The “FOUR-TIMES-LESS THEORY”: During investigating and assessing the differences between owning and operating my 1990 Blue Bird Wanderlodge SP36, 34,000lb. diesel pusher motorcoach, and the estimates of what life might be like with a Sprinter, custom built mini RV, I continually came across the number 4. It seems almost every comparison was somewhere in the neighborhood of four times …bigger, smaller, heavier, lighter, cheaper, faster, slower, easier, etc. Here are a few occurrences:
My Blue Bird SP36 is four times heavier than the Sprinter would be. (34,000 lbs. vs 8,000 lbs.)
The SP36 is four times roomier (when you count the bay space of the SP36).
…And, coincidentally, the Sprinter is 4 times smaller! ‘Amazing, mathematical coincidences!?
The Sprinter is four times more maneuverable and easier to drive (wife can drive!)(while I nap!).
The Sprinter gets four times better fuel mileage than the SP36 (24 vs 6 mpg). (yes-16 cents a mile vs 66!)
The SP costs four times as much for new tires. (a blow out costs four times as much in addition to the four times more costly tire, due to inability to change it yourself with an on-board spare like the Sprinter has).
Oil changes at a shop, cost four times as much on the SP36, and, are needed four times more often. (Sprinter’s recommended oil change interval is 15,000 miles!)
Even to have the SP36 washed is four times more expensive (or 4x as long if I do it) than for a Sprinter!
And there are approximately four times as many, four times more complicated, systems and components on the SP36 (to break or need service) when compared to the Sprinter: Things like the entire compressed air system(s) including the compressor, the air brakes, the air bags, the ride levelers, the air tanks, check valves, moisture bleeder, air throttle, air horns, air step, air dump valves, air fan clutch, air driving lights, aux compressor, etc.etc.etc. The separate, diesel powered generator (which is about as big as the engine on the Sprinter!). The propane system including three Suburban heaters, stove, and fridge (and gas sensor/alarms). The extra air conditioners. The extra electric heaters. The extra fans. The extra current draws. The extra house batteries. The extra-big battery charger needed. The many windows to maintain, and leak thermal energy. The hydraulic/electric leveling jack system. The hundreds of extra relays and wires and switches that all make the Wanderlodge more “convenient”. Until, one day, when, they don’t work. Then, it takes four times as much work to fix them.
So, clearly, the cost of owning and operating the Sprinter would be cheaper (approximately four times). Annual costs of owning and operating a typical Wanderlodge are said to be, on average, between $4-8k/yr. depending on any major repairs in a particular year, and when tire replacement ($5k!) hits. To re-iterate, the total annual costs for a Sprinter mini rv would be about 1/4th as much (or less) with major repairs being virtually non-existent in the first few years of a new vehicle. But what about the “initial” cost, or, “purchase price”? Well, the price of owning something must always include the initial price, plus the annual insurance/registration/etc. over the term of ownership, minus the selling price when you “let it go”. The SP was purchased for $52k in 07, has cost $650/yr. to insure, and about $200/yr. to register (and has cost a lot to maintain, due to transmission and other breakdowns). Also, it was purchased just before the “bubble burst” and the great recession set in, bringing rv prices down to their knees, bottoming out at about ⅓ of ‘07 prices, but have recovered some now to be at about ½ of ‘07 prices. Which would value our SP at about $26,000. However, we upgraded many things on her (including a new transmission), and so we can probably get about $38,000 or so, right now. Perhaps a little more, if we take time to promote properly and find the right buyer that appreciates all of our upgrades.
The Sprinter Van RV would consist of two parts. The Sprinter van part. And the RV part. A Sprinter Van is about $45,000 new, or possibly a little cheaper used (although there are hardly any to be found, and sell for almost new $!?). And the rv conversion will cost about $12,000 in materials, and take me about 3 months to do, if full time. Watching prices of home-converted Sprinters, I estimate the vehicle would be sell-able in the $60-70,000 range when completed. Selling the big rv for $38,000 and building the small rv for $57,000 would cost $19,000, but would then begin to save about $6,000/yr. in maintenance and fuel costs, resulting in a net reduction in about 3 years. Also, the resale value would be relatively higher than on the SP in 5-10 yrs when we sell it. Mostly, it would give us the confidence and peace of mind to take long trips in it anytime, anywhere, knowing that it won’t breakdown or cost too much for fuel or maintenance.
