Last June I wrote about how my parents decided to buy a new 2022 Heartland Mallard M33 travel trailer. The 37-foot-long, 7,746-pound beast is like a luxury hotel on wheels, but it came from the factory so broken that we couldn’t safely sleep in it. Over a year later, my family has finally taken our first camping trip in it. Guess what? This trailer is still broken! It’s so broken, it reminds me of the late ’70s cars tested by the charming Bob Mayer. Do you want to laugh today? Let’s check this thing out.
Let’s talk about the state of RV quality at large before I show you the pathetic state of my parents’ expensive, almost-new travel trailer. In recent times there have been a number of reports about a slump in the quality of RVs being churned out of Indiana factories. I wrote one of those reports! Then I got to see the quality in person. When I attended the Indiana RV Open House dealer show, I spoke with several dealership representatives, and many of them were there to figure out not just which campers to sell, but which ones they shouldn’t sell due to poor build quality. At the show I saw hastily-applied spraypaint covering up frame rust, an awning installed with such little care that the wall it was hung from was compromised, and even interior material choices so poor that the mere act of opening a cabinet door causes damage. These were all RVs that, according to their manufacturing stickers, were put together only a month or two before the show. Double Ended Bolt Screw
One of the Camping World affiliates I spoke to claimed the problem has to do with how a significant portion of the RV industry operates. Workers in many RV factories are paid by the piece, so they have an incentive to complete their work as fast as possible. RV demand hit record numbers back in 2021 and was still hot in 2022, so these factories were churning out campers as quickly as they could. The Camping World dealer representative then said dealers are then responsible for fixing the many quality problems that arise from speedrunning camper builds. These practices have been called out by independent trailer manufacturers like inTech, which uses a profit-sharing model.
If you’ve owned an RV before, you already know that they aren’t the most durable things out there, so the fact that they’ve possibly gotten worse is almost impressive. Dave Solberg, an RV repair expert over at RV Travel, echoes what you just read above:
Most RV manufacturers build the cheapest rig as fast as possible
Keep in mind that most RV manufacturers strive to build the cheapest rig as fast as possible. Fit and finish is hidden with expandable foam, silicone, and a product called gimp, which is a vinyl strip used between cabinets and walls to hide uneven cuts and gaps. They use cheap fabrics, single-layer foam in cushions, and even low-level furniture that they give a fancy name like it’s designer quality when actually it’s a lower level than what you would find at a big box store!
Take a closer look. You’ll find particle board with a vinyl wrap, paneling used to look like solid wood, holes that look like they were cut out with a hatchet inside those cabinets rather than a nice cutout with decorative trim to finish it off. Nope, that all takes time, which costs money. Since the unit sitting across the aisle doesn’t have it, it’s a waste of money.
Solberg’s conclusion is that buyers are letting the manufacturers get away with bad quality by scooping up poorly-built rigs, essentially enabling the manufacturers to not care.
So, what do you get if you happen to buy one of the campers that was likely built at a lightning pace? Back in March 2022, my parents purchased a 2022 Heartland Mallard M33. Last year, I wrote about how the camper was delivered to my parents with faulty safety equipment. One of the safety chains broke when my father first tried hooking up the unit to their tow vehicle. These are chains that are supposed to keep the trailer from killing someone in an emergency. If for whatever reason your trailer comes off of the ball, the chains are a redundancy. In a freak accident, those chains can mean the difference between life and death. But, according to my father, the hook came off of one of the chains while just getting hooked up. How does that even happen?
That wasn’t the only piece of safety equipment that failed. This trailer also has a breakaway cable on its tongue. When this cable is pulled out, the trailer activates its brakes. The idea here is that in the event of an emergency like a trailer detachment, there isn’t a 7,746-pound missile going down the road. Well, that cable fell apart in my hand. In a real emergency, it would have done exactly nothing.
So, with critical safety equipment broken, my parents sent the trailer back to the dealership for fixes. Thanks to parts shortages at the time, it took a couple of months to get the camper back. And that’s when we discovered all of the other things that were wrong with the camper, and my, the list is long.
