59 : Nov 01 2014
because getting there is half the fun...
Gone with Across California, that is…
New Motorhomes Spied! A sneak peek at two new models…
El Monte Experience…
The lowdown on our USA rental experience!
USA Top Tips!
Get the most from an American rental holiday…
$50 for the! best letter
About iMotorhome | 3
iMotorhome eMagazine is published twice monthly and available by free subscription from www.imotorhome.com.au. Your letters and contributions are always welcome! Contributors Facebook “f ” Logo
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On my mind | 5
The Grumpy Gabbler… Mrs iMotorhome says I’m a gabbler. She assures me it’s a term of endearment (whilst struggling to keep a straight face), but the truth is she’s right. This issue she's righter than usual because in my enthusiasm to share our most recent US adventures I've written far too much. So much so we’ve needed to hold the travel diary over until next issue. Think of it as a double serving of pie! Speaking of this issue I’ve got to say it’s been something of a trial. It seemed to take an age to put together and we’ve been plagued by Internet connection problems since recent thunderstorms. This culminated in the lastminute need to burn all photos to a couple of CDs and drive them to Sydney. Blackadder once said “Needs must when the Devil vomits on your eiderdown” and I can only think Old Nick must have had a particularly upset stomach recently. I had hoped to have a new website ready to launch today – along with the iMotorhome app – but progress continues at a glacial pace and as I mentioned in a previous issue, it’s because I announced it in advance. Bloody belief systems. Just as well I’m a modern man unswayed by superstitions and unencumbered by Medieval beliefs (touch wood). Which reminds me of a quote by Arthur C. Clarke: “I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.” Speaking of Arthur, Mrs iM and I overnighted in Canberra recently to attend the final presentation by British Physicist Brian Cox on his Australian tour. The show was called Making Sense of the Cosmos and it was a mind expanding and entertaining evening
without a motorhome in sight. We stayed at the Canberra Novotel, which got our booking wrong but made up for it with free parking. It got me thinking of how many seemingly simple things seem to go wrong these days. For example, we were told to pick up tickets at a Ticketek office in Canberra to avoid queues at the venue on the night. We went out of our way to find the place, only to be told all tickets had been returned to the venue as it was after 12 noon on the day of the show. So we then drove to the venue, only to be told the box office didn’t open until two hours before the show. Why, in an age when an airline can send a boarding pass to my phone, do we have to queue to collect a paper ticket to a show? Seriously Ticketek? On the website front there was a major issue with the company supplying the data feed that automatically updates our classified ads for dealers. That took a month of four-way email conversations, innumerable phone calls and a big bill to fix. Our car had work done six months ago that still isn’t right and the other day I bought a mountain bike but the dealer supplied the wrong model. Perhaps Mercury is in retrograde or it’s karma for my disbelief. Whatever it is, thanks for listening. I feel so much better. If only I could find my lucky rabbit’s foot…
6 | Content
On my Mind
Who we are, where and other legal stuff
The Grumpy Gabbler
How to get the best from iMotorhome eMagazine
On your Mind
Share your thoughts for the chance to win $50!
Whatâ€™s happening in the wider RV world - and beyond
23 iMotorhome Marketplace The latest Marketplace offers
Content | 7
Freedom of Choice Camping
Feature: El Monte Experience
Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse
News on the battle to keep our camping choices free!
How our USA rental experience panned out
Gone with the Windsport – a family motorhome with plenty of room…
Travel: USA Top Rental Tips
Next Issue & Show Calendar
Get the most from your USA rental holiday!
What’s coming up and what shows are on soon
100º F in the shade – San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area, California.
8 | User Guide
How to get the best from iMotorhome eMagazine Note: This magazine is designed to deliver the best reading experience on an Apple iPad.
General This magazine is published in the Portable Document Format (PDF). This means that once downloaded it is a self-contained document that can be stored on your smartphone, tablet device, e-reader, laptop or desktop computer and read off-line at your convenience. PDFs are clever things that allow a degree of interactivity not possible with a conventional magazine. For example: The front cover and contents pages feature links in their headings that will take you directly to the relevant articles in the magazine. If you are using a laptop or desktop computer you will see the mouse cursor change to a small hand with a pointing finger, which signifies you can click on the link below it All advertisements are ‘live’ and linked to the advertisers’ websites. This means if you touch one (smartphone/tablet) or click on one (laptop/ desktop) you will be taken to the appropriate website automatically if you are connected to the Internet. If you are not connected to the Internet you will be asked if you want to connect, to complete the action Text that is highlighted and/or underlined in blue is also a ‘live’ link that will either take you to the webpage or website of the topic being discussed, or open an email (if appropriate).
iPad and iPhone Users Important: Be sure you have the free iBooks app installed. Books displays a full page at a time and allows you to read the magazine by swiping the pages sideways, just like turning the pages in a printed magazine. iBooks also has a Library function that displays a small thumbnail of the front cover of each issue. You can even create Collections so that you can store each year’s issues separately or by vehicle brand tested, or however you desire.
Using iBooks On downloading each issue of iMotorhome eMagazine on your iPad or iPhone you’ll briefly see a message at the very top of the front cover that says “Open in iBooks.” If you miss it, don’t worry. Just tap the space immediately above the iMotorhome title and it will reappear for a few seconds. When it does, tap it and your issue will be moved to iBooks and reopen. You need to do this with each issue you download. Once open in iBooks you’ll see a number of icons across the very top of the page and a strip of tiny page thumbnails across the very bottom. To get rid of them simply tap the page anywhere there isn't text (touching text will take you to the relevant article). To make the icons reappear just tap anywhere on the page again. To read your copy of iMotorhome eMagazine, swipe the page from right to left. Reverse this to go back a page. To go to the front cover at any time just tap on the page your on and then touch the tiny page icon at the far left, along the very bottom. To leave the issue you’re reading and go back to your Library, tap the page and then touch Library in the top lefthand corner.
User Guide | 9
How to get the best from iMotorhome eMagazine Laptop/Desktop Computer Users The software that allows you to view a PDF document â€“ Acrobat Reader â€“ has a number of controls at the top of the page. Chief amongst these are two square buttons in the centre; one showing a page with an arrow across it and the other showing a page with arrows across and top-to-bottom. Press these and you can view the page at the full width of your screen, or the whole page fitted to you screen, respectively. For further help or information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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On your mind | 11
Win $50 for the best letter! It’s only fitting that since Ed has his say in On My Mind, you should be able to have yours too. If you have anything to say – or ask – just drop a line to email@example.com and we’ll share it with our readers. We’ll also reward
the most interesting, useful or thoughtful letter each issue with $50 to help you on your way.
Fiat Tyre Info Thanks for another excellent issue. The issue of Fiat Ducato type inflation pressures is especially interesting since I operate a Fiat Jayco just on three years old. I have Continental Vancocamper 225/75 R16 CP types and they are marked as 116 R 69 PSI. However around the tyre is another marking with a picture of a motor home and that says for motor caravans, maximum pressure is 5.5 bar which is around 80psi. But these are maximums. The tyre placard in the passenger door recommends that the vehicle be operated at 5.5 bar or 79.5 psi all around. It looks like, for my tyres, 80 psi is acceptable and recommended but I could well drop below the maximum for the tyres to, say,
75 psi and be safer. All very confusing though and I look forward to any advice you get from Fiat Australia. Regards, Ray Thanks Ray, very interesting – and very confusing. I checked back with Ronald and his tyres don’t have that marking on them. Still no word from Fiat Australia, either. See my reply to the next letter about those tyres and the load capacity, but please accept this Issue’s $50 for shedding more light on this unusual saga.
12 | On your mind
Fiat Tyre Pressure Question Hi Richard, Could you please advise tyre pressure for the Continental Vanco camper 225/75 R16 CP? I have them on a Fiat Ducato motorhome and Fiat states 79 psi yet the tyres state 69 psi. I made an inquiry re tyre pressures back in 2009. I was only new to motorhoming that year, having purchased a Jayco Optimum on a Fiat Ducato body with Continental tyres in April. We drove around Australia for four months (May – Aug) with tyre pressures of 79 psi as advised at purchase. We had a service in Darwin at the Fiat dealer who also checked the pressures. Over the last couple of years we have spoken with numerous tyre dealers (the only place available for checking tyres with 60+ psi as service stations very rarely go over 45 psi) and although no two seem to agree the general consensus is 65-70 psi. The lack of available information as to the best pressure for the tyres on the vehicle you purchase is sadly lacking. We have of course spoken with other
motorhome owners and they have been as much in the dark as we have been (one was running Continental tyres at 50psi). Regards, Rod. Hi Rod, the tyres in question have a 116 load rating, good for 1250 kg per tyre at the stated pressure of 69 psi. That’s 5 tonnes all-up load capacity, which should be at least 500 kg over your Jayco’s allowable gross weight (GVM). Perhaps they’re worried about individual axle loading due to weight distribution, but 69 psi should be the maximum needed for a full load. I’d image 65 psi quite acceptable, although 50 psi is probably too low. Fiat’s insistence on 79.5 psi (5.5 bar), however, is unfathomable, given the tyre’s excess load capacity.
