Runtrails' Web Journal
FEATURES: THE DETAILS
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1
encourage you to compare our features and reputation to any other
manufacturer] before you make an investment . . ."
~ Carriage Cameo brochure and
Note to readers: Jim and I have no financial interest in Carriage, Inc.
other than hoping like heck that our new RV is built as well as the company
says it is! We hope people who read this don't think we're just giving free
advertisement to Carriage. That's not our intention.
We know from reading Carriage Cameo internet lists, forums, and owners' blogs/websites that
most folks have had some problems with their 5th-wheel coaches. Most are minor
problems; some are major. We expect to
have some problems with ours, too. In fact, we've already noticed some small
things that Jim needs to fix.
No company is perfect but according to at least
one recent RV comparison guide (
Eaton's 2009-2010), Carriage has the best reputation
for quality and standing behind their products of the top twenty-nine rated
companies that build 5th-wheels.
The main problems owners report are various kinds of leaks and getting
appointments in a timely manner either at Carriage dealerships or the factory
itself when warranty or other work is needed. The factory service department in
Indiana is backed up until July! That's not so good if we have a serious
problem that Jim can't fix. We'll have to contact the closest dealer (wherever
we are) if we have a problem that's beyond us. This is pretty much the same
drill no matter which RV company you're dealing with.
Since some of Carriage's construction features are so different from other
manufacturers I want to focus on the details of our Cameo in this entry for the
benefit of prospective RV buyers, particularly those who plan to spend a
lot of time in their rigs. I'll also include the more interesting (to most
readers) convenience and comfort features in our particular camper if you're
It's kind of like looking in other people's houses . . .
BUT SUE, THIS ISN'T "CAMPING!"
No, it's not if you only think of camping as becoming one with nature in a
tent in the woods!
There are many degrees of "camping," from sleeping in a cozy bag under
the stars along the Appalachian Trail to sleeping in a king-sized bed in a
luxurious Class A motor home at a five-star resort in Palm Springs.
And everything in between counts as "camping," too -- all those kinds of
RVs I listed in a
previous entry and all sorts of locations,
too, from primitive
sites on remote trails to free national forest and BLM lands to all sorts of
public parks to a variety of private campgrounds and resorts. (And good old WalMart in transit!)
There's a camping style and venue for everyone.
We see all kinds of camping styles at Huntsville State
Park in Texas, from tents to Class As.
Like many folks, Jim and I started out when we were younger camping in tents,
then pop-ups, then travel trailers or 5th-wheels. Neither of us has had a truck
camper or Class A, B, or C motorhome but we aren't ruling out a motorhome some
day. The older we get, the more appealing those become.
Each one of these categories also has a wide range of features and quality of
construction. With 5th-wheels alone you can spend anywhere from about $15,000 to
$150,000 (maybe more) on a new rig. It just depends on how many $$$ you want to
spend and how much you think you'll be using the RV.
We were better prepared this time than we were when we bought the HitchHiker
simply because we knew how much we'd be using the Cameo in the future --
a bunch, full-time even (after we sell our house). That meant finding a coach
that can withstand all the miles and other use we'll give it. Our HitchHiker
was never intended for the heavy use we gave it nor the thousands of miles we
towed it. It served us well the first couple of years but soon became a major
stressor as one thing after another went wrong with it.
This time we hope we can avoid that by choosing a 5th-wheel coach designed for
full-timers. We'll let you know how that works out!
Just like when purchasing a stick-built house, there were several features we
had to have on this 5th-wheel -- construction and weight being
the most important -- and a bunch we'd like but could live
without. Because of limited selection and wanting to retain our power as buyers
to walk away if the terms weren't right for us, we were flexible regarding most
of the convenience, comfort, and decor features.
Our very first flat-screen TV came standard on our coach.
We didn't get an optional fireplace below it
(we really didn't want one). I would have liked a double
refrigerator-freezer, though. Maybe next time . . .
What's really cool is that we ended up getting most of the features we wanted
(lots more than we had in the HitchHiker) and even a couple that we've never had in a
Many items come standard on Cameos. Ours also has the Bigfoot, Luxury, and
Performance Packages, which you can read about on the
Carriage website. Our unit came with a few additional options but by
no means all of them.
Since the construction of our new RV was our most important selection criteria,
I'll start with those features of our Cameo. If you're considering
purchasing a new or used RV, especially for heavy use, we recommend you start
with the basics first and don't be primarily swayed by the appealing but
superficial decor you'll see in rigs on every dealer's lot. Some manufacturers
try real hard to get you hooked with good first impressions so you'll ignore
how the rigs are actually made!
