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.
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.
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.