In the little time that I have known about them, Grand Design has impressed me. I have a Rockwood Mini-Lite today and have had great luck with them. I believe Rockwood to be a quality manufacturer and one I would continue to purchase from. Enough about Rockwood though as this article is about Grand Design (GD). I haven’t owned one so all my information is from my research into their company and personal experience with their customer response team. Here we go…
When I set out researching what our next Travel Trailer would be I began by looking at what I knew… Forest River and Keystone. I knew there were a lot of other manufacturers out there but 1. I didn’t know them all and 2. Forest River and Keystone are basically (I believe) the two biggest travel trailer manufacturers.
As I continued to research I found a ton of different manufacturers and after poking around, people kept mentioning GD. I began looking into them. At first, I believed they were just another smaller company trying to make their own mark on the world. Most of these companies seemed similar in that in order to get into the market, they undercut the prices of Forest River and Keystone (“the Big 2”) and when you start looking more closely, their quality seems to be lacking. This is both in the materials that they use/build with and in their final delivered product. They look fairly cheap when compared to “the big 2”. I basically wrote GD off as one of the same. I did notice that they had a floor plan that seemed to meet our requirements (Imagine 2800 BH) and I wrote their information down. When I scratched the surface of the floor plan I found that, with the exception of a few items here and there, they seemed to be just another copycat manufacturer like the rest. To top it off, there were a few items about the floor plan that I believed (at the time) were deal-breakers and I essentially wrote them off.
Next I zeroed in on travel trailers that “the big 2” make. In review of both manufacturers I narrowed in on one model that Rockwood manufactures (Ultra Lite 2706ws). I own a 2015 Ford F-150 Platinum with a max tow package. So one of the items (at the time) that I was focused on was, can the RV be towed by my truck. With a rating of 10,000#, there seemed to be no limit to the campers I could tow. Around this time I began stumbling into websites that talk about (or argue about) towing capacity and what it really means. When it comes down to it, Payload capacity of the truck really factors into the amount a person can tow and what I discovered with my truck is that, being a Platinum, it has a far less Payload capacity than other F150s and I was pretty bummed. I bought this truck thinking an F150 was an F150 and that I would be able to tow a significantly larger camper than the Mini-Lite we have now. What it really means for us now is that I can only tow a camper of significantly less weight than the Max Tow package leaves you to believe and therefore not much heavier than the Mini-Lite is. Trying to not worry about my true towing capacity too much we continued looking at the Rockwood. So about now you’re probably asking yourself, what does all this have to do with Grand Design and if you keep reading, you’ll find out…
Really thinking based on my paper research that we would get the 2706ws, the dealership we like (Universal Marine and RV) had a couple in stock so I convinced my wife Heidi to go look at it. We looked at it and liked the floor plan for the most part but there were things about it that didn’t quite fit with us or feel right so we toured a different Forest River camper while at Universal. This one, Heidi really liked. It was one where the TV was between the living room and bedroom and the kitchen was an “L” shape. Looking at it’s figures though, it didn’t meet our requirements of length or weight. In talking with the woman at Universal, we found that Rockwood makes the 2702ws that is exactly what Heidi wanted for a floor plan. Of course though, no one in the state of MN has one on their lot to tour.
That same day we decided to look at some Cougar campers (by Keystone). The campers appeared to be nice however when questioning the Cougar dealer about their hitch weight (HW), they didn’t really know how to respond. In looking at the Cougar brochure, all of their HWs are over 1k which I knew wouldn’t be able to be towed by my F150. In my mind, even the HW of the 2702ws was too much. I began researching more about HWs and the more I read, the more I was thinking that the 2702ws was going to be too heavy. Armed with new HW information and a rethinking from Heidi about what style of kitchen layout she liked, I went back to the drawing board and reexamined all the manufacturers for floor plans and HWs that were within my requirements. At this same time, I found out about the Heartland RV company and mixed their floor plans into my selection process.
Bad Reviews of “the Big 2”
While watching countless YouTubes about towing, camper floor plans, and dealership walk-throughs, I discovered negative reviews about “the Big 2”. I found negative reviews about lots of the cheap manufacturers as well. By far, the worst reviews were for Keystone products. Customers continually post videos about plumbing leaks, slide leaks, and roof leaks. They post that Keystone won’t help them or only covers minor things with their warranty. Don’t get me wrong, Forest River has some negative reviews out there too but for the most part, they seem to be doing a much better job than Keystone in quality and working with customers.
The Heartland Decision
In all my towing and HW research I had basically came to a conclusion in my mind (didn’t tell Heidi yet) that no matter what, the 2702ws was going to be too heavy. The reasoning behind that was that due to the second slide in the bedroom, it made the HW too much for my F150 to handle. In comes Heartland RV. My parents were camping and someone camped next to them in a Heartland North Trail. My mom went and talked with them because they knew we are looking at travel trailers and she really liked theirs. So did the owners. 🙂 In looking at Heartland RVs, it appears that many people are happy with them and few are not. It was a big difference from the reviews I was seeing of “the Big 2”. I narrowed in on the North Trail 28DBSS and the Wilderness 2850BH. This floor plan offers a far less HW and GVWR which makes towing with my F150 an option. On paper again, I liked this camper the best.
