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Can people learn to inspect RVs in just five days?

(Aug. 25, 2014) -- Some say that only trained technicians should perform RV inspection services. I disagree. Inspecting is not the same as diagnosing a problem and it certainly isn't the same as knowing what to do to fix the problem. However, completing a diagnostic evaluation and then repairing whatever is wrong would certainly be within the realm of an RV technician.

RV Daily Report recently posted several stories, and a podcast interview, about a new movement to develop a nationwide network of certified RV inspectors. The stories have opened a debate as to whether ordinary people can be trained to become RV inspectors through an online course or five days of in-person instruction.

Some say that only trained technicians should perform RV inspection services. I disagree.

Inspecting is not the same as diagnosing a problem and it certainly isn’t the same as knowing what to do to fix the problem. However, completing a diagnostic evaluation and then repairing whatever is wrong would certainly be within the realm of an RV technician.

But, I don’t need to be a certified technician to:

  • Detect water damage in an RV
  • Ensure that all appliances are working properly
  • Look for signs of rodent infestation
  • Ensure that the slideouts work properly
  • Check the condition of an awning and slide toppers
  • Make sure electrical outlets all work
  • Ensure the roof is not cracked
  • Check the operation of smoke and LP detectors
  • Check the fluid levels of a motorhome and expose the fluid to chemical analysis to detect abnormalities
  • Check the tread wear of tires, determine the amount of brake pad remaining — and conduct a test to determine braking distance.

In fact, if I attended an extensive five-day training course on what to look for when conducting an inspection, and I was shown examples of what problems look like, I could certainly take a detailed checklist and inspect an RV with a great deal of confidence in the accuracy of the assessment.

Further, even without the training, as daily RV user for the past 18 weeks, I now know better than most people who have never used an RV what to look for and listen for to detect potential problems. Add some training to the mix, and I know I would be a very accurate inspector.

It doesn’t mean I know what’s causing the problem or how to fix it. But, I can certainly tell that something is not right.

This industry is in desperate need of RV inspectors. People are buying RVs from private sellers all the time. They need an assurance that the RV is in good working order to justify the purchase. They need someone to identify what’s wrong with the RV so that the purchase price can be negotiated to reflect needed repair work.

Insurance companies want inspections before they issue extended warranties.

Banks want inspections to help them justify the worth of a vehicle and, therefore, the amount it is willing to lend.

The problem is that we don’t have enough technicians to get the job done, yet a solution is needed.

There is a fear that someone could work at a fast food restaurant one day and become an RV inspector the next. There is justification for that concern because we don’t want unqualified people doing inspections.

But, pretty much any full-time RVer, retired construction worker, off-duty firefighter — or anyone with good attention to detail can be trained to inspect RVs.

The National RV Inspectors Association has developed criteria to ensure the professionalism of inspectors. The group imposes an education requirement, standards of practice and a code of ethics.

I especially appreciate the idea that people who inspect RVs can’t financially benefit from the results of the inspection. Therefore, they can’t recommend that things be fixed that don’t need fixing simply because they don’t get a kickback on every service or accessory product they recommend.

May I be so bold as to claim that some RV dealerships hire people with less training to be technicians. But, because the technician works for an RV dealership, should people assume he has more credibility? I thought that was the whole point of having certified and master certified technicians.

So, if we are going to say that people aren’t qualified to be RV inspectors after just five days of training, are people qualified to be RV technicians and empowered to diagnose and fix problems without some level of training and testing?

I paid $650 to have my motorhome inspected by a dealership technician. It took one week to get the appointment. During the inspection, he discovered the serpentine belt needed replacing, along with the slide toppers and two tires.

Within a month of starting my journey, I discovered a loose electrical outlet, the hot/cold water was switched in the bathroom and the smoke detector was not working. Another RV technician discovered a crack in the roof and said the seals needed to be replaced.

The point is that despite having an RV technician initially inspect my motorhome, several important things were missed. So, the process is not perfect as it is now, nor will it likely be if we have certified inspectors evaluating RVs. But, it’s a start.

Let’s review some facts:

  • The RV Industry Association believes there are now 8.9 million RV owning households.
  • The RV Dealers Association predicts there are about 2,000 RV dealerships in America.
  • That means there are 4,450 RVs per dealership — without adding in the 180,000 new RVs expected to be sold this year.
  • If each RV requires just one service appointment per year, at an average length of three hours, each RV dealership will need to perform 13,350 hours of service per year just to handle its share of the demand.  (Note that my RV has been in for service five times since March.)
  • That will require the full-time work of 6.5 RV technicians per dealership just to keep existing customers on the road.
  • That does not include time to inspect RVs coming onto the lot from manufacturers or trade ins.
  • It certainly does not include time to inspect RVs for private sellers, banks or insurance companies.

The RV industry needs to embrace the idea of a network of certified, trained RV inspectors and I applaud Steve Anderson and Terry Cooper for their investment in making it a reality.

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About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is a freelance writer and podcaster who has been writing about the RV industry since 2000. He is the former editor of RV Daily Report and can be reached at greg@rvdailyreport.com.

7 comments

  1. Agree 100% Greg!
    Inspecting an RV is completely different from repairing it. The purpose of the Inspection is to a have a very thorough and exacting procedure available to go through a prospective RV. Even a Non-NRVIA person could do that, if they have a basic understanding of what things are.
    Granted, some people shouldn’t even be driving an RV. However, having an exacting checklist and a basic understanding of what I am looking for is certainly a huge plus.
    When we purchased our used RV, I had an automotive background so I knew what I was looking at on an RV. The 5 day course is an incredible teaching course on all things that need to be looked at and what to look for on an RV.
    The average purchaser needs someone to guide them and the NRVIA inspector certainly fills that need!

  2. Recently, I had to have my house inspected by a certified home inspector. As I observed him going throughout the house, it occurred to me that there is real need the same type of inspectors for RVs. Little did I know, until now.

    I will be visiting the National Recreational Vehicle Inspectors Association (NRVIA) today. This something I could do on a part-time basis and it would certainly supplement my other RV safety endeavor.

  3. I’ve talked to my son-in-law, who is a local city building inspector, about doing this for some extra cash on the side. As newlyweds, he and my daughter can certainly use it. So far, he’s too concentrated on upgrading certs for his current job, so he’s cool to it, but I can certainly see the need for it. That, and more “technicians” to actually work on them. Maybe, if there were more RV service centers, we wouldn’t have to worry about the fact that 90+% of RV dealers won’t work on your RV in a timely fashion (sometimes not at all) unless you bought it from them. How would that go over in the automotive industry, hmmmm?

  4. I’ve performed a whole lot of inspections in my careers, not RV, but mechanical, electrical and building related.

    Extensive checklists are fine, in fact they are mandatory BUT, no checklist, or multiple checklists, can be all inclusive. People must also be knowledgeable enough to look “outside the checklist”, so to speak. There is always a first time for things, like the saying goes, “I ain’t never seen something like that before”.

    Recognizing a new problem, or potential problem, is where training, RV experience and maybe background experience, all come into play. Any one, may well allow too many things to be overlooked.

    I had to train inspectors and the hardest part was teaching to look beyond the list.

  5. Thanks for the great article Greg!

    I am an NRVIA lifetime member, certified RV inspector, full time RVer, and a major advocate of this new industry! Let me say that this does not just require a 5 day class, or online study. There is also a 3 day advanced instructor training class that needs to be taken before an inspector is released to do inspections. Individuals have to prove that they can really do a quality inspection before they complete their certifications and are given credentials as an NRVIA certified inspector.

    Now for the premier inspection company in the industry, and also an NRVIA member, RV Inspection Connection requires that an inspector trainee complete two full inspections on a motor home and 5th wheel. Each one is done and then entered into proprietary software generating a 50-100 page report detailing everything the RV told the inspector during his/her examination. By the time the inspector reaches this point in the training they are fully able to do the job, and their work is reviewed by another qualified RV inspector to assess completeness of the report.

    For those that work with RV Inspection Connection, there will be much more detail and attention paid to the final results of the RV examination as three sets of eyes will review each one that comes through their system. As I said, this will be the premier inspection company in the industry, and backed by the NRVIA.

    The proof is in the inspector reports that have come through the system so far. They are fantastic! The current certified inspectors, mostly coming through the five day course graduates and RV Inspection Connection inspectors, are a testament to what Terry Cooper and Steve Anderson are doing for this new industry! To see a sample go to rvinspection.com and click on sample reports. Any doubts about the quality that these inspectors can produce will be removed by these recent RV examinations.

    They don’t publish email addresses here, but anyone can reach me at hmrvicorp@gmail.com if they want further information about this new opportunity in the RV industry!

  6. Greg,

    I couldn’t agree more. You wouldn’t think of buying a home without a home inspection by a certified inspector. In fact, I doubt you’d get a loan without an inspection since the bank wants some assurance that they’re backing a good investment. They (the bank and the purchaser) need assurance that the purchase is not going to be a “Money Pit” or “Lemon”. As far as the inspection goes, I know that RV Inspection Connection is offering to include oil and coolant analysis. Analysis of the engine oil and coolant, transmission fluid and generator oil and coolant could save the purchaser from costly powertrain problems down the road. Seems like a “no brainer” to me. Let’s consider it in the terms of a home inspection. What if the inspector said everything’s good from the floor up but I’m not going to check anything in the crawl space. RV owners need to know that everything under the floor is working properly too (engine and transmission). And, why not go ahead and check the main electrical power supply (the onboard generator) too while you’re at it. When ordering an RV inspection, make sure you’ve got an NRVIA certified inspector who’s also been trained to take fluid and coolant samples from the engine, transmission and generator. It’s cheap insurance and can help find problems (if they exist). Heck, you may even find that everything’s fine and there’s no need for any maintenance on these items. That alone can save big money by foregoing an engine oil/coolant, transmission fluid, and/or generator oil/coolant change.

    BOTTOM LINE: Why would you not get a used RV inspected by an NRVIA certified inspector? And, for that matter, why would you have everything above the floor inspected and let the engine, transmission and generator go without sampling. Consider it as “Healthcare for Your RV” !!!

  7. I wholeheartedly agree, with just one minor exception. Pre-Purchase RV Inspections are critical. But the above article alluded to the assumption that an experienced RVer would know more about the RV than a novice. This would be true, if the novice were not trained as an RV inspector. But if that novice were a trained RV inspector, then that novice would have it all over the experienced RVer.

    A friend, who took Terry Cooper’s course, told me that a true RV novice would know more, at the end of the first week of Terry’s class, than someone who had been full-timing for nine years. He said, “I know this, because I have been full-timing for nine years and after that class, I know three times more about my own RV than I knew when the class began.”

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