Some other thoughts on why a mini and not a maxi:
We love our Wanderlodge. It is fabulous. It is big and roomy. Almost, too roomy, for just us two. It is terrific for entertaining guests. There is plenty of room for some people to be in the livingroom, while others are in the kitchen cooking, while some are sitting at the dinette. However,…we don’t entertain like that. We’ve never had more than about two other people over, and that is typically for a meal of some kind, but the dinette is quite cramped for four people actually. For as big as these nice coaches are, they sure have small dinette tables! (2.5’ x 3’) And that’s the main area that gets used the most.? Other than for having people over, the coach is actually too big. There are many trips we’ve taken where we don’t hardly use any of the coach except the bed and the bathroom. Most ‘weekend warrior’ trips feature eating out and potlucks almost exclusively, so the galley hardly gets used and the dinette and living room, not at all. Meanwhile we’ve hauled 34,000lbs of steel 200 miles up into the mountains, only to sleep and use the bathroom, and drive her back home again (and replace the $270 of fuel we used up!).
We never use the living room, bedroom, and dinette at the same time. Ever. So those could easily be all one, convertible space. The bathroom is spacious, but it doesn’t really need to be, for how little we’re in there. The storage bays are huge, but most of the stuff I carry is extra tables and chairs I’ve never used, or tools/parts for possible breakdowns that I wouldn’t need with a Sprinter. We plan to someday use an RV differently and take long, long trips across the country. But even then, we won’t be using it the way a lot of people use their full size coaches. The type of traveling where you stay a few weeks here, and then a day or so of traveling and then stay a few weeks at another spot, and get to know people there, and have them over, etc. We will be moving. Every day or two. Movin’ on down the highway. ‘Movin ahead, so life won’t…. -Anyway, we don’t need that kind of room. As long as the dinette is big, the bed is comfortable, the galley is large and full-featured, and the shower is hot,… along with good climate control and creature comforts like good movie viewing, etc., we can get by with less space – and less stuff. And if driving the vehicle is easy, smooth and reliable, and clean and quiet, then there’s less fatigue and stress, and more “let’s go see that too!”. So what we do need is: efficiency, low cost-per-mile, easy drivin’/turnin’/parkin’, agile maneuverability, no tailpipe smoke, and the peace of mind that comes from the high odds of having low, low, incidence of breakdowns…….. …………. – ‘A Sprinter!! -’with a custom floorplan that features a big galley, and a big dinette, a full-featured bathroom (not the porta-potty in-the-closet that some manufactured sprinter rv’s have), full-sized wardrobe, ‘garage’, e-bikes, and comfortable, almost full-size bed. ‘Go anywhere, cheap and easy. And yet, have plenty of room to enjoy being there, as opposed to all other mini RV designs that sacrifice living space just to have a separate bedroom in the back. (the dinette tables in those mini RVs are a joke!) If people like my design, I can see making and selling these (imagine how easy it would be to make these with templates!).
The front ‘cab’ part of the van, where the driver and passenger seats are, would have a heavy ‘black-out’ curtain right behind the seats that manually pulls back from the center, to tie against the two walls. This would allow for a fully-dark situation for napping, even though the front windows/windshield would have window ‘plug’ inserts and closeable sun shades as well. Also, when one person wants to sleep in, the other can get up and go into the ‘front room’ and sip coffee, read the computer on the flip-down desk on the glove box, or even go outside thru the front doors. This area can also sleep one person if they’re not too big (or grandkids!)(hint for certain people that may be reading this someday) along the two seats and the convertible fill-in middle seat.