I’m sure you don’t have all day, so I’ll just list them out. In addition to the safety problems, we found three light switches that weren’t even screwed in, random staples everywhere on the ceiling, a window valence that fell off a wall, and a bathtub that wasn’t even close to being installed correctly. In fact, the bathtub wasn’t even screwed in or secured, but just sitting in place. Because of this, there was a huge water leak when we tested the shower and tub. Amazingly, that wasn’t even the only place water was gushing out into the wrong places. The water heater also sprayed water all over everything inside and outside of the trailer.
Mind you, these were all problems in a trailer that at the time, was just four months old, never camped in, and still had factory plastic and stickers over everything. And we’re not done yet! The trailer’s body was also already falling apart. The perimeter of the Mallard has side skirt-like parts that our dealership calls J-channels. These thin pieces of metal are there for aerodynamics and style. The J-channels on our trailer appear to have been secured with self-tapping screws and one of them was halfway through a self-deletion process.
The body also had signs of a rushed, cheap build, like the sloppily-applied sealant around the windows. Also notable is the front end’s LED light strips, which looked like they came from Amazon and were already falling off.
Oh, and did I mention that this trailer, which was then just a few months old, already had rust on its frame?
Our dealer believed that there isn’t anything in the form of rust prevention there. Further, the dealer tech said that the trailer was actually delivered to the dealership from the factory with surface rust. The recommended solution is to spray paint it and ignore it.
It took a full year to fix all of this. Sometimes, the first fix didn’t work. For example, the bathtub was mounted by the dealership, but it was mounted in a horribly crooked position. It took two more visits before the bathtub was finally put in correctly. Other times, the dealer had to wait months for a part to come in. Our dealership said that they were swamped with work, so even when the part came in, there was additional waiting time because there are only so many technicians to work on so many broken campers.
Further complicating things was stuff going missing from the camper. Apparently, a new Mallard arrived from the factory without seat cushions. Our dealership took the still new cushions out of our camper and put them into the other Mallard. They then forgot to replace the cushions in our camper. So, we had to wait for those to come in. Eventually, we spent so much time waiting for things that the camping season was over.
The camper stayed at the dealership for the winter. Apparently, during the winter, someone cut through the dealership’s fence and then stole just about everything that wasn’t bolted down. The alleged thief entered our camper and stole everything from plates and silverware to towels.
Finally, after a year of trying to fix a camper that was broken from the factory, my family was able to take our first camping trip in the Mallard last weekend.
To prepare for the occasion, my parents bought a 2016 Ford F-350 to tow the trailer. Their Chevrolet Suburban did tow the trailer, but we were riding the SUV’s limits, which wasn’t good. The F-350 tows the trailer almost as if it’s not even back there. What an amazing difference having the right equipment makes. As a bonus, the truck–a former municipal vehicle–came with snazzy graphics that sort of match the trailer.
Anyway, things were fun until they became comical, and they became comical because somehow, after a year of repairs, the trailer is still broken!
We first discovered things weren’t quite right when we tried to turn on the kitchen’s LED lights, which now don’t work. That switch knows what it did wrong…
Then, we tried to open the refrigerator to put food in it. The door jammed on the second closure, and when we tried to clear the jam, the door responded by snapping off its handle. I couldn’t help but laugh so hard that I started crying. This is the kind of stuff from a comedy movie, but a dumb one like an Adam Sandler flick.
And we’re not done yet. We found that the water heater wasn’t working. While I was troubleshooting it, I opened up the outdoor kitchen, which revealed that the refrigerator had pulled itself from the wall, taking its holder with it. Meanwhile, the ceiling of the outdoor kitchen is separating, causing a snow of particle board dust.
Inside, we found that the window shades don’t like to stay open on their own and perhaps thanks to Chicago potholes, interior wall trim is falling off. Also comical is the fact that every single fixture mounted to the walls is crooked.
I did figure out what was wrong with the water heater. The valves were turned off and its breaker was switched off for the winter. This trailer was supposedly de-winterized, but I’m not sure about that. The water heater is conveniently located behind the battery disconnect. I turned on the valves, which gave us hot water…and a water leak. But hey, at least the water heater leaks only outside now.
