2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  NARROWING THE SEARCH:
WHY WE CHOSE A CARRIAGE CAMEO

SATURDAY, JANUARY 30

 
" . . . Carriage products are superior in every way. Elegant rooms, quality design and build,
amenities at your fingertips. It's all by design. You are now entering the new world
of resort vehicles. It's a world we've been comfortable with for over 40 years.
We'll take care of the details. You just choose your premier destination."
 
~ Carriage Cameo brochure
 
 
It's a good thing we saw some Mobile Suites and Cameo 5th-wheels in person before we ever read the slick sales brochures put out by DRV (which makes Mobile Suites) and Carriage, Inc. (which builds the Cameo line). The booklets are heavy on snob appeal, which would have turned us off if we hadn't already seen what does appear to be superior construction and materials to other brands and models we had seen.

Jim and I are anything but snobs. Resort vehicles?? Gimme a break. That's the term these companies use instead of "recreational vehicles" to appeal to folks seeking status. We just want a coach that is built tough enough to handle our lifestyle -- lots of miles and lots of time living in it.

What's funny to us is that the photos in the brochures show their "luxury" fivers next to manicured golf courses, pristine white sand beaches, and picturesque seacoasts with yachts in the background.

Ha! I can pretty well guarantee that ours will never see the inside of a resort or sit next to a golf course, unless we decide to take up that sport in our old age. (No, 60 isn't old yet!!!)

You'll most likely find ours at unpretentious local, state, and national parks, military campgrounds, remote forest service and BLM land -- and WalMart, Sam's Club, or Flying J parking lots when we're in transit!

And I doubt we'll be the classiest RV there. You'd be amazed how many quarter-million-dollar Cla$$ A motorhomes park overnight at WalMart.

WHY WE CHOSE CARRIAGE, INC.

As I mentioned in the last entry, our search for the perfect RV (for us) became easier once we zeroed in on the only two companies we've found that make and warrant their 5th-wheel coaches for full-time use. There is no point in buying one that'll fall apart on us in a few years.

Once we'd heard the first salesperson's spiel about the construction of each of those brands at dealers that carried them, we automatically told subsequent salespeople that we understood the advantages -- we just wanted to see the particular floorplan(s) they had. We were sold on the durability and features of both brands: their heavy-duty floor, sidewall, and roof construction, high R-value insulation, better moisture, condensation, and humidity control, extra soundproofing, sealed and insulated slideouts, and other features designed for the near-constant, year-round use we'll give our new 5th-wheel.


Construction details from the Cameo brochure

We had to visit about a dozen dealerships all over the southern half of Texas to find the particular models we thought would be most suitable for us. These two companies don't crank out as many units as, say, Winnebago or Keystone. There are also fewer RVs available now because of the reduced demand for them in the current economic recession/depression.

We found enough suitable rigs on dealers' lots -- and we could have kept visiting more dealers in Texas and other states, if we'd needed to -- that we didn't consider ordering a new 5th-wheel from either company's factory. We'd have paid a lot more that way and I don't think it would have been worth it for the few features I would have liked to have but can live without (a built-in desk, double refrigerator/freezer, and combination microwave/convection oven).

We got everything else we really wanted -- and a lot more!


More construction details from the Cameo brochure

What finally sold us on a Carriage Cameo instead of a DRV Mobile Suites coach was price. The Mobile Suites line costs at least $20,000 more for comparable models and we just can't see that much difference in how they are constructed.

Two other factors that swayed us are Carriage's longevity in the business (forty-two years vs less than ten for DRV) and Carriage's five-year structural warranty.


Photo of a Carriage frame from the company's brochure.  Small photos show how Carriage positions
its room slide mechanisms between the floor and subfloor (L) instead of cutting into
(and weakening) the frame (R) as some other companies do, which weakens the chassis.

Unlike DRV, Carriage engineers, builds, and welds its own frames (above). It also builds its own aluminum wall, floor, and roof trusses; stains and builds its own cherry hardwood cabinetry, tables, chairs, doors, trim, and paneling; shapes and fits the Corian countertops; and stitches, quilts, and hems its own bedspreads, pillows, and window valences.

Carriage's philosophy is to build as much of the components in-house as possible. This has several advantages: more flexibility to build floorplans, quality control, lower costs. One of Carriage's selling points is that other companies "are just assemblers, not builders." I don't know how true that is, but even DRV doesn't mention having its own frame shop, aluminum shop, mill room, wood shop, countertop shop, or sewing shop.


That's our soft suede-like bedspread and glazed cherry cabinet finish --
but a different model than ours (photo from Carriage website).

