It’s been eight months since I started my RV life. In previous blog posts, I’ve made reference to my tow vehicle but I never formally introduced my tow vehicle the way I did with Quill. Today seemed like a good day to rectify that.

From my first kernel of an idea for an RV life, I knew my tow vehicle was going to be a van. But, having no van experience whatsoever, just like with the trailer, I had to start from the beginning with research.

Then, when I announced my tow vehicle purchase, I used stock photography because the van stayed at the dealership because I needed the hitch installed. And it wasn’t too many days later that I left Alaska.

But Let’s Back Up

I never expected to buy new. A two- or three-year-old van was in my original plan. And budget. My thought was that since I wanted a new trailer, a way to save money would be to get a used van.

But I ran into three snags.

  1. I simply waited too long before I started looking. It’s so strange to me. I know people do this transition process so much faster than my more than three years, but, despite the time I had, those last six months were a whirlwind of getting things checked off the list. Purchasing a tow vehicle fell squarely into this category. At some point (about four weeks before I was to depart), I just had to get it done.
  2. A former car dealer told me the best used vehicle deals could be found through the sales department of a rental car companies. Purchasing this way almost always means only one owner (the car rental company), a well-maintained vehicle with a record of the maintenance, no negotiations because prices are as advertised and vehicles no more than three years old. I watched for a couple months but none came up in Alaska. There were lots of options around the country so I will consider that for future purchases.
  3. As my full-time RV life got closer, my worry and doubts increased. That’s normal, I’m sure. Most people go through it. I ended up feeling like I wanted to hedge my bets, as the saying goes. I wanted as much as possible in the “worry free” column. A three-year bumper-to-bumper warranty did that for me.

Choosing the Chevy Express

After my research, I was down to two. The Chevy Express Cargo Van and the Nissan NV Cargo Van with Extended Roof. I drove both. And I found the decision hard. Prices were comparable. Both had pluses, features the other didn’t have.

Chevy Express Cargo Van

Me driving my Tow Vehicle, the Chevy Express Cargo Van Extended Wheelbase.


  • Five-year bumper-to-bumper warranty. So, two extra worry-free years.
  • A high roof meant I could fully stand up in the cargo section. (I’m 5’2” so this may not be true for taller people.)
  • The front had a middle console and the passenger seat back folded forward to create a little work space.
  • It came with the type of hitch I needed. (Not sure why the Chevy extended wheelbase didn’t because the regular wheelbase did. Go figure.)


  • It felt like a better drive. Driver’s seat was more comfortable.
  • Windows in the back and on side cargo doors increased visibility.
  • Nothing between the seats meant my dog could ride on the floor next to me.
  • More Chevy dealers (in case of problems or for service) around the country.

One day I was sure it would be the Chevy and the next I was equally convinced I should buy the Nissan. In the end, I wrote all the pros and cons to the family friend former car dealer mentioned above and asked his opinion. He said the Chevy. So, that’s the way I went.

My Tow Vehicle: A Van Named Violet

Chevy Express Cargo Van

Violet on an adventure at Davy Crockett State Park.

By now you know, I am kind of in love with the color purple. As I explored color theory for my new logo (which I’ll reveal very soon), I realized that the color I’m wild about is actually violet. It’s brighter with the hint of blue making it a cool color. Don’t get me wrong, I love all shades of purple, from the lightest lavender to the darkest plum. But it’s the deeper rich vibrant color that draws me most.

During my studying, I remembered that the name of the primary color on my trailer was also violet. The logo on the nose and the website address on the back as well as one of the swishes of the trailer are in the primary color. A lighter purple is the color of the second swish. I don’t remember the name and it didn’t end up on my final receipt from Oliver.

I chose the name Violet.

It fit the van and me perfectly. But, truth be told, I was thinking about the name Violet long before I bought the van. Violet was a contender for the trailer’s name. In fact, the only trailer names under consideration were Violet and Quill. I

Chevy Express Cargo Van

The van offers a lot of storage. And you can’t even see that I have a bike in there.

leaned toward Violet because it seemed like an obvious connection between the name and the trailer.

But on a forum when someone started a discussion about trailer names, I posted my contenders and asked for thoughts. Overwhelmingly, people liked Quill because it was different and because the name came with a backstory.

Even though I chose Quill for the trailer, the name Violet stayed with me. Then, when Pantone announced that their 2018 color of the year was Ultra Violet, I decided to take it as one more sign since 2018 would be my first full year of travel in Quill and Violet. I was in the van for about two months before I felt firm in my decision. The van was definitely Violet.

FAQs About Violet the Van

There are two questions I regularly get about the van, so I thought I’d answer them here.

