Take a factory tour before you buy the brand

The best way to “get to know” a brand-new RV is not by looking on a dealer’s sales lot but by watching it being built at its factory. At least 35 major RV makers, most in the Elkhart, Indiana, area (where 85 percent of all American RVs are made) offer factory tours, and the price is right: free. Airstream, Fleetwood, Winnebago and Marathon Coach are just a few of the recreational vehicle plants open to the public. Some tours are only conducted once a day, and some are even less frequently. An appointment may be required.

On a typical tour, you’ll be led through the entire manufacturing process. You’ll see a bare chassis roll into the plant, and then watch step by step as workers assemble the RV. By watching closely as workers go about their business, you will notice the quality of the construction. Do they spend a lot of time speeding along with a staple gun or take more time using a screwdriver? Even observing the conditions of the manufacturing plant provide clues. Is it clean and tidy, or sloppy? Be wary of buying from a manufacturer that can’t even keep its factory neat. In the Winnebago factory (photo), you may see a drop test where the motorhome’s structural integrity is tested.

The tour guide will always paint a rosy picture, but you can learn a lot by asking questions and filtering the “fluff” from what you may be observing.

Visit an RV maker’s website to see if it offers factory tours. Some smaller manufacturers may not publicly offer tours but will provide one if you call to request one.