Epiphanies

Ooh, today was bad, apocalypse level bad in terms of winds, rain, and property damage in the southern Prairies. I was right in the middle of it and unlike the eye of a hurricane, where it is calm, I was in a real maelstrom. There are trees down all over my hamlet and I had to use a lot of muscle to get a particularly large branch off my driveway so I could park my truck.

My internet service is flaky on a bad day and non-existent on a day like today. I ended up spending most of my day parked in a field about halfway to Assiniboia. That’s how far I had to go to get a usable cellular signal so I could do my work and about as far as I dared to go in lashing rain, gusting winds, and huge amounts of water on the road. It was a very long and unpleasant day.

Working out of my truck for a few hours is fine. I sit in the passenger seat and have a lap desk, so I’m comfortable. But I have no bathroom or means of making a hot beverage (which would have been appreciated on such a cold and damp day). I really don’t have an alternative place to work except taking a motel room in Assiniboia. The library in Assiniboia has weird hours and I obviously couldn’t do an eight-hour shift there or at the bakery that sort of doubles as an internet cafe. So I am rather resentful that I’m being put in this situation because we don’t have cellular service down in the valley, where I have a lovely office.

I am actively pursuing the connectivity issue this summer. I am at the point of seeking a political resolution, having reached an impasse with SaskTel, the telecom company that holds a monopoly in this province. As soon as I am ready to go to the media, I will lay it all out here on the blog. But the short of it is that at this point in time, there are no plans within the next 10 years to bring cellular service, and therefore good internet, to my valley and so I really need to reconsider using Haven as a home base. My flaky internet wasn’t such a big deal when I could schedule going up the hill to where there’s service on especially bad days while being able to work at home, but the new job requires me to respond very quickly to emails and is not compatible with a flaky internet service.

Which led to an epiphany regarding another decision I’ve been contemplating: buying a new (to me) vehicle.

I figured out this winter that I really want a camper van to use as a daily driver and to serve as a mobile motel room and office when I’m traveling. The epiphany I had today is that if I had a vehicle like that, it would mean being able to ride out poor connectivity issues in style. At the first whiff of bad internet, I could relocate to the mobile office, park where there’s a good connection, and work comfortably with access to a bathroom and means to make a simple meal. Yes, my home has wheels, but can you imagine having to pack up and move a 32′ motorhome a couple of times a week, never mind find a large enough place to pull off a highway to work?! There is a reason people like having toads!

Having contemplated the camper van situation for some time now, I’ve figured exactly what I want and why. Mexico has featured heavily into my consideration. I want something that I would be able to import when I move there semi-permanently in three to four years, so that means I need something older since you can only import vehicles manufactured eight or more years from the year of import. So that puts me at a 2009 to 2011 model year, a huge improvement over my current 2000 truck. I also want something that can easily be serviced in Mexico.

Next consideration is fuel economy; I want an improvement over my Ranger’s gas guzzling tendencies. I want something small that I can park anywhere. And I want something that is proven to be convertible into a camper van.

Tall order? Nope. I have found one vehicle that meets every single one of these requirements and it is hugely popular in Europe for camper van conversions: the Ford Transit Connect. It is not to be confused with its larger sibling, the Transit.

Unfortunately, the North American Transit Connects don’t have all the options of their European counterparts, most especially a manual transmission. Going to an automatic would be a huge concession. But we can get the longer body and high roof here, so there’s that. The Transit Connect makes for a very compact mini motorhome. The Transit is much more spacious, sort of like a poor man’s Sprinter in fact, but it doesn’t have the fuel economy of the Transit Connect.

I’ve looked at conversions of the Transit Connect and it would be just the right size for a small bed and work station with room for a potty, a cooler, and a cooktop. Pretty much every conversion I’ve seen has the same basic layout, and with good reason, as it lays out all these elements efficiently.

