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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. I am so over the RV Industry executing the strategy of using the consumer to perform the primary quality control on the products they deliver. To some degree each RV manufacture represents in their literature that they have a superior quality control system that is far better than their competitors. These are empty words that do not get close to what we as consumers experience. I have never been a fan of federal regulations on manufacturing companies, however I think it is time for RV consumers to stand up to the RV manufactures by educating our politicians that we are being ripped off by the RV manufactures and that in many cases our safety is being compromised. An example is the RV Industries is experiencing more recalls in 2016 in recorded history. The RV industry is being driven by short term profits over quality of their products. I think it is time for the RV Consumers to demand our politicians to develop and support reasonable regulations that force the RV Industry to provide a safe quality product to the consumer that is consistent with what they represent at the sale. Even the RV Industry recognizes that they have yet to effectively deal with quality control, but they know if the consumer continues to buy their product with limited quality control they will continue do the same thing the same way. Let us start a grass root campaign. Respond and I will start the grass root campaign.

    • cconsumers are demanding lower and lower prices, and using their spending dollars to ” vote” for lower and lower prices, all the while demanding nicer, fancier and prettier units with more bells and whistles. Consumers fail to recognize that everything has a price. When the selling price must be lowered, cuts must be made somewhere. Labor won ‘t cut, materials cost won’t decrease, where can the manufacturer cut cost without sacrificing quality?! If I only knew.

      • How about slowing down the manufacturing process so that QC can be done while they’re building the RV. I own a Coachman Apex and Forest River Grey Wolf, both 2015, and probably made in about 6 hours and sit on a lot to be delivered. The cabinets are made of cheap particle board covered with paper. Better not get them wet from the cheap leaking faucets, or see what I saw. Most consumers finance their purchase, so if better, more durable materials were used and the price went up $1000 on a $20k camper, you’re looking at $25/month. Big deal!

        • Sir, the classic line applies: you get what you’re pay for. Neither of your 2015 campers fall into a category other than the economy class. It’s no different than it is with automobiles: BMW vs. KIA.

    • agree and very well stated…

  2. Greg, nice article, and one that I’m sure someone would have figured out shortly. Doesn’t tell the whole story, though. What I would like to see is =numbers= of units involved as well as number of recalls. I’d also like to see the # of recalled units vs total production. Playing a bit of devil’s advocate, just reporting total # of recalls doesn’t tell everything.

    • Yes, I agree with this. While it is definitely an indicator to am extent, total recalls doesn’t take into effect how many models there were from that company or what the percentage change was.

    • I have the same thoughts. The numbers can be skewed others.

  3. Great article and spot-on with RV owners experiences. However, as noted above, if the reader is to be able to draw meaningful conclusions from the data the recall qty needs to be compared to the shipped qty on an annual basis.

    Thanks and keep up the good work!

  4. Not to say there is no truth in the article, but it definitely doesn’t tell the whole story. You also make no mention of the fact that many recalls are caused entirely by suppliers of component parts and largely out of the end stage manufacturers control. Interesting read, but lacking some vital information.

  5. I’ll second the comments about recalls vs. production numbers. The percentage of recalls of a companies production would be a more revealing number.
    The idea that manufacturers claim no responsibility for vendor supplied components is ridiculous. Vendors should be vetted at least as vigorously as the manufactures’ own product. Deliberate ignorance is more damning than outright lying. If vendor supplied products are defective it is the OEM responsibility to require better quality control, or to assist the vendor with corrective re-design.
    Regarding the last “bullet” about a spare tire not attaching to a rim because the bolt pattern is different; you may want to re-read that again, and again. The bolt pattern should have nothing to do with the tire fitting. Back in the day of two piece wheel assemblies the rim was a component. Today it is a misused slang vernacular.

  6. Along the lines of what others have said, particularly Jason, a huge number of recalls are issues with the chassis, which is provided to the manufacturer by another company. However, it’s interesting seeing the data. It would be nice to see it over a longer period, though. You could choose any number of 12 month periods over the past five or six years and get entirely different results.

  7. Look at the article differently. There is no mandate to report problems so if one company has the majority of the reported recalls that could mean that they are more dedicated to quality and reported EVERYTHING! Even the ridiculous ones. Possibly some of the other companies, KNOW about a problem, but fail to issue a recall on it. Also you must look at the product line of the reporting company. Do they manufacturer JUST class A??? Do they manufacture everything from pop-ups to Class A? (If they have a broader spectrum of produced units, they will have a broader range of recall type issues).
    Maybe buying from a company that reports its mistakes and owns up to them, makes for a better unit overall. Yes, the RV Industry needs to do a better job of QC, but they also need to do a better job of acknowledging their mistakes and not sweeping them under the rug, hoping no one gets hurt.
    Please do a story on the number of customer reported problems that the RV Manufacturer just “band-aids” by telling the customer “bring it to the dealer” or “you must have done something wrong to cause the failure”. Those numbers aren’t readily available to you, I know. You would have to speak to the RV DEALER REPAIR DEPARTMENT to hear about the customers that were just given a bunch of excuses until their 1 year warranty ran out. Then the manufacturer is in the clear, they don’t have to fix the problem!!
    Just because a manufacturer doesn’t report the problems, doesn’t mean the problems don’t exist!!

  8. Unfortunately there is a collective denial within the RV manufactures. The attitude is that how could this be any problems -we are selling the hell out of every RV we make. RVIA is also responsible – lowering manufacture standard to increase profit and charging the consumer for a sticker that, basically is a warning to consumers that this product meets lower minimum standards set my RVIA in favor of the manufacture, not the consumer, (after all its called the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association).

    Finally – As manufactures slow down the defective part replacement, (up to several month isn some cases), they can run out the warranty period and not have to deal with additional warranty claims. With the pile of unclaimed warranty money they can give bonuses to workers to continue to do poor work. Great system.

  9. We have a 2016 Momentum 376TH Grand Design that should have the window latches recalled, they even stated “we replace them as needed”. We had the driver side window loosen, we taped it and dealer ordered new design from manufacturer as they know they are defective. They are still putting on the 2017 units. On way to dealer, the passenger side window flew right off! Thankfully no one was injured, WE requested all 8 latches be replaced, they were only sending 1. Just the other day on busy interstate we were flagged down that the drivers side window (with new latches)was open. We pulled over and taped the windows. To my knowledge grand design has no other latches that are safe and no intent of recalling the latches, not that they have a suitable replacement. Sadly it may take serious injury or death for that to occur. This unit has had over 40 warranty issues in the 6 months we have owned it.

  10. As a consumer, who could I report problems to in order to get the government to look at regulating this rather than the self regulation preferred by the RVIA?

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