RV Quality Has Gotten So Bad That $62,800 Buys You A Camper With Broken Safety Equipment

1brokecamper

Every once in a while I get the idea to pick myself up a modern RV. Then I shudder at the thought of the thing falling apart. RVs have long been known for bad quality, but recent reports suggest that quality has taken a dive. Now, even dealerships are fed up with it. Reports on current RV quality are damning enough, but don’t really illustrate what it means to a buyer. My parents just bought a travel trailer fresh from the factory, and the thing is so poorly put together that a safety chain and an emergency brake cable already broke.

If you’ve owned a motorhome or a travel trailer before then you know what I’m talking about. RVs take the difficulty that comes with owning a house and combines them with the difficulties of owning a car, truck, or bus. Something will almost always be broken and if you’re unlucky, it won’t be a cheap fix.

Take my parents’ 2007 Thor Adirondack 31BH for an example. When they picked the 36-foot trailer up in 2016 I saw the telltale sign of water damage: bubbling in the outside walls. You can even see the bubbling in this picture that I took in 2019.

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Mercedes Streeter

The dealership that sold it to them said it was normal, but I knew that it wasn’t. Fast-forward to 2021, and my parents have found that the last 15 feet of floor is rotted out from water damage. The water made it into the camper from a breach in the roof seal near the bathroom unit. The water didn’t just make its way through the walls–causing that “normal” bubbling – but got into the wooden floor. More damage is occurring up front, but hadn’t made it to the floor.

And that is just the worst issue. In 2017, the latch for the black tank started a fast leak, pouring literal crap water onto the highway. In 2018, the power converter shorted out and started smoldering. Later, the awning decided to get a divorce from the rest of the trailer. And that doesn’t even mention the countless cosmetic issues that come from the thing being built from hilariously cheap materials. And those were the problems with something that was only 9 years old when we got it.

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Mercedes Streeter

Now, in the wake of record-breaking RV demand, the quality has apparently gotten even worse. New RVs seem to be as janky as used ones can be. In RV Travel’s report, dealerships minced no words in saying how bad it has gotten:

“It’s some of the worst stuff I’ve seen in 30 years,” said one longtime RV dealer. “It’s horrendous inside and out. But we have no recourse but to put it on the lot and try to sell it. You take what you can get, and you move on.”

The East Coast dealer said RV manufacturers are “building them as fast as they can, and there just isn’t any quality control. Manufacturers are not doing a good job of taking care of their customers. It’s gone from bad to worse.”

The RV Travel report wasn’t alone. Thompson Research Group surveyed RV dealerships in 2021 and the dealerships surveyed there echoed similar concerns as the dealerships. Some dealerships even took to YouTube to point out some models that may be more problematic than others. Friend of The Autopian attorney Steve Lehto even covered these reports on his own channel.

Dealerships surveyed by Thompson Research Group were kinder to the OEMs, but still detailed some rather silly problems:

“One of our RVs came with electric recliners but with no plug behind to plug into,” the dealer said. “What happened was the OEM putting it together could not get a regular couch so they just used the electric furniture they had in stock.”

“It’s hit or miss,” another dealer said. “One unit could be perfect and the next might have a bad fridge.”

New RVs are arriving at dealerships with missing parts, the wrong parts, or parts not put together correctly. It’s easy to say all of that in words, but how about a physical example? As luck would have it, my parents have decided to replace that Adirondack with a 2022 Heartland Mallard M33 for $62,800.

Heartlandmallard
Camping World

This beast weighs in at 7,746 pounds and measures in at 37 feet-long. Its tongue eats up 702 pounds of your tow vehicle’s payload and it has a bunch of slides. The travel trailer was just built in January, yet it feels older than that. And some ways it’s falling apart are surprising.

Let’s start with the little stuff.

If you stare long enough at the front of the trailer, you’ll notice some cool LED light strips.

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Mercedes Streeter

These are supposed make the Mallard look cool at night. But look closer and you’ll notice that not only are these LED strips the cheap kind that you can get off of Amazon, but the weak double-sided tape holding them down is already giving up.

This isn’t too surprising as you’ll find cheap materials throughout a camper, but I’m still disappointed.

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Mercedes Streeter

Moving down the body, the perimeter of the trailer is lined with these thin metal skirts. The dealership service center calls these “J-channels” and told me that they’re there to aid in visuals and aerodynamics. Well, the skirts on this trailer appear to have been secured with self-tapping screws and they’re already coming off.

The dealership says that the best that they can do is have the skirt refitted. I don’t see these sticking around for long.

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Mercedes Streeter

Let’s move back a little bit to the rear. Like most RVs today, this one is covered in swoopy graphics. These appear to have been applied a bit crooked in some areas. Then when I stared at the windows I was shocked at how bad the application of sealant was. The coverage looks like it’s too little in some areas and too much in others.

I wonder how long it’ll be before this one leaks.

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Mercedes Streeter

Alright, all of this has thus far been cosmetic, and could be fixed by a DIYer. Now let’s get into what’s really bad about this almost $63k rig.

Let’s get down low and look at the frame. This trailer was manufactured in January and hasn’t even been taken on a camping trip yet. But the frame already has surface rust creeping up all over it.

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Mercedes Streeter

The service department believes that there isn’t anything in the form of rust prevention there. And the department went further, saying that the trailer was delivered to the dealership from the factory with surface rust. They recommend spray painting whenever surface rust creeps up.

Even today, the Adirondack’s frame looks cleaner than this.

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Mercedes Streeter

Next, let’s move to the towing business-end of the camper. In the event of a ball or coupler failure, your chains are a layer of redundancy to help try to keep your trailer and tow rig under control. Sometimes, those chains can even save your life. So it’s critical to have chains that actually do their job. My dad reported to me that one of the chains on this trailer had to be replaced on the first day because the hook just fell off. How does that even happen?

Another layer of redundancy is this braided cable.

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Mercedes Streeter

When this cable is pulled hard enough, it triggers the trailer’s brakes. The idea is that if the trailer were to become detached from your tow vehicle, it will attempt to stop itself rather than turning into a 7,700-lb missile.

