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Smashed Class A RV Larger

RV Motorhome Crash-Worthiness

I am 55 years old. I remember when I was a child and my parents bought a new car, a Chevrolet Bel-Air, and chose two options —basic lap belts and an AM radio. From those early days of the automobile industry first installing optional seat-belts, a great number of safety features have been mandated by the federal regulations concerning motor vehicles. Now vehicles are tested for crash-worthiness in many ways, which include many safety factors going far beyond lap belts and shoulder harnesses such as airbags, crumple zones, etc. Motor vehicles are dramatically safer, due to these regulations, than when I was a child in the 1960s. Unlike an automobile, the RV builders’ addition to the vehicle chassis is generally not subject to these detailed and demanding automobile safety regulations. Often the RV builders’ living quarters may have little or no crash-worthiness built into those additions.

In an earlier post, I discussed the different classifications for RVs. From a crash-worthiness standpoint (in the context of safety for an RV occupant traveling down the road), there are dramatic differences in safety between various RVs. First, presumably, nobody would be foolish enough to ride down the road in a pull-camper or fifth-wheel.

Destroyed RVs after relatively modest incidents

Rollover on the highway

Unfortunately, I have occasionally seen people who allow their children to ride in a pickup camper. None of these RVs have any crash-worthiness. No one should ride in them when traveling down the road – upon even modest impact they may almost disintegrate.

Unlike the trailers, it is common for people to ride in sections of motorized Class A and Class C RVs which may have little or no more crash-worthiness safety than a tow-able trailer in the event of an accident. Even within the various classes of RVs, there are dramatic differences in crash worthiness safety. One would assume that a large Class A motor home is fairly safe. Often, nothing could be further from the truth. One of the things all motorized RVs share, whether it be a Class A, B or C, is an initial foundation for the vehicle built by a major manufacturer, and then a living section generally built by a much smaller company, the RV builder. For example, generally the most expensive type of RV is the Class A motor home. The various class A motor homes vary dramatically in crash worthiness safety. The very highest end Class A motor homes are made from a diesel commercial bus-liner. The cost for these glamorous tour bus-style buses by high-end Prevost bus converters such as Marathon, Millenium, and Liberty, can be over $2 million for a new coach.

Marathon Coach Conversion

Because the foundation for these type of coaches (a commercial bus with safety designed into it) has a high degree of crash worthiness, the end result also is generally quite crash worthy. These high end luxury coaches depreciate quite quickly. (The Lee C. Henning P.C. Mobile Office is a Prevost Coach Conversion done by Executive Coach of Fox River Grove in 1985. It was purchased a few years ago for $40,000. I have spent more money on upgrades, however.)

In contrast to the commercial bus conversions, the more common Class A motor home is built on a flat truck chassis purchased from one of the major manufacturers such as Ford or General Motors. For example, see the attached photograph of a truck chassis.

Ford RV Chassis

The typically relatively small Class A motor home builder will then essentially build a stick-built home on top of that truck chassis. Unlike the extensive crash worthiness safety requirements for automobiles, the RV manufacturers may have little or no legal crash worthiness standards which apply to their work. I suspect some manufacturers may not even consider crash worthiness safety. I have seen a number of incidents where even at modest impact speeds, the stick-built home on top of the truck chassis will essentially slide off the chassis. Some manufacturers make a much greater effort to try to attach their stick-built “home” to the chassis than others. Although the modern Class A motor home built on a truck chassis may superficially look very similar to the bus conversion vehicles, there may be no similarity whatsoever in terms of structural integrity.

Vehicle almost cut in two

For example, attached is a picture of an which RV which turned over sideways on the road after striking the concrete barrier. As you can see, the vehicle is almost cut in two. Although the side impact was fairly modest, I would hate to have been anywhere in this vehicle when it tipped over. There probably is no more safety built into some of these vehicles than there would be riding in a pull-camper. While the original chassis may be very safe, the safety of the stick-built home may be highly questionable as it travels down the road. Also below is another photograph of a Class A motor home which slid along the side of a guardrail.

Class A Motorhome shredded

As you can see, the entire side of the motor home was torn off due to the lack of structural integrity.

I do not believe any of the regulations requiring safety for automobiles apply to the RV builders portion of these expensive, huge motor vehicles. From a crashworthiness standpoint, I believe the safety of many Class A motor homes (other than bus conversions), may be highly suspect.

Destroyed living space of Class C RVs

With Class C motor homes, there is more of a mixed bag. Remember, these are essentially a small commercial truck chassis, such as a U-Haul truck, with living arrangements built in. If you are riding in the original chassis, (including the driver or passenger area), you have a lot of crash worthiness built in by the original vehicle manufacturer.

Severely damaged Class C RV

However, if you are riding in the living quarters area, there is often little or no crash-worthiness built in. See attached photographs of Class C motor vehicle accidents.

From a crash worthiness standpoint, the section of an RV built by the RV manufacturer, as opposed to the original major manufacturer, may have little or no safety considerations designed into the vehicle. On the other hand, traveling in the portion of an RV built by a major manufacturer such as General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, or a bus builder such as Prevost, MCI, or Bluebird, may be quite safe. In my final post of this series discussing RV safety, I will talk about fire dangers.

About the Author

Lee HenningLee Henning is one of the founding partners of Henning, Keedy & Lee P.L.L.C. In 1995 Lee and his family relocated to the Flathead Valley, and he now practices throughout the state of Montana.View all posts by Lee Henning →

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