I’m sensing a recurring theme and it’s not making me happy. Before I go much further I want to let you all know that I am starting to think that many of the larger Class C motorhomes based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis are not worth considering. At all.
There’s an old expression that goes something like this: Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. It fits this reasoning quite well.
In the 1970s, Toyota, a bastion of ultra-reliable vehicles, especially so in those days, started selling their pickup chassis as a cab and chassis to motorhome companies. This all started with the Chinook, a small motorhome, but as the popularity of that grew so did the motorhomes themselves.
By the 1980s, these things were really popular and also considerably larger than the original models. A lot of companies had jumped onto the Toyota motorhome bandwagon, some of which established their names with these little beauties. They made a lot of sense—they were easy to drive and park and got fuel mileage that wasn’t cringe-worthy. Sound familiar?
Damon Corporation of Elkhart, Indiana, produced the Escaper motorhome, while Coachmen produced the popular Coachmen and Savanna models. Leisure Odyssey was building the Americana, Santa Cruz, and the Laguna campers.
Camper body expanded and overloaded half-ton pickup axle
By the late 1980s, the length of the camper body had expanded to 22 feet. This caused a severe overload problem on the original half-ton pickup axle. A national safety recall was issued to correct the problem. Under the recall, most of the models were then given a new one-ton axle which was less prone to failure, but the other components of the chassis were left intact.
In 1989, Toyota began offering a V6 in the chassis. This increased horsepower became very popular with the camper owners and production continued. Until 1994.
At that point, there had been so many axle failures and the damage to Toyota’s reputation had started to set in, so Toyota just stopped selling cab and chassis models altogether in the U.S. These little motorhomes weren’t so little any longer, and the axle failures were significant.
Class C Today
So, at the request of a reader who saw a video on the Coachmen Prism, I was requested to take a look at it. We’ve already looked at a few larger Class C motorhomes on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis, including the Thor Quantum Sprinter, the Airstream Atlas and the Leisure Travel Vans Unity FX. These all have the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis in common.
They also have in common that they are very close to the Gross Vehicle Weight rating of the chassis. Further, on none of the RV manufactuers’ websites was I able to find the unladen weight of these vehicles; whereas, almost every travel trailer lists their average unladen weight. Why wouldn’t they publish such an important metric?
Very limited cargo carrying capacity
In fact, it took looking at almost a dozen dealers’ websites to find the cargo carrying capacity of the Coachmen Prism—798 pounds.
Let’s look at those numbers for a moment. This rig can haul around 35 gallons of fresh water. It’s not unreasonable to think that you would fill the tank before heading out and boondocking. That water would reduce the cargo carrying capacity by 280 pounds, leaving you with 518 pounds total capacity.
Now, let’s say one camper weighs 250 pounds and the other 150—which isn’t far from the national average nowadays. There’s 400 pounds of people aboard.
If you plan to bring things like utensils, pots and pans, clothing and all of that, you are now very likely over the weight the chassis is rated to handle.
Compare this to something like the East To West Entrada 2200S—which is based on the Ford chassis—where there is 4,000 pounds of cargo carrying capacity.
Overall, the Prism is a nice rig and there are some positive aspects of how they’re building them. Those include using Azdel substrates in the wall, PVC roofing and many other touches.
In fact, this RV won a fairly prestigious award last year when it was introduced. It was referred to as the Class C of the year.
All of these Sprinter-based motorhomes also share some good features baked in by Mercedes-Benz. Those include active lane assist, adaptive cruise control, active brake assist, lane keeping and more. Mercedes-Benz has been a leader in safety systems for many, many years. That goes back to the 1970s when they had some of the best structural designs in the world from a safety standpoint.
But I still am concerned about what running at rated capacity over the life of one of these chassis is going to do to longevity.
When I’ve written about this in the past, someone messaged me saying that the axles are rated for much more than is stated so you’re good to go. But here’s the thing. If there is a failure and it is determined that your vehicle is considerably over the rated weight capacity, you may find that your insurance company has some issues with the situation.
Your opinion may be that the chassis is well within the limitations of its ability. But the fact is that your insurance company and, perhaps, whatever law enforcement agency is in charge, is more interested in the printed capacity of the vehicle. That means that your opinion is irrelevant.
I’m looking for your guidance
Therefore, I’m looking for your guidance here. Should I even bother reviewing these Class C rigs any more, knowing that many of them just don’t offer sufficient cargo carrying capacity? I appreciate your requests to review certain rigs very much. But I know that one of the first points I will be researching in the future is this number.
I am also by no means intending to single-out Coachmen here. Looking at a bunch of RV manufacturers’ websites, I notice that almost nobody puts the dry weight of these rigs on their information portals. However, they absolutely do on things like travel trailers. But the problem is still a problem even if you don’t admit it.
After all, I appreciate each and every one of the readers who are here with me and I want to be the voice for your safety. I’m curious how the RV industry responds to this.
I would love to read your comments and suggestions over on our new forums, where you can weigh in and start or join a discussion about all things RV. Here’s a link to my RV Reviews Forum.
Tony comes to RVTravel having worked at an RV dealership and been a life long RV enthusiast. He also has written the syndicated Curbside column about cars. You can find his writing here and at StressLessCamping where he also has a podcast about the RV life with his wife.
These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique, which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive.
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