January 6, 2009

Know Before You Go: An RV Primer

Buddies Trip: The Mild, Wild West

Though RVs seem impossibly spacious when you first climb in, after a while they can start to feel a little ... close. This causes some people to become cranky. Riding from Connecticut to Michigan a few years ago, and dreading the return trip, a friend of mine announced to the rest of us: "When we get there, somebody shoot me."

There's probably no way to make this sort of passenger happy, other than with an airline ticket. But you can increase your chances of a successful RV golf trip by choosing the right wheels.

Motor homes come in three main varieties. Type As are the big ones built on bus chassis, like the one used in the accompanying story. Type Bs are camper vans, and Type Cs are sort of a cross between the two, typically with sleeping space above the driver's seat.

Many golfers are drawn to the Type A. It tends to be the more up-to-date and luxurious RV. But think first about how you plan to use your motor home. Are you actually going to sleep in it? The typical Type A comes with only three beds. You might be happier in a Type C, which generally has four beds. To ensure you have enough room for relaxing in the RV after your round, get one with slideouts -- hydraulically controlled panels that slide out from the side to create more space inside the vehicle when parked. Los Angeles-based El Monte RV rents Fleetwood Tiogas with slideouts for $135 a day in the winter and as much as $255 a day in the peak summer months.

If you're going to use the RV only to get from course to course and won't be sleeping in it, a Type A might be just what you need. Though Type As generally have only three beds, most can carry as many as two foursomes and their luggage. Renting a Fleetwood Bounder, one of El Monte's most popular Type As, costs slightly more than the Tioga.

gas pump

Gas prices being what they are, expect to see some big numbers at the pump when you're getting about 10 miles per gallon (most tanks have a capacity of 50 to 100 gallons). You might save gas by driving a bit slower until you get the hang of a big RV.

Once you've chosen an RV, the firm you're renting from should spend half an hour or so orienting you to the vehicle. However complete the orientation might seem, be sure to get a phone number where you can reach someone at the firm; invariably there will be questions. A lot of first-timers worry about driving such a big rig. It is intimidating at first -- especially when you're hit by a gust of wind, which can move you over a lane if you're not careful -- but most people get the hang of it pretty quickly. Just remember that an RV takes longer to stop than a car and you have to make wider turns. Until you feel totally comfortable, there's no harm in driving a little slower than everybody else.

Possibly the most important thing to keep in mind as you pull out of the lot is your RV's height. "People don't think about this for their passenger cars, but if your RV is 10 feet, 11 inches, you want to know that," says Kevin Broom, spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. (I can confirm this, having nearly sheared the roof off my rented motor home in a Taco Bell drive-through.) Before you begin a trip, Broom suggests consulting a state-by-state listing of overpasses on your route, found online or in books such as the Rand McNally Motor Carriers' Road Atlas.

Two other good sources for motor-home info are the websites goRVing.com and myRVspace.com. The first is sponsored by industry members and offers links to campgrounds and activities as well as dealers and rental firms. The second is best for its forums. Here you will find newbies and experienced RVers trading information about manufacturers, destinations and more. You might even get some advice on what to do about that "just shoot me" passenger.