By Steve Savage
How do most buyers decide which RV to buy? They focus on interior design and floor plans. Manufacturers know this and go to great lengths in “staging” their various models for photographs used in advertising. Potential owners likewise pick their favorites based on what they see inside and, to a lesser extent, the outside of the RVs they consider.
What’s the matter with that strategy? It’s a terrible way to choose! When you focus on colors and floor plans, you are looking only where manufacturers expect you to look. You are making a decision based on the least important parts of RV construction. If you want to learn about the RV you are considering you have to do two things: First, you have to get up on the roof. Second, you have to go underneath the RV you are considering. Why look there? Simple — Those are not places manufacturers expect you to look.
On the roof, you are looking for fit and finish, intact caulking, especially where the front and rear caps join the roof. If it is a rubber roof, is it lying flat and not lifted up? Take note of how the roof rolls down to meet the side, as often you’ll find the rubber is not tight or caulked well. If it’s fiberglass, look in the same places but pay particular attention to how the roof rolls over to the sides. Often it’s left unsupported and is subject to cracking. You can tell how well it is supported simply by pressing down gently with your hand and feeling how easily it gives.
To go underneath, take along a plastic tarp to lie on. First, just settle in and look around. Is anything hanging down? Are screws turned all the way in? The human eye is amazingly sensitive to things that are not straight or even, and poor quality control detection often does not require intimate knowledge of RV construction. If it looks wrong, it probably is! If you are under a motorhome, look for drips — indicating a fluid leak. Look behind the rear wheels for indications of a bearing seal leak, in which case you will see black grease swirled around the back of the wheel.
If you want to go a step further, slide out the cabinet drawers and look at the cabinet construction. Look how the drawer slides are mounted. Take note of how things are fastened together. Ask yourself how hard it would be to work on things if service became necessary. You don’t have to know how to work on it — simply note whether or not you can see it.
Remember, manufacturers are prone to cut corners anywhere they think you won’t look. If you’re unwilling or lack sufficient knowledge to do these things, take a technician along with you. The amount you spend to obtain professional advice will be small in comparison to what you will spend if you miss something significant.