RV Confidential #13 - How We Rate RVs

By : JD Gallant June 14, 2018

We, at RV Consumer Group, have never taken rating RVs lightly. Twenty-eight years ago, a small group of us started the process with workshops in the woods, at RV dealerships, and in community centers. We would like to share our history with you using photos from our archives.

 

In 1990, soon after we built a small membership, we began our workshops and started learning about RVs in a serious way. It was then that we started our first newsletter The RV Reporter.

As soon as we started naming brands, basically rating them, the media started calling me the Ralph Nader of RVs. Although I didn’t always like the title, I flowed with it.

In the nineties we were compared to Consumer Reports—and, after checking us out to make sure we were a legitimate organization with no ties to the industry, they began referring consumers to our site when they received inquiries about RVs.

Our training videos were basic, but they did the job. It gave our members some meat instead of just frosting about the reliability of RVs. We produced our first rating book about this time.

From those workshops, volunteers took their long checklists to RV shows and factories to acquire knowledge about the building of RVs. Those checklists morphed into a 5-star rating system that pre-dates Google and Amazon.

It used to be that manufacturers built their own cabinets, shelving, chassis, and everything else they could put together with hammer, screwdriver, saw, and welding torch.

When we went to RV shows, we discovered that drawers reflected much about the quality between the walls in materials and workmanship.

It didn’t take long to realize that by studying the drawers, cabinets, and trim, we could see the “soul” of the RV.

Now, most manufacturers buy cabinets, shelving, walls, windows, and everything else they can - this has turned them into assemblers instead of true manufacturers.

This kind of workmanship in a $100,000 RV will definitely hurt its reliability rating.

When trimwork is overlooked by the manufacturer, you can’t expect much in reliability from the manufacturer

To come up with a solid staff rating. we read all the commenst sent with polls, do research at RV shows and manufacturing plants when possible, closely study the results of accidents, and look at used models up to ten years old.

They’d forget to seal where germs could linger and later cause problems that you definitely don’t want. We see this more often than you would think.

Since an RV bounces down the road, you would think that better care would be taken for heavy items to be tightly fastened. This TV was actually movable.

The world of consumer ratings changed when Google and Amazon hit the scene and brought a 5-star buyer-opinion rating with them.

Dolores was our galley expert. She was always ready to give a brand a low score if she found sloppy workmanship in the galley. Each staff member—volunteer or paid—carried a checklist on which they wrote their scores.

Dolores was always quick to bring out a mirror and check on what’s hidden inside a cabinet. She knew how the interior of an RV supported the walls and roof.
Knowledge about the manufacturer and building process are not included in buyer-opinion ratings. It is simply a buyer’s like or dislike of the product—a system that even I use for comparing toasters

 

Over the past 3 decades, we’ve probably looked under every major RV brand that’s been built. As we studied comments we found that chassis a are a major source of consumer complaints.

The front suspension of a motor home could always get us on the floor—especially if it appeared to be heavy on the front wheels.

The Amazon and Google rating system bases it all on the average opinion of buyers. But an RV is a not a toaster. A toaster doesn’t travel down the highway at 60 miles an hour and doesn’t keep you warm and dry in all kinds of nasty weather. A toaster is made up of only about 6 critical pieces where a motor home’s critical components pieces are in the 100,000 range. When rating an RV, it’s important to keep that difference in mind.

You don’t always find nice clean bottoms like this one!

If we have to crawl to get a good look, we don’t hesitate.

After owners give us their opinions of the manufacturers performance, we study their comments closely to look for deficiencies that are common to the models of a brand or common to the manufacturer.

 

Sometimes the storage compartments tell you much about the manufacturer’s philosophy on building techniques.

By looking closely in the storage compartments, you can often see the quality of the RVs foundation.

Our reliability rating system tells you how the manufacturer and brand have performed over the last ten years. It’s kept up to date and accurate.

Hey, there’s Dolores again! She’s looking at roofs because she knows that the roof is the heart of an RV. If the roof fails, the rest of the body is subject to fail.

That’s why we spent so much time at RV factories looking at roofs and walls. Without a good roof the walls and the floor will fall apart.

 

Our reliability rating is a combination of the consumer opinions weighted by the staff’s ratings during their inspections. The 1 to 100 number we arrive at is the basis for the reliability star rating in our RV Ratings Guide.

At factories we study the interior structure because we can’t see it at shows and dealer lots. The structure supports the roof and the walls—not the reverse.

Tom, one of our volunteers and expert woodworker, knew how important it was to have good corners on cabinets and wall framing parts. Without good corners , the entire structure would fail under stress.

Because of most manufacturers' reluctance to publish accurate vehicle weights online or in brochures, we have recalculated our highway safety ratings to exclude weights—something we hope will be corrected in the future.


Strong walls fastened to strong floors are critical because they are the muscles that keep the RV from crushing in a rollover situation. When the structure fails, we have a serious life and death situation.

After half-a-dozen factory visits where I could get right in with the workers, I developed a sense of what is good and what is inadequate. It takes time to acquire skill.

Due to efforts of organizations like ours, manufacturers are now forced by law to put weight figures in the RV but not publish them. Always look for the weight label on the RV to see if the vehicle has an adequate cargo-carrying capacity.

We always take RV factory visits seriously. We don’t pull punches. We compare what we see with our numbers to critique our ratings. We know the importance of good design, workmanship, and materials.

When the factory management tries to sell us on their process, we know if there’s a difference between the selling and the truth. Knowing that difference is what comes from experience.

RVCG is putting a lot of effort to get the RV buyer to study all of the RV’s specifications and make an educated decision before signing the sales contract.

When factory managers tell me how strong their “protective’” cages are, I’ve upset more than one by pushing, pulling, and hanging onto the “roll” bars. Believe me, my 140 pound body is nothing compared to the force of a rollover

 

When you see a roof come off an RV, you must begin to wonder why it failed. Because of our accident inspections, we discovered that lack of proper fastenings and gluing were often responsible for the failure. 

If a buyer doesn’t study the exact vehicle that they are planning to buy for a least 4 hours, they are not doing a good job at protecting their investment.

This motor home struck the back of a tractor trailer at 30 MPH. Cabinets came off the wall and the sink flew off and struck the passenger to cause her death. The fault was inadequate size and quantity of screws and lack of glue.

Until you say you care, this scene will keep repeating itself. Accidents happen, but you don’t have to die because of them. Only when enough of you join RVCG and learn how to research for a safe RV, will this scene go away.

We are still the only one producing accurate and complete ratings. Our brand Reliability Rating system produces the best information available to keep the RV buyer from making a costly mistake. Our Value Rating helps to understand the true dollar cost of purchase. Our Highway Safety Rating helps to make the buyer cognizant of safety issues. Our complete rating service is a mandate of our nonprofit status—and we take that status seriously.

 



JD Gallant


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