Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Phannie’s First Year and Her Annual Checkup

    At home in Fort Worth...
A year has passed since we made the transition from fifth wheel to motorhome, and we now have some  experience from which we can draw some conclusions regarding the difference between the two.  To summarize, we now have verification that the added travel comfort and convenience of a motorhome is everything we expected and, not surprisingly, it comes at a cost.

We love the comfort of gliding smoothly along in the big bus’s cockpit, not so much driving as lounging in the luxurious chairs--with food, drink and restroom only a few steps away. 


We like the Imax-like view from the panoramic windshield, looking down on most of the annoying little vehicles around us.  If their drivers do something stupid or dangerous, I don't hesitate to give them a blast with Phannie’s air horn just to jiggle their Jello.  I especially like the greater ease of the arrival and departure tasks when we stop for the night.  Suffering a bit of arthritis, I'm thankful to be rid of the gymnastics of hitching and unhitching the fiver.  And one of my previous concerns about hitching up our toad, Mae, has proven to be a non-issue, as it is almost too easy.

Our Previous Rig

Perhaps the greatest downside to the changeover to a motorhome is the loss of the relative simplicity and lower cost of maintaining a fiver.  The addition of the big diesel engine and its associated drive train adds complication and expense and, if you ignore their upkeep, you do so at your peril.  Phannie, like most females, operates best when she gets the attention she is due.  

Are we satisfied with our changeover from fiver to MH?  Absolutely!  However, if budget considerations had been the primary issue, the extra cost probably wouldn't have made much sense.

It was Phannie's annual checkup that brought us back to Motorhomes of Texas in Nacogdoches, where we originally found her and adopted her into our family a year ago.  After having read a great deal on the blogs and forums about maintaining a diesel pusher, I learned the value in being diligent to follow the manufacturers' recommended service intervals on all of Phannie's systems.  These include an annual oil change along with the filters for oil, fuel and air.  This service is not cheap on a motorhome, and our visit was quite a bit more expensive on this occasion, as it was also time to change the transmission fluid and filters, a task required every three years.  Of course, there were numerous other checks due, such as a chassis lube and inspections of the cooling system, brakes and air suspension, as well as a punch list of little non-mechanical things that we wanted done. 

Service Area at Motorhomes of Texas

We really like doing business with this small-town dealer, as the staff is very friendly and accommodating in addition to having a good reputation for the quality of their work.  This may be attributed to the experience level of their mechanics, some of whom had been employed with Foretravel before its downsizing layoffs at its Nacogdoches plant a few years ago.

We also appreciate these folks’ can-do attitude; we wrote in earlier posts (see July 10 and 17, 2011) of our experiences with the company as we were having Phannie outfitted to our specifications.  They are able to do it all--from HD TV satellite installations to quality cabinetry work to even the smallest details--they just don't seem to know how to say no.  This is amazing to me in this day and age when good customer service is so hard to find.  Although we had quite a long to-do list, we were in and out in a single day.  They have a very well appointed lounge, and we were quite comfortable while Phannie got her going over.

So, this periodic maintenance outlay is another expense that we didn't have with the fiver, but I wouldn't want to tempt fate by not having it done as recommended.  I believe it is the best way to reduce the chances of a breakdown and to avoid damage to Phannie's systems in the long run.

Acquiring a motor home is much like acquiring a new house.  After you've lived in it for a while, you find things you would like to change.  In Phannie's case, we decided we didn't need two couches, so we had one of them removed to make room for a recliner and computer desk.  After a couple of false starts, we found just the right desk and chair and, upon placing them in the coach, it became obvious that we needed a new electrical outlet near the desk for our computing needs.  This is another thing that we asked Motorhomes of Texas to do and, predictably, they said, "No problem."

New plug behind computer desk

Another thing we didn't like in Phannie was the built-in dining table.  It took up too much room, and it protruded from the wall excessively.  So, after seeing a solution by another Phaeton-owning blogger who replaced his dining table with a freestanding one, we began looking for one of these ourselves.  Having found and purchased it some time ago, we decided to take this occasion to have Motorhomes of Texas remove the factory-supplied dining table.  Of course, they said, “No problem!”  I thought they did a superb job of covering the hole where the table had joined the wall.

The old table--this photo was taken prior to the new MCD shades--ugh!

The old table after removal
The new table

So is it worth it, you may ask, to drive all the way from Fort Worth to Nacogdoches for service?  Couldn't you find someplace that suits you in all of the Metroplex?  Well, yes, we think it was worth it and no, we haven't been able to find comparable service so far.  There are, of course, some shops and dealers around DFW that I haven't patronized, but those I have used just don't measure up to Motorhomes of Texas.  Finding a friendly shop where I am treated well and where I know the service is reliable and of high quality is a rarity, in my experience.  Here in the Metroplex, I have generally found that the large facilities simply cannot offer the personal attention I prefer; they're just too busy.  There's a similar problem with the mom and pop shops that tend to be woefully understaffed.

While in Nacogdoches, we met up with dear old friends John and Pat, whose company we enjoyed for dinner.  John even paid the tab, and Pat treated us to some wonderful Italian cream cake afterward.  Thanks, guys!

We also took time to visit the local farmers' market in downtown Nacogdoches.  I'm so glad my little home town keeps up this tradition that I remember so fondly from my childhood. 

One new attraction added was some local musicians who serenaded the shoppers with some country and western music.  We picked up some wonderful fresh produce that we will enjoy for several days.

Music to shop by