Weighing In

Overweight. Not healthy to be overweight. Harvard reports that roughly two out of three U.S. adults are overweight or obese (69 percent) and one out of three are obese (36 percent). Statistics Canada provides this infograph on obesity in Canadian adults.

I can’t find any data on coaches that are overweight. I have encountered rigs that are way over their weight limits but owners seem to fall under three camps with respect to weight. One group knows with a high degree of accuracy the weight of their coaches. Another group has a rough idea. And the last group has no idea.

When we were at the Newmar factory we had the service technicians perform corner weights for our coach. The results:

This was the first time in almost three years that we had an accurate weight for our coach. The weight included 75 gallons of fuel, 60 gallons of water, zero gallons of grey and 15 gallons of black. We were fully loaded with cargo. The weight did not include any passengers.

Prior to the corner weights, we only had a rough idea of our weight. We used the CAT weigh scale. This one was taken just after we took delivery of our coach in June of 2016.

It wasn’t too bad for a rough idea. We did several checks each year to ensure that the coach was not overweight.

Corner weights are best to determine loading and balancing on each axle and on each side of the coach. We were pleasantly surprised at the balance of weight on our coach.

A CAT weigh scale is better than not knowing the weight of your coach. You will know whether or not you are riding safely based on the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. Without any baseline, you are simply guessing.

There is an app that you can download for your smartphone that can make the process of weighing in at a truck stop much easier. The cost is nominal, especially when you consider the danger of running an overweight  rig.

We Are Not Happy!

A moving truck. Three sites down from us. Another Newmar coach, like ours, but a bit newer. They had it built from the factory through a Canadian dealer in 2018. They have experienced numerous issues with their coach. The dealer seemingly unable to get the issues resolved.

“You’re moving?” I asked.

I quite enjoy stating the obvious. Stating the obvious is my special power.

Granted, the presence of a Budget rental truck along with all of the people moving boxes from the coach into the rental truck, made it more than obvious.

“Yes we are.”

“What about your coach?”

“Sold. To a dealer in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

Yet another disillusioned former coach owner. Seems to be quite the trend these days, probably not helped by this nonsense.

Nothing like overhyping a lifestyle choice. Look, a craze!  And it is SWEEPING THE WORLD!! Let’s jump in!

RV sales are tumbling.

Share prices are also tumbling. Thor has reached new lows.

You spend hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions of dollars, on a coach only to find that the coach isn’t perfect.

Or maybe you find that the RV loving, living lifestyle craze that is sweeping the world just isn’t right for you.

And then you bail.

Ouch.

This Canadian couple, after less than a year, was so desperate to bail that they picked up the phone, contacted Newmar dealers all across the United States and tossed their coach back into the market for bidders.

I did not ask them how much they lost in the deal. Likely two or three hundred thousand.

Such an expensive outcome.

I did ask them why they sold their coach.

“Too many problems.”

Not the first time I’ve heard that complaint.

I wonder if part of the drop in new RV sales might be related to people exiting the RV lifestyle.

Looking at the listings of coaches for sale online, there is a large number of gently used coaches selling at a very steep discount. That must bite into the sales of new motorhomes.

Changing your mind because of quality issues and tossing your gently used coach back to a dealer will cost you. Big time.

Much of the dissatisfaction for this couple in our story centred around an unresolved air conditioner issue. I suspect that Newmar would have replaced the unit. Well worth a trip to the Newmar factory.

Buy (a new coach) high.

Sell (a new coach) low.

Not recommended.

RV Industry “Rebalancing”

“If this is a rebalancing, I don’t know what a recession is,” said Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University. “This (RV shipments) is one of the better indicators of a business cycle that we have.”

If you are aggressive with your investment portfolio, now might be a time to consider becoming a bit defensive.

Shipments in the RV industry experienced a 20 percent decline in the first six months of the year compared to the same period of time last year.

Tariffs and trade wars have pushed up expenses for RV manufacturers and they either pass those costs on to consumers or they have to take cost out of the product.

The RV industry has always been a leading indicator of consumer confidence. RVs are a discretionary purchase. When the sales of RVs go down, generally speaking, a faltering economy is not too far behind.

