Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We just came home from our first winter of RVing in the sunbelt to find that we can no longer legally park our new 5th wheel on our property. I’m so mad I could spit. Before I even unloaded it I was told it could not be parked in my driveway for more than nine days in any 30 day period. I thought this was the land of the free. I think I should fight city hall, but I would most likely just be spitting into the wind. Is this legal?

Dear Evicted:
RV’s are changing the way we live in multiple ways. The same local ordinances that keep you from parking overnight in some Walmart parking lots can keep you from parking long- term on your own property. Local governments are cracking down on people living in their RVs on public streets, storing RVs in their driveways, and letting friends camp for short visits. Some municipalities will only enforce RV parking regulations if you have neighbors complaining. Before buying any over sized vehicle, it would be wise to find out whether you can park it legally on your lot. Your community might have specific vehicle size, screening or lot location requirements for parking. This information should be available from your city clerk, township manager or neighborhood association. Part of any RV purchase decision should include the cost of off property storage if that is going to be necessary. Being able to park it today does not guarantee what regulations might be enacted to prevent it tomorrow. These regulations are not all bad. If you are parking an RV larger than your neighbor's house in your driveway, it may not fit into the neighborhood decor. If your neighbors were long haul truck drivers would you want them to park their 18 wheelers in their driveway while at home? RV parking and/or storing at home should be done with the objective of being a good neighbor and keeping a low profile so as not to call undue attention to your rig. By doing so, you may be preserving the rights of other owners to continue parking at their homes.
 --Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Monday, May 20, 2013

Down in the RV dumps

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are newbies to the RV world. We love the freedom of sailing the open road. We make no long-term plans. We just go where the spirit moves us and the wind blows warm. My wife suffers from “Germaphopia” and is always concerned when we use the dump station. She thinks they are the most unsanitary places on earth. I assure her that I use precautions when dumping and filling with fresh water, but she still has her concerns. Has this ever been a problem for other RV’ers? Is there anything we should be concerned with? I think it is all in her head but I would like to ease her mind.
--Dumpmeister in Delaware

Dear Dumpmeister:
Your wife’s fears are understandable. Many dump stations are used by a percentage of people with no concern for others. Often it is a case of misunderstanding. I just explained to a foreign couple, traveling in a rented motorhome, which water hose was for rinsing the sewer hose and which was for filling the fresh water tank. They had no clue and were confused by the signage. Most dump stations are poorly designed and could have the fresh water supply spaced well away from the sewage area with little expense added in piping. This would also allow those waiting in line to dump to move up while you are filling your water tank. Most are designed with the two separate supplies within a few feet of each other. I would assume that there have been users before you that have contaminated the hose. I am always amazed at how many people use no gloves, can’t seem to get the sewage in the hole, do not rinse the area down after they have made a mess, and use the fresh water hose to rinse their sewer hose. You should take precautions at every dump station and assume the worst. As an example: We stopped just outside Cody, Wyoming at a free dump station near a VFW park. The sign stated, NO COMMERCIAL VEHICLES ALLOWED. Just as I was finishing up, a Canadian tour bus pulled up and the driver and tour guide stepped out. They were speaking French, but it did not take me long to figure out they had no hose and were going to pull the pin and shoot for the hole. I told my wife, as I hurried into the motorhome, “jump or swim.” We pulled away just as they let it fly. I went back over and gave them the “what for” but they just played stupid, which didn’t take much acting practice. Your dump supplies should include rubber gloves, a small container of sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. It only takes a few minutes more to be organized, clean, sanitary and safe. Explain to your wife the procedure you go through and let her have a go at it. Once she understands what you are dealing with and the safeguards you employ, she should feel more relaxed with the whole process.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

