That is a very good question. The 399TH was certainly at the top of the list. It is a beautiful camper and the fold-down side patio is an awesome idea. However, there are some key issues with the 399TH that took it out of consideration for us.
One of the main challenges with the 399TH is the orientation of the master suite. The bed in the 399TH tucks into the nose of the camper. We wanted a RV King bed. When jumping up to the King in a 399TH, GDRV has to put one side of the bed next to the wall. You can somewhat visualize this by looking at the 399TH floor plan pictured below. The box area that says King bed optional is where the edge of the bed sits. The location against the walk makes the bed a pain to make and the person who sleeps on that side has to crawl in and out. The bed in the 397TH is oriented across the bedroom in the side slide. This is an excellent design. A RV King bed has room on both sides to walk around.
The second and arguably the more critical issue is that the refrigerator cannot be accessed in a 399TH when the slides are in. When we are traveling we want to be able to grab a cold drink, make a sandwich, etc. It is a hassle and in some cases not an option to open the slides when traveling. The right side of the refrigerator in the 397TH is fully accessible when the slides are in.
Another key factor for us was the washer and dryer location. In the 397TH the laundry is in a closet in the master bedroom. This is an excellent location. The washer and dryer prep is in the middle of the garage for the 399TH. It takes up precious cargo space that we need to park our motorcycles. The 399TH is designed for a combination unit that has a washer and dryer as one device. Combined units have a terrible reputation. A stackable washer and dryer is another factor that made the 397TH the best choice for us.
The final item that looks awesome on the surface, but we were not sure it really is. I'm talking about the side deck. On paper it looks like a great idea, but in practice the deck is small and overhangs the camping site. We often visit campgrounds. When the side deck is down it takes up room on the campsite making it a pain to walk around. It has hard edges as well that can snag you easily if you are close to the deck. Getting on and off of the deck requires a big heavy stair that is not easy to store. The deck door doesn't have windows either. The big windows on the 399TH is on the service side of the camper, not the door side where most others are located. It didn't make sense to us to have the big windows on the coach overlooking our neighbor's outdoor space.
Here's the floor plan for the 397TH. When looking close at the two, the 397TH was the best choice for us.
Most newer Dually trucks are capable of pulling the heavy 397TH. Personally I like the FORD and GM trucks more than Dodge. I have had some sketchy experiences with Chrysler service departments and tend to stay away from their vehicles because of it.
I started the research into what truck to get about 2-years before we were ready to buy our coach. I did extensive research into all of the vehicles. Knowing that we would be spending hours and hours driving I wanted to get something a bit more luxurious to ride around in. That pulled me into the GMC line. The Denali is as close to riding in a Cadillac as you can get with a truck. It is beautifully appointed and very comfortable. Ours didn't come with the fancy camera system like the FORD's have now days (and the newer GMC's have), but I did order it with the trailering camera package that added cameras in the exact same locations (mirrors, truck bed, behind the camper).
I also knew that we would be going with a Toy Hauler Fifth Wheel trailer that was certainly going to be heavy. That put us into a Dually with a long 8ft bed. There really isn't a safe option for towing a big trailer with anything else.
As far as capabilities go, the GMC 3500HD is a workhorse. It is incredibly powerful. It has the Duramax 6.6L Turbo Diesel that delivers 910 ft. lb. of torque to a rock solid Allison 6-Speed automatic transmission. It has a 3.73 gear ratio, which is perfect for getting the 397TH moving and being able to haul it up the mountains while maintaining reasonable gas milage. Although the diesel and the interior appointments add weight, it still has a payload of 4930 lbs and a trailering capacity of 22,700 lbs.
I know I am biased, but I think the GMC and 397TH look very good together. I see a lot of campers and Dually trucks, but it is rare to see another GMC set up like ours or 397TH on the road.
Class A campers are very nice. They are certainly easier to drive and park than a truck with a long trailer. The challenge for us was that we wanted to take our motorcycles on the road with us. When two large Harley's were brought into the mix, the options dropped quickly. The first key criteria was weight. No matter what type of rig we purchased, we had to have a diesel engine. Adding a Diesel vehicle further reduced our options and took out the most common Class A Toy Hauler the Thor. Thor RV's are popular, but they are gasoline only. They do not have the room or the payload to carry two Harley's in the back.
A second consideration for us was maintenance. A vehicle with more moving parts is going to require more maintenance. When I need an oil change in my Dully, I can take it to a dealer or quick oil change shop. I don't need to find a special facility that can accept a large vehicle. If my truck breaks down we can get our fifth wheel camper towed somewhere where we can wait out repairs in the comfort of our home on the road. Living at a truck repair shop isn't an option in most cases. That means that every time a Class A coach is in the shop the people need to find somewhere else to live.
The third reason is space. The 397TH is larger than our first apartment. It has two full bathrooms with showers, 4 televisions, and the garage can be turned into a guest suite or an office at a push of a button. A fifth wheel camper has more room than anything else.