The conversion is a project I feel I could undertake myself. I would not add propane or plumbing. The most complex part of the job would be electrical, but that’s something I’m competent to do and I would actually pull a lot of materials from Miranda (solar panel, whole house inverter, battery monitor), which would really cut down on costs.

So now it’s a matter of finding my Transit Connect. I did a soft inquiry to see if I could get a vehicle loan and the amount and the answers are yes and enough to buy a recent model (I found a 2013 that fits in the price range). I really doubt that I would buy this summer/fall. I just don’t feel financially secure enough right now to jump into this project, although I am scanning the market. But it looks like my plan for next spring will be to find and purchase the vehicle and then spend the summer working on the conversion.

I need to decide how far afield I want to look. Importing from the US, which has a much larger market, would be a huge pain, but manageable with a broker. I just need to figure out how I could buy a vehicle there in the spring and drive it home while still having my Ranger and would appreciate suggestions for that. I love my Ranger and want to keep it as a cargo carrier until it rusts out from under me, so abandoning it in some junk yard like I did my beloved Accent isn’t my preferred option.

My fear of the Ranger rusting out is what is what got me thinking about buying a new vehicle in the nearish future. I’ve had three body repair guys tell me that the Ranger is too far gone to save and to stop putting money into it except for the most basic mechanical repairs. Independently of that, my financial planner told me that we needed to adjust my plan to fit in the replacement of my truck within a few years. So this is something I really need to be thinking about.

So to recap, I need a new vehicle, I need a backup place to work when internet at Haven is especially bad, and I need to cut down on costs when traveling between Canada and Mexico. Funny that the solution to all of those things is the same thing. I really do think that things are coming together for me!

35 thoughts on “Epiphanies

  1. I’m anxious to see your conversion. I love projects like this. I haven’t forgotten to post my kitchen Reno pics for you. It s not done yet. We are still waiting on the cabinets to come in.

  2. Hi Rae,
    We just bought what we believe will be our last RV.

    We looked across the USA & Canada, to find a particular make, model, & year of vehicle (sound like you so far?), to bring back to our Manitoba home.

    Your SK laws may vary, but there was too limited a time to get any vehicle home on a temporary permit to combine picking one up with using it for a vacation south. Buy south, take it north. If you drive south, you have to give up that vehicle, drive both home (2 drivers, extra gas), or store & go back for your vehicle later. No good choices there, but neither is alternate transport south for a hurried trip back.

    There is also the issue of getting an import permit from Canada, as you know. Not all vehicles can be imported. There would be costs & aggravation, with or without a broker.

    Your vehicle must pass a safety inspection in SK, UNLESS you bought in a jurisdiction where SK will recognize theif certificate. MB recognizes SK & several othet provinces, but NO states, for example. In a recognized jurisdiction, you could require a clear certificate from the seller, use it in SK, & avoid surprise repair costs back home.

    You may have provincial sales tax3 issues, but I understand MB is especially stupid in this regard, so maybe you won’t.

    The farther away your purchase is, the higher your costs to get it & bring it home.

    Don’t forget the huge cost right now of converting Cdn funds to US$ (exchange plus fees)

    All these costs add a lot to the initial purchase price.

    When we found a unit like what we wanted, at a fair price just “next door” in Saskstchewan, with a safety certificate, we crunched the numbers VERY carefully. The seller had cost issues with “exporting” his unit back to the US too.

    We were very lucky to find such a unit close to home. The seller even delivered the unit to Winnipeg, but we bused it to SK and rode along (I even drove partway), as our new to us RV came to jts new home.

    I know you know a lot of this, but thought I’d put it all in one post.

    To get a similar unit further away, we would have had to get a price that practically stole it from the seller, & would have involved a lot more aggravation. I admit we were lucky, but mostly made our own luck!

    Sometimes you have to work really hard to calculate all your costs, and the “best deal” may surprise you by being very close to home!

    Good luck with your search!

