A solution for AC

It took some time. But the crew at Taxa seem to have created a solution that greatly improves AC function, by essentially improving the cooling of the AC unit. It is not installed onto my trailer yet, but will be soon. I just wanted to give the folks that have asked about this issue an update, will update more when things are ready. Whereas I’ve had to be patient for Taxa customer support to do their thing, they didn’t forget about me, and they kept working to make things better.

Visit to Taxa...do they call it the "nest"?

Do mantisesses have nests? Maybe Crickets do…no idea, I’m no insectologist.

Visiting the crew at Taxa was relatively easy for me (~3hr drive), and I deliberately chose not to add the dealership to the equation. More people in the chain does not a quicker process make. It was easier to just tow the mantis over there and drop it off to be fixed, so that’s what I did. Want to know what the site looks like? Use google maps, zoom in, street view, etc. and you’ll see it’s a relatively compact facility. While on the small-ish side, it was mashed full of trailers! Seemed to be mostly Crickets, as I expected. That’s their biggest small one (if that makes sense), likely has broadest appeal.

The guys I spoke w/ were very acknowledging of the issues and were eager to help. It seems they’ve already created solutions to the issues I’ve had, which can be summarized as: tent issues, ac not working, water intrusion. And a snap pulled out of my shower curtain.

No one attempted to diminish my experiences, or tell me my issues weren’t real, which we’ve all experienced at some point w/ customer service of this or that company. Everyone was taking it seriously, and seemed supportive.

If everything goes as was discussed, they’re going to do relatively significant surgery on my mantis, primarily related to updating the … stuff the bottom of the tent attaches to … whatever you want to call that, maybe call it “sill rails”, the metallic lip around bottom perimeter of the tent. This should improve tent robustness/retention, especially around bottom edges (i.e. will hold up in wind better), and also simultaneously improve (reduce) water intrusion.

The ac issues can be summed up as: due to the design of the external shroud, the ac ends up breathing its own farts. An owner of a mantis reached out to me on my site, pointed out the 2019 (mine is 2018) mantis external shroud had lotsa louvers, and now having seen one in person, it also has baffles/dividers inside the shroud which apparently lets air exchange happen more efficiently, thus improving (correcting) ac performance. Less fart breathing = colder ac inside. Makes sense.

Water intrusion improvements are pretty straightforward: seal up the gaps. I pointed out a few gaps I knew about, they knew about other areas that might be an issue, so they’ll check everything. Once inspected/repaired, they’re going to do a water intrusion test, sounds fancy, but it’s simple: make it rain w/ a sprinkler. Doesn’t need to be complicated, so it’s not.
They also mentioned that, both w/ the old tent (which I have) and the new tent (which I’ll get), you have to deliberately get it wet, so the threads swell, filling small holes. This is a thing, and I’ve read instructions on some actual tents I’ve had that say to do this. I’m pretty sure I read this in my Taxa manual…after I had issues, and you have to search for it. There wasn’t a warning on/in the tent anywhere, and I don’t recall dealer saying anything about this. Maybe they did, and in excitement of buying a trailer I forgot? Regardless, I’ve been warned now, and I’m giving this thing a proper hose-down once I get it back.
If you’ve not done this to your Taxa, you should read ALL of the manual, or call them and ask, then do it. It will help.

Now perhaps some perspective on how all this happens, what situation might create warranty issues, and how those issues get dealt with… All that follows is my perspective. I could be wrong, but don’t think I am else I wouldn’t waste time typing it. Maybe it will shed light on some of your experiences? I’ll give it a shot.

I think all of this boils down to a few simple things…all of which I’ve experienced first-hand at other companies I’ve worked for. I’ll list what I think their situation may be, to hopefully set expectations, but this doesn’t make me correct, I’m speculating. This also isn’t meant to be damning of Taxa, or an attempt to absolve them. It’s just reality sometimes. And hold all this against your experience w/ the almighty Apple, or Ford, or Boeing…even they have warranty issues. Apple is valued near $1T, that T is for TRILLION DOLLARS!!!…if anyone should have zero warranty issues, it’s Apple, but they still do. Every day.

Again, I’m speculating:

  • Taxa is small, ~dozens of employees.

  • How many do they sell per month? 20? 50? I’ll assume 50.

  • Checking prices online I’ll make up an average sell price across all models of ~$20k.

  • This probably means low-ish double digit $M in annual revenue.

