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Opinion: RV recalls tell story of product quality

Opinion: RV recalls tell story of product quality

Editor’s note: Forest River strenuously objects to the tone and content of this editorial and has threatened legal action against RV Daily Report for publishing it. To read Forest River’s position on this editorial, see the response published Dec. 13.

By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report

While at the RV Dealers Association convention earlier this month, several people pulled me aside to comment on the number of recalls that RV Daily Report has published in recent months.

We have been publishing recall information for years, often on Monday’s when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration releases its most recent list of recalls. It’s possible that we missed a few, but I am confident we have published the vast majority of recalls issued in the past six years.

The question was a good one because I have sensed an uptick in the number of recalls being issued by RV manufacturers in 2016. So, I took advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday to do a bit of research.

The number of recalls issued by RV manufacturers in 2016 — so far — is 148, with five more Mondays to go in the year for NHTSA to add to that total. But, how does that compare to previous years?

According to the number of recall-related stories appearing in RV Daily Report, there were:

  • 148 in 2016 through Nov. 21
  • 123 in 2015
  • 71 in 2014
  • 107 in 2013
  • 101 in 2012
  • 91 in 2011
  • 27 in 2010, when we started publishing recall information

So, yes, to answer the question, there have been significantly more recalls issued in 2016 than in any other year since we’ve been publishing the notices. The number is already 20 percent more this year than the second-highest total in 2015 — and it will only go up in the countdown to the end of December.

Biggest culprits

I opened each of the stories we published in 2016 and started looking at which manufacturers issued the most recalls. Here are the Top 10:

  • recall-dataForest River — 40 recalls (27.03 percent of the total)
  • Newmar — 18 recalls (12.16 percent)
  • Jayco — 16 recalls (10.81 percent)
  • Winnebago — 14 recalls (9.46 percent)
  • Thor Motor Coach — 9 recalls (6.08 percent)
  • Keystone — 7 recalls (4.73 percent)
  • Starcraft — 7 recalls (4.73 percent)
  • Tiffin — 5 recalls (3.38 percent)
  • Heartland – 4 recalls (2.70 percent)

There was a four-way tie for 10th place with Entegra, Highland Ridge, Open Range and Triple E each having three recalls accounting for 2.03 percent of the pie.

Others who issued recalls this year included Cruiser, Grand Design and Motorcoach Industries with two each or 1.35 percent of the total.

CrossRoads, Evergreen, Foretravel, Freightliner, Haulmark, Outdoors RV, REV, Riverside, Spartan and Vintage each issued one recall or 0.68 percent of the total.

Pace of recalls increasing

My observant readers were absolutely correct that the pace of recalls has increased in recent months. Here is how the recalls were distributed this year, by month:

  • 10 – January
  • 12 – February
  • 10 – March
  • 12 – April
  • 8 – May
  • 21 – June
  • 6 – July
  • 22 -August
  • 11 – September
  • 20 – October
  • 16 – November through the 21st

A total of 52 recalls were issued between January and May; however, 96 recalls were issued in the following six months.

Reflection of product quality

So, do recalls accurately reflect the serious problem the RV industry has with product quality? I would argue that yes it does. A cursory glance at RV-related forums and social media posts will confirm that Forest River, “the quiet company,”  has a huge problem with its reputation for producing poor-quality RVs — and the company has issued more recalls than any other manufacturer.

In fact, Forest River issued more recalls than the next two closest manufacturers, Newmar and Jayco, combined plus 4 percent

Some will argue that the recalls were for silly things, like an improper label depicting the wrong gross vehicle weight rating, tire size or tire pressure. Those are all problems easily correctable.

However, other recalls issued centered on these problems:

  • Risk of carbon monoxide poisoning
  • LP gas leaks
  • Improper calculation of gross vehicle weight rating — surprise, it was often rated higher than it should have been.
  • Inadequate seat belt anchors that pull loose in a collision
  • Inadequate A-frame safety chains that snap, rather than keep a towable RV attached to the tow vehicle
  • Turn signals that were improperly wired so that activating left signal, turned on right blinker
  • No circuit breakers on a 30-amp RV
  • Loose main power cords
  • No brake activation signal alerting drivers following the rig that it is slowing
  • Risk of power loss to power steering pump
  • Improperly installed sway bar mounting brackets
  • Axles that can’t handle the load built onto them
  • Steering wheels improperly connected to the axle
  • Non-fire resistant materials installed in RV, like mattresses and shower curtains
  • Wood trim inadequately attached posing risk of falling on driver or passengers
  • Poor wiring throughout that increased risk of fire
  • Exhaust pipes so close to compartments it posed a risk of melting
  • Defective pin box
  • Tires incapable of supporting the load or improperly installed
  • Improper support for entry steps
  • Underrated fuses
  • Shock hazards
  • Spare tire couldn’t be attached to rim because lug layout was different

