If you’ve attended an RV factory tour or purchased an RV from a dealership, you’ve likely heard about a “PDI” inspection. Everyone makes a big deal out of their PDI. “We go through over 300 points of inspection,” they’ll boast.
… but what exactly is a PDI inspection? Who’s in charge of it? What level of quality goes it guarantee?
And perhaps most frustrating of all: If every single RV goes through a PDI inspection, then why do so many new RVs spend their first year at the dealer for warranty work?
As with any answer about QA/QC (Quality Assurance/Quality Control), the full answer is … rather complicated.
Let’s find out.
What Is an RV PDI Inspection?
First, I need to define what a “PDI” is and who’s in charge of it.
The acronym means Pre-Delivery Inspection. (Which means a PDI Inspection is a Pre-Delivery Inspection Inspection, which drives me bonkers, but I digress.)
But there isn’t just one kind of PDI. People use the term for three situations:
- A “PDI” inspection by the RV manufacturer of a finished unit before it goes out the door.
- A “PDI” inspection by the dealer either when it receives a unit or after the unit has been sold.
- A “PDI” inspection by an individual buyer or certified inspector for an RV sale transaction*
*If this is the kind of PDI inspection you’re looking for, (you can download a full PDI checklist at ChanginGears.com.)
I will focus mainly on the PDI by the RV manufacturer.
Why Is an RV PDI Important?
A PDI inspection is the last line of defense before
As I discussed in my introduction to your RVIA sticker, all certified RV manufacturers must conduct a slew of tests on every single RV: dielectric voltage tests, flood and flow tests, electrical grounding, water leaks, gas leaks, etc.
These mandatory tests are conducted as the unit is coming down the production line. Problems must be noted and rectified.
But these tests don’t cover everything.
- They don’t check whether your faucet has PEX shavings trapped in it
- They don’t check whether someone missed a line of staples when installing your slide-out fascia trim.
- They don’t check whether your AM/FM radio works or your HDMI output works.
- They don’t check that your cabinet latches are correctly aligned.
- They don’t check for scratches, dents, or blemishes.
That’s what an RV manufacturer PDI is. It’s a hunt for operational and cosmetic flaws. When your factory tour guide boasts that the PDI checklist is 200, 300, 400, or 500 points, they mean it! There’s a lot to look for.
What Happens At the PDI Inspection Station?
Usually, the PDI station is at the end of the assembly line, or sometimes even in a separate location.
A team of trained technicians goes through each unit with a comprehensive checklist. They’ll open drawers, turn on TVs, run the furnace, operate the stove, listen to the speakers, inspect trim, test remotes, cycle the water pump, look inside closets, test the LP/CO detector, extend and retract the slide-out, look for furniture scratches, flush the toilet, open the AC/DC distribution panel, try out the inverter, roll down blinds … it’s endless!
The two most important tools at the PDI Station are A) a flashlight and B) a tape measure.
The PDI Station may also be responsible for final weighing, stickers and labels, loose accessories (like power cords and batteries), re-torquing lug nuts, or other odd jobs.
It’s mostly an operational and cosmetics inspection. Most of the technical testing should already have been completed at other stations.
However, some manufacturers integrate their Final Testing and PDI stations, so a single crew may be responsible for both.
Speaking of the crew, these are some smart cookies! You want people who are good problem-solvers, experienced in manufacturing, and veeeeery detail-oriented.
Some manufacturers consider the PDI Station another Assembly Station under the scope of Production. Others assign the PDI station to their Customer Service or Quality departments, which creates an internal check and balance.
Because the PDI happens at the end of the line, there’s some stuff the crew just can’t investigate. They don’t do any invasive surgery; they just double-check what’s on the surface.
Does Every RV Manufacturer Have a PDI Inspection Station?
Every reputable manufacturer that I know of conducts a full PDI inspection of every unit on the assembly line.
(The exception would be smaller custom RV fabricators and van upfitters.)
Some manufacturers will walk the extra mile and do a more thorough under-the-hood inspection or road test of a random unit every day, every week, or every month. These tests can uncover problems that you can’t find on a PDI inspection after most of the mechanical innards are concealed.
So Why Does a Dealer Also Do a PDI Inspection?
To my understanding, dealers do their own PDI inspection for several reasons:
- First, it’s a lot cheaper to catch problems at the dealership than after the sale. Better to spend an extra two hours now than 20 hours later!
- Secondly – and there’s no polite way to say this – some manufacturers just rush the PDI. Maybe it’s the way they do business, or maybe they’re just short-staffed. Either way, if a dealer doesn’t trust the manufacturer 110%, they’ll double-check everything to be safe.
- Thirdly, things can fall or move during transit. I know how ridiculous it is to write that sentence to describe a recreational vehicle … but that’s how the world is!
- Fourthly, RV manufacturers don’t build their own appliances. They source water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners, etc. from OEMs, and these appliances can have their own gremlins that pop up later down the road (no pun intended.)
Why Is an RV PDI Inspection So Important?
I’d like to leave you with a thought about why these Pre-Delivery Inspections are so important for the RV industry.
Because they weren’t always the standard. But in the last 10-20 years, almost all major RV manufacturers have adopted them.
You see, some people think RVs are like houses.
Houses are built by subcontractors over months (sometimes years) of construction. Each piece of the pie is assigned to an expert: plumber, electrician, drywaller, painter, etc. Designs are heavily regulated and codified, and an inspector has to periodically sign off on the progress.
RVs are built on an assembly line in a matter of days (sometimes hours). Dozens of floorplans may travel down a single assembly line. An RV is like a “fully furnished” house. We not only build the “house,” but we’re also in charge of all the furniture, the entertainment, decor – oh, and the whole thing has to be on wheels. And maybe have an engine.
Other people think RVs are like cars.
The auto industry is more than 25 times larger than the RV industry. In 2021, the auto industry sold 14.9 million units in the United States. Meanwhile, the RV industry sold about 600,000 units – and that was our record-breaking bumper year!
The auto industry has some of the most advanced robotics and sheet metal technology in the world. Just watch this video tour of how the Ford F-150 pickup truck is built, and then watch this tour of how an RV is built. You’ll see the difference.
Robots don’t build RVs; people do.
That’s why a 300-plus-point PDI inspection checklist is necessary for any RV. From Montana 5th wheels to Airstream travel trailers to Newmar coaches, RVs are mostly built with skilled human labor.
So an RV might be built with 3,232 parts over two days by 112 people … that’s a pretty complicated endeavor! And the PDI makes sure that you, the end customer, get exactly what you wanted.
Yes, there is ample room for improvements in Design and Quality in the RV industry. And a PDI inspection is a big step toward making that happen.