The dysfunctional RV industry and you. Part 3

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Did you miss part one or two of this series? Read them here.

PART THREE

Cars made by American car manufacturers in the mid-20th century would wear out by 80,000 miles. Then along came Germany’s VW Bug and other well-built compacts from Japan. They cost less, lasted longer, fit into tight parking spots, and burned far less fuel than the big gas hogs American car makers produced. It got to the point where consumers chanted “Don’t buy American.” It took a long time for Detroit car manufacturers to understand they needed to change their ways or perish. It was the high-quality foreign competition that did it.

VW Beetle. It changed the way we drive, and put pressure on American car makers to do better.

The RV industry has no serious foreign competition. Many of today’s RVs leave their factories without a comprehensive inspection for defects. Dealers are supposed to do a PDI (pre-delivery inspection), but often don’t or don’t do it properly (hey, time is money!). Read the Facebook group RV Horror Stories to see what happens. It is ugly.

Many dealers often prefer to simply send out the RV with the new buyer without doing anything but a superficial inspection. “If there’s something wrong, just bring it back and we’ll fix it,” they say. Right! And then when the buyer does return, he or she is told, “It will take us a few weeks to get to that.” It can be because the RV dealer is too busy, or that a needed part takes weeks or longer to arrive. It’s a problem the RV industry recognizes, but has not addressed seriously, although that could finally be changing. Stay tuned. And, P.S: Those “three-week repairs” can often take two or three times that long — or longer!

Imagine that the big three RV manufacturers (Thor, Forest River and Winnebago) convened a summit where they would discuss how to improve the RVing experience for their customers, not just themselves. I mean SERIOUSLY discuss. Maybe someone important in the industry, a visionary (wouldn’t that be nice), would convince others with influence that something must be done to improve their customers’ experiences, not just address them with a Band-Aid solution or a PR campaign. Will that happen? Maybe, but I suspect it will be when the companies are forced to change, perhaps when foreign competition arrives. There isn’t a visionary in the business that I can see. Alas, visionaries don’t come along too often.

SPEAKING OF VISIONARIES
Back in 1938 a man named William Piper began producing a small airplane that would sell for about $1,000. He is a great example of a visionary, not to mention a smart businessman. His Piper Cub made flying affordable for just about everyone. The media called him “Aviation’s Henry Ford.”

Mr. Piper and his Cub

Do you know the first thing Mr. Piper did when he started selling the Cub? He and/or his representatives toured the country doing their best to persuade small towns to build airports. Piper knew that if his prospective customers (pilots) didn’t have a place to take off and land they wouldn’t buy his planes. If only the RV industry were half as wise.

Ditto Henry Ford, who lobbied for more and better roads. How could he sell his Model T’s if buyers had no decent places to drive them?

So, to put this another way . . .
Airplanes need places to land and take off.
Cars need good roads where motorists can drive them.
RVs need places to stay with them (besides Walmart).

Here’s a post this past week from the Facebook group California RV Camping:

“We just bought our first travel trailer and we’re so excited to take it to all the beautiful California campgrounds. However, I’m getting a little discouraged booking sites. All the great ones seem impossible to get a site for no matter how far in advance I try. Any secrets to this? We live in San Diego so doing first come first serve isn’t ideal for the good places that are 6ish hours away.”

The fact is — what the woman who posted this didn’t know — what nobody told her when she bought her RV — is that all “the beautiful California campgrounds” have been booked for a year, often longer. She probably got suckered into believing she could go anywhere she wanted, when she wanted, as promoted by the RV Industry in its advertising and propaganda materials.

IT’S THE SAME in any popular tourist area in America. In an RV Travel reader poll from last year, nearly 90% of more than 2,500 respondents said securing an RV park site without an advance reservation was more difficult (48%) or somewhat more difficult (41%) than five years before: That adds up to almost 90% who said it was more difficult even as of a year ago!

Try to find an available campsite in any popular National Park — Zion, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Acadia — you won’t unless you make your reservation a year or even two ahead. Heck, try to find any available campground on the fly within 20 miles of a popular park!

Entrance to Yellowstone National Park

The National Park Service reported that at the end of 2018 there were 502 front-end campgrounds in the National Park system with 16,648 sites. These are locations you can reach by motor vehicle, not by hiking or boating.