  • No idea of margin in the RV biz, but let’s assume 30%, which means gross margin is ~single digit $M per yr.

  • …the point is it’s not buzillions of dollars.

  • They’re probably growing quickly. The RV industry, as a whole, is (from what I’ve read) doing very well these days…what with all the #vanlife, etc….which means you have ~dozens of Taxa staff each wearing lots of hats to keep things moving ahead.

    • And in order to get (and keep) $$$ coming in the door, they had to get things “good enough” at the time, push production, and get revenue rolling NOW.

    • Otherwise, they go out of business quickly.

      • The balance of good/fast/cheap is always existential for a small company.

  • …which means everyone there gets squished between “make/sell new stuff” and “fix the old stuff”.

    • And it’s a complex product. And it’s expensive.

    • Add into this, that when people buy expensive stuff and any little thing is wrong, they usually get super-pissed.

All this creates a complex situation. But the point of this, how this may help my, or your, expectations is this:

If it were your company, would you want a less-than-perfect production solution today, and to still be IN business next week?

….or would you want a perfect product months from now, and be OUT of business the following day?

If you’re now yelling at your computer because I’m sympathizing with your enemy, chill out. Go visit some orphans, or visit a real third world country, and realize your life isn’t that bad even w/ your leaky trailer.

That said, If you’ve had a shit experience w/ your Taxa and/or their customer service, I feel for you, sincerely, not trying to diminish your (or my own) experience! Rather, I’m trying to suss out what the situation is, to better set my own expectations. Why? Who cares what I think? Well I do, duh…

Here’s why: Despite my issues, which really pissed me off, I still dig my Mantis. It really hit the sweet spot for what I was looking for. When it’s all working, it’s great. When it’s not, it sucks. So I’ve decided I’m going to be empathetic and patient. Which usually (not always) gets a better result. Thus all the jibber-jabbery perspective stuff above.

However…I was also very direct w/ Taxa about my expectations: I expect this to be a one-and-done deal.

If after this, it works as advertised, and all I have is “normal” RV nonsense like the occasional screw coming loose, or caulk to add here/there, I think I’ll be perfectly happy and will use the hell outta that mantis. Otherwise…not so much.

Stay tuned if you wanna, and I’ll keep updating this page with my experiences.
If you have tips/tricks/info that may help myself, or others, add a comment.
If you have questions, please ask.
If you have cold (and good) beer, and need help drinking it when you’re out camping in your Taxa, please let me know that too.

My Mantis is grumpy.

I’ve had a few issues lately that I’m trying to work thru w/ Taxa, and so far they’re being supportive, but hard to communicate with via email. I’m going to call more, email less. Once all that’s done, I’ll update this page with my experiences so far…it’s been a while since I’ve updated this page at all! I’ve had a handful of trips since buying it, including living in it full-time for a ~16 day trip to Rifle, CO to learn how to build BIKES! Check out this link below for pics of how the bike turned out.

First Mantis mod: Make the front/top bunk better for a little kid.

These post will have date stamps on same day, or very close together, but they’ve actually been spread out over weeks. Just haven’t had time to write it down until now, and I’ve had A LOT of high-test coffee this morning, so I’m typing about 80 wpm.

Upon closer inspection of the front/top bunk, I found out the included straps were too long, resulting in the bunk being angled down…easier to roll off of. Kids roll around in their sleep like a raccoon on LSD…slowly, but frequently. Bad combo.

This was also the first model year for the Mantis, so I went into this w/ eyes fully open, there were some things that wouldn’t be perfect…see previous post on quality.

I made my own straps from:

  • 1in webbing (straps).

    • Can’t remember the PNs or source, the stuff is easy to find online though. Get a big roll of this and trim to length.

  • Footman loops (I didn’t know they were called that until I found them online).

    • Amazon.

    • “Amarine-made Pack of 10 Stainless Steel Bimini Top Strap, Pad Eye, Footman's Loop for Jeep Corvette, Buggy, Kayak Tie Downs”.

    • I installed these w/ 1.5” long #8-32 c-sunk stainless screws and nylon lock nuts from Lowes.

  • Tri-glides (no idea what these were called either, until I found them online).

    • Amazon.

    • “Strapworks Black Metal Rounded Tri-Glide Slides – for Bag Straps, Rifle Slings, Dog Collars“.

  • Carabiners, basic, non-locking, not for climbing, but still strong enough.

