This is a debate that will go on until the end of time.
Most diesel owners are convinced they already know the answer, and there is little room for debate from their perspective. There are a few, however, who are enlightened enough to see the virtues of both arguments.
Gas models cost significantly less than diesel models - on the order of $80k-$100k less when similarly equipped and sized. For instance, the similar in size and featured Tiffin entry-level RED (Rear Engine Diesel) comes in at $95k more than the upper-end gas model we are pretty well set on. For that $95k, you get diesel power and a smoother ride, and two additional slides. So while the extra power and comfortable ride might be nice, we don't want the extra slides. Given that, are the above features worth $95k?
Our answer is no. Your mileage may vary.
The Case For And Against Gas
For: Cost of ownership is much lower. Regardless of the initial purchase price difference, annual maintenance is much cheaper on the gas chassis. Most shade-tree mechanics can do their own oil and filter changes and lube their chassis without having to bring the motorhome into a large truck shop. Oil is measured in quarts - not gallons as the diesels are. A typical oil change will run anywhere from $50 to $75 max on a gasser.
There is also no fuel filter to change on the gas chassis. Gas is usually anywhere from $.20-$.50 per gallon cheaper than diesel fuel.
Gas models are quieter in the campground when coming and going.
Against: Gas models lack the power and torque that some diesel models have. That being said, depending on how heavily loaded each vehicle is, sometimes diesel motorhomes are passed by gas motorhomes going uphill. It depends on a lot of factors.
Which brings us to engine noise. On gas motorhomes, the engine is up front, and there is a "doghouse" assembly sitting between the driver and passenger seats. In essence, the doghouse is an engine cover, which can be well insulated for noise and temperatures, or badly insulated. Either way, having your engine underneath your feet will make for a fairly noisy ride at high RPMs.
Gas engines do not have the lifespan of a diesel engine. It's not uncommon for diesel engines to run well, even after a million miles. Gas engines are typically good for upwards of 250,000 miles, depending on how well they are maintained.
Gas chassis ride harder than diesel chassis. There is no getting around the fact that these are basically truck chassis, with typical shocks and leaf springs.
Braking power can sometimes be limited when the gas motorhome is going downhill, especially at max weight.
There is sometimes (but only depending on model types) less storage in the basement of a gas motorhome due to the driveshaft running from front to back. However, some models like the 36LA we're sold on, have more overall storage than some entry-level diesels, only suffering in the size of the pass-through bays.
The Case For And Against Diesels
For: 450 or 600 horsepower engines provide a LOT of power and torque for going up mountains. Diesels also have an engine brake (sometimes referred to as a jake brake) that helps to slow the motorhome down dramatically and assists in stopping the unit much quicker. It's that throaty growling sound you hear many big rigs make when decelerating.
Diesel brakes are air assisted for shorter stopping distances.
With the engine in the rear, diesel owners do not hear a lot of engine noise when driving down the road.
Diesels have independent suspensions and air bags underneath to smooth out the ride.
Because the engine and transmission are in the back, the center basements of diesel motorhomes are large, pass-through storage with pullout trays for easier access to larger items.
Diesels will have higher-end finishes and amenities, like better woodwork, heated tile floors, dishwashers, and more seating and sleeping space due to their longer lengths.
Diesels generally have towing capabilities up to 10,000 lbs, instead of the gasser's 5,000 lb limitation.
Against: Typical maintenance of a diesel coach will be in the thousands of dollars annually - if you want to make it last for as long as possible. And there's more of it.
Diesels make a LOT of noise coming and going in campgrounds, especially those who want to get an early start to the day and like to idle their motors before moving (something they don't really need to do, and actually harms their engine more than if they just drove off).
Bottom-line: As with everything in life, there are trade-offs. And it all depends on what you're going to do with the motorhome, and where you're going to go. If you're going to spend a lot of time in the mountains, maybe that diesel is the way to go. If you're full-timing and don't have to be at a certain place at a certain time, that gas model will work just fine for you. If the ride is too bumpy for you in a gasser, there are suspension mods that might cost as much as $12k that will make it better, but will never get you to the comfort of a diesel ride.
