Oct 042011
 

The other day, Phil May from TechnoRV sent me copy of his book From High-Tech To High Plains, in which he tells the story of how he and his wife Tracey left their high pressure lives and careers and became fulltime RVers, homeschooling their two children on the road, and operating a mobile business selling all sorts of tech type goodies at RV rallies across the country.

The book is an excellent read, and I experienced a bit of déjà vu when Phil shared their dismay that, within a week of purchasing their new 2005 Class A motorhome, the leveling jacks were malfunctioning, they had a transmission problem, a slide room would not work, the side mirrors were loose, the furnace would not ignite, window blinds had broken, a leg fell off the table, and the roof leaked, among a litany of other problems. Phil was surprised to discover that their problems were nothing new, and in fact were par for the course when one purchases an RV.  

High Tech book

We had the same experience back when we purchased our first motorhome in late 1998; a 1998 Pace Arrow Vision which came to be known as the Motorhome From Hell. We had all kinds of problems with that lemon, which included having the hydraulic system fail repeatedly, the living room slide go out while driving down U.S. Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast (tearing the safely hooks right out of the floor in the process),  the water heater trying to burn the rig down (it was in competition with the stove, which turned into a blowtorch one evening while Terry was cooking supper), experiencing parts and pieces falling off the walls and ceiling while going down the highway, a leaking shower stall, and on and on and …. you get the idea.

I have said all along that the absolute worst thing about the RV lifestyle is not high fuel prices, poor campground electrical power, driving in high winds, the neighbor’s’ yappy little dog, or getting a campsite within spitting distance of a railroad track. No, the worst part of the RV lifestyle is the junk that so many RV manufacturers are foisting off on the American public. We paid $120,000 for our Pace Arrow, and the same week, we also bought a new Toyota pickup for $20,000. During our long and fruitless battle with Fleetwood to try to get them to fix our RV, I was having a conversation with a Vice President of their motorhome division. I told him that we had never had a problem with our truck, and asked him why Fleetwood could not build something as reliable as a Toyota for six times as much money. He couldn’t answer that question.

I’d like to think that things have improved in the thirteen years since we bought our first motorhome, or in the six since Phil and Tracey bought theirs, but sadly, they have not. At our rally last week, a number of people I talked to had either just come from an RV dealer or factory where they were getting repairs made, or were headed for one when the rally ended.

And it’s not just the low end RVs! We know people who seem to routinely make trips to Tiffin in Red Bay, Alabama; Newmar in Nappanee, Indiana; and Winnebago, in Forest City, Iowa to get things fixed. Simple things caused by mistakes that any high school freshman in shop class would catch, as well as major problems. And those three manufacturers are what I have always considered to be among the best of the best!

Years ago I was listening to a fellow at an RV rally complaining about problems in his $250,000 diesel pusher, that included a windshield that popped out going down the road, an air conditioner that shorted out and filled the coach with smoke, leveling jacks that either would not deploy, or would not retract, and a long list of other shortcomings. “But what can you do” he said with a shrug, “It’s the nature of the beast.”

I told him horsepucky! If you paid a quarter million bucks for an airplane, you can be pretty sure that the wings or propeller won’t fall off in flight. If you spend that kind of money for a boat, somebody probably didn’t forget to put the plug in the bottom of it! Because there are certain standards that manufacturers of planes and watercraft have to meet. Apparently, in the RV industry, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) has suggestions, not standards. And we, the consumers, are just as culpable, because we settle for the crap they make. So we have only ourselves to blame.

That is why, in all of our years of publishing the Gypsy Journal, Heartland is the only RV manufacturer whose advertising we have ever run. They convinced me that they build a quality product and stand behind it, and I have known many Heartland owners who reinforce that belief. We have been approached by others, but when they suggest that I might want to tone down my criticism, and I tell them that I call it like I see it, they go away. That’s probably just as well, because sooner or later, I know I’ll write something that would piss them off anyway.

Speaking of pissing off people, Bad Nick is at it again. Check out his new Bad Nick Blog post titled Just What We Need and leave a comment.

