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Old 08-03-2014, 03:08 PM   #1
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Alfa - the red-headed step child

We've been looking at upgrading our 96 Endeavor in preparation for this winters get-a-way. We've looked at quite a few new(er) coaches now, including, dare I say it, a couple of Alfa's.

As always, I search this site for insightful info before making any decisions on anything RV related, and man, do you guys hate Alfa. I've read every knock there is; HVAC is in the wrong place, cabinets suck, electrical/plumbing nightmares, lousy basement and of course lots and lots on the dreaded de-lam issue. I even ran into comments like "my brother had a friend who's neighbor had one once and hated it. I would never own one of the beasts." Really? Your brothers neighbors friend?

What I saw was a really roomy RV sitting on a Freightliner chassis pushed by a Cummins/Allison combo (a really big Cummins at that). The layout was well thought out, the appliance package the same stuff that goes into most A's, excellent storage, upgraded faucets, knobs, hinges etc, and fit and finish comparable to any other mid-grade RV we've looked at.

On the de-lam issue, it wasn't every Alfa, it was some manufacturing runs in some years that had the problem, and it seems that if an 8, 9 or 10 year old coach hasn't failed by now it is not going to. But de-lam aside, are these coaches *really* that much worse than any other "big box of gremlins" we drive down the road? Or has it become almost urban legend to hate Alfa because, well... everybody hates them so all that stuff must be true?

I've got no bias going into this thing at all. Am I missing something, because I didn't see much to hate, just another used coach with a few scratches here and there and slightly faded graphics. Nothing to warrant some of the past comments I read?

OK, shields up, fire away
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Old 08-03-2014, 04:18 PM   #2
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Our Dolphin has the same basement air system. We have very little problem keeping the heat in check, however the Alfa's have larger interior space and larger windows. I had looked at many Alfa's when they were in production, for some reason the cabinets always looked "Cheap", perhaps the light Oak just isn't to my liking. The floor plans were inventive, while some features were unusual. (Tip-out bedroom desk, large overhead TV above the bed to mention a few.) When in production, changes were made on a whim, making standardization almost non-existent, leading to problems down the road, mainly electrical.

BTW, some owners added roof top A/C units to improve hot weather cooling.

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Old 08-03-2014, 04:46 PM   #3
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Our Dolphin has the same basement air system. We have very little problem keeping the heat in check, however the Alfa's have larger interior space and larger windows.
Fred
My Endeavor has both ACs in the basement as well and we've never had a problem. In fact, now that I look around my sticks/bricks house my registers are all in the floor too I also like the cleaner ceiling look and a fewer holes in the roof (re: leaks) doesn't bother me either.

Interesting comment about changing designs on the fly, what I could find reading RV reviews from back in the day was Alfa tried really hard to standardize everything to contain costs. 3 models, very few options. Maybe I wasn't getting the whole story.

cheers...
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Old 08-03-2014, 04:47 PM   #4
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I am a tall person. When Alfa introduced the tall MH ceilings I was very interested. I toured some Alfa coaches and was impressed with some design features. Then I really started to do some research. Alfa is no longer on my short list. As mentioned before, using the search feature of this forum and others, will reveal reasons I chose to go in another direction.
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Old 08-03-2014, 05:15 PM   #5
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...lousy basement and of course lots and lots on the dreaded de-lam issue. ...

On the de-lam issue, it wasn't every Alfa, it was some manufacturing runs in some years that had the problem, and it seems that if an 8, 9 or 10 year old coach hasn't failed by now it is not going to.
I've never heard complaints about the basement. What's wrong with it? We took out the sliding trays and have room in there for two windsurf boards, masts, booms, sails, two 2' x 3' x 6" boxes of windsurfing and bicycle parts, two sets of golf clubs, a folding bicycle, about 300 feet of garden hose, and one of those freezers that opens from the top. If we didn't use that space for storage, I'd consider renting it out as an apartment. It has an air conditioning vent.

I have to disagree on the delamination. The affected areas are generally localized, and on our 12-year-old Alfa, I've got some new areas popping up, far from the areas that already had them. Still, most of the coach is unaffected, so far.

The vast majority of blisters are in areas where there's probably water intrusion. The compartment doors are particularly susceptible, especially the one for the water/sewer compartment, which on a lot of coaches sits right under the external fresh water fill and overflow vent.