I'm also including these features for folks like my brother who love to read
about the mechanics of different vehicles.
I've mentioned before that Carriage warrants its 5th-wheel structures for five
years, by far the longest in the industry. Apparently that's how much confidence they have
in their construction. Here are the details, which you can also find on the
- Cameo frames are engineered, constructed, and welded in-house for quality
control, not purchased from another vendor. They feature a 12" square platform chassis design instead of the
usual 10" vertical I-beam with holes.
- Durable floors have nine layers: from the ground up, there is a
polyflex vapor barrier, 12" double-stacked box tube steel frame, two layers
of Owens Corning insulation, another vapor barrier, 2" x 3" welded aluminum
main floor, more insulation (total of R-24 in the floor), exposure-grade
tongue-in-groove 5/8" plywood sub flooring, 1/2"
carpet pad, and carpet/linoleum on top. (See diagram farther below.)
- Entire underbelly is covered with a durable polyester fabric that
protects the undercarriage from road salt and oil, is puncture resistant,
breathes, and serves as a vapor barrier.
- Carriage builds its slides for slide rooms above the sub and below the
main floor instead of cutting into its frames:
- Electric, gear-driven rack and pinion slide-outs. We had those on the
HitchHiker and they caused continual problems but Jim was always able to fix
the broken bolts. We hope these are stronger and
more reliable. DRV (Mobile Suites) uses hydraulic slides. We don't know if
they are superior to gear-driven rack and pinion slides.
- Slide-out rooms are fully insulated. We can already tell the
difference in comfort inside the Cameo compared to our un-insulated
HitchHiker slide-outs. Few (maybe no other) companies insulate their slide-out rooms.
- Walls have 2" box tube aluminum cage construction vs laminated walls in
most 5th-wheels. From the outside in, there is a thick high gloss gel-coat fiberglass
exterior, Luann backer board, the aluminum cage, Owens Corning insulation,
and decorated interior wallboard with a total R-value of 15.
- Roof construction includes TPO vinyl roofing on top, 1/2" thick roof
decking, two blankets of Owens Corning insulation, box tube aluminum roof
trusses, and decorated interior ceiling board for a total R-16 insulation
- Carriage touts stronger slide-out rooms with better features and moisture
control (leaks can be a major structural hazard in any RV). There is an
exclusive H-seal, a rubber squeegee enclosure that wipes elements (water,
leaves, pine needles, etc.) from the walls and roof when the slide is coming
in. A second feature, the Wedge, creates a slant to direct those same
elements away from the coach when the slide is open.
- Gutters also serve that purpose, just as they do on stick-built houses.
You can see a gutter in the lower middle photo above.
- Hehr trimless (flush/no-frame) windows with solar tinted safety glass. Easy to open
and more leak resistant than most types of RV windows. Because they are
tipped, they can be left open in the rain. They are sooooo much better than
the windows in the old HitchHiker. An option that didn't come on our coach is
dual-paned windows that don't fog up or get condensation on them inside when
it rains. That feature would have been nice.
Photo of windows from the Carriage website
- Large insulated, heated holding tanks and plumbing for fresh, gray, and
black water so they don't freeze. (The furnace heats the two largest basement
areas.) 72-gallon fresh water tank + 10-gallon gas/electric water
heater = 82 gallons total fresh water capacity, 62-gallon gray water tank, 62-gallon black water tank.
Because we have to watch weight when we're towing the camper, we'll have all
those tanks as empty as possible when we're moving from one place to another.
Each gallon is over eight pounds!
- MorRyde suspension system is standard. Our rig didn't come with the pricey optional MorRyde
pin box, but we'll consider getting one later if we need it for better
suspension. There are other options we can try like a pin box that uses air,
or adding air bags
or Timbrens to the truck axles, if necessary. We'll have to haul the Cameo a while to see how
it handles. We've driven it only about 50 miles so far.
The sticker says MorRyde but it's the suspension system,
not the pin box.
- Dexter EZ-Lube axles secured with heavy-duty steel springs and spring
hangers. E-range tires, aluminum wheels. Spare tire with crank-up mount.
- Windowless door entry with peep hole provides more security than entry
doors with windows that can be broken out. Double locks with deadbolt are
not real easy to break in unless both locks are drilled out. (It happens.
There's been a rash of electronic thefts, especially of flat-screen TVs which
are becoming more standard in RVs now, on dealers' lots across the southwest this
winter by rings of professional thieves.)
- Several outside security, courtesy, patio, and step lights
- Dual 30# LP gas bottles with auto change-over; we added padlocks.