She’s Apples Hi Richard, I just received a new iPhone 5c for my birthday from my husband and I love it. I was reading the Tech Notes section towards the end of your magazine and was very impressed with the new tips and tricks segment titled "She's Apples" for IOS8. All 13 tips were very informative and none of which I knew! A big compliment to whoever has compiled these tips and included them in the magazine and I can only add one comment: Keep up the good work with tips and tricks, I
am always excited and willing to learn more in upcoming issues of iMotorhome. Regards, Herma. Good to hear from you Herma, and others, that you found this Mobile Tech article so useful. We’ve got another coming up next issue on how to get the most from the Family Sharing feature, which I think you’ll find interesting too. We just ran out of room this week! Watch out for it.
14 | On your mind
Coffs Harbour Subsidised Camping Trial Insights Hi Richard, I’ve just caught up with reading your latest issue (58) of iMotorhome. We stayed at the Park Beach Holiday Park in Coffs Harbour, as mentioned on page 19 in the news section, in May this year. We had just paid for a powered site for our van at reception, but something jogged my memory about the $10 per night trial for self contained RVs, which was mentioned in an earlier issue of the CMCA Wanderer. Only on asking the staff was I told that these were available. As our van is self contained and we were only staying a night, I opted for one of these sites and the Park refunded the cost difference.
Thanks for the article about Collector in your great magazine. We saw the magazine on Sunday and as we were going through Canberra towards Sydney we decided to try it out on Monday Night. It was very quiet (just us) and the clean amenities were a delight. Road noise was not really a problem. Much better than beside the Hume Highway. We would have happily put a donation in a box but
Michelin’s The Go!
Hi motor homers. I have a 2006 Fiat Jayco. I was interested in your topic on tyre pressures as I’ve found 65 front 70 rear to be the best for long life. My original Michys were still R/D at 95000 km, but new ones fitted due to age. Hope this stops those stories on excessive tyre wear on FWDs. Happy M/Homing, Col.
There was no mention of these sites from the staff prior to asking or any advertising material (that I could see) to promote the trial. From my experience I would tend to agree with you that the trial was doomed to failure, as it would appear that the Park would rather sell their ‘normal’ sites and I assume make more profit in the process. Otherwise, the Park was very nicely presented and in a good location. Great magazine as always! Kind regards, Peter & Helene. Sounds like it’s just as we suspected: a trial set up to fail. Thanks for giving us the feedback and safe travels!
did not see one. Thanks for these interesting places you bring to our attention. Regards, Doug & Robyn That was quick! Glad you found Collector to be a suitable stopover and glad we could help. Hope you can try out more as we add them in the months ahead.
Good to hear you’ve had such a good run from your Michelins, Col, and interesting you’ve found lower-than-specified pressures to be best. Thanks for giving us the heads up.
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16 | News
New Fiat Ducato Arrives
iat’s highly anticipated new Ducato has arrived. We'd like to tell you we received a launch invitation and comprehensive press kit from Fiat Australia but we’d be lying. Ironically our first advice on the new Fiat being available for viewing in motorhome form came from an importer, Swift Australia at Sydney RV’s sprawling dealership.
train combination available here will be the 3.0 litre 180 Multijet with six speed automated manual transmission (AMT). No complaints from us about that, but fully imported motorhomes like the Swift pictured here are still offering a choice of engines, starting with the ‘baby’ 2.3 litre 130 Multijet. Watch for a full review of a new Ducato-based motorhome soon.
Apart from some front body changes – most noticeably new headlights – you might almost miss the new model. However, quite a few changes are structural and mechanical. The dash has been redesigned and now includes a touchscreen radio and, wait for it, cup holders – at last! Other changes include electronic stability control (ESC) on all models, including Al-Ko chassis variants, upgraded suspension and downgraded weights. From Fiat Australia's website it appears the only drive
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News | 19
Slide-out 4X4 HiAce First
ext issue we review what appears to be a most remarkable compact motorhome. The rather awkwardly named Autarky 4x4 from Gold Coast-based Xcentrix Campervans is a joint venture with Bus 4X4. It’s built on a 4WD Toyota HiAce and if as good and capable as it looks, will set this end of the motorhome market on its ear. Featuring a first-in-class rear slide-out bed plus a full bathroom, Webasto diesel cooker and proper side entry door it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen. Interested? You should be. We can’t wait for next issue either.
From the ocean to the outback and destinations in between. Fancy some scenic touring through the Flinders Ranges, or paddling a kayak on Cooper Creek? Perhaps a bit of camping solitude in the Gawler Ranges is more to your liking. Maybe a spot of fishing at Beachport or just lazing back at Melrose for a couple of days. Whatever your fancy, this ebook for iPad contains a selection of 12 of South Australia’s most accessible and beautiful destinations that offer travellers great touring and fantastic camping opportunities. Whether you’re travelling by motorhome, towing a caravan or just packing a tent, there are destinations for everyone!
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20 | News
Marketplace Directory Grows!
he iMotorhome website Marketplace Directory is growing. It’s designed to link you with businesses that can help, no matter what you’re looking for. We’d like to welcome the following companies and hope you’ll consider them if and when you’re in need of their specialised services: Aardvark Electronics (Vansat) In your motorhome you want to watch your usual TV programs, listen to the radio and perhaps watch Pay TV. Aardvark Electronics (Vansat), now featured in our TV, Satellite TV, TV Aerials, Audio & Video category, offers the VANSAT satellite system. VANSAT Bluestar, the latest product, has Auto-Skew and is compatible with VAST and satellite pay-tv services. Aardvark tells us there are thousands of these systems currently in use around Australia, so contact them today and you’ll get a great reception. Canowindra Balloon Challenge 2015 The Canowindra Balloon Challenge 2015 will be held from 12 to 19 April in the skies above picturesque Canowindra and now features in the Events category of our Marketplace. Up to 40 balloons will paint the sky blue – and nearly every other colour – each day! Canowindra is in the Belubula River Valley, NSW, 33 km north of Cowra and 60 km south of Orange. It’s an RV friendly town and the caravan park’s equipped to take large motorhomes as well as offering a dump site facility. Powered sites are also available at the showground, but book soon – this is one event sure to take off!
Caravan Refrigeration Services A refrigerator is essential in every motorhome. It also needs to be properly installed and operating effectively and efficiently. Caravan Refrigeration Service, now featured in the Repairs & Service - Refrigeration & Aircon category, has spent 30 years rising to this challenge. They also sell most popular brands and repair all makes. Visit them and give your refrigeration problems the cold shoulder. Cummins Onan Generators Cummins Onan Generators is now in the Generators category of our Marketplace, with a range of silenced RV-specific units powered by petrol, diesel or LPG. All are supported by an extensive dealer network fully trained in sales and service, and easily located on their website. If this has generated some interest visit them today! El Monte RV El Monte RV has joined the Travel Services category of our Marketplace. RV rental experts they have 14 international rental locations covering the key gateway cities across the USA. El Monte RV’s fleet of 1800 deluxe motorhomes are available in the most popular sizes and are maintained and serviced to the highest standards. The good news continues with an exclusive iMotorhome readers offer: Quote the code ‘IM5’ to receive a 5% discount off all your USA motorhome rentals! Redarc Electronics Redarc Electronics is the latest to join our Accessories – Products category. Continues...
News | 21
Featuring dealers throughout Australia, Redarc Electronics has been researching, designing and manufacturing electronic voltage converters, inverters, power supplies, battery chargers, and electric brake products for the automotive industry since 1979. It has also completed extensive research into battery selection and battery problems with motorhomes. Browse their extensive product range at no charge today! Xcentrix Campervans Xcentrix Campervans, the latest to feature in our Bus and Van Conversions category, is
currently producing the “Autarky 4x4”. This new vehicle, complete with a rear slide-out, is based on the Toyota Hiace SLWB 4x4 with hi and low range as well as a giant lift kit. Xcentrix Campervans can convert any van or bus into a campervan or motorhome. No job is too small and they can retro-fit your current motorhome. Alterations, windows, awnings, poptops, water tanks, seating, electrical, cabinetry, trimming and drawer boxes are just some of the possibilities. Contact them soon and join the converted…
Cool New Fan
ooking to cool down or just help to make summer a little more comfortable? This neat fan runs on 12 or 240 volts, or by rechargeable battery with a claimed 7 hours run time. It even includes a night light and has two speeds plus fixed or oscillating modes. Cost is $119.95 from Oztrail.com.au.