Thought For The Day – If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun. – Katharine Hepburn

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  34 Responses to “The Worst Part Of The RV Lifestyle”

  1. What a timely blog We are currently at Newmar awaiting warranty repairs. The scariest of them all is that after driving our new 2011 MH around for many thousands of miles, we discovered the propane tank drooping. Even though Larry is religious about checking things out, this wasn’t noticeable until it drooped. Turns out one of the two brackets holding the tank was only tack-welded, never got the final weld. We got it fixed as soon as it was discovered but have asked Newmar to thoroughly check out the rest of the structure. Just thinking about all the what-ifs had it come down while we were on the road is enough to keep you awake at night.

  2. So true and so sad. From the day we bought our motorhome, it has been an ongoing battle to get things fixed that should never have been an issue. All were due to poor installation and no quality control at the factory,

  3. You are absolutely correct Nick! We have had our Honda Odyssey minivan for seven years and 107,000 miles and not one thing has gone wrong!!! We have had our Winnebago motorhome for the same amount of time and we have a notebook full of the problems—luckily my husband is handy and he has fixed a lot of them himself.

    Granted – RVs are more complicated than cars, and I would buy a Winnebago again in a heartbeat because it has been so much more reliable than any of our friends’ RVs, including Country Coachs, Newmars, Prevosts, and Wanderlodges!! However, we all need to expect more than spending most of our time fixing things!!

  4. I am so glad that we bought a bus conversion. Even though it was done a long time ago by the previous owner and not a factory and has a lot of miles on it, he did a good job on it and our problems over the last 8 years have been very minor. I just have to shake my head at some of the stories i have heard from friends that have stick and staples motorhomes.

  5. Wow! And we were planning to sell our stick and brick house and live in one of these things full-time. Thanks for the reality. Now, we can keep our Toyota pickup.

  6. Sorry, Nick, do not believe that Heartland is the end all and be all. Have heard of new Heartland owners with a long punch list after they’ve picked up their rig. The best thing to do is visit the factory and understand the kind of warranty the RV comes with. We have a New Horizons fifth wheel, and while we have had some adjustments which had to be made, never were we put off, no matter how busy they may have been. Even if the problem solving takes a while, they stick to it until the fix has been done.

    I think the problem is with manufacturers who are trying to build something sophisticated without knowledgeable manpower, or without paying decent wages. While no one is perfect, at least at New Horizons I see them always trying their best. They have the best full timer warranty that we found when we were looking and we have a home I’d be happy to live in even if we were not to be traveling around like we do now.

    There is a New Horizons Owners Group rally in Busnell, FL at the end of October if anyone is interested in seeing their work and speaking with owners. While no one is perfect, at least at New Horizons we have found folks who are honest and always striving to do the best they can.

  7. Sorry Nick. We have a 2012 Landmark Grand Canyon that we purchased in May last year. It has been in the shop 11 times for numerous things ranging from screws popping out to the hydraulic pump leaking. The shower leaked and that was worked on three times. I finally fixed the darned thing myself. To their credit, Heartland has stepped up to the plate to cover things even though the rig is out of warranty but their dealers are not very good at what they do. I will not by anything or have my rig worked on at Big County RV in Bend, OR again, ever, period.

  8. We visited several motor home and 5th manufacturers last summer. What an eye opener!! I think the best thing to do before considering a brand is to visit the manufacturer and see how they are built. Some companies pay their employees by the hour and other by the job. Some use “team workers” and pay when the vehicle is finished. Some have numerous inspection points and won’t pay the employees until the vehicle is inspected. Seems to me empolyees paid by the job would be encouraged to produce quantity, not necessarily quality.

  9. This is why I like your blog so much. We are in the planning stages of becoming fulltimers, and, of course, one of the preparations is deciding what RV to purchase. We currently have a CrossRoads Cruiser 5th wheel, which we could fulltime in if we had to. However, there are some other things we want in a home on wheels which would mean a different rig. It’s so easy to get caught up in how attractive a rig is that you forget to check practical things, like welds, screws, etc.

    Luckily, my husband insists on extensive research before making any purchase (including talking to actual owners). We took about 5-6 years to purchase our 5th wheel, and it will probably be as long for the new/used RV we’re now on the hunt for.

    Happy and safe travels as you leave Celina!