    • Amazon.

    • “Gold Lion Gear 3" Aluminum Carabiner D Shape Buckle Pack, Keychain Clip, Spring Snap Key Chain Clip Hook Buckle“.

    • The strap is secured using what I think is called a “girth hitch”, but like roads in TX, all knots seem to have 5 different names…just make sure you tie it correctly, or it will pull apart without much effort. One more reason I use the two original straps and the 4x I added all at once. It’s called redundancy.

Total cost: ~$40.

Total time: ~45min.

The frame is 1” sq tube weldment, which I drilled thru both sides of the applicable tube. I eyeballed the footman loops at the center of the tube vertically. Used carpenter’s square to align footman mount point approx below carabiner attach point. Tested each knot/strap by pulling on them as hard as I could, to set the knot and see if my knot tying skills sucked, they were fine. Again, redundancy.

My 7yo tried it out, could still easily climb in/out, and now he has a nice ‘net’ to catch him when (not if) he rolls around in his sleep…because a 7yo kid rolls around in their sleep like blind leatherback turtle…they’re going somewhere…slowly, they just don’t know where.

Why did I buy a Taxa Mantis?

I have wanted a travel trailer for a long time. Some circumstances aligned, including a 2018 Mantis being sold quite a bit cheaper due to 2019 models coming out, so I did it. I recently bought a 2018 Mantis from Taxa Outdoors. Got it from Ron Hoover West, Katy, TX…which interestingly is ~45min down the road from where Taxa gave birth to this very Mantis trailer. More on that later.

Why did I buy this trailer? Shortest possible answer: Because it’s NOT a complete piece of crapola.

One big disclaimer: I’ve hauled this trailer once, stayed in it once, but exercised all the systems several times…I cannot yet speak to the longevity of the quality, but initially, it’s fine. More than I can say for most other brands.

First, some context:

To be blunt, the Mantis may not be the best choice…depending on how you look at it. So why did I do this?

First, some reasons why it may be a bad idea for me and maybe for you too:

  • These are essentially pop-up trailers…i.e. the top half is a TENT, not a trailer.

  • Compared to a traditional “pop-up” trailer, the Mantis is insanely more expensive, like ~2-3X as expensive.

  • I have wife + 7yo + 1.5yo + dog + me that will be staying in this thing, and this trailer is definitely on the small side. The advertised length is ~19ft, I’ve not verified this yet, but that should be the length of the “box”, not the overall length.

  • It is sparse on creature comforts. There’s no oven, no microwave, the shower is comprised of a fabric curtain you raise/lower to use it, and without that same curtain up, the bathroom is very public…I’m pretty comfortable with who I am as a man, but no one wants an audience while taking a dump.

Now, some reasons this was a good idea for me, and may be good for you too:

  • It is, by comparison to almost all other domestic RV brands, built like very well designed tank.

  • It is on the small and lightweight side of trailers. And I am very inexperienced towing anything other than a flatbed cargo trailer. Oh and I can’t back up a trailer worth a damn…this is one of those “man skills” that I simply don’t have.

  • I could use the tow vehicle I already had, which is a 2012 GMC Sierra, crew cab, Z71 w/ tow package. And I didn’t want to get 5mpg when towing the trailer, which would have been the case with just about all the larger/heavier options.

  • It has room for a family of four, but only if 1-2 of that family are miniature in size, in my case 2 of my family are teensy-little-kids. An adult sleeping on the top/front bunk? Forget about it, it’s less roomy than a coffin. And if you roll off that top bunk, you’ll need exactly that, a coffin.

  • It as both an A/C and a heater. That same heater has built in water heater.

  • It has a shower and a bathroom, technically called a “wet bath”, where they are combined into a single space. It also has hot/cold water exterior shower.

  • It has other minimal creature comforts like a stove, lights, 110v outlets, etc. Way better than a tent…even if the top half IS a tent.

I’ve hinted at it a few times now, so let me expand on initial quality of construction, to really drive home the fact that this trailer is pretty much the best designed, best built, trailer I’ve set foot in, and this fact was the primary decision point for me. Look around my site, I’m a product designer, it’s what I do, and have done, for a long time (albeit in different industries). I can pretty quickly discern the thoughtfulness of a design, the method of construction, and the attention to detail of both design and construction…so yes, I AM qualified to judge the difference between a “good” and “crap heap”.

