Monday, January 30, 2012

The (Long) Road to a Lazy Daze – Part 1

By Joan Taylor

(All opinions, viewpoints, and experiences expressed in the articles are personal, and don’t necessarily reflect those of other Lazy Daze owners or of RVers Online.)

The first installment of a planned 3-part “serial” is a candid report on part of the process – of about ten years! – that I went through to research and select a 2003 23.5’ Lazy Daze, a factory-direct class C produced to order in Montclair, California. Part 2 will discuss making the final choices – a visit to the factory, deciding on the floor plan and options, placing the order, the long wait -- and taking delivery of the LD! Part 3 will be a “down-the-road” report after a few miles are on the rig!

The factory called; the new motorhome will soon be ready for delivery after an almost 8-month “gestation”! The new gates to the LD’s home in the side yard are in, the insurance and road service contract are in place, my survival kit boxes have been shipped to the factory, driving lessons from Dick Reed’s RV School arranged, the flight ticketed, and my many lists made in preparation for taking delivery of the “Babydaze”. I can’t wait to get back on the road….

The Beginning of the Road…

Like many other RVers, I tent-camped for years, and as I got older and it became a little harder to get up off the ground in the mornings, I “graduated” to a tent camper in the 80s. Tent campers offer many advantages – they have a lot of space for the money, the lighter ones can be pulled by smaller vehicles, and they’re affordable for many families. But they’re more suited to a “set up and stay a while” camping/travel style rather than a “move on every day or two” type, and, at some point, they do have to be backed up! One of my “maneuvering” efforts caused several folks at a lakeside campground in Vernon, B.C., to go into cackling hysterics; I’m sure they were taking bets on how many “passes” it would take to put the thing into the water. After serving as the source of campground entertainment quite a few more times, I acknowledged my incorrigible backing up limitations and sold the tent trailer.

Something one piece came next – a 92 Dolphin on a Toyota chassis with a V-6 engine. The chassis/engine choice was influenced by the fact that I’d driven Toyotas since 1970, and I knew that they were tough and reliable trucks. I had determined that my preferred traveling and camping style required a small, no “bells and whistles” RV; it had to be easy to drive, be able to be maneuver up and down many kinds of roads without a lot of hassle and be “parkable” in about the same space as a large truck; getting decent gas mileage was a definite plus! I was still a newbie, with only elementary awareness and comprehension of “RV stuff”; weight limitations, coach build quality, plumbing and electrical and propane intricacies were all grey areas.

Even at that pretty clueless point in my RV education, I was aware that the 6000-pound GVWR of the Toyota chassis would be a real limitation with the bodies and supply requirements of even one (often two) adult(s), and I compensated accordingly as I learned more; air bags and Bilsteins to improve handling, 8-ply commercial tires, careful attention to limiting and balancing the loads, nothing on top, behind, or following, and a strict regimen of engine/chassis service. I even traded getting an awning for traveling with the dog; they weighed the same!

Well, there are advantages to learning by experience; if you survive them, the “hard-way” lessons do stick with you! Experience certainly helps to define and confirm a personal travel and camping style, but I knew that there was more to the RV learning curve than a series of by-the-seat-of-the-pants discoveries. I also knew that the front seat of the Toyota was getting a lot less comfortable on many-hour driving days – it takes a long time to get anywhere else from California! The gas mileage was great, but the tight quarters, the “middling” interior and exterior coachwork, and the efforts to keep the weight safely under control were always concerns. I knew that the little Dolphin wouldn’t last forever, despite diligent maintenance, and that I was definitely not through going down “blue” roads! Down the line, there would be another RV.

I admit to being an inveterate researcher; if I want to know, learn or buy something, I go after the information with the persistence of a wolverine, especially if it means having to part with any money. (Family history is one of my pastimes, and genealogists are zealous diggers!) I read manuals and books and magazines about RVs and RVing, talked to – and eagerly picked the brains of -- RVers and mechanics, tire guys, propane guys, service techs, weight experts, and a lot of folks with whom I just “swapped ignorance”! Examining all kinds of RVs at RV shows and on dealers’ lots added new perspectives to my “how-to-pick-‘em” education, as did reading the very few RV-related “bulletin” boards in existence in the mid-90s.

Several manufacturers’ products, from truck campers to class B rigs to (small) class A’s – nothing “two-piece”, of course! -- were considered, evaluated and dismissed; poor design and engineering, low-quality materials, shoddy, careless construction techniques, and overweight “boxes” were the rule, not the exception. Looking inside and on top of and underneath many RVs of all types made the lack of quality control very clear, and the numerous “warts” on just about everything I saw made me think of the old Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?”. I listened to the spiels of salespeople who ranged from know-nothings to shameless hucksters, ignored same, and kept looking for the right-for-me-long-term RV.