  10. If you are not handy with tools before you buy an RV, you will be after you buy one.

    I wonder how much of the purchase price of a new RV is inflated to cover the fact that the manufacturer will have to make repairs under warranty because of poor workmanship.

    Why can’t they make watertight roofs? Look at school buses, they never leak.

  11. Gene & I purchased a “previously owned” 2003 Roadtrek camper van in 2006. They are made in Kitchner, Ontario and with quality craftsmanship. We spent 11 1/2 months traveling throughout the West and subsequent shorter trips without any manufacturer related problems. As “newbies” we created a few problems of our own, but that’s called “live and learn”. We purchased our little (20′) motorhome at Leisure Time RV in Winter Garden, FL. They gave us a 2 hour, thorough indoctrination to all the systems. We highly recommend them.
    Granted, not a lot of folks would want to full time in a camper van, but it’s nice to know some companies still do dependable work.

  12. We love our Heartland Bighorn which we bought used from a private party. Having had an Allegro motorhome and a Montana fifth wheel, the Bighorn is a much better unit for us. But I agree that the RV industry leaves much to be desired overall. Our Allegro was a year old wen we bought it, and it had numerous problems that any decent final inspection should havve caught. Yes, the folks at Red Bay are good at service after the sale, but hows about making it right to begin with so we don’t need all of that service?

  13. We full timed for two years and over it except for the constant trips from dealer to dealer try to get work done under warranty. We would arrive for a scheduled appointment that was made weeks earlier only to discover that they had to order parts and we needed to return weeks later. And often we we did they still didn’t have the parts!!! Fleetwood was completely worthless in getting any help. Once we spent 9 weeks without being able to use our bathroom because of a leak between the toilet and black tank. We returned to our dealer SIX times for scheduled appointments and each time they either sent us away because they did not have the parts or else the repairs were worse than the original problem. We finally gave up, sold the RV at a huge loss and are back in a house. The terrible quality of the RV and the service were just too stressful to deal with. For us the RV dream turned into a prolonged nightmare. So now we live through your paper and blogs and sometimes feel very cheated.

  14. I for one am glad you have the balls to say it like it is and to hell with the dollars. Thanks Nick.

  15. You sure hit it outta the patk with this one Nick!

    Our 40′ ’08 Itasca Ellipse lost all engine coolant & then air brake pressure (yes, the parking brake will activate) within our first few months of ownership. We’ve made the pilgrammage to Forest City multiple times.

    But, we’re not alone… Our friends and their 45′ Foretravel Essex spent last winter in Nacogdoches. Seems to be a systemic failure.

    Our solution? Now that we have the bugs out we’ll keep it.

  16. Over the years, I have led quality improvement teams and last assignment was a 6 Sigma Black Belt. The hardest thing to get people to understand is that quality does not cost money, it saves money. Warranty is very expensive … parts, labor, transportation, administration, etc … add to that lost customers and reputation. Even a denied warranty claim has the admin expense.

  17. Add Damon (Thor) to the list. Inferior interior. Leather gone on both sofas and front seats amongst many other Things.

  18. Did we get lucky or did we purchase a quality unit? We own a 2001 Dutch Star (purchased new) and haven’t experienced the nightmarish problems we’ve read or heard during our travels.I’m wondering whether we hear more about exceptions when you consider the number of rigs rolling up and down the highways and bi-ways. Bad news travels faster than good news. We purchased based upon reliability and so far, the documentation has proven to be accurate. Does it hold true for all of time? We purchased at a time when the rigs were not mass produced. We don’t know what happened when demand pressured Newmar to produce a quota.

  19. I have to say that my HiLo’s have been exceptional. The problems were caused by me and my inexperience, etc. Unfortunately due to knee problems, I am being forced into getting a fifth wheel. I just purchased a new Cougar and have yet to take delivery. I have been very impressed with the dealership — so far. They have three RV techs each assigned a number of units. They must follow that unit from delivery, through any additions the new owners may want, orientation (two hours), and then deal with the customers of that unit until the owner gets rid of it. That means they have a stake in making sure everything works. We will see how that works out. I’m going to dry camp in it and with hook ups for a week or so prior to taking off for my eight month trip. With any luck everything will work. I know Nick is right about repairs which is why this is killing me to give up my HiLo…………

  20. I purchased a 1993 Toyota/Winnebago Warrior, two years ago. I must say that this little RV has been wonderful. There are some very minor fit and finish issues that the unit came out of the factory with….but none affect functionality.
    I have friends and relatives that own larger RVs and they all have ongoing problems.
    These little RVs are still holding their resale value quite well too!

