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Old 08-14-2011, 06:18 PM   #1
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In studying the various manufacturers' websites, I find it interesting that some claim that manufacturing their own frames is better than buying them from another company. The "buyers" say that they don't have to spend time and money engineering something that already exists. They then say the modify those purchased frames to meet their own needs. The "builders" say that it sames money to design and build to their own specifications from the beginning, and that the customer can then go to one place for any issues related to the frame or body (the manufacturer).

I realize that this could turn into a Chevy/Dodge/Ford fight, but when it comes down to it, is there a real difference? I do understand that building a chassis requires a fair investment in tools, space, and talent, and all of that costs money.

David, kb0zke
Mercury Mountaineer towing mpg 181(both sold)
1993 Foretravel U300 40'
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Old 08-14-2011, 06:48 PM   #2
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Adding to the mix, both Spartan and Freightliner will supply what they call a modular chassis. Basically they build a front end and arear end and the RV builder adds the middle of his own design. Winnebago and Fleetwood both take advantage of this to customize the chassis further and each puts their own name on the chassis.
Chassis builders buy their components from yet other companies, so maybe the RV builders figure they can just cut out the middle man. Axles come from a couple major suppliers, air suspensions, engines, transmissions, etc are all industry standard components anyway.

But I have yet to see anybody design and build a chassis that is noticeably better than any other. Each one has its own wrinkles and warts, and each gets improved over time. But when one wart is removed, another seems to crop up in its place.

Personally I would rather have a standard chassis that most shops know at least something about, and most parts are readily available. Freightliner and Spartan have nationwide service and a nationwide parts distribution system that mostly works pretty well.

Gary Brinck
2004 American Tradition; 2014 Buick LaCRosse
Homebase in the Ocala Nat'l Forest near Ocala, FL
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Old 08-14-2011, 07:02 PM   #3
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I agree with Gary. A company that has built for many years and have them traveling up and down the road 24 hrs a day is bound to have a better product. Don
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Old 08-14-2011, 07:33 PM   #4
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Good question, and one with no set answer in my opinion. Custom built/purpose built chassis can solve a lot of problems later on down the road. For instance I used to work for Kenworth Truck in Seattle on E. Marginal Way. Each truck frame was custom built for the exact items that truck was to have. If it had a Luberfiner filter, those holes were drilled in the frame. If it didn't, it didn't get those holes. Inserts or outserts were placed in areas of the frame where any reinforcement was thought to be needed by either the customer or KW. All the predicted loads were accounted for and the frame was custom made to handle those loads. Axles and other items were "off the shelf" and available at most any truck repair shop. Very little of the chassis was proprietary to that particular brand.

I don't believe that Ford knows or cares what load is put on their F550 chassis (within reason). They make a chassis and send it out the door not knowing whether it will be an ambulance or a MH or have a utility box put on to be a sofa repair truck, and expect the end manufacturer (your MH factory) to make sure the limits are known and understood. Your MH fabricator may or may not know all the weaknesses inherent in your particular chassis, they didn't do the engineering and Ford certainly isn't going to advertise where they have a weakness. And of course if you have a problem somewhere down the road, both companies know that they only have to blame the other to muddy the issue. It takes some deep pockets to sue Ford and Winnebago for the frame fracture that happens 5 years after you buy your rig. Even if 50 other rigs have exactly the same problem you can't find them all to make a class action case.

So I'm a fan of someone who makes a chassis that is designed specifically for MH use. Someone who knows that there is going to be basement compartments below the frame and what the overhang past the rear axle is. (angle of departure) I believe that is a better long term chassis than a multi purpose "cookie cutter" chassis.

I specifically wanted for lack of a better term "commercial" components in my MH. I don't want a "we make 75% of all our own parts" MH. Because when that model is discontinued they quit making replacements. When you need a replacement you may or may not be able to get one. If the stock of shower stalls for a 78 MiniWinnie is gone, they likely are gone forever. If you have a standard 42" shower stall, then you probably can get a new one. The same is true of chassis parts. Many front axles are interchangeable, rear ends, etc.

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Old 08-14-2011, 07:48 PM   #5
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I think it really depends on the capabilities of the motorhome manufacturer.

Bluebird and Foretravel make their own frames, and I doubt anyone here would say either would be a better coach if it was on a frieghtliner chassis.

Another worth talking about is Monaco, whose Roadmaster chassis is under about a zillion Monaco's, holiday ramblers, Beavers, and other monaco brands.
While the R4 series, with the breaking control arms, could be called a bit of a failure, the R8, with 2 airfbags and shocks per wheel, located way out on the corners, is at least something way different. Mine at least, seems to be a marvel at eliminating roll and sway.
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