  3. Jack, thanks for articulating all of this for my readers. Yes, I do know most of this, but I can’t think of when I’d have the energy to write it all. 🙂 This is exactly what I think of every time someone tells me to look farther afield. I went through the same thing when I bought Miranda and that’s why I decided to only look locally in Quebec. I got really lucky to find the perfect thing right in my city!

    But unfortunately, the SK market is too small to be my only search basin. If I look in the US, it would be while coming north next year, not going south, exactly for the reason you mentioned, ie. the small window of time to get it home and legal. I really can’t imagine a good enough deal in our current economy to make buying there sensible. I suspect that my Transit Connect will come from Alberta as it is the second biggest market for them after Ontario.

    I’ve been through the out of province inspection BS plenty of time. What a racket. My truck had a fresh AB inspection and I still had to get one in SK when I changed residency.

    Thanks again!

  4. The current dollar situation does not help but even so you might get a better deal in the US. We bought our motorhome in Texas and imported it with the help of a broker although doing it yourself is not all that difficult.

    Your truck is set up to be towed so you could remove the necessary parts from Miranda to be installed on the Transit. This would be a significant but manageable cost and would let you bring both vehicles home.

    Having a small RV, specially one that gets better gas mileage, would be a great savings. You will be able to apply almost everything you spend on hotels to help pay for the Transit (or whatever),

    You would be able to do a simple mod yourself, and could even do it in stages if time or money demanded it.

    Going back a couple of model years could save a lot as long as you ended up with a good vehicle with reasonable mileage that has no rust and has not been in an accident. Would you be able to write any of the costs/payments as a business expense?

    Anyway, as you can tell, I like your idea.

  5. Everything that I’m shopping for right now is is a better deal in Canada because of the exchange rate, believe it or not. It’s time for Americans to shop here, not vice-versa! 🙁

    I can’t imagine being able to add the tow bar to the TC to tow the truck behind it. I don’t even know if the TC could handle the weight.

    I’m seeing a price of 12 to 17K for a TC model year of ’10 to ’13, so if I wait for the spring, I’ll probably be able to pay for a good chunk of it cash. So that’s another reason to wait rather than to start making payments now. I calculated that it would cost me half the fuel to drive to MX as it does now with the truck and I’d be saving an average of $70 per night at a hotel by boondocking. The TC will pay for itself!

    I also calculated that I can do the mod for under $5,000 if I do the job myself, especially since I have a lot of the pricey components and don’t plan to do any propane work. The idea situation would be to get the cabinetry done for me in Mexico one winter, but now that I have a proper workshop I might be able to equipment myself to do a good job. I did okay with Miranda’s conversions, after all. Five years living with them and the cabinets are holding up well!

    I don’t know if I’d be able to write any of it off. My first thought was no, but it would be used for work, so I think I’d have to ask a tax account to confirm.

      • That’s the answer to whether or not you can write off part of your MH because you work from it, right?

        That’s definitely not the case with Miranda, which is why I want someone with a creative eye to look at my situation.

        • I was referring to the new unit and traveling with it. Miranda is your home office and therefore you can write off the part of the unit ( floor space ) that you work in.

          I can talk more in detail with you later. We have been thru this with an account. Don’t forget we work from home and live in an RV Park as well as travel with our motorhome for business on occasion.

          • The beauty of our tax system is that you can write off anything if you can justify it and it is reasonable. I could make a very good case for the fact that I need a backup office because of frequent situations where I have to bug out because of weather at the main office. That’s where a good tax accountant comes in handy. It’s not a case of trying to cheat the system, but of making it work for you.

            The absolutely only reason that I can write off my office in Miranda is because I have a dedicated room with a door that shuts for it. A really savvy person at CRA did some research on me, figured out that I was living in an RV, assumed that I was working off the couch in the living room and started an audit process. I sent her a floor plan showing that I have the office, living room, and a separate sleeping space as well as the door to the office and she’s the one who then told me that I should be writing off a third of the RV for business.