  21. We have a 1993 Beaver Contessa. Bought it used. Fabulous coach with minimal problems. But stuff happens even to the best of coaches. We just had to have an inframe rebuild of engine at 230,000 miles. Probable cause dust in engine. Also a 2008 Beaver in our group was in a terrible dust storm, dust got into engine and he had to have a rebuild on his engine.

    I agree that quality control is a prime issue in the RV industry. That said I also think that some problems are small and can be fixed by the RV owner. Warranty cost the manufacturers a bundle. They could lower the selling price of the unit if they lower the warranty costs.

    But this lifestyle is worth all the repair and maintenance hassles. Presently at Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque with our rally group. No better place to be in the world right now. Enjoy each day, Connie B.

  22. Perhaps you’ll all take comfort in the fact that the CEO’s of all these American RV manufacturers make millions of dollars because after all, these companies need to retain talent ! Ha ! I’m guessing most of these firms make due with an army of part time workers who are worked like slaves. Dear Mr CEO, You pompous overpaid dweeb, stay outside of my spitting range.

  23. Nick, don’t pat Heartland on the back too hard. I have a Big Country/ Leak Country 5th wheel. This thing has had more leaks than you can shake a stick at. The worst of it is the slide floor delamination. The ends of the slide floors are rotting out. Of course Heartland customer service says it’s my fault. The slide floors (plywood) are wrapped in what looks like contact paper and the ends are just painted over with some black stuff they call a sealer. This still allows water to wick into the flooring. They know this is a manufacturer defect, they corrected it on later models. I went to a dealer that had 3 Big Country’s on their lot and all 3 had the same rot in the same places.I could go on with the problems.

  24. Purchased a 2014 Heartland Big Horn 3010 RE 5th wheel. Probably have faced your basic obstacles as anyone elsd but….the sofa/kitchen slide has left rollers mark when the slide is closed.
    Heartland customer service rep says this is common and suggests using a slicker. For it being a common problem I would think that these slickers would be part of their std equipment, they aren’t even on their optional part list.
    It didn’t take long to find out that I wasn’t alone in trying to get them to make the repairs which they have continued to decline to warranty.
    I am stratagizing with my dealership GM & service mgr to get Heartland to accept responsibility due to non-disclosure of a known problem.
    I’m doubtful on achieving my desired outcome and are reaching out to others that would like to band together to make things right.

  25. Hi Nick, I’m new to your blog. In fact my fiancé just found it and forward it to me to read. The reason she sent it to me is we’re looking at buying a fifth wheel or MH soon and have been doing research on whcih one to buy. (Is there ONE?) Needless to say, all this negative talk about poor quality and warranty issues, and clueless sales and repair centers, etc, has put some fear into both of us. (God! I know all too much about problems with Black water holding tanks from being a captain for so many years and man, do I have some stories I could tell you folks! I do NOT want to be neck deep in a used holding tank trying to tighten some piping nut that some careless idiot forgot to tighten when it was installed!) I’ve read about problems with quality construction other places too, and I can hear the desperation and anger in owner’s words about problems, problems, problems. Luckily, I’m a soon to be retired ranch manager here in Hawaii for 8.5 years, and was a yacht captain for 15 years prior to that. Before that I was a Licensed General Contractor in Charlotte renovating historic houses and buildings. But, just because I made solving problems my vocation for almost 50 years, doesn’t mean I want to turn my retirment into a fix-fest. I’m tired of fixing things, even if I do know how and have the tools, too. Plus that, I have ALS and I just can’t do what I used to do. So, really…honestly, should we just forget this and find a cabin or cottage somewhere and give up our dream of seeing the USA? And, the other problem we have of being in Hawaii is we can’t just jump in the car and take a hands on look at these things. There are NO RV dealers in Hawaii, so even looking at a few prospects in a region of California, is costly for us. Try in the thousands of dollars costly. So, advice and information via the Internet is all we have to go by and we have learned a lot, but probably not enough to make an informed decision based on your above article. So, what do we do? Anyone?

