The walls in an RV are made up of supports similar to the walls of a stick home. When they weld the aluminum joints together to make sure they have a smooth surface to place the outer skin on they grind down the weld points This frame is then filled with its insulation material and then the interior and exterior walls are adhered to it. We observed the frames being produced off site from the Vanleigh factory and then watched as they produced the walls onsite at the plant.
The walls are then screwed and bolted to the steel frame of the RV all supporting each other as they come together. I likened the process to that of making a waffle house – nothing could really stand on its own without the support of something else.
The vertical beams that come down next to a large open area (such as a slide) have extra stress placed on them. Add that stress along with the weakened weld from grinding it smooth and some steel frame flex while traveling and you get a break. These weld breaks are not unique to Vanleigh and are experienced across brands. Vanleigh has had a large influx of the issue occurring in the past year. When we first found out this was happening it was some of the older 2019 units and I was told that it was no longer an issue with the new units. We continued to hear other Vanleigh owners experiencing frame breaks so I started doing research on the issue from those owners and a few technicians to better understand the problem.
There are three issues that initially show similar symptoms and it took some digging to understand all three.
1. Lag bolts breaking: I had seen several posts of the trim around the archway separating from the unit while the rig was under load. After speaking with several owners I found that the issue was the lag bolts that hold the wall onto the steel frame. Those bolts would either back out or break due to no material in the frame for them to “bite” into. This is addressed by taking off the cap and adding wood into the steel frame channel.
2. No wood in channel: The initial symptoms are the trim on the archway separating from the unit. The first attempt at a fix was removing all of the screws and using longer ones. The long term fix was taking off the cap and adding wood to the aluminum channel of the wall so that those trim screws could have something again to “bite” into. On the Vanleighs specifically the there are three wall channels that have wood in them (or at least on my model year and above).
3. Aluminum Frame Break: This is what I covered at the beginning of the post so I wont cover the details again. However I knew that I had wood in my channels since we were onsite during our build. So I was prepared that if I ever saw the separation that other users were experiencing I knew I had a break.
How it CAN be fixed
The aluminum frame break is avoidable and correctable by using gussets at the weak locations to add strength. Affinity RV in Indiana addresses the issue by adding gussets to both sides and both top and bottom of the vertical supports. Vanleigh RV stated during our stay in Redbay that they were aware that gussets would correct the issue. We asked the technicians that did the repair on our unit at the Tiffin Service Center for gussets and were told they could not add them. We arranged for a meeting with the Director of Warranty and Service of Vanleigh and again were told they could not be added to our repair.
Below are pictures showing the walls at the plant prior to having the out skin adhered, an illustration of the supports and the broken points and an illustration of the gussets that could be added for support.