But this cable? Yeah, it broke in my hand.

All I did was pull on it just a little to hook it up, and it just broke in my hand. It wouldn’t have done a thing in an emergency. It’s one thing to fail at the cosmetic stuff, but these are safety redundancies designed to keep people safe. Of course, the interior also has its own quirks.

I didn’t get the chance to climb inside, but my parents told me that at delivery they found that the bathtub wasn’t even secured into place.

Heartland RV

Looking at reviews for the Mallard, it seems my parents have actually gotten somewhat lucky thus far, as others have experienced far more baffling maladies. Thankfully, all of this will be fixed under warranty.

I should also note that they’re towing this with just a 2010 Chevy Suburban 1500, which is a bad idea. Their SUV has an 8,000-lb tow rating and a 1,500-lb payload. The trailer comes within 200-lb of the tow rating and sucks up nearly half of the payload. That leaves very little room for passengers and gear in the SUV, and basically no room to carry anything in the trailer.

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Mercedes Streeter

Towing right at your vehicle’s limit is never a good idea. The Suburban struggles to get up to speed, struggles to keep stable, and chugs fuel like there’s no tomorrow. My parents will be getting something more capable.

I have reached out to Thor Industries – parent company of Heartland RV – for comment on the potential quality struggles that manufacturers may face today.

Americans are still pouring into RV dealerships with the goal of getting something to take on the open road. I’m happy that more people are getting into RVing, too. But if you’re going to buy a camper, be sure to have it looked all over. You can still get a good RV out there, but not all of them are created equal.

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120 Responses

  1. Livin’ Lite had the right idea, with their completely wood-free trailers made of highly durable materials, their original ethos was to ditch the planned obsolescence/throwaway nature of RVs and build something that would last. Then, Thor Industries bought them, quality went downhill, and the brand was killed off.

    Scamp and Casita still seem to be good quality and rugged, but they don’t have the blingy McMansion on wheels style that most mainstream RVers seem to want these days, so appeal to a certain niche. Basically, the sorts of people who were buying Volvos in the ’70s when their neighbors had LTDs or Furies

    1. Scamp quality is meh, but they’re super simple and the main body won’t fall apart if it gets wet. Casita is better, but I’d put the other fiberglass options (Bigfoot, Escape, Oliver) above either. Downside to them choosing to maintain their quality level is that they’ve got over a year lead time if you want a few one.

    2. 100% this ^^^^ My first slide in truck camper (an Adventurer 80RB) literally rotted away as I fought to cut out and replace ever larger parts of the camper. It finally blew over in a tornado. I used the insurance settlement to buy a Livin Lite with a slide. It’s all aluminum and composite. It has a one piece metal roof. Is it super stylish inside?, No, but its bulletproof and I’ll take that trade every time.

  2. Is anyone else afraid to buy nearly anything, especially cars and other vehicles, built during 2019-present (COVID era)? Shutdowns, workflow disruptions, etc. have made problems run deep, it seems.

    1. I bought a Scott Spark mountain bike. Had all sorts of stupid little problems. I should have taken it back to the shop and dumped it to get stuff fixed but it was a hour round trip drive to get there so I just fixed stuff myself. I did warranty the fork which blew seals a few weeks in, eBay’d it and bought something better.

      Wheels were built poorly and had terrible tubeless tape job. Had a bad cassette (wasn’t machined right, could not be adjusted properly), and a shifter ate a cable right off the bat.

      Seems like all manufacturing has given up on QC, even on name brand stuff. My Chinese carbon hardtail from 10 years ago was built way better.

      1. Huh – I can see how bike QC may have slackened for non-premium brands. It is basically impossible to get bike frames right now and parts aren’t much better. What stock there is, you can only buy by pre-order. It’s possible that companies are letting bikes pass QC because otherwise they’d have no bikes to sell. Now that I think about it, the situation with cars isn’t really any different (except that there are federal agencies that force carmakers to take QC seriously).

          1. Good question – I was thinking specifically of Surly and Salsa bikes, which are very common mid-market bikes but not anywhere remotely near the scale of Specialized, Trek, or Giant. I’m not sure what’s going on for them, or for the department store bikes. I’ve seen the same scarcity with high-end brands (Rivendell) and also non-premium parts (Dimension stems, Alex rims, Nitto handlebars).

  3. My recommendation is to get under that thing and check out the welds, too. I was recently involved in a lawsuit (as an expert witness) involving a fifth wheel camper trailer. As part of that matter, I saw some of the shoddiest, poorest welding I’ve ever seen. I was able to review the manufacturer’s “weld specs,” and it was nothing but a really janky PowerPoint. There were no weld drawings, size callouts, or anything. The welds were RIDDLED with flaws such as porosity, discontinuity, spatter, lack of penetration, etc. And it was not a cheap camper.

  4. I’m glad my friends fell for the RV trap back when they were 1.3- 1.6 4c4 Trackers*/foot. I got to see firsthand how terribly they were built back when they were “good”. I quickly made up my mind that I was never going to pay what they wanted for that crap…

    *DT’s “new” Tracker is my Autopian unit of currency…

  5. That’s absolutely inexcusable. I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not. My parents purchased a brand new Frontier pull-behind in 2003 when we were still kids. Within two years, the floor at the rear near the kitchen was sagging. My Dad stripped off the linoleum and replaced the rotted OSB with new plywood.

    A year later, it happens AGAIN. He hunts down the source of the leak and seals it. Once again rips up the linoleum and replaces the plywood. Then, he took it one step further and paid our neighbor to weld steel cross bars to the frame (because the damn floor was still sagging) and he undercoated the plywood at the bottom with Rustoleum. Mind you, this is in three years of ownership. These are issues that the 1984 Burro I was gifted didn’t have until nearly four decades into its life (I’ll be restoring soon).