- 50-amp electrical service
Jim and our friend Bill H. discuss how to set up the
generator, batteries, and controller.
- AC/DC power converter with charger (60 amps); we will add solar
panels, generator, four 6V batteries, and battery controller from the
HitchHiker soon so we can boondock (no hookups).
- Heat and AC ducts in all rooms, including bathroom
- Smoke detector, LP and CO detectors
Now we're getting to some of the more interesting stuff that will
make our lives noticeably easier than in the old HitchHiker . . .
- Bigfoot auto-leveling system, new on the 2010 Cameo line -- this
is the main reason we didn't spring for a 2009 model at a steeper discount.
At the touch of a button Jim can lower or raise four independent hydraulic
cylinders/jacks, each with its own pump and reservoir. You just can't
believe how much easier this is: no more lowering each leg and
hand-cranking each jack separately every time we move; no more checking the level
(tool) inside to
make sure the camper is level side-to-side and front-to-back; no more little plastic ramps under the
tires if one side is lower than the other. Wow. When we walk around inside,
the coach is significantly more stable than the HitchHiker ever was.
- Bigfoot also allows Jim to hike up the back end
of the 5th-wheel more safely so he can work on the
tires, instead of using a wooden ramp. 10" x 10" foot pads help stabilize the
coach (less chance of sinking into soft ground).
- Bigfoot has a five-year
warranty. We think it's worth every penny it cost us (whatever that was). This photo is from the
87° turning radius, which makes
tight turns easier with short-bed trucks
More outside storage than we should use -- if we fill it
up, we'll be towing more weight than is safe for our truck. Three basement
areas with outside doors total 181 cubic feet of storage capacity. We'll use
the front one for the generator and batteries, the large middle one with doors
on either side (gas struts on the main door) for lots of miscellaneous items,
and the rear basement for lighter items like recreational equipment;
the rear basement has three doors and is reportedly a Carriage exclusive.
More inside storage than we should ever fill, too! It's
everywhere -- kitchen cabinets and drawers, island cabinets, cabinets above the
sofa and loveseat, cabinets above and below the TV, three sets of bathroom
cabinets, cabinets in the hallway, two spacious wardrobes in the bedroom,
cabinets above the dresser, large closet prepped for a washer-dryer (which we don't
want), and two hidden compartments under the hallway stairs and window
seat. All this encourages carrying way too much stuff!! You can see photos of
many of the cabinets in the
Docking center, described below. Blue cylinder is a water
filter we added.
Insulated and enclosed universal docking center, shown above, with all
necessary exterior hookups to the coach: cable/satellite/phone jacks,
water connections, gravity fill, city water fill, hot/cold 15-foot hose with
sprayer (very handy for washing our muddy running shoes and dog!), black
tank flush and sensor, fresh water drain, pump switch, winterize system, and
light. Cable dump valves are in a different location for sanitary reasons.
Nicely disguised (behind cabinet doors) interior control
centers for the slide-outs, circuit breakers and fuses, tank monitors, and
Easily operated wall controls for the Carrier HVAC and
dehumidifier system, which includes
a 15,000 BTU air conditioner in the living area and a second 13,500 BTU AC in the
bedroom. We rarely used our AC in the HitchHiker because we rarely stayed
anywhere that hot, or if we did, it was when we were in transit and didn't have
enough power from solar/generator to run it.
Fantastic Fan/vent in the living area; we had one in the
HitchHiker and really liked it.
Ceiling fan in kitchen/entry area
Electric Carefree Travel-R awning, above, which we love -- very
quiet and soooo much easier to put up and down than the old awning.
Central vacuum, a first for us. We've never even had that in a
stick-built house. Very convenient. Lots of attachments and a very long hose that
reaches everywhere in the Cameo. One nice feature is the suction port at the base of
the steps up to the bedroom (black rectangle in bottom step,
below). Just sweep up dirt in the kitchen, get it close to the port, and turn
on the switch. Whoosh, it's gone in an instant! The vacuum hose attaches to an
outlet at the far right (next to Jim's shoes) and dirt is sucked into a bag in the basement.
- TV antenna with power booster
- Satellite prep at entertainment center and bedroom (we don't have a
satellite dish and don't have intentions to get one any time soon)
- Ceiling vent and window that opens in bathroom; skylight over one-piece
molded fiberglass shower with seat and adjustable nozzle, below. Reinforced floor
under shower stall.
The shower nozzle slides up and down and rotates side to
Three-zone halogen lighting with dimmer switches in dining area, living room,
and bedroom. Several reading lights in the ceilings above the sofa, loveseat,
and head of bed. Additional task lighting over dining table (where my desk is
sitting now), and in the kitchen, hall, and bathroom. Lights in all the closets
and basement storage areas.