From what I can tell, it's not limited to certain manufacturing runs or certain years, and has a lot to do with whether the coach has been exposed to really cold weather (freezing and expanding water trapped in walls). Lots of people have reported seeing their first blisters after experiencing freezing temperatures.

And Fred, you're right on with the windows. The windows make an Alfa great for living in, but if it's sunny, they do bring the heat. But it's a trade-off I'm willing to make (and I don't have a roof air unit and really don't want one because they're noisy). But I fulltime and spend a lot of time in this thing; if someone is using it just for vacations, having big windows may not be important. They sure sell a lot of RVs with low, small windows, so somebody's buying them.
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Old 08-03-2014, 05:37 PM   #6
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Interesting comment about changing designs on the fly, what I could find reading RV reviews from back in the day was Alfa tried really hard to standardize everything to contain costs. 3 models, very few options. Maybe I wasn't getting the whole story.
Here's an example of a change on the fly: on early coaches, the plug behind the refrigerator didn't go through the inverter. At some point, Alfa started putting half of that plug on the inverter, so the ice maker would run off that. It had nothing to do with a given year or anything--they just changed it one day.

Back at the very beginning, there was a lot of owner input with the company, and they actually paid attention and made changes as things came up.

And they made bigger changes, like in floor plans or choice of engine, but I don't think those had a hard correlation to year models, either. Early on, they had two lengths of See Ya (40 foot and I think 36-foot), and each could have either a split bath or a one-room bathroom, and a dinette table or a booth. Then they added the more upscale Gold line, and then the lower-end Founder line, and then the So Long with the full-wall slide (which I'm not sure was a See Ya or a Gold, or even a Founder--I only vaguely kept up because I read the owners' forum but am content with my 2003).

But they never had a big list of individual options and upgrades like I've seen for other RVs. So in that way, they were standardized more than most other companies' RVs.
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Old 08-03-2014, 06:50 PM   #7
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I've never heard complaints about the basement. What's wrong with it?



I have to disagree on the delamination. The affected areas are generally localized, and on our 12-year-old Alfa, I've got some new areas popping up, far from the areas that already had them.


From what I can tell, it's not limited to certain manufacturing runs or certain years, and has a lot to do with whether the coach has been exposed to really cold weather (freezing and expanding water trapped in walls). Lots of people have reported seeing their first blisters after experiencing freezing temperatures.
Much of the basement bashing had to do with the doors being too small. I suspect it was just people piling on Alfa at that point, I didn't see much problem myself, but that's just me.

So your saying the de-lam problem was around right up to the end? Even after they identified the bad supplier they still didn't change materials? Yikes! Good to know.
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Old 08-03-2014, 09:05 PM   #8
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The siding problems are not delam as I understand it. I believe they called it gel pop.
The affected areas look like someone shot the fiberglass with a 12 gauge shotgun.
I looked at a few before I bought my current coach and decided quickly I wouldn't own one if they gave it to me.
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Old 08-04-2014, 08:59 AM   #9
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We camp every 4th across from owners of a 12 year old Alfa. They say they love it and have had no problems with it. They intend to redo the inside in the next two years.
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Old 08-04-2014, 11:13 AM   #10
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Much of the basement bashing had to do with the doors being too small. I suspect it was just people piling on Alfa at that point, I didn't see much problem myself, but that's just me.
That's weird. I don't love the design of the doors because they're not very sleek, like on some other coaches, but I've never thought there was anything wrong with the size of them.

I remember people complaining about the high cabinets, which would really puzzle me. If you don't like them, don't use them; even without them Alfas still have plenty of storage space. Or put infrequently accessed things in there and use a step-stool or even the coffee table to stand on. Somehow Alfa managed to have these huge cabinets up there and still have bigger-than-typical windows, so I never saw the problem. I wouldn't consider their mere existence an issue, but people said they'd never buy an Alfa because of those high cabinets.

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So your saying the de-lam problem was around right up to the end? Even after they identified the bad supplier they still didn't change materials? Yikes! Good to know.
HicksRA is right--it's not really like classic delamination, and more similar to what happens on boats. The ones on one of my cargo doors are often mistaken for road chips. People generally call them blisters.

There was a lot of finger-pointing as to the cause. Alfa, of course, blamed Crane Composites, the manufacturer of the filon. Crane blamed user error in failing to properly seal everything and keep it properly sealed. All of this reached a peak right as the economy tanked, and Alfa went out of business. So the problem never got fully addressed at the manufacturing level.