Reuters carried an article a few weeks back about the impact of Trump’s tariffs on the RV industry:

About 85% of the recreational vehicles sold in the United States are built in and around Elkhart County, making it a popular stop for politicians to tout their visions for U.S. manufacturing – including President Donald Trump, who staged a rally here last May.

And yet this uniquely American manufacturing sector has been caught in the crossfire of Trump’s trade war, according to interviews with industry insiders and economists, along with data showing a steep sales decline amid rising costs and consumer prices. The industry has taken hits from U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum and other duties on scores of Chinese-made RV parts, from plumbing fixtures to electronic components to vinyl seat covers.

Shipments of RVs to dealers have fallen 22% percent in the first five months of this year, compared to the same period last year, after slipping 4% in 2018, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.

The RV industry’s woes illustrate how even the most “American” of manufacturers, the kind of industries Trump has vowed to protect, can be heavily exposed to tariffs in a world of globalized supply chains.

The Trump administration placed tariffs on steel and aluminum on imports from Canada of all countries.

On May 31, 2018, the United States announced that tariffs of 25% on imports of Canadian steel and 10% on imports of Canadian aluminum would take effect on June 1, 2018.

On May 31, 2018, in response to the unprecedented tariffs, Canada announced its intention to impose on July 1, 2018 surtaxes or similar trade-restrictive countermeasures on up to $16.6 billion in imports of steel, aluminum and other products from the United States, representing the value of 2017 Canadian exports affected by the U.S. measures.

On May 17, 2019, Canada and the United States reached an understanding on Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum to eliminate all tariffs the United States imposed under Section 232 on Canadian imports of steel and aluminum, and all tariffs Canada imposed in retaliation for the Section 232 action taken by the United States.

No one benefited from those unprecedented tariffs with Canada. A bizarre tactic that hurt both countries. The Canadian and U.S. steel and aluminum industries are deeply integrated and provide a continental supply chain for the North American economy. The tariffs placed on Canadian imports of steel and aluminum immediately hurt the RV industry.

The new tariffs and duties on imports from China are having just as much a negative impact on the RV industry as the old tariffs on steel and aluminum coming from Canada.

RV shipments have fallen sharply just before the last three U.S. recessions. Perhaps it will be different this time.

Is It Time For A New Ride?

Time for a new coach? It could be another form of buyer’s remorse. You love the RV lifestyle. You are unhappy with your coach.

Perhaps this is unique to the Class A motorhome community. We constantly meet people that repeatedly and frequently trade their coaches for a new one. In some cases, trading coaches every year or two.

We liken a coach to a house. You buy one or build one and live in it for a period of time, hopefully for many years. The cost and inconvenience of having to sell and move every year or two is something to avoid if possible.

What causes a person to ditch their current ride and go for something else?

Would you like to know my theory as to why this happens within the motorhome community?

Here goes. The seven reasons why people switch coaches.

Floor plan. If you ever solicit opinions on what to look for when you are buying a motorhome, finding the right floor plan comes up again and again, especially if you are intending to live out of your coach for extended periods of time. If the floor plan isn’t working, you will know it. And you will likely decide that you need a different coach.

Size. Too big. Too small. Downsizing. Upsizing. You get the idea. One size does not fit all. And what you need in a coach may change over time. We were debating between a 37-foot and 40-foot coach when we first bought three years ago. We should have gone bigger. I constantly bump up against the limited size of the storage bays in our 40-foot coach. Size makes you think about getting a new coach.

Gassers. Gas-powered coaches are generally smaller, lighter and cheaper than diesel coaches. The ride is different. A bit harsher. A bit louder. Not as much power. Diesel pushers become more compelling the longer you drive a gasser. The debates on gassers versus diesel pushers rage on in the motorhome forums. One reason people switch coaches is to move from gas to diesel. I do not encounter many owners going from a diesel pusher to a gasser.

Status. Sadly this one lives on. Must keep up with the Joneses. Status plays on the fine line between your sense of identity and self worth and the impressions that your coach might create with other people. The automotive industry knows this trick very well. In the old days, it was Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac. Each model implied a certain status in life. Today it is the difference between luxury models and whatever passes for a non-luxury model. I see this at play in the RV world. Newmar might as well have lifted their model playbook directly from General Motors:

  • Bay Star Sport
  • Bay Star
  • Canyon Star
  • Country Star
  • Ventana
  • Dutch Star
  • New Aire
  • Mountaine Aire
  • London Aire
  • Essex
  • King Aire

11 models from entry level to luxury. Coaches that run from $150,000 all the way up to $1.5 million.

If you go to certain Class A motorcoach resorts and everywhere you look you see million dollar plus coaches, you might start thinking that maybe, just maybe, you need to trade up. A less expensive option might be to stay somewhere else. Pick a campground in Canada. With pretty much any Class A motorhome, you will stand out above the crowd.

Quality. Owning a coach means dealing with issues. Moving up to a newer or better coach seems like a reasonable approach in dealing with what might be a lemon. I’ve met many owners that changed their coach because of quality issues. Enjoy the lemonade. Every coach offers an ample supply.

Novelty. Coaches get old. Some age faster than others. Newmar deliberately creates tension between their eleven (!) models of coaches. Every year, they revamp their products to make you think about trading in for a new(er) model. The objective is to make you think that your coach is too old and you must replace it. Newer is always better.

Lifestyle. Things do change over time. The coach you bought a few years ago may not fit your lifestyle today. And, assuming that your finances are not a concern, well, you only live once. Get that coach of your dreams. Just keep in mind that you might be changing it again a few years down the road.

I’ve likely missed a few reasons. The psychology of why we consume is a complex area of study.

We love our coach and even though we have been subject to the same influences listed above, we have chosen to be content with what we have.

At least for now.

Buyer’s Remorse

“We want out.”

Have you heard that from someone who just bought a brand new motorcoach? We have. Many times.

Getting in and out of the RV lifestyle can be very expensive especially if you spend half a million or more on a new coach only to find that the experience is not what you expected.

One factor in the decision to bail from the RV lifestyle is the ownership experience. For example, we met one couple at the Newmar factory that had just received a new coach. They had paid roughly $700,000 Canadian for the coach. And they were absolutely livid with all of the issues. Their warranty punch list had over 75 items on it.

“We want out.”

That will cost them. Likely $200,000 or more as the resale value drops significantly after purchase.

This is our list of issues that we have experienced with our coach since we first took delivery three years ago:

  • Cracked floor tile
  • MCD day/night shades defective
  • Winegard digital TV antenna defective
  • Sofa bed defective
  • Passenger side basement door out of alignment
  • Driver side fuel cover missing clear coat
  • Kitchen sink leak
  • Loose fabric trim
  • Engine fault light triggered by outdated engine firmware
  • Driver side front tire defective
  • Side radiator lower grill almost disconnected from body of coach
  • Oasis hot water heater pumps defective
  • Full wall slideout uneven and the slideout floor rises up after it has been deployed
  • Front passenger side levelling jack leaking hydraulic fluid
  • HWH levelling system not operating correctly
  • Full length of Girard awning casing not fully retracted
  • Hole in roof
  • Winegard satellite dish defective
  • Random deployment of Girard awnings while in transit

There were also a few recalls:

  • Power steering fluid leak (potential fire hazard)
  • Slideout motor mounting bolts (under-torqued)
  • Driver passenger shade defective
  • Freightliner wiper control software update
  • MCD remote shade motor replacement
  • Battery cable may rub against frame (potential fire hazard)
  • Freightliner lightbar instrument panel odometer value may reset and not match the engine ECU odometer value
  • Low beams do not illuminate with high beams

If you are considering the RV lifestyle it is important that you do the research. All coaches have issues. All of them. It comes with the territory. We take the issues in stride. Our issue list was just part of working in a new coach. They are complex machines that are largely built by hand. We never once debated selling the coach because of our issues.

We spent six months last winter travelling from Canada to Florida across to California and back to Canada. We had a few issues during that major cross country trip. Our hot water pump failed. Our satellite dish failed. And we kept our Girard awning motor control modules unplugged while we were travelling because of the potential for the awnings to deploy while the coach was in motion. We had an incredible trip. The issues were, at best, a minor distraction.

We resolved the hot water pump and satellite dish on our own. Newmar resolved the random deployment of the Girard awnings.

All of the issues that we have experienced were resolved. We expect more issues in the future. And we expect to resolve them. Hopefully without too much inconvenience.

Selling a new coach when you encounter issues is a pretty rash and expensive decision. I was not able to find any data to determine how many coach resales come from people wanting out. I suspect a fair number would come from buyer’s remorse.