We use the Ring Alarm system and cameras in our rig. We went with Ring because their service can be self monitored. Campers that move frequently cannot be professionally monitored. They would not know where to dispatch police or fire, which could lead to big fines.
I did a full overview video of the Ring Alarm system install. This video walks through everything we are using and how it works.
We are people that extensively research everything we do. I personally spent 2 years researching every Toy Hauler camper I could find. My research looked at everything including Class A's. At the end of the day, there were some key criteria that made Grand Design the best choice for us.
The first and foremost consideration is Grand Design's reputation. What speaks volumes to me is that there are thousands of people who have a Grand Design and that buy another Grand Design when they upgrade. People who are not happy with their camper or the service they received from the manufacturer are not likely going to buy another coach from the same company. There are hundreds of RV manufacturers. There are options, yet people keep coming back to GDRV. That speaks volumes to me.
The second criteria that somewhat ties to the first is the build quality. I go to every RV show I can get to. It is very noticeable when I walk into a GDRV vs most of their competitors. The fit and finish is excellent. Their coaches are designed to be lived in full-time. GDRV also has their factory segmented by line. Momentum are built in the same area by the same people. Many RV manufacturers build every coach they sell on the same assembly line. I believe this is why their quality isn't as good. GDRV staff has a lot more experience building the same model day in and day out than others I have seen.
The third and maybe the most important is how GDRV handles warranty repairs. Most manufacturers require that all maintenance is done at a dealership. RV's are not cars. It can easily take a week or more to get something repaired at a dealership. If your camper is your home that isn't a realistic option. Most dealers will not allow boondocking on their property. GDRV routinely sends parts to customers under warranty. Simple items like fixing lights or switches are easily performed by most. Accordingly, GDRV has a large network of remote RV Techs that can come to your campsite. They charge a visit fee, but they can do all warranty repair at your location. This is a huge deal for people who live full time in their campers.
We use a combination of two different devices. The first one is a physical device that screws onto the tank valves. It has a pressure meter that reads the approximate state of charge. It also protects us from a rapid propane leak that could happen if a line comes lose or is cut. It is called a GasStop Emergency Shutoff Valve. The GasStop is a must have device. We are carrying 60 lbs across two tanks of Propane. A leak could create an explosion.
The second and more convenient device to use is a wireless system called Tank Check Dual. The system is genius. It has two wireless transmitters that magnetically stick to the bottom of each propane tank. The sensors send a signal into the tank and it measures the level of the liquid propane in the tank. The measurements are then sent via a Bluetooth signal back to a battery operated receiver that can be mounted just about anywhere. The level meter alone makes the system worth every penny, but what is cool is they also have an App that lets you read the level of each tank from a smartphone. It is very nice to know how much propane you are using at any given time and if you are going to make it through the night on a tank.
Our GMC 3500HD has a GPS and so do our phones, but we can't rely on either of them completely. There are a number of challenges with GPS's. The first being connectivity.
Phone-based GPS systems like Google or Apple Maps are useless if you are Boondocking or anywhere that does not have data connectivity. I have had many occasion to be out somewhere and the phone goes haywire and has no idea where it is. Most of the time that is due to being outside of cellular coverage, but any interference with reception such as driving through mountains or the city will cause issues with accuracy. Internet connected apps work so well it is easy to forget that the map data is in the cloud. When cloud access is lost the maps are lost as well. Turn your phone into Airplane Mode to see exactly what happens when data connectivity is lost.
There are apps that have databases that download and install onto the phone. CoPilot GPS is one that is used fairly often in the traveling camping community. The challenge with CoPilot and many of the apps is they license their routing algorithms from third-party providers. Licensing is expensive. At the end of the day someone is collecting the height and width of every road to make routing work. Small businesses like CoPilot do not generate a lot of revenue. The end result is they use suboptimal routing systems that can get you into a situation you may not be able to get out of. Apps are nice for planning, but not for actual driving.
Our truck GPS is fantastic. Many of the issues such as data loss and routing work very well. GM can afford to license legit technology that works for most of their customers. The problem with the vehicle GPS is bridges, tunnels, tight roads, etc. Onboard GPS systems simply do not take into account anything other than the vehicle it is installed in when routing. It is another great system for planning, but it is useless when actually on the highway.
So what do we use? The industry standard system – Garmin. Garmin is a Goliath company. They produce GPS systems for Aviation and Transportation. The systems they build are rock solid and reliable. They license their data from a company called Here Technologies that maps planet earth. Here generates millimeter accurate data for locations throughout the world. Their coverage far exceeds Google and anyone else that maps roads. Garmin is a smart company. They license data for everything from Here, including bridge heights, traffic, road grades, railroad track locations, etc. Here is a Big Data Internet of Things company. They map everything. When you are using a Garmin unit, you have access to the same data points.