    We had the Frontier a total of ten years or so and used the absolute hell out of it; thankfully there were no more issues. As my parents approach retirement age, they decided to purchase a new one. Not one to be burned twice, my Dad specifically sought out a hard-sided Rockwood pull behind pop-up. Something like this:

    https://forestriverinc.com/rvs/camping-trailers/rockwood-hard-side-pop-up-campers

    My Dad is of the firm belief that these things are all built like shit and it’s best to circumvent any issues by garaging them when not in used. Based on the experience of everyone I know, I’m inclined to agree. They got a pop-up because it can fit in the garage, most people don’t have an outbuilding large or tall enough to store the monster RVs that are currently in vogue.

    No shade to your folks because they’re far from the only ones, but I just can’t fathom dropping between $50-100K+ on one of these pieces of garbage that you’d be lucky to get 10ish years out of. Plus the new ones coming out aren’t cool or quality enough for an eventual restoration, they’re just built to be disposable. The prices have gone through the roof and the quality is still absolutely abysmal.

    1. Last May I bought a Rockwood A122 A-frame pop-up like your link. It had been used 4 times by the original owner. The day we went to pick it up the lift actuator failed in the up position when the seller was showing us how it worked. Back to the dealer for the second replacement in his 2 years of ownership (@ $500). 2 weeks later we finally got it home. Last summer I had to redo pretty much all of the electrical, reinforce the bed frame and cabinets where staples had pulled out or weren’t even aligned with anything to begin with, repair the Dometic 3-way fridge every time we used it (sometimes would work on shore-power only, sometimes only propane, once only DC), find a place to mount the spare (factory rear spare carrier fell off first time original owner used it), fill too many holes to count in the floor, zip-tie all of the wiring and plumbing to the frame, reseal the roof vent (three times now), and clean up/spray the rusty areas of the frame.

      This year on our first trip sitting around the campfire (on my birthday) my wife mentioned she could see daylight through the floor at the front of the camper. Sure enough, the front wall (curved) had separated from the floor in the middle and had a 3/4″ bow (2cm for our metric friends). I called several shops before finding one that was even willing to try to fix it. Dropped it off two weeks ago and still waiting.

      Every time I think I’ve solved the issues more pop up (see what I did there?). I’m ready to dump it but my wife wants to keep it (she isn’t the one spending most weekends repairing crap). I’m thinking an insulated cargo trailer with room for dirt bikes, bicycles, and a drop-down bed might be my next project.

      We looked at new compact travel trailers last spring before getting our a-frame. We looked at a Forest River Viking Express at a dealer but there were so many build-quality issues I could see with it on the sales floor. I pointed some out to the dealership owner. He just shrugged and literally said “Yeah, I know. It is what it is. If you don’t want it I’ll have it sold by the end of the week anyway.”

    1. Lehto has a lot of RV horror stories. Some of the saddest are when people finance them with high interest 15 year notes. They aren’t covered by lemon laws and there is little recourse available to buyers. The dealers and manufacturers are real sleaze bags. Another nightmare is when they need repairs and the dealer is booked up for months and the RV ends up being a lawn ornament.

  6. In my career I was involved with both RV mfgrs and commercial vehicle OEMs from the supplier side.
    The RV folks have a much lower level of design, quality, and manufacturing capability.
    Back in the 70s GM tried to get into the motor home business and quickly realized that building RVs to automotive standards wasn’t economically viable.

    1. I though the GMC motorhome became uneconomical to produce because they dropped the FWD V8 powertrain for the rest of their lineup and it would have been too costly to produce solely for a specialty vehicle, not because of the general nature of motorhome manufacturing.

  7. The saying goes, If you absolutely have to have a travel trailer that leaks, get a composite panel one. They ALL leak sooner or later.

    Mercedes, have you ever camped in Peninsula State Park in Door County?

  8. Sometimes I dream of having one of these nice RVs and take my family camping, but seeing the quality of these things, nah, I think I’ll pass.
    Maybe for $15-25k I’d be OK with a glorified garden shed on wheels, but for $60k? Just no.
    Reminds me of that converted stretch limo on Junkyard digs, the whole thing was made of scrap metal and rebar poorly welded together underneath.
    I’d rather go and convert an old bus or school bus or box truck or whatever myself for this kind of money.

  9. Someone else here should correct me if I’m wrong, but my recollection is that you want between 10% and 15% of the trailer weight on the tongue, for the purpose of stability. Which would mean that while that trailer may list a hitch weight of 702 pounds (when bone dry), that won’t be the case once you fill up those forward storage compartments with a few hundred pounds of stuff.

  10. Bathtub not secured, eh?

    Does it ever feel like your life is just a contest to see who can make the most use of the fiancée’s mold remediation skills?

    And this market is about to involuntarily do the ice bucket challenge, so I feel bad for your parents’ purchase timing. Unless they financed heavily at a great rate, then it’s at worst a wash for them. Nothing kills 5 figure leisure purchases like 12-20% interest rates.

  11. So incredibly frustrating, and unlike most car dealerships, you don’t get a loaner when it is in the shop.

    We wanted a small camper, but didn’t want to pay the money or deal with the crappy quality. I ended up buying an older 10 foot cargo trailer and converting it to a simple camper. My goals were simple and durable.

    It has shelving, a simple couch that turns into a bed, and a rear kitchen with 6 gallons of water. Weighs 1800 lbs and cost less than $3k to buy and build out. Not for everyone, but works for us.

    I know images don’t work here yet, but this link should work.
    https://www.instagram.com/p/CQTzd_9h9H3/

    1. Loaner?
      Fuck, ask anybody who’s been through it. They won’t even fix it. Know what the warranty on a new fifth wheel travel trailer is? None. There is no warranty whatsoever. Wheels fall off going down the road because it was overtorqued from the factory, sucks to be you.

      That Heartland allegedly has a 1 year ‘limited’ warranty and a 3 year ‘structural’ warranty. A complete lack of rustproofing on the structure is clearly a major defect, especially when it’s thin gauge steel that will rot through quickly. “Oh just spray paint it.”
      But you have that limited warranty, right? WRONG. Here’s what the warranty covers: “defects in materials & workmanship supplied by and attributed to manufacturing & assembly of the RV.” Translation: once the manufactured and assembled RV leaves the factory, maybe the supplier that sold it to us will cover you. Which is why Heartland’s entire warranty page is less than 2 vague paragraphs about their nonexistent warranty, and 2+ pages listing third-party suppliers and their warranty. There is not a single legally valid warranty statement on the page at all nor any legally required warranty disclosures.

      And that’s on $62k “luxury” 37 footer. But hey, when your toilet dumps your shit all over the floor, maybe Dometic will help you out. Let’s check with them: “if your product was factory fitted or came pre-installed, you must contact your dealer.” (I’ll save you the time: literally no part on the RV has the warranty Heartland deceptively and quite illegally claims it does. Not a single one.)

      1. A friend got new fifth wheeler to use as a home during his retirement years. He had it a year or two before one of the axles went out. He had to pay for a new one out of pocket and the dealership where he had the work done told him that it was a common occurrence for those that actually use their campers.

  12. I’d love to see how this extends (or doesn’t) to the people spending $100k+ on Sprinter #vanlife rigs. I think many or most are built by smaller indie shops, which would hopefully mean higher standards.

    Also – hilarious that your parents had so many problems with the used model they bought previously and thought, why don’t we take the full depreciation hit PLUS the poor quality!? And then buying a trailer too big for their tow vehicle… yikes. These are the people you avoid on the highway and at the campground.

    I’ll end with a reminder: $63,000 can buy a LOT of plane tickets and hotel rooms. Hell, even put it towards renting a camper now and then. I just cannot wrap my head around the logic of these new-RV purchases, but to each their own!

        1. Yeah, no. Fuck that. Those assholes spend all their time screaming about how Medicare isn’t an entitlement because pick your excuse, insisting any form of nationalized health care is the resurgence of the USSR. All while voting for literal Nazis who are trying to take away the Medicare they’re ‘owed,’ and doing everything they can to fuck over everyone else.

          Boomers can fuck right off with that shit. Dump ’em on the curb of the worst nursing home you can find, walk away, refuse to pay their bill, and demand your tax dollars not pay for their care. After all, they all pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and Gen X/Z/etc. are just lazy freeloaders.

          1. I certainly agree with you. There are those who somehow think that they’re going to inherit a bunch of hoarded Boomer wealth. They’ll burn it all on crap like these RVs, give it to the grifters you mentioned, and then wipe the rest out on care services. After that, they’ll demand everyone they’ve been shitting on forever to take care of them. It’s already happening.
            https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/01/generation-x-women-are-facing-caregiving-crisis/604510/

    1. I get the appeal. Hotels are nice, but even Motel 6 doesn’t reach as far and wide as campgrounds do. And if you buy the right kind of camper, your hotel is anywhere that your tow vehicle can drag it.

      It’s not so much about saving money as getting an experience that you can’t get with a hotel. You get a road trip, planting your stakes down somewhere new, exploring that new area, and more. In 2020, I took a 5,000-mile-ish road trip around the country. My fiancée and I slept in a tent while our friends slept in a 1970s Trillium 1300. Their “hotel” was wherever they wanted it, whenever they wanted it. And we got to camp places with views that you couldn’t find anywhere else.

      Now that Trillium, that’s my kind of camper. Small enough that you barely notice it behind your car, but still large enough that you aren’t going to want to kill your spouse after a single night in it. Oh, and plumbing, so you can still appear to be a civilized person!

      1. When I was a kid, I could never talk my parents into getting an RV or a camper. My mom’s logic was, “I don’t go on vacation so I can bring a second house with me to have to clean.”

        As an adult I finally got a camper trailer, and I loved it. I told my mom I had the perfect rebuttal to that logic: I know exactly the last time the sheets were changed and the toilet was cleaned. She had a hard time contradicting that one.

      2. Oh I totally get the appeal – I’ve owned and traveled in plenty of campers, too. But when you reach Tesla-MSRP territory on your camper, it loses logic for me. You can also sb “hotels” for “cabin at a campground” or similar – the point being that these purchases just make so little sense (new) when you think of the alternatives.

    2. Not everybody is into camping because of saving money. Personally I would not trade a camping holiday for plane tickets and hotel rooms even it the plane and hotel were for free. And I think it is vice versa, someone who enjoys the luxury of hotel holidays is already horrified by the idea of walking to the -shared – toilets.

    3. This. People buy RVs not only for camping but because “it will save them money.” Now in some cases, it will. My folks bought theirs in the early 2000’s for $14K, and we used it 5+ times a year for 10 years, sold it for $4K. We had a place to store it so that didn’t cost any money either. When you’re travelling with five kids, it actually did save them money versus renting two hotel rooms and going to a restaurant for every single meal. It’s still possible to get modest campers like that one for $20-25K, which is reasonable if you actually use it and hold onto it.

      Most people though use theirs 1-2x per year and are buying $40K+ rigs. You’re spending incredible amounts of money on depreciation, gas, maintenance, storage (many cities/HOAs will not let you store them in your yard). You could take a lot of really nice vacations staying in luxurious hotels or AirBnBs and eating gourmet restaurant meals for that kind of dough, without the hassle of owning and maintaining a five or six figure paperweight. If you only want to camp once or twice a year, just get a tent or pop-up.

      1. that was the reasoning when my parents got a motorhome in the 70s: too many kids to go on any sort of normal vacation with a budget. It got used whenever there was any sort of pot luck or family get together as well.

        Nearby campgrounds have lots of these big trailers set up in lots with permanent decks, sheds, hard pipes for supply & waste water, electrical hook-ups, etc. They are basically 2nd homes and no one ever pulls them away unless they are sold to someone who wants to park it at another campground. It is nuts.

      2. True..but our primary reason for buying our Bounder is that it’s our Hurricane Escape Pod. We had to evac from Sally as we were staying in a double wide VRBO while house hunting. That experience was eye opening.
        Having the RV ready to go provides some sense of security and should something bad happen to the house we can live in it while repairs are being made. Which as we’ve seen can take months.

    4. The pricey Sprinters are.. generally less bad in terms of quality. Especially if you steer clear of Thor and Forest River brands.

      As far as comparing with hotels, the main advantage to me is that you’re basically in your own room and bed instead of a getting used to a new one every few nights. And you have your own stuff and setup.

  13. I hang out on Fleetwood MH FB Groups..because I have one. It’s a 2000 and it’s solid.
    The stories I read from people who take delivery of a new rig on one end of the dealership and drive it right over to the service side where it sits for months are as many as they are sad.
    Did your parents buy from Camping World? They have a very bad reputation when it comes to service.

  14. The ‘safety chain’ in the pic of the broken brake-actuator cable is horrifying. That trailer weighs almost 8k, and that chain is only a couple steps above dog leash! I wouldn’t rig a lift over 100lbs with that crap.

    In my last job ( at a tiny piano shop ), when things got slow, my boss would by an old boat or camper for us to fix & flip. The way they’re put together is scary: glue & staples mostly. Water lines are cheap plastic-and installed as the whole is assembled: I had to disassemble most of a kitchenette to replace them in one camper. The wiring is as small as they think they can get by with, and all the neat-looking vents and penetrations are cheap plastic which quickly becomes brittle and disintegrated. Don’t even >think< about getting the factory roof AC fixed: it’s disposable ( I know: I work HVAC ).

    First thing you do is go buy 5gallons of the white flexible roof-patch for mobile homes and give it 2 thick coats up top. Then take the entire interior out so you can re-run wiring & plumbing you can ( literally! ) live with. I could go on, but I’m already grinding my teeth; time for a lay-down or maybe an herbal soother.

  15. I’ve been interested in RVs,since I was a kid but my parents weren’t interested and most of our family vacations involved a cheap motel and the grandparents’ spare room.
    Since the kids are older and we have a truck we have looked at trailers and rented a couple off RV Share. The neighbor’s semi restored vintage Shasta was reasonably well built but cramped and incomplete. Most of the mass market stuff is cheaply built and the 2018 Coachmen we rented had peeling panels in the shower, a crappy mattress and flimsy hardware. The 2018 Lance we rented was much nicer and much better built and designed as one would expect from something costing twice as much. The Lance still had stupid issues with the electric tongue jack where the buttons came off and you had to cover it so the controls wouldn’t get wet and short.
    The sad thing is Airstream has been having quality issues lately so it looks your best bets are fiberglass trailers and a handful of premium trailers like Lance and maybe Black Series. I wouldn’t even look at motorhomes especially some of the big Class A diesels that cost more than my house and apparently heve more jank than The Autopian comment system.
    Renting seems like the smart move for now since I don’t need to make payments or park it and my pickup has many uses

  16. I’ve spent the last couple months of weekends surrounded by rotten flooring and insulation while rebuilding a vintage airstream. I needed this reminder that this is the right path (rebuilding everything instead of buying a stock RV)

  17. I know there is a culture of having a camper trailer for vacationing in Australia, the UK, and parts of Europe. Are the campers that are made in and/or for those markets having the same QC issues as the ones in the US?

  18. My in-laws sold their boat and their 5th wheel camper for the same reason. They got sick of dumping $1,000 into the damn things every time they wanted to use them. They kept their boat and camper inside an insulated pole barn, so I can only imagine how bad it would have gotten if they had to leave them outside.

  19. We bought a 2021 Bullet back in October. Nothing broken but my god the build quality is shit. Terrible sealing on the outside, stripped screws everywhere, the dinette was not installed straight. Rows of staples not even contacting the stud behind them. Just overall shoddy work. I’ve gone through it and most was relatively easy to fix. Everything works as it should, it’s just infuriating to buy something new and have to put in hours of work to fix these things.

    We had a 2020 Jayco before this a (sold because we had another kid and needed something bigger. Actually made 2k on the deal too) and it seemed to be a bit better put together. Who knows though. I’m sure the quality from trailer to trailer is miles apart.

    Also one thing to realize is going into these things it’s almost always best to fix problems yourself, unless we’re talking dead appliances or major problems. It will sit for literal months at the dealer if you drop it off for things that seem minor.

  20. I drove the class C and A RVs to the dealerships for a couple years. I had access to the invoices of a few of the units I drive. All of them had at least a 100% markup from factory to dealership MSRP. From what i understand, the markup on travel trailers is even higher. Let that sink in for a minute.

    1. It’s because higher tongue weights allow you to drive faster without losing stability (up to a point), and Americans don’t want to drive 55 while towing. American tongue weights are usually 10% of the trailer weight, while European trailers usually put about 5% of the weight on the tongue (and are legally limited to 90 km/h, about 55 MPH).

      American tow vehicles are also supposed to use weight distributing hitches at much lower weights than their maximum tow ratings in some cases, to mitigate some of the stability issues pointed out in the video you posted.

      https://www.curbsideclassic.com/auto-biography/the-great-american-anti-towing-conspiracy/

    2. YES! I’ve been asking myself that question for ages. David (anybody really!!), wouldn’t that be a nifty new article? Because I never really found the answer myself. So far I just figured that an old school (ideally single cab) leaf-sprung-rear-end truck is so light in the back that it would be not as nice to drive with the 150 to 200 lbs tongue weight you’d get from a maxed out euro-style trailer.

  21. I have a poorly kept secret for you, Mercedes. RV quality has always been shit unless you shell out stupid money for something like an Airstream. Most RVs and camper trailers have very few safety requirements and are thrown together following the “low investment = high profit” business model.

  22. So, I’m sure most of us have played the game where you put the word ‘anal’ in front of RV names because it is often hilarious (two that spring to mind are Leprechaun and Adventurer) but it seems like a lot of newer RV’s don’t yield results as hilarious as they did 10 years ago. My immediate thought is that I might have matured but my wife confirms that is not the case.

  23. LifeProTip, well 2 of them, actually.

    1. Don’t buy anything that says Forest River anywhere on it. Boats, RVs doesn’t matter – they build garbage using the cheapest labor and materials they can. There’s companies out there building decent RVs. Find them.

    2. Just… Don’t buy new RVs. I’m sitting here sipping a beer after taking a claw hammer to the rot in my 1976 Prowler. When I’m done with this project I’ll have less than 1k wrapped up in “restoring” a 29′ camper I bought for $300, and it’ll be every bit as campable as a new unit – gas/propane fridge, AC, 12/120v electrical, blackwater, the works. And it’ll have the same “cheapest thing Menard’s sells” interior furnishing as the Streeters’ mallard.

    “I don’t want to put that much elbow grease in.” Fine, but any modern RV is going to need at least as much work done before you’re done making 1/2 of the payments. You could pay an RV tech to do it all and still come out at 1/6 the price.

  24. I know I’m a few days late but this quote is *chef’s kiss*

    “It’s some of the worst stuff I’ve seen in 30 years,” said one longtime RV dealer. “It’s horrendous inside and out. But we have no recourse but to put it on the lot and try to sell it. […] Manufacturers are not doing a good job of taking care of their customers.”

    So he admits to selling stuff that he knows is literal junk, then complains about someone else not taking care of their customers.

  25. Thought I did agree with you on this. They have always been junk.
    I had a job briefly 30 or so years ago gutting and rebuilding these things, and they were shit then.
    Particle board that did seem to be compressed correctly. Hinges for the cabinets that were made from compressed tin foil. Walls held together with about a third of the needed fasteners.
    RVs have always been garbage.

    1. For US residential 120V wiring like in your house Black is positive, White is neutral and Green or bare is ground.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if RVs are a mix with the exterior “trailer” part using automotive (black is ground) and the interior “housing” part using residential (black as positive).

  26. “I should also note that they’re towing this with just a 2010 Chevy Suburban 1500, which is a bad idea. Their SUV has an 8,000-lb tow rating and a 1,500-lb payload. The trailer comes within 200-lb of the tow rating and sucks up nearly half of the payload.”

    Whoa, whoa, whoa, this is a huge problem. They’re not barely under their tow rating, I guarantee you they’re _well_ over it. That 7746 lb number is DRY weight, which means there is nothing, including propane or water, onboard. The GVWR on that trailer is 9600, which is generally the more realistic number for what a trailer is going to weigh when in use (unsurprisingly, most trailers are not built with a lot of headroom in the weight department – they’re built to handle a normal load of cargo for camping and absolutely nothing more). The RV industry is so sketchy that the dry number often doesn’t even include “optional” things like microwaves and such too. No RV will ever weigh its dry weight again after it’s been weighed. That number is completely meaningless.

    I would put money on the fact that they’re at least 1000 lbs over their tow rating when that thing is loaded up to go camping and they’re probably even further over the GCVWR for the Suburban and trailer combined. Keep in mind that 700 lb tongue weight becomes more like 900+ when fully loaded. Also, payload ratings only account for one ~150 lb driver, so you can subtract your parents’ combined weight above that from the payload.

    In short, that Suburban is drastically overloaded. They may get away with it for a while, but eventually it will bite them and wreck a vacation and/or hurt someone. PLEASE encourage them to get a bigger tow vehicle if they insist on a trailer that large.

  27. I have a 2013 Thor ACE motorhome that I bought used in 2020, and I am so glad I went used instead of new. If I had paid $130k to get the build quality I have, I would’ve been sick. And the warranty on this $130k Class A RV was only 1 year, which is nuts. Now the chassis is covered by Ford, with I think a 3yr/36k something or other. But even after going over it as much as I could, I found my shower drain leaking because of how it was installed at the factory, both tail lights leaking, thus causing some minor delamination of the fiberglass, water pump went out, and my generator recently wouldn’t start because screws vibrated out of the intake manifold. Lastly, as luck would have it, the V10 dropped a valve in the #4 cylinder, so it is currently in the shop awaiting a new engine which thankfully, my Good Sam service plan overs. Highly recommend the Good Sam service plan BTW.

    Now I come from a camping family, everything from pop ups to class A RVs like mine, and I can handle pretty much any repair in the “house” part of the coach, which is good because there is always something to fix. However, you have to go into it knowing this. They were crap in the ’70s and ’80s, and are still crap today. I tolerate it because I love camping so much, and because I can’t afford something better, like an Airstream.

  28. It’s a shame that these come from the factory with so many flaws that they’re unusable.

    We upgraded (???) from a large popup to a travel trailer in 2014, buying a 2015 model, also from Camping World. First and last time I’ll deal with them… We were fortunate that even though the build quality is shit there were no problems that caused me to have to use CW’s service. I fixed and/or upgraded everything that needed to be fixed.

    We chose the model thinking that it would be just the two of us using it. Now we usually have one and sometimes two grandsons camping with us and it’s getting tight. We considered looking for a model with more sleeping space without going much longer but after reading about all the horror stories we’re sticking with what we have.

    1. The thin cable for the emergency breakaway switch is fine being thin – all it’s there for is to yank a plug out of a switch box on the tongue that locks the trailer brakes, in the event of a “breakaway.”

      That, of course, is assuming that it, you know, is actually CONNECTED to the thing it’s supposed to pull on.

  29. A thoughtful glimpse into what awaits us in the future. Even more shoddily built, more expensive shit we never needed in the first place.

    I think Mike Judge was more on point with “Idiocracy” than Gene Roddenberry was with “Star Trek” about what the future holds for humanity.

    Seemingly basic competence and know how declines with every new generation.

    Year by year the working class grows weaker and more careless. Because we just keep buying their shit and the conglomerate’s they work for don’t care that they don’t care. Because we keep buying it.

    1. You couldn’t be more wrong, IMO. Just take cars as an example. Modern cars, to take one random example, are better built than cars have ever been. You an see this in the fact that they last longer, and so the average age of cars on the road has gotten consistently older for at least the past twenty years (see the first chart here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/average-u-s-vehicle-age-hits-record-12-years-11623680640).

      It’s easy to forget how crappy things were in the past, but I assure you that they were generally far crappier than today!

  30. I’ve got a friend-and-neighbor with a camper trailer. He and his wife love it and say that it is essential to buy used because the cost is vastly less and with some age you can tell whether or not it was a lemon. Just one data point – I dunno whether that’s conventional wisdom.

    1. I too have heard this recommendation from more than a few RV’ers. Newish but used RVs/campers almost always have at least had warranty and repair work already completed for some of the bigger items. You can hope the issues won’t come back, but often the repair/replacement is built just as poorly as the original.

  31. I took the plunge on a then 4 year old Aliner two weeks pre-COVID. Even going into it knowing that even nicer RV’s are built terribly wasn’t full preparation for getting one. Our then 4 year old popup needed new wheel bearings, a new water pump, and a bunch of resealed seams in addition to the usual 5 year maintenance items. Brilliant design, meh construction. Thankfully it’s fairly simple and accessible to work on.

  32. One summer back in the dark ages while on break from college I worked in a couple of RV factories. I grew up in Hemet California and that was the RV and mobile home capital of the West. The first one built travel trailers. They were rolling shit boxes held together with glue and staples. One weekend at a desert race a bunch of us locals camped together. One of the guys I met was the GM for Beechwood Motor Homes and after talking, he offered me a job. I had told him how bad the workmanship was where I worked, but he already knew that. He offered me more than I was making even though he knew I was going back to school soon. Off-roaders have always taken care of their fellow off-roaders. The Beechwood motorhomes were much better built and I liked that. I worked there 6 or 7 weeks and went back to school. The next Summer Beechwood entered one of their coaches in the Baja 500. I don’t think they finished, but I don’t remember. That was 1969.

    Over the years I have owned a number of travel trailers and motorhomes. None of them were built to last except my Airstream. I also was loaned a Revcon motorhome a few times to go to desert races with by the factory. We were discussing them sponsoring my race car. That was a pretty cool and well built motorhome. Most are garbage.

  33. Why does everyone not recommend towing at max capacity of the vehicle? I’ve towed over my capacity in an 2019 F150, verified with scales, and it towed perfectly. I remember growing up I would tow a 5000 lb boat with 190 HP 4.6 liter V8 and that was harder than 10,000 lbs with 400 hp and a 10 speed automatic. Never had any overheating issues with 2019 but I definitely had transmission overheating issues with mid 90s trucks. If I had gone F250 gas over my F150 it would have been $10,000 extra and 5 MPG less mileage so it wasn’t worth it, under my license I can only tow 10,000 lbs anyway.

    1. The issue is almost always the brakes and the transmissions. The motors are just fine. The brakes just aren’t made to stop things that heavy. It might be fine once in a while and if you know to baby the brakes and take care of it, but too many people will just drive it like normal and slide right through intersections/etc when the brakes fade, glaze, or just straight up don’t stop you in time.

      1. In the case of my pickup 5.0 F150, it shares its brakes and transmission including the cooler with the 13,000 lb tow rating of the 3.5 EB F150, so my 9,600 lb tow rating is strictly due to power, especially since a 3.73 over my 3.55 bumps the tow rating up to over 10,000 lbs.

        But I guess my point is you shouldn’t tow over your tow rating unless you know what you’re missing, but I don’t understand why people and the internet it seems says to buy an 3/4 ton pickup to tow 7500 lbs less than a 1000 miles a year.

  34. From 2007 until 1/31/2015 I worked in parts and service at one of the non dealership locations of the company who plastered their name on the spare tire cover in the photo.

    I thought that owning an RV, having previously worked in retail and years working in manufacturing worked in my favor to prepare me for employment there. The retail portion was not too bad.

    The most important thing I learned was there was zero consistency in RVs. Two identical RVs, one might have a Norcold fridge and the other a Dometic fridge. The openings are similar but one won’t fit into the other’s space without doing something to modify it. A/C units and thermostats too.
    Vent covers were the bane of my existence. Obsolescence is rampant. Plastic door hinges on RV refrigerator doors are stupid. Our store had no manuals showing what brand accessories/appliances/water pumps etc came in which brand of RV.
    When I quit, I took my 7 years of experience with me and have never gone back to a CW store. I now work as an office clerk.

    No customers coming in with their used toilets dripping on my service counter, looking to replace their foam floor seal.

  35. ” ..one of the chains on this trailer had to be replaced on the first day because the hook just fell off. How does that even happen? ”

    Is this as stupid as it sounds?? Was something that is made of solid steel , somehow not solid steel?
    – or perhaps a connector wasnt tightened, which would make more sense?(but still bad)

  36. This makes me wonder…If you’re going to do this, why not buy an older trailer or RV? Get it inspected, of course, but if they are this crappy when new, why not buy an older/cheaper one, spend a little time sprucing it up to fit your wants then use that? It’s something that you use for recreation, so it makes little sense to blow that much on what is essentially the equivalent of a “weekend car.”

    I spent a bit of time online looking at these things this week, and aside from some terrible aesthetic choices (lots of brass and movie theatre seat patterns) and the question of where does one put one of these beasts, it makes way more sense to go used if one is at all handy.

    1. There is an unfortunate external reason to buy newer: many private campgrounds have an age limit for the rigs they allow to rent a space. My wife and I have had a rock-solid 1986 Fireball 23′ since 2014, and when we were Towing it cross-country, there were some campgrounds we could not have stayed at. Which is fine, because State and national parks are cheaper with better scenery anyway. We don’t get out in the camper so that we can tow our own hotel room to a luxury resort – in fact, our inside joke is that our favorite vacation spot is “Out Of Service Area.” Man, it’s been too long. We’ve got to get back there sometime.

  37. I have a friend that went into converting a ( I think ) VW Transporter Combi into a camping car.
    He just removed the back seats and built a set of wooden boxes that once spread over the back form a flat area larg enough to make a bed for two.
    And that’s it… When de decides to sell it, he will just have put back the seats.
    Now it can be rough compared to American RV, but consider that in Europe most of the US RV and a decent chunk of the RV trailers would require a commercial driver license…. Have road restrictions and would be unable to park on a roadside for the night….
    ( I won’t had the camping ground hunt issue… because not many in France can host a bus/coach sized RV or semi-trailer RV )

    1. We bought a 2007 23′ Airstream last year, and it’s been great trailer, but it much cheaper than a new one, even though.a new one doesn’t look much different. Everything works as it should and it tows great.. Based on reading the Airstream forums, they are also having the quality issues because there are many of the same equipment suppliers for components. I do hope to keep my Airstream for a very long time.

      1. We are on our 3rd Airstream (2007 28 International CCD). We also have a 2017 Bambi (16) and a 1978 24 foot Argosy. I think the 10-15 year old Airstreams are the sweet spot. Especially is stored indoors. The newest models finally do away with the wood subfloors as they moved to composite a few years ago.

  38. Ouch.QC is even worse than i thought.
    My Sister and BIL bought new a few years back.They had to take theirs back to the factory at least once for warranty repairs.
    It was 1200 miles to the factory…
    Something tells me their next one will be bought local.

  39. Its happening all over, unfortunately. During Covid people got let go, educated themselves into new career fields, retired, or did who-knows-what.
    The company I work for would contract out to a local laser-cut and press-forming company for certain parts. Their older guys retired during the first year or so of Covid and the new guys they have don’t know how to run the machines. The laser cut stuff isn’t bad, but anything that needs to be put on the press-brake is liable to come back unusable. Parts inside out, 90 degree bends that were 85 degrees or smaller, dimensions not held to any sort of tolerance.
    It was horrible

    We were able to find a new company that is excellent at what they need to do, but it seems like everyone else in the area found them as well and they are just booked solid.

    Its rough out there.

    1. I wonder how much of that was the trend of the older guys hanging on for later and later without the chance for the new guys to come on in any sort of reasonable timeframe. Then when covid hit the guys doing the specialized jobs at over 65 all retired at once rather than get sick causing a bit of a brain drain, since the newer guys never got the experience.

      1. We have definitely seen a greying of the workforce in our US final assembly plants. Automation means fewer workers are needed per vehicle. So for a few decades there hasn’t been much need to hire which means the work force gets older and older. Now we are seeing a wave of retirements in a few years time and COVID only accelerated that. So did the recent Steel and Aluminum tariffs that pushed more parts and final assembly to Mexico. (It was already hard to compete in the USA with much more expensive labor but when you make the raw material 25% more expensive it really doesn’t make sense to make a vehicle or parts in the USA if you can import them duty free from Mexico.)

        Now that the wave of older workers are retiring it is hard to hire new workers when Starbucks pays $20 and our starting wage is set in a 4 year negotiated contract with the union. You can’t just throw money at it, you have to negotiate with the union, and the old guys want theirs $1 for $1. Whatever you want to give a new guy (pay increase or signing bonus) they want it too even though they are taking home $70 an hour after benefits.

        Or you can expand in Mexico where the workers work just as hard and are actually more disciplined to follow the process to the letter.

      2. In my company, we had a wave of retirements when we shut down plants during the lockdowns. Lot of older guys who could have retired before, but kept on working, decided to just do it when they were sitting at home with nothing to do with no solid date for when they might be able to go back. Then, we couldn’t hire or train anyone during the shutdown, so had to scramble to fill and train positions upon reopening at the same time we were trying to ramp back up to full production to handle pent up demand.

        In our case, we were classified as essential, and could have stayed open, but many of our customers were not and were shut down, and we ship to multiple states who all had different rules, so we just didn’t have enough business to justify staying open.

        Worryingly, a majority of our workers (machinists, equipment operators, welders, truck drivers, etc) are still Vietnam veterans, which means we could have another massive retirement wave in the very near future, and we’re still struggling to stay at full staff as it is

        1. To be clear, it’s NOT hard to stay full staffed, should the company choose to pay the workers a decent wage. You can’t stay full staffed because the work is hard and they don’t want to pay anyone to stick around and work hard. You can make $18-20 an hour working at Walmart or McDonalds right now. Why would you bust your ass on an assembly line for the same or less?

          Chic-Fil-A figured it out. Walmart did studies and found that paying more led to better stores, more reliable and higher quality employees, etc. The problem was that they only ran their pilot in a few stores for 6 months and didn’t understand why it hadn’t immediately translated into higher profit margins, despite markedly higher customer satisfaction rates.

          1. Nah, our pay is fine, we’re starting at $25-30 an hour for jobs that require high school education, most grocery and fast food jobs around here are only just getting to $15, some are under. The trajectory we’ve seen with my generation and younger is that we’ll take the job, realize it’s annoying to work outdoors in hot or bad weather, and that it’s physically demanding, burn out, and quit after a few months for something with lower pay but easier work environment. We hired 106 people but increased head count by 4, most of the ones who stayed were older ex-retirees coming back into the work force because of boredom

    2. I’ve read (and cannot verify whatsoever) that where these things are made in the midwest, there’s such a drug problem and a ‘we don’t want to pay workers’ problem that they can’t keep anyone. They have people coming in for 2 or 3 weeks until they get paid the first time and ghost, and that they’re simply taking literally anyone they can get because they don’t wanna pay anyone anything more than the bare minimum. Also, they’re still selling every single one that they make so… if demand still exists with a shit product, what incentive does the manufacturer have to improve short of getting sued after trying to deny warranty claims or getting sued because of safety issues that led to people getting hurt/dying?

      1. That’s a big part of it. A lot of the manufacturers were already running at full speed when the pandemic demand surge hit. RVs had been getting more and more popular for something like a decade already.

        Part of the problem is supplier consolidation. Most of the appliances, parts, etc are made by either Dometic or Lippert. There used to be a little more competition, but one company or the other acquired them.

        A big part of the problem is manufacturer consolidation. It’s happened steadily over time, but with a big wave in the 2008 crash. Thor brands own the majority of the market. Of what remains, Forest River brands own the majority. Winnebago/GD are a distant third but I think still bigger than all the smaller manufacturers combined. You might see five or ten brands on a lot, but in practice it’s just three manufacturers.

        Pay, from what I can tell, is the least of the problems. They do pay fairly well, because they’ve been struggling for workers for years now. But they also pay by units completed rather than per hour, with little to no penalty for errors and only spot QC. So, it’s all done in a rush.

        There are a few smaller brands that focus more on quality. Most of them have massive order backlogs right now and have for years.

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