Oh, and every motorhome sounds just the same with jacks down and slides out sitting in a campground.
Barbara and I decided that we can do a lot of sightseeing and glamping with that $80k difference (we'll be doing the suspension mods) between the diesel and gas models we like.
The Hershey RV Show advertises itself as America's largest RV show, and I can't disagree with that assessment.
Over 1,300 RV's from little camper pop-ups to monster Class A diesels, and everything in between huge. If you can't find it at the Hershey RV show, I don't think it's been made yet. :D
As with everything in our journey to find our future home on wheels, the objective was to scope out the Tiffin models for the current year. Now for a lot of my friends who aren't interested in RV-ing, this will be pretty boring with some down-in-the-weeds kind of observations, but for the folks who will be reading this on some RV sites I belong to, it's pretty valuable information. As I've written before, Barbara and I will be buying a Tiffin gas motor coach in 1 year, 11 months and 19 days from the date of this posting, so today's goal was to see what changes were noticeable from the 2017 Tiffin Open Road line to the new 2018's. Now understand, I don't know as much about the other Tiffin Open Road models as I do the 36LA (our future coach of choice), but there are some changes in the whole line of gassers - it's just that most of the changes were in the 36LA.
The biggest change for all Open Roads is in the placement of the house batteries. House batteries are the ones that power the electronics of the motorhome, from lights, to the refrigerator, to the AC and everything in between that doesn't concern the Ford chassis it sits on. It appears that the batteries have been moved on ALL Open Road models to the passenger side rear basement compartment. That will be concerning for some folks who like the 31 and 32 foot models, as that compartment can be a valuable repository for someone's junk, but overall not having to take your stairs apart to service your batteries is, I think, a good thing. The batteries are on a slide which is easily released, allowing you to fill, change or service them very, very easy. And the pass-through storage above is still there, and hasn't shrunk in size.
Tiffin looks to have changed their small pantry from an adjustable shelf system behind a small door to a small pull-out pantry right next to the fridge. I thought at first that when looking at some dealer pictures online that this was going to be pretty small, maybe only good for spices and condiments, but a regular size can of veggies will fit in the new pull-out pantry. Very nice!
Lastly on all Open Road models, Tiffin has extended their flooring under and through the driver and passenger areas, removing most of the carpeting. They've kept carpet under the gas and brake pedals to keep feet from slipping while driving, but everything else is their flexible tile floor.
On their 34PA model, they've added a new support wall on the entry door which looks nice, and moves the control panel to a more reachable level for normal sized people. It also helps to block the step opening from people who might not be paying too close attention!
Now to the 36LA - our favorite! And also the model which has undergone the most changes in 2018, especially in the bathroom. Now, you can still order the 36LA with the 2017 version of the bathroom, and Barbara and I were considering doing just that - until we saw the changes up front. Earlier models had the window next to the sink in the full bath, and under the counter was a washer / dryer combo single unit. It also featured a diagonal shower to the back of the bathroom, with a spacious linen closet next to the shower. Tifin has decided to make the bathrooms in the 36LA and their bunk model 36UA identical, probably to save money on manufacturing costs and because the new bathroom works so much better. Yes, you lose some natural lighting in the bathroom with the new design, but it is still bright in there without lights on.
So now, the shower is shifted to the front of the bathroom, and is no longer diagonal, but rectangular. The linen closet is a bit narrower, but not too much so, and goes to the back next to the shower. Instead of the combo washer / dryer, the window is replaced with a cabinet that holds a stackable washer and dryer. It shortens us the sink area a bit, and seems a bit cramped at first, but it is more than manageable. They've also added a small rectangular storage cabinet next to the original corner unit, which looks like a good place to store your laundry detergent and other cleaning supplies. In addition, in keeping with Tiffin's tradition of being able to store more than any other coach manufacturer out there, they added a very generous pull-out drawer beneath the washer / dryer combo!