A disadvantage of Carriage is that their "bumper-to-bumper" warranty is only two years compared to DRV's three-year warranty for everything (including structural components). Two is still better than the industry standard of one, plus there's that five-year warranty on structural components and the automatic leveling system that's optional on the 2010 models.

WHY WE CHOSE THE MODEL WE BOUGHT

Our next step was choosing which Cameo floorplan we wanted. We were limited to the five shortest of their nine models because of the weight limits our truck can handle.

We originally wanted a new rig the same size or smaller than the HitchHiker (34 feet in length) to give us more choices of campsites. Sometimes those local, state, and national parks we love don't have sites long enough for the HitchHiker and truck or wide enough to put the slides out.

We figured that if a smaller floor plan was designed well, it might "live" as large as the HitchHiker.

OK, this one's ours!  It looks about the same length as the HitchHiker and each has three slides.

We had already learned from looking at other brands of 5th-wheels that we'd probably never find the same floor plan our HitchHiker had. We loved that floor plan. By the time we were looking at Cameos our attitude had changed and we were looking forward to having a slightly different floor plan.

We soon learned that higher-end 5th-wheels just don't come in lengths shorter than about 33 feet. Apparently most of the people who can afford them want bigger units.


Cody likes his new dog house.

We ended up with a coach two feet longer than the HitchHiker by default. Four got eliminated in this manner:

  • We didn't like the floor plan in one of the five designs we could tow.
  • We decided that the new full-wall slide in the smallest (33-foot) coach might cause problems; that's a lot of weight on the gear-driven rack and pinion system.
  • And we couldn't find two of the other models in an internet search of the entire region.

With Cameo, choosing the particular floor plan we wanted was not as difficult as actually finding that floor plan! At least one of the two we couldn't find looked good in the diagram (the 33CKQ with four slides).

Here's the floor plan we chose, the Cameo 35SB3:

Interpretation35 = length, sort of. It's actually an inch short of 36 feet long. SB = side bath. 3 = number of slides.

THE FINAL DECISION

We knew we'd found the right floor plan when we toured this model for the first time. We were not satisfied with the Espresso interior color scheme, however (dark cherry wood with off-white leather furniture that's just not practical for our lifestyle) . . .


Espresso color scheme in a Cameo 32FWS (full wall slide) model we looked at. This one is NOT ours.

. . . or its weird 2009-2010 hybrid model year. It was built during the factory's transition from the 2009 to the 2010 models. It had some of the new 2010 features but lacked the one feature we finally decided we wouldn't compromise onBigfoot!

Bigfoot??

Yup. That's Carriage's hydraulic self-leveling system. DRV has a comparable feature without the catchy name, Level-Up. I'll explain more later about Bigfoot and how it makes Jim's life easier every time we move the camper.

As expected, we got better price quotes on 2009 Cameo models than 2010 models. We were willing to compromise on most features (like the double refrigerator/freezer and built-in desk I didn't get) but we really, really wanted Bigfoot and Bigfoot is available only on the 2010 models.

Now that we'd found the right floor plan, we had to find it in a true 2010 coach.


Jim sits next to our new Cameo at the dealership three days before we picked it up.

We found it two days later at another dealer under the same ownership. This one had almost everything we wanted, including Bigfoot, the more subtle River Canyon color scheme (below),

and a reclining loveseat which we preferred to the optional "theater seating" in the other 35SB3 (shown three photos up).

We loved just about everything about it except the optional king-sized bed (too big) and the price quoted by the general manager (also too big!).

The next two photos are from the Carriage website to show you our color scheme. They are from two of the larger models, NOT the model we got. Our table, dining chairs, cabinets, sofa, pillows, valances, walls, lighting, flooring, and kitchen island with Corian countertop are like the ones shown here. We have a loveseat that reclines on both sides instead of individual recliners.

I'll show lots of interior photos of our coach in the next entry but they are nowhere near as good quality as these professional ones. I take lousy photos indoors. Just wanted you to see what the colors really look like!

A negotiating nightmare ensued for several days as the general managers at Dealer #1 and Dealer #2 fought over our business.

Without going into details -- this is a very loooong story if I do -- we ended up getting the 2010 coach, the one we preferred, at an even lower price than we expected.

Because of his unethical and unprofessional shenanigans, the GM at Dealer #1 may have lost his job. Because she didn't make anywhere near the profit she wanted, the straight-arrow GM at Dealer #2 will probably never give us good service if we return there for warranty work.

I don't ever expect to see the optional microwave/convection oven we negotiated into the contract, either. We have a nice microwave that will do fine if the dealer reneges on that.

Bottom line: on Friday we closed the deal, moved everything from the HitchHiker into the Cameo (that took several hours!), and literally drove off into the sunset in our beautiful new home on wheels.

Next entry:  features and interior photos of our new coach

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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