May the Fourth be with you, lets buy a camper

Before we get started, I’m writing down some of our early experiences with our camper for a few reasons :

  1. so other newbies like us don’t make the same mistakes
  2. we could find virtually NO information about the Rockwood Mini Lite (of any model).  no personal reviews, non-salesguy walk throughs etc
  3. to this day, we have only seen 2 Mini lites in our travels (in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado).  Why? we have no idea.
  4. we had decided early on that we wanted to go “full solar” if possible (meaning, no generator except for “emergency” or desperation situations).  The solar part of the story ended up being a long long long road of learning, research and finally executing a plan
  5. to write down some of the “little things” that basically nobody tells you (like ALL the extra crap you need to be safer, more comfortable and more efficient in your camping)

most of these early posts are shown posted on the “real date” but were written AFTERwards.

That said… we begin :

Inspired by our friends and their Airstream Trailer we have decided to embark on our own little camper adventure.

After much research and discussion (and a near disastrous trip to an RV show in Denver), we decided on :

2107 Rockwood Mini Lite 2104S

here is good walkthrough video and some pictures of the trailer (this guy at Haylett RV in Coldwater, Michigan is one helluva salesman)

some specs here

We picked this one mainly because of the list price, light weight (about 4000 lbs), decent reputation of the Rockwood brand, and the basic layout.  Oh and its made in Goshen, IN (near the homeland of my Aunt and Uncle and my wife too)

We liked the use of space, and were especially drawn to the following features :

  • stand up shower (that wasn’t over the toilet), decent sized bathroom.  I’m 6’2″ and I can shower pretty comfortably in it.
  • slide out dinette that creates a nice big space in the center of the trailer
  • fold down Murphy Queen bed
  • gas oven and 3 burner range
  • good ground clearance, short trailer length (21 feet)
  • dual axle (dexter brand, similar to airstream suspension)
  • heated holding tanks
  • outdoor shower
  • solar ready (or so we thought… really it was only wired for Zamp, and a cheesy pre-wire at that.  much much more on that to follow)

Unfortunately, for whatever reason… we could only find 1 dealer in the Front Range / near Denver that sold this unit (we still don’t really know why this trailer isn’t more popular in Colorado)

We found a dealer in Greeley, a nice bunch of fellas, but they had exactly 1 unit in stock and the pricing was just not very competitive.  (also, Gretchen really did not care for the color scheme they had in stock).

In the end we bought it out of state at Parris RV of Salt Lake City, UT.  We have had a generally positive experience with the folks at Parris RV, and for certain, we got an excellent price, thousands of dollars cheaper than any dealer within 500 miles of Denver.

Small issue about that, which has nothing to do with Parris RV.  The money saved was tremendous, but unfortunately getting Warranty work done on a trailer (at least in Denver) is basically impossible.   After calling 5-7 dealers, not one was remotely interested in speaking with me about 2 major warranty issues we had after buying the trailer.  The only folks who would touch it or even get me on their schedule was Nolan’s RV (last I heard, they are about to go out of business).  To get Nolan’s to do the work, I had to agree to pay for the repair out of pocket, then try to charge back to Parris for a refund (which they DID refund me with little hassle whatsoever).

Long story short, knowing what we know now about warranty work, we might have thought twice about buying our rig out of state.  It “might” be worth the trade off to have a local dealer so that you can get major repairs and warranty done in a timely fashion.

Thinking we were being smart about things, on the night of our purchase, we decided to stay at an RV Park (we stayed basically right in SLC).  The idea was… we could stay somewhere with a city water, shore power (city electrical) and try out all the features of the camper before we took off to the Utah Desert near Moab.

IMG_9630
a few hours after purchase, kicking it at the KOA in SLC

That was sound thinking, however, being trailer newbies, we didn’t fully understand how all these systems actually work together.  We tried all the lights, the A/C outlets, the tv, the antenna, the microwave, water pump (city pressure) water heater (also needed city pressure for that), etc.

We now know, that the city water connection has nothing to do with the pump and water drawing from the holding tank.  City water is just that… its pressure comes from the garden hose connection that you find at an RV park, someone’s house etc.

We did know, at least, from renting a few trailers the difference between 12v power (running the pump, LED lights, USB charging) and 120v AC power (that comes from either a city connection also called “shore power”) OR via an Inverter which can change battery power into AC power (much much more on that later)

One major thing we did not try was filling and pulling water from the Fresh Water Holding tank.  It turns out, there was a major kink in the feed line when it was installed at the Rockwood factory.  This would go on to cause us a considerable headache while “dry camping” or boondocking for the next 8 days in and around Moab.  Because of the kink in the line, we could not draw any water from our tank.  So for the following week, we had to fill buckets from the low water drain.  This also meant we could not use any hot water, because the pump would not draw water into the tank.  Luckily, we had plenty of fresh water in water containers (in the truck) but also a Nemo Helio Pressure shower which allowed us to more easily wash dishes as well as shower without using loads of water.

We attempted to troubleshoot this issue with the help of Parris RV by phone (from a fairly remote camp with a horrible cell signal) to no avail.  We just worked the buckets, and did our best to be happy that we at least had water and could get it out of the Fresh water tank “somehow”.  This consisted of a 5 gallon bucket, slowly draining from the Fresh Water low point drain.  Note to campers… bring a bucket or two!  they come in super handy.

The second major thing that was wrong with the trailer (right from the factory… must have been a Friday ?  or a really hungover Monday ?) was that the Blackwater tank flush is non-functional.  When hooking up pressurized non-potable water at a dump station, absolutely no water enters the backflush whatsoever.  Its as if… there is a (you guessed it) a kink in the line.  The folks at Nolan’s tried an easy fix (short of removing the enclosed belly of the trailer) by fixing the backflush check valve (apparently a common failure point of the backflush) to no avail.

More on this later, but we have since temporarily (and probably permanently) solved this issue by using the Flush King which does an incredible job of cleaning the Black tank, with the side benefit of having a clear tube so you can see when you are done draining the Black and the Grey water tanks.  I found out about this device via the folks at Fit RV where I found this incredibly in depth and pretty darn scientfic Comparison of Tank Flushers. That said, we still plan to get the blackwater flush fixed so we can use that in conjunction with the Flush King and… we’d like ALL the features of our trailer to be functional, since its still under warranty.

IMG_0128
of course, we had no idea that the fresh water tank didn’t work for pulling water, so off we went to use our new camper out in the wildlands of Utah for the next week or so.

 

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