Let’s not forget that recalls occur only because problems were reported that could cause safety concerns. The government doesn’t monitor — yet — problems in product quality related to appearance or overall usability of a recreation vehicle.

Consumers have noted a serious and increasing product quality problem since the recession. However, as RV manufacturers significantly increase the number of product safety recalls for units they assemble, is there any doubt that the government is taking notice as well?

Yet, today we published the October RV shipment report that showed the industry is on target for its seventh consecutive yearly increase in total RVs made and the best year in 40 years.  Despite the well-documented problems, unsuspecting consumers are still buying new RVs in record numbers. So why change?

Like Brian Wilkins, the outgoing chairman of the RV Dealers Association, noted so eloquently in his final presentation to members, “When are we going to change because it is the right thing to do?”

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About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is the editor and founder of RV Daily Report. A native of Madison, Wis., he moved to Phoenix in 2009 to escape the endless winters and wicked humidity of the six-week "summer" season. He's a DODO -- Dad of Daughter's Only -- who would crawl across the desert on his hands and knees for an In-N-Out Double Double. He has visited every state except Hawaii and is anxiously waiting for some RV company to host a conference in the Aloha State.

38 comments

  1. This article is quite provocative given that it shows only a spike in recalls. But without production numbers that would allow one to quantify percentages, the reader is only being told the narrative that the writer wishes to convey. Like the old adage about statistics goes, “garbage in, garbage out”

    • How exactly do production numbers influence the number of recalls a company issues? Are you suggesting the greater the number of products a firm builds leads to an increase in recalls? What about those companies that had zero recalls this year? I guess they stopped making RVs, huh?

      Recalls are indicative of PROBLEMS uncovered, not units recalled. Sure, if a company made 10,000 units one year and 12,000 the next, and then issued a recall, we would expect to see the number of RVs recalled go up accordingly.

      But, because a recall is quantified only in that it identifies a specific problem reported, the number of RVs manufactured by a firm shouldn’t matter. The bottom line is that there were more problems uncovered in 2017 than since we’ve been tracking the numbers.

      Using your logic, Charlie, because there were 318,892 RVs manufactured January to October 2015 compared to 363,051 built in the first 10 months of this year, we’d expect to see recalls jump by 13.8 percent. However, as this story shows that recalls have increased more than 20 percent — clearly outpacing production.

      GREG GERBER
      Editor, RV Daily Report

    • Catherine Hornbeck

      We have a Forest River Class A Coach and it is the poorest quality item we’ve EVER purchased. Will NEVER buy Forest River product again.

  2. As they say, the defense against someone claiming defamation is the truth. They can’t say the recalls didn’t happen. They can’t say there weren’t problems. They can’t say the number of recalls reported is wrong.

    They are just complaining about how you frame the story around the facts (the number of recalls and the problems they actually have). Rather than spending time trying to get someone to put lipstick on a pig for them, they should make a better product.

    I think it’s fantastic that you are holding manufacturers’ feet to the fire.

  3. I have a sun seeker for forest river and had a couple recalls but a couple years after I had to pay out about 3000 for electric problems and was told that I had a small fire near the hot water tank which was electrical
    no recall when I called them and asked same as other problems

  4. Greg: We are now on our fourth motorhome. The current one is a Georgetown by Forest River. The previous one was from Thor.We had a horrible experience with the slide out system but there was no recall from Thor.
    They paid for warranty repair once, then all repair was our problem. It was a design problem from the beginning,but no admission from Thor and NO RECALL. We owned a Winnebago class C that had loads of delamination problems and we had no recall. Our first was a Jamboree which was great,but our family outgrew it. So, even though we had a recall from Forest River because of the LCI step problem ,even after the usual
    warranty time, that was better than the manufacturer ignoring the problems and not issuing a RECALL.
    I feel that the number of recalls may show the manufacturer is treating their customers better than those with
    fewer recall notices.

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