You know what makes me crazy? What makes me want to drive over a cliff just to get a change of scenery?
Well I'll tell you: following a recreational vehicle up an incline on a two-lane road with a double yellow line at 10 mph under the speed limit!
And you know what makes me want to yank the plastic patio chairs and the ``Ask me about my grandchildren'' bumper sticker right off the back of RVs? Two campers having a drag race in both lanes of an Interstate...at 50 miles per hour. These people are not in a hurry, they've got all the time in the world. They're on vacation!
Now, as you know, I like trucks. I understand trucks. I know that trucks don't gear up as fast as cars, handle as well, nor do they stop as fast as a four-wheeler. But for the most part (and yes, there are exceptions) they are driven professionally and intelligently.
But RVs are in a whole other world. These people are amateur drivers of large vacation vehicles as opposed to professional drivers of large, vocational vehicles.
To illustrate the difference, if you fly a lot on business you know the rules, how many pieces of luggage you can carry on, where to put it and how to find your seat.
It's the vacation travelers that take the longest time getting on the plane, herding the kids down the aisle, finding their seats and stowing their luggage (less the pieces they had to check at the gate as you waited in line to board the plane behind them). These people are annoying.
If you travel on business you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, I'm probably talking about you!
But I'm not taking issue with airplane travelers-it's RVers that are driving me loony this summer.
How about you? Have you had your share of Earl and Wanda Mae this season servicing their truck camper and tires? I understand that in general tire dealers just hate to see RVs pull into their service centers.
RVers are notorious for taking up service bay time as well as your staff's time and patience just to shoot the breeze and figure out where the heck they are.
Well, although these people may be driving the rest of us over the brink, they are a golden business opportunity and a force with which to be reckoned. RVers buy more than 28 million quarts of motor oil, 4 million oil filters and 3 million tires per year.
RV ownership is currently estimated to be between 9 million and 10 million and includes everything from $3,000 pop-ups to half-a-million-dollar motor homes. Recreation vehicle types include truck campers, folding camping trailers, travel trailers, Class C and Class A motor homes.
U.S. ownership of recreation vehicles has reached record levels, according to a new study by the University of Michigan. Nearly one in 12 U.S. vehicle-owning households now owns an RV.
That's nearly 7 million households-an increase of 7.8 percent over the past four years.
A leading force behind RV ownership's upswing is the baby boomer market of consumers 35 to 54 years old. In fact, over the past four years the number of RVs owned by those in this age group grew faster than all other age groups.
However, the seniors still rule this market where nearly 10 percent of those 55 and over own an RV, which slightly exceeds the 8.9 percent ownership rates of 35- to 54-year olds.
The typical RVer
Today's typical RV owner is 49 years old, married, with an annual household income of $56,000-which is higher than the median for all households. RV owners are likely to own their homes and spend their disposable income on traveling an average of 4,500 miles and 28 to 35 days annually, according to industry surveys.
This year the number of RVs on the road has grown considerably as falling gas prices, low interest rates and the aftershock of 9/11 has encouraged more Americans to take to the road and eschew air travel.
Just as the RV demographics are changing, so are recreation vehicles. Today's RVs are loaded with innovative features and cool gadgets to attract new generations of buyers.
Traditional amenities such as fully equipped kitchens and baths, central heat/air conditioning and queen-sized beds are now co-mingled with new high-tech entertainment and communications systems.
The most popular electronic gadgets found on RVs are TVs, VCRs, satellite dishes, video game systems, cellular phones, laptops and PCs, and surround-sound CD and DVD players with individual headphones. Other high-tech options include automatic leveling systems and closed-circuit rear-view cameras for backing up.
RVs also come equipped with power window curtains/shades, touch-screens to control the RV's environment, seats with built-in heat and massagers, built-in recharging stations for two-way radios, automatic ice makers, freezers that fit in the RV's ``basement,'' docking stations for portable coolers and fold-out exterior barbecue grills.
As you can see, RVers like to take all the comforts of home with them on the road. And they do just that. The great majority loads almost everything they own into these rolling villas.
A study conducted in 1992 and 1993 found that consumers tend to unknowingly overload the tires and wheels on their RVs after they purchase the vehicles by loading all their personal belongings in them.
Of the 9,000 recreation vehicles surveyed, 23 percent exceeded the tire load capacities.
Users load RVs ``by volume'' not ``by weight'' as truckers know to do.
Not surprisingly, the rear axle and tires carry the majority of the load, with 40 percent of the measured loads of RVs exceeding the total load capacity of the rear tires.
In addition, 85 percent of RVs were found to be loaded more heavily on either the left or right end of the rear axle rather than evenly loaded. And of these, 27 percent had more than 400 pounds shifted to one side.
A more recent survey conducted by Bridgestone/Firestone on 39 motorhomes found that 62 percent of the tires checked were underinflated when compared with the vehicle placard, and 37 percent of these tires were 10 psi or more underinflated.
Eighty-two percent of the vehicles measured had at least one underinflated tire.
Not surprisingly, 39 percent of the motorhome owners in this survey indicated that they check inflation pressure less frequently than every six months. (At 1-psi loss of pressure per month, these tires could easily be running at 6 psi underinflated.)
Fifteen percent of the dual tires could not be checked for air pressure due to inaccessible or not visible valves.
Due to the fact that RVs accumulate lower annual mileage than automobiles used all the time, many older tires can be found on these vehicles. In the Bridgestone/Firestone survey, 22 percent were seven years or older.
This survey also found that 42 percent of motorhomes were overloaded. The average overloaded vehicle weighed 900 pounds more than it should have.
Is it any wonder then that the majority of tire failures on these vehicles is caused by overloading and/or underinflation? Is it any wonder these vehicles can't go up hills faster than they do?
Market growth forecast
A wide range of tire sizes are used on truck campers, folding camping trailers, travel trailers, Class C and Class A motor homes since their GVWRs (gross vehicle weight ratings) cover a broad range. The smallest tires on travel trailers I've found are 175/80R13C and the largest found on Class A motorhomes are 295/80R22.5s with just about everything in between, such as 205/75R14, 225/75R15, LT225/75R16 etc. Obviously, RVs cross both the retail and commercial tire markets.
Long-term signs point to substantial RV market growth because of favorable demographic trends.
As baby boomers enter their prime RV buying years over the next decade, it is estimated that the number of RV owning households will rise to nearly 8 million in 2010. (Among all U.S. households, one in five intends to purchase an RV in the future.)
That means there are going to be millions and millions of used and abused RV tires being dragged down the highways. And millions and millions of opportunities for tire dealers.
You can tap into this market by making your business attractive to RVers.
Post big signs to make sure RVers know they are welcome. Maintain good relationships with nearby campgrounds and leave brochures at campground offices.
Attend an RV show and a Good Sam ``Sambree'' in your area and pass out coupons and/or ``goodie'' bags to get acquainted with RVers. Make sure your staff knows about the coupons you pass out and how to redeem them.
Then sit back and wait for Earl and Wanda Mae to show up. It'll only be a matter of time.