One weekend recently we were heading out of town on a trip and it just so happened that a dealership on the way had a 2850BH for sale. Another dealership had another brand that we wanted to look at so we decided to tour some more travel trailers. First we stopped at the 2850BH dealership and toured their model. Wasn’t a 2850BH though. Long story… Maybe I’ll tell you sometime.
The next stop was at Pleasureland RV to look at the other model we were interested in. Turns out though that, that brand was really bad. It was a new camper but had wallpaper peeling off and looked/felt cheap. Since I knew they sold Imagine campers, I asked the salesman if they had a 2800 BH for us to look at. Low and behold, they had one on the lot but because it was pending sale, it wasn’t on their website. He was nice enough to let us look at it anyways. I didn’t have high hopes for it as on paper, I had ruled it out already. Plus I figured after looking at this other brand that this would also be cheap and not worth our time.
As it would turn out, the camper really impressed us. So much for first impressions. The 2800 had so many nice features to it and when applying our requirements, it seemed to meet all of them. One thing we didn’t think we’d like (originally turned me off on paper) was the lack of overhead storage in the slide. Turns out that with that not there, the windows can be so much larger. Plus, GD found ways to put additional storage throughout the rest of the camper so in the end, that wasn’t a deal-breaker. Another item I was worried about was the space around the toilet. We are bigger people and have been disheartened by the lack of space in our Mini-Lite so now we insist on having a “big bathroom” in our next RV. This floor plan is nice in that the toilet isn’t turned so far away from the shower that you have no room to the right of it as well as it isn’t tight up against the shower either. Even though the square footage of the bathroom is smaller than other manufacturer’s bathrooms, this toilet placement is adequate. On paper and in pictures, the bathroom space isn’t well accounted for.
Finally the Grand Design Info You Initially Clicked on the Article for…
We were so excited about our 2800 tour that we talked about it the rest of the way to our destination. From there I continued to do more research on the brand and believe I’ve hit nearly every corner of the internet looking. We’ve read the brochure and found that the specs of the 2800 are well within my F150’s towing capacity. At least I think so. Unless you own the trailer and take your whole setup to a scale for weight checking, you cannot really be sure. In reading about the company and watching YouTubes from customers, it appears that GD is the most highly regarded RV manufacturer out there. There are minimal issues that customers are having and if a customer contacts GD support, GD seems to be willing to help them out.
One story in particular that rings true to this is that a customer is having trouble with their slide(s). Evidently there was a recall on the slide anchoring to the camper however the customer’s dealer isn’t doing the right thing. The customer had so much trouble that they’ve contacted GD. GD says that come this October (2017) they will pick up his camper from New Hampshire and drive it to Indiana where GD will replace his slide and start his warranty over when they ship the trailer back to him. I find this to be amazing (kind of too good to be true) but since it hasn’t happened yet, I’m standing by to hear about the outcome. I’ve subscribed to the guy on YouTube (“New Englanders Escape”) and will update here with his findings. You could follow him too if you were interested in his YouTube blog.
Another item I’m over the moon with is that Grand Design has a Facebook page and someone responds to questions via FB Messenger. Not only do they respond but they respond at lightening speed (within an hour). That’s amazing! I posed a couple questions to them as I noticed a discrepancy in the models that dealers were putting up for sale. The discrepancy was that on some 2018 2800 models, dealers were showing pictures of the universal docking station and it had only a cold water sprayer port on it. The unit that Pleasureland RV showed us had a hot/cold water sprayer/shower port on it. I asked GD through FB Messenger what the deal was and they responded pretty quickly with information that on models mid-2018 and newer, they changed the design to include the hot/cold option. Again, amazing that they provided this information to me. More so that it was accurate and quick. I responded with a suggestion that they should put a window on the back of their slide as well as in the bathroom since that would make a difference to my wife and I. They told me that they made note of the suggestions and thanked me. I also responded back with a question about the size AC unit that the 2800 comes with standard and they agreed that it was a 15k btu unit. Totally thrilled with them at this point!
Side Bar: Windows I’d like to see added are here in their circled locations:
Don’t get me wrong, there are customers out there having problems and GD hasn’t been able to help them or correct the wrongdoing that’s been done to them. Two things in particular that affect the 2800 that people complain about are…
- The fresh water tank seems to empty itself out of the overflow tube while driving to your destination leaving the customer without any water at their boon-docked location.
- There is a lack of heat getting to the bathroom. Seems like there is plenty of air movement out of the vent but the heat doesn’t make it back.
I’m not concerned about either of these things as there are workarounds that I’d be comfortable with doing.
One other thing that is wonderful that GD is doing is monitoring their own personal forum for customer input. I noticed time and time again in reading through forum posts that if a customer was stating something that was wrong with their camper, a GD person would reply with information about how they can resolve it. Never have I seen this being done by any other manufacturer. Maybe Heartland does this but their forums are more locked down so I have no data there to go off of. That said though, I never see any posts by “the Big 2” attempting to resolve customer problems.
My summary is that it appears Grand Design RV cares about its customers and that they want to do right by them. This is a company that I want to do business with. On our current trajectory, we would intend on buying the 2800 in the spring of 2018 (hoping to get an early 2019 model).
Thanks for reading!