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Have RVs become too complicated?

Many believe I was born in an RV. Conceived, maybe; born, no. However, I was literally born into the RV industry as my dad managed my grandparents’ RV dealership which was established in 1937. Of course, back then the term “RV” hadn’t been coined yet – they were just known as trailers and campers.

Not too complicated 60 years ago

When I came into this world you didn’t really need 12 volts to operate most travel trailers or campers. Propane gas lights supplied light while also serving as an auxiliary heat source. Manual gas controls and pilot lights on refrigerators, water heaters and furnaces negated the need for electronic circuit boards. Even the potable water system did not require 12 volts as it relied on compressed air to drive water from the water tank to the faucets. Compressed air could be supplied by a hand pump or air chuck at a service station.

There were no electronics and the only moving mechanical parts were the tires and wheels. Shore power cords were a whopping 15 amps. Travel trailers were definitely not too complicated. When they did malfunction, the average person with a little understanding of mechanics and a few hand tools could get things operating again in the field until returning home, where permanent repairs could be made.

My dad holding me back in the BC (before color) days of RVing. Note the furnace chimney at the top right of the photo

In the 1970s, RVs and the appliances within began to become more complicated due in part to government mandates and manufacturers wanting to add conveniences to their products.  DSI circuit boards, blower motors, designer lighting, microwaves, etc., made RVers more dependent on hookups. Then slide outs proliferated across all types of RVs. While the advancements made operating an RV more convenient and more livable, it also increased their complexity – which was too complicated for some.

So many things are automated and too complicated

Now RVs have automatic this and wireless that and an app that turns this on and entry steps that fold up to the interior of the RV.  There is slide out upon slide out, electric awnings, etc., which appear to be too complicated for many.

Cary Alburn, who has camped since he was a teenager, notes the progress with wonder. “The explosion of technology in RVs over just a few years is almost shocking, especially to those of us who’ve been RVing for so many years.”  Per a New York Times article. 

My current 2010 model travel trailer operates pretty much as the three that preceded it. With all the recent advancements in the name of convenience, I am concerned the trailer that replaces it will likely be too complicated for what I want, understand, or possess the ability to repair.

I have begun to wonder if I am the only RVer who feels this way or are there others?

To find out, I posed the following question to the RVing Tips group on Facebook: “Have RVs become too complicated? Please share your thoughts and photos for a future article I am writing. Thx!” I also included the picture below of a slide out within a slide out for visual attention.

RV that is too complicated
Too complicated? You tell me.

Below is a small sampling of the 180+ comments I received:

Note: To save space, some are just a select portion of the original comment.

After reading them, please feel free to add your comments on my new forum page by clicking here.

Col Joe Preston: “People want more and more. Mfg tries to provide. But there is only so much space.”

Russ Walker: “If you really want to enjoy then use the KISS method. Keep it simple stupid! Too many things can go wrong when it gets complicated.”

Jess Rossman: “It’s like most things out there. Technology makes our lives more luxurious but at a cost.”

Bonnie Littlecat: “Years ago my husband had a client that we adopted into our family. Hugh Sanborn, he owned a Cadillac dealership in Daly City and was friends with Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in the ’80s. He gave me this financial advice when buying my first car. The more options and features you add to it, the more opportunity you have for it to break down and the more maintenance it’s going to add to the overall cost of the vehicle.”

Full-timers want RVs more comfortable

Nadia Tsutsa: “Yes, because more and more people are becoming full-timers and they want the RVs to accommodate that and have as much space/features as possible to make it more comfortable.”

Brian LeClair: “Complicated, no, pushing a button and reading an owners manual isn’t complicated. But there is a fine line of the more moving parts the more that will go wrong vs finding more ways to make more space.”

Benjamin Braun: “If you buy and not know how to use basic tools or have at least basic mechanical, electrical knowledge, everything is too complicated. If you buy on a budget, the fewer bells and whistles the better.”

Ryan Ippolito: “More there is, more to break”

Christine Jones Douglas: “Too complicated if you need lessons and notes to do all the things.”

Keep it simple!

Darlene Loesing: “The more goodies and gadgets that are on electric, the more problems that can go wrong. We are just waiting for electric awning to take a crap so we can replace with a manual one. The awning is either up in full high position or closed – no in-between! It has issues and has gotten stuck several times but so far has not fallen off the trailer! Manual ones are able to angle for rain or sun but just takes a little more effort to set up. All the new campers have auto this and that….. you’ll spend more time in Service than out camping. Keep it simple!”

Karyn Pazandak: “All the extras are great till they don’t work”

Jarred Duncan: “What’s complicated about pushing buttons…. push for slides… push to auto level…. push for awnings… sounds like it’s getting easier.”

Steven E. Crane: “More annoying, it’s impossible to even order simplicity anymore without paying for complete custom build.”

Robert Lackey: “Everything has. Look at cars and trucks. It’s just the way things are headed. Touchscreen everything, more and more modules… Customer demand for new amenities increases all the time.”

Jeannie Lynch: Replying to Robert Lackey above, “I’m still trying to figure out the stuff in mine.”

Douglas Wheeler: “I think keeping things simple is the best way to go.”

MD Butcher: “More electronic crap that will fail.”

Debi Kruse: “Yes, yes, yes. I’m trying to learn how to become a DC/ AC expert just to figure mine out.”

Sally Ford McGarrity: “Never. I love everything they are doing to make them more fun.”

What are your thoughts? Have RVs become too complicated or not? Please click here to share on my forum.

Dave will be speaking at the FMCA Convention in Tucson, AZ, March 25th and 26th. He would love to meet RVtravel.com readers who will be attending. Feel free to introduce yourself after one of his seminars.

##RVT1029

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Marc Stauffer
9 months ago

In my humble opinion, if you’re going to own an RV you had better be equiped to repair most of its systems on your own. The more knowledge you have about the systems, the less complicated they become to the owner. So, buy the RV that has the level of complexity that you are comfortable with and can repair. And remember, the more ” goodies” you add to camping make life easier, the more there is to maintain or go wrong.

Ray
9 months ago

I prefer the simple more practical level of camping. Too many widgets of unnecessary complexity are just headaches waiting to happen. A prime example are those blue lights they place everywhere. They are just glitz that only momentarily impresses those easily impressed.

okispider
9 months ago

they aren’t too complicated if the manufacturer would include the books for everything in it…which they don’t do, so it’s off to youtube to find your answers…

Billinois
9 months ago

This is the reason we decided to keep our 2005 Winnie Aspect instead of buying something newer. Manual awning, one electric slide, minimal electronics. Normally I would not even consider putting money into a 16 year old depreciating asset, however I can fix virtually everything in this RV. Engines, transmissions can be replaced. We update and replace as needed.
Over 108,000 miles and it still purrs like a kitten.

Carson Axtell
9 months ago

I’ve always liked the motto of Larry and Lin Pardey, the sailing couple who have twice circumnavigated the world in their sub-30 foot, home-built Lyle Hess designed sailboat: “Go small, go simple, go now.” They argue that simplicity makes their boat “unstoppable” because they aren’t plagued by the countless repairs and downtime needed by complex systems on more “luxurious” yachts.

John Koenig
9 months ago

A hidden “gotcha” is the ticking “Time Bomb” of old / outdated software. In the last decade or so, many RV builders have gone under, been “acquired” or otherwise experienced MAJOR operating / personnel changes. A couple of years ago, I was getting upgrades to my Super-C coach. There were several other Class A “luxury coaches” there for work. One of the more vexing problems was trying to figure out exactly what software had been used to control the many functions that did not have manual controls. Said troubleshooting was VERY time consuming (at a shop rate approaching $200 / hour!). Because these grand old models had little (if any) usable documentation, it was a serious issue. The software for these coaches was custom written and, could not just be “zeroed out” so, the shop could not just replace the old software OS with a more modern OS. I don’t know if current RVs using devices like an iPad will be more user friendly, allowing an out dated “App” to be replaced by a current APP.

Tommy Molnar
9 months ago

Nowadays almost everything can run off an app on your phone. I am NOT a fan of this. In fact, I wish I could go back to my Motorola bag phone (which I still have!). And I’m sure this is just the beginning of this technology stuff. I still like zippers instead of buttons, but I DON’T like phone apps instead of pressing a button on the wall. Some new inovations were good, but many are now ‘not-so-good’. Some friends bought a new trailer a couple years ago and showed us all the cool stuff they could run via their phones. Now? Contantly complaining because the stuff has quit working.I laugh under my breath . . .

Tom
9 months ago

As a kid in the 1960’s, my dad bought a used travel trailer. It must have been from the 50’s since my dad never bought a new vehicle. This trailer had a full bed in back, a closet, and a dinette. The kitchen consisted of a gravity fed water tank, propane stove and an ice box. The ice box was maybe 3-4 cubic feet, of which the block of dry ice occupied half.

Creature comforts? Naw, the bathroom was down the road if we were in a campground. Hot water? That’s what the stove was for. We did have 15amp service for three lights if we were close enough to a plug, otherwise we had one propane lamp, we didn’t ever have a house battery for lights.

All this was pulled by our Rambler with a bumper mounted trailer hitch, back then cars had big, heavy chrome bumpers. We were traveling in style, compared to our tent camping days.

Irv
9 months ago

The problem isn’t the technology as much as it poor design–both mechanically and the user interface. Too many products are released without any or sufficient user testing. Mostly due to cost cutting.

e.g., I have an electronic device with up and down arrow buttons. In some situations I need to press the up arrow to increment. In others, I need to press the down arrow.

Rosy
9 months ago

Can’t wait to hear the comments when the electric cars need attention!

Traveler
9 months ago

How about a radio that I can operate?

jcav55
9 months ago
Reply to  Traveler

Hahahahaha..right?? The Furrion on our 2020 TT is the biggest POS I’ve ever seen.

KellyR
9 months ago
Reply to  Traveler

OMG! When the turn signals stopped operating, I was dumbfounded when I learned that they operated thru the radio. The dealer wanted to replace the radio at over $1,000. I had to take it to a specialty shop to have a part replaced for $200. New Class B on a Chevy cassis. Now you have my ire up again!!

Tom Hodge
9 months ago

I see more and more young families full-timing. These are the kids that grew up with video games. They demand electronic everything. They don’t know how to do things if pushing the button doesn’t make it go. They also bought the RV, moved in their 4-6 person (on average, from what I’m seeing), and expect to use it as they did the house meaning they bring everything and when they get to the RV Park it all spills out everywhere.

bull
9 months ago

Convenience Equals Frustration as the RV Industry wants to sell you your Home Away From Home!

Nice, New, Modern, Slick, Techy, Trendy and Convenient in today’s world EQUALS FRUSTRATION when that Nice, New, Modern, Slick, Techy, Trendy and Convenient items all BREAK and needs repair.

Most items today are not designed to be repaired. That includes RV’s. Replacement parts, the person with the skillset to complete the repair may not be available for weeks or months to complete the repair and the cost of repair may render your RV JUNK as the repair is never completed properly!

With most RV’s built today you are buying JUNK expecting the great open road lifestyle you read about and were sold by the your family and the RV salesperson. Then reality hits when like most anything in life your JUNK breaks and you try to make lemonade from that JUNKY RV YOU BOUGHT!

Are We Having Fun Yet????

Last edited 9 months ago by bull
Bob p
9 months ago

Recently I was preparing our 2020 TT for our upcoming trip to FL it was quite chilly here in south central TN and I tried to start the furnace so DW could work comfortably in her prep’s. The thermostat had worked flawlessly all summer with A/C, but now it was rearing it’s ugly head in defiance as I tried to switch over to heat. Naturally it’s electronic, searching for the elusive owners manual and not finding it, I stumbled and fumbled my way through. I finally got the furnace working but now the thermostat was reading Celsius degrees saying it was going to be 32. Luckily the SIL came over and asking him to take a look at it he placed 2 fingers over the temperature “arrows” for a few seconds and it switched back to Fahrenheit which said it was set for 90 degrees, that would have been uncomfortable. A simple switch would be easier to pick from USA to foreign would suffice.

timjet
9 months ago

New RV’s have become so complex that even the dealership that repairs them charging $150/hr and up are scratching their heads when trying to fix some things. And you are paying for their education.

Tom
9 months ago
Reply to  timjet

Exactly 🤔

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