The RV detectives: Investigating RVs for evidence of flaws

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By Ronnie Wendt

When Al Pearce purchased his first motorhome two years ago, he wasn’t a certified RV inspector — he was a consumer. And, as a consumer, he said he and his fiancé, Laura, “got lucky” because their 2002 Holiday Rambler Endeavor 38PST motorhome was in pretty good shape and came from a reputable dealer.

“Did we have some problems? Yes. Were they severe? No,” he explained. “Plus, we had a great dealer, who stood behind his word and fixed a few issues for us at no charge. Many dealers won’t do that. You leave and it’s yours, and if it has problems, tough luck.”

Others are not as fortunate, he said, sharing the story of a young nurse who moved to Georgia to continue her education. She purchased a fifth-wheel to live in without any RV experience or knowledge. The dealer delivered her purchase to the campground she planned reside at.

“The thing looked so bad that the park owner said, ‘I don’t think that’s safe to live in,’” he explained.

The young woman called Pearce, who by this time was a certified RV inspector. He inspected the RV and said, “It was so bad that she ended up buying another RV because it was unlivable. It had been in a wreck, where it was totaled, and the title was re-salvaged and cleaned up, so it looked like it has never been in an accident. It was moved from New Jersey to Georgia and sold to this woman.”

He shakes his head and noted, “It’s like taking advantage of your own children or grandchildren. You just want to ask the dealer what joy he got out of taking advantage of a young woman like this.”

When an RV can cost almost as much as a sticks-and-bricks home on an RV, the stakes are high. Buyers need to be aware of the risks and know what they are buying, or they might find themselves without the cash they put into it and without a working and livable RV.

It is this sort of thing that makes Pearce believe so strongly in the power of the RV inspection.

“When people ask me if an RV inspection is necessary, I ask them a question back. I ask, ‘When you bought a house, did you have it inspected?’ They always answer with, ‘Yes of course,’” he said.

“I then ask why they would not do that when buying an RV. You are spending almost as much money and it’s rolling down the road where it experiences impacts that a house would not,” he added. “It makes even more sense to have an RV inspection than a home inspection.”

Inspectors look for items that render RVs unsafe to use, such as this bent fifth wheel hitch.

Road to inspector

Ironically, Pearce never set out with intentions of becoming an inspector. In fact, he didn’t know such a thing existed.

“I went to a training class to learn how to care for my own RV,” he said. “When we had a few issues with it, I thought, ‘I’m not stupid. I can build decks, I can build furniture, I can do electric, I just need some training.’”

Pearce signed up to attend the National RV Inspection Association’s (NRVIA’s) Level I class, which covers key RV systems, appliances, structural integrity, and general knowledge pertinent to RVs, with the intent of learning to fix things himself.

“On the second day of class, Steve Anderson, founder of Workamper News, presented the opportunity for me to become an RV inspector if I signed up for the Level II class,” Pearce explained.

He quickly realized this might pose an opportunity for him to leave the logistics field he had grown tired of and embark on a new career. “I thought to myself, ‘If it allows me to travel and write it off, and I can help people, sign me up,’” he said.

Forty-five days later, Pearce became a Level II inspector.

He did 21 inspections in his first year. Last year, A & L RV Inspection, a company he runs with Laura, who is also a certified inspector, had performed 42 inspections by August.

Pearce said he doesn’t like to claim that anyone can be an inspector, but he does point out that he has seen people, who have never looked at an RV before, take the class and pass. If an attendee works hard to learn the material, they can pass the class; no matter what their background.

“In my class, there was a woman who owned a brand-new travel trailer but didn’t know a thing about how to maintain it. She had never owned an RV before,” he said. “She learned how to operate and fix that trailer in that class.”

The Level II course expands on inspections in greater detail, but also covers ethics, business practices and using the inspection software.

Whistle, where and when you work

Though the duo operates their inspection business from a home-base in Florida, they perform inspections across the United States.

“We don’t really have a territory,” Pearce explained. “We do inspections as we travel across the country.”

For example, when the couple attended the NRVIA annual conference in Heber Springs, Ark., last year, they also did inspections for three days after the conference ended. When the couple traveled to San Antonio this year, they financed their trip with inspections from the road.

People find A & L RV Inspection by logging into the NRVIA inspector locator, which allows website visitors to search for inspectors within a 250-mile radius. Inspectors can adjust their location within the NRVIA locator as they travel across the country.

“We’re leaving soon to go to Georgia, so I’ll change my locator to Georgia,” he said. “Then when someone searches NRVIA, they can find me and schedule an inspection in their area.”

“Some inspectors won’t travel more than 50 miles from home. They have other commitments; family commitments, day jobs and so on,” he added. “But for me and Laura, we’re nearly retired and this is our supplemental income, so it works for us. Not only that but we decide when we want to work. Our calendar is our own.”

The perks far outweigh the disadvantages of being an inspector. Pearce explained, “I’ll take the good with the bad. I might have to crawl up on a roof in 95-degree weather or work in the rain, but it pales in comparison to the stress I had in my old job.”

Marketing matters

Some people become inspectors with an attitude of “If you build it, they will come.” But building a business doesn’t happen overnight, Pearce said. It takes time and commitment, and above all, marketing.

“If you want success you have to treat your RV inspection business like any other business,” he added. “You must put in the hard work to make it grow. It won’t happen on its own, and it won’t happen overnight.”

He views NRVIA membership as essential to being in the inspection business. That is the place to start he says.

“Being a member of NRVIA has given me credibility in the marketplace,” he explained. “NRVIA has provided me with probably half of our business volume to this point and we are very grateful for that.”

But marketing is also key.

“I have owned several businesses in the past. I have learned that you can have the best product or service out there, but if no one knows you exist, all the hard work and preparation you do won’t keep you in business,” he said.

“Though NRVIA supplies me with quite a bit of business, you need to do more on your own. You must have business cards and a brochure to pass out to folks you meet, magnetic signs on your RV and/or personal vehicle, and a website and Facebook presence,” he explained. “We even wear shirts with our business name on them while performing inspections.”

Pearce also advertises the business on Google and Bing.

He also asks for referrals from customers, noting that “word of mouth is king” in this business.

“You should always ask for referrals and testimonials. I also visit campgrounds and RV dealers to get the word out that we can be a valuable resource to them and their customers,” he noted.

Pearce has appeared as a guest on The RV Show USA to talk about RV maintenance and inspections, and in Florida, he has begun hosting life safety seminars for RVers.

This came about after he contacted Family Motor Coach Association chapters to present free life safety seminars at their rallies. “We talk for an hour about the things we’ve learned and have seen doing inspections, and then host a question and answer session afterward,” he explained.

Do these things translate directly into business? “Not necessarily,” he said. “But they do get the word out about the importance of RV inspections. We need to spread the word. There are not enough inspectors in America. We need to build our presence more.”

A & L RV Inspection has also aligned itself with a finance company that requires an inspection before a buyer can get an RV loan.

But the truest measure of whether you’ll experience good business success comes whether you adhere to good ethical practices.

“Successful entrepreneurs are always thinking outside the box. What is it that I offer that no one else can?,” he asked. “The answer is yourself. Be honest. Be on time. Communicate in a timely fashion. Do what you say you will, and business will come your way.”

Learn more about A & L RV Inspection, visit www.alrvinspection.com/

To find an inspector in your area or to become an inspector visit www.nrvia.org

Ronnie Wendt

Ronnie Wendt

Ronnie Wendt has been a writer/editor for more than 25 years, working in law enforcement, aviation, supply chain and the RV industry. She's not a stranger to RVs, however. She grew up camping, and still camps as many weekends as she can every year. She is the owner of In Good Company Communications and can be reached at ingoodcompanycommunications@gmail.com.

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