for the spare and directions to the nearest garage open that could put two new tires in the front. After all, I wasn't apparently so stupid thinking that something was wrong with the alignment of the vehicule. As this garage didn't do alignment, they kindly referred me and booked for me an appointment with a place downtown specializing in suspension and alignment. I was on for another surprise...
We were welcome by a pretty nice guy that seemed to know what he was doing. They aligned the front wheels and the back wheels, obviously taking us between two regular clients, offered us coffee, while we were waiting in their garage as they had no waiting room, and afterwords gave us a good explanation of the problems. First of all, yes our vehicule should have an alignment from time to time, and apparently it hadn't been done for ages, also, he made me realize that we were supposed to have an air suspension in the front for a smoother ride, but the air bags were completely dried out and deflated therefore causing some if not most of the problems we had had with the front of the truck. He unfortunately could not get the bags in less that a week (we were fresh in the new year), but he recommended that I get if fixed back in Montreal, of if it wasn't possible that on my next trip down I call him a week ahead of time for him to order them and intall them the same day we pass by. He also mentioned that I was getting the same type of air bags installed on the back of the RV, the comfort would be greatly improved. Trust me, now that the front air bags have been changed in Montreal, I will make sure that on my next trip next to this place I'll ask him to install air bags in the back of the vehicule. Every word of what he has told me has proven to be true.
Last but not least, as this RV seems to like a lot of TLC, our next adventure happened in the neighborhood of Baltimore. Locked inside, by the only door, on with the only lock on the vehicule....
AAA was once again able to help us after understanding that we were in no danger, parked properly at a shopping center where we had intended to purchase the necessary minimum to enjoy a nice supper aboard our vehicule. Good to have monkeys as kids, my son was able to get out through the window, get us some food, and by the time the locksmith came in, laughing because this was his first case of attending anyone locked into an RV, we were having supper, and were able to offer him a fresh coffee.
Luckily enough, at least for that trip, this was the end of our surprises.
What I learned so far from this experience, and this is why I finally decided to write about it:
- Never buy a second hand RV without getting it professionally inspected, even if this means changing completely your agenda;
- When you buy a second hand RV from a dealer, try to find out if you can get reference on them, good or bad, at least you'll have a better idea of what you're dealing with;
- Never trust a dealership to be honest in anything, and if they pretend to have done extensive work on a vehicule that they have sold to you, get it checked again afterwords;
- Make sure that your AAA/CAA RV'ers membership is always up to date (they have always been fantastic in helping out an full of resources);
- When you think something is abnormal with a vehicle that you have purchased recently, trust your guts, you're probably right;
- When you're supposed to get a refund anywhere, don't trust the cashier or even the store to be honest, make sure every word is correct on the reimbursement form, and as soon as you can, if you are dealing with a credit card reimbursement, call you bank to cancel the original transaction yourself (at least it will be a warning);
- There are some great people out there willing to help when you need it, particularly in placed like Wallmart, 7/11, MacDonald and many other places that if you ask will gladly let you park on their property, or go the extra mile to help you;
- RVing is a great way to travel and in the end, (even if sometimes you have some technical problems, probably due in our case to the fact that we didn't take the proper steps in purchasing a second hand unit);
- I'm still convinced that if we had done the same trips as we have done so far (and we have done more that I will relate at a later date in continuation of this one), we would not have seen as much, the cost would have been at least the same if not more as we would still have had to pay for the gas and use of a vehicule, for hotel or motel rooms as in many places, the tent would not have been fast enough, use many more restaurants for meals... And for the comfort, is is so great to just stop when your tired and relax as if you were at home which in fact you are...
I recon that this is a long text, and probably, quite a few of you have lived similar experiences, but some might not, as much as I am eager to learn from others' experiences, I believe that this might help someone some day.
(I will write more at a later date as even if we have had less problems and great experiences after this second trip with our Condor, I would like to share some of these)