By Ronnie Wendt
ATHENS, Texas — There’s an old saying that “All roads lead to Texas,” but in the RV industry all roads seem to lead to Terry Cooper, the RV professor.
Cooper is a recognized entity in the RVing world. The RVDA/RVIA master certified RV technician and professional instructor and trainer has made a name for himself in RV service and maintenance. He is currently the managing director of the National RV Training Academy (NRVTA) and president of the Mobile RV Academy. Previously, Cooper served as the director of service operations for Explore USA and as an online RV technician instructor for Northampton Community College.
This humble Texan man with a warm smile and an engaging presence keeps pressing on in his pursuit to improve the RV industry. In addition to his work to propel RV service and maintenance forward, Cooper is also credited with founding the National RV Inspectors Association (NRVIA).
The idea for the association took root as Cooper began receiving calls from RVers and would-be RVers asking him to look over this or that unit and determine if it was worth buying.
“He was receiving so many calls of this nature that he saw a need for a professional who could check out units before people purchased them,” says Stephanie Henson, operations manager of the NRVIA.
Though Cooper saw this as a business opportunity, true to his own character, he didn’t seize it for himself. “He saw it as an opportunity for others to take some of the skills they had learned in doing their own RV maintenance and create a small business out of those skills. He envisioned the NRVIA as a means to help them do this,” Henson recalls.
RV Inspections are Different
Cooper’s first step was to learn what was already available. But as he dug in, he found though there were many home inspection associations, there wasn’t a single organization to train and certify RV inspectors.
Henson states that though inspections are common with sticks-and-bricks homes, and often home inspectors will also inspect RVs, it is not practical nor efficient to do RV inspections this way. She explains, “RVs and homes are different, so there needs to be a different organization offering RV-specific inspection training. Although the business side can be very similar, as far as risks and liabilities and the type of information you are providing to the customer, the things you examine are different in an RV.”
In the end, he set work crafting an association to train RV inspectors, much like those already in place to train professionals to perform pre-purchase inspections on sticks-and-bricks homes. It’s at this point, that Cooper added others to the fold, with Stephanie and her husband, Todd, joining the launch.
“We did research to determine what kinds of organizations exist to certify and train home inspectors. What do these organizations look like? What kind of annual re-certification requirements do they have? How do those organizations support inspectors?” says Henson. “With that information in hand, we developed a course designed to train individuals to properly inspect an RV.”
A Thorough Examination
“One of the reasons we encourage RV owners or buyers to get an inspection is No. 1, you are going to want to know what kind of condition a unit is in before you purchase it. It may change your decision to buy,” she says. “But, I’ve also found that most buyers are OK with purchasing an RV with issues, as long as they know what the problems are. You take the scare and the risk away by telling them what’s wrong upfront. They can then negotiate with the seller to either repair the problems before they purchase the rig, or to lower the price so they can take care of the repairs themselves.”
An RV inspection looks over an RV from top to bottom and inside and out. The NRVIA has developed standards for each component, appliance and structural element of an RV, and the inspection results are based off these. An inspection will take a minimum of three hours all the way up to eight to 10 hours, depending on the size of the rig and the depth of the inspection.
Henson details an inspection of a roof to provide an example of what takes place. A roof is a common item that inspectors are asked to look at, she says.
“The roof is considered an ‘exterior component,’” Henson says. “Thought we don’t state exactly what the inspector has to do to check the roof, we do state that the inspection is going to include documenting the roof type and general condition of the roof.”
What does that involve? The NRVIA inspector will examine all joints and seals on the roof, looking for cracks or holes that would allow water intrusion. He or she will also inspect vents and vent covers on the roof and components, such as air conditioning units, which are installed into the roof membrane. The inspector will make sure they appear to be in good condition, and that there are no cracks or holes in the caulk or sealant used around these components. Then the inspector will look for visual signs of water intrusion, such as a bubbly roof membrane or distortions in the color of the membrane.
“We look at all things that indicate there might be some kind of an issue underneath that roof membrane,” Henson says. This exacting review takes place for every component from the roof, to the walls, to the floors, to the appliances, and everything in between.
Henson stresses inspectors do not diagnose the issues. “They don’t pull back the roof membrane, pull out an interior wall, or pull up flooring to see what’s going on under the surface,” she says. “We document signs of damage, possible signs of water intrusion, things like that because customers may not know that bubbles in the roof membrane are a sign that the roof has an issue. We say, ‘You may not have caught this, but this is going on, which leads us to question what is going on underneath the roof membrane.’”
The inspector then makes recommendations based on his or her findings and provides clients with a thorough inspection report like the ones given to would-be owners of a sticks-and-bricks home. “We always recommend when something serious is found that they get in touch with a qualified professional, a certified technician, who can evaluate the extent of the damage and provide a plan of action to rectify that damage, as well as the cost for that repair,” she says.
The Path to Certification
There are two ways to achieve NRVIA certification.
For the individual, who already has an extensive RV maintenance background, such as someone who has already been operating or mobile tech business or is already certified as a service technician, there is an online training option.
“This program allows them to use the NRVIA website (www.nrvia.org) and requires Internet access, but it’s self-paced. They work through the course material, watch videos and take a quiz at the end of each section,” Henson says. “Once they’ve completed this, they take a final exam that covers all of the technical knowledge and skills that relate to the different sections. Finally, they take an exam that covers our standards of practice and code of ethics. Once they have passed these two exams, they are Level 1 certified.”
For those with more limited experience with an RV, or perhaps no experience at all, hands on training opportunities take place regularly at the National RV Training Academy (www.nrvta.org) in Athens, Texas. This is a five-day, hands-on course that includes the two exams described above. If students pass these exams by week’s end, they are Level 1 certified inspectors.
There is a second course, called the Advanced Inspector Training Class. This course is only offered as a hands-on program in Athens, Texas. Completing this class earns participants Level II certification. “We do full-scale hands-on inspections that week. We train them how to do fluid analysis testing,” Henson says. “We also training them to use the inspection software used by most of our members, and go through liability and risk management, proper documentation, contracts, payments, etc.”
Inspector Success Stories
To date, there are 365 active members of the NRVIA performing inspections across the United States. Their businesses are as busy and as large as they want them to be because they operate them independently with a leg up as a member of the NRVIA.
Henson explains the NRVIA provides them with resources such as recommendations for insurance companies for their business insurance, a CPA firm for their accounting needs, and an attorney for their legal needs. NRVIA members also have access to sample contracts that can be customized to their business and access to software at a discounted rate that can help them run their business. There is even a spot on the NRVIA website for them to connect with RVers needing inspections. RVers can search the NRVIA website to find an inspector near them.
“None of these options are required by the NRVIA,” states Henson. “We require that they follow our code of ethics and standards and that they maintain their membership through continuing education. Every year they have to turn in proof of their continued education.”
The NRVIA simplifies their continued education by providing an annual opportunity in Hebert Springs, Arkansas, for members to advance their skills. “We have leaders in the industry, suppliers, inspectors and other professionals present on things that can help them advance their education and run their business,” she says. This year the conference will include a presentation from Lippert Components.
The NRVIA has many success stories. One, that Henson says comes to mind most readily, is a school teacher who was looking for another career. She came to the class to become a Level I inspector, then upgraded to Level II, and really pounded the pavement to build her business. She took additional classes to expand her marketing knowledge and build her business skills.
“She recently quit her teaching job to do inspections full time,” Henson says. “She had no experience in RVs before she started with us, and today she operates a full-time business doing inspections. She also does walk-throughs with clients after they buy a rig and shows them how to operate it. She’s just one example. We have many success stories like this.”
To learn more about becoming an RV inspector or to find an inspector in your area, visit www.NRVIA.org.