RV rules are rules

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I know you have used the term, “Combat Camping” in past articles. I thought it was a joke when I first started reading your column. I have come to understand the reality of it in some popular areas. My husband is not a lawyer, but he plays one at some of the campgrounds we visit. Recently, we were at Utah’s Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Most sites are reservable. We were able to secure a site that was not reserved. The next morning when my husband went to pay for another day he was told the site was already taken. Knowing a reservation must be made 48 hours in advance he questioned how this could be. The woman in charge tried to explain the situation away, but my husband is not one to be “Slam Dunked” if he knows the rules and they are not being followed. I said we should just leave, but he insisted on talking to the managing ranger. That conversation went no better. We were told it shouldn’t have happened but there was nothing that could be done. We were told we would have to leave the park for the day and return late in the afternoon to try for one of the three overflow sites. If we stayed in the park we would need to pay a six dollar day use fee as we waited for overflow. My husband does not like inconsistent, irresponsible management. He ran a business for many years and insists that things only go smoothly if there are policies and the policies are adhered to. He must have drove that point home because they finally decided to let us pay for another day and stay in our site. I personally don’t understand the whole system. Do you think it is worth fighting for site rights? Moving on would be more my style, but my husband has different ideas.
--Legally Blonde near Bryce

Dear Bryce:
It is unfortunate that you have to “Lawyer Up” just to camp peacefully. I have to agree with your husband. If not for yourself, then for the next campers that come in and get the same unfair treatment. The system is complicated enough without local managers making up their own rules. It is very important to understand the many different reservation systems you have to deal with. They are basically the same, but some are farmed out by the Feds and some are run by the individual states. Many parks are becoming 100% reservation. This disenfranchises completely the many campers that prefer to travel unimpeded by a schedule. Often people charged with managing these systems do not fully understand how they function. You can ask three different people the same question and get three different answers. Do not expect a site just because the online reservation listing shows the symbol “W” (Walk-In). I have been told numerous times by State and Federal campgrounds that “W” does not mean walk-ins are available. You would almost have to do a tour of duty as a campground host to understand all the little nuances of trying to manage the campground “Bingo” game. It is not a perfect system and scat happens sometimes. Wires get crossed. Sometimes you may need to use a little common sense and have a little understanding when things do not go according to plan. That said, if you discover it is simply favoritism or nepotism that is getting you evicted, you should yell foul, throw down the penalty flag, grab your husband and “Lawyer Up.”
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Monday, May 6, 2013

Tow II

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
Wow! I always read your column and the comments each week. I can’t remember anything more controversial than last week’s “Tow or not to tow” question. Some of the comments made no sense, but a lively discussion for sure. We are also getting ready to travel with this same rig configuration. We appreciate the feedback. We are still a bit confused but leaning toward pulling a small vehicle behind our new Class C motorhome. My only concern is looking like a train going down the road and constantly worrying about the toad trailing behind me. Am I just being paranoid?
--Terrified of towing in Toledo

Dear Terrified: I was amazed at how strong people can feel about how things should be done. I say, “Different strokes, for different folks.” Here were some of the arguments:
Figuring the cost of toad, hookup, insurance, fuel.

Cheaper to rent a vehicle when needed.

Can’t backup. Inconvenient to unhook.

Can’t fit into small campsites.

Extra fuel costs to tow

Terrified to tow (your concern)

Damage and theft

 Let me try to address all of these questions. Remember, towing is optional. Towing is not a requirement when reading this column.

 If you do not already have a second vehicle, there will be this added expense. But I believe it will be an investment that will pay for itself quickly. I personally buy used Saturn SLs. They weigh 2350 pounds, easily found on Craigslist, and dingy tow with no huge investment besides a tow bar.

If you like to travel to rural areas you will find it very hard to find a rental when you want one. You would be wise to play “What if,” make some calls, and discover what renting will cost you in various regions you plan to visit.

Every vehicle is different for tow setup. With the Saturn SL1 I can backup a few feet if I’m in a tight spot.

Unhooking for any reason takes approximately three minutes tops. If unhooking takes you more than three minutes, you need more practice. It’s like being a fireman. Have your spouse time you until you get into the Three Minute Club. We unhook from the Mother Ship all the time to explore.

I have to go by personal experience. The past year on the road we have only once had to park our vehicle in a space other than our campsite. Our motorhome is a 29 foot Winnebago Sightseerer. We never stay in commercial parks. We fit comfortably into every Forest Service, National Park, COE park we visit. This year the Chiricahua National Monument was the only campground we found challenging. With or without a toad, it is a challenging campground. We were able to park just outside the park entrance.