            I knew about the proper dedicated room with a door thing when I was RV shopping and that’s why I was so adamant about the layout that I got. There’s no way your living room setup in the RV counts as an office as per CRA rules. If I design the mobile office correctly, there is a chance I could write some of its use or at least build off and be perfectly legal and correct in doing so.

    • Yes, I had, but had lost the links. Thank you! This is a good example of the basic design I was talking about that everyone seems to be doing.

      I think I would be able to do something whereby the bed could become my work chair and the counter could have an extension to be my work table.

  6. Hi Rae –

    I have a 2011 Transit Connect and LOVE it! Her name is Stella. : ) I’m moving to San Miguel de Allende next year (exact date not known yet) and will be selling her. Since San Miguel is a very walkable city I don’t want to own a vehicle there. How freeing that will be! Anyway let’s stay in touch – I live in Olympia, Washington so not far from the border. Mine is white, gorgeous, has 45,000 miles on it currently and I’m very picky about taking care of her.

    Regardless – you’ll adore a Transit Connect. I researched trucks and vans for two years before I bought and am so glad I went with Stella. She’s a gal!

    • Hi Barbara, nice to meet a kindred spirit who is Mexico-bound!

      Let’s do keep in touch. You’re quite a bit further than I’d want to travel to and I’m not sure I want to import from the US, but I also don’t want to rule out any options. 🙂

      • We bought and imported both our 40′ motorhome and my Z3 BMW from the USA with no issues at all. We did all of the import work on our own. It was not difficult at all. All the info required is on the internet plus we made about 3 phone calls to clarify things. First thing would be to check the regulations re being allow to import that particular vehicle. A bus trip to Olympia and back home in a few days. Easy. Our RV came from just south than Seattle.

        • I think that it would be worth it for a luxury high end vehicle like your RV, but in the current market, it’s definitely not worth it for a passenger vehicle. Right now, prices in the US are the same as Canada (eg. a 40KCAD vehicle is 40KUSD), so it’s not even worth my time to look south of the border.

          • The main point of my comment was that is is easy to import a vehicle on your own. So if you find something at a good price in the US in might be worth it. BTW when we imported our RV back in 2001 the exchange rate was 1.47 and we still saved $80,000.00 CAD by importing it.

            • Yes, but again, you’re talking about a super specialized luxury vehicle. There’s no way importing is going to be worth the headache for a commonplace Ford vehicle that I can find locally.

  7. Hi Rae,

    What a wonderful epiphany. Don’t you love it when that happens. I’m so excited for you.

    I don’t know if the situation is the same at your library but usually the WIFI stays on all the time at ours. We can use it outside the building when they are closed. All we have to do is park as close as possible and there we go.

    I really admire your commitment to your employer. I know it’s a very good job for you and you don’t want to jeopardize it but even under these conditions a lot of people would have not done what you did yesterday. Bravo Madame.

    From this point on your mind will juggle all kinds of ideas for your little transit. That’s half the fun.

    Wishing you a better day today

    • Hi Nicole,

      The library here has a password that changes daily and the library is deep in a large building, so your solution may or may not work. I’ll have to investigate. 🙂

      As for work, it’s not so much commitment as it is accountability. They told me I needed reliable internet so how would it look just a month in that I’m taking time off for bad internet? It’s not their problem.

      The internet today doesn’t seem great, disappointingly enough. I think it’s going to be another stressful day even if the weather is gorgeous. 🙁

      • If the library is out, how about work something out with the little motel where you’d pay them a certain amount for the use of their WIFI. Free money for them and cheaper for you. I can imagine how stressful you must feel.

        • I used to work for a motel and I know that the value of the room is how much time is spent cleaning it. If I would just take the room to work and not use the bathroom, then I could probably strike a deal for the day. But I’d want the bathroom, so I probably wouldn’t get as good a deal.

