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You hit the road every summer, whether you own an RV or not, and you see that the highways of America are absolutely packed with RVs. The more and more you see, the more features you notice are similar.
Not only are the features similar, they’re all ugly as heck.
But why might this be the case? You’re not the only one who’s noticed how ugly RVs are; living full-time in various state parks, I can attest that most rigs are unattractive, both inside and out.
While this is just one writer’s opinion, these may be some of the reasons why so many RVs are so ugly.
RV Design Peaked (And Never Changed Again)
Whether it’s a rig from 1990 or 2020, you’ll only be able to tell by the wear and tear. Exterior designs on most all RVs and motorhomes haven’t changed much since the 90s. While the 70s and 80s had their own special design favorites, the signature swooshes and waves on the side of modern RVs originated in the 90s- and we’re still living with this choice today.
Apparently, there was a period of time in the late 80s, early 90s where everyone was airbrushing the sides of their vans. Some people did intricate murals, others opted for simple swooshes and stripes. One theory for why RVs might be so ugly is based on this knowledge.
Designs across manufacturers are similar, and manufacturers have not updated their individual designs since the 90s either. You sell your old family Jayco and buy a new one, it might look strikingly similar (but hopefully lighter weight). There’s been a bit of change to the interiors of rigs, but exteriors still remain not so distant relatives of their 90s brothers.
Have You Heard of Elkhart, Indiana?
I hadn’t either, until researching RVs. Apparently, almost 80 percent of all RV manufacturing worldwide happens within a small radius of Elkhart, Indiana. Wild, don’t you think? I never would have guessed that was the case, especially living in the Pacific Northwest, where RVing is so popular.
Another theory leading to the ugliness of RVs is this simple manufacturing fact: that someone in this region of Indiana made the decision to cover their motorhome in beige cyclones and every other manufacturer followed suit. Perhaps the decals were made en masse, or maybe everyone realized this was the design that was selling.
No matter the reason why, Elkhart, Indiana is one major player in the game of ugly RVs. Maybe they went with these designs because they knew what they were up to: forcing all of us to put up with their terrible design choices! Hard to say, but if you live near Elkhart, can you ask them for me?
Old People Love RVs (And Hate Change)
I may be a jaded twenty-something, but research shows that old people (age 60 and older) love RVs, and often retire and utilize them for their vacations as they age. Some old people even choose to retire and live in their rigs, volunteering at state parks across the nation.
Research apparently says that old people don’t have much taste. The demographic that normally buys these ugly motorhomes and 5th wheels haven’t gotten the designs changed yet. And if the older generation can’t get their way, who can!?
Boomer jokes aside, it would appear that most of the people who can afford these ugly rigs don’t mind that they’re ugly. Or, worse yet, they like the design. While the younger generations are all about van conversions and updating vintage rigs (myself included), the older generations seem content with their swirls and beige, both inside and out.
Not Your Mother’s Greyhound Bus
An interesting theory for why RVs are so ugly is that they were originally designed to look different from regular buses and semi trucks. As rigs get bigger and bigger, there’s no surprise that people might think they’re passing a professional vehicle on the freeway. The decals and silly paint jobs are so other people don’t assume you’re driving a Greyhound bus around!
This may not matter to most people, but perhaps the decals have helped one or two campers in the past. Could you imagine someone trying to board your motorhome, as if they thought it was a bus!?
While this may be a stretch of a theory, it’s not a bad one. It’s especially not a bad theory nowadays given how many people have converted school busses! It would seem that the swirls and arcs of boring beige paint are marks of the RV, nothing more, nothing less.
Cheap Materials= Ugly Results
A theory that most RVers can get behind is that most rigs are made quickly and on the cheaper side nowadays than they ever have been before. The free market has allowed for more and more RV manufacturers, so many that it’s hard to keep up with all of your options! The only way for so many RVs and RV manufacturers to exist is to build them cheaply.
While the outside of most rigs are built similarly nowadays, you may not notice any sort of shirking of materials. It’s all plastic, maybe fiberglass, all easy to bend or break or dent, meaning you’ll need a new rig in less than a decade.
The insides of these rigs is where the quality continues to suffer. From the upholstery to the floorboards, RVs are not built to last very long, and so why spend the time trying to make it look nice? It’s all about making the cheapest, quickest product, much like the majority of the free market. Who can do it faster, and who can do it cheaper?
This is especially true of RV manufacturing in the year 2020. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, RVing has taken off from coast to coast. Most people must’ve traded their yearly vacation for an RV, as RV purchases rose anywhere from 5-50% across the country during 2020.
There are still some trustworthy brands out there, RV manufacturers that have been in business for the long haul. And there are some rigs that are still made to order, with options for customization of interior materials. However, the waitlist for most of these rigs is exponentially longer now, and you’ll always be paying a pretty penny for something you choose to customize.
It’s Nobody’s Full-Time Home, Right?
My favorite theory as to why RVs are so ugly is that nobody has to look at their rig every single day. Unless you’re like me and you have chosen to live in one full time. Granted, I didn’t have the budget for a brand new, exceedingly ugly rig. I bought vintage, a 1976 that remains timeless and cute to this day.
It did not begin so cute, however; the entire interior was covered in faux wood panelling and orange linoleum. Thankfully the outside remains vintage and adorable, while the interior has received a modern upgrade by yours truly.
Of course, most people don’t have to live inside their RV, which is why this is my favorite theory. I think if people had to live full time in their rigs they would wonder why RVs these days (all days, really) are so ugly.
RVs are hotels on wheels, mini houses you can park and stay in as you please. So why make the furnishings unique or special, just like hotels? Keep the curtains beige, keep the walls beige, keep the floors and cupboards and trim all a different shade of beige. It’s just a hotel on wheels, right?
Let’s Stand Out- But Not in a Good Way
I am the first person to point out an ugly RV. Living in a state park, I see the newest and shiniest rigs, and I am the first to laugh at some of the names and color choices. Why do they look the way they do?
The best I can come up with is that RV manufacturers are trying to stand out in a sea of rigs. Much like I discussed earlier about the free market and building rigs on the cheap, there’s such a saturation of products on the market it’s hard to be noticed if you’re new to the RV manufacturing game.
So some of these geniuses have decided to call their rigs “Genesis” or “Shockwave” or “Vengeance” or “Fuzion” (yes, with a z), and they’ve dolled up these atrociously named rigs with even more atrociously designed color schemes and motifs. These competitors have to stand out somehow, and perhaps naming their rigs laughable names is helping their brand.
You’re Not Going to Repaint After Spending So Much Money
If you have the budget for a brand new RV, you want what you want and you should get what you want. However, it would seem that the demand isn’t quite there yet for custom built RVs (unless you’ve got a friend and/or even more money).
So when you walk onto an RV lot and see a whole mess of ugly RVs, you are no doubt disappointed. But what else can you do but buy an ugly RV, since there aren’t any other options? I believe one of the reasons we see so many ugly rigs is that no one is willing to modify them after purchasing them.
And I don’t blame you! After spending thousands of dollars on a brand new item, why spend even more money (and especially time) trying to make it cute inside and out? It is a whole lot easier to just live in a beige castle than try to add personality to something you have spent so much on.
Maybe we should just be putting pressure on RV manufacturers to make less ugly RVs…
So What Rigs AREN’T Ugly?
Well, this is a tough question. I suppose it all depends on what you think is an ugly rig.
You can always convert a cute vintage rig, if you don’t find the lime and burnt orange stripes to be too ugly. There are even brands that are billing themselves as retro, designing brand new rigs to look old. Check out Airstreams or Happier Campers or the T@B Teardrops. This is the way to go if you can afford it, as most vintage rigs need a decent amount of love to be livable.
I’m a fan of most all fiberglass trailers, like Casitas or Scamps. These are brands that have been around for quite some time, and they are built to last. Some newer names to the game in the fiberglass world are Escape and Oliver. These are great little rigs, though they may still be too ugly for some of you.
Most RV brands that have been around for some time have models that are tolerable. Granted, you may find a silly decal here or there, but thankfully they’ve done some work to their overall vibe, both inside and out. Jayco, Lance, and Forest River should have some tolerable designs out there with the skills and customer service to back it up. However, I don’t know what it is about toy haulers; they’re always the ugliest and most ill named.
Rigs that are customizable from the manufacturer are few and far between. Choosing from two or three color schemes isn’t the same as choosing specific design options, and often these manufacturer color schemes are beige on beige on beige.
However, if choosing your cabinetry, flooring, counters, and upholstery is important to you, reach out to the manufacturer of whatever RV brand you are considering. They may have more flexibility than you realize. Escapes, for example, are custom built to order, and they will allow you to provide your own fabrics and flooring. They’ll install it, no problem. Why can’t all RV manufacturers be like this!?
Whether you’re shopping for an RV and noticing some similarities, or have been to one too many truck stops full of ugly rigs, there’s no doubt about RVs and their design. Both inside and out, RVs are lacking some major personality, and it’s about time we changed that! No matter how long you plan on sleeping in your RV, shouldn’t you be sleeping in something stylish?