22 | Resources resources
because getting them is half the fun...
Missed an Issue? We've got them all saved in one spot for you. Click HERE to view the complete list of back issues.
Missed a road test? No problem! Click HERE to find them all listed by manufacturer. because getting there is half the fun...
Taste of Freedom!
because getting there is half the fun...
Grand Design -
because getting there is half the fun...
because getting there is half the fun...
Esprit de Cor Blimey!
Malcolm Street spends time roaming New Zealand in this compact ex-rental Kea…
Two years on how has the Trakkaway 700 evolved?
Auto-Sleeper’s Malvern is an English motorhome that’s a fine holiday destination in its own right…
Dethleffs ‘baby’ A-class is something to ogle at…
Story and Images by Malcolm Street
Review and images by Richard Robertson
Story and Images by Malcolm Street
Review and images by Malcolm Street
iMotorhome Marketplace | 23
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Feature: Freedom of Choice Camping | 25
Freedom of Choice! A
regular feature keeping you in touch with what’s happened and happening in the world of freedom camping in Australia. These stories and more can be found in detail at the Freedom of Choice website, indexed by state and town, while you can also find the latest news and updates on their Facebook page. 12 Oct – Maclean become RV Friendly Maclean has become part of the nationwide network of RV Friendly towns. The town joins Grafton and 214 other Australian towns that provide amenities and services for the mobile traveller, encouraging them to stop, shop and enjoy. Clarence Valley Mayor, Richie Williamson, said attracting tourists to a town was not just about accommodation. “It is about the whole of the economy and benefiting the broader business community,” he said. “While staying in an area, an RV (recreational vehicle) tourist will spend money on entertainment, visiting local attractions, enjoying a restaurant meal, souvenirs, clothing, haircuts, RV repairs, laundry service, fuel, and groceries.
5 Oct – Qld University conducting a rest area survey Participant are requested to complete this survey which will take around 10 minutes. 5 Oct – CCIAWA is taking a stance against RV Friendlies Recommended reading of pages 16 and 17 of their newsletter. 8 Oct – “Swiss Nomads” raise an interesting question on Facebook "We love Australia and we are road tripping already for the second time. But we are a bit worried about free camping... Australia is a great country for camping! It's the camping nation of the planet and camping is part of the culture.” BUT? 10 Oct – The road bypassed us, the Grey Nomads didn’t When the Pacific Highway bypassed Bulahdelah last year there were many predicting the quick demise of the tiny New South Wales town. But they hadn’t counted on the resolve of the residents. Rather than allowing itself to be turned into a ghost town, Bulahdelah is now proud to call itself a grey nomad town.
26 | Feature: Freedom of Choice Camping 12 Oct – Kilcoy takes steps to attract the RV tourist It is nice to see small communities taking positive steps to increase RV travel to their towns. Kilcoy is sure to benefit from this move. 12 Oct – Geraldton resident speak out against becoming RV Friendly Town resident expresses his/her concerns. Pity they did not have the conviction to include their name, which was withheld. 12 Oct – Conversation on Riverland Camping on ABC Radio To an issue that's often polarising: RV parks or RV Friendly Towns vs Caravan Parks. Reporter spoke to the Council's manager of Environmental Services, Gary Brinkworth, to find out how Council is going to use the information and why they tabled the reports. An interesting interview. 14 Oct – Van group slams proposals CIAWA presents its opposition to WA Government proposals for changes in regulations. 15 Oct – To free or not to free, that is the question for motor homes and caravans Southern Downs Regional Council is to establish a regional camping stakeholders group. Initial report does sound a bit biased though. 16 Oct – Strathmerton traders fear impact of Ulupna Island camping closure Local Traders express concerns re trade, with closure of camping sites
16 Oct – Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale proactive in attracting the RV traveller Here is one example of a Council in WA doing something for the RV tourist. Read page 27 onwards of these Council minutes. 18 Oct – Neglected stakeholder groups: a case study of recreational vehicle users in Tasmania A University study done on the ramifications of not including the consumer in decision making that affects them. Most interesting conclusions. 18 Oct – Does the mystery writing have ulterior motives? A rebuttal letter to the editor in response to letter re Geraldton, where name was withheld. 21 Oct – Camping and fatigue management come under the spotlight Fatigue management and the definition of 'camping' in roadside rest areas came under the spotlight at a police discussion workshop in the Men’s Shed on the Wednesday (08/10/14) morning. Responding to questions from the audience, workshop presenter Senior Constable Alison Stewart said it was unlikely police would order someone to move on from a roadside rest area if they were tired after several hours on the road. 21 Oct – Ballarat official opening We are celebrating the opening of our great new "Freedom of Choice" 48 hour, self-contained RV campsite at Pioneer Park, in Ballarat West on Saturday December 6th, where the MAYOR will cut the ribbon at 1pm. There is heaps of room on lovely level grass but no facilities except rubbish bins at present.
Feature: Freedom of Choice Camping | 27 22 Oct – Private-land free camping gets Mayor’s nod – Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour Mayor Denise Knight has given her blessing to free camping on private land, as long as campers do not encroach on adjoining public land. The mayor, who has been battling to get free campers off public beachside reserves, said she had no problem with free campers staying on private property, if landholders gave permission and the campers could do so legally. "It really has not come up before, but if locals are happy about it, I don't have a problem with it. Go for it.” 23 Oct – Murwillumbah Showgrounds set to take in campers Murwillumbah’s historic showground is set to be opened up for overnight camping for recreational vehicles in a bid to boost tourism to the town and surrounding hinterland villages. Tweed Shire councillors last week endorsed a plan paving the way for the showground to be used by such vehicles as many predominantly visit the Tweed Coast then drive through Murwillumbah on their way to Queensland via the Nerang-Murwillumbah road. The plan was driven by mayor Gary Bagnall who instigated a report on the ‘Recreational Vehicle Friendly Town Inititive’ last year, which led to council formally asking Destination Tweed to see if the hinterland and remote areas of the shire could benefit from the RV market. 24 Oct – Campers are worth BIG money. THE simple life is big business for the Gympie region, with new figures indicating campers spent up to $5 million here during the recent school holidays. Natural beauty and fabulous weather have combined to make gold for the whole region, from Borumba Dam and Goomeri to the Cooloola Coast. An additional $700,000 believed spent by Fraser Island campers mostly found its way into Gympie region businesses, as campers passed through
Gympie and Rainbow Beach. 24 Oct – Dongara WA is now RV Friendly “Small town offering a big choice when it comes to freedom of choice camping. Only 70 km south of Geraldton.” This small announcement on Facebook got a big following. 27 Oct – Esperence to conduct a 12 month RV stopover trial. Esperance in the past has had a mixed approach to RV tourism but a proposal currently before Council looks set to change that. See item 12.4.3. (page 116) of the council agenda. 28 Oct – Caravan park owners contest Shire plans for "RV friendly" town Esperance Caravan Park owners strike back at Council proposals. “Shire of Esperance councillors are set to decide whether to trial Esperance as an RV-friendly town but caravan park owners believe the move may be detrimental to existing parks. Several community members turned up to an agenda briefing session at the shire's office on Tuesday afternoon to voice their concerns about the scant consultation with local business regarding the impacts of making Esperance RV friendly.” Notice how the photo accompanying the article shows “No Site Vacancies” and “No Accommodation Vacancies” Stop Press: Council has deferred making a decision until next meeting.
28 | Feature: El Monte Experience
A Matter of Experience
How our El Monte RV rental experience panned outâ€Ś by Richard Robertson
Feature: El Monte Experience | 29
El Monte RV’s Santa Fe Springs depot in Los Angeles was bursting with rental motorhomes of all shapes and sizes awaiting their next adventure.
nlike our previous USA motorhome adventures, this trip was the first where we experienced life as ‘normal’ rental customers. The scenario was straight forward; we flew into LA a day ahead of pickup and overnighted with friends, then made our way to El Monte RV’s main Los Angeles depot in Santa Fe Springs. El Monte has a number of depots in the Greater Los Angeles area and operates a complementary shuttle service from certain major airport hotels and the Downtown area to and from its Santa Fe Springs depot. Because we were returning our overnight rental car to the airport we missed the morning shuttle and took a cab. That was a $90 decision that shows the value of the free
shuttle – and why it’s worth making the effort to coordinate your travel plans!
ur only previous RV rental depot experience in LA has been Apollo’s Hawthorn depot, a somewhat tired and haphazard location where both space and customer service are at a premium. So imagine our surprise when we arrived at El Monte RV’s sprawling Santa Fe Springs depot, complete with sit-down check-in desks where pleasant and un-hassled staff handle all the paperwork while you sip a complementary coffee or cold water.