The system we actually use is the Garmin RV 785 with Traffic. The system not only takes into account the length, height, width, propane, etc. it also has an onboard dash cam that saves money from having to buy a camera to record the road in front of us. We highly recommend Garmin products. The best of the best for RV travel is the 785 with Traffic. Here's the link to Garmin 785 system we use.
The answer is it depends on the home state (e.g. the state that issued the Drivers License). There are some states such as Texas that require a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) to tow a vehicle with a combined weight of 26,000 lbs or over. Some states also have length restrictions that put a vehicle into a commercial category. However, there are many states including Florida and Illinois where we are from that exempt Recreational Vehicles from commercial drivers licensing requirements.
Federal Law requires all states to honor licensed drivers from other states. What this means is that if you are licensed in a state that does not require a CDL license then you can legally drive through a state that does. Under my Illinois drivers license I can tow this huge rig through Texas legally while someone who lives or is domiciled in Texas would need a CDL to do the same. Of course that does not except us from the traffic laws in the state. We cannot carry more weight than our truck is rated for, we may not be able to go into a tunnel with propane on board, we may have to follow a truck speed limit, etc. It is always good idea to research the laws of the states you will be traveling through to make sure you are aware of what is legal and what isn't. If in doubt call and ask. The state police is a good source to call.
Yes, we use a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TMPS) that watches both our GMC Dully tires and all 6 397TH tires. There are a lot of options out there for TMPS systems. We went with the EEZ RV Products TMPS System. We chose EEZ vs TST and others on the market due to their reputation and longevity in the industry.
We started out with the original EezTire TPMS system on our old coach that had a black and white display. It was a very reliable system and easy to read in direct sunlight, but it started to get dated when others such as the TST came out with a color monitor for their units.
What is nice about using a well respected vendor like EEZ RV Products is their components all work together. When we got our new 397TH we initially moved the sensors and components over to it and all worked day one. EEZ RV finally released a new device that has a color monitor. It worked perfectly with our existing system. All we had to do was change the display and program the old sensors into the new device.
Here's a link to the new color display system. This is the display only. You also need sensors (one for each tire). You can click on the picture to see teh product details on Amazon.
For a long coach like the Momentum 397TH you also need to have a repeater. We installed ours in the front battery compartment.
This is a great topic to discuss. Modern campers have a ton of sensitive electronics on board. I cannot even imagine the cost we could incur if we had a power surge through our rig. The answer is yes, most certainly we have surge suppression. We actually have several levels of surge and power protection on our coach.
If one were to walk by our rig at a campground it would look like we are directly plugged into power with no surge suppression whatsoever. We installed everything inside of the storage compartment behind the Nautilus Water bay. Keeping gear inside is a good idea. Expensive parts hanging outside on a power pole are open targets for theft. Even cable locks can be cut.
Our first line of defense is a 50 Amp Hughes Autoformer. The Autoformer is classified as a voltage booster with surge suppression. The device doesn't just monitor power like most systems, it actually interacts with the inbound power feed to bump up the voltage to a safe level that is around 120 VAC. The system has step up transformers inside of the unit that are designed to get the voltage to a safe level. If for any reason it cannot safely do so, the Autoformer will disconnect power. It is fully automatic and can bump either leg of the AC power source up by 10%. For example, one leg of power can be coming in as low as 108 VDC that would kill air conditioning compressors, computer power supplies, etc. and it will transparently step the voltage up to 119 VAC that is safe to use. The Autoformer also has a field replaceable surge protector that can safely dissipate 4800 Joules of power.
The second level of protection we use is also made by Hughes. It is called the Watchdog with Bluetooth, surge protection and Emergency Auto Shutoff (EPO). One of the items that really sets the Watchdog ahead of their competitors is the Bluetooth app. From the comfort of the couch I can see exactly what is going on with the power coming into our rig. It also has a cool watt counter that will track exactly how much power we have used. This is very helpful when trying to calculate how much power we need for solar and off-grid living. It is also useful when staying in parks that charge for power. It is nice being able to audit the bill. The watchdog also has a 4800 Joule field replaceable surge device like the Autoformer. Most of these types of devices are sealed and cannot be serviced in the field. Having a spare surge part can keep the rig running and protected.
The sharp eye reader may notice that I posted the picture of a standard unit that is not hard-wired in and recall that I said above that everything is wired inside of our coach. We chose to use plug-in devices so it would be easy to remove a device out of the system if we are experiencing problems. It is a major pain to crawl deep inside of the rig and un-wire heavy AC lines because a surge suppressor popped. The plugs make it easy to remove a device and fix it in the morning vs going all night without power.
To accomplish the feat of having plug in units effectively hard-wired in we used one more part from Hughes called the hardware kit. It has a heavy duty 50 amp cable that wires into the transfer switch. And a 50 amp plug that is wired into the line coming in from the outside. When the two are plugged together is is exactly the same as OEM. Power follows the same path. However, when the two are joined by putting parts like the Autofomer in the middle that is where the magic happens. This is the link to the install kit.