  8. Hi Rae,
    Some comments to add to ours above:
    1st: One of my reference sources when researching for our new to us RV was your book on Canadian RVing. Lucky I bought one.
    2nd: My contacts about Foretravel, which was the brand we wanted, indicate there are likely no more than 15 of them in the 3 prairie provinces, nw ON, & the 4 neighbouring states. That’s total population, all years, owned, not just those for sale. Lucky, lucky, to find one in our year range for sale.
    3rd: Our new to us coach was built in Texas, but was Canadian registered already before sale to us. Nancy was born in Texas, but a Canadian citizen & resident when I met her. I’m VERY lucky apparently when it comes to Texas originals that have been Canadianized!

    • Jack, that sounds a lot like how lucky I got with Miranda. She was originally from PEI, then Ontario-ized, and I got her when she was already registered in Quebec. She was also one of only a very small handful in Quebec and Ontario that had had the specs I wanted and the only one that was exactly what I wanted. It was really meant to be!

      So when I’m ready to buy my TC, which is not a particularly specialized vehicle, I think it would be stupid to look any further than Calgary. I want the high top, long body, no rear windows, 2013 or older, and low mileage (less than 100K km). Determine the value of that to figure out the price I’m willing to pay and then start looking in Moose Jaw and an ever expanding radius. There’s one halfway to Swift Current from here that matches that description exactly and the price is right, so it’s not unrealistic to think that I’ll find what I want here in SK.

      I’d ideally prefer to go with a dealership purchase to have something that’s certified and that comes with a warranty, like I did with my truck. That will also expand my financing options (although Miranda was a private sale that was brokered and financed through a dealership, so that could be an option).

      Your third point about Nancy made me laugh! 🙂

  9. I like the “stealth” aspect of it. You find a quiet residential street and park for the night. Or in the back row of an all night restaurant (maybe even one with WIFI). No one knows. I am looking forward to this project!

    • Maybe add an omni WIFI antenna to the roof. Our Dutch friends Claudia and PJ have one on their camper than works well. I will find details.

      • Croft, you know I hate working on public WiFi and 99% of the time, I’m somewhere that has good cellular service. What I’d do instead is install my Sleek vehicle booster into the TC and put up the antenna when I need that extra signal boost.

    • Very good, Croft! This is another reason I like the TC! And it’s a reason why I would want no windows in the back. Basically, nothing on the outside that would betray the fact that it’s an RV and someone is camping inside. What I would do for ventilation would be a roof hatch like I have in Miranda. If I’m somewhere like a rest area where it’s okay to not be stealthy, I can open the sliding doors for fresh air and light. That’s another thing, I want the model with the two sliding rear doors on each side plus dual doors on the back end. This would give me more storage configurations because of increased accessibility.

  10. The reply button won’t work?? I guess each case is different. It is to our advantage to do mileage as we get more money back than a write off. By the way you should be able to do mileage right now with each excursion to seek internet.

    We have never needed to have a separate door to close off our office. But then our office space is well designated and we do receive and send via courier as well as have the off client come in which are all the conditions we had to meet as per our tax accountant.

    • You are more of a ‘business’ than I am, with clients coming and going, so I think the rules aren’t as strict for your sort of setup.

  11. The TC is also my current dream “RV”. I need a bed, toilet and somewhere to store water. I will be so jelly when you get yours. Good luck.

    • I am so glad I finally went public with my dream. It’s so good to know that others have reached the same conclusion as me. Thank you!

  12. We’ve been seriously considering a Class B. We prefer to boondock and having an SUV and a travel trailer in tow can be a problem in urban areas. We do well in small spaces but I like the room of the travel trailer. It’s so confusing.

    • Chris, I still have this debate with myself. In fact, I was thinking of a travel trailer to tow behind the truck. But I didn’t want to learn how to tow, the truck won’t last me long, and it just seems like a daily driver that can double as a motel room/office is what makes the best sense for me. I’ve suspected that for years and I’m convinced of it now. If I was to go full-time again, I’d probably go with a shorter C. I love my RV, but I’m done driving a behemoth.

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