Welcome to Questions From the Road!
Hello there! Here, I answer (or take a crack at answering) real questions from real RVers, just like you. You might find your question here! If not, please send me an email!
"Why are stairs and supension so cheap?"
“Beyond the obvious reason for saving money, why do RV manufacturers use such cheap parts on items like stairs and suspension? I upgraded my suspension for under $300 and it made a world of difference. The stairs that come with most travel trailers are clearly unsafe.”
Well, you’ve already taken away my number one reason, which would have been cost. The RV industry has cutthroat margins.
It’s rather inane that automobiles use multi-link independent shock-absorbing suspensions and many RVs still use leaf springs, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, most RV buyers look more at fridges and upholstery than suspensions, and I think the industry caters to that customer.
Now, from the OEM’s perspective, the arguement can be made that most RVers are recreational weekend warriors, using their rigs 6-8 times a year. Should they make all customers pay the extra $300+ for an upgraded suspension even when good ol’ leaf springs will do the job for most customers? Isn’t that why the aftermarket exists?
That’s not necessarily my opinion, but it’s a common argument.
Another reason why leaf springs remain so prevalent is that most RVs are dual-and triple-axle. Many suspensions simply don’t work well for multi-axle weight distribution and vehicle handling.
I’ll leave the “unsafe steps” argument alone, because unsafe means different things to different people. Not rated for your body weight? Tread too shallow or riser too high? Too much flex even with stabilizer jacks lowered? Can’t see the treads at night? Too slippery when wet? Are we talking unsafe for all ages and body types or just certain ones? Without more information, I cannot say.
"Why can trucks tow heavier 5th wheels than travel trailers?"
“Why can fifth wheels be heavier than a travel trailer as far as towing goes?”
I’m interpreting this question as “Why can a certain tow vehicle tow more with a 5th wheel hitch than a ball-pull?”
(If you’re asking why 5th wheels can be heavier per square foot than travel trailers, then I’m way off the mark!)
It’s actually a pretty complicated question. Here’s a good article to start with.
(And here’s a 5th wheel towing calculator at my sister website, Changing Gears.)
So, the basic idea is that the tongue weight of a travel trailer acts a lever with the rear axle of the tow vehicle as a fulcrum.
So not only are you adding weight on the rear axle, but you’re also reducing weight on the front axle.
That’s awful for handling and weight distribution.
(This is why pretty much all RVs require weight distribution hitches, which reduce this teeter-totter effect).
It also severely stresses the rear chassis of the tow vehicle. The load is cantilevered. Imagine trying to hold a 50-lb weight with your arm extended straight in front of you, and you’ll get the idea.
Towing with a 5th wheel connection improves vehicle handling in just about every way: better turn radius, less trailer sway, etc.
The kin pin weight is located directly over and centered on the tow vehicle rear axle. There’s no teeter-totter effect, and for a bunch of super-complicated aerodynamic and physics reasons, vehicle handling is markedly better.
"What's the vote on slide toppers?"
“Are slide toppers a worthy addition? I’ve heard mixed reviews.”
It’s no secret that RV slide-outs are a leak waiting to happen. There are only a few OEM systems on the market (very few RV manufacturers design or fabricate their own machine mechanisms).
The whole point of an RV slide topper is to prevent leaves, branches, and other debris (like bird poop) from accumulating on your slides. And to reduce the chance of rain-driven leaks.
I, too, have heard mixed reviews. Are they worth the extra cleaning efforts? Do they really keep out rain long-term? I’m honestly not sure. If I was going to long-term camp in my RV, I would use them. If I was a 75-degree-and-sunny kind of camper, I don’t think they’re essential.
"Vent covers, why oh why?"
“Why don’t all RVs come with vent covers installed?”
I’m sure you’ve already guessed that cost is a factor. Another issue is that there’s this idea that “the aftermarket will solve [X] problem,” and even though not all manufacturers feel that way, cost competitiveness forces everyone to the lowest common denominator.
Another reason is OEM stipulations. Guess who controls the dimensions, clearances of design of the refrigerator vents? The refrigerator manufacturer. Guess who controls the vent conditions fo the furnace vent? The furnace manufacturer. And so forth.
If the RV manufacturer places an unapproved cover over the vent, the RV manufacturer automatically assumes all liability for any and all failures! And not just failures of the vent, but of whatever the vent protects! And no manufacturer wants to be on the hook for a $1,000 fridge.
"Why do my drain valves have split locations?"
Why are the drain valves split on my RV? I have one in the front and one in the back.
This could refer to either tank drain valves or low-point drains for the water supply system.
If they’re tank drain valves, then you might have tanks fore and aft of the axle to help even out the loaded weight.
If they’re low-point drains for the PEX pipes … then it’s possible the manufacturer just didn’t plan out the water supply runs very carefully and just put a drain wherever it was most convenient.
But it’s also possible that the designer wanted split drains for serviceability. Or maybe testing showed that the system drained faster or more completely with a different location.
No matter the reason, I’m sure it’s annoying to have to walk around the camper to access all drain petcocks for winterization!