  26. I read your comment about Heartland so decided I would tell you of my experience with them. Our trailer is a 2011 purchased new. We are on our third hydraulic motor none supplied or installed by Heartland, bubble in the fibreglass never fixed or even recognized as a problem, drain for dryer never attached at factory flooded basement, one of two straps holding black tank not attached, Holding tank remote valve/cable broken not warrantable, replaced keyless entry, bubbling peeling wallpaper in the bathroom. We have repaired all this at our own expense with no reimbursement for parts or labour. Emails sent back and forth have basically blown us off with no consideration of any defects. I traded in a 96 Golden Falcon with far less problems and much more enjoyment of use. Would I recommend Heartland no darn way.

  27. Scary, but good information. Just wish I knew how to tell the good from the bad.

  28. Hi from the UK.
    You may like to know that things are not much better over this side of the pond.
    Our largest motor home manufacturer, Swift Group, have a terrible
    reputation for poor quality control. Leaks seem to be their specialty too.
    It seems universally true that if you want something done properly,
    you must do it yourself. I’ve personally converted 2 large vans into
    camper vans in the past. Now at 72 my wife won’t let me do another
    one, she says we have to just get off in our 22ft Autocruise Stardream
    and enjoy whatever time is left to us.
    Without wishing to be critical in any way, I do feel that your big RVs have
    become overly complex and this might be some of the problem.
    British motor homes are generally a lot simpler in concept.
    Very good thread though. I enjoyed reading it. More please.

  29. Hi there,
    Heartland!!! We purchased a new 27BHS Prowler. Where do I start? Junk. Extremely poor quality control. Useless dealers and dealer employees.
    The list of problems with our unit are endless and all caused by inept work at the point of manufacture. I sit here in frustration after removing and re installing the water pump because of plastic debris in the lines left during and after the build. Poor quality workmanship. Clamps and bolts not tightened. I could go on and on… Then there is the dealer..! I ordered the unit fitted with two group twenty seven batteries installed instead of the one group twenty four on it. I watched as the “expert” technician worked to change battery trays and boxes. To say I was not impressed misses the mark. Inept? OMG. They only had one battery and had to order more so I took the unit home. As I left the “technician” informed me that he had left the jumper cable for the batteries in the empty battery box. When I went to install the second battery I discovered that the jumper cable was a piece of #14 wire with two aluminium crimp on connectors. Can you say electrical fire! When I drove home for the first time I noticed that I had very poor brakes on the trailer. When I crawled under and checked them I discovered that the brakes were WAY out of adjustment but the dealer had just inspected the unit.
    All I can say is that it is a good thing I am handy because every time we use this rig I spend time fixing something that could have been done right at the factory.
    As for the dealer…… I have never been back and will never recommend any Heartland products to anyone. Once bitten, twice shy!

  30. Heartland??? Has become some of the worse products out there.

  31. We have a friend in an RV park in Escondido, CA who bought a 2016 Heartland Big Horn 5th wheel, and they complained about poor workmanship on their unit. We saw one at the Pomona , CA RV show, and the Big Horn was leaking in the ceiling from the air conditioner! Too much money for poor quality construction by Heartland!