30 | Feature: El Monte Experience With14 depots across America you don’t have to start and/or finish in a mega city like LA. In fact first-time renters are strongly advised to use quieter locations. Below: El Monte RV also sells its ex-rental units, each fully serviced and backed by a comprehensive warranty.
At check-in you complete a questionnaire and one question is if you’ve rented an RV before. Answering yes cuts a lot of time off this part of the pick-up process as you don’t need to sit through the beginners’ video (in a dedicated lounge) that explains the dos and don’ts of motorhoming in America. Note: Don’t skip this by answering yes if you haven’t rented in the US before. There are sufficient differences in the way things are done to make this brief induction course invaluable.
chemicals, toilet paper, etc, and is a required buy. The kitchen kit (US$125) includes cooking essentials and cleaning equipment and unless you have everything with you is best included. Ditto the convenience kit (US$50 per person), with cutlery, crockery, bedding, towels, etc. There are various insurance options and like any auto rental in the US you’re recommended to take top cover. None, however, covers damage to awnings, roof, undercarriage, tyres or reversing accidents.
Apart from the rental fee there are extras for the starter, kitchen and convenience kits. The starter kit (US$39.95) includes LPG, toilet
You pay the estimated cost of the rental in Australian dollars when booking (in Australia), but a US$1000 credit card security deposit
Feature: El Monte Experience | 31
El Monte RV is certainly more polished and professional than our previous USA RV rental provider.
32 | Feature: El Monte Experience
Top: The indoor/outdoor waiting area at Santa Fe Springs has vending machines and even a TV to help while away the time before being taken to your vehicle. It’s also where you wait for the shuttle bus to your hotel after your rental. Left: The dumb grin signals relief at having escaped LA’s madhouse freeways. I’m 6 ft tall, which is about seat height for this A-class. It makes for great viewing as you travel! is due at pick-up. This is refunded upon return if there are no problems. Like all such companies El Monte RV has a detailed and quite complex rental policy and it’s up to you to make sure you understand it. Ignorance could be costly! Standard pick-up is between 1 and 4 pm (add A$97 for a Priority AM Departure) and once checked-in we moved to an outdoor waiting area. Complete with open air or undercover seating, vending machines and TV, we waited
about 30-40 minutes before being escorted to our motorhome. The delivery process involved a thorough walk-around, explaining the motorhome’s individual features and systems, as well as looking for (and noting) previous paint or accident damage – including a small bump attributed to the delivery man himself whilst parking our vehicle!
Feature: El Monte Experience | 33
Inside it’s the same story, plus you have to check off and sign for your starter, kitchen and convenience kits. Despite our A-class only being on-fleet for about five months it had a number of minor interior trim items showing wear and tear, but what I didn’t realise at the time of handover was the hydraulically operated automatic levelling jack system was inoperative. Our handover guy didn’t explain how to use it and simply stabbed the buttons with his fingers a few times before saying we were unlikely to need it. Caught up in the moment and keen to hit the road I didn’t realise it was completely unserviceable. In hindsight I should have asked for it to be fixed or for another vehicle, so don’t make my mistake! El Monte RV provides a 12/7 help hotline and roadside assist, which operates from 6 am to 6 pm daily. This means if you’re planning an overnight drive and something goes wrong you’ll need to wait until morning for help. I
LA is a great big freeway and tis map shows the depot’s relative position. Below: If you haven’t motorhomed in America be sure to let them know and watch the demonstration video. When you wrestle with the massive 50 amp power cable at least you’ll know what you’re doing…
34 | Feature: El Monte Experience With plenty of fresh water onboard and half-full waste tanks all we did was connect power for our final night. The $25 prepayment to have El Monte’s crew dump the tanks upon our return was a great investment.
guess most renters would be well and truly set-up by 6 o’clock so it’s not unreasonable – just something to keep in mind.
your tank gauges!), as happened to us on another trip, you won’t have to go off to find a dump station – or pay the penalty.
Something also worth bearing in mind is that for $25 you can pre-pay a final dump of the black and grey water tanks for when you return. Fail to do this and just turn up with your tanks full and there’s something like a $70 charge. Just not having to hook up and do the final ‘dump’ on the last night makes this $25 very well spent. It also means if you do a final dump that doesn’t completely empty (check
ou need to be back between 8 and 11 in the morning. It’s a fairly narrow time frame and given LA’s often chaotic morning traffic it’s best to hunt down an RV park close to the depot. Close is a relative term and the Dockweiler Beach RV Park is about as close as they come, being about 20 miles away. Morning peak hour traffic isn’t to bad
We prepaid $25 to avoid a final morning tank dump.
Feature: El Monte Experience | 35 Top: The power awning was huge and a welcome inclusion. Below: Be sure to book ahead if you need the shuttle bus before and/or after your travels.
heading that way and an hour should easily see you there. It’s best to pack most of your things on the last night and the final bits and pieces before leaving the RV park in the morning. This will streamline the return process and give you time to go through the vehicle thoroughly to ensure you haven’t left anything behind. You’ll also need to fill up the gas tank close to the depot as there is no pre-paid tank option. If you don’t you’ll be charged a premium at El Monte RV’s own bowsers. Don’t stress too much about this, though, as the price difference is only about a dollar a gallon and if you’ve filled up within the last 50 miles or so then it’s just a final top-up and well worth the convenience – trust me! Note: The closest gas station to the depot is too small to take motorhomes and the one just up the road from it is one of the
36 | Feature: El Monte Experience
Not all El Monte RV’s rental motorhomes are current models, but for $23 a day extra you can be guaranteed one.
most expensive in LA (wonder why?). As I’d made the mistake of running the tank way down and needing a big fill we spent about an hour driving around trying to find a suburban gas station sufficiently accessible. We also discovered two that didn’t take credit cards, which in America I never would have believed. Both belonged to the Arco/AMPM chain and only took cash or debit cards. Next time I would top-up coming into LA and just pay the extra at the depot. Once at the depot look for the RV Return entrance and if there’s a queue just sit on the end. There are two lanes and the final entry points are both narrow. Take extra care passing through as it would be poor form to damage the vehicle there! Someone will find you and check you in, taking time for a good look around inside and out (including a roof inspection). Once signed off you head into the office to settle the final account, then back to the waiting area for the shuttle. There are two daily departures – 9 am and 12 noon – but you need to book and I was told to call 24 hrs ahead, although when I did I was told just to request it upon return. Take your pick! The
shuttle drops you back at your original airport hotel, the airport itself or, in our case, a car rental depot. Very handy, but don’t forget to tip the driver!
l Monte RV is certainly more polished and professional than our previous USA RV rental provider and quite well priced. It’s also a long established operator with a national presence and I believe if anything had gone wrong they would've been able to deal with it appropriately. I was surprised by the age range of the vehicles in the fleet, which of course isn't a problem as long as maintenance is up to scratch. El Monte RV operates a major service facility on-site and is a recognised repair station for all major motorhome brands. They also sell ex-rental vehicles in an adjacent yard that are fully serviced and warrantied. If you want to be assured of driving one of the latest models the Premier Model Guarantee ensures a 2013 or newer motorhome for an extra A$23/day and is well worth considering.
Feature: El Monte Experience | 37 What’s wrong with these photos? You’re not in them! A-class motorhome travel really is the ultimate luxury and is surprisingly affordable. Why not put yourself in the picture?
The bottom line is El Monte RV is an established, professional operation providing competitive RV rental rates from a large number of depots right across the USA. If you're looking to plan your own American motorhome rental adventure be sure to check them out. Don’t forget to use the code ‘IM5’ for a special 5% discount as an iMotorhome reader!
38 | Feature: El Monte Experience
Reader Offer! El Monte RV is offering iMotorhome eMagazine readers an extra 5% discount off its already competitive rental rates. Quote the code IM5 at the time of booking to lock in your special deal!
Rental Costs A$
Our Expenses A$
We travelled as guests of El Monte RV but our package inclusions and pricing were as follows:
Approximate costs based on average 90c exchange rate.
• 7 nights category AF34 motorhome rental
• Distance covered – 991 miles/1595 km
• 1000 free miles
• Fuel used – 151 US gals/572 L
• Courtesy transfers
• Fuel cost – $687
• VIP insurance cover
• Av fuel cost – $4.54 per US gal/$1.20 per litre
• Starter kit • Kitchen kit • 2 x personal kits • Unlimited generator use
• RV Parks - $386 • Food inc dining out – $627 • Car rental, taxis, tours, entry fees, etc $683
Total cost: $2150
Total Expenses: $2383
Experience the freedom of a USA road trip!
They will not judge you...
EXCLUSIVE OFFER Book your USA El Monte Motorhome holiday, quote ‘IM5’ to receive your exclusive 5% discount!
