To Supersize... Or Not

The controversy still rages in the RV industry over whether to allow manufacturers to increase square footage in travel trailer coaches. Earlier this year, RVIA (the manufacturer-supported Recreational Vehicle Industry Association) relaxed a previous ruling that travel trailer coaches be built to no more than 320 square feet. Amidst considerable opposition from dealers and some manufacturers on safety grounds, the board still decided to allow for an increase to 400 square feet.

Now the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) is objecting, claiming that such "super-sized" vehicles are not regulated by federal safety standards. RPTIA further claims that federal laws only cover travel trailers up to the former square footage limit of 320 feet and that they would violate highway safety codes in at least 15 states. However, their allegations appear to be motivated primarily by the politics of competition (park trailers can be built to 400 square feet), since travel trailer square footage is not governed by federal law. Limitations on length and width exist in most states but not, apparently, on square footage.

Trailer manufacturers claim that they are not interested in building longer RVs, but that they will add square footage in the form of slideouts. This year, Carriage RV was the first to introduce a fifth wheel with a full-wall slide, and Heartland RV recently announced that the 38-foot model of their new North Country lightweight trailer line will be the first trailer coach under the new RVIA ruling to exceed the 320 square-foot limit. Other manufacturers will undoubtedly follow suit.

RVCG has never been happy about multiple slideouts. We agree with those manufacturers and dealers who originally objected to the 400 square-foot plan. Adding more slideouts increases weight and can upset balance and decrease payload. Increasing square footage by necessity adds weight, which will tend to decrease gas mileage — not something most RV trailer buyers want in this time of escalating gas prices.

Nevertheless, RV manufacturers will build larger trailers because they can — and because, with the current soft market, they need to exercise every angle to generate sales, as do the park trailer manufacturers. RVers need to be aware that adding size and weight to trailer coaches — already the least stable RVs on the road — will simply add to the potential hazards of trailer towing.