Boomers, families driving RV trend

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Three months ago, Monrovia residents Jim and Amy Emett bought a $142,000 Winnebago and took off for Prescott, Ariz., on a little shakedown tour. It wasn't a long trip, but they went far enough to learn a few things about their new toy.

"It's grand," Amy Emett said of their 38-foot Adventurer. "It has three slides, French doors, a washer-dryer combination. It has the works."

Riverside residents Kristin and Damon Bailey are starting down the same path. The couple, in their 30s, have an 8-month-old baby and another child on the way. Their 27-foot used RV cost only $4,000, but it's 25 years old.

"I'm glad we didn't spend much," Kristin Bailey said. "We like desert camping. I'd hate to take anything too nice into all that dirt. For now, this is perfect for us."

With baby boomers and young families entering the RV market in increasing numbers, the $12-billion-a-year industry is thriving.

"Given the level of gas prices last year, the amazing thing is that we had the highest level of sales in the industry since 1978," said Ken Sommer, a spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Assn.

"The boomers are spenders," said Dave Altman, who owns three Winnebago dealerships in Southern California. "Plus, we're getting a lot of younger buyers."

Types of RVs

If you're thinking of buying an RV, you might try renting one first to see how much you enjoy it.

There are two basic types: units that can be towed by a car or truck, and self-contained vehicles with an engine. Most rentals today are the latter, mini-motor home or motor home units.

The least expensive towable RVs are folding camping trailers (priced from $3,600), which can sleep four comfortably and, in most cases, can be pulled behind the family car and unfolded at the campsite. Some have toilets.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a full-size motor home usually has at least one queen- or king-size bed, a full bathroom and an extra sleeping area converted from a sofa or dinette. Prices begin at about $45,000.

Helpful resources

Go RVing: Get a free 18-minute video on types of RVs from this organization, a coalition of RV- and campground-related associations. Go RVing has travel tips and lists of nearby RV dealers and campgrounds. Call (888) GO-RVING (467-8464) or see http://www.gorving.com .

Recreation Vehicle Dealers Assn.: Get information on buying or renting an RV. 3930 University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030; (703) 591-7130, http://www.rvda.org . The affiliated Recreation Vehicle Rental Assn. has the same address, phone and website.

Recreation Vehicle Industry Assn.: RV manufacturers, shows and clubs. P.O. Box 2999, Reston, VA 20195; (703) 620-6003, http://www.rvia.org

RV rentals

Besides the companies below, many RV dealers also rent units.

Altman's Winnebago, 22020 Recreation Road, Carson, CA 90745; (800) 400-0787 or (310) 518-6182, http://www.altmans.com

Cruise America, 2233 E. 223rd St., Carson, CA 90810; (800) 327-7799, http://www.cruiseamerica.com

El Monte RV, 12818 Firestone Blvd., Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670; (800) 367-3687 or (562) 404-9300, http://www.elmonte.com

Campground directories

Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA): P.O. Box 30558, Billings, MT 59114; (406) 248-7444, http://www.koa.com

National Assn. of RV Parks & Campgrounds: 113 Park Ave., Falls Church, VA 22046; (703) 241-8801, http://www.gocampingamerica.com

National Recreation Reservation Service: P.O. Box 140, Ballston Spa, NY 12020; (877) 444-6777, http://www.reserveusa.com

Woodall's Campground Directory: Woodall Publications Corp., 2575 Vista del Mar Drive, Ventura, CA 93001; (800) 323-9076, http://www.woodalls.com

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