A lot of people ask about the van, they usually say, “How do you tow that long coach with a painter’s van?”. It’s not a painter’s van, it just looks like one. Sunny is a 2012 Chevy Express Cargo van. Simple on the outside, white with black bumpers and trim. That’s part of what I like about it… inconspicuous.
An American Steel ladder rack on the roof works great for our kayaks, and the same brand bulkhead wall, shelves, and drawers fill the inside walls. It’s exactly what I was hoping for. We wanted a van, basically for storage, a gargare of sorts. Our bikes, tools, generator, and other gear are stored safely and out of the weather. We also store our heavy stuff in the van intentionally, preferring to have the van weigh as close to the trailer as possible, I think it helps.
The cab of the van is simple and easy to take care of. Vinyl seats that are comfortable and have armrests, and another steel storage box between the seats. Indie has a seat on top of the storage box, where he can see easily out. He does great there. The dash has the basic analog gauges, and the computer system measures, alerts, and monitors all of the pertinent information for travels.
Our navigation and camera screens are up high where a rearview mirror would have been. The rearview cameras are the best. One on the back of the van, and one on the rear of the coach. All hardwired and the color monitor is large and has a microphone monitoring the camera. Hitching is a breeze, with no spotter, and it’s really nice being able to see out the back of the coach when parking or driving. The best part was the installer was our youngest son, Isaac, who took the job to the next level for us.
The fluids are easy to inspect under the hood, but beyond that, the engine is pretty invisible. I’ve noticed a lot of the services are done through the front wheel wells. We use Amsoil fluids in everything, from front to back.
The van drives nice, it’s sure-footed and has a pretty stiff suspension. Bilstein shocks keep the van firm, especially when towing. Even though it looks like a service van, it’s built to tow. It has electronic tow mode and a six speed transmission. The motor is a 6.6L Duramax turbo-diesel, with a 3500 chassis. Disk brakes all around. A 10,000 receiver is bolted to the frame, and we use an Equal-I-Zer weight distribution hitch. The brake controller is a Tekonsha, mounted under the center of the steering wheel, where I can operate it with either hand. The tires are Firestone. I’ve always driven Michelins, but we’ll run these until replacement then decide.
The only thing I towed before the Avion was a 17’ Thistle sailboat, and a 17’ Aliner A-frame camper, both with our Volvo XC70. With little experience and a lot of cautionary comments from almost everyone I know, I eased into towing the Avion with a wary approach. The coach was delivered to our house when purchased and never left the driveway, except when a friend towed it to the DOT to have it licensed. I towed it around the block one time about a month before we sold our house, backed it in, and did not tow it again until the day we moved away. A friend and fellow Avion owner came by to help, it was raining cats and dogs, and we headed out on my maiden voyage. We spent about 40 minutes driving around, setting the brand new brake pads on the coach, and going to the Cat scales. We scale at around 17,600- truck, trailer, dog, food, water, and fuel.
Driving has been a pretty serious focus for us. We have a checklist before pulling away from every spot. We organize the cab and get everything dialed in before pulling away. We listen to a lot of Spotify, mostly comedy. Our navigation gear is kept up to date, and we avoid interstates and large metroplexes. It’s nice. We have driven hundreds of miles on two-lane roads, curves, hills, and straights, in sunny weather as well as rain. In fact, we’ve started joking that travel day is always rainy. The van handles the coach well. The shape of the van, combined with the kayaks on top, creates an effective aerodynamic for the trailer to follow. The rounded corners and low stance of the Avion complement the van size. I have had no problems with trucks passing, we haven’t had a lot of high wind yet. With the diesel engine, the van seems to pull fine, the computer takes care of things well, and hilly terrain doesn’t seem to phase it. We get between 12 and 14 miles per gallon towing the Avion. The only things I’d like to improve on the van would be adding an animal guard on the front, and it could really use some driving lights that are low and light the ditches. Other than that, we really like Sunny the van, and look forward to tens of thousands of miles in it.