.The Truth About Rvs

The Truth About Rvs

By Andrew Zaleski  Sep 18, 2019, 8:00am EDT

Illustrations by Zack Rosebrugh

“You’re not going to buy an RV and drive it off the lot and have no hassles”

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In 2018, Tom and Becky Olesh were living their best lives. They lived permanently aboard the Winnebago motorhome they purchased from a dealer for about $140,000. Crisscrossing the country in a house on wheels was nothing new to the Oleshes; they had spent nearly five years on the road.

And for two decades before that, 78-year-old Tom and 61-year-old Becky had owned all kinds of RVs: tag-along travel trailers, towable camper vans, even diesel motorhomes.

Curbed on campers, RVs, and more:

Experienced RV owners well acclimated to the lifestyle, the Oleshes knew what they were doing—which made what happened in their brand new Winnebago that much more of a surprise.

“The suspension was really bad,” Tom says. “Whenever we went over 45 miles per hour on a two-lane road, it was a challenge to keep it on the road.”

The trailers and camper vans they used to own tended to bounce up and down as they drove, a symptom of their leaf spring suspension systems, which is why they switched to a motorhome.

Tom and Becky anticipated suspension that more closely mirrored that of an automobile: some bouncing, but certainly less than their previous units. Instead, they shelled out $2,500 to outfit their new RV with additional suspension.

The rule, typically, is don’t buy a new RV. If you buy a new RV, you’re going to be sitting in a dealership for two years getting it fixed.

Not since the years before the Great Recession has the market for recreational vehicles in the U.S. been quite as hot as it is now. In 2017, for the first time in more than 40 years—and for the first time since the main industry group, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, has kept track—American RV manufacturers moved more than 500,000 units from their factories to the roughly 2,600 RV dealerships across the country.

Since those record-high production numbers, the overall RV market has cooled a bit. More than 482,000 units were sold last year, which is about 20,000 fewer RVs than in 2017, but still well above the fewer than 170,000 RVs being sold at the peak of last decade’s recession.

Despite shipments of RVs to dealers dropping about 20 percent so far this year compared to 2018, industry professionals remain optimistic about growth and predict shipments will increase in 2020.

But as the Oleshes found when they bought a new motorhome, dueling forces are shaping the current RV market. A buoyant economy coupled with rising interest in the nomadic lifestyle led to a rebound in the RV industry.

The comeback is as much due to millennials as it is to a retiring generation of baby boomers: Of 78.8 million households that hit the great outdoors at least once in 2018, the kids routinely blamed for their poor adulting skills and love of fancy toast made up 41 percent of campers.

At the same time, stories abound—in forums, recall blogspersonal testimonies ,industry publications, and talk radio—of disgruntled owners of RVs who purchased a unit only to immediately about-face the vehicle to a dealership to fix a problem.

 “I’ve had people tell me they’ve bought a brand-new RV, drove it off the lot in a rainstorm, and it started leaking,” says Steve Lehto, a consumer protection attorney in Michigan who has handled his fair share of lawsuits for owners of allegedly defective RVs. (There are more than 600,000 views of his “Don’t Buy An RV!” YouTube video.)   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IP_u2JR51_Y

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