  32. Having been an avid RVer for the past 30 years, now working in the industry for the past 20, and currently a Service Director at a 40+ year old family owned and operated dealership in D/FW. I am never amazed at what people’s expectations are when they buy an RV for the first time. They are not buying a Toyota, or a Lear Jet. You’re buying a “recreational vehicle” designed and made for “recreational use”. So many people are living in the full time when the truth is that if the manufacturer knew you were living in it they would cancel your 1 year warranty on the spot. They are not built or designed to hold up to daily use. No matter the brand and or the model. I have owned just about everything on the road from 50’s tear drop trailers to Prevost H3-40 pushers. Every one of them have had a number of problems over the years. Yes the new ones have more bugs to work out hence why they give you a warranty upfront. And that goes for ALL MANUFACTURERS. From Tiffin, to Coleman, they are all RVs and I have seen all of them in for a wide range of problems. I will use Toyota as an example since someone spoke about buying a $20K Toyota and not having any problems with it. I bet if we drove to the Toyota dealership there would be one being worked on in every bay. Cadillac, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Porsche, Kia, or Ferrari. They have one being worked on in every single bay. Same goes for the RV industry. It doesn’t matter the brand, they are all going to need service at some point. If you take away all of the things that the manufacturer doesn’t make like the AC, the appliances, the windshield, the frame, jacks, cargo doors, entry steps, awnings and fabrics, window blinds, the entire electrical system, the entire plumbing system, and the entire water system. None of it is made by the manufacturer. It’s only assembled by the manufacturer. I have rarely seen a true “manufacturer defect”. Most of the problems are with the company that made the slide out mechanism, the refrigerator manufacturer, the window manufacturer, etc. All the manufacturer did was assemble to the unit with 90% parts supplied from other vendors. I have heard just about every complain from owners over the years no matter how much research they did. You can research brands until you are blue in the face. Most all of them are assembled in the same region, by the same worker pool, and are honestly not better than one other. Yes there are entry level brands and high end brands, but that doesn’t mean that they are “better built” but rather have higher cost materials and are finished out better. The one thing I have learned from meeting RVers all over the country, most any given weekend, and working in the Service side of the industry for the past 10 years, is that EVERYONE is an expert in a field that they have no experience in. Everyone knows how to build one better, engineer one better, their brand is better than the others per the research they thought was sufficient, and no one is 100% satisfied. This is why I point out that you did not buy something that was designed to be a full time residence. You bought a Recreational Vehicle designed to use for recreational purposes. If you want something that is not going to be a pain in the rump then buy a house. Then again, my house has not moved 1 inch in 30 years and I have had to have the plumbing worked on, updated wiring, various appliances have failed, 2 new roofs, one questionable foundation, new carpet 5 times, 2 new doors, one horrible water leak while we were on vacation, the plumber has been out countless time to work on my 67 head sprinkler system, new HVAC system costing upwards of $15K……..and this once new house has never been hauled down the roads of America at 65 MPH, it’s equipped with walls that expand when more room is needed, doesn’t level itself when needed, etc. Enjoy your RV and enjoy what you purchased. Not what you purchased and have been trying to make it work for.

  33. It all comes down to the quality of craftsmanship. Just like with anything, the perception is that the more I pay the better the quality is. This is so not true. When we looked to upgrade from a travel trailer to a 5th wheel we were appalled at some of the top end RV’s and steered away from certain dealerships because they did no have a problem with showing their inventory that had damage or in need of repair. They all say “we’ll take care of that, just make a list of things you find wrong”. You then need to fight to have those items covered by “the warranty”!
    What ever happened to producing a product with the quality built in. As many noted in these comments, the quality control during assembly at the manufacture has deteriorated – or has it. It seems to be more common place and accepted to just fix something rather than hold the manufacturer accountable for the product they produce.
    I don’t have all the knowledge that it takes to build or craft a product that is mistake free or one that won’t fail, but I do have common sense and a keen eye when it comes down to simple things like screws driven in at an angle.
    I’ve offered my services to both my dealership and manufacturer but to no avail, they prefer to continue their current practices and slowly take care items one at a time hoping to wear down the consumers will to make things right.

  34. Glad I read some of the comments. We are considering purchasing a Class A diesel pusher (with tag) to become “mostly” full time RVers. Being a retired engineer, I tend to overload with research. Getting a little antsy when I read comments on quality. I understand what Jim stated above about the Recreational Vehicle part but totally disagree with the statement about warranty being pulled by the manufacturers. If you look at their videos and brochures, they don’t seem to have any problems with people using them full time. My question is “why would they?” We are looking at spending something north of $350,000. My gut tells me, if I spend this much money for a fairly complex piece of equipment…shouldn’t I expect minimal issues? Things to break, I’ve had to replace pool components, appliances, heat pumps, etc., but not to the tune of every month. Considering:
    Newmar, Winnebago, and Tiffin….maybe American Coach. Wish us luck..offer suggestions. Could sway our decisions

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