By Chuck Woodbury
Last month while attending an RV show I met an RV industry veteran who told me a horrifying story. We were discussing the poor quality of some RVs. I told him I was disappointed with what I had seen on many low-price, entry level RVs. “Let me show you what I mean,” I said, and I led him into an inexpensive fifth wheel trailer. “Press against this wall,” I said, and he put his hand on the interior wall. The wall pushed in: the paneling was about a quarter inch thick. “Sit on the bed,” I said. He sat. “It’s like a box spring without a mattress, right?” He nodded.
But, really, I wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. He had spent most of his professional life in the RV business — first as a manufacturer, later in sales. In between, he had worn about every hat. He was fully aware of how RVs are manufactured — some with great care, others as fast and cheaply as possible. I asked him, “What would you advise an RV buyer about where to begin to check an RV’s quality? What’s the first thing a person should inspect?”
His answer caught me by surprise. It would never be the first thing I would check. He said, “I’d tell them to start from the ground up — with the tires.” The tires?
Tires are far from created equal, he said. And that’s when he dropped a bombshell. “I know of one trailer manufacturer that buys its tires from China for $8 apiece. In my opinion, anyone who tows a vehicle with those tires is jeopardizing the safety of himself and his family.”
Later, as I walked through the show, I paid attention to tires. Most brands were familiar, but some I’d never heard of. Most looked great, often with the aid of a fresh coating of black tire paint.
My RV-veteran friend didn’t name the company that imported the cheap tires, nor the brand name. I didn’t ask. It’s been a long time since I bought a new RV. Would I “kick the tires” early on in my inspection of a new RV, especially if it were an unfamiliar make? I don’t know. But I can tell you, it wouldn’t be the first thing I’d do.
Perhaps the practice of putting cheap tires on RVs is rare. I’d like to believe that’s true, and my guess is that it is.
Whatever the case, the message I’d like to leave with you today is that everything on an RV that you plan to buy is worth inspecting carefully. I believe my friend had an excellent point — starting with the tires should be the very first thing. Could it be that if the tires are a respected brand name, we can assume that the manufacturer doesn’t take other shortcuts where it’s important to safety? That would make sense to me.