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Angelo “Chuck” Emanuele of Orange, Calif., wanted to pack the wife and kids into an RV and hit the interstate. There was one hitch.
Emanuele’s new RV was so big the DMV classified it as a commercial vehicle, not a motorhome. according to the Los Angeles Times.
So instead of flying past weigh scales, he has to pull in with the big diesel rigs and wait in line with cross-country drivers. His license must be Class A. He must carry a medical release, maintain log books and consume no alcohol.
Emanuele can’t help but feel that the state of California has taken the recreation out of his purchase. And the ride – all 57 feet of it – didn’t come cheap.
He paid about $100,000 two years ago for the Kenworth cab and attached living quarters. Add to that a 40-foot King of the Road trailer worth $80,000, and $5,300 in registration and license fees.
He has gone to Sacramento to testify before a DMV administrative hearing, but his request that his pleasure vehicle be classified as a motorhome was denied.
Last month, he sued the state agency, seeking to overturn its decision.
Emanuele says he’s unfairly being lumped in with big-rig drivers when all he wanted was a new, albeit bigger, way to get away from it all.
Newer and bigger seem to be the mantra of the thriving $11-billion-a-year RV industry. Nationwide there are more than 7 million recreational vehicles in operation.
Emanuele “has an uphill battle (in court), no doubt about that,” said Ron Epstein of the Good Sam Club, one of the nation’s largest RV owners organizations. (Good Sam is a unit of Affinity Group Inc., as is TL Enterprises Inc., publisher of RV Business and RVBUSINESS.COM.)
It’s unclear how many rigs like Emanuele’s are on California roads. The DMV only tracks cars, trucks, boats and motorcycles, a department spokesman said.
Emanuele’s saga began nearly two years ago when he flew to New Jersey to pick up his new toy and headed back to California. As he got behind the wheel of the big Kenworth cab and settled in, it was a perfect union of man and machine.
Over the years he had owned several motorhomes and had graduated to a fifth-wheel. But none were like the Kenworth.
“What’s been happening in the RV industry is the trailers are becoming heavier and most of them are pulled by underpowered and overtaxed vehicles,” he explained.
Emanuele, 53, said he wanted enough juice to pull him, his family, and the 40-foot King of the Road trailer over the Colorado Rockies with enough stopping power to brake before hitting Albuquerque.
When Emanuele returned to California, he pulled into a DMV office in Palm Springs and registered the vehicle as a motorhome. He showed the officials the 14-foot living quarters on the rig. He showed them the pull-out bed, shower, toilet, sink, refrigerator and microwave.
But when he got home and pulled up to the curb, Orange police cited him for parking a commercial vehicle in a residential area. Using photographs and some of his New York City moxie, Emanuele persuaded a judge to dismiss the ticket.
The DMV has been a tougher sell. After registering the rig as a motorhome, he got a letter from the agency asking to take another look at the vehicle. He drove to one office and was told it needed a commercial registration. He left and drove to another DMV office, where it was declared a motorhome.
For nearly a year, he exchanged calls from DMV officials until he received another letter, this time from Ken Miyao, DMV deputy director. Miyao apologized for the delays but refused Emanuele’s plea to classify his vehicle as a motorhome.
“It is a truck tractor because its primary design is to tow trailers. The living quarters are incidental to the primary design of towing a trailer,” Sandy Bassett, assistant chief of the registration policy and automation branch in Sacramento, stated in a declaration filed in response to Emanuele’s lawsuit.
Emanuele’s attorney, Peter F. Musielski, said the DMV has conflicting codes regarding motorhomes. Emanuele argues that hundreds of thousands of motorhomes are designed on a so-called commercial chassis, including buses that have been converted to motorhomes and are allowed to be registered as motorhomes.
Regardless of size, the issue boils down to the vehicle’s use, said Jay Landers, senior director of government affairs for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). He said that if the vehicle meets at least four of six criteria adopted by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, a trade group that includes California DMV administrators, it is by definition a motorhome.
To qualify, the vehicle must have permanent cooking facilities, heating or air conditioning separate from the driver’s cab and a self-contained toilet connected to holding tanks. It must also have a potable water supply with tanks, sleeping facilities and 110-volt power supply. Emanuele’s rig meets all six.
Emanuele has already taken his family camping in Big Bear, Palm Springs and points north and south.
He says something happens when he gets behind the wheel of his beast. With one turn of the ignition key, the stress of the daily grind floats off into the rearview mirror.
“It handles so smooth,” he said. “And the engine purrs.”