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Old 05-16-2016, 09:06 AM   #1
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Advice on used 5th wheel: Aluminum vs Fiberglass and other issues

At 56 years old and a single woman, I'm a couple of years away from full retirement. I'm starting the search for a used 5th wheel and would appreciate input on the "aluminum vs fiberglass" sides issue. I see a lot of units that are late models and brand names such as Keystone that have aluminum sides. I see that Starcraft AR-ONE MAXX has a brand new "affordable" aluminum side unit with a two year warranty. I believe they are a Jayco brand now.

My budget is under ten thousand dollars and pounds. My truck, a 2002 Dodge 2500 Cummins quad cab short bed 4x4 with 131K, the tow and camper packages, 4.10, and Auto, has a 5th wheel rating of 11,400. The HO engine that year had a 5th wheel rating of 13,500. With a tune and transmission and lift pump upgrade I could probably tow 14K easily (assuming I've got the payload for the pin weight) but I don't need a lot room and I'd like to stay below 30' and 10,000 pounds. I see a lot of 1999 to 2005 aluminum units in the 8,500 to 10,000 pound range at 25' to 29' that have plenty of room for me. But I also see some ten to twelve year old glass sides such as Keystone Cougar's in that range too, although typically a bit heavier. I don't plan to "travel" so much as just move every month or two, then stay in that spot. However, until I retire I could end up traveling from Nevada to Virginia to pick up a new contract.

My plan is to use the Andersen Aluminum hitch, which only weighs 35 lbs (my truck has a flip over ball gooseneck hitch already mounted), so I'm not losing a lot of pin weight. I understand the issue with a short bed truck towing a square nose fifth wheel. I'm a pretty good driver and am willing to accept the limitations and risks inherent in that setup, so, while a notched corner fiberglass unit is preferable, it's not a requirement. I will be running my truck over a CAT scale in the next weekend or so and will plan my purchase accordingly, estimating 20% pin weight. I realize pin weight can go up to 25% of gross depending on design and loading, so I'll plan to leave some headroom for that. 99.9% of the time I'll be solo in my TV (other than my 2 1/2 lb ferocious guard Chihuahua!), so I plan to leave about two hundred pounds for the rare passenger such as my daughter, snow chains, etc., but don't need to plan for having all five passenger seats occupied by big corn fed country boys.

Is the fiberglass less prone to leaks? The aluminum units typically seem to be lighter weight. I'll be spending summers here in Las Vegas in the 115deg heat, and plan to ski in the Rockies in winter, so insulation is good, but I don't know that any of them are particularly better than the other. I read posts from people that have done fine with a variety of models. I could see adding a Kimberly wood stove for winter "boondocking" in ski resort parking lots, and running dual AC units while at an RV park when I'm in Vegas in the hot weather isn't a problem. If I'm between contracts (I'm a contract software developer), I don't have to stay in the valley. I can do phone interviews from cooler climes.

I'm particularly looking for one that has dual A/C and therefore (probably) a 50amp service, although I could theoretically get a single AC with 30amp and add an AC with a separate 110 outlet based on upgrade videos I've seen. One video showed a couple's installation of a combo washer and dryer into a small 5th wheel. They vented the unit into the basement. To run it, they open the basement door and let the vent hose hang out, then attach an extension cord from the 110V unit to the Park outlet and do their laundry. I could do the same with an in room portable A/C unit. They routed the waste water into the black water vent pipe. If I get one that doesn't have the forced air heated basement I can add heating pads.

I have considered just buying a brand new unit like the Sabre 25RL which I see advertised at $27,000, but that doesn't include the 50amp service, 2nd AC, thermal pane windows, etc. Realistically, by the time I get all that stuff I'm up to $35K. If I can get a nice used one for $10k and spend five grand on it I'm at less than 40% of the cost of a new one. That extra $20,000 is about a year and a half of my retirement budget, so the question I ask myself is; "Would I be willing to work another year and a half for this?" The answer is NO! Clean and used is fine!

There are simply a LOT of variables, and I'd appreciate the voice of experience from some of you guys in helping me spend my money wisely... or at least in the least un-wise manner!

My purchase time frame is about three to four months, so I have time to continue to do some research and look at some units. Your input will help me guide my research.

Thanks!
Kate
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Old 05-16-2016, 09:55 AM   #2
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Welcome to IRV2 !! I can only add a bit per our experience. I'm sure more people will pipe in. Our Keystone Cougar 5th wheel only weighs about 9800 lbs loaded with full water and all our stuff. I have the actual weights but can't get to them right now) Its fiberglass, 31'4" from nose cap to bumper, pin weight is about 1500 lbs, again I'll get you actual weights soon if wanted. It has opposing rear slides which gives us a lot of room. Your truck is a very capable tow vehicle. I know you are looking at used, we were too, but you can find (like ours) a 50 amp coach that is wired and braced for a second AC,, like ours is, to save you some $$. As you probably know, look at the tires !!! Date code and brand... When they blow out, it can cause Major damage... Also ours (like others) has extra insulation, "polar package" is Keystones name, but others have the same basic thing. We have spent some time out west,,, yes it gets HOT... Shade where you park is big... Good luck !!! Wish I could retire now... I'd still be in AZ.... Or such....

PS, I might add fiberglass in my opinion, is just fine. Our 95 MH was just fine, hopefully this rv will be too.
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Old 05-20-2016, 09:51 PM   #3
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You've obviously already done a lot of reading online about trailers.

I had an aluminum sided travel trailer for 19 years, and it met my needs. I did not travel with my trailer--leaving it in campground stored year round. After a few years, such units will have leaks in the corners that will damage inside paneling and flooring. I had to completely rebuild my rain damaged rear bedroom after making repairs and resealing the corners. After a few years, the front end corners were leaking and I again had to rebuild that end of the trailer--all new paneling, etc.