Yosemite National Park has nearly 1,500 sites, Glacier National Park has more than 1,000, Grand Teton National Park has more than 1,100, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon combined have just a bit more than 1,200 sites. “Do the math and you’ll see that those six parks alone hold 40 percent of those 16,648 campsites,” wrote National Park Traveler.

“Many other parks that are highly desirable with campers have considerably fewer sites,” the website wrote. “Canyonlands National Park has fewer than 40, Arches National Park has 50, Rocky Mountain National Park has around 571, Acadia National Park has a few more than 600, and Shenandoah National Park has 472.” Of course, if you’re looking for RV campsites, they are even more scarce.”

It can be nearly impossible in most popular parks to simply drop into a campground and find a vacant space (that was not true even 10 years ago). Take Yosemite. In January 2020, it was announced that campsite reservations from May 15 to June 14 would be made available online on February 15th. Anyone who wanted to camp in the park during that month had to be sitting at their computer at exactly 7 a.m., Pacific time (and then hope to get lucky) and hit “send” before the campsites were all gone. Alas, within only a few minutes, every single one was reserved. Of the more than 11,000 people who wanted a site, fewer than 40% secured one.

And keep this in mind. According to Statista, 59% of Americans who camp do so with a tent. They’re taking up a whole bunch of campsites; it’s not just RVers looking for a place to stay.

It’s not much different with RV parks:

RV park were far less crowded 15 years ago, when there were fewer RVs on the road and far fewer full-timers occupying a campsite 365 days a year. Today, it’s not just full-timers but other long-term tenants — pipeline workers, wind machine repairmen and workers on long-term construction projects. Some RV parks are fully occupied by these people, most of them in fifth wheel trailers. Do you need a spot for a night or two when passing through? Good luck!

KOA in Jackson, Minnesota. These “campers” are not just staying a night or two!

A friend of mine owns a campground in Virginia. It’s a family business where familiar faces return each year for family vacations. One day, a businessman showed up in the office with a proposal: “My company will soon be building a pipeline through this area. We need a place for our workers to stay for one year.” He asked my friend how much he would gross during one year if every campsite were filled every night. The businessman said, “We will pay you that amount plus an additional 20% if you rent us the park.”

This Thousand Trails park in Leavenworth, Wash., will rent you a space to stay year round.

My friend turned him down. Yes, it was easy money, but it would have destroyed the goodwill he enjoyed with his long-time customers. He is not the only RV park owner who has received such an offer. Some take the money. And when they do, there goes another park off-limits to you and me if we want to spend a night or two while passing through.

There is, however, more to this than simply a shortage of RV parks. The truth is, there are countless campsites available every night.

CONTINUED IN TOMORROW’S NEWSLETTER (March 1, 2020).

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CandaceB
3 months ago

This article states that you must make reservations a year or two in advance at National Parks, but six months has been the maximum at every place I’ve encountered and putting an alert on your computer calendar can tell you when to submit a reservation. Also, retirees like us should stick to shoulder seasons for the big parks. Leave the summers for those with school age children who have fewer options. We usually find cool, out of the way spots in the mountains during the summer and just enjoy the peace and quiet.

Bret
4 months ago

I have been doing the RV thing since 1973 and certainly the atmosphere has changed dramatically from what it was. One of my pet peeves though is the reservation system the National Park System has brought on board. This system is the most user unfriendly, cumbersome, and frustrating thing I have tried to use lately. Three different RVrs all in very small rigs (we were one of them) tried to make reservations at Joshua Tree Nation Park during late January 2020 all three of us gave up in frustration. We eventually went to the park while staying in a BLM area outside the south entrance only to find dozens, maybe hundreds, of campsites available within the park. Granted many of these were for one, two or three nights only, but a month earlier the reservation system seemed to show nothing available. This is not the first, and probably not the last time, for all of us to have experienced this frustration. I am sure others have been turned away totally believing nothing was available.

Len Yancey
4 months ago

We enjoy traveling the Oregon coast and the Oregon state parks. It frustrates us when we see a half empty parks and people being turned away because campers who make reservations don’t show up and don’t cancel their reservation. We have attempted to lengthen our stay or move to a more desirable site but were told there was no availability at certain sites that sit empty for several days. If you are not going to show up please cancel your reservation.

Alex Carlucci
4 months ago

We live 40 miles from Disney world and my wife has wanted to stay at fort wilderness for a long time. She made reservations a year ago and we’ll be there in October this year. John Pennekamp park in the keys we made reservations 9 months in advance for this August.
We’re adjusted to not finding what we want when we want it, our rv is 39 ft and with the car trailer is almost 60 ft so we’re limited to begin with. When we travel we always find nice places to stay without reservations a month in advance. We stay in a central location and use our jeep to go do whatever we want within a hundred miles. We seem to find nice quiet places reasonably priced all the time.

Richard Carlson
4 months ago

I can fix the “no spots available”. Have an online bidding system, where a certain number of sites are offered to the highest bidder. If you’ve got a $500K rig, $200/night won’t be a problem.

Lee
4 months ago

The arrival of cheap, quality, imported autos along with state and federal Consumer Protection laws brought Detroit to heel.

AARP is successful as an economic engine and lobbying group because it unites a large and diverse group of people around a single issue, ageing. Happens to us all.
Somewhere in there is a solution. Consumer protection laws and lemon law protections must be extended to the RV industry. Let your lawmakers at every level know that you will not only not support them for re-election if they can’t (or won’t) get this done, but will actively campaign for candidates who will. Same for expanding existing and building new campgrounds/RV Parks.

And please, please, please just stop buying into the old ‘but RVs are different because of the various systems, parts,and pieces from different manufacturers’ argument, it is specious and self serving. If you buy a brand new house, the builder is responsible for it and all the systems in it no matter the manufacturer or installer. It’s the same for planes, trains, and automobiles….

And finally, I am frankly surprised that someone hasn’t figured out how to make quality, RVs for a decent price in Mexico and import them into the US.

Steve Barnes, Kamloops, BC
4 months ago

Strength in Numbers
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If you read Chuck’s article today “Part three of my series “The Dysfunctional RV Industry and You” you will know he suggests a visionary to shake up the industry in areas of quality product, timely service and available RV parks.
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Chuck writes “There isn’t a visionary in the business that I can see. Alas, visionaries don’t come along too often.” ………….
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“OUR INFLUENCE GROWS: Our subscriber database has now reached 109,000 and is growing every day. As of Friday evening, we had a total of 7,578 articles posted on this website. More readers = more influence with the RV industry to serve RVers better. We now have 5,209 members — voluntary subscribers who believe what we are doing is important and worthy of their financial support.”
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Perhaps Chuck is our visionary. We should support Chuck as our advocate, the RV Visionary. A Paper setting out all the negative issues for we consumers is needed. More important, we RVers need to get strength from our numbers. We need to organize and promote Chuck in the Paper as our Visionary.
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Chuck’s database is 109,000 readers. If we 109,000 would individually send to every manufacturer, every park and every dealer and repair center we deal with the Paper, they eventually will listen. We will blacklist them unless they are responsive. We will cut off their cash flow.
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I estimate with 100% participation and help from Chuck Woodbury, rvtravel.com, the 109,000 database would result in at least 500,000 letters/emails.
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I await support from our members and from Chuck.
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Steve Barnes, Kamloops, BC
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P.S. At least the retirees have time for this commitment.

Chris Jensen
4 months ago

Campgrounds that allow pipeline or any business employees full-time are disgraceful. These guys make six figures and don’t want to pay rent and utilities in an apartment complex. Who wouldn’t love to pay 800 or 900 month utilities included! It’s not right. Then you have new campgrounds being built that are charging over 100 a nite. So much for family vacation. Or campgrounds that are restricting rv’s to 10 yrs old or newer. What is happening.?

Claudia
4 months ago

We are in our second year of snowbirding out of NoPA in our Class A. Last year we visited Austin TX and then all the way to Key West. This year we’ve traveled to CA and are currently sitting here at the beautiful Monterey Bay. We love this experience, but the one major thing that ruins it is the state of the roads to get to our destinations. The infrastructure in this country is crumbling and it’s extremely stressful driving and the wear and tear on the coach is concerning.

Marty chambers
4 months ago

Last week I heard an RV horor story that shows blatent lack of concern for quality.

A new RV owner picked up a brand new fifth wheel and he was assured that everything was working. He got a full inspection report from the manufacturer and the dealer showing all the systems were in working order.

First camping trip they set up in their camping spot and hook up the power, water, and sewer. They left for a short time and came back and found their RV full of water! They opened the door and water came out in torrents. Water had been pouring into the RV tht whole time they were gone.

An RV Tech was called and he quickly found the trouble. Someone had cut the hot and cold water lines at the floor level.

This unexplainable act had to have been done at the factory because it’s in an area of a sealed basement. But the manufacturer certified that everything was working. Did they conduct a air pressure test on the plumbing? I think if they had the “leak” would have been discovered easily.

So on the maiden voyage this RV owner has a fifth wheel that is destroyed. How can RV makers and dealers not see they are cutting their own throats doing these blatant acts of neglect?

CRAIG SEITZ
4 months ago

My wife and I, having recently retired, will soon be traveling much more with our camper. Although we would like to see the major national parks, we camp to avoid large or even small crowds. The last thing I want to do is be elbow to elbow with a stranger, struggling to get a view of wildlife. I truly hope we can stick to small towns and see some spectacular sights without hearing crying babies and clicking cameras

Tumbleweed
4 months ago
Reply to  CRAIG SEITZ

If you don’t have a huge RV and don’t expect full hook-ups, there are still loads of nice places to camp without making reservations or being crowded cheek to jowl. Many of the small towns you hope to visit provide free or low-cost overnights in their local parks. Likewise with some county parks and rural fairgrounds. If you wander the back roads, you will find these and other gems, occasionally including small, low-cost private campgrounds. And then there is the almost unlimited camping on western public lands, some in designated campgrounds, some in dispersed camping areas, and some at places where you just pull off a dirt road into a beautiful camping spot. In most of these areas you will have to dry camp (boondock), but some of the designated campgrounds may provide a few basic amenities such as water, dump station, or restrooms.

If you’re a highly structured person who MUST know where you’re going to camp at the end of the day, you’ll never find these great places. But if you like to wander and explore, and don’t believe an ax murderer will be waiting for you behind a bush ten feet from where you park, then finding them “accidentally” will be part of the fun of RVing.

Shredder
4 months ago
Reply to  CRAIG SEITZ

Hubs and I feel exactly the same way. Using our camper is for serenity – not being lined up like sardines in a can somewhere listening to barking dogs, screaming kids and waiting in line.

Donald N Wright
4 months ago

59% of Americans camp with a tent ? Good for them. I wonder how many of us still use single axle trailers, pickup campers or small vans for our camping. Many campsites were built for folks with tents and popup trailers, not for the monster RV’s of today. I wonder why RVTravel only supports folks with large RV’s, not the small ones like the Editor used a long, long time ago.

Bob Godfrey
4 months ago

So, if we all don’t “camp” the way you think we should we’re bad people? Would you require us all to return to tent camping so you can relax?

Vanessa Faukner
4 months ago

Hi Don! I agree. My hubby and I car camped across America for many years. Started out with a Scion XB and two Yakimas on top.
Five years ago, we bought a 16 foot travel trailer. Single axle – no slide. We love our trailer however we quickly figured out that it is so much easier – for us – to continue to take the car. We just returned from a 7000 mile trip across America. We bought a Siennas van for this excursion. Much easier to navigate and wind across and through America trailer free. Lol.

Tom Ferrigan
4 months ago

Between 10 and 12 years ago my best friend and I tent camped our way across the US once and a second time around the Great Lakes on the Canadian side and on out west to Yellowstone. On a third trip we tent camped our way up through New York State and into New England and on into Canada once again.
With the exception of Acadia we never encountered a “Full Up” situation and all of the national parks and state parks that we camped in had separate tent camp areas from the RV areas. The same did not hold for private campgrounds in some cases. Apparently now tent and RV areas are no longer separated in parks based on what I am reading on this website.
My point being, that tent campsites take up much less space than RV sites and tent campers didn’t take spaces from RV campers back in the day.
BTW, my wife and I decided to stop tent camping and purchased a Mini Winnie thinking that would be a better way to go. After one season we sold it and went back to our tent.
To each his own.