Call 1300 329 912 MOTORHOME VACATIONS
or visit www.aptms.com.au
40 | USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse
GONE! with the Windsport!
Frankly you wonâ€™t give a damn about having to take the kids in this family size motorhomeâ€Ś by Richard Robertson
USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse | 41
With a list price around US$133,000 the Windpsort 34J Bunkhouse is a lot of motorhome. The massive single slide-out was renamed a “side-out” by Mrs iMotorhome, who also enjoyed the sheer space and lofty cab position.
lthough you can spend mega dollars on upmarket diesel-powered A-class motorhomes in America, entry level models are surprisingly affordable. Record low interest rates, long-term finance deals and aggressive dealer discounting mean many younger families are able to afford a new motorhome – even an A-class. The availability of bunk-equipped models from most manufacturers shows there’s apparent
family demand and such models also work for Gramping – when grandparents take the grandkids away. In some bigger models all three generations could easily ‘enjoy’ a family vacation together. The rental vehicle supplied by El Monte RV for our US adventure turned out to be such a family machine: A Windsport 34J Bunkhouse to be precise, from Thor Motor Coach, one of
42 | USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse
Plenty of room to move, work, sit back and relax. Shame about the cheap and fiddly blinds though.
the big names in American RV manufacturing. With seat belts and sleeping for seven, including two bunks and a kingsize main bed, four TVs and a full-length slide-out it certainly had the room to accommodate most families. For just the two of us it was total overkill and turned out to be the wrong vehicle in some ways for the trip weâ€™d planned, but it did let us fulfil one longstanding ambition: to holiday in a huge Meet The Fockers-style motorhome!
hor Motor Coach is a mass market builder that churns out dozens of motorhomes a day. Like many US manufactures it produces a range of competing brands under its corporate umbrella and like others claims to be the number one brand. Go figure. A quick count finds 14 motorhome brands in the Thor stable, of which Windsport is one, with 6 models in itâ€™s lineup. As I said, go figure. Our test motorhome, registered new in April 2014, was a 2015 model and
USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse | 43
After a few hours behind the wheel I was feeling quite at home. although designated a “34” was in fact 35 ft 5 in (10.8 m) long. Both discrepancies seem to be the way the American RV industry does business, although the latter one of understating size surprises me, given this isn't a country used to understatements! The test vehicle was missing a few bits and pieces as per the brochure, probably because
it was destined for rental service. Externally there was no roof ladder, while inside the removable front coffee table was missing. Also missing was the remote control for a system called Rapid Camp, which lets you stand inside or out and operate things like the slideout, electric awning, levelling jacks, generator and patio lights. Shame…
Mrs iM had a brief drive as we left San Francisco. If you think she looks tense you’re right and after a short while was happy to resume co-pilot duties! Speaking of externally, construction was standard US motorhome fare: A steelframed floor and aluminium body frame; bonded laminated walls, roof and floor with foam core insulation, and one-piece fibreglass end caps. It’s not cutting edge but it works and will keep working so long as routine maintenance like roof seam sealing is observed.
44 | USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse Clockwise from top: A powered awning is a necessary inclusion on a vehicle this size. Design oops: You can’t leave the door open as it rubs against the awning arm. There was generous storage all around, especially this large compartment at the rear for golf clubs, etc. Like all the smaller bins it also had a light.
Standard equipment included automatic selflevelling jacks (that didn’t work), two 13,500 BTU roof-top air-conditioners, a 35,000 BTU LPG central heating furnace, power awning, electric steps, external shower, frameless windows (more on them later), an Onan 5.5 kVa gas (petrol) generator and a ton of external storage in numerous bins on both sides, including a whopper at the kerb-side rear for golf clubs and the like. Each bin was a moulded plastic unit with a sideways opening door (liftup for the big one) and had an interior light. In places where a cable or hose passed through
a bin, expanda foam was used to seal the gap and in places there were gobs of excess oozing out – an insight into the indifferences and disappointments of mass production. Capacities-wise the Windsport 34J carried 50 gals (189 L) of fresh water and 43 gals (163 L) each of grey and black water, plus 6 gal (23 L) of hot water. It also had a chassis-mounted 88 lb (40 kg) LPG tank and 2 house batteries of indeterminate capacity. Apart from being 35 ft 5 in (10.8 m) long it was 12 ft 2 in (3.66 m) tall and 8 ft 3 in (2.51 m) wide. Gross weight was
USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse | 45
The outside shower was ideal for our final night by the beach, although the close proximity camping wasnâ€™t.
46 | USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse
Daily fluid checks are done through this front hatch but require a fair degree of dexterity. Despite the excessive temperatures we encountered the cooling system never missed a beat – thankfully. 22,000 lb (9979 kg) and the empty weight must have been 16,858 lbs (7647 kg), as it was placarded for a maximum combined occupant and cargo capacity (inc water) of 5142 lbs (2332 kg).
on the Ford’s F53 SuperDuty, a purpose-built A-class chassis powered by the ubiquitous 6.8 L Triton V10 gas (petrol) engine up the front. Unlike E450 cab-chassis used in most American C-class motorhomes and that use the same engine, in this application it’s uprated by 57 hp (42.5 kW) to 362 hp (270 kW) and Ford Thinking 50 ft-lbs (68 Nm) to 470 ft-lb (620 Nm). Fuel he price conscious end of the mainstream capacity increases from 55 to 80 US gallons US motorhome market has ridden (208 to 303 L) too. on Ford chassis for years, especially following the demise of the GM product. It Interestingly, full consumption worked out seems all entry and lower priced A-classes ride almost identically to the 32 ft 5 in (9.89 m)
USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse | 47 Fleetwood Tioga C-class we crossed America in last year, showing the extra power of the A-class doesn’t necessarily equate to extra thirst. We averaged 7.45 miles per US gallon (31.5 L/100 km) for this whole trip, and if you take out the first fill around 120 miles, which included escaping LA at speed and climbing steeply into the Mojave Desert, it was 7.75 mpg (30 L/100 km) overall. That might sound rather scary, but given the fuel price differences between America and Australia it works out about the same as having a diesel powered motorhome in Australia returning an average 20 L/100 km, with the dollar around 90c. The F53 drives through a five-speed auto transmission, has conventional steel springs with quality Bilstein gas/oil shocks, I-beam front suspension with a Dana rear axle and anti-lock brakes. It comes with cruise control, an adjustable steering column and a comprehensive instrumentation cluster including oil pressure and temperature gauges as well as a trip computer showing total engine hours. Being front engined the Triton V10 sits under the cab floor in a motorhome application,
Ford’s F53 “stripped chassis” (as they call it) is simple and unsophisticated. Available in a wide range of wheelbase lengths and with a starting retail price of just US$26,290 it’s no wonder it’s the chassis of choice for so many entry-level American A-class motorhomes.
48 | USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse
Windsport has done a nice job of making the standard Ford instrument cluster stylish. The driving position is good and the seats very comfortable, but a leather-wrapped steering wheel would be the icing on the cake. Note plenty of drink holders and the central radio/infotainment unit, which also displayed the reversing and side camera images. almost over the front axle. It’s actually set quite a way back and daily checks are carried out (with a degree of dexterity) via a lift-up panel in the nose, just below the widescreen. Certainly low-tech by current engineering standards – especially European – the F53 is, never the less, a proven, tough and essentially bulletproof package that will likely outlast the body. It’s also not a bad drive.
eing a former ‘Coach Captain’ and selfconfessed big vehicle nut I was seriously looking forward to getting behind the wheel. If you've driven a bus or coach the
A-class driving experience is similar but not quite the same; primarily because you sit a way further back from the windscreen. It didn't take long to adapt but, when everything was new and it was time to negotiate our way out of the rental yard it added a degree of difficulty. At least I think it did. Mrs iMotorhome reckons my smile – okay, smirk – didn’t falter as I manoeuvred the Enterprise, I mean Windsport, from its berth and into the unknown. Once out the gate there was little time to acclimatise and within minutes we were into the cut and thrust of a crowded Los Angeles freeway undergoing major redevelopment. It was pretty intense and I was pleased for
From the driver's point of view it's comfortable, capable and reasonably manoeuvrable.
USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse | 49 Top: Big side mirrors were excellent and greatly enhanced the driving experience. Note the side-view camera in the bottom left corner. Its image displayed on the cab’s central monitor when the indicator was used. Bottom: A quiet stretch of Interstate 5, about half way between LA and San Francisco. those years of coach driving experience, especially as I was also adapting to driving a bus style vehicle with left-hand drive for the first time. As I’ve said elsewhere in this issue, even though there are no special licensing requirements in the US to drive an RV this size (or bigger), unless you have heavy vehicle experience and are a confident driver I’d strongly advise against it. Choose something smaller and also look at avoiding downtown LA for your first rental pick-up experience – it’s not for the feint hearted. It’s a testament to the relative simplicity and ease of driving the big Ford that I was able to concentrate on driving and not have to think too much about the motorhome. Power delivery was gentle and surprisingly quiet (unless I floored it), while braking was strong enough without being touchy or wooden. The basic steel spring suspension was another surprise. Aided by the Bilstein
50 | USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse
The huge single slide-out was hydraulically operated but fitted snugly and operated without problems. Note the top-opening windows. The open ones are fully open and natural airflow was minimal. This is a rig made for RV parks, mains power and air-conditioning. Shame.
shocks and enormous 242 inch (6.15 m) wheelbase it provided a generally comfortable and wallow-free ride, with little body roll. Steering was also pleasing and the steering lock felt surprisingly tight. Combined with the lack of massive rear overhang common on American motorhomes this meant there was little danger of striking the tail on telegraph poles when pulling away from the kerb or of hitting things (like other vehicles!) when picking my way carefully through a crowded RV park. Excellent side mirrors complete with cameras made the job easier too. Electrically adjustable and heated, each had a large wide-angle convex section in the bottom third and a camera that displayed the view down the side of the motorhome on the reversing camera screen whenever the indicator was used. Changing lanes I quickly learned to use the convex mirror first, indicate and then double check with the camera. After a few hours behind the wheel I was feeling quite at home and after a few days I didn’t want to hand it back. The V10 Triton engine could hold 60-65 mph (100ish km/h) on the freeway quite easily and I soon got to know its
limitations, i.e. when to cancel cruise and put my foot down to avoid the gearbox suddenly dropping back two or even three gears on steeper hills. Under normal operation the engine had a gutsy tone and with cruise engaged and the captain’s chair arms folded into place I spent a lot of our freeway cursing time feeling pretty cool! Despite the bluff nose the A-class body seemed more streamlined than the bulky C-classes I’m used to. Crosswind buffeting was less, as was the ‘blow/suck’ from passing semis. The significantly higher driving position of the A-class provided much better visibility, as did the massive one-piece windscreen, but the downside was more heat in the cab during the late summer heatwave. There were a few days where the cab aircon REALLY struggled. Not all was sweetness and light, however. The twisting coast road that was Highway 1 showed not all of America is big motorhome heaven. It was hard work keeping the Windsport between the centre line and armco fencing, as well as finding sightseeing places big enough to pull in to at short notice. Ditto navigating the narrow and RV-unfriendly streets of Napa. For a trans-
USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse | 51 Top to bottom: The Windpsort in its natural environment – all closed up and powered up at Dockweiler Beach RV Park in Los Angeles. A big TV took the place of a big dinette window and we’d rather it hadn't. Auto-levelling jacks were standard but didn’t work.
USA adventure this would have been a great motorhome, but for our quick loop between two major cities in a densely populated State it was really too big. Fun though!
he party piece of the Windsport 34J Bunkhouse was its almost full-length slide-out, which Mrs iM christened a “side-out”. Encompassing the dinette, kitchen, bunks and main bedroom wardrobes it must have been the best part of 30 ft (9 m) long. Hydraulically operated, it was so big there were stickers instructing me to ensure the levelling jacks were deployed before extending it. This was not only to keep the vehicle level but to reduce stress on the chassis, I imagine. The jacks on this rental vehicle didn't work; instead displaying an error message that the El Monte RV handover man ignored and didn't point out to us. In fact he actually said the jacks weren't really necessary. We soon realised they would have been very useful and on the two nights we parked on non-bitumen surfaces I was able
52 | USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse
Clockwise from top: Privacy glass was good but the opening range was awful. Mrs iM loved the kitchen, especially the bench space, twin sinks and huge 2-door fridge/freezer that let us stock up. With the slide retracted rear aisle width was limited. It also made the Windsport feel dark and tunnel-like inside.
to find an uneven spot that leaned us the other way, which was then largely corrected when the slide-out was extended. The floorplan was quite straight forward: swivelling cab captain’s chairs and a front lounge and dinette, mid kitchen and bathroom, and rear sleeping quarters. Design-wise I felt the interior was a real mixed bag. There was a ton of room to move around with the slide-out open, but when closed there was a dark tunnel effect down the centre. This was exacerbated by a combination of small, dark tinted windows, only one tiny roof hatch in the living area and dark stained timber cabinetry. The rear bedroom – excellent for its expansive king bed – has no roof hatch and only one opening window. That window, like all windows in the
Why Australian designers don't incude a twin-bowl sink is a mystery.
USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse | 53
The dinette doubled as the iMotorhome office-at-large and did nicely. The Windsport, however, was let down by a lack of attention to design detail, from fiddly curtains that didn’t quite cover the window edges to stark lightning, poor natural ventilation and small windows. Windsport, was hinged at the top and opened just an inch or two at the bottom by means of a scissor-action wind-out mechanism. That meant there was almost no bedroom ventilation unless plugged into mains power or running the generator and having the aircon on. Still on windows, fiddly Roman blinds we're fitted that didn’t quite cover the window edges and were a pain to use. Another design flaw in my opinion was the decision to fit the dinette with two small windows so a big TV could be wall mounted between them. These issues highlight what I believe to be a fundamental, perhaps philosophical difference in the way Americans and Australians approach RV travel. For us it’s usually all about the view, fresh air, outdoor living and getting away from the everyday. Americans seen to be all about taking the every day with them and mains power and TV reception take precedence over fresh air and/or a view. Of course I'm
generalising, but free camping (dry camping/ boondocking in American terminology) seems to be the exception, while RV parks with all their connections are the rule.
esign philosophies aside, once set up in camp the sheer amount of space made this an easy vehicle to live in.
The big, comfortable captains chairs could be swivelled but there was really no need unless entertaining a lot of people. The dinette behind the driver's seat seated four, while the sofa bed behind the passenger seat could accommodate another three comfortably. There was generous internal storage, although none under the dinettes seats, which I presumed was to keep weight down for the slide-out. Each rooftop air-conditioner had a central outlet below it, but ducted ceiling vents meant we could tailor air
54 | USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse
Having a generator just the touch of a button away meant the large microwave could be used wherever we stopped. Note the ornate leadlight-look cupboard doors and the handy pull-out hose beside the big main tap.
distribution as required. I was pleased to see LED lighting used throughout, but someone needs to tell the designer one fitting size – large – doesn’t suit every application. There were no reading lights in the bedroom, for example, and even on half setting the lights were bright and their white light bathed the interior in a stark, office-like glare. Mrs iMotorhome enjoyed the kitchen, including the usual American inclusion of a twin bowl sink – just like home! Why Australia designers don't include these is a mystery. The enormous microwave, with its integrated exhaust fan and light unit below, proved very handy – aided in no small part by the luxury of a remote start generator a flip of a switch away. Even the smallest of US motorhomes seems to have such a generator, yet it’s a ‘luxury’ reserved for
the lucky few at home. Go figure! A motorhome this size would usually have a shower cubicle on one side of the aisle and the toilet and vanity across from it. The inclusion of twin bunkbeds precluded this, so an all-in-one bathroom was the go. Surprisingly spacious it featured a generous L-shaped benchtop, under-bench and overhead cupboards and a shower cubicle with sliding glass door that was also quite roomy, but let down by the cheapest possible tap and hand shower combo. Sleeping accommodation for those lucky enough not to be on the sofa bed or converted dinette comprised the afore-mentioned twin bunks and kingsize main bed. The bunks, which sat opposite the bathroom between the kitchen and main bedroom, were well
USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse | 55
Above: The king size bed was terrific and there was plenty of storage, but no individual reading lights. The rear window was fixed as an emergency exit, so bedroom ventilation was minimal. Right: Told you the blinds were fiddly! The top bunk lowered to convert this area into another lounge, complete with a big TV on the opposite wall â€“ of course. proportioned and on our rental vehicle the top one had its own small TV at one end while the bottom bunk had provision for one. The bunks apparently converted to a sofa, which explained the clothes hanging rail above the top one and the big TV mounted on the bathroom wall, opposite. Each bunk had its own window, light and privacy curtain, plus a small aluminium ladder was provided for access. Down the back we were accommodated in something approaching royal splendour, thanks to the comfortable kingsize island bed positioned across the vehicle, with its head on the kerb side. The bed head was surrounded by cupboards and drawers, plus there was an entertainment system with Bluetooth
56 | USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse connection that also broadcast outside via speakers on the kerbside wall. Opposite the foot of the bed, in the slide-out, was a full wall of wardrobes and drawers, with a central recess for the one opening window (the one in the back wall of the Windsport is fixed and an emergency exit only). Above the window was another TV – you can never have too many, apparently – while in front of it was a small dressing table with drawers below.
uilt to a price for a specific market the Windsport 34J Bunkhouse has all the ingredients and equipment likely to satisfy its intended buyer. From the driver's point of view it's comfortable, capable and reasonably manoeuvrable, while a family would relish the overall room and places parents and kids could escape to. Ford’s F53 SuperDuty A-class chassis is as tough and dependable as they come, while parts and service are relatively cheap and available everywhere. Ditto the motorhome body, which although far from cutting edge should be easy to maintain, service and repair. The Windsport 34J Bunkhouse looks good – a couple of people commented to that effect during our travels – and while a front gas-engined A-class is never going to be the status symbol a diesel pusher is, it’s still a lot of motorhome for the money. Despite my interior design criticisms we enjoyed our time and would happily travel in it again – and I can't say fairer than that!