Stick with fiberglass sided units.

Your problem is that your budget doesn't meet up with your needs. To go from the desert heat to the mountain cold is a wide variance, and a high quality, well insulated unit will be required. Chances are they'll be out of your allotted price point and possibly too large and heavy for your tow vehicle.

You might want to study the retail market a little more--and expand your search to find what you need--hopefully for your budget.
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Old 05-21-2016, 04:52 PM   #4
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Looks like you have done a lot of research, so I'll just give you a few points. I tried a portable A/C and found it added as much heat as it cooled and some manufacturers state the fresh air intake can't be used when outside air is above 85 F, so not much good in Las Vegas. So, dual A/C is a much better option, either with 50 amp service or an independent 20 amp power cord.

RVs have worse insulation and a higher percentage of window area compared to houses so they are very hard to heat or cool. Very few are sold with dual pane windows, especially aluminum sided units, it will be difficult to find one, look at Arctic Fox or used units available in northern US states. Manufacturer claimed R-value is misleading since they claim best case theoretical values, not average numbers, there are so many holes and poorly insulated parts of the RV.

Slide toppers help reduce heat gain, otherwise smaller units will be easier to heat/cool.
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Old 05-21-2016, 06:25 PM   #5
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I would do some looking for Excels--they are a well built trailer, just no longer made. Also Hitchiker models, another good brand no longer made. With enough looking, you should be able to find something that works. Definitely 50amp service with 2 ACs, preferably factory-installed and ducted in ceiling. There is also an electrical heating option available aftermarket called "Cheap Heat" that would work well in cold climes if connected to electricity.
Take a look at RVtrader.com and PPLMotorhomes.com for market pricing on used units--these 2 sources have a lot of inventory. Sometimes Craigslist can have a good buy show up if you know what you want.
I have to say, you surely do know a lot of what you need to know--already, and that should give you a good start in finding the right unit. And, last--go fiberglass.
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Old 05-23-2016, 09:50 AM   #6
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Thanks for all your comments guys! You've given me a lot more information to help in evaluations. I'm very open to budget and options at this point, I just don't want to spend more than I need to get what I want.

If you have any more comments, opinions, voices of experience, etc. I will be glad to hear them.

Kate
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Old 05-24-2016, 07:01 AM   #7
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Kate,
Don't have much else to pass on, except to remind you that for $10k, you are going to be looking at older units that will have to looked at carefully and fully inspected before buying it. Water damage is the worst problem normally found (or not found until too late), but the appliances, particularly the fridge, will need to be in good working order. Lots of older trailers, especially the smaller ones, will not have 50amp service.
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Old 05-27-2016, 10:04 AM   #8
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Consider other factors like the plumbing, electric, slides. Make sure everything works. Is the frame straight? Axles and brakes good? There are a lot of systems and a lot of problems. Also look for any sign of leaks and water damage.
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Old 05-29-2016, 07:47 PM   #9
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My first trailer had aluminum siding and my current trailer has fiberglass. I am the type of person who is fairly proactive on maintenance and part of that is keeping things clean - dirt can both cause problems and mask problems. I have found the fiberglass is much easier to clean and protect (wax) than the aluminum skin. All trailers (except the high end models with full fiberglass roofs) have edges and corners which require some periodic inspection and will occasionally require removal of the old sealant and installation of new sealant. Even if you try to use Eternabond tape everywhere there are still some locations where the EPDM or TPO roof meets the aluminum or fiberglass and sealant is used.

Enough of my rambling - the short answer is that either siding material will work, and leaks can happen with either option if the sealant is not maintained.
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Old 08-31-2016, 08:33 AM   #10
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Starcraft 5th Wheel

Purchased the Starcraft 24RKS this spring. It is 27 feet long from pin to bumper. Pulls well and only weights in at around 7000 lbs loaded.

Paid extra for complete wrap around insulation package and fiberglass siding. First short trip outside temps were 80's. Single air conditioner worked well. Second short trip outside temps in the mid 90's. With the extra insulation air worked better than expected.

Extra insulation also seems to help a lot with outside noise.

Don't know about the fiberglass siding. I got it on advice from long time friend and camper.

We are leaving for Maine next week for our first long trip. So far very happy.
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Old 09-01-2016, 07:53 PM   #11
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I ended up w a 2011 Jayco Eagle Super Light 25.5RKS

I ended up w a 2011 Jayco Eagle Super Light 25.5RKS. 10k get, 29' single slide. Glass sides.

Thanks for all your comments. I'll be posting more on my adventures soon!

Namaste
Kate
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Old 09-03-2016, 03:17 PM   #12
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Congrats and best of luck with your new investment
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Old 09-04-2016, 11:51 PM   #13
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you have done a lot of home work. My truck is similar to yours and i tow combination is 18,000 lb. I have helped a lot of folks with maintenance problems on their 5rs. Most are junk compared to an old Alpenlite. Western rv went out of business in 2006 so Alpenlites are cheap on the used market. I have a 27sl 1994 single slide fiberglass siding with an aluminum frame. Foam walls, 4 in roof insulation, and floor. 100 gal fresh water, 50 black ,75 grey. Heavy in factory built frame. 14 ga or larger wiring. Big axles, tires and suspension. I have towed it 78,000 miles. 3,000 miles of gravel on two trips to Alaska. Never a suspension problen! The best years were 1996 to 2004. Go to face book Alpenlite travel club for more info. If mine were to get in a wreck, i would find another just like it.
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