Thursday, October 6, 2022

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Rant: Shame on RV manufacturers! Why would they do this?

My woeful tales of buying a used RV have been many lessons learned by me and provided you some head shakes and laughs.

I considered chucking it all many times in the past year. Buying the RV and moving cross-country from North Carolina to California was, I can honestly say, the most stressful time in my life.

I did not sell my RV and I am now planning on taking a trip to Oregon to visit family and escape the desert heat. Apparently my heart is still in love with RV travel and I have recovered enough from my trauma to look upon my coach with adoring, rather than hateful, eyes.

I have stepped back a bit to look at the real reasons I am having all these problems; a lot is my own dang fault. But the dealership, and the RV industry that supports it, are responsible for a heck of a lot, too.

Why would an RV manufacturer do this?

But what about Newmar, the manufacturer? When I bought the 2015 Newmar Canyon Star 3921, I pretty much primarily looked at the floor plan and put a lot of faith in the brand name Newmar: top of the line, premium, known for quality … blah, blah blah. The BIG question is:

Why would Newmar put a 40-foot “house” on a chassis built for a passenger truck?

When you ask that question, it opens a lot of Pandora’s boxes and provides yet another line of inquiry when purchasing a new or used rig.

In his reviews, Tony Barthel does a great job of looking at different floor plans and the construction features of RVs. Additionally, Dave Solberg has discussed suspension issues on chassis in his recent articles (here and here). I sure hope Newmar and the other manufacturers are reading these reviews and articles here on RVtravel.com.

I bought a 40-foot coach on a Ford F-53 chassis. This is pretty much the only chassis now used by manufacturers for gas coaches.

Ford F-53 Super Duty Chassis Detroit 

Jerry Lee Lewis and the F-53 Chassis

Let me paint a picture of what it is like driving my fully-loaded Newmar on anything but smooth roads. A lot of people driving on the F-53 complain about swaying and body roll when a semi-truck passes. There are also plenty of complaints about loose steering. I discovered this firsthand.

My ride was anything but smooth. You can feel every bump, crack and rock on the road. Traveling on the highway with bridge transitions and inevitable construction work requires you to brace yourself for the impact and pray nothing underneath is damaged. Your hands and arms are locked tight on the steering wheel trying to stabilize the coach. The cabinet doors fly open, dishes hit the floor, and the cats scramble. I taped cabinet doors and drawers shut, used bungee cords to prevent flying objects, and even taped the refrigerator door shut because it would fly open.

Warned the cats about bumps

Whenever I saw a problem ahead, I would yell “big bump” so the cats knew it was coming. My arms became sore from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. And all of this was AFTER I spent $1,200 on the chassis and fixed the incorrect tire pressure.

Jerry Lee Lewis “A Whol’ Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” YouTube screen capture

This chassis was originally designed for F-550 trucks but marketed for RVs. A house on a passenger/commercial truck chassis presents problems that, in my opinion, should never need to be faced by coach owners. Despite that, the RV industry was still raving about this chassis in 2012. Here is the 2007 press release from Autoblog describing the suspension:

The chassis provides its owner with excellent ride and handling capabilities using weight specific tuned Bilstein shocks with front and rear jounce bumpers. In chassis over 16,000 pounds, stabilizer bars and long leaf springs provide unparalleled ride comfort. Vehicle control is further enhanced by front and rear stabilizer and track bars. The chassis comprises the foundation for the motorhome and is manufactured using 36,000 psi steel up to 22,000 GCWR and 50,000 psi steel on the 24,000 and 26,000 pound rail featuring a 9.16″x3.0″x 0.25″ continuous rail. Braking is supplied by either a Hydro-Boost on the light rails while a HydroMax booster with large 73mm front caliper pistons on the 24,000 and 26,000 pound versions.” —RVLifePro Dec 21, 2012

This is just marketing bull funky!

The reason RV manufacturers don’t change is that WE DON”T MAKE THEM CHANGE!

There, I said it! It is all RV buyers’ fault. But it is true. We don’t walk onto a lot demanding that the gas coach we want to buy has a safe, cushy suspension. No, we want the floor plan that has plenty of storage, shiny solid-wood cabinets, a washer/dryer, a residential two-door refrigerator, and slides that make the RV like a luxury apartment.

Okay, the salesperson takes you for a test drive, probably on a relatively smooth road and almost certainly not fully loaded with passengers, a full 80-gallon water tank, your Harley (if buying a toy hauler), food, clothes, your gas griddle and your dog. Your 26,000-pound rated chassis handles pretty well without all that weight and the salesperson telling you where to go. Most likely, many of us don’t bother to weigh our RV before we set off. We most likely are seriously overweight, putting a huge amount of strain on that chassis with middle-of-the-road suspension.

It is critical to weigh your coach—front axle, back axles and each corner, if possible.

