RV at Sunset

How to Compare RV Brands

Every week we take a look back at the RV Doctor Gary Bunzer's answers to your tough questions. He has been providing insight into troubleshooting, repair and preventative RV maintenance since 1968.

How Do We Compare Different RV Brands?

We recently attended your seminar on RV Maintenance at the Hershey Show. It was really informative, thank you! We are in the process of buying our first RV and saw two Class C models with the same floor plan, but different manufacturers. They both have plus & minus items, but neither one was a show stopper for us. Our question is to try to get an unbiased opinion on the manufacturers, if you don’t mind. We know about Winnebago being around for a long time and that model has a fiberglass roof and the quality is good. We do not know about Coachmen owned by Forest River and their model has a TPO roof. We do not know about its quality and other than opinions of the dealer and one person we met at the show who also has a Coachmen and loves it, we would like to have another opinion. — Paul & Dianne B.

The RV Doctor's Orders

Paul & Dianne, certainly Winnebago and Coachmen have been long-standing brands in the industry. And Forrest River is actually the 2nd largest RV manufacturer overall. I wish there was a true, unbiased, Consumer Reports-like publication for RVs out there. But I’ve not yet found one that provides a comprehensive, impartial comparison between RV brands X, Y or Z. The key word being “impartial.” Many RV publishers provide a “buyer’s guide” or something similar, but those I’ve seen have not been very technically comprehensive. 

The differences between a fiberglass roof and TPO are there, but neither one would be a deal-breaker for me. In fact, Lippert is now partnered with Alpha Systems, the RV industry's leading supplier of TPO RV roof systems. They offer a complete line of RV roof maintenance and repair supplies. According to manufacturers, both types of roof systems are rated at around 10-20 years life expectancy. So, if you plan to own your RV for period of time that surpasses that, odds are, some type of roof repair wil be needed. There are repair and replacement options available for both systems, so the roof type is a moot issue today, especially with how easy Lippert and Alpha Systems makes it to get what you need to fix TPO roofs.

Other than that, I would equate most all other features being quite similar within the same price-point. It’s more important that you base your choice on what is required by you and the family and how you expect to use the RV. There are just too many questions needing answering, and most are truly subjective in nature. But I do have a few items to consider before making that definitive jump to RV ownership. The learning curve can be shortened drastically by taking the following into consideration before you sign on that dotted line.

What Is the Best RV Brand for You & Your Family?

  • Type of RV: RVs come in two basic types, motorized and towable. You can use Lippert's blog titled "Understanding Different Types of RVs" as a resource for comparing different RV types. It looks like you’ve already determined the Class C is for you though.
  • Budget: RVs cost real money, so be sure to stay within your budget.
  • Important RV Features: Evaluate your family’s needs and wants.
    • How many people will be using the RV? If you’re a couple with three or four kids, perhaps that 8-foot pickup camper is not such a good idea.
    • How much living space will you need?
    • How much sleeping capacity?
    • What can you not live without in the kitchen?
    • How much storage do you need to support your camping hobbies?
    • How sophisticated does the RV's technology need to be?
    • Do you need a connected RV, such as one that uses Lippert's OneControl® technology?
    • Will you be working from the RV, or will you want to stream movies and other entertainment, so you will need dependable wifi, maybe even a satellite, if boondocking is your thing?
  • RV Size/Weight Restrictions: RVs come in many shapes and sizes. The larger units may be difficult to maneuver in some older campgrounds.
  • RV Brand: Varying retail price points exist for virtually every potential RV enthusiast. Build quality, accessory sophistication and overall curb appeal will go up as the price point increases.
  • RV Construction Techniques: I’m not sure which exact models you looked at, but there is a broad range of construction methods employed by builders. Construction materials include: steel, aluminum or wooden structural members, soft sidewalls, laminated sidewalls and varying composites of roof surfaces. They all have their pros and cons, periodic maintenance schedules and refinements, so be sure to ask the dealer lots of questions. 
  • Researching an RV Purchase: Be sure to do your homework before you buy. Here are some suggestions for gaining knowledge before making a commitment:
    • RV Shows: Duh, you’ve already done this one!
    • Neighbors, Family & Friends: I’d make a wager that everyone knows at least one RVing family. Be sure to get their input as well. RVers are typically quick to point out the good in their coaches; as well as the not-so-good. Take it all in and file it away.
    • Campgrounds: Try to visit a few campgrounds in your area. Ask the RVers staying there, how they like their particular RV.
    • Web Research:  Use this resource carefully. Most RV dealers and manufacturers will have a site so it’s possible to compare inventory, floor plans, factory videos, etc.
    • RVIA Seal of Approval: Over 90% of RV manufacturers belong to the RV Industry Association, the governing body of the industry. All approved manufacturers will have a “seal of approval” from RVIA prominently displayed beside the entry door. And Winnebago and Coachmen both have RVIA seals.
    • Buy from an RVDA Dealer: The Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association monitors its membership closely. I recommend buying a new vehicle only from a member of RVDA.
    • RV Rentals: Consider renting an RV from your short list for a weekend.
    • Avoid Impulse Buys: Always give it serious thought and revisit your needs to make sure that RV of your dreams indeed fits your requirements. Don’t be pressured into buying that unit while “in the moment.”

Lastly, I do present a seminar entitled, “Technically Choosing Your Next RV,” which I presented at the Hershey Show, and have turned into a blog post.

Good luck! Let me know how you decide!

All effort is made to ensure the correctness of Gary’s responses; however, not all responses will apply in every instance. Some situations may mandate a visual inspection and further hands-on testing. It is imperative that if you choose to follow any instructions or procedures outlined in The Doctor’s Orders column, you must first satisfy yourself thoroughly that neither personal nor product safety will be compromised or jeopardized. If you are in doubt or do not feel comfortable about a procedure, do not continue. Simply call your local RV service facility and make an appointment with them. Remember, the advice, recommendations and procedures offered by The RV Doctor are solely those of Gary. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions, procedures and recommendations of Lippert, this publication or any of its advertisers.

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