Salespeople at RV dealers apparently have to pledge themselves to something like doctors do, but in this case I’ll call it the “hypocritical oath”. What this means: They will tell you that whatever brand you’re looking at is the best, and almost within the same sentence, they’ll contradict themselves.

Salesperson: “This brand X has the least quality issues of any brand!” And then a few rows over on the lot, you get “This brand Y has the least quality issues of all our brands!” Hey…you said that about brand X too… “Yeah, well I don’t want to be negative about other brands, but of the ones we sell, they’re all good!” See where I’m going? It’s all complete bullsquash. And they always focus first on quality. You know why? Because they’re ALL pieces of garbage! You don’t even have to be very observant to prove this to yourself. Here’s why:

RVs on a dealer’s lot have lived a very short and pampered life thus far. They were born at the factory, most likely in Indiana. Towed or otherwise hauled to the dealer, and parked. That’s it, essentially “used once” and parked. I toured at least 4 different dealers, ~15 different brands, various models of each brand…and ALMOST ALL of the individual trailers/motorhomes had stuff that was ALREADY BROKEN!! Except two: A very high-end Winnebago/Mercedes branded Class C (at ~$150k…), and Taxa. Doors that wouldn’t close at all, drawers that wouldn’t pull open at all, ceiling vent covers that were broken off, door knobs broken off, ripped fabric on the seats, screws falling out (or already on the floor), lights that wouldn’t turn on…and this is all the “easy stuff” to get right, so what about big things like propane leaks, water leaks, etc. that you only find after you’ve stayed in the thing? Go do your homework, internet reviews/videos, then lots of tours. You will find the exact same thing, depending on how observant you are (or aren’t). If after you’ve toured a lot of brands you feel “they’re all good”, you simply aren’t looking close enough.
I’m sure Taxa isn’t perfect either, but at least 3 out of 3 trailers of theirs I went through didn’t have immediately obvious design and/or construction flaws that couldn’t be fixed unless you replaced parts. There are some brands that edge out others a bit in initial build quality…Lance comes to mind, but in my case, the Lance trailers I considered were 100% heavier and 50% larger, and the same price as the Mantis…but I wanted something I could tow more easily, and at better than 5mpg. Towing the Mantis, I so far have gotten 10-12mpg at highway speeds.

I’ll give you another example of the quality issue from a very different angle:
One of the salespeople I talked to told me the following story:
We sell lots of RVs and trailers, and we make way more money off fixing them than selling them in the first place! When you use that RV the first time, you’re going to have to come back with a list of at least 20 things that need to be fixed, and we’re going to make more money off that, and the other return trips, than when we sold it to you! (I couldn’t believe he was openly bragging about this…)
I got this same story in varying degrees from multiple dealers’ salespeople…

Go look, you’ll see. The RV industry as a whole is a perfect example of how rich colors and stuff that looks like (but isn’t) wood grain and stainless, and above all, a low price, sells the product. All that has precisely jack squat to do with quality. The general rule of any product development is pick two: Good, fast, cheap. The main RV factories are known, widely known, to pick first “fast”, then “cheap”. “Good” doesn’t usually factor in, even if you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Again, from my own personal and very critical observations, Taxa really is different, or I wouldn’t have spent money with them. At least currently they are different. This assumes they have some success, that they actually have meaningful margin in their products, which I have no idea if they do. I imagine being “different” gets them some momentum, and if they haven’t already gotten pressure to increase margins, volumes, cash flow, profit (if there is any), they will get pressure soon enough. Their price-point puts them firmly in the “gray area” of the industry, with what appears to be a low bang-for-the-buck ratio, but higher design and construction.

Okay okay…rant concludes. If you even got this far, I don’t know why…it’s all just my opinions, and you’ll obviously have to make up your own mind. Or do a helluva lot more homework and build your own from scratch, which I was going to do, but I wanted to actually GO camping sometime in the next 1-2 years.

Future posts will be more fact-based, and less “I drank a bunch of coffee prior to typing this"-based. And I’ll cover my continued experiences honestly, whether they get better or worse.

I don't work for Taxa, but I like their products so far...

This page is not because I work for, or am associated with Taxa, in any way. And I certainly didn’t design their trailers, but I’m going to make some changes to the one I bought recently…thus it gets its own ‘project page’. I’ll also use this to dump photos, info, for anything I learn while using it. Hopefully someone else can benefit from it, because info on Taxa trailers is surprisingly sparse on the interwebs.