Learn the capabilities of your coach. Know how much each axle can carry and then weigh, weigh, weigh! This will avoid compounding the inherent problems presented by the F-53 chassis and help to keep you safe. You can weigh your coach at any CAT scale—there is a wide network of them: CAT Scale Locator. Dave Solberg discusses why axle weights are important and what the difference between GVWR and GAWR are here.

I want a good rant

What I want to talk about (well, rant about) is WHY I have these problems in the first place. It was bad enough to make all my rookie mistakes when buying a used RV. But to face the stress and the cost of fixing the factory-installed, right-off-the-showroom-floor problems with the Newmar is beyond infuriating.

There is a huge after-market for products and services to address the F-53 RV chassis problems. I discovered a huge community out there after commiserating with other F-53 owners on chat lines. Fortunately, there seems to be a consensus about how to deal with this and a ready supply of products to do so (I will go into more detail next week). It just takes money.

If I can do the upgrades, the RV manufacturers or Ford can do so, too!

Well, it’s all about money, of course. Ford could pretty easily make the upgrades on the factory floor. But the manufacturers aren’t demanding it and won’t pay for it. The upgrades to improve the suspension and driving costs money. Every penny they don’t absolutely have to spend on building that coach is more money in their pockets. Flashy floor plans and shiny appliances are what sell RVs. And, the salespeople know that if you want a better ride they can steer you towards the Class A diesel pushers costing $100,000+ more than their gas coaches. Just more money in their pockets.

What galls me the most

No, it’s not the cost. It’s that the RV manufacturers are still selling RVs on F-53 chassis! Yes! Coaches costing $400,000 and upwards are rolling off the lots into unsuspecting owners’ driveways. They still have medium-duty shocks and leaf springs and the ride is still horrible. It has been going on for years! I know that Newmar has put my model, the Canyon Star, on a diesel chassis and now sells only one model of gas coach, the Bay Star. It is on what they now call a Ford F-Series Class A motorhome chassis with a V8 (vs. V10) engine. The coaches range from 32 feet to 38 feet, and have a GVWR range of 24,000-26,000 pounds. So, still a huge house on a Ford truck chassis??? Newmar seems to now know the label F-53 is not a good marketing tool. The prices of these coaches have increased exponentially but they have yet to make substantial upgrades to the suspension and chassis.

Research and lessons learned

I wish I had known about this before I bought it. Perhaps I would have made a different choice. It just reinforces the need to research everything about the RV you plan to buy. I don’t mean checklists and walk-throughs—I mean real info from real people who bought the coaches. I had no idea that I might want to avoid RVs built on the F-53. The chat boards incredibly helpful in learning about what problems were occurring in my brand and model. Listening to what current owners were saying and doing with their rigs taught me a great deal.

I need ammunition, folks!

It’s up to us, the RV customers, to start walking onto showroom floors and demanding these upgrades BEFORE we buy the coach. Diesel fuel products may become history, and unless we demand change, we will have very few products to choose from.

Next week: I will detail the options and products to upgrade your F-53 coach chassis and show you what I chose to do on my 2015 Newmar. Do you have a coach on a Ford F-53 chassis? I’d like to share your experiences, too.

I am building a war chest of information. Were you aware of the chassis issues when you bought your RV? I am particularly interested in what you noticed in the months right after you drove it off the lot. Have you done any modifications to improve your ride? Please tell me about your experiences and your opinions in the comments below.

I also need shoulders to cry on.

##RVT1071

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Janice Maynard
5 days ago

Holy moly! I needed this article!!
We have a 2022 Tiffin Allegro Open Road 36UA on an F-53 chassis. We installed Safe T Lite, Kumi springs, Koni shocks, sway bar and track bar and we still have to hold tight to the steering wheel. Struggle to keep center in our lane! Will be weighing it when we go to fill up the propane tank. Heard Liquid Springs is the way to go but I don’t have $30k to drop into this rig.

Bought in Jan 2022, back to dealer Feb 2022 for hydraulic issues, creeping slide and some interior warranty work. Took it on a weekend trip, back to dealer for hydraulic issues (again), bedroom slide jumped track and came in sideways. Sat at dealership waiting for parts.

Late Sept, first big trip! Found out how horrible truck lanes are. My wrists hurt from the vibrations of steering wheel and holding on for dear life. Motor on stairs stopped working, propane hose and regulator stopped working, arm rest fell off drivers chair. I think we got a lemon.😡😡😡😡😡😡😡😡

Michael Zehr
8 days ago

Hmmm… interesting…
We had a 36’ Winnebago with a kitchen/living room slide on an F53 chassis with the V10 engine. I loved that coach. Drove great. Had plenty of power. I hated to give it up. We needed more room because we were going to be on the road longer.

Claudia
9 days ago

We’re with you. After 2 trips now from PA to SoCal we’re upgrading to Liquid Springs suspension in our 2018 Georgetown XL in a few weeks. I’m convinced that the industry won’t upgrade to a better solution for gassers explicitly so that people will trade up to diesel pushers. We are hoping that this time we won’t arrive in San Diego utterly exhausted from 10 days or so of being battered on the roads. And after doing the math, it seemed a reasonable solution to try and if it gets us 5 more years in this coach it will be worth it.

Alan D Resnicke
9 days ago

Sorry to buck the trend, but my bride and I are quite happy full-timing in our 2018 Newmar 3414 Bay Star. We ordered the F-53 chassis upgraded from 22k to 24k and we scale at 23.9k, fully loaded. We speak in normal tones even while traveling up the Western U.S. mountains in a lower gear at higher RPMs. Sway is easily felt and managed with a light hand on the steering wheel (rather than straight-arming the wheel in a death grip). These are just basic driving tips that I learned from my truck-driving Dad or when I drove buses in my younger years. The only issue that gets my attention are swales/dips-&-humps in the road that I might take too fast (U.S. 191 in AZ north of St Johns is a fine example). Oh – our two cats take their station on the bed and sleep while we travel.

Why did we decide on a gasser vs. diesel? Price. Relative simplicity. More convenient repair options. My ability to do some repairs/maintenance. Yes, floorplan, too.

Aaron H
9 days ago

Great blog! I had no idea of how crappy the chassis were on these rigs. I was scared to death when I started driving our rig, passing semi trucks and handling windy conditions. I have an Entegra Emblem 36U with the F53 chassis. I’ve upgraded the shocks to Koni’s and added a steering stabilizer. The cost for all this was around $2500. It could have easily been done by Entegra for less and I would have been happy to pay it!

Doug
10 days ago

Right On!!!

Pursuits
11 days ago

RV manufacturers, like most other for-profit organizations, do this because they can. Americans don’t want anyone telling them what they can or can’t do and what they can or can’t have. The result is seriously under-regulated industries. This includes those repair shops that can hang out a shingle with no certification or licensure.

RV industry is just another example of American greed and capitalism at its finest…and it’s worst.

Adam Weisner
11 days ago

Hey there – our company makes suspension specifications for this chassis. We’re standard equipment on all Winnebago F53s. In prior years, we were standard on all Tiffins, and in Bob Tiffin’s words we “saved his gas division”. I work hard to address the issue at the OEM a level, but unfortunately many of them don’t want to spend the money. We end up selling a lot in the aftermarket, but it’s unfortunate for all of the reasons you’ve stated. This isn’t uncommon and also plagues the Travel Trailer and 5th wheel markets, where a 50-150K trailer sits on $30-$60 worth of springs. This happens because they sell them parked, so people don’t think as much about ride quality. I’d be happy to chat with you more if you’d like some information from the manufacturer and industry perspective. My email is adam@superspringsint.com

Ray
11 days ago

I think I’m numb to all the complaints I see/read about present day RV quality. The warning signs ring loud throughout the RV public and have for quite some time. I’m sorry but I feel less empathy for the people who ignore the warning signs and are parted from their money. Why does the RV industry keep doing this? Because they can. With times getting tougher and education getting poorer, their feedstock is only increasing.

SLR
11 days ago

I don’t have a story to share, but your piece has definitely convinced me NOT to buy a motorhome.

Roy Davis
11 days ago

The RV industry has built Motorhomes on the F53 chassis for decades. That chassis has been problematic to RVers for almost as long. When Ford sells these chassis to a manufacturer but has no idea what is going to be built upon it. The problem is that people are demanding more and more stuff in their RVs so they are getting heavier. You said, “Coaches costing $400,000 and upwards are rolling off the lots into unsuspecting owners’ driveways”. What gas motorhome cost that much? When I was looking for a RV several years ago, I weighed the issues of gas motorhomes vs the cost to ” fix” those issues and decided to go with a diesel. Not regretting that decision at all.

david m
11 days ago

I agree with your rant, had a Thor Hurricane ~32 ft, no slides, on F-53 chassis, and had to check for wind speeds prior to driving on long trips. Cross winds were awful to drive in even relatively low gusts. Threw ~ $2K at suspension, alignments, weight distribution, helped some but always drove wonky on anything but smooth, flat roads. I didn’t dare drive 65-70 on anything but ideal roads and wind conditions, big trucks blew us around regularly. Drive a super c now, night and day difference on driving stability. I hear Liquid Springs helps a lot but is an expensive suspension modification but people are paying on spring based super C’s when rolled into initial financing. Believe it is available for F-53 suspension.

Bob p
11 days ago

Reading all these comments leaves me with one conclusion… why should the buyer have to put another several hundred to thousands of dollars into a new motorhome just to make it better and safer to drive. I refuse to even consider a F53 chassis under a motorhome and have walked out of several dealers lots letting them know that they are selling something that is poorly designed. When you buy a new car do you immediately have to put new shocks, steering stabilizer, etc. before you can enjoy it? No! If people started balking at buying this junk corrective action would be taken. You don’t have to buy it, it’s something you want, kind of like a banana split, the only way it’ll ever change if you balk at buying it!

David
11 days ago

the chassis (foundation) and roofs on most RV’s 5th wheels, and travel trailers are complete junk.

Paul Ingersoll
11 days ago

Our ~23 foot 2021Grand Design travel trailer came equipped with twin axles, each rated at 3,000 lbs. The camper weighs about 5,200 lbs dry, and easily near or over 6,000 with one’s stuff loaded up. Needless to say, the axle bent over time – probably from bumpy roads, seams, etc. I reached out to Dexter, the manufacturer, and suggested that spec-ing out an axle rated so closely to the likely weight of the camper is not very sound engineering / design. They agreed to replace both axles, and – without me asking – upped the replacement axles to matching 3,500s. This seems to me to be an admission that both Grand Design and Dexter were complicit in under-designing the model in order to maximize profits, knowing, perhaps full well, that the design was both prone to bending – and thus likely to require costly repairs – and unsafe. It brings up issues of trust: can we trust the industry to err on the side of safety and proper function? Or, do profit margins win out at our expense?

Bob p
11 days ago
Reply to  Paul Ingersoll

Profit margins win every time.

David Hagen
11 days ago

Wow…what a rant. I have a 2013 32-foot gasser on the F-53 chassis, no mods, and it is fine for me. Yes, the ride is a little more harsh that my car but my motorhome is not a car. You might want to slow down on bad roads so dishes don’t fly around. My class C was much worse for wind pushing me around that in my Class A. I would recommend the F53 chassis. Besides, what is the alternative?

Roger V
6 days ago
Reply to  David Hagen

Big differences between your 32′ and his 40′ on the same chassis.

Deadarmadillo
11 days ago

I’ve driven a motorhome with the F-53 chassis ( not a Newmar), and yeah they don’t handle like a sports car. But they’re OK. You just have to drive them like you would a truck. I think this guy is a born cry baby.

Robert Wallace
11 days ago

I too fail to understand why dangerous chassis continue to be built and put under 12-13 ton motorhomes. I put Koni shocks, SumoSprings, and a Safe-T-Plus steering shock on mine (2016 Newmar Canyon Star 3710) immediately after taking delivery. The previous owner installed 2″ stabilizer bars front and rear. The ride is much, much better but the steering is still horrible. I am constantly battling to keep it going straight down the road. I had the alignment checked before I installed everything. The terrible steering is making me wish I would have purchased a diesel.

Janice Maynard
5 days ago
Reply to  Robert Wallace

We added everything you did and it’s still a struggle to keep straight. Is Liquid Springs the answer?

John
11 days ago

American companies work for shareholder profit. No one else and nothing else.

Here is a recent example of corporate priorities: “Today’s settlement is part of the company’s broader effort to responsibly resolve outstanding legal matters related to the 737 MAX accidents in a manner that serves the best interests of our shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders,” Boeing said.” (CNN)

Let’s get this straight. Boeing killed paying air passengers by its acts and omissions in pursuit of low cost and high profits: “legal matters”. Yet these human beings come in #3 as “other stakeholders.”

Where does this obsession with profit come from? Well, everyone with a 401K plan and other retirement investments. We want returns.

I often ponder this irony as the money pours into my accounts and I drive around in my cheap – it’s gotta be cheap – Styrofoam cabin on wheels. Carefully. Very carefully.

Last edited 11 days ago by John
Gary
11 days ago
Reply to  John

Boeing did not “kill” passengers. Improperly trained pilots crashed those Max’es.
No US trained pilots would have had a problem with a standard Runaway Trim problem.

Bill Forbes
11 days ago

We had a ’96 Georgie Boy CruiseMaster on the F-53 chassis after six Class Bs on Dodge Van chassis and a Class C on a Dodge Ram 3500 pickup. The worst ride was the Class C, pretty bad body roll. My experience was all Fords have mushy handling so I didn’t expect much better from the F-53, but was pleasantly surprised. The Cruisemaster was one of the best handling motorhomes we have ever owned, the balance was good and we didn’t get blown around by trucks or crosswinds. No slides, staying below the GVWR, and a relatively large toad probably helped. We always buy used, but I don’t think the previous owner had done anything to the suspension. We traded for a Newmar Dutch Star diesel pusher, primarily because the Ford 460 wouldn’t pull all that weight up the hills in West Virginia fast enough. The diesel does that well and still allows conversation, but the handling, while very good, isn’t any better than the CruiseMaster was. The coach builders need to road test their units.