My short list narrowed to a Born Free, a Lazy Daze, and a Sportsmobile class B. I “stepped” each RV choice through my check list of “basics” that I was unwilling to compromise:

  • Very high quality coachwork – The RV would have solid, proven (if not always “first one on the block”) design, engineering, materials, and construction, and there would be stringent quality control checkpoints at each stage of the manufacturing process.
  • A manufacturer with a well-earned reputation for quality and customer service and who sold its product factory-direct – I had no desire to put money into and RV of the dismal quality that I’d been seeing or to take potluck on dealers to mark up the cost and forget the customer’s existence as soon as the RV left the lot. And, I wanted to avoid having to deal with RV salespeople!
  • A choice of workable, intelligently-designed floor plans and interior/exterior design – The options had to maximize the use of the available space and allow for comfortable “living” space (moving around, sleeping, and storage) for one or two people – and the dog! --in even a small rig. The wheelbase length had to be proportionate to the overall length of the rig; the rear overhang had to be a “short” one. (I had seen too many “tail-draggers” that hit bottom on even the shallowest entryway, and swayed and fishtailed down the road!) The “center of gravity” had to be low, and the placement of the appliances, the interior and exterior storage areas, and the fresh water, grey, and black tanks had to be carefully placed “on” the chassis and in the interior to allow for balanced loading.
  • Small size – the RV had to be 24’ at the most for going “toadless”; it had to be easy to drive, able to get into the not-accessible-to-the-big-ones campsites, and able to maneuver on narrow, winding mountain roads, through congested cities and into those cemeteries out in the middle of the cornfields!
  • Sufficient “NCC” – I didn’t want to have to worry about overloading or pick and choose among essential travel equipment and supplies – trading the dog for an awning again wasn’t an option! So, the new rig needed enough payload capacity to ensure safe handling and a comfortable, convenient travel style.
  • As reliable an engine and chassis components as possible, and with enough engine power to avoid being a road hazard!
  • Factory-installed options.

I took the Sportsmobile off my list; despite several advantages – almost infinite customizing options, very high quality coachwork, ease of driving/parking, and great factory support – as it was just too small for my needs. It lacked any outside storage area and the interior, even with clever planning, would be very cramped for extended travel with two adults and dog, especially in rainy or cold weather.

Born Free offered no floor plan choice (that appealed to me) in its 24’ model, its interior felt “closed in”, its exterior was fiberglass (I preferred the polyurethane-painted aluminum exterior of the LD), and its price was considerably more than the Lazy Daze. Born Free did offer the 24’ on the E-450 chassis, and Lazy Daze did not, and I felt strongly that the 11,500# GVWR E-350 was too little chassis for the weight of the 23.5’ LD coach, and left little real payload. By now, I knew that I wanted the Lazy Daze when – and if! – the Newtons went to the heavier chassis for their smallest coach. I packed the shower in the Toyota with “dog stuff”, took off on another cross-country jaunt again….and waited.

Lazy Daze doesn’t make changes quickly; the ownership isn’t known for rushing to re-design their products to incorporate the newest RV chassis, exterior or interior “bells and whistles”! This “deliberate” approach to making design and/or construction changes often brings about criticisms of LD’s using “outdated”, i.e., wood-framed, construction techniques, materials, or components, or “being stuck in the 60s” with their choices of exterior color/design and interior colors/“décor” -- not a “swoop and swirl” paint job or a slide-out in sight! Some potential buyers feel that their questions and/or requests provoke a “take it or leave it” attitude, and that the Lazy Daze ownership can be opinionated and inflexible, and doesn’t want their business enough to accommodate their particular design-change needs. Some people who otherwise might be interested are unwilling to wait 7-8 months for delivery, some have confused “factory-direct” with “custom-built”, and some are unhappy that the factory does not negotiate its prices.

While some of the criticisms may be valid to one extent or another – I have a couple of suggestions to offer to LD, too! -- it’s hard to dispute Lazy Daze’s consistent commitment to producing a very high-quality product and offering its customers excellent value and ongoing support. It’s true that there are “ground rules” to buying a Lazy Daze; the web site --- www.lazydaze.com – is the first source of information for a potential buyer. The models, floor plans, options, prices and other information are pictured/listed on the web site. A call or email to the factory will give answers to specific questions. The online forum for Lazy Daze owners and “wannabes” – a “must read” resource for anyone considering purchase of a Lazy Daze -- is found at http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/lifewithalazydazerv/ (More on the group in a later installment!)

Lazy Daze put the 23.5’ on the E-450 chassis for the 2003 model year – one wait was over and another about to begin! The Lazy Daze met all the criteria for what I wanted in a class C; I put aside my lingering reservations –omigodthatsalotofmoneyareyounutstotakeoffalonewithjustthedogyoure62yearsoldwillyouuseitenough

canyoudoitallscrewityesican!, and flew down to the factory and ordered it! I took one last trip in the little Dolphin; she deserved a rest after 85000 miles and almost 12 years through 44 states, and went to a new home with occasional weekend campers.

I think I’m ready – we’ll see!

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