One other change on the 36LA; they've moved the inverter from the front driver's side basement compartment to the rear driver's side basement compartment, probably to keep it closer to the batteries. I didn't check this on all the Open Roads, but I suspect it is the same. Also, we got a chance to see the new Ocean Pier floor tile in one of the 36UA models on display, and it is a winner! Not sure how the picture will translate from real life to the computer screen, but the coloring is solidly between brown and gray; not too much of either, and it looks positively gorgeous!
Finally, I got a chance to meet and speak with the Big Kahuna, the Top Dog, the Rock Star of RV's himself, Bob Tiffin! And he is everything and more that people say about him. What a nice man who is dedicated to making your purchase something you'll love. Spoke to him about the problem Tiffin Open Roads are having with the screws that attach the dashboard to the front cap snapping off from torque, and he pulled out a small stack of papers and a pencil and wrote down the problem, and said he'd be talking to the team when he got back from the show during their daily meeting at the plant. Who knows, maybe they'll start fastening them with nuts and bolts in the near future.
He also promised to sign our 36LA when we get it built in 2019. Outstanding!
One of the first things I realized when researching RV's is that many people have more money than they know what to do with, and as a result, impulse buy their motorhome. Not being that way both financially and in the way I operate, the internet became my friend. RV shows became a must. I reverted back to my days as a systems analyst with the Xerox Corporation, where everything had to be researched, verified by multiple sources, and seen with my own eyes.
Barbara says I am obsessed.
I prefer the term prepared.
For me, the starting point became how to RV first (full-time or part-time), which would then lead us into what RV to buy. Given our ages, likely lifespans, and everything we wanted to see, I felt that full-timing was the way to go. Barbara, being more cautious, wanted a small sticks and bricks base for when we weren't actively traveling, and maybe do 6-8 months of sightseeing. Could we do it her way financially? The calculator said yes, but it would be tight. Could we do it my way logistically and personally, living in (relatively) close quarters 24/7, 365 days a year? Fortunately, we're each married to our best friend, and actually have more fun together now than we did more than 30 years ago. Thus Barbara became convinced that full-time was the best way to go.
The "how" part of retirement was taken care of.
Now the fun part began - what type of RV would we need to make this work.
Now, lots of people full-time in Class C, some will full-time in the smaller Class B's and many full-time in travel trailers, but Barbara and I find that as we get older, the creature comforts of home are a must; extra space to maneuver, bigger screen TVs, lots of air conditioning and heat, and a comfortable driving experience. Our choices quickly narrowed to a Class A motorhome, where living space and engine are combined into one unit, or a 5th wheel, where the large living area is towed behind a very large truck. Both have advantages, and both have drawbacks.
Fifth wheels generally have larger living space. There is usually more seating for guests in the living area, more room in the kitchen, and higher ceilings. We found the bedrooms are generally smaller in most 5th wheels than in many of the Class A's we've viewed. To get where you're going, you need a big honkin' Ford, Chevy or Dodge dually truck, which then becomes your way to get out of campgrounds for sightseeing and shopping.
Class A's are self-contained units. You drive the whole thing, and usually tow a small car behind you for sightseeing and shopping. Ceilings are lower, usually just 7 feet high, so taller people get a little claustrophobic in a Class A. But nothing beats the view out of the roughly 40 sq. ft. of single pane windshield going down the road. Class A's also offer the advantage of arriving at your destination with your living space already climate-controlled. AC's and heaters can run while you drive, whereas in 5th wheels you have to park it to get the environmentals going. Bathrooms and refrigerators are also accessible when going down the road in a Class A, and are especially useful when stuck in traffic.
Now, I know many guys out there like to drive big trucks, but while they have their uses, taking S-curves in the Rockies or darting in and out of traffic in cities isn't in their wheel house, so what vehicle to drive once we got on site became more important than I initially thought it would. In short, while the truck is a great way to get to RV somewhere, it became a liability to us once we found a place to stay for a while.
Congratulations, Dave! You've just made your first life-altering retirement decision. We're on to the Class A motorhome!
But wait - do we want a gas or diesel model . . . . ?
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.