By Russ and Tiña De Maris
“Help! Our 2014 Axis motorhome is built on a 2013 chassis. We had both titles and the VIN number was the same for the coach as the chassis. No matter how much we explained to our local DMV office that there was no such thing as a 2013 Axis, they still issued the title to a 2013 Axis. We’re still trying to get this squared away. Does anyone have any suggestions? Is this normal?”
This RVer’s experience isn’t completely unheard of but, no, it shouldn’t really happen. But here’s how it can happen.
In the industry, motorhomes are called “multi-stage” vehicles. Unlike your around-town car, instead of all rolling off a single assembly line in one fluid motion, the chassis is built first, on one assembly line, and typically by a non-RV manufacturer. The RV builder may buy dozens, if not hundreds, of these chassis, then store them until they’re ready to stick the “coach” on top of the chassis.
The outfit that builds the chassis is called an “incomplete vehicle manufacturer,” and they issue a title for the chassis. The RV builder is technically called a “completed vehicle manufacturer.” Federal law dictates that in cases like these, the chassis builder must issue the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). Included in the VIN is a digit that indicates the year the chassis was built.
The RV builder continues to use this same VIN. They may also have received an MCO document (Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin) from the chassis manufacturer, specific to each individual chassis. When the completed motorhome is shipped to a dealer, the MCO document goes with the rig, BUT the RV manufacturer, as the completed vehicle manufacturer, is to designate on this document the actual model year of the completed motorhome. Here’s the first thing to look at: When buying a new motorhome, ask to see the MCO document before you sign the contract. The MCO document should indicate the model year of the coach, not the chassis, if they’re not the same.
Why is this so important? Well, a batch of chassis manufactured one year may very well not be turned into a completed motor home that same model year. As was the case for the RVer we mentioned in the opening, the completed motorhome should have shown a “newer” model year than the chassis itself. The Federal Trade Commission has ruled that this is not unfair or deceptive that the motorhome and the chassis would have two different years of manufacture. In fact, California, Maryland, Michigan, and Wisconsin are the only states that require dealers to disclose to customers any difference in model years between the completed coach and the underlying chassis.
When a new owner takes his paperwork to the DMV for titling and registration, what should happen is the DMV should title the vehicle with the model year specified by the RV manufacturer. Sadly, it appears that not every DMV employee has “read the fine print in the contract,” or maybe they’re just obstinate. In cases where the DMV insists on titling the rig with the chassis model year, you can get help. Grab your phone and call the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association at 703-620-6003 and ask for the Government Affairs Office. Hopefully your stalemate will be resolved in a hurry with their help.
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