The shower was generous despite being in an all-in-one bathroom, as was vanity bench space and general storage. Just a bit more space for drying off with the main door closed would have been nice, though.
USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse | 57
The Windsport 34J Bunkhouse looks good… and is a lot of motorhome for the money.
Trakka’s Torino Xtra is built for adventure and will get you in and out of places bigger motorhomes can’t/ wont go. Being a van conversion the body doesn’t require special looking after and it stands up to the elements very well.
58 | USA Touring Test: Windsport 34J Bunkhouse
Thor Motor Coach
Windsport 34J Bunkhouse
Ford F53 SuperDuty
6.8-litre Triton V10 petrol
270 kW @ 4250 rpm
620 Nm @ 3250 rpm
ABS ventilated 4-wheel discs
Gross Vehicle Mass
10.80 m (35 ft 5 in)
2.51 m (8 ft 3 in)
3.66 m (12 ft 2 in)
2.01 m (6 ft 10 in)
Rear Bed Size
1.83 m x 1.93 m (6 ft 0 in x 6 ft 4 in)
220 L propane/115 V
12 V LED
2 x unknown
Onan 5500 remote start
2 x Roof mounted, ducted
23 L propane
Flexible hose, variable height
Fresh Water Tank
Grey Water Tank
Black Water Tank
List Price USA
US$133,202 plus on-roads
• • • • • • • • • •
• • • • •
Bang for your buck Vast living space Excellent storage Good load capacity Standard equipment Kingsize bed Tough Ford A-class chassis LED lighting Pleasant to drive Good range
Thirsty Dark interior Small windows/poor ventilation Fiddly, ill-fitting blinds Budget light fittings
Thor Motor Coach PO Box 1486 Elkhart, IN. 46515, USA T: (+1) 1800 860-5658 W: thormotorcoach.com
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60 | Travel: USA Top Tips
USA Rental Top Tips!
Travel: USA Top Tips | 61
It’s tempting to rent the biggest motorhome just because you legally can, but unless you’re experienced and confident it’s not recommended. There’s no substitute for experience and with three USA motorhome rental adventures under our belt here are some tips to help get you on your way.
Be Realistic! Trying to do everything in one big trip is probably the most common mistake. There's no point going all that way to spend your dream holiday driving flat-out from start to finish and regretting missing the things you really wanted to see along the way. If time is your limiting factor look at spreading your dream trip over a number of visits – it’s a great excuse to come back!
Less is More Unlike sensible countries the USA has no special licensing requirements for driving any size of recreational vehicle. This means even if the biggest thing you've ever driven is a Mini you can legally rent a bells-andwhistles Meet The Fockers motorhome and head off on the holiday of your dreams. Don’t. Repeat after me, "Less is more”.
A smaller motorhome is cheaper to rent and run, easier to park, easier to drive in heavy traffic and less likely to cause you problems while adjusting to driving on the wrong side of the road. Smaller is a relative term, however, and there’s every chance a ‘smaller’ American rental RV will be as big or bigger than what you’re used to driving at home. Resist your ego, save money (and your nerves) and choose wisely!
Plan Flexibly Every trip needs a plan, but don't over do it. Look at your start and finish points and plan an average 200 miles (320 km) per day to give you an overall minimum timeframe. Google Maps is excellent for this. Interstates (freeways) are best for getting from A to B quickly, but be sure to plan in some backroads, especially where they are more direct. Contrary to what people say you can see the Real America from the freeways. This is partly due to the fact there are very few onfreeway service areas, which means when you need fuel or food you have to exit and go into a town. That’s where the Real America begins, apparently.
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Make an overall plan on Google Maps, but a detailed one just a day or two ahead. Weather changes and unexpected attractions often conspire to ruin finely detailed 'big plans'. Once you have a start and finish point on the map start inserting likely places for overnight stops. Google Maps now only allows you to plan a route with 10 stops, so for a longer journey youâ€™ll need to break the trip into smaller submaps. The suggested 200 miles per day equates to about 3.5 hours driving time and if there are must-see destinations along the way or places you know you'll simply want to linger, be sure to factor in extra time. Also be aware that weather in America is highly changeable. Anything from unseasonal snow to hurricanes and tornado-spawning storm systems can require you to change your plans at short notice. Flexibility is the key so there's no point doing detailed planning more than a couple of
days in advance. For the same reason, also keep your eye on an alternative route.
Add Three Days! The first and last days of a motorhome rental holiday are largely wasted. That's because you usually can't pick up until the afternoon of the departure day and you have to return in the morning of the final day. By the time you pick the vehicle up, unpack all your gear and call into Walmart for provisioning the first day is gone. Similarly, you'll need all the time on the last morning to finish packing, dump the waste tanks (check the gauges to make sure theyâ€™re completely empty) and fuel up before driving to the depot.
Travel: USA Top Tips | 63
Also, don't plan on flying in and picking up the vehicle on the same day. Apart from the fact your flight might be late and it could take an age to pass through Immigration and Customs, after flying in from the Antipodes you’ll need at least one good night’s sleep. So be kind to yourself – and your travelling companion – and book into an airport hotel or one close to the rental depot. Dropping off is a different matter as you'll be returning the vehicle in the morning and most flights Down Under leave late in the evening.
What this means in practice is that for the first few days your body will be ‘asleep’ until midto-late afternoon, when it starts to wake up on Australian time. By midnight you’ll be wide awake and the absolute life of the party! You need to be kind to yourself and each other during this time and not set unrealistic schedules. Coming home is a different matter, however, because you'll be tired early and up early and it's much easier/less fatiguing settling back into Antipodean time.
Embrace Technology Dealing with Jet Lag… A USA GPS is highly recommended but If you're not a regular visitor to the USA you don't necessarily need a standalone here's how jet lag works. On a direct unit. I’ve used the TomTom app my flight like Sydney to Los Angeles you iPhone 4S, in conjunction with a suction window cross the International Dateline and actually mount, on all three trips and it’s worked very arrive a few hours before you left! For example, well. I've also used the HEMA USA RoadAtlas Qantas flight QF11 currently departs Sydney on my iPad for planning and viewing large at 2.05 pm and arrives in LA at 9.45 that same swathes of countryside at a time. It also works morning. The trouble is you have been in the air as a moving map and could suffice as your sole for a scheduled 13 hours and 40 minutes and navigation device, but is best as a back-up and your body will be telling you it’s about 4 o'clock in for reference. the morning. They say the best way to deal with Rand McNally is America’s best know motoring jet lag is to try to adapt to local time as quickly map maker and its traditional road atlas as possible, but even so I reckon it takes about is excellent to have along; either as a backa full week to truly get into the swing of things. up in case electronics fail, for planning or just
64 | Travel: USA Top Tips
The fold-out desk in our rental A-class made an ideal place to work and keep out of the way.
Travel: USA Top Tips | 65
reference. Rand McNally has recently released an RV-specific iPad app that lets you input things like vehicle type and size, weight, etc, so it can route you safely and legally. With internet connection it provides real-time weather updates and forecasts and even live fuel prices, plus local search facilities for specific business. It also comes preloaded with RV parks, RV service facilities, attractions, rest areas and so on. Sounds great!
Stay In Touch Chances are a mobile phone is an indispensable part of your everyday life. Using your phone overseas needn't cost a fortune and some online research will turn up all manner of alternatives, but for our money the best deal available is through Vodafone’s Red Plan. It lets you use your mobile in the USA (and 46 other countries) just as you would at home for $5 a day on top of your normal plan, for a maximum of 90 days per year. For example I'm on a $50 Red Plan. Every month it provides unlimited standard national calls to fixed lines and mobiles within Australia, plus unlimited text to Australia and overseas, and 3 GB of data. For an extra $5 a day I could use my phone as normal – call anyone in America or use my data allowance for navigation or as a wireless hotspot for my laptop – PLUS call or text
back to Australia (or have someone at home call me at no cost to them). And because it’s billed in 24 hour increments from when you turn on data roaming or send a text message, you can do as Mrs iMotorhome did on her phone and use it every other day, if you just want to stay in touch. How good is that?