It does cost approximately a mile per gallon to pull a toad behind. So again I have to go by personal experience. I get from 7.5 to as much as 9 mpg depending on terrain and speed. This year I have so far put 6,000 miles on our motorhome and twice that on the car (32 mpg). When I combine the mileage I am getting 16 mpg overall.

If I had to uproot everyday and drive this motorhome sightseeing, shopping and every other errand that pops up, I would need a Shrink, which means, of course, I would be talking to myself again.

Again everyone is different. I have known people who bought travel trailers, drove them off the dealer lot, turned around and wanted a refund. Not everyone has the same comfort level. You need to find your own. I will tell you that a toad will track directly behind a motorhome. If you miss the gas pump with your motorhome, you will miss it with your toad. You won’t feel it behind you, and unless you have a rearview camera, you won’t see it very often.

Being a long distance hiker I would be personally uncomfortable about leaving my motorhome at remote trailheads. I would also be nervous parking it into tight parking spaces at scenic overlooks etc... A great advantage to traveling in the same vehicle you are living in would be the fact that you can drop anchor wherever you end up. That said, it doesn’t take much more planning to find a comfortable camping area and explore from base camp.

One comment was to purchase a trailer or 5th Wheel which gives you one motorized vehicle to maintain and transportation to boot. Not a bad idea. Again, different strokes for different folks. For years I pulled an Airstream with a Suburban. I would get approx. 11.5 mpg pulling and 15 mpg not pulling. Doing the math using this years mileage, I would be overall at about 13-14 mpg.

Another thing to consider would be a motorcycle, electric bike, thumb or just a really good pair of hiking boots. Whatever floats your boat. Again, take all this thought process into consideration and see how it fits into your personal lifestyle on the road. If you find yourself going out of your way to make friends with people who have a backseat you might want to consider a toad.
 --Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

To tow or not to tow, that is the question

Dear RV Shrink:
My husband and I have been reading your column for about a year. We are almost ready to retire and travel. We have decided on a small, Sprinter diesel, Class C motorhome with a couple of slides. The short, expandable unit we ordered seems perfect for travel. The problem is the addition of a tow vehicle. I think we should pull a small car and my husband says It defeats the whole purpose of staying small and agile. He says the Sprinter chassis is small enough and fuel efficient enough to drive 100% of the time. I contemplate the inconvenience to uprooting our home on wheels every time we go sightseeing, shopping or out to diner. My husband continues to argue the economic side of this issue. We enjoy your input, so could you give us some insight on this issue?
--Tow or not to tow in Tucson

Dear Tucson: This is one of those issues where one size does not fit all. Pulling a toad is a personal decision. If you've read this column for a while you probably know my reaction already. On an economic bases it would be cheaper to haul a tow vehicle. It is simple math. Most people will put three times the mileage on their toad as they will on the mother ship. Just in fuel savings, this should make your decision. You can also add accelerated depreciation on your new motorhome as you rack up miles that could be allotted to your toad. The convenience issues are pretty apparent. If your husband is concerned about pulling a second vehicle, he should talk to the many people that do. A towed vehicle tracks effortlessly behind a motorhome, it's quick and simple to unhook, and puts a very small dent in towed mileage. Here is an example of what you will experience once you get on the road. We are currently in Moab, Utah. It is impossible to camp in Arches National Park (a reservation only campground) unless you make a reservation six months in advance. The two campgrounds in Canyonlands are first-come, first-served. It is as much as a 100-mile round-trip into the Canyonlands National Park campground to see if there is a space available. It reminds me of the famous Clint Eastwood quote, “You have to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do you punk?” Most people, like us, end up camping in one of the many BLM campgrounds in the area and taking excursions into the parks. We end up putting over one hundred miles per day on our toad. The viewpoint parking lots are jammed with traffic and tight. Often we can’t even find a parking spot for our small Saturn, let alone a small motorhome. Not everyone travels the same way. If you are constantly on the move, a single vehicle may work out just fine, but consider all the facts before you make a decision. You can always put the decision off until you have a few miles under your belt. A few shake down trips will change your perspective on many aspects of RV travel.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink