Selecting a brand new RV requires patience and market research to make sure you avoid the worst brands. After all, you want to get the most out of your money and encounter minimal problems further down the line. The same detailed planning that goes into buying a house, a new car or a vacation should be applied when choosing your new RV.
Failure to pay attention to details can leave you with an inferior brand and overall bad experience.
So, with these things in mind, let’s run down the list of the worst RV brands. Now, we’re not saying that these brands are completely awful or that by buying from them, you’ll be throwing your money down the drain. This list simply highlights the brands that users have encountered the most problems with and should be used as a guide to help you take caution when choosing your new RV.
The top 7 worst RV brands:
1. Forest River
Not a name you’d expect to find in our list? That’s understandable – Forest River is really up there with some of the biggest RV manufacturers in the US and they’ve been a popular choice for a variety of people since their conception back in 1996.
Back in the day, Forest River was synonymous with quality design and user-friendly features but, it’s fair to say, in recent years this hasn’t always been the case.
The main concerns from Forest River owners tend to focus around comfort and craftsmanship. Space can be a concern when fitting larger numbers of people into Forest River RVs. Practicality isn’t always central to design and a number of Forest River owners have reported that, realistically, their trailers don’t accommodate extra people well.
Often people have complained about having a bad night’s sleep when using the auxiliary beds in their RV.
In terms of craftsmanship, common complaints from Forest River owners include faulty awning motors, sinking floors, water supply hoses leaking and general poor fittings and fixtures throughout. Despite these common problems, there is a dedicated community of Forest River owners who share their love for their campers in online forums and swear by the quality.
In general, peoples’ overall experience with Jayco is alright, it is a household name across the states after all. Historically, Jayco has produced some seriously good RVs, trailers and smaller towables that combine style and functionality as well as any other brand, but in recent years that trusted brand quality has come under scrutiny.
It only takes a brief look through the Jayco Owners Forum to find some recurrent themes across their fleet of models. These mainly focus on the quality of the interior features.
It seems that Jayco often produces RVs that look sleek and stylish from the outside and, whilst the interiors may also look great with practical layouts, the fixtures often just aren’t up to the task of lasting more than a season or two.
General complaints include sofas losing their firmness, bed frames falling apart because of poor joinery and misaligned seams. So really, with Jayco the problems are minor and, with the two-year warranty and excellent customer service they offer, you can easily get things fixed.
If you’re more of a “do it yourself” kind of person, you might even be up to the task of making small fixes and amendments to your RV.
Keystone is a brand that prides itself on durability and the general consensus surrounding them is that they’re bullet-proof and well worth the investment. While their reputation for reliability may be strong, the truth is a different matter.
A number of negative reviews regarding Keystone frames have emerged in the last few years. This can perhaps be attributed to the quality and thickness of the steel used in the manufacture of all Keystone models from shorter length towables right up to larger bunkhouse style travel trailers.
Due to the weaker frames, many owners have reported the frame buckling at the axle and have since taken class action lawsuits against Lippert (the frame manufacturer) with regards to this structural defect.
When some customers have contacted the company regarding this problem, they report difficulty dealing with customer services, with one owner claiming to have been left on hold for as long as four hours! When they finally did get through, their warranty didn’t cover the damage because of a very minor technicality.
When you think of RV brands, Coleman might not be the first name to pop into your head, but they have been making affordable campers since the mid 1960s. While they’re regarded as practical and not overly expensive, there are a number of common faults that users have reported with their Coleman RV.
The main, and probably most concerning issue is with the electrical appliances within Coleman’s range. Faulty power outlets, unreliable and fluctuating voltages as well as blown sockets have all been reported. Unless you’re a trained electrician, the last thing you want to be doing is fiddling around with faulty sockets fuses, especially in the middle of nowhere on your vacation.
Other issues include broken furniture, layout problems such as tables and chairs overlapping into central walkways and excessively loud a/c units. Despite the negatives, Coleman offers great storage solutions and spacious bathrooms with excellent facilities.
So, if you can ensure that a trained electrician surveys the trailer beforehand and you don’t need too much luxury in your life, Coleman might not be such a bad brand.
If you’re looking at buying a fifth wheel from Vanleigh, it might be worth looking at earlier models. A number of accounts describe a dip in quality in post-2020 models (the Vilano and Beacon to be precise) which compare less favorably to their more impressive predecessors.
The main complaints surround the finishings and joinery of wooden components. These include easily broken cabinet doors and cracked seals that let cold air in.
Owners, despite loving a number of features, have also reported excessive rust problems within a short period of time since buying their brand new Vanleigh. One positive thing that most owners comment on is Vanleigh’s excellent customer service and ability to help when problems do occur.
Related: Luxury 5th Wheel Campers (10 Best Brands)
Whatever the reason for the lack of quality with newer models, Vanleigh can still be considered a reputable brand but one that should be approached with caution – always have your RV inspected before committing to the purchase.
There have been a fair amount of complaints concerning the structural integrity of recent Heartland RV models, some of which are pretty serious. Frame damage seems to be a common problem with one customer documenting a frame collapse whilst driving. This subsequently caused cracks in the fiberglass shell as well as a hole in the wall.
Other owners have experienced similar problems reporting corrosion of the roof sealant causing the roof to practically stretch and begin to break away whilst others have told of sagging undercarriages and various forms of leaks. (source: BBB.org)
When you go through a tough experience on the road, you want it to be resolved as quickly as possible but, as a number of unfortunate Heartland RV customers have discovered, the customer service provided is far from good.
Issues exist with actually making contact with staff at Heartland RV and once contact has been made there have been a lot of walls to cross and barriers put up in regards to the warranty.
There are people who have been customers of Fleetwood for years and have never encountered any problems, whereas others seem to have an endless list of issues with their RV. Poorly sealed window panes, broken water heaters, electrical faults and problems with the slide out seem to be the most common issues with Fleetwood models.
The slide out issue stems from electrical problems. The switches and mechanisms which control the extension and retraction action on Fleetwood slide outs have been reported to be temperamental and expensive to fix. Another common problem occurs with models with rubber roofs. Minor leaks that get progressively worse are often reported and this is most likely the cause of electrical faults as water enters the mains supply circuit.
As has been the case with other brands, Fleetwood aren’t regarded to be the best company for customer service with some owners reporting long, ongoing disputes with ostensibly unhelpful, inexperienced staff.
Tips for Avoiding Bad Quality RV Purchases
As with any major purchase, it’s paramount that you take your time, don’t rush in and most importantly, do your homework. It’s really tempting to make an impulse decision and buy a recreational vehicle that looks great, but you have to scratch below the surface to fully know what you’re buying.
An hour or two reading reviews from existing buyers will show that quality isn’t always at the forefront of the minds of manufacturers and salespeople, no matter what they tell you and you don’t want to join the long line of people who have lost out financially because of a bad purchase. So, how do you avoid buying a bad RV?
There’s a few really helpful methods listed below that you can employ before you make your final decision:
- Market research – read reviews, speak to current owners, visit RV shows and generally shop around to find the best deal for you.
- Try before you buy – when you think you’ve found the right RV for you, it might be worth renting one for a week just to get to grips with all of the features and find out if there are any problems you may encounter further down the line.
- Get an inspection – have an independent professional or expert look over the RV that you want to buy. They will know exactly what to look for and may even help you drive the price down if problems do exist.
- Read the small print – make sure you’re getting a good deal with your warranty. As explained previously, many RV owners have had huge disputes with brands over what their warranty does and doesn’t cover. You should also consider the length of the warranty and the opportunity for warranty extensions.
The popularity of RVs and towable travel trailers has risen dramatically in recent years, in fact it’s estimated that over 11 million households in the US own an RV. Changing travel trends, flexibility, active lifestyles and an increase in the number of public and private camping areas have all fueled the rise in RV ownership.
On top of this, as anyone who’s ever traveled in an RV will tell you, it gives you a sense of freedom that you just don’t get with other types of vacation.
With more people hitting the open road, there’s an increase in demand for top quality RVs which is great news for the big manufacturers but, as is the case with most markets, where there is quality there also exists sub-standard products. Unfortunately, the “buy cheap, sell high” philosophy has infiltrated the motorhome market and campers with all manner of functional problems have emerged.
When manufacturers make the decision to cut corners in production and prioritize cost over quality, it’s the customer who suffers. Mechanical faults, leaks and premature wear and tear are all common issues that people have experienced with badly made RVs in recent years which is the last thing you need after a big spend. So, how do you work your way through the market and separate the good from the bad?
One of the most tried and tested methods of market research is reading customer reviews – it’s a great way to see if certain brands and models have common faults and allows you to get genuine, first-hand accounts of user experience which is perhaps the most valuable testimonial you can get.
As well as user reviews, there should be a few other key things to consider when looking at new RVs. A solid warranty and certification of quality control should be top of your list when browsing brochures and testing the water for a new RV. The last thing you want is to be stuck with a faulty camper and no way to claim for the damages.
Another thing to remember is that cost doesn’t always equate to quality. When you find the right RV for you, be sure to do a full inspection before putting your hard earned money on the table to avoid disappointment.
Why are RVs made so poorly?
What’s important to remember here is that RVs have a lifespan and you are bound to encounter issues with general wear and tear over time. Finding a solid, sturdy, reliable camper is the key to getting the most for your money, but this isn’t always easy.
In recent years, it’s fair to say that there has been a decline in the overall quality of a lot of recreational vehicle brands and there are a number of combined factors that have caused this to be the case. As market demand increases, the demand for companies to manufacture more and more models increases.
This can have a knock-on effect on overall quality control on the assembly line and products need to be pushed out at a faster rate. As demand increases, some companies decide to use cheaper materials and outsource more components of their design to third party manufacturers giving themselves less control of the final quality of their RV.
On top of this, the frequency of checks on the factory floor seems to have dwindled in recent years and many units head out to dealerships without a final inspection. It can then sit at the dealership without any use for months before being sold causing certain parts to seize up, rust and depreciate.
Is Forest River owned by Thor?
Thor’s investment portfolio is varied and they do own a number of RV brands including Keystone, Heartland and Cruiser RV to name just a few. Forest River had a similar business model in the sense that they bought other companies such as Coachman and Viking. Forest River Inc. was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway in 2005.
What is the Cheapest RV Brand?
Forest River and Jayco have some very affordable models and would probably be considered the two cheapest brands out there, but there are some other competitors including Riverside and Oregon.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.