  1. Will I add graphics to the van? I love the question. I love my logo and website on the trailer. So, it only goes to reason that I’d get something similar on the van, especially with the huge swath of “canvas” space to work with. Wouldn’t Supersize Life really big along the driver’s side where there are no windows look amazing? It just a matter of finding a place to do it and then getting it done.
  2. How does it tow? One-ton or three-quarter-ton? Gas or diesel? As trailers go, mine is pretty light (4,600 pounds, dry weight which means without my stuff and with empty tanks). The rule of thumb says allow 1,000 pounds per person. Then I added 500 pounds for my upgrades (like the solar setup) and the pets’ stuff. Total: 6,100 pounds which is well below the 7,000-pound GVWR. GVWR stands for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating and means the maximum permissible weight of the trailer fully loaded for travel. The van has a towing capacity of 10,000 pounds. So, the answer to the questions: It has no problem towing Quill. And, the one-ton van runs on gas.

If I Had It to Do Over

Those of you with newer cars might have to do an eye roll here. But my previous vehicle was 10 years old, before technology was incorporated into vehicles. So, my lack of knowledge is understandable. Here is what happened…

Cat in van.

Kitty looking out the back window as we travel down the Alaska Highway. Notice van is pretty empty.

When I test drove the Chevy Express, I was excited to see there was a three-prong outlet. At the time, I’d planned to pack all my things in the U-Haul, leaving the van fairly empty so my sister, the pets and I could sleep in it on the trip down the Alaska Highway. An outlet meant a way to blow up the air mattress for a more comfortable night’s sleep. It meant a place to plug in the computer. And a lamp after dark. It meant we could make coffee for caffeine boosts as needed, without having to stop.

I said all of this during my test drive.

Then on Day 2 of the trip down the Alaska Highway, just after we passed into Canada, the tire on the U-Haul trailer blew. To read about the day’s drama, click here. After the four-hour delay, with a brand-new tire, we were ready to get back on the road. But coffee was necessary.

Chevy Express Van inside.

Outlet panel in the Chevy Express Van.

I put coffee into the filter, filled the holding tank with water, plugged in the pot.

And nothing. We started the car. And still nothing.

Then my sister said, “I think the outlet is only for charging your phone. Who told you it would work to plug in a coffee pot?”

Well, no one. Not directly anyway. But I had taken the nod during my test drive when I explained why I was happy about the outlet as non-verbal confirmation.

Cup of Coffee

Coffee: what we didn’t get after the four-hour blown tire in Canada.

That annoyed me. Still, had I known the outlet was only for the phone, it would not have made a difference in my decision to go with the Chevy.

But I did make one mistake. If I had it to do over again, I would not get the extended wheelbase. It was a short-sighted decision. When I looked at the extended wheelbase, I saw more storage room on the road. But mostly, I saw a more comfortable place to sleep down the Alaska Highway. Turns out, we never even slept in the van. And even if we had, that was a seven day trip and I was purchasing a van for years worth of travel.

Don’t get me wrong, I use all that space in the van now. So, I like the extra room. Plus, someone I met at a campground told me that extended wheelbase vehicles tow better. Several others have confirmed this. I can’t remember the reason.

But there is a big downside that far outweighs the extra storage space.


Chevy Express Cargo Van

Violet taking up two parking spaces at the Cathedral Cavern State Park. Good thing they weren’t busy.

The extended wheelbase van, which is two feet longer than the regular wheelbase van, doesn’t fit normal parking spaces. Unless I’m the first or last in a line of parallel parked cars, I don’t fit. I’m afraid to park in the diagonal slots of downtown areas because my back-end sticks out. I get visions of getting clipped. If that happened, it would most likely damage the hitch, making it impossible to tow.

Big parking lots are best for me.  I park away from other cars, far from the entrance, and take up two spaces. When I pull up far enough to ensure my back-end isn’t sticking out, then I’m over the line on the front-end. At least by parking far away from the front door, I hope not to anger others for taking two spaces. The side bonus: extra steps are good for the heart.

So far, I haven’t missed an opportunity because of the van. But I can see it happening. During the summer months, parking can be hard to come by at popular spots so you take what you can get. I would be heart-sick if I had to forgo an adventure because I couldn’t park the long van. I worry about that when I think about it too much. So I try not to think about it.

I don’t have specific plans to change my setup. But I have thought that maybe in a couple years I might trade her in for a regular-length van.

So, there you have it. All all these months on the road, you’ve known Quill. And now you know Violet. Together, I call the dynamic duo: The Violet Quill.

If you want to read more on color theory, click here. And if you want to read about how and why it’s unlikely our ancestors ever even knew the color purple, click on this article about the Meanings of Purple.

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