Nobody really knows with any certainty why the blisters occur. There are a lot of opinions. Mine is that the main cause is water intrusion, which might cause blisters on its own. But put the coach in freezing temperatures with water inside a sidewall, and the water will expand and can pop the exterior surface. If there's a defect in the sidewall material (filon), then that could make the problem even worse. And Alfa didn't do anybody any favors by, for example, drilling a 2" hole in the sidewall for wires for the awning support, and then not filling in the hole before installing the awning support over it.

There are just too many variables to be able to pinpoint a cause, but there is a strong correlation between being in freezing temperatures and having blisters, and the blisters are usually near a place where there could be water intrusion. Then again, some of them are in more random places, and some coaches that have never been in freezing temperatures have blisters. And some coaches don't have any at all.

But when people have blistered sidewalls removed and replaced, I think there has always been evidence of water intrusion. But other manufacturers' coaches get water in their sidewalls and don't get blisters. So I think there's a combination of several factors and we'll never get to the bottom of it.
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Old 08-04-2014, 02:10 PM   #11
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We really wanted a light colored interior with plenty of windows, and gave Alfa's a lot of consideration. We were even willing to risk the delamination issues (of course, at that time, we didn't know we'd be spending 2 years in Wyoming!). Then we stumbled across the MHC Summit (for some reason, there seem to be lots more of them now on the market) and it fulfilled those very same requirements but with what were, for us, an even better floorplan (and for the gearhead in me, a side radiator and IFS!).

I think if you find one that's nice, and you like it, go for it. If you like your living room cool even when it's 100 degrees out and there's no shade, just plan on the 3rd a/c mod.

Steve
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Old 08-04-2014, 02:28 PM   #12
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I looked at a few, and would have considered one in spite of some of it's warts, but every one I saw was overpriced.
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Old 08-04-2014, 08:08 PM   #13
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I think you are right about the cold and freezing. Bought mine a year ago repaired every one of the pox. They were fine until I return from florida in February to below 0 temp. Most all of the repaired blew back out and a few more. Have worked with Fiberglas for 20 years ,ASE master tech. Filling them again but with softer material we'll see what happens next. Love the R V and if it craters out ill just fix it. Heard all kinds of bad stories but have seen so many of the high dollar RV that couldn't make the first trip with out breaking down. So buckle up butter cup.

Jerry. 2004 See Ya / 300 cat/ ford escape
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Old 08-04-2014, 11:31 PM   #14
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I think you are right about the cold and freezing. Bought mine a year ago repaired every one of the pox. They were fine until I return from florida in February to below 0 temp. Most all of the repaired blew back out and a few more. Have worked with Fiberglas for 20 years ,ASE master tech. Filling them again but with softer material we'll see what happens next. Love the R V and if it craters out ill just fix it. Heard all kinds of bad stories but have seen so many of the high dollar RV that couldn't make the first trip with out breaking down. So buckle up butter cup.

Jerry. 2004 See Ya / 300 cat/ ford escape
Very strange indeed. Some fail, some don't. Some don't until they experience cold weather. High correlation with water intrusion, but not consistently so and only Alfa exhibits the problem at a frequency high enough to earn the bad rap. And yet all rigs get wet and most will go through a freeze/thaw cycle at some point in their life. Heck, when I open a basement door after a hard rain or a good wash, water comes pouring out of the back of the lock mechanism, but my siding looks fine.

Got to be something peculiar to Alfa, either construction methodology or material (the skin, the sealants or both). But if it was skin or sealants wouldn't failures be more consistent?

We've looked at a couple now and have an appointment to see one Wednesday (along with a Discovery and few others). This 2004 Alfa has been in northern Utah for the last 3 years and shows no symptoms. I asked the owner if it had lived in a heated garage through the winters and he said no, it sits outside. Which brings me back to my original postulation (with an update); if a ten year old coach was going to fail it would have failed by now (as long as it has been subjected to multiple freeze/thaw cycles).

So here's the $64k question; what's the end game with a coach that comes down with "gel pop" syndrome? Do little circular pieces of skin just keep coming off until one day you are driving down the road in a naked skeleton?

OK seriously, is this entirely cosmetic or does it progress to the point of structural failure? I mean is this just Alfa's version of faded graphics? To be honest I'm not quite as shiny as I once was either, but with luck DW won't be kicking me out over a few pox marks
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