These are the things that are
the most visible and most appealing. First impressions count,
although we made sure of the more mundane construction features before
letting ourselves be seduced by the attractive interiors of these
coaches. Some of the features I've already listed, like air conditioning,
and extra insulation, also add to the comfort factor.
- Three wall slides for extra room. The HitchHiker also had three
slideouts but they weren't as long as these. We have a little more
square footage now when we're stationary and the slides are all out.
- Subtle interior colors ranging from cream to tan to café-au-lait
to dark chocolate
- Beautiful hand-applied glazed cherry wood finishes throughout the coach
- Graceful curved wood paneled wall between the entry door and
hallway; second curved wall
in bedroom with the same "fabric" look paneling as all other walls in the coach
(subtle beige moiré-look)
- Attractive contemporary wallpaper borders in a swirl pattern
- Thick "carved" nylon carpeting in living area, hallway, and
- Stylish, stain-resistant tapestry fabric valances and pillows
in the living area
- Soft, heavy suede-like fabric quilted bedspread, pillows, and
window treatments in the bedroom; padded leather (vinyl??) headboard
Brushed nickel hardware and fixtures in every room.
- Dining furniture and fabric items made by local Amish craftsmen
and women. Carriage, Inc. and many other RV manufacturers are located
in Elkhart County, IN, which has the third largest population of Amish
in the country. The Amish are noted for their fine craftsmanship.
Dining table and chair in their temporary location
- Two of the dining chairs fold up and can be stored under the bed
when not in use.
- The dining table has a self-storing leaf.
- Full-height kitchen cabinets with solid cherry hardwood door
stiles and drawer fronts
- Ball-bearing drawer guides (14 per drawer) with a positive catch
so they stay closed during transit.
- Full-length wooden extension drawers in the pantry near the
stairs, not wire
cages. Wish we had extension drawers or shelves in the narrow pantry next to the
refrigerator instead of stationary wood shelves; it's hard to
see what's in the back without a flashlight.
- Residential-quality DuPont Corian countertops and two deep,
under-mounted stainless steel sinks with covers
in the kitchen; tall single-lever kitchen faucet
Sink with covers in place; we usually leave them off but
it's a nice option if we need more counter space.
- Plenty of kitchen counter and storage space, including a kitchen
island with cabinets
- Inconspicuous wood-paneled Norcold refrigerator/freezer doors that blend in with kitchen
cabinetry on one side and entertainment center on the other side
- 30" Sharp over-the-range microwave oven and MagicChef propane range/oven
with metal bifold cover. We negotiated for a free microwave/convection
oven to replace the microwave but it has not come in to the dealer yet
(we aren't holding our breath).
- Built-in range hood with power exhaust fan and light
- Soft chocolate-colored leather sofa and dual-reclining loveseat; the sofa,
above, has a
hidden queen-sized air mattress.
- Interior glazed cherry hardwood contemporary window frames
- Day-night shades in living area (below); night shades in bedroom,
including one on the wood and glass privacy door -- nice when
one of us sleeps later than the other
- 70" x 80" king-sized pillow-top bed, an option we didn't want (too
big!!) but couldn't change. More
about that later in an entry about modifications we've made.
- Attractive bathroom with glazed cherry cabinets, Corian countertop, porcelain potty (much
easier to keep clean than our previous plastic one), bright lighting,
brushed nickel fixtures, and a seamless fiberglass shower with glass
door and side wall and adjustable showerhead. Shower is a soft
- Our very first flat screen TV -- we don't even have one of those at
our house! It's a 32" Samsung LCD. It's nice to not have to use our digital
converter box any more, at least in the camper.
Carriage has an optional 19" TV for folks to put in the bedroom but we
don't want one there.
- Samsung FM/CD/DVD home theater system with six speakers around the
See, you really can take most of it with you -- maybe not to
the grave, but RVing.
All these features may sound luxurious but keep in mind
that 1) we live in this coach most of the time, 2) we aren't 35 any more, and
3) there are much fancier RVs out there than this one. In fact, you can spend
almost three times as much as we did on this coach for a top-of-the-line 5th
wheel from either Carriage or DRV -- and motorhomes can run you a lot more than
For the camping purists out there: Despite all the insulation and structure in our
fiver we can still hear the owls
and coyotes at night in the woods, almost as clearly as if we were hunkered
down in an insulated sleeping bag under the stars!
Next entry: Sue's "rules of engagement" for buying an RV
or other vehicle
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil