What if RV makers made airplanes? Would you fly in one?

59

By Chuck Woodbury
EDITOR
My father owned a small plane, a twin-engine Piper Comanche. I flew with him often, mostly for pleasure, but sometimes I hired him to fly me somewhere on a business matter in a small town rather than hassle with a commercial flight.

When we climbed into the cockpit, we both knew we were about to take off in a very well-built piece of machinery. I was thinking about this today and wondered if I were to learn one day that Piper, Cessna or Beechcraft were purchased by a big RV company, say Thor or Forest River, the two largest, would I fly in one of their planes? I didn’t even have to think: “No way on earth!”

Private aircraft are made to last. Visit any small airport and you’ll find planes made 50, 60 or even 70 years ago, and all perfectly safe to fly. Yes, they were required by the FAA to undergo regular maintenance, but the planes were made well to begin with.

This 60-year-old Piper Cub still flies. Can you imagine the condition of your RV in 60 years? Photo by Adrian Pingstone.

Except for luxury motor coaches, RVs are made to sell, not to last. That’s important. Think about it: made to sell, not to last.

Be sure to answer our poll on this subject when you finish this article.

New RVs look pretty, even the “stick and tin” (industry term) models that Camping World sells to unwary customers by the tens of thousands. Those stapled and glued models will be junk in 10 years.

Most cheap- to moderate-priced RVs do not even receive a final inspection before they leave the factory. If there are defects — which there almost always are — it’s the dealer’s job to fix them: A highly ethical dealer will do that. But most will not, or at least they won’t look very closely for defects. They’re too busy in their shops trying to fix the crappy RVs that previous customers bought.

That job falls to the consumer. And that is why, if you read our Facebook Group RV Horror Stories, you will find report after report from RV buyers whose brand-new RVs spent more time in the repair shop their first year than on the road. All the time, those would-be RVers were cancelling vacations and camping trips. Yet they were still making monthly payments (as their units depreciated) and … tick, tick, tick … their factory warranties were expiring.

Close to a half-million RVs will sell in 2019, as in previous years. I’d estimate three-quarters of the buyers will buy the “bling” — the “great floor plan” or the “beautiful” interior or maybe the great graphic package. But they won’t even bother to look beneath the surface and see the staples and glue holding the flimsy pine framing together, and the very cheapest Chinese components running the systems.

Ya gotta hand it to the RV makers: They know how to build good-looking cheap crap that consumers will buy with a twinkle in their eye dreaming about all the great times they’ll have with their rolling home in the years to come.

OKAY, TO BE FAIR, most RVers will enjoy their rigs, which will be of acceptable quality. But far, far too many will be poorly made, some too badly to be used.

At RVtravel.com, we are only able to educate a relatively small number of those half-million new buyers on how to buy smartly. We hear later from the others, who lament making huge buying mistakes such as “not inspecting the coach from front to back, top to bottom” before signing their contract.

If only RVs were made like small planes, or even automobiles. It’s sad that the biggest remaining manufacturing center in America is in Elkhart County, Indiana, “the RV Capital of the World.” Can’t we Americans do better? But, you know, profits are up, CEOs and stockholders are happy, so there you go…

So what do you think?
Would you fly in an airplane made by an RV manufacturer? Answer our poll.

Sign up to be informed of the progress of NAARVO — the North America Association of RV Owners, a group to represent the interest of RVers, not manufacturers.

##RVT906

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Jerry
10 days ago

This is a trick question. Unlike RVs, aircraft are subject to strict design, manufacture and testing standards before they are certified and sold to the public.

Scott R. Ellis
10 days ago

If that Thor airplane were held to the same Federal standards as are other certified light aircraft, of course I’d fly in one. Ironically, there is hardly a market in the world that would be more resistant to that sort of regulation than many RVers would be.

Bob Weinfurt
10 days ago

My 44 year old motorhome was definitely built to last and is still going strong. No cheap, haphazard construction issues. No cheap electronics. Any repairs it’s had to have were done the same day. I wouldn’t touch one made less than 25 or so years ago, much less fly in a plane made by an RV manufacturer.

Last edited 10 days ago by Bob Weinfurt
Ed Fogle
10 days ago

I agree there are far too many shoddily built RVs being produced but two points. One, what average person has the knowledge or skill to ascertain construction quality of a brand/model of RV prior to purchase or on delivery. Most problems won’t become evident until after some use. This is where Internet forums and consumer organizations giving advice are helpful. Buyers need to make use of these resources.

Second, if RVs were built to airplane standards can you imagine how much they would cost?

Tommy Molnar
10 days ago
Reply to  Ed Fogle

Almost all new RV buyers have no idea about ‘old timers’ complaints about build quality or quality control. They just head off to the nearest dealership and pick up a trailer or motorhome. See “Going RV” for perfect examples of newbies looking for all kinds of unnecessary goodies and deciding on their purchase based on ‘bling’. We finally quit watching that program because it made us crazy . . .

Skip
9 days ago
Reply to  Ed Fogle

Purchasing the older aircraft and some of the new are cheaper than some of the say 500 to 1 million dollar motor houses.

Bob P
10 days ago

If there were half as many inspectors checking road worthiness as there air worthiness RVs wouldn’t have half the problems people complain about. Aircraft manufacturers are checking quality at every step of construction where RV manufacturers check it when it comes off the assembly line. That means if somebody forgets to tighten a water line fitting you get a leak. If it had been in an airplane it would’ve been pressure tested before it gets buried behind a wall.

daryl bortel
10 days ago

I’ve owned an old, 1946 Cessna 120, and a new 2011 Camper. I was very comfortable flying my Cessna and was always looking in the mirrors to see if anything was falling off my camper… When I bought my airplane, after a pre-buy inspection, I got in and flew it 1000 miles back home without any issues. I wanted to keep on going, it was so nice of a flying machine. I learned a lot when I was still flying and an aircraft owner. Now, before venturing out on even a short weekend trip, I do a major walk-around inspection, checking fluids, tires and anything else I can think of on my RV. I’m still apprehensive while driving down the road. I know there will be people that will say that they always check their RV or TT before leaving on a road trip but if you’ve never flown in a small aircraft over rugged terrain or at night, all those little noises and twitches make you more aware. Safe travels…

Dane T Smith
9 days ago
Reply to  daryl bortel

Yep, I know the feeling. I had a 1946 BC-12D Taylorcraft it was like a Model T on reliability and my 2018 Palomino Real-LIte is nice but I maintain it impeccably.

Trippy
10 months ago

What I see in my 2013 Fleetwood Excusion is a complete lack of any pride of workman ship. I realize it starts from the top. Some things that I have found show a 100% “I don’t give a &*^%” attitude. It’s o.k. because my attitude is if I am going to do it. It will be the best it can be. Fleetwood gave the Excursion , in my opinion a pretty face and a nice base to work with. I have made many changes under that pretty face. Additions and a lot of subtractions. Plumbing to electrical work, Hvac to the sound system. Some extra insulation here, to removing that god awful squeaking expansion foam there.
Its all part of my journey.

Paul Patridge
10 months ago

Your link to NAARVO is bad – if such an organization does exist. I can find nothing about it on the internet.

Stephen Comstock
1 year ago

Airstream, perhaps. Remember Spartan? That was an aircraft manufacturer that also made RVs. Not saying it can’t be done, but not without FAA oversight, which may eliminate the “stick and tin” modes of construction.

Henry Dorn
1 year ago

Yes I would.

I am impressed with the build quality of our used 2011 Jayco RD19 .

No, the trailer does not use aircraft-styled steel fasteners, expensive machined castings or fittings, titanium skin, expensive black boxes and that’s what made it affordable to me.

My trailer is made out of carefully selected lumber strips, accurately assembled roof trusses, quality NSF grade plumbing. It uses correct AWG wire (everywhere I looked), is mounted on a very well-designed frame and rolls on quality vendor-sourced axles. The aluminum sides are beautifully installed and painted and the windows let a beautiful view in. The refrigeration, heating, air conditioning and plumbing systems are from top notch manufacturers. My trailer came configured with a customer selectable option of winter insulation and also with vendor-provided operating manuals and warranties.

The workmanship is superb, from behind the walls and under the floor. Kudos to Jayco and its hardworking employees in Indiana and Idaho.

When I asked to see the plumbing and electrical and build schematics for my 2011 Jayco RD19, the manufacturer quickly and professionally delivered them to me. These are top-notch engineering plans that match the drafting standards of commercial airplane manufacturers (zone callouts, title blocks, revision history and signed with the engineer’s initials.)

I would buy a Jayco airplane and of course it would not be built like a trailer!

Airplanes fly. Trailers camp.

JR Thornton
10 months ago
Reply to  Henry Dorn

Just wondering how you know Jayco uses “carefully selected lumber strips”. Did you read this or did they tell you? Also same question for, “behind the walls and under the floors”. And finally, do you work for Jayco?

jane shure
1 year ago

I also would not fly in an airplane which has a windows operating system. Planes would be crashing left and right.

John
10 days ago
Reply to  jane shure

Don’t give Bill Gates any ideas. He’d like to get rid of at least half the worlds population as is.

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
10 days ago
Reply to  John

Fake news, John. ‘Nuf said. 🙄 —Dane at RVtravel.com

Mike
10 days ago
Reply to  jane shure

probably would never get off the ground. Doubt it would pass any FAA verification tests

Rory R
1 year ago

Oh, I forgot to add that during my career I worked in the Aerospace Industry for 12 of my 35 yrs of my working life . Although I was not a factory worker, I spent a lot of my time in factory areas installing and testing software and hardware for IT systems. I witnessed many things, such as vacumn cleaners and other equipment being left inside the wing of completed aircraft. These things were discovered but not until flight testing. So, even though the industry itself is highly regulated, there are many instances of missteps and mistakes that take place. Point being that no system is perfect. But in manufacturing, most of these missteps can be caught and corrected, if management truly cares and puts the proper personnel and QA in place……..

Alvin
1 year ago
Reply to  Rory R

It’s almost guaranteed the guy or gal who left the vacuum cleaner in the wing of the craft will be out of a job, not so perhaps (?) in the RV industry.

Rory R
1 year ago

First I like to say yes I’d fly in a plane built by my RV manufacturer (Newmar). I’m on my 2nd Newmar, the first was used, the 2nd I bought new. I understand the problem, there are far too many unsafe rigs on the road. I’ve been RV’ing for 10 yrs, I love the lifestyle, so far I’ve managed to stave off the real low downs of the lifestyle, but I have had a few. Fortunately the highs have out numbered the lows, especially horror stories and bad experiences with maintenance and repairs. There are far too many manufacturers who are playing the numbers game and don’t back what they build, because they know if they did they would be out of business. I feel it is up to us the consumer, to stop purchasing these cheaply built rigs. If we do that, these manufacturers will fall by the wayside, mainly because they are in it for nothing else but the money……

Ted
1 year ago
Reply to  Rory R

Unfortunely most people do not have a half million dollars for a luxury coach to use maybe a dozen time a year.

Rick
1 year ago
Reply to  Ted

Quality cost money. You do not need to spend $500K to find a well built coach or 5th wheel. You need to do your homework….

Ted
1 year ago
Reply to  Rick

So in your opinion how much does a “well built good quality” RV cost??

Alvin
1 year ago
Reply to  Ted

Better yet where do you find REAL quality. I’ve looked over the big guys and my wife who doesn’t know a dam thing or care about any of them can spot the crooked cheery wood cupboard doors from the first step.

John
10 days ago
Reply to  Rick

Only problem with that is, so much on a rv is completely hidden from view. No way to inspect plumbing even if all systems are checked before buying. I.E. Low spots in drain lines, vent pipes extending too far into waste tanks. Just two of many. Quality begins with management and employees that actually care, but that ship has pretty much sailed in this day and time.

Graybyrd
1 year ago

We just returned home from a 3,000 trip to visit scattered family members, carrying a 1991 S&S 9.5-ft truck camper on our 1982 Chevy C-20 6.2L diesel pickup. The camper is solidly build, a quality unit. No leaks, and all systems work. The truck carries it easily, up and over high mountain pass highways. While in Colorado, I checked with a dealer: the dealer admitted there is no new truck available that will match the specs or carrying capacity of our “antique” pickup (2-door cab, 8600 lb GVW, 2938 lb cargo, diesel engine, under 22 ft LOA). If there were, it would cost $60 to $70 thousand! So… it’s not just a question of quality, or lack of quality. The market has changed. Pickups are now 4-door SUV’s with a 5’er hitch box on the back: “all cab and no carry.” No thanks. No wonder only one percent of RV’s on the road are truck campers. Sad. As for those “bling” RV trailers, we saw an endless stream of them being pulled at 70 and 75 mph on 80-mph freeways. As each one passed, we wondered: are those trailer tires really rated for that speed? I don’t think so… !

Alvin
1 year ago
Reply to  Graybyrd

I agree totally on the S&S product, came close to buying one 30 years ago, someone else beat me to it. They are good real good and remain that way, according to folks I speak to who own them.

KellyR
1 year ago

Chuck, some people seem to ‘just miss the point’ so they can ‘just make their point’. Keep making your points, as I normally get the points you make. Get my point? I hope I am not too pointed.

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
1 year ago
Reply to  KellyR

Point taken, KellyR. (I’m responding in case Chuck doesn’t notice your pointed comment.) What was your point again? 😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com

Walker
10 months ago
Reply to  RV Staff

…so who’s on point to reply?

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
10 months ago
Reply to  Walker

Not me. 😆 —Diane

Tom Moeller
1 year ago

I am on my second Newmar and have been well satisfied with both. That said, yes, if Newmar built air craft I’d fly in it because the faa will be inspecting it.

Carson Axtell
1 year ago

The most straightforward solution to the problem of dishonest, shyster RV manufacturers is not simply an incantation of the refrain “caveat emptor” ad nauseum, but to regulate the industry the same way that other dishonest, shyster industries have needed to be regulated. The stumbling block will be finding honest politicians who haven’t been bought off by the shyster manufacturers to write the legislation and create the consumer protection agency that will be tasked with overseeing the shyster RV manufacturers…

Orlando Alvarez
1 year ago

Chuck you fail to overlook one very important point: Regardless of who owns the aircraft manufacturing facility, they have to abide by and operate in accordance with FAA rules and regulations, the same as Piper, Cessna or Beech.

John T
1 year ago

I don’t care if my “stapled and glued model will be junk in 10 years”. I could afford to buy it without a loan, I did not have a single warranty claim (and as a full-timer, it gets constant use), and it will serve me admirably for the number of years that I need it. It is the height of arrogance for those with motorhome budgets to look down on stick-and-tin trailer owners.

Billy Bob Thorton
1 year ago

I’m getting tired of the whole bashing, because it touches the RV industry. They are not even closely similiar, no matter whose badge or moniker is attached to the airplane.

For the uninformed, regulation of aircraft is jurisdiction of federal govt aviation rules and regulations. As an example, not at all like the RV industry, periodically, a complete engine overhaul is required by a certified FAA mechanic after a certain number of clock hours on the propulsion system. Even before that complete tear down requirement, intermediate inspections are mandated, per FAA rules and regs. in addition, things like air frame inspections by similarly FAA certified specialists are also a mandate.

Let’s stop trying to make articles out of things that have absolutly nothing in common. It detracts from the real issues facing the RV industry, and serves only to fill this decent newsletter with meaningless babble.