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RV Buyers’ Guide – Chassis and construction

by SmartRV | Jan 14, 2019
Fiat Ducato chassis for motorhomes is the most widely used base

Motorhome features like layout, berths and storage are all important considerations when looking to buy an RV, but elements like the chassis and construction are critical too, as they are key to a vehicle’s overall quality.

The chassis is crucial when it comes to on-road performance and safety, while the construction will determine the vehicle’s weight, durability, thermal properties and ease of repair and maintenance.

Chassis

The chassis of an RV underpins (literally) its on-road performance and handling. While there are several brands used by motorhome manufacturers around the world (European, Japanese and Chinese), the most widely used chassis by far is the Fiat Ducato.

Fiat Ducato is the only base created specifically for motorhomes and the majority of new motorhomes use it in their construction due to its suitability and reliability. Fiat also offers top of the range warranties and reduced fuel emissions with options like the stop-start and six-speed automatic gearbox.

Motorhomes on a Fiat Ducato chassis drive more like a car, and have a smooth ride and a car-like cab. The chassis also offers an excellent turning circle, meaning manoeuvring your motorhome is much easier, even if you’re caught in a tight spot.

Mercedes is another popular provider of chassis. As a manufacturer of premium European vehicles, its motorhome chassis are highly regarded and often found in top-of-the-line motorhome brands.

Be sure to ask about the chassis in any RV you are looking to buy. Knowing whether it has come from a well-known manufacturer or is a lesser-known brand will give you an idea of how easily you will be able to source parts or servicing for it locally.

Construction

Very early RVs used wooden frames with metal or fibreglass panels to create a strong and solid, albeit heavy vehicle. A heavy vehicle was considered to be the most robust, but wood can rot, and when it does it may be hidden.

Laminates looked to solve this issue, but it was then discovered that they could delaminate. Some contemporary motorhome manufacturers may have solved these issues using strong, bonded laminates, and sometimes these are paired with technology developed for the aircraft industry. This includes honeycomb construction, which is both light and strong, and closed pore polyurethane foam, which is impervious to water and provides excellent thermal properties.

Aluminium and fibreglass are used for light, waterproof construction that has strength and durability. A lighter vehicle can save money on fuel and on-road costs; as well as on the type of licence you will need to drive it.
Aluminium: powder coated aluminium will give an easy maintenance finish but is more susceptible to dents.
Fibreglass: more dent-resistant but heavier. A fibreglass finish can fade over time and may require more maintenance to keep it looking good.

Always ask for details of the motorhome’s construction and what has been used beneath its exterior panels. Good quality insulation will ensure you are comfortable in your motorhome year-round.

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