This month has been challenging with things going on in the state legislature that we are trying to have some input with, so I haven’t been able to do much writing for the blog. Most of my writing has been letters to legislators and the Governor’s office.
Anyway, in the process of choosing an RV with which to live full time, one consideration that was important to me was the RV’s abilities on mountain passes. (Have I mentioned that I LOVE the mountains?) As such, while it is important to have enough power to climb UP mountain passes, it is even more important to have the ability to safely go DOWN the mountain passes. (I’m just not real big about sudden steep descents with even more sudden stops at the bottom.)
So, I wanted to make sure that what we had would have some form of additional “braking” other than using only the brakes on the wheels. Since I was formerly an 18-wheeler operator, I was familiar with what are referred to as “Jake Brakes”, also known as “engine compression brakes.” Any additional assistance in slowing a heavy vehicle down a pass is very comforting.
The Phaeton motorhomes, as with most motorhomes, were equipped with those types of engine braking. But, I really wasn’t sold on motorhomes yet and continued to look into the options of fifth wheels with different tow vehicles. Knowing the weight of the Mobile Suites (our first choice in a fifth wheel), we wanted to make sure what we bought was big enough to handle a heavy fiver both up and over those mountain passes.
I was impressed with the information about the Ford F450, including a video about a 150,000 mile test of that truck. I felt that for me to feel comfortable, I needed at least the F450 for our tow vehicle. One thing of concern to me was going to be the cost of one. I felt that a used F450 in Oklahoma would be from the “oil patch” and that it would be HEAVILY used, thus not a good choice for our tow vehicle.
In my research, I also discovered that the newer Ford engines weren’t readily capable of installing aftermarket “engine brakes.” Aftermarket primarily being the “exhaust” style engine brakes that use back pressure of the exhaust with a “butterfly” valve to create that for slowing the vehicle. Plus, my research had found that unless I was willing to go up into 550/5500 series trucks, Chevrolet/GMC and Dodge trucks just weren’t rated high enough for a Mobile Suites fifth wheel. My opinion of those bigger series trucks is that they are like lumber wagons unless they are loaded down.
Jo mentioned that she had seen some mini-Freightliners at a dealership for horse trailers in Oklahoma City. This dealership was usually closed when we were out and about on weekends, so it took taking some time on a work day afternoon to drive down by there. What we found were some impressive models called SportChassis that are mini-Freightliners that are converted somewhere in Clinton, Oklahoma. They had some new and used models, but we chose to limit ourselves to the used ones.
As well we should. The used one that we looked at was selling for around $90,000. It might very well be that there are less expensive models built on the same mini-Freightliner frame and cab, but this was what we had available that we could actually test drive and get our lusting little hands upon. You know, something like this one:
While the SportChassis was a VERY nice unit to drive and was well equipped for a full time towing vehicle, the cost was very prohibitive to us even though it was equipped with the engine compression brake that I wanted. So, we continued to look around, with all options still on the table.
We were becoming depressed with what we were finding, and we were down to the point of looking for a fifth wheel that didn’t weigh as much, just so that I could possibly match it to a Ford F350 dually instead of the F450’s and mini-Freightliners. (We had decided that the cost of trading for the Phaeton motorhomes was just way too much to spend, unless we wanted to work until we were in our late 70’s just to pay for them.)
We had looked at a number of fifth wheels such as Cedar Creek, Carriage, and Open Range that would give us the amenities that we wanted. In looking at the idea of a smaller truck and RV, I was voicing my frustration with our salesman at the dealership where we had traded in the past. When I explained about the lack of aftermarket “engine brakes” for the Fords, he asked me about the transmissions. When I expressed an ignorance of what he mentioned he told me that he had a relative with a truck that had a transmission that served as a means of slowing the truck instead of an engine brake.
Well, that sent me back to the Ford brochures. Sure enough, there it was all along. The “Tow/Haul” feature on many transmissions does serve as an additional braking mechanism. So, now I was back looking at the regular dual wheeled pickups instead of the higher MDT’s. But, I was still looking at the F350 because I had always found nice looking F350’s at our vehicle dealership that were reasonably priced USED vehicles. No need to pay “new” price.
But, in searching for a good used F350 on Diffee Ford’s website, there were absolutely NONE. I had NEVER seen that. So, I widened the “search” parameters of their website and up popped a 2008 Ford F450. Whoa!!! That one looked nice, so I looked further. 46,000 miles, KING RANCH all decked out and only $36,000.
Needless to say, I grabbed my phone and called our salesman at Diffee’s. I asked him to verify four things: the price, the mileage, whether it had the Tow/Haul feature in the transmission, and whether it had the 4:88 ratio rear axle. He called me back after about half an hour (just long enough for me to tell Jo about what I had just found), and then told me that the answers, in order, were “Yes”, “Yes”, “Yes”, and “Yes.” So, I told him we would be by that evening after work to look it over.
After work, we stopped at the house and got the F250 we owned (plus the title) and drove over to El Reno. After driving it, we sat down to talking and ended up trading for about $30,000. So, we were back to looking at the Mobile Suites because we had just saved enough on the truck to afford the better fifth wheel.
All I all, we have now gone from this:
And, the truck color pretty much matches the Mobile Suites: