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We spent the week doing RV factory tours in Elkhart County, Indiana – RV Capital of the World while celebrating our full-time RVing 3 year anniversary. Over 80% of all RVs in USA are manufactured in Elkhart County and surrounding area. The sole purpose of our trip was complete RV immersion.
A Focused RV Factory Tour Trip
We could learn as much as we could in a short, focused timeframe. Over 9 days, we drove over 1,000 miles, visited 4 states, did over a dozen RV factory tours. Spending 20+ hours picking the brains of RV industry experts, and racked up over 25 driving hours in our rental car. Yep, that definitely made it worth the few extra bucks we spent upgrading to a Mustang to enjoy those wide open, country roads!
We put together this high-level video summary of the key lessons and insights from our trip. This accompanying article dives into a lot more detail. So settle in for a good, long read. You’re going to learn a lot!
Why Indiana is The RV Capital
Rather than drive more than halfway across the country in the opposite direction of our Pacific Northwest summer travel plans, we decided to leave our RV behind in Phoenix, AZ to get serviced and take a more time-efficient flying trip instead.
We calculated that if we drove the RV, we’d be spending around $2,000 on fuel and campgrounds. Plus it would put over 3,500 miles of wear and tear on the RV. Not to mention a week of our time just in driving there and back. We would be exhausted before we even arrived!
Better to stay fresh and focused for the task ahead. So for about the same investment, we decided to save ourselves the time and energy of driving the RV. Instead, we booked a couple of airfares to Chicago, an Airbnb and a rental car – squeezing the whole trip into 9 intense days! Yep, total RV factory tour immersion!
What Type of Places We visited
We based ourselves in a cute little Airbnb Cottage in centrally located Goshen, Indiana. Touring RV factory after RV factory. Expanding our knowledge and experience. Learning while we watched 5th wheels, travel trailers and all types of motorhomes (A, B and C) being built from the ground up AND asking oh, a million or so questions!
It was a great time spent visiting so many RV manufacturers, component suppliers, and even aftermarket furniture and used parts suppliers.
Our RV Factory Tours Immersion Schedule
Here’s the list of RV manufacturing facilities and related companies we visited (in alphabetical order):
- Airstream (travel trailers and Class B vans).
- Augusta/The RV Factory
- Bontrager’s Surplus.
- Bradd and Hall
- Grand Design
- Lippert Components
- REV Group (American Coach, Fleetwood, Holiday Rambler, Monaco)
- Thor Motor Coach (gas and diesel)
- Winnebago (factory tour video showed at RV/MH Hall of Fame).
It was a fun, fascinating, and very busy week, with at least 1-2 meetings or RV plant tours each day. Tours are usually 1.5–2 hours apiece though some were longer. Some days we did 3 or 4 tours and there were often many miles of driving in between. But as you know, we’re avid drivers, so time behind the wheel is fun for us.
In terms of the RV factory tours, I (Marc) enjoyed every minute of the plant tours and RV education and could have kept going for many more days or even weeks. Julie started out strong. But, by the end of our trip, she was definitely started to get a bit “RV-toured-out”.
What's Behind My Passion for RVs?
I have a background in construction. I’ve built both residential and commercial properties over the years. So I have a particular interest in how homes and RVs are built and what materials and processes are used. Having a lot of experience seeing things ‘behind the walls’ – the framing, electrical, plumbing, and structure – of stick and brick structures.
To me, it is very interesting being able to see the RV manufacturing process up close. Observing the similarities and differences between the construction, materials, and quality of RVs compared with homes and commercial buildings.
I’m also a lifelong lover of cars, trucks and pretty much anything with an engine and wheels. I’ve owned close to 30 vehicles and devoured car magazines, buyer guides and specs for most of my adult life. RVs are the ideal blend of my love for both construction and vehicles.
What That Means For You
Julie and I are both car lovers and long distance drivers. Our idea of a good time is jumping behind the wheel just for fun and taking a road trip to pretty much anywhere. For us, it’s almost always about the journey, and not just the destination.
We really do love soaking up every bit of knowledge and education we can. So we can share it with you on the blog, and in our RV Success School courses.
The more we know and learn, the more we have to share and the more impact we can have helping others on their own journey to RVing. After all, we realize that not everyone has the time, energy, interest or means to make a dedicated RV factory-tour trip like this.
Keeping It Relevant
Yes, there is an ENORMOUS amount to learn about the RV industry. Yet not all of it is necessarily as fascinating or relevant to everyone. So with the keen awareness that not everyone has the endurance or interest in every detail and comparison of brands and manufacturing practices that I/we have. We’ll do our best to keep this post relatively concise and speak to some of the higher level points that will be of interest to our broader audience.
Before we begin, we wanted to highlight a few things we feel are important for you to know:
- We showed up and attended most of these RV factory tours along with the general public. And (with a couple of exceptions) didn’t tell them that we were RV bloggers / YouTubers / from RV Love or RV Success School. Or that we planned on sharing any of our experience here with our audience.
- Our preference to stay as anonymous as possible was intentional. We wanted to attend the RV factory tours just as anyone else would. So we could report back and share our findings in an unbiased way and without expectation from any manufacturers.
- All of this helps us maintain brand independence. It allows us to report honestly and without bias. Which is extremely important to us, our credibility and reputation. Our opinions cannot be bought!
- Please note that in almost all instances, photography and videography were not allowed on the RV factory tours. But we were allowed to take notes. One manufacturer even had us sign a waiver saying we weren’t allowed to share anything about what we learned on the tour.
- There were a few exceptions that allowed photos and video to be taken on the RV factory tours. Fifth wheel manufacturers Augusta, DRV, Heartland and Keystone. So those are where most of these photos and video footage came from. We just wanted to clarify this point for those of you who may be wondering if we only looked at fifth wheels. Or why we didn’t share a bigger, more diverse selection of photograph and video of travel trailers and various types of motorhomes.
10 Key Learnings from RV Factory Tours
OK, without further ado, let’s jump into our 10 key learnings and takeaways from more than a dozen RV factory tours and 9 days in the RV Capital of the World!
1. The RV Industry is Booming?
The overriding message we got loud and clear was that the RV business is booming! This is a stark contrast to the darkest days of 2008-2010 when so many RV manufacturers closed their doors or struggled to stay afloat. The RV industry has made quite a turnaround in recent years.
During the peak of the 2008 global financial crisis, the RV industry was one of the hardest hit in the country. Over 70% of RV-related businesses either went out of business or were bought out by others.
Unemployment in this region was the highest in the nation at well over 20%. At the time of writing this post, Elkhart County’s unemployment is the lowest in the nation at under 2%. There are currently more than 20,000 open positions and you don’t even need to have previous experience.
The competition for labor means they pay well – even for factory floor type jobs – and companies will train you. So, if you’re looking for work, you may want to seriously consider heading to Elkhart county and building RVs!
The Flip Side Of That Is
The flip side of this booming industry is that RV manufacturers are stretched to, and even beyond, capacity. Same goes for suppliers to the Industry. So they are hiring just about anybody they can get their hands on. Just in an effort to try to keep up with production. Be aware that this new, less skilled labor force will likely open up more opportunity for errors and shortcuts. Especially when combined with the hurried pace of production.
Also be aware that the RV industry already has a challenged reputation for poor or inconsistent quality. That is before really pushing the envelope on production right now in response to the strong demand. How will this impact the industry’s already underwhelming quality control standards? I guess time will tell.
2022 Update: The RV industry saw another enormous boom in 2020-2021. It started to soften again in the second half of 2022.
2. Most RVs Have A Lot In Common
We quickly found that the majority of RVs and RV manufacturing processes actually have quite a lot in common. This is regardless of brand and price point. There are certainly differences, especially in higher-priced RVs. But generally speaking, RVs still all have a lot more in common than they would probably like to admit. They all like to think they are unique, different or better than their competitors.
Most of the differences in build techniques and quality are in things that are not usually immediately visible when looking at a finished product. It is what goes on behind the scenes, under the floors, and behind the walls. Some of those build materials and techniques account for the variances in the price of an RV and quality of construction.
But the bottom line is this. Just about all RVs are a simple house structure built onto similar chassis/frames. Or as Julie put it, “we’re pretty much living in boxes on wheels!”. I know, some of you may beg to differ. But at the end of the day, when you strip away all the bells and whistles, that’s what most of them are.
We love our boxes on wheels and the freedom and adventure they offer us. So let’s take a deeper look at some of the similarities and differences we found.
What do RV manufacturers have in common?
- Most start with similar frames/chassis,
- Many trailer manufacturers were using frames built by the same 3rd party, supplier. And axles and suspension from one of three different manufacturers,
- Gas powered motorhomes are usually built on a Ford chassis,
- Most diesel motorhomes are built on Freightliner chassis. Some are on Spartan, and some (less commonly) are custom to a brand (like Tiffin’s Powerglide).
- RVs are made from a combination of steel frames, aluminum or wood wall framing with fiberglass or aluminum exteriors, and fiberglass or TPO roofing.
- Most use the same appliances and components made by third-party suppliers. For example, water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners, awnings, steps, furniture etc
- Many RV manufacturers use offsite companies to make their cabinet doors.
- Insulation and underbelly materials are often the same products, from the same third-party suppliers. But interestingly, marketing brochure claims related to those materials can differ dramatically between manufacturers,
- Many of the construction techniques and the order of the production steps are very similar.
- Most all RV are built with very hands-on, manual build processes Very little automation when compared to the auto industry.
- Nearly all RVs are built in low technology, unassuming, simple metal buildings. We’d go so far as to call some of them sheds!
- Full body paint (for available RVs) adds a couple of weeks of production time. Also adding many thousands of dollars to the cost. Many manufacturers outsource the paint process to companies that specialize in paint.
What do RV manufacturers do differently?
- Although chassis frames are mostly built by the same suppliers, each brand has slight changes to frame design that are unique to the manufacturer.
- Quality of woods, flooring materials, exterior fiberglass and insulation varies.
- Wall construction techniques vary.
- Some brands will state that their processes are better than their competitors. But if they both make that claim, who is right?
- Quality control – some claim to check every unit before it leaves the factory. Others do a spot check (and none are perfect).
- Shops vary widely in how clean and tidy they are.
- Some keep a tighter control of inventory.
- Some have more rigid automation and production schedules than others, with pros and cons to each.
- Two very similar appearing production lines can have vastly different production speeds when in operation. One manufacturer might build 20 units a day. Another might build 100 per year for an average of one every 3 days.
- Some RV types, models and floor plans are batch produced and some are not. There are potential efficiencies and other benefits in grouping similar types of RVs together. Other manufacturers just build RVs on a first come first served basis, based on the date of orders that come in.
RVs Are Mostly Built By Hand in Sheds
You might be surprised to learn that nearly all of the manufacturers build these RVs in relatively low-tech metal sheds. Even builders of high-end, half-million dollar RVs are still being built with very simple tools and materials. It’s very interesting to watch them build them, at least to us!
They integrate additional efficiencies by having cabinets and other furniture pieces built off the main assembly line. Allowing them to be inserted and secured on the main line instead of completely assembled in place. Certainly, some manufacturers use more machine assistance than others.
For example, many manufacturers on our RV factory tours use laminated walls with block foam insulation. Some manufacturers use automated laser tables to cut out the foam before placing the frame in it. Others might cut out individual pieces of block foam and place them in the open spaces after the frame is in place.
How Do These RV Tours Compare to Other Industries?
Many of these laminated walls can be placed in large presses when being glued together. Other manufacturers use residential style insulation.This is a more hands-on process. It removes the ability to put the walls in large presses for lamination.
All of the hands-on manufacturing helps explain the variability of RVs, even when comparing the same model of the same brand. No two RVs are exactly the same. They are more similar to home building than the automotive industry.
If you have ever built or bought a brand new home, you will understand there is always a ‘punch list’ of things that the builder needs to come back and remedy after the home is ‘finished’. It might be paint, caulking, or simple cosmetic things. Sometimes it can be missing heating ducts or other more serious issues.
RVs are pretty much the same way and are open to even more little improvements being needed. When the RV is finished on the assembly line, it is often driven hundreds, or thousands of miles before it reaches a dealership. This undoubtedly shakes a few things loose.
4. RV Quality Control & What You Don't See
We all know that quality costs money. But that does not necessarily mean that the most expensive RVs are always the best quality. There will always be a brand that asks more for their product than it is truly worth, compared to another. We just want to call out the fact that often the reasons for a higher priced RV (like a luxury motorhome or fifth wheel) are because of things you cannot see on the surface when looking at a unit.
The building process, and materials behind the walls and under the floors. The things you don’t see are a big element of quality. One manufacturer might use thicker grade aluminum for the walls. And when they weld the frame pieces together, they may do full-length, beautiful welds.
Another brand might do a simple spot weld with the welding torch turned up too high. This results in melting and scarring the thinner and cheaper grade aluminum used on their product. We saw it all on our RV factory tours. These are the things you will never see on a dealer’s lot.
RV Factory Inspections
Some RV manufacturers save money by reducing quality control inspections. RV inspections are time-consuming and expensive. There are very few manufacturers that do thorough quality inspections of every single unit that rolls off their production line. Shocking but true.
We would like to think that, based on the money we’re spending, our RV has been quality checked before being shipped off to the dealer. Sadly this is rare. It is more common to spot check 20-40% of RV units for accuracy before they leave the RV factory.
Clearly, a brand that is thoroughly inspecting every unit will have much more time and money invested in their product. But it will be a higher quality product. It is our opinion that these manufacturers will likely end up saving some of that money in the long run. Because they will spend less money paying dealers to fix their errors.
And they will end up with a more loyal customer base and stronger brand reputation. One built from a consistently positive customer experience. But that is a long-term strategy, not a short-term one
Quality Considerations After RVs Leave The Manufacturer
The lack of full quality control at the RV manufacturer, combined with the transportation of the RV to the dealer is one of the reasons it is so important to have a dealer that really cares about the products they are selling. Dealers who do a thorough PDI (pre-delivery inspection) before allowing you to drive off the lot with an RV.
Some dealerships will simply spray off the road grime with a hose, sell you the RV and send you on your way. Others prefer having a two to three week period. This allows them to fully inspect and prepare the RV for delivery. They will also do a thorough walkthrough with you.
The dealer may even suggest you stay at least overnight (or for a few nights) in the RV to make sure everything is working as expected before sending you down the road. As you might imagine, that will result in a very different experience than the dealer who simply hosed off the RV and waved you goodbye.
That said, you will likely still have a few things to iron out during the first year warranty period. This is also known as a ‘breaking in’ or ‘seasoning’ period. It just goes with the RV territory. RVs are mostly built by hand and are rolling earthquakes. So it can take time to iron out the kinks and get things running smoothly. Each RV has its own quirks. No two are exactly alike as they are not mass produced by a high-tech, automated factory line.
Some RVs will need more ‘seasoning’ than others. But if you buy a good product from a respected brand. And from a dealer that does a thorough PDI, your chances for a pleasant and enjoyable experience are much higher than most. It’s certainly still not guaranteed you won’t have any issues at all! Your level of tolerance for imperfections, your ‘handiness’, willingness and ability to maintain and repair things are big factors. A good dose of luck might also be involved.
RV Quality Considerations for the Consumer
Keep in mind that the quality of an RV will often matter more to somebody who uses it more frequently. For example, the person who only uses their RV a couple of weeks a year is less likely to experience the impact of lower quality than somebody who lives in their RV full-time.
Most RVs, in fact over 85% of RVs being produced, are towables ie. travel trailers or fifth wheels. The vast majority of people that buy RVs intend to use them for getaways and vacations. Not as their full-time home.
How This Impacts RV Quality
RV manufacturers know most people rarely use their RVs. They don’t build most of their products with the expectation that people will live in it for extended periods. First, it’s not always necessary. Secondly, RV prices would be higher and they simply wouldn’t sell as many RVs. Because most consumers are price sensitive.
In fact, when a manufacturer states that an RV is appropriate for full-time use, they generally mean it’s designed to be used up to 120 days per year or about 4 months. A manufacturer’s definition of full-time and ours are very different! When we say full-time, we’re thinking up to 365 days a year!
That said, we have certainly seen and met others who live full-time in RVs that the manufacturer intended only for occasional vacation use. Not even the ones they build for 120 days or more. We expect these are the ones that require more ongoing care, maintenance and more frequent replacement of items. But It is also worth noting that this distinction of ‘full-time’ or not can impact warranty claims if buying new.
5. Past vs Present RV Brand Reputation
There are some RV brands that had legendary reputations in the past. But quite simply, they are not building the same product today that they were years ago. The RV industry has seen many ups and downs. 2008-2010 saw an enormous shakeup in the industry.
The industry saw large numbers of companies closing their doors, or being purchased by other companies. When a company goes bankrupt or is bought by another, it can cause massive changes within a company. Sometimes this is for the better, and sometimes not so much.
What About Top RV Brands?
Even some of the top RV brands who maintained their same ownership still make mistakes, take shortcuts, or cut costs. We have come across specific examples of highly respected brands that have released RVs (not inexpensive ones) with significant errors rolling off the production line. These respected brands then try to look the other way and hope nobody notices.
Most of their products are still good. But sometimes things slip through, especially if it is a brand new model or floor plan. So, when you are looking at your next RV, be thorough in your research regardless of brand. But especially if that brand does not have a great reputation at stake, or if it is one of the first units of a new model.
6. RVing Experience of Employees
We always find it interesting how few RV salespeople we meet at dealerships actually own RVs themselves.
One would think that owning an RV – or at least having experience with an RV – would make you much more familiar with the wants, needs and desires of RV owners. But I guess the good sales people just try to listen to what their customers say they want. Or perhaps pay attention to what they get excited about when looking at RVs, as ultimately their goal is to sell you one.
Similarly interesting, most of the leadership, sales staff and production staff we have spoken with don’t own RVs either. At least some of the manufacturers we visited during our RV factory tours have programs that allow employees to borrow RVs for personal use.
We find it ironic, amusing and somewhat disturbing that so many of the influencers, designers and decision makers in the RV world have so little personal experience actually using or living in them. This does explain some of the design choices we see when looking at RVs.
Why This Matters
Some floor plans look good on paper or even at first glance. But when you try to move around or live in an RV, the flaws of the layout really begin to show. Maybe the bathroom or refrigerator door can only be opened if the bed is lifted up. Perhaps in trying to make a larger cabinet, it sticks out so far that you are prone to hitting your head on it when trying to reach a common area.
Maybe a floor plan is great when the RV is parked with all the slides out. But when the slides are in, it is virtually un-useable, not allowing access to a bathroom or other basics. We have seen RVs where the bathroom door is so close to the toilet, that you cannot shut the door if you are going to sit down. Just a reminder to pretend you are living in an RV to test these things out, whenever you are seriously considering a purchase.
Learning What Works
When we were first doing our own RV shopping back in 2013-2014, we would spend considerable time inside each RV. We were trying to assess whether or not it would work for us. Now, with many years of full-time RVing experience under our belts, we innately know what works and what doesn’t.
We can literally poke our heads inside an RV or do a very quick walkthrough of an RV. That is often all we need to identify a shortcoming, limitation, or simply where it won’t meet our needs. What used to take us hours now takes us mere minutes, with the benefit of experience and a keen self-awareness.
Consider The Source And Who To Trust
An important consideration which may surprise you to learn is that the RV industry is mostly self-regulated. Which to some folks means unregulated. Think about it. If, as an industry, you are able to make up or modify your own rules and regulations however you feel, instead of needing to meet or follow the rules of somebody else, how much more flexible would you be with those rules?
Be sure to keep a healthy skepticism and don’t blindly believe everything you’re told or even what you read. We do believe that generally speaking, many in the industry are trying to build better and safer products. But all too often, we see things in RVs that would never get by in the automotive or home building industries which are far more regulated.
It is also important to remind you to not take everything you see in marketing materials as the truth or the full story. The looser industry regulations also allow for more ‘creativity and flexibility’ in marketing claims. During our RV factory tours, we saw two different manufacturers who were both building RVs using the identical materials. They were even installing them in the same way on their RVs. But, those two manufacturers made very different claims in their marketing materials about the effectiveness of those materials in insulating their RV.
The RV Factory Tours Guides
Many of the RV factory tour hosts at the factories we visited made statements about how their process was the best. They may fully believe that it is the best way to do it. But then so does the other company that does it a different way, for a different reason. By doing RV factory tours yourself, you can add your opinion into the mix. This helps weigh in on which approach makes the most sense to you. Just food for thought.
Also remember that many (not all) RV factory tours are given by members of their sales team. The sales team, of course, have the end goal of selling more units either directly or indirectly by steering you away from competitor products and toward theirs. Some tour hosts are fairly young and inexperienced. Others may be very knowledgeable about their own products, but not necessarily products of other manufacturers.
They will speak to all of the things they do well but will quickly gloss over areas that might be a shortcoming of that brand. So in truth, very few know how their product compares with others. We asked a lot of questions during each tour and were clearly educated on the subject matter (especially compared with most people they see on these tours).
Some RV factory tour hosts welcomed our questions, and others did not. Some didn’t want to answer specific questions. They would move us along quickly or change the subject. This did not go unnoticed by us.
Doing Multiple RV Factory Tours Close Together
We feel it is useful to do more than one RV factory tour. Even if you only have your eye on one particular brand or model. Doing other RV factory tours will provide you with more information to compare. And it will allow you to ask more questions of the RV tour guide.
We did some tours that were conducted by extremely knowledgeable and experienced staff members. People who had literally been a part of virtually every aspect of manufacturing their product over many years. But RV factory tour guides like that are certainly the exception, not the rule. Some were fairly junior members of the sales team who were still learning the ropes.
The young and enthusiastic junior members had clearly drunk the company’s Kool-Aid. They simply recited what they’d been told to share with us on the tour. Those guides weren’t always equipped to answer our questions or provide deeper insights or reasons for the way things were done.
We are actually very surprised at the number of people who work at the RV manufacturers and especially those who host the RV factory tours, who have never visited or done RV factory tours at other manufacturers. Likewise, we are surprised to meet many RV dealers and salespeople who also have either never been to an RV factory tour. It is difficult to have a point of reference for comparison, to compare the pros and cons if you haven’t had broad and deep exposure.
The Source Matters
We encourage you to really think about all of this when you are out and about researching, learning, and shopping for your RV. We never cease to be amazed by the number of people who rely on dealers and salespeople for their RV education. Their goal is not so much to educate you but to sell to you.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with an RV salesperson wanting to sell you an RV. They are just doing their job, after all. But how can they truly sell you the right RV for your needs, when they may not be truly knowledgeable on the pros and cons. One needs to consider the intricacies of the differences, your lifestyle, preferences and how they align with what will meet your needs.
That is a lot to expect of a salesperson or tour guide. Which is why you need to empower and educate yourself in order to make the best decisions.
Dress Appropriately for RV Factory Tours
Most tours take you on a walk on the actual factory floor and therefore require close-toed shoes. Many also require safety glasses, ear protection, and safety vests.
The special items like vests, safety glasses, and earplugs will be provided when needed. But please remember to wear or bring along a pair of closed toed shoes. We saw some folks turned away from the RV factory tours when they didn’t have the appropriate footwear. Every manufacturer we visited was very strict on this rule.
You will need to watch your step and dodge an occasional forklift, step over and duck under things. It really is great to get so close to the products being built. Some RV factory tours are conducted after production stops for the day. But, most of the tours we did were during production hours.
Most workers like to start early and finish early, often by 2 or 3 pm. It was nice to participate in a much quieter tour after the factory workers had left for the day. But where possible, we preferred doing the RV factory tours during production time. We enjoyed seeing the staff, how they worked, and liked to watch things get built in real time. It is better than just hearing about what normally happens during each step in the build process.
Other Clothing and Gear Considerations
RV factory tours hours are usually conducted between 10am and 3pm. Most production occurs between 6am and 3pm for a couple of reasons. A high percentage of workers are Amish. They like to finish early as they usually have to go to work on their farms or homes after their factory work is done.
Another reason for the early hours is that because most of the buildings are very low-tech metal sheds. It would be very hot to be working inside during hot summer months with limited climate control. Production is usually slower in the winter months. So this becomes a bit less of a factor during that time of year.
What Else To Bring
Remember that most RV factory tours do not allow photos or video. So don’t plan on being able to bring your camera along. We did encounter a couple of tours that allowed photos. So at least we have a few photos to share with you.
Consider bringing a notepad and pen (or your smartphone) to make notes during the tour. There may be a few interesting things you want to be able to remember.
We did so many tours in a short period of time that we needed to take copious notes in order to keep them from blurring together. Our notes helped avoid confusing the information, and continue to be a valuable reference for us months later.
9. Do RV Factory Tours, Even if Not Your Brand
We definitely recommend that you go do a tour of an RV manufacturing facility, even if it is not for the same company that you currently own or intend to buy.
They all have differences, but doing a tour at any RV manufacturing facility will at least give you a basic understanding of how an RV is built. This will in turn, give you a better understanding of your own RV. It will help you troubleshoot issues. And will likely give you more confidence in your ability to fix some items on your own.
Most RV factory tours are free, and even though the vast majority of manufacturers are located in a relatively small part of the country, in or near Elkhart County. However, there are others spread out across the country that might be closer to where you are. There is, of course, an additional benefit to visiting the manufacturer of the RV brand and model you already own or plan to own.
Visiting More Than One
We feel it is great to visit more than just one manufacturer if possible so you have something to compare to. This helps you better understand the similarities and differences and what makes ‘your’ RV great (or not)!
If you go to the Elkhart area, be sure to stop by and visit the RV/MH Hall of Fame so you can see the evolution of RVs over the years. While we saw many technological and design enhancements, we also noticed that the basic layout of many RVs really hasn’t changed too much. It’s worth spending a couple of hours there, browsing the RVs old and new.
You might also enjoy checking out the photos on the Hall of Fame and reading up on some of the many resources in their extensive library of RV resources, books and magazines.
10. So, Which RV Brand Is The Best?
Ah yes, the question you have all been burning to ask! We know that many of you out there would love to just be told which RV is ‘the best’. After all, wouldn’t that make life so much simpler and easier?
After reading through all of the information above, you probably already have a sense of the complexity of that answer. It’s just not black and white. In this article, we are just scratching the surface and giving you an overview. There are so many different types of RVs, and different needs for their owners.
The best RV for one person could be a poor fit for another person. That is part of why there is such an enormous selection out there. There are literally thousands of RV brands, types, models, floor plans, years and price points. We cannot possibly make a sound recommendation of the best RV for someone without first asking them dozens of questions.
One would need to get a much deeper insight into their needs, preferences, priorities and a thorough understanding of their budget. Also how they plan to use their RV and how long they plan to keep it. This is a very personal choice and one with many variables.
What we have shared here from our own learnings during our immersion into the RV factory tours in the RV capital of the world will surely help open your eyes. It will expand your own understanding of why RV shopping can be such a complex and time-consuming exercise. And help guide you in some of your own decisions. Or at least consider some of the things to be aware of and watch out for.
A visit to Elkhart County, Indiana to tour RV factories isn’t everyone’s idea of a dream trip. If you’re new to RVing, the prospect of it may be overwhelming and confuse you even more! But if you are as passionate about RVs and RVing as we are, this is an experience that can only be had in this part of the country on such a grand scale.
Some Will Tell You There Is a Best
Many influencers (like dealers) in the industry have not even seen the RVs they own or sell being built for themselves. Let alone the products sold by their competitors. So how can they really tell what is ‘the best’? Of course, it’s going to be the RV brands sold on their lot. So please, be very discerning and get properly informed through an unbiased and independent source.
There is truly no “one size fits all” when it comes to RVs. The more informed and educated you are, the better decisions you are going to make. And the better overall experience in researching, shopping, buying and enjoying your RV, you will have. You will have more confidence in your purchasing decision. And will be able to avoid mistakes and you will avoid paying too much.
Want to Learn More?
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Not everyone will have the opportunity or desire to do RV factory tours. So we’re happy to share that we are now available to share our knowledge, experience, personal opinions and advice directly as it relates to your situation in live Q&A sessions for RV Success School students.
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86 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from 14 RV Factory Tours in the RV Capital of the World”
Very nice article, and spot on! I have been in the rv industry for many years and have held positions from salesman to GM and everything in between. Call it a thirst for knowledge.
I have been a sales rep for different manufacturers and can concur with your brief. The lack of quality control runs rampant in the rv industry. Some builders rely on the dealerships to perform their quality control (after it has been built?), what about during the build process.
There is one builder I know of in Shipshewana that literally designs their rv’s on loose paper, no cad software, no rulers, they just draw it out and start building the prototype that they take apart and reassemble until they have it the way they want it. Then they put it into production. Companies like this then fight the dealerships on every warranty claim that then causes pain and anguish between the dealer and the customer.
I now am the sales manager for an rv manufacturer that has been in business for 40 years. There were several factors that made me say yes during my recruitment. In a nutshell, commitment to quality control and warranty claims. Before a model moves from one station to the next, it is inspected. When a model is completed it is rain checked for potential leaks (picture a massive shower that dumps rain on each model for a half hour. Before shipping, every model is PDI’d and thoroughly inspected by the CEO of the company.
The factory is clean, organized and runs a sweeper twice a day through the 30,000 sq ft building. Our factory is also inspected every 6 weeks by RVIA to ensure that we are building every model to code.
If you and your wife would like to visit our factory, we would welcome you to do so. Who knows, maybe I can loan you one of our models for your review.
Thanks for sharing your insights and perspective after being in the RV industry for many years. Glad to hear you think we are spot on and I loved hearing that Trailmanor is so much more thorough with inspecting their products. I met a couple in Palm Springs this winter who were living full-time in a Trailmanor and were quite happy with it. We would love to see your factory and try one out sometime. It is great that our Jeep is rated to tow even your 30-foot-long version since your trailers are so light. But we would probably prefer one of the smaller ones to stay well within the weight ratings, including cargo. I love that you even have the swinging hitch that helps ensure your trailers fit in most garages. It looks like a great product for people wanting a large spacious interior while still being small and light enough to be towed by smaller vehicles and solves the RV storage solution by fitting in your garage. -M
In all your tours did you fully understand the modifications the RV manufacturer made to the chassis? Did they mention that their changes may void chassis manufacturers warranty?
Interesting question. No mention of potential of RV mfg mods risking original chassis mfg warranty.
Our biggest challenge is figuring out how to make our Winnebago more like a Leisure Travel Vans product.
I’d love to learn more about differences in the manufacturing process, particularly in regards to cabinet construction and exterior fitting and sealing.
Thank you. Glad you enjoyed reading. We love the LTVs too, but Winnebago is making some pretty nice products as well. Pros and cons to both. It would be fun to do a deeper dive into manufacturing process, but would be a very big project. Thanks again. -M
As a builder, I had hoped that you would have shared your conclusions with us. I am deeply disappointed that I spent the time to read your none review.
Sorry you were disappointed. It is not a black and white answer. Too many variables, which is why we chose the path we did. but thanks for your feedback.-M
But surely you could have offered to put the companies into categories of consideration, such as:
1) Brands that deliver higher quality commensurate with their higher price.
2) Brands that generally deliver higher than average quality at a mid-range price.
3) Brands I would never consider buying.
Not doing so makes it look like you are simply protecting your access or something else.
Hi John, not sure if you read the many comments with much greater detail and explanation…? We understand you and others want a nice easy answer to your questions (so would we!) but it literally is not possible to do so with quality and accuracy, based on what we saw. As explained in the article – every tour was different, some 30 mins conducted by a junior sales person. Some we saw people working on RVs, some were after hours when the factory was empty. In order to provide what you are asking would require visiting every RV manufacturer, and every line (so many – gas, diesel, entry level, mid level, high end, fifth wheels, travel trailers, truck campers and so it goes) in order for it to be complete and accurate. We did not provide that level of detail because it would be impossible to achieve without spending a LOT more time delving into detail of each brand/product. We pride ourselves on accuracy and being thorough, and these tours gave but a TASTE of what one needs to know, learn and research before making a purchase. Fortunately, there is an independent research firm called RV Reviews that has been producing guides for 15 years – one for motorhomes and one for trailers – and we highly recommend their Guide Books which compare each year of RV as well. Here is their website: http:/www.rvreviews.net – there is a reason they have an entire team working full time on this research and writing year round – because that is what it takes. While RV Factory tours can be useful, they are limited in what you can/will learn. And it is highly likely that MANY things have changed in the 3+ years since we did these tours, hence whatever we wrote back then would not necessarily be accurate today. Companies change, leadership changes, supply chain changes, employees change (and have bad days). And these days, we are hearing few if any manufacturers are doing quality control checks before they leave the facility! Hence the DEALER is a FAR more important link in this chain than you and others believe. The DEALER is responsible for getting the RV ready for delivery and fixing the issues which they ALL have. Also when you say ‘brands’ keep in mind that many brands manufacture all kinds of RVs – consider Jayco and Thor that build travel trailers, class A motorhomes, Class C motorhomes, fifth wheels at all levels… recommending a single “brand” is NOT a quick and easy way to assure you of making a sound purchasing decision. The year, type, model, features all vary greatly. You also didn’t mention what kind of RV you are shopping for? See what we mean? You are not aware of the enormity of what you are asking! Typically, we would say Newmar, Entegra, Airstream are higher quality products….but also more expensive. But one gentleman in the comments said “Don’t buy a Newmar” and suggested he could have been just as happy with a cheaper Jayco. One brand we are NOT a fan of is Forest River – but we did not tour their factory… and another person in the comments said how much they loved their FR which has cost them little in repairs. So you can see here, this is a no win situation – and far too broad to answer with any accuracy. You may see articles out there with “the 5 best XYZ” which may appeal more to people as they call out brands and models, but honestly the research behind those is shockingly poor. Those articles are designed to get clicks and views and generate $ – they may tell people what they want to hear, but it is not necessarily good quality information. That’s not what we do. Maybe we should?
Finally, not sure why you would think not sharing that info means we are protecting our “access or something else”? We don’t even know what you mean by that. We have NO affiliation with RVIA or ANY RV manufacturer or dealer. Zero. And we got NO special treatment or ‘access’ – in fact we attended those tours as the general public, so we could have the same experience as everyone else.
Trust us, it is VERY frustrating! We get it is frustrating for you and it is frustrating for us, too. We wish it were as simple as the automative industry where we could say with confidence “buy a Honda / Toyota / Ford and you will have a good experience.” But it is NOT SO with RVs. Not even close.
So – do you really want our advice? Buy a used RV that you like and is in your price range (so the first owner has fixed the issues), get a professional RV inspection and get an extended warranty on it to cover you for RV repair costs. Manage your expectations, take good care of it and be prepared to DIY many repairs yourself anyway and expect long waits to get our RV into a service center or call a mobile tech to get faster service for urgent issues. Have a slush fund put aside for repairs. Instead of figuring out how much you want to spend, instead consider how much you are willing to lose when the time comes to sell it. And buy an RV with the expectation that you will probably change it within 3 years anyway – sooner if you didn’t research properly or buy the right floorplan for your needs. Honestly, there is no magic bullet with RV brands or even price points. You will learn the most with your first RV, so don’t over invest – buy one, learn as you go, then eventually with more experience, change to one that suits you better…. And, when you ARE more experienced, come back and re-read this article with a new set of eyes and perspective – and you will have a better understanding of what we mean and intended in this article. Wishing you all the best.
Thank you for the time and effort you invested in sharing your RV manufacturer experience with the rest of us. I see comments on here that sound just like some customers we had at a large dealership in Florida. The most common customer mistake is having unrealistic expectations due to a lack of self reliance. That’s why what you guys are doing is so important.
Thank you So much Cody. We appreciate it, and agree that one of the most common mistakes is having unrealistic expectations. You know first hand from your work at a dealership. Hoping what we share will end up with a better end result for everyone on both sides of the transactions. Thanks again! -M
If RV’s need so many repairs, are there RV repair locations everywhere in the country? Don’t you need to get your make/model to a dealer that repairs your make/model? If so, which make has the most repair locations throughout the US?
Yes there are RV repair locations around the country. Dealerships, truck repair facilities, RV repair facilities, mobile RV repair techs. The biggest issue for many RVers is that it is not uncommon to have to schedule a repair well in advance, due to being booked up. If you have an RV under factory warranty, you would most likely need to take it to a service center that is authorized to make warranty repairs. We don’t know who has the most repair facilities, but would suggest once you have narrowed down your shortlist of RVs, look into that and see what is your repair network. We had our Tiffin repaired at plenty of places that were not always Tiffin authorized centers, but we didn’t have a factory warranty. We had an extended RV warranty. We just wrote an article about those here https://rvlove.com/2019/09/24/rv-extended-warranties-are-they-worth-it/
I linked to this from a headline and article elsewhere. I am surprised you could not list PROs and CONS in construction techniques that you observed.
This is not “Impossible” or “difficult”… basic principles and assurances.
Perhaps these are not so much professional manufacturers, but handy-persons in sheds, making it up as they go along.
Do the manufacturers have so little confidence in their product, that they do not provide a bullet-point list of THEIR techniques, and materials specs?
With all due respect, the article reads like an effort to become an industry spokesperson, or to impart useful information toward the purchase of an RV?
Interesting comment. They definitely are not professional manufacturers like you would see in the automotive industry. Mostly low tech equipment in sheds as you mentioned. Choosing the best really is difficult because of everyone’s unique needs, but yes, there are some techniques that we thought were superior to others. But calling out every difference would make for a VERY long article. For example. We saw one manufacturer that had consistently beautiful welds on their framing, and another that looked terrible. But even the terrible examples might have just been the day we visited. We are trying to help people make educated decisions on RV purchases. Perhaps our enthusiasm for the lifestyle comes across as us trying to promote it.
You have unrealistic expectations and an overly critical attitude. RVs are not for you.
Thank you for doing this article. Very well done.
I wish it had been done 5 years ago, when we started.
We jumped right into fulltime RVing in 2014. We have a 44 foot Heartlands Cyclone.
What we have done is, when something breaks, wears out, or simply isn’t up to snuff we replace it with a better quality item.
For example, our toilet leaked and the wood flooring was cheap and the floor sagged. We replaced it with a better grade marine plywood. A little heavier but sturdier and more waterproof.
We replaced the inside doors with better quality but still light wooden ones.
My one continuing gripe is that these manufacturers don’t provide decent manuals with an RV purchase. I am not all that handy and having to do repairs without some guidance as to where things are and what to look for causes me to spend a lot of time just figuring out nomenclature.
Part replacement can be a problem too.
Sometimes newer and better parts can add a little extra weight but we are careful to keep weight and balance in mind. And, the end result is worth it.
Our rig isn’t as sturdy as a sticks and bricks house but, we wouldn’t trade the life style.
Some things we have found to be annoying are things like medical care. It can be a challenge to find good care. And, oddly enough, we are met with suspicion…” they’re from Maryland, what are they doing here?”
And, the best place for your satellite dish is the roof. But, if there is an issue, you can all but forget getting anyone to go on your roof to fix it. In fact, finding competent help to repair a dish problem can be quite an effort.
The upside of that is, without TV, we talk to each other way more and have more fun together.
The oddest thing is, we do the same things full timing that we did at home. We haven’t become more sociable or outgoing. Neither have our neighbors.
But, we are never bored. With two adults, a dog, and three cats something is always happening.
Thank you for sharing your experiences from all your years of RVing with others too.
Thank you for doing such a great in depth study of this industry. I have owned RVs for the past 40 years. What my Grandfather said many years ago still is true today, a travel trailer is the most expensive piece of s___ you will ever buy.
Hahaha that’s funny. Yep they depreciate and often need fixing but it’s still a great life/pastime. Cheers!
Very much enjoyed your article
After reading this and digesting all of it,
It makes me want to just keep what I have and not purchase anything for fear of buying something with issues
I have been to lots of dealers and I agree with your comments completely
Thanks very much for all the hard work
Thanks so much John. Glad you enjoyed the article. It doesn’t tell everyone what they want to hear, but you were able to read in between the lines here and see the point we were trying to make (many don’t). Since doing these tours, we have changed coach – to a 1999 Country Coach – a high end, well built coach back in its day before going out of business – and did a complete remodel. Quality that simply doesn’t exist anymore… and… purchased at the bottom of the depreciation curve. Our DIY remodel cost us a mere $12k and looks a million bucks. It may not last us forever, but at least we’ve bene able to make it our own with the reno, and we won’t lose on our shirts on it when the time comes to change. All the best.
It would be helpful to have a list of factory tours with hours and contact/scheduling info. Even the RV hall of fame in Elkhart gave us a very limited list, about six brand mostly towables we only want class A, that didn’t cover all tours near there location
A decade ago, the recreational-vehicle industry was sipping fumes, but now it has become a multibillion dollar industry. Endurance and durability are the two very important things when it comes to the RV.
Yes, 10 years ago was almost the end of “class A motorhomes” and now the RV industry is really booming…towables are increasing in popularity over motorhomes. While we consider endurance and durability to be very important, many recreational/weekend campers who don’t live in their RVs full-time or use it often enough to want to invest in a higher priced, better quality RV, may not place as high a value on endurance/durability. Sadly we live in a ‘throwaway’ society… we would like to see greater priority placed on quality for sure.
I purchased a new Jayco C class Grey Hawk and found quite a few quality issues including leaking during rain, and minor issues with interior trim and other issues with the heater and auto folding stairs. I think it might be impossible to know the real quality of these products like we can find with the auto industry. Heck, none of the manufacturers even post mpg. Depreciation like cars so expect to lose more with the more you pay. Saw a Newmar owner having electrical issues with a one year old motorhome….
Hi Bill, Yes, sadly not surprised to read this. Class C motorhomes are notorious for leaks. And yes, it is impossible to know the real quality of RVs as the engineering, quality control and automation just aren’t there like in auto industry. Newmar has a reputation as a quality brand, however we have heard of several people experiencing electrical issues with their new Newmars. We heard of one fellow with a New Aire with electrical issues found that neither the dealer nor Newmar were able to find the wiring diagram, so they were unable to diagnose his electrical issue without tearing the entire coach apart. Hence, it is difficult if not impossible to ‘recommend’ any particular brand, as there are just way too many variables and inconsistencies. From manufacturer, type, model, year, heck even the day of the week it was made! If there was one we could say “buy this brand/RV and you won’t have any issues” we would, but we would be lying. It’s all part of the territory, and one big reason we buy used, and don’t over invest. Frustrating, but we still love the lifestyle and see the challenges as part of the ‘adventure’. Of course some folks experience more adventures than others! All the best to you.
Tough to say which brand is “better” basically due to how it is that people use them. I managed to talk to service guys at a lot of dealers and they would tell you which they have issues with from the factory. Remarkable how much the number of issues revolve around the cost of the different units. Not all Rvs are created equal, but the price tag will give you some idea!
Yes, true, And we have met owners of just about EVERY brand of RV – who are happy/unhappy. Have many issues/don’t have many issues. It’s frustratingly inconsistent. People want top quality without paying for it. Generally, the higher the price, the better the quality… but with so many different types of RVs out there – and many manufacturers building multiple lines from towables to motorhomes, it is not a black and white answer. And calling out a product that may be among “the best” or most expensive…isn’t necessarily useful information for those (most) who can’t afford it. Hence why our article was more focused on highlighting what to look for and realize not to believe all one is told or reads in a marketing brochure. Also, as RV manufacturer brand ownership changes, that can impact quality too.
Just watched your you tube factory tour video. We’ve been researching an RV purchase for about 4 months now and always end up back at the point where “there apparently are no guarantees” with this high risk decision. For us, spending over $100k for a product that most feedback suggests could be a ridiculous act quite frankly scares us. But the folks we talk to who have survived the process seem to have enviable enjoyment. I know you haven’t called any particular manufacturer out (good or bad) but did you see what you expected from most tours or were there some significant surprises based on what most folks consider to be good vs bad products? Thanks for the video.
Blah, Blah, Blah. You mean to me that you visited all these factories?, and you could not see the difference between an Airstream versus a crapo in manufactering. for your worthless review. Who paid you for this cop out. Speak & review the truth, because a lot of people are getting screwed.
Gerard, you want the truth – and we’re about to give it to you. Staring with this. There is absolutely no need to be so rude, demanding, derogatory and frankly, offensive to people like us who spend significant time and effort to share information with our audience. As tempted as I am to simply delete your comment, I am answering it here for the benefit of others who also read the comments and our replies. And to set a few things straight. First up, you have NO IDEA the enormity of what you are asking. The number of RVs out there – Class, size, type (eg, towable/motorized), gas vs diesel, price point – is mind boggling. Of the many hundreds of units being manufactured, we got so see just a small snippet on a PUBLIC tour – usually less than an hour – often hosted by a junior sales/marketing person whose job is to “sell” you on the brand by pointing out ‘where they are the best’. We don’t believe everything we are told, and getting a cursory look at some aspects of the manufacturing process of some of the manufacturers (all different aspects mind you) is hardly thorough. It was not comparing apples with apples. At least not to the level that WE do our own investigation and research when shopping for RVs. We would be doing our audience a disservice – even though it would likely be FAR more popular and viewed – if we published a “Here are the best XYZ”. We are sure that would make you much happier. But would it be accurate? And would it be helpful to the broader audience? No. But at least you would be told what it is you want to hear. Yes, Airstream is built better than most travel trailers – but the price point is also substantially more, and so it’s hardly helpful to most people to be told you have to spend over $100k on a travel trailer to get better quality and enjoy the RV life. It’s just not feasible for most. And even then, frankly, it’s still sub par for the money spent and subsequent depreciation. We were not paid by ANYONE to do these tours. We did it all on our own time and dime. Which is also why we do not recommend any specific brand as that is NOT the answer to RV utopia and a problem-free RV experience. WHY? Because we like to remain independent of brands. And focus on what are the important things to look for REGARDLESS of brand. And not simply believe marketing brochures! We have met people who own ALL brands of RVS – and happy / unhappy people in all of those. Yes, even the expensive ‘better quality’ ones. The factors are dependent on so many things INCLUDING how researched, educated and armed the customer was BEFORE buying. And the level to which they manage their expectations. And ‘how well’ they purchased. Ultimately, with RVs, manufacturers simply do NOT build them like they used to – over 80% of RVs are now produced by publicly owned companies – with shareholders looking to make as much profit as possible. The late 1990s and early 2000s was the golden era of RV manufacturing when there was much more pride taken in the manufacturing process, actual craftsmanship, better quality components. More quality, more consideration given to replacing parts down the road. The world has changed. The industry has changed. We have two had major recessions since that time. Quality has diminished, but guess what? COnsumers don’t want to pay for quality either. If RVs were built better quality, prices would go up and people would not buy them. Does IKEA build the best quality furniture? NO. But they make what people want and need and looks good and does the job. At the end of the day, most RVs are only occasionally used anyway. And most customers are unable and unwilling to pay what true quality at every level would cost. Industry does NOT build RVs to the level of quality they once used to – and components/construction practices can change AT ANY TIME and they do, any time there is a change of management, cost cutting measures, cheaper components used – so with this tour now being 2 years old, likely much has already changed from what we saw. Yes a lot of people are getting screwed – partly because of the frustratingly inconsistent quality and service coming from the RV industry – and partly because people are NOT doing their own homework or managing their expectations accordingly. It is not like buying a car where the engineering, automation and quality control are more stringent – and thus the vehicle is more reliable. And the depreciation is terrible on RVs. People get upset but most don’t go in with eyes wide open. This is not a perfect world. And we love the RV life anyway. We are not going to put our own RV travel dreams on hold waiting for the industry to ‘get fixed’. In the meantime, we do the best we can with what’s available and manage our expectations and investment accordingly to minimize the risk to us. With all that said. After 3.5 years of full time RVing, almost 20 RV factory tours, shopping and touring over 100 RVs over the course of a year before buying (again) here is what WE did. We bought a 20 year old 1999 Country Coach Intrigue for $25K (even BELOW the bottom of the depreciation curve – because we were well educated, savvy buyers and good negotiators) and spent $12k on a full interior remodel. After we saw how RVs were built, Marc realized he could easily do that himself. We bought a brand that went out of business in 2009 (a victim of the global economic crisis) intentionally. WHY!? Because no-one will argue that Country Coach built some of the finest, best quality, thoughtfully designed motorhomes ever built. The quality is residential-like. Wire are labels and neatly arranged behind the cabinets. Semi-monocoque construction. And what you CAN’T see has been done well. AND we purposely bought a brand that is OUT OF BUSINESS yet still known for quality because it is important to us to be brand independent and share our opinions with integrity. We are brand agnostic – that is how we are able to educate and guide our RV Success School students to making sound decisions REGARDLESS of the brand they choose. And it works. Our opinions are not – and never have been – for sale. Now, being 20 years old, is our RV the sexiest on the road? No. Is our RV perfect? No. Do we have issues with it? Yes. But ALL RVs do. And we’ve paid a fraction of the price and been able to truly make it our own. And the money we have invested in our motorhome we will get back when we sell it. Heck, we could even part it out and probably make even more than what we paid for it, if it ever came to that. We have thought ALL of this through! Our expectations are managed. And we go on and enjoy our RV life regardless, amidst the ups and downs that come with RV ownership. Importantly, we are not reliant on any other company or brand for our happiness and wellbeing on the road. We don’t have wait months to get in for a factory/dealer warranty repair, or other repair facility. This coach is simple and we like it that way – as we can tackle many of our own repairs. And we knew that going in – with the RV industry issues top of mind. After around 20 RV factory tours and now more than 5 years of full time RV living, we’ve taken a very different path yet done what works for US knowing what we know… We are still happy with our decision. It won’t be our forever coach, but we also won’t be financially savaged when the time comes to sell or retire it. And in the meantime, we enjoy our beautiful, renovated rolling apartment on wheels… that ISN’T perfect but it is quality built. So there you go, just spoke our truth. It may not be what you want to hear, but there it is. Good luck. And next time, please do try to be more considerate and respectful in your comments to other writers and YouTubers, who spend considerable time to produce content for your consumption. Oh, and if you would prefer we just say what you want to hear? I can tell you this – it would get a whole lot more attention and likes and views, and probably even make us a lot more money. But it would not be accurate or as throughly researched as we feel such a big and expensive decision deserves. Ultimately, doing the ‘popular’ ‘best XYZ’ is not who we are because there IS no single “best” one size fits all brand. We wish it were that easy. The truth is you, and many other people, don’t WANT to hear the real truth. Because it doesn’t come in your favorite flavor. So from what we share, take what works for you, and leave the rest. One day, when you are more educated about RVs and the RV industry, perhaps you will come back and re-read this post with a different perspective. Until then, try to be a little kinder. The world needs it.
Thanks for an interesting and well-written article. My husband and I are going to be doing several factory tours in April so it’s interesting to read your insights first. Our retirement plan is to travel full-time with a large part of the travelling done by RV.
Fantastic Vanessa, yes it really is great doing the RV tours – as you will see the tours while similar are different in many ways… happy to see you are doing quite a few so you can get a feel for them, you will learn something at every one of them, regardless of whether it’s motorized or towable. Can never learn too much. Hopefully some of what we shared in the article will also help keep your eyes open to some of the things we mentioned… it’s not about just blindly believing everything you’re told by the tour guide but really knowing what to look for and pay closer attention to. Have fun!
Thank you for your well written article. As a retired body shop manager, I am also passionate about autos and RVs. We are on our third travel trailer and finally have one that meets our needs. Floor plan, price, and quality must be balanced. Our current trailer, purchased new, has many value features found only on more expensive RVs. We expected poor quality, as promised by many reviews, and were not disappointed. Luckily I was able to complete all the fixes myself, and did not have to rely on warranty. We did a plant tour last summer where our trailer was made, and was amazed to see many quality issues were built in. Small procedural changes would greatly improve product and reduce costs. Don’t buy the sales pitch that corners must be cut to save weight!
Thank you Lawrence, glad you enjoyed the article. Having visited factories for yourself, no doubt you can see what we mean in the points we shared! You certainly managed your expectations well…. and now have a trailer you are happy with… thanks to your own research, experience and work doing the fixes.Agree wholeheartedly that small procedural changes could really improve things. As much as we love RVing, the industry itself… and the manufacturing process, inconsistencies and general low lack of sufficient quality control is frustrating. As you said, keep your expectations low, be prepared to DIY the fixes.. and you will be able to get out and enjoy what it’s meant for. All the best to you!
Stay away from Newmar. Great reputation but the Ventana we bought could have been a Jayco or other cheaper brand.
We still feel Newmar is overall superior to Jayco in terms of build quality and insulation. And this will be reflected in the higher price. The Ventana LE is bottom of the line for the Newmar Diesel range. That said, your comment is a very good example is why there is no good or truly accurate answer when one asks “what is the best brand?” It’s not so simple as one would like to believe or think. We have meet many happy Newmar owners, we have also come across some folks who are not and have had issues that should never have happened eg. faulty electrical. Same goes for Tiffin, Entegra, Fleetwood, Thor, Forest River, Jayco, Grand Design, Winnebago, American…. and the list goes on. There is no one brand (especially 2009 model year and later) that is universally agreed upon as being high quality and coming without issues… or at least, minimal issues. It is dependent on SO many factors, budget, expectations, standards – and at the end of the day RVs are hand built by humans, and production line processes, materials used, decisions made by management can all change on a dime… without anyone knowing about it… thus rendering any previous knowledge, information or what was learned at an RV factory tour inaccurate or outdated. Very frustrating. Until RVs are manufactured more like automobiles, with the engineering, automation, quality control, standards and warranties we have come to expect and enjoy from the big auto maker brands that have a reputation for reliability, we suspect this will continue to be a frustration for many RVers. The volume of demand for RVs and the pricing already as they are now, likely does not make it viable for the industry produce RVs like cars – with higher engineering, automation, quality control etc. But, we can always hope! In the meantime, getting well educated, managing expectations, doing your homework/research and managing your risk by not over investing, is wise for everyone.
Julie and Marc, Enjoyed the article, and yes it was a bit nebulous. I realize that is necessary, but I see as I read the comments that you do drill down to some of the nitty-gritty. We bought a used (2007) Forest River 3 year ago. I hear much about quality and such, but ours is well built and solid– well the exception might be the hammer they used to make to hole in the wall to pull in the electrical to the converter. It is obvious that some items are lower quality or less bling– but the point being is that it is very serviceable for less than fulltiming. Neither I nor the former owner have put very much in on repairs due to poor quality. I have done the maintenance on things that wear due to use, but it is a nice solid unit.
Thanks for sharing your adventure.
Hi Brent, thanks for sharing and you make excellent points. While Forest River is generally considered to be one of the lesser quality brands, you are the perfect example of why your FR unit is perfectly suitable for you and your intended use. “The point being is that it is very serviceable for less than full timing” and the fact that you have not over-invested in repairs as a result. Very glad to hear you are happy with your nice, solid unit that perfectly fits your needs and budget.
We toured a Flagstaff/Rockwood factory. Things I learned. Trailers are built in about 5 hours, start to finish. Inspections = guy walking around with tape looking for nicks and crooked doors and marking them with tape. ONE trailer each day is chosen for a detailed inspection in another building. EVERYONE knows in advance which trailer that will be. They told us they had ONE perfect trailer last year. So 1 in 20 or 1 in 25 is really inspected. They use square aluminum tubes for parts of rame – they are welded on only ONE side. Mistakes are not fixed, they are covered up. and on and on and on.
Thanks for sharing your experience, sounds like you learned a lot seeing behind the scenes. Different products/brands are produced in different timeframes. Some are produced in 5 hours as you say and some of the higher end rigs we saw take weeks. As you might expect, these are more expensive and often use different components/processes. Lots of tape marking for sure with every brand we saw.
Like a few mentioned, just nothing really informative. A couple points; you guys know who makes better units (reference to proper weld technique), but can’t say. Amish worker equals poor quality (in many cases) as evidenced by the huge problems of the industry quality. Funny, how people assume Amish equals quality, their no different than anybody else. So, whos driving to Indiana, answer,
.002%. Next time, try the consumer reports approach, but you better lawyer up, the industry will sue you silly. But, thats why you “had” to write the fluff. Glad you know, and can recommend to friends, who you know to build a quality unit, but I understand, you can’t say it here.
When writing this, we didn’t actually consider the legal ramifications and it certainly isn’t why we wrote so-called ‘fluff’. The point was to open people’s eyes to more of what goes on behind the scenes and looking beyond the surface. We didn’t share more specific details as we have clearly explained it’s just not possible to do an accurate comparison as people would like. We wish it were that simple and easy ourselves as it would make life a WHOLE lot easier for everyone and we probably wouldn’t have felt as much of a burning need to create a school to educate people and help them navigate the process as it is ridiculously complex and multi-layered. It should be easy as buying a car and driving off the lot with confidence like we can do with a Toyota or a Honda but the fact is, it’s not. It’s time-consuming, often confusing and frustrating, but when you DO find the right RV, there’s no feeling like it! We were over the moon for weeks. But you raise an excellent point about the legal risks and it’s one we will keep in mind. We were not expecting the level of response (and criticism) leveled at this post/video and it’s obviously a topic that a lot of people get very fired up about, probably a reflection of how much confusion and inconsistency there is in the RV industry. Hopefully one day, things will be enhanced to a point where we see new quality measures across the board and this won’t be such a contentious issue and people can all get more consistent quality in the RVs they buy so they can focus on getting out and enjoying them instead.
Very good article…I only wished I had seen this before I bought a new fifth wheel from a manufacturer I thought was reputable and a dealer I thought was not out for a fast buck.My addition would be to thoroughly check the background of any dealer you buy a new rig from…and check the rig you like over as much as you can…don’t get caught in a fast buck scheme like I did from a con artist dealer.This after many years of full timing and owning many different brands of trailers,some were well known brands,that,unfortunately are not around anymore.Anyone is subject to these con artist clowns who only want your money,so buyer beware.Thanks for the good work.
Hi Jim, We’re so sorry you had this experience. Very disappointing. Yes, you give good advice to always research the background of dealers as well as the brands, sometimes there is a reason one dealer is much ‘cheaper’ than another for the same unit, so buyer beware indeed. It’s up to each of us to do our homework before making a purchase – we may not get it perfect 100% of the time but we sure increase our probability of making good, sound choices (and saving our hard earned money) by conducting our own due diligence and taking our time during the research/learning/shopping/buying process. RVs are a large financial investment (compounded by ongoing maintenance costs and depreciation) and a decision we feel is best not rushed. But when you do pick a good rig and get out there to enjoy the life, well there’s nothing quite like it 🙂 All the best to you.
Without doing a word count, your expose’ is 99.99% correct. My one quibble is our cultural myth, the trap we just can’t escape, that quality costs money. Fixing always costs more than doing it right the first time. One slide that falls out on the first road trip can destroy a brand, burn through the invested capital and cost jobs. Isn’t that why there are so many “brands” and “models” produced by the same manufacturer? If its a pig, just rename it, and go on as though nothing has happened! Lesser failures exposed on owner forums and recall websites cost sales and livelihoods. Most folks think they’re buying an RV. Too bad they’re being sold a dream. A distinction you so eloquently explained.
We agree that certainly, doing things right the first time would save a lot of money and brand reputation for the manufacturers and a lot of time, frustration and heartache for the RV owner. That said, it’s not like slides are falling out of RVs every other day (thank God!) or no-one would be buying RVs anymore! 🙂 The opposite is true – they can’t keep up with the demand! The reality is the majority of RVs are probably perfectly fine while there will always be some lemons. Keep in mind too, that most RVers only use their units a few weeks a year so quality is often built according to the intended use and priced accordingly. Certainly, quality in the RV industry as a whole can be improved (and no-one would like to see this more than us so we don’t even need to be having these discussions!) but the bad stories (just like in the news) always get the attention and headlines, like bad campground reviews get attention. The RV owners (like us) who are out there having a great time and seeing the sights aren’t spending time on RV forums complaining about our issues. Not to diminish the importance of RV issues – especially major ones! But we tend to steer clear of a lot of Facebook Groups and RV forums for that very reason – there can be a lot of useful information and sharing and there can also be a lot of complaining and blowing things out of proportion. Again, the dealer is also an important part of the equation, which many don’t realize and so we feel blame tends to land solely on manufacturers when they have a symbiotic relationship by design. Yes, people are being sold a dream a lot of the time, and for some, that dream can turn into a nightmare – an expensive nightmare. But we also know a great many people (ourselves included) who have made good choices and are out enjoying the RV lifestyle with minimal issues and time in the repair shop. It’s a fantastic lifestyle and we won’t let occasional issues get in the way of our enjoyment of it. As with everything in life, we encourage people to take an active role and responsibility for their own part in their education, decision and purchase – by knowing what to look for so they can be empowered in selecting a quality brand and choosing the right RV for their own unique needs, usage and budget.
Thank you all for your feedback. We appreciate that you value our specific opinion on this topic. Our opinion seems to carry more weight than we even realized. Your responses came as quite a surprise. And as difficult as some of your comments have been to read, it has also been a real learning for us.
We are disappointed that so many of you have been disappointed. We too, are disappointed, as we spent a lot of time and effort not only on the tours but compiling our thoughts and producing the blog post and video, to provide useful information about the factory tours and deliver a greater understanding to a broad audience with a diverse range of needs, budgets and circumstances.
RVs are not like cars, they are not manufactured like cars and your response has really highlighted to us just how dramatically people underestimate the complexity of RVs and all the many factors involved in the decision of ‘which one is the best to buy’ and the trade-offs related to each aspect of the decision making process.
Summarizing ‘the best’ is also not possible based purely on what we saw at the factory tours as it would be incomplete. Our personal opinions go far beyond what we saw in Indiana, as we blend this with our weekly conversations with RVers from all around the country who share their experiences with us on many different brands and kinds of RVs, and our conversations with dealers and service techs that we encounter along the way and how they contribute to their part of the equation pre and post delivery. Singling out the RV factory tours and what we experienced would frankly provide an incomplete answer. But that is what you are asking for so we will do our best to distill what you want to know here.
In a nutshell, the RV manufacturers that we visited in Indiana that impressed us most were, not surprisingly, the more high end/luxury RVs like Entegra (owned by Jayco) and Newmar (Class A motorhomes) and DRV and Augusta (fifth wheels). Keep in mind that we also expect to be very impressed by the quality and build processes of Marathon/Prevost when we do their factory tour in Oregon, as their coaches sell for around $2 million. Maybe that’s in your budget, but it sure isn’t in ours!! We will continue to do more factory tours as we make our way around the country, so our thoughts and opinions on this subject will continue to evolve over time, as the RV industry surely does as well.
All that said, we also saw very nice (and well built) units at Heartland and Thor. Thor seems to be making a real concerted effort to improve production quality and customer service than they did before. We came away from both of these tours more impressed than when we first walked in. Airstream (owned by Thor) was a great tour and they still make a quality product that remains extremely popular, if you can wait 4-5 months for one!
Across the board, we felt the manufacturers we visited really are doing their best to produce what consumers want and are willing to spend – and this is VERY important to note. People want quality but most aren’t willing to pay for it and then they blame the manufacturers for poor quality.
A critical consideration here is that the dealer plays a VERY important role in this entire process. Their ability to do a thorough pre delivery inspection (PDI) makes an enormous difference to the customer’s experience but the RV manufacturer often gets the blame for issues not directly related to them, but to components manufactured by a third party. RVs are not so much built as they are assembled – using hundreds or thousands of components from various manufacturers. It is the dealer’s responsibility to ensure an RV is in excellent working order before it leaves the lot and fix all of the issues before delivering it to the customer. But people either don’t realize this or underestimate the importance, preferring instead to focus all their attention on “the best” RV manufacturer.
We did not visit Forest River as they never returned our calls to book a factory tour – we wanted to see for ourselves if they really are as poor and underwhelming as we had heard, so we cannot speak to that first hand. Regardless, even without a tour, this is the only brand that we actively steer most people away from.
Keep in mind that not everyone is planning to buy a new RV and sharing our experiences of how current RVs are being built is mostly only going to be relevant to those purchasing new RVs, as opposed to used.
Knowing and respecting that everyone has different budgets needs, preferences and priorities, we do our best to remove our own bias when presenting our information to you. Certainly not because we are avoiding offending the industry or to get a discounted RV as some implied. We did share both positive and negative comments throughout the post about the areas where we felt the RV the industry was lacking. We always strive be share a balanced perspective but it seemed you wanted a more polarized summary. We value our independence and our ability to view ALL aspects of the RVing experience – pros and cons – and we know that what works for us won’t necessarily work for another, and that this can also change, depending on timing, circumstances and changing needs.
Remember, we have not owned these other brands, and not driven them all either. We didn’t get to see every model being built and some factory tours were conducted after production hours by junior sales coordinators who gave us their tour presentation… we did not get to see all of these RVs being built in front of us and in person. Each experience was different and we got to see varying parts and processes, so trying to compare them as ‘apples to apples’ is beyond challenging.
For those of you who want more thorough brand by brand comparisons and rankings for past and present RVs, we highly recommend you visit https://rvreviews.net they have a large staff that is entirely focused on making these comparisons (similar to consumer reports) and will be able to provide their opinions on this specific area from a much more extensively researched standpoint by an entire team. Something we simply cannot do alone. This is a resource we use regularly as part of our own ongoing research and we appreciate the greater depth they are able to go into. Do we agree 100% with everything in their reports? No, but is the information valuable and do we value their opinions? Yes, as these guides are, for the most part in alignment with what we have learned and definitely consider these reports to be a useful research tool when choosing an RV. It’s one of the many, many resources we recommend in RV Success School.
Finally, this post and your comments have given us some food for thought and it’s becoming very clear we should keep our RV Love content focused more on the lifestyle, inspiration and travel here and separate our industry, education and RV specific content out to keep it within the School platform where we can expand on it appropriately. We are considering adding the option of webinars and Q&A discussions so we can delve into this topic at the depth and with the thoroughness it deserves so we can properly discuss and explore the bigger picture and details on a deeper level. Only then, do we feel people will truly begin to understand the enormity and complexity of what they are asking here. This is the very reason we created a separate online training platform in the first place, so it could provide a more appropriate forum for this kind of in-depth information and education. We always felt that blog posts on RVLove.com and our YouTube videos were not effective platforms to achieve this – the audience is too broad and general to be as specific as we need, to do the content justice and help people make truly informed, well researched and cost effective decisions to ensure their success. And this post and your responses have confirmed this. So thank you.
Best of LIFE,
Marc and Julie
Marc & Julie,
First we want to thank you for this excellent blog post on RV manufacturing. Then we want to tell you that we are surprised by the number of negative comments you have received to this post. We cannot help but to think that perhaps those who commented so negatively do not appreciate the complexity of designing and building a “home on wheels” or a “vacation home on wheels” all, while attempting to meet acceptable price points and profit margins. Just the two descriptors (home or vacation home) should tell us all a great deal about the many issues and the varied expectations involved in building a “quality” product.
In the RV world, quality is very much in the eye of the purchaser as there is a clear trade-off each manufacturer must make with regard to intended usage and price point. Like you, we have met people along the way who loved their RV and were very aware of its shortcomings but, the problems issues were very acceptable to them. We have also met others who were totally distraught over issues we thought were quite minor.
We also agree that dealers and their service departments have as much, if not more, responsibility to insure that an RV is meeting acceptable quality standards for the customer. When dealers sell a product intended for vacation to a long term user without awareness of what they are buying, is that a manufacture issue? We think not!
We also believe that purchasers should be aware that if a unit is purchased from a “Volume Discount RV Dealer” the probability of getting a detailed PDI is reduced when compared to a “Full Service Dealer.” That should not be interpreted to mean that all “Full Service Dealers” are great at PDI and service nor should it mean that all “Volume Discount Dealer” deliveries are poor. There is more to it than that.
Here is a way to look at it. Buying an RV can be compared to buying either a truck, house, or some combination of both. If a purchaser is buying a tow-able than the comparison to a house is more obvious. That means that the due diligence applied to buying a house should be applied to the unit, with added attention to the tow-able and mobile features. If the purchaser is interested in a motorhome then, in addition to the issues of a tow-able they are usually buying a very large truck (and most of us have little experience with large truck purchases) for a foundation! Understanding all of these elements takes work, time and effort. AND all of these elements are part of EACH PURCHASERS OWN quality assessment.
To expand the home purchase analogy just a bit. As you mentioned, all the RV manufactures use the same component manufactures and these component manufactures make different levels of the same components. The complexity a designer faces in choosing components must be very dubious considering intended price points and usage. And yes, the RV manufacture installs the component as a factor of the overall quality. If you have ever built or purchased a home than you know it is one of the most stressful things in life. When buying an RV you are buying a home, truck and more all at the same time!
“Let the buyer beware.” is perhaps more appropriate in purchasing an RV than almost any product on the market!
We believe your post is excellent and needs to be read as a primer for many of the issues involved in an RV purchase. You have served your followers well!
We also understand why you are inclined to move this topic to your school where the complexity for each buyer can be better addressed. We however, want you to know we appreciate this post and read it with the same pleasure we have read all your posts.
Marc and Julie –
Thanks for this valuable follow up to the comments. You make some critically important points that underline the complexity of the decision(s) one has to work through when making a purchase of an RV. We are each coming at this from our own set of needs. Someone who is looking at a new Class A Diesel Pusher to go full time (me!) is going to have a completely different set of needs from a weekender looking for a good bargain on a used trailer. I appreciate that you needed to kind of do a lay of the land overview of the industry from what you saw at all of these manufacturers and it is really incumbent on each of us to go further into the research.
I LOVE your suggestions of how you may want to segment your RVLOVE content from the school content and have webinars and Q and A sessions.
I know you have just started the school (I joined and found a lot of invaluable information in it!) and that you are looking for how you can expand it. I think you have a great idea here.
I know as a recent retiree who is embarking on both full-timing and an RV purchase for the first time, your insights have been incredibly helpful AND calming. But, clearly, my needs are going to be different from others. So if you can “group” sessions by different types of users with different types of RV’s I think you’d have a real winner there. I know I would sign up in a minute.
As you and others have noted, the RV industry is self-regulating.
There aren’t a lot of consumer watchdogs keeping an eye on what is happening in the RV world. So, folks like me are hungry for expert advice and guidance as we try to navigate the complexity of buying a house on top of truck chassis!!
Again, I appreciate so much your insights and experience and look forward to working and learning with you as our (and your) journey continues.
Thank you Ian. We appreciate you sharing your experience and recognizing that each person’s needs, budgets and situations are so vastly different. Our goal is to always educate others to be able to be empowered to make heir own decisions and it is our intention that what we share helps open people’s eyes to many things they may not be aware of and provide much needed perspective on what is important and why – always keeping in mind their OWN unique needs. Education, awareness and clarity bring confidence, empowerment and will result in them finding the right RV and making the right choices for them. Something to highlight here that many others may not be aware of is that we feel a personal responsibility to produce quality and well researched content that is relevant and provides value to our very broad audience – who as you noted, are at very different financial and life stages and with varying needs. When someone asks for the answer to a question like “what is the best RV” – without providing any context for their own situation, budget, usage etc – the answer would not only be incomplete, but it would be misleading to another person reading the article – as that answer may be completely inaccurate for them. We always create our content with the understanding that it will be read (or watched) by many people over many years and what we share needs to stand the test of time and remain relevant to as many people as possible at all times. And RV manufacturers/ quality/ processes can change at any time (and they do) as we witnessed in 2008-2011. We are very happy to hear you continue to find the content in our courses valuable on your journey and we appreciate your positive response to our suggestion to add more live Q&A components so we can engage more personally, do a deeper dive and also segregate the content focus more for each audience. It’s becoming clear the audience is too broad for a “one size fits all” approach as there is just far too much material to cover properly. We are excited about the new content we are adding to our next release of RV Success School and will let you know when they are available. Meanwhile, please keep us posted on your progress and we look forward to hearing what rig you eventually buy and seeing a photo of you with it! Best of LIFE! Marc and Julie
Thank you for your blog post and follow up. I have been wanting to read this and finally did. I am glad you did the post even though it may not have been the answers some people wanted…I agree, there is no answer to what people want to hear…”just tell me who makes the best rv”. Your post explains why there is so much frustration with the industry. I agree that it would be difficult to delve into details of each manufacturer. I have been to 3 factory tours and it is very difficult to compare between them. You can rely on what you are told…but, as you pointed out, it is not unbiased as it is a sales person presenting the tour. The 3 of have been to are Newmar, Artic Fox and Outdoors RV. All 3 manufacturers are known for quality…and all 3 had quality control processes on every RV. I agree, there were similarities between them all. What I found interesting was the more relaxed atmosphere I saw in La Grande vs Elkhart. The Newmar plant felt a bit more “frenzied” and rushed. The Outdoors RV was the most laid back. Both Artic Fox and Outdoors RV showed more teamwork than I saw at the Newmar plant where a person seemed to have a more narrow scope to their function. I think part of the difference in the workplace was due to employee compensation piecework (Newmar), salary + production bonus (Artic Fox) and salary (Outdoors RV). This is my perspective based on what I heard…but, it would be very difficult to summarize each tour as there is alot of similarities…but, also some difference…especially in how it is presented in the tours to make a comparison practical. Many thanks for presenting your perspective of what you observed.
Hi Martha, thank you for your very insightful (and accurate) comments. Having done 3 factory tours yourself and making your own observations about the similarities and differences among each of them, you are one of the few who truly understands that we are quite simply unable to compare apples with apples and why. Unfortunately, in life (as with RVs) most people just want to hear what they want to hear and not the truth. They want strong opinions and yet we see the whole picture and all of the many different factors at play that affect one another, so it’s not that simple. People don’t want to try and understand the reasons or complexities of the RV industry as it’s too hard – and we live in a society where people want things to be easy, they want to skim the surface and get ‘the answers’ instead of delving more deeply and getting properly educated so they can form their own educated opinions. And many don’t want to invest the time, effort or money themselves into doing their own factory tours as you have. It certainly sounds like you have taken a very thorough approach to researching and shopping for your own RV and as a result, you will end up with (if you don’t already have one) an RV that meets your needs, budget and your own quality expectations. We haven’t been to Arctic Fox yet, nor Outdoors RV but as we continue to travel around the country, we will tour as many manufacturers as we can. However, based on the amount of negative (some ill-informed, some unrealistic and some downright rude) responses we have received from others on this subject, we are hardly incentivized to invest more time and energy into writing about or videoing what we learned and observed – especially not in a public forum like this or on YouTube. At this point, we feel perhaps it is best that the lesson people ultimately take away is this: “go and do your own factory tours and form your own opinion” – and if they actually take the time to review what we shared again, they will soon realize there is far more useful content in the article and pointers on what to keep an eye out for than what they initially gave credit to – as you yourself observed. Wishing you safe travels.
Marc and Julie,
I was one of the medium critical commentors…..Even after your reply I still feel as if I am not putting my point across correctly……. you both visited “x” amount of factories for the tours……for me it would have been interesting to have each tour laid out with highlights….mentioning pros and cons of the manufacturer and what you learnt from each specific tour…..I know you actually did put across highlights, pros and cons in a generic way, it just that I myself would have much prefered a less generic approach to your reporting of the factory tours that you took…..your write up was really good, but was spoilt for me because the things talked about seemed out of context because manufacturers were not named……. I would still be interested to learn what you both learnt from each individual tour and hope you do actually put it on Rv school and go into much more detail if you do so…… Mandy
Thanks Mandy, we’ve taken your comments on board.
Did you mention Winnebago?
Not specifically, no.
Well after reading the comments I was glad I wasn’t the only one feeling like you missed a great opportunity to actually “say” something…can’t help but wonder if that is coming but you are going to charge for the answer. Were you doing this to monetize the punchline or something to that effect (not saying at that’s bad) but seriously curious why you fly to Indiana to tour all these plants when you have an rv if it wasn’t to share something of the experience – most of us aren’t going to go and do the tours. So, how about some on on what you found 😉 Hopefully my comment isn’t taken as anything but an honest question – not trying to be pushy 🙂
Mark and Julie,
Excellent job! Those who say you did not go far enough, or in depth enough, are asking too much. That would take a thick book, and even then there would be much more research to do for any potential buyer. The fact that most RV industry big shots do not own an RV is telling of how little they know about how their products will be used. As you note, it’s what a buyer does not see (cheap components and shoddy workmanship) that ultimately causes them headaches and frustration. And only spot-checking RVs for quality problems/flaws before they head off to dealerships is inexcusable. It’s no wonder so many new RVers these days are angry about the problems they encounter after their purchase. And, yes, there are good RVs and good manufacturers. But there are too few, and far more who are focused on profits rather than the good of their customers.
Thank you Chuck. As a highly experienced person in the RV industry, you understand all too well the complexity of what people are asking and the impossibility of giving the answers that they want in anything less than an encyclopedia. At least a quality, thorough and well researched answer. We live in a society where everyone wants the quick fix, magic pill, just give me the top 5 tips / hacks and list of ‘the best’. Oh, if only it were that easy with RVs, our life would be so much easier as well. We have indeed given this post and the responses a LOT of thought and consideration these past few days, hence our reply only now. We have received nothing but positive feedback and agreement from experienced RVers (and industry) on this post and mostly criticism from people who don’t understand and want the detail and answers that simply do not exist in the way they want. So this us giving us a lot of food for thought as to where to from here. As what people are asking for and what we are feasibly able to deliver in quality, and thoroughness are many miles apart. We always wondered why someone hadn’t created something like our School before and now we know. This is a beast and it’s harder than heck to tame it! But we’re getting there 🙂
As somebody who is currently working towards being an RV Tech up here in Canada, I think what is missing from all manufacturer s of RVs is craftsmanship, and a lack of forethought for anyone that has to work on the RV down the road. Imagine trying to replace a shower p trap through a 3″ by 3″ access hole? That was a fun day? Or how Suburban hot water tanks make it nearly impossible to remove the t-stat cover without removing the gas, all they had to do was make the screw offset a different and it would make a techs life so much easier.
I’ve seen access holes that look like they were cut with a butter knife by a three year old, parts of a rivit bouncing around a furnace squirrel cage, etc. And the manufacturer nor the dealer seems to care, it’s always someone else issue or department. There’s a lack of pride or craftsmanship in during production.
Les, you are so right. It is incredibly frustrating. We do believe many years ago – in the golden era of RV manufacturing and pride of building ‘the best’ motorhomes out there, that these things were taken into consideration. Not so much now. All the manufacturers seem to care about is selling the units. Not how easy or expensive it will be to repair any issues down the track. You might like to check out the YouTube channel Humble Road – George Mauro is building his own Class B Vans in response to his own frustrations around this very topic, and is showing how he is building the entire van to be fully accessible for ANYTHING that needs to be repaired or replaced. It’s very impressive and his channel is very well done and entertaining.
Watching the video of the Winnebago factory at the museum is hardly the same as visiting the factory.
Stop trying to beef up your numbers and just be honest.
Actually Kevin, the video footage allowed us to see some parts of the production process up close – and their testing – that we would not have been able to see in person and had an excellent narrated commentary that was very educational. Winnebago is not in Elkhart County and we learned and saw quite a lot in that video to allow us to see some processes, technologies and practices. We look forward to an in person visit when we are in Forest City, Iowa to expand on that experience.
Ok, brace yourself for a compliment sandwich 😉
We really appreciate the time and effort you took in the process of touring all of these factories, writing copious notes, taking video and pictures where you could, and then taking the time to produce both a video and written post in regards to your experience. We know how long this must have taken. We read and enjoy your website and youtube channel.
As many of the above comments have noted, you have not provided any real ‘beef’ for us to use and inform decisions as you could have. You have had a really unique experience of seeing all of the big names in one place. For anyone going to an RV dealer, it is easy to tell that all of these trailers have LOTS in common and are produced as quickly and cheaply as possible. However, and a more specific question you may be able to answer now, who does the ‘guts’ the best? That is, the construction that takes place behind the scenes (framing, structure, walls, wiring, etc.), in your opinion, who is doing the best job on that front?
We consider you some strong authorities on the topic of RVing and perhaps RV construction, hoping you can step up to the plate and provide some of this information you have gleaned from your time in Indiana.
Again, we do appreciate the time and effort you have put into this work, and it is up to you what you want to post. All the best and safe travels!
Eloquently stated. All the effort put into making this and I still feel like I need to make the trip out there myself so I can form my own opinions. Granted, it would be nice to see with my own eyes someday anyway, but the whole point of this is to spare us from doing that if we can’t do it ourselves right now. I hope they will take these comments seriously and revisit this and give more useful opinions without being afraid to offer criticism to specific manufacturers. And for the record I do appreciate them and all their videos.
Hi, I read your articles, blogs and videos. As usual, this article was very well written but I have to agree with the others that it is much to general to be a specific use for most of us. I recently toured the Tiffin factory in Redbay Alabama. After the scheduled tour in the morning, I was allowed to go back out to the various buildings, take as many pictures as I wanted, and to ask questions of the technicians. So much better than the canned tours of some others which are limited in their information.
I have to agree with many comments; nice story of an interesting experience but no real value concerning what your true opinions are of certain manufacturers. Lots of generalities but few, if any, specifics assigned to any one manufacturer. Tell us your true OPINION of specific manufacturers and why. Now that would be helpful. However, most of us know you don’t want to alienate any manufacturer in hopes one or more will support your lifestyle in some fashion or another in the future.
Hi guys, I was reading some of the recent comments about your “neutral” stance. So to cut to the chase, which RV would you buy next, assuming a reasonable budget? 🙂
Btw, I also was truly amazed how my last two salespeople didn’t own RVs! I was like, what do you know that you’re not telling me?? Although I think a lot of these people transition from the auto industry.
I understand you want to be able to monetize your knowledge you obtained from spending a lot of time, energy and money to gain that knowledge. Nothing wrong with making a return on your efforts. I do think your video would be better received if you were up front about your decision as to why you have chosen to not share publicly your thoughts on the quality of specific manufacturers. The quality of specific manufacturers is not dependent on people’s specific needs and wants which is the reason you gave for not publicly sharing that information. Just be up front and tell people that specific information is for sale for a price. You deserve to be remunerated for your efforts.
Sorry but not enough detail for me. I was looking for more information. The trip sounds like it was a lot of fun
“Where’s the beef?”
This article is kinda informative but also kinda not……A little bit too much sitting on the fence for me. I understand that you want to stay on everyones good side, but you just “have to” have more of an opinion that what you have written down in this article.
Article is just too Vanilla, sorry
I’m in agreement with the above as well. Trust is based on transparency and in this case your not wanting to rock any boats. You chose the RV industry and not the people following your life chronicles.AS example your point on one manufacture or class meeting everyone expectations is impossible is correct. But you fall off the tracks when not one negative observation is shared. Fair enough.We don’t require a guide to locate the capital of RV builders. A degree in rocket science is not required to read brochures or recognized each manufacturers propaganda on construction or methodologies.
I will go out on a limb concerning quality….first is Newmar then Tiffin and then Winnebago, followed by all the rest as far as quality Class A motorhomes go IMO.
I really like Tiffin products.I meet Bob Tiffin at Quartzsite last year he replaced the painted cargo door latches with chrome ones because they started to chip.
Glad to hear you had a good experience with your Tiffin Steve. We met Bob at the FMCA rally in March in Phoenix, he’s an industry legend for sure.
I think people want more information comparing quality of builders who does the best job etc.??
No real summary of specific differences, good or not so good in the manufactures you visited.
Felt like you blog was written by someone at the RVIA.
You can do better……
I NEVER write or post comments, but I have been researching rvs for over a year, and I am disappointed to see that you only visited the big name, high output companies on your tour. There is only one manufacturer there, Phoenix Cruiser, that still builds a somewhat customized rv for its buyers and has a very satisfied customer base per its owner’s forum, and you didn’t check out their factory? I would think you would have wanted to see what makes this small but personalized company successful in this day of mass produced, cookie-cutter rvs/motorhomes. Just wondering…as it is very important to me that they will make modifications in a build to fit my needs, and that is virtually unheard of in this industry.
Hello Charmaine. If you look closely at the list of manufacturers we visited, you will see that we also toured Augusta RV (the RV Factory) which DOES build somewhat customized RVs for its buyers and has a very satisfied customer base per it’s owner’s forum. We specifically wanted to see a custom RV manufacturer for that reason, to see the difference compared to the big name manufacturers. Yes, we did visit the big name manufacturers for many reasons – they produce the majority of RVs – brands, styles, models, floorplans etc which gave us the chance to see more RVs in the timeframe – luxury diesel, diesel, gas, class a, b,c etc and seeing those products would also be relevant to a large number of people. And while we managed to cover a LOT of ground in 9 days, our schedule was very intensively focused on factory tours, so please understand that it is absolutely impossible to visit every manufacturer in that timeframe. Our Indiana trip was specifically booked to see as many as we could in our available timeframe and as we continue to travel the country, we will be doing more factory tours along the way when they are in our vicinity. Most of the small, personalized brands did not survive the recession of 2008 and the big brands have bought out others, so there are only a few small, yet more personalized brands remaining that will modify the RVs to their customer needs – Newmar is another brand that does customize RVs (to a point) for their customers, and DRV does some as well, so we actually saw 3 manufacturers that do semi-custom work. Now that the industry has been picking up again over recent years, it is good to see there are more manufacturers who are catering to the customized market – BUT this comes at a premium price, which only a few are willing to pay. Whether or not those manufacturers remain in business should we see another recession (which we are economically overdue for) will also impact the ability to fulfil warranty claims. A sad reality that must be taken into consideration as the future is never guaranteed. Buying an RV is a far more complex process than most people realize. We will be sure to visit Phoenix Cruiser on our next visit to the area.
Thanks…. understood. I will also check out Augusta, as I had never heard of them before.
Marc and Julie – Thank you for your insights and detail in this blog. I have been following your blog for a number of years and have signed up and taken your online courses. However, I am disappointed, that, with all your knowledge and experience, you won’t go out on a limb with RV manufacturer recommendations. You must have a “strong” opinion on which manufacturers provide a better level of quality control and quality in their build processes. So, asking directly, leaving out concerns about floorplans and cabinet and furniture choices, which Class A diesel pusher manufacturer(s) do you feel do the best build and quality job?
Hi Ian, Thanks for your comment. Glad to know our content has been helpful to you over the years. We are literally heading out the door now to spend the day with the RV Geeks and won’t be back until late and we are relocating tomorrow. We want to answer your question properly so will get back to you ASAP. If it was a one-sentence answer we would have posted it by now! But it’s not. More to come. Thanks.