Timing is Everything! Choose your holiday timing carefully. America in summer is hot, crowded and at its most expensive. America in winter is cold, cheaper and largely closed (well, attractions and RV parks anyway). America in between is delightful! If you must travel in the northern hemisphere summer, go way north. Likewise, if you must travel in the winter, go way south. If you choose to travel in winter plan your route carefully and monitor the weather closely as massive winter storm systems can shut down half the country for days at a time. Ensure your rental motorhome is winterised; meaning its fresh and waste water tanks are heated and it has tyres suitable for varying conditions. Given winter temperatures can drop to -20 to -30°C in many parts, while summer temps can reach the mid to high 40s, you'll see why travelling between seasons is so appealing!
66 | Travel: USA Top Tips
Book Ahead Despite the plethora of RV parks across America finding a site for a night or three in popular areas can be difficult, especially on weekends and in peak periods. This is why a mobile phone is essential as it can save you hours of searching and angst. Away from the major tourist areas finding a place to stay becomes much easier, as does finding a free camping area. Wikicamps now has a US version of its terrific Australian app, but it’s not so terrific and has fewer listings; the majority of which seem to be RV parks or State Camping Areas (in California anyway). On previous trips, especially when time was an issue, we stopped overnight in Walmart car parks. They’re free, quite secure and there’s a great app for finding them called Allstays ONP Walmart. Just be warned, due to local regulations not all Walmarts allow overnight stays. This was the case on our latest California adventure and there were very few Walmarts on the LA-San Francisco loop where camping was permitted.
Eat Fresh! Be sure to make the most of your motorhome's kitchen. Not only will it save you money, it will help reduce the amount of weight you inevitably put on! American food, by and large, is heavily laced with sugar and salt, and highly processed/ refined. This is especially true of takeaway food. Make the most of roadside fruit and vegetable stalls (as you should at home!) and if you're near the coast look for fresh seafood. Fortunately there's a growing movement towards farmers and local town markets and if you come across these you've struck gold. Of course there's nothing wrong with eating out – it's all part of the holiday experience – but do it in moderation to help look after your health. On all our trips we've shopped in bulk for fresh vegetables, meat, dairy, wine and general grocery items at Walmart and Costco stores, although for the latter you’ll need membership (an Australian Costco card is fine but you need to tell them it's an international card at the checkout). If you eat a lot of bread be warned off-the-shelf loaves in America have a very high sugar content. It’s worth trying to hunt down a
Travel: USA Top Tips | 67
Did you know? Good coffee and cakes are usually only found in big cities and towns – places a big rental motorhome can be difficult to drive. For everywhere else there’s Starbucks and McDonald’s McCafés. Buy in-store debit cards, load them with $50 each and you won’t have to fiddle for small bills again…
68 | Travel: USA Top Tips
proper bakery, although depending where you are they aren't always easy to find. If you like a bottle of wine with dinner carry a few days supply at all times. Although most supermarkets sell alcohol, depending on local or State laws it's not always available, especially on Sundays.
same thing with a McDonald’s card for McCafés. Sadly these aren’t a patch on ours and neither is the coffee, so think of them as the espresso coffee stop of last resort!
Tipping What discussion on travelling in America would be complete without a section on tipping? Because it's a foreign custom to Australians and New Zealanders it’s best, when in Rome, to do as the locals do. Not only will this help repair our tarnished reputation, it will help you avoid angst and provide the underpaid serviceperson with something approaching a reasonable income.
Take it Away… Despite your best intentions it won't always be possible to cook, especially at lunchtime or when you're on a tight schedule. Of all the fast food chains Subway is the best, while for anything resembling decent coffee it's Starbucks. Rather than carry a wad of small bills the best thing to do the first time you visit either is to buy a prepaid The traditional tipping rate of 10% went out many store debit card and load it with, say, $50. Starbucks also sells reusable cups with lids for a years ago and even 15% is considered marginal these days (think indifferent service). Work on few dollars and refills attract a 20 cent discount. 20% for good service and 25% for exceptional Because Starbucks's aren’t everywhere (at least service, but check the bill as some places include not across the centre of America) we do the the tip as a service charge in the total. Factor
Travel: USA Top Tips | 69 tipping into your budget and consider it just the cost of doing business. It’s another good reason to do most of your own cooking! Where do you tip? In cafes, bars, restaurants or places where you receive personalised food or drink service – so there's no need to tip at McDonald’s! Who else should you tip? Courtesy bus drivers get $1 per bag, room service staff $1 or $2 per visit and any hotel staff (like the concierge or doorman) who actually do/organise something for you. The same if you use valet parking – a min $1, but maybe $5 if you’re driving a flash rental car!
Don’t Skimp! How much should you budget for a motorhome rental holiday? It depends on your travel and rental costs, fuel, time available and your attractions and shopping wish list. The one thing I would say is don't skimp. If your budget is flexible add 20% to the final figure to allow for those oncein-a-lifetime opportunities that always crop up. If your budget is fixed, reduce the length of your holiday to incorporate the buffer. Chances are any holiday you do will never be long enough and a good one should leave you wanting more. There’s nothing worse than getting home and having your memories tainted by the list of things you didn't do because you couldn't afford them. So factor in a show or two, allow for a few fancy dinners and consider there might be a sightseeing flight, Segway tour, whale watching cruise or a must-have pair of handcrafted boots your life simply won't be complete (or worth living) without!
Avoid Big Cities Big cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York can be exciting and fascinating holiday destinations, but they’re no place for a motorhome. Especially a big one! If possible, plan your rental pick-up and departure points for smaller cities or regional towns. This is especially worth considering if you’re new to
driving on the wrong side of the road or generally not comfortable in heavy traffic situations. Tip: If you must pick-up in a big city and the traffic bothers you, stay close to the rental depot until late at night and then make your escape. Ditto for the drop-off, perhaps arriving very late (by arrangement) at your chosen last night stop and then departing very early next morning to be at the rental depot before peak hour begins. This is where a company like El Monte RV, with its many regional depots, has a distinct advantage. For example if you planning a coastto-coast holiday you could fly into Los Angeles for a few days, then fly to Las Vegas for another day or two and start your rental there. Instead of dropping off in chaotic New York you could finish in suburban Boston then fly or catch the train down to New York. Very civilised! If you're passing a big city on your travels that you’d really like to see, do some research to checkout RV park locations and costs, public transport access and options, freeway access and so on. In some cases you might find it better to leave the motorhome at an outlying RV park and either catch public transport or hire a small rental car and take hotel accommodation downtown for a few nights. It's what we should have done with San Francisco. Even if it works out a little more expensively, it's cheaper than returning on a separate visit.
Enjoy! If LA is a great big freeway America is a great big RV park. The nation was built for the motor vehicle and has the infrastructure and scenery to blow your mind. Americans on the whole are extremely polite and happy to help, so if you have any difficulties or are looking for advice, just ask. Finally, as you travel be sure to take the time to stop, sit back and smell the roses. You might not find enlightenment but you’ll sure find entertainment. Play ball!
70 | Next Issue
Slide of Hand?
ow can so many features fit into such a small package? That’s the question we hope to answer by reviewing the Autarky 4X4, featured in this issue’s News section. With a body lift kit, 4WD with high and low range, a rear bedroom slide-out, full bathroom, diesel cooking and hot water, and every mod con it promises much. Can it deliver? Wait and see!
November 07-0924-26 26-28
Next issue we’ll finish off the USA travel diary we simply didn’t have room for in this issue. The Aussie dollar is steadfastly refusing to drop below about 87 cents to the Greenback, which still makes a US motorhome rental adventure reasonably affordable. If you’ve dreamed of touring in America it’s a good time to get planning and hopefully next issue will supply just a little more inspiration. November 15 is when Issue 60 will hit your inbox, but until then why not join our nearly 16,0000 Friends and Twitter followers Facebook for news and more than a few laughs? See you in two weeks! Facebook “f ” Logo
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Perth 4WD & Adventure Show
South Coast Caravan, Camping & Holiday Expo
Bendigo Caravan and Camping Show
McCallum Park (near the Causeway), Victoria Park, WA. 6100. • Open 9:00-6:00 daily (5:00 Sunday) • Paid parking nearby • Adults: $15 • Seniors: $12 • Kids: $7 5-15 years
Mackay Park, Batemans Bay, NSW. 2536 • Open 9:00-5:00 daily (4:00 Sunday) • Parking: Free • Adults: $10 • Seniors: $6 • Kids: Free U-16 with adult
Bendigo Racecourse, Heinz St, Epsom. VIC • Open 9:30-5:00 daily (4:00 Sunday) • Parking: Free • Adults: $10 • Seniors: $8 • Kids: Free U 15 years
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