Speaking of water leaks, the kitchen sink’s plumbing has a bad leak, and the rear door, found in the bathroom, is so poorly sealed that rainwater gets in. You can see the ground through the lack of seals!
So, our first outing with the Mallard was sort of a crapshow. We spent more time laughing (or crying, if you’re my parents who actually spent a ton of money on this) at all of the hilarious faults than enjoying ourselves. There’s no reason things should be this bad. It’s almost as if this camper was built with the least amount of care one could get away with. Thankfully, this trailer has a warranty, so it will keep on returning to the dealership until it works as it should. Sadly, the one thing that will never get fixed by the dealership is the rust, which has advanced in the past year. Check this out:
This trailer has never seen salt or been towed in winter!
I’m not sure if the trailer’s quality will ever be good, but I’m rooting for it because aside from the issues, the Mallard really is a fun rig. In our brief moments of having fun, I really enjoyed the outdoor stereo system and the beds are actually quite comfortable. I also love the power awning, the power stabilizer jacks, and the fact that I actually fit in the shower without feeling like I’m fighting the shower curtain. From a towing perspective, the Mallard tracks well and when it’s windy outside, the trailer doesn’t feel like it’s trying to yank the tow vehicle off of the road.
Also, the fact that the steps actually touch the ground with today’s campers is brilliant. No more feeling like you’re going to rip the steps out.
I reached out to Thor Industries – the parent company of Heartland RV – for comment on quality struggles in the industry. As of writing, I haven’t heard back. I didn’t hear back when I asked a similar question last year.
So, what should you take from all of this? For one, don’t buy a camper sight unseen. Go and take a look at the one you want in person before you exchange any money. While you are there, try not to let the camper’s awesome features and design blur your vision. Try to focus on how it’s built. Is it just a month old and already covered in rust? Don’t assume the camper is built like your house or your car. Look it over inch by inch. You might be surprised at what you find.
If you find out that the camper wasn’t built well, don’t fret! The great thing about the RV industry right now is that there are perhaps countless brands out there and a lot of them do care about quality. If one brand doesn’t jive well with you, try another!
As for our camper, it goes out for another outing this weekend. Hopefully, this time we’ll have more fun and spend less time inspecting things.
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The quality of rigs shipped out of Elkhart in recent years is laughably bad. People get sold on the bells and whistles and the idea of a lifestyle. These rigs have a life expectancy of maybe 5 years, with at least one of those being spent in the shop for warranty repairs. Its a bad enough situation that I think a class action or FTC investigation is warranted. People are losing enormous amounts of money on straight garbage.
Why would anyone ever buy these?
I don’t know how much your parents paid for that poor thing, but it seems like the trailer equivalent of a bike-shaped object.
We have a 2016 Jayco 5yth Wheel. Bought before the Thor takeover. It has had some issues, but has been reliable.Before it was a 2003 Sprinter travel trailer. Quality was similar between the two. More modern stuff is total garbage. Ours isn’t stellar, but I can’t believe how much worse quality has become. Add to this that you are usually stuck with the dealer you purchased from. Most will not work on a RV they didn’t sell. These are not like your auto that you can take to a different dealer if one is doing crappy repair work. Add to that, folks I have talked to say the manufacturers seem to care less than the dealers.
Add to this, the exact same model that we bought in 2016 is now double the cost….not the inflated MSRP, They are actually selling for double what we paid in 2016. 8 years to double in price. Crazy.
If anyone is interested in the RV life, buy a pre COVID used and fix/upgrade the small stuff. Warranties are pretty much useless.Buying used, ckeck EXTENSIVELY for water damage from both roof, windows, etc. and plumbing leaks. Water intrusion is a dead sentence for an RV.
Just looking at the garbage materials used for wood working when you lift up a hatch cover is deplorable. That OSB is meant for siding houses. It’s not meant for furniture and cabinetry. That’s what plywood is for. Oh and by the way – give it another 18 months in the mold will set in.
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