RV Delamination And Cracks: Both Are Serious Issues

motorhome-with-delamination-problems-bullyans.jpg About 20 years ago, a new method of RV construction came on the market: smooth fiberglass exterior walls constructed by sandwiching an outer skin of smooth fiberglass with the frame structure and Styrofoam or fiberglass insulation in the middle and the interior wall paneling on the interior.

With adhesive between the different layers, it was intended to create a bonded single unit wall panel that greatly decreased the labor involved with building an RV.

An additional benefit was the fact that the new sidewalls had better aerodynamics. Plus, the new smooth look improved the sale of RVs from trailers to motorhomes.

As with many new methods it all looked real good in the beginning.  But soon, a few bugs came to the surface.  After a few years, some of the early models started having problems with the ply’s or layers of the wall structure starting to come apart (or delaminate).

 

What To Look For

The first evidence of a delamination problem is bubbles (or blisters) forming on the sidewalls as the luan plywood under the outer fiberglass layer breaks down, allowing it to pull away from the wall structure.

Delamination is generally caused by moisture infiltrating the wall and destroying the integrity of the luan plywood.

Flexing in the wall structure can also lead to the adhesive failing or cracks developing.  Cracks are another similar issue that will rapidly send the value of your investment plummeting.

delamination-on-motorhome-bullyans.jpg

 

Speaking From Experience

I had a 1993 Winnebago motorhome that had a crack develop as I was preparing for a trip from Minnesota to Arizona one February.  The crack ran from the corner of the kitchen window at an angle down toward an access panel.

An older Class C mini-home I once owned also had cracks at both lower corners of the window in the center of the back wall.

Here’s the bad news.  Both delamination and cracks are very expensive and sometimes impossible to properly repair unless the complete sidewall of the unit is removed and replaced.

 

How To Fix Cracks & Delamination Problems

Some body shops suggest that by cutting out the affected area of outer fiberglass and removing the damaged luan plywood, you can then replace the plywood with new substructure and re-glue the fiberglass panel back in place.  The finished repair will surly be visible unless masqueraded with a large decal.

fiberglass-repair-and-construction-handbook.jpg I tried fiberglass patches, layering a couple strips of new fiberglass over the crack and smoothing with Bondo.  Within the first day of driving, the cracks reappeared — going right through the new fiberglass.  Both attempts to make cost-effective repairs failed quickly.

I was lucky.  Under a special warranty program, the Winnebago factory covered the cost of my sidewall replacement for that particular RV..  The cracking situation I experienced was determined to be a design problem, and they stood behind their product.

Buyer Beware: If You Spot Delamination Or Cracks

Over the years, I’ve seen many RVs that have delamination issues that just continue to get worse.

This should be a huge red flag if you’re shopping for a used RV of any make or model.

If you detect any area where you feel the fiberglass has pulled away from the inner structure, just pass that RV by.

In some instances structural integrity of the whole RV has been compromised.  The wall skin supplies some of the strength of the entire wall.  Picture it like your house without the outer skin being attached to the studs.  The house would be weakened to the point of collapse.

The cost of replacing a sidewall would likely surpass the total value of the entire RV.  As the delamination gets worse — and it will — the value of your investment will slide downhill rapidly.

Unless you’ve managed to secure a deal good enough that you can overlook the damage, the best choice is to look at a different RV.

Resale value will be drastically reduced in the future.  Not many people will be interested in buying an RV that suffers from terminal delamination.

Curtis Carper

I’ve been involved in RVing for over 40 yrs -- including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking at home, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you've got a good idea of who I am.

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  • John

    Curtis, good article, I wish I had of read it before I bought my motorhome. Well, I may be okay but not sure.. We bought a 1994 Winnebago Vetra 37 foot. We good a deal, I hope.. We paid $4,000 less than any other vectra we saw on the market and about $5,000. under book. The coach interior is in great shape and I mean really great shap. No visible signs of leaking and I hardly believe it was a 1994 because it is in such good shape. It also runs great, has new tires, good running 7000 genset and blew by the inspection.

    One problem, it has some delamination, bubbles or warping on the passenger side behind the refridgerator area. Not real big, but an area of about two foot in the mid area.

    We bought this as we were new to RVing and did not want to spend alot of $$$ until we new we would like it. If we like it, we want to get a newer coach. We only plan to do some weekends and more than likely no more than 300 mile roundtrip.

    Telling you all this, what do you suggest I do?? Do I try to repair it? Do I just drive it and use it for a few years and hope I recover some of my investment or do I off load it today???

    I did not worry about this when I bought it, but because of your artcile and the possible structure problem I am concerned!! I don’t want to go down the road and the whole coach collapse on the frame, oh, and on me.. LOL

    Help,

    John

    • Curtis

      John, From what you describe you’re probably ok structurally. I doubt anything will collapse on itself in the near future. The 2000 Fourwinds I bought this year probably falls into the same category. Will it affect resale or trade-in value? Probably to some degree. I bought mine aware of the issue but at a price that let me overlook what I considered to be a minor cosmetic flaw. I also intend to keep mine until residual value is minimal. A proper repair could be quite costly, a patch job will likely look lousy and will further damage your resale value. Your best bet is probably to go enjoy your RV and avoid walking past the blistered area. Out of sight, out of mind.

      • Dddjthompson

        Many thanks… If I can hold it together for a few years I plan to buy a newer Vectra, my wife and I really like that model… You would not believe the inside, it really looks like it is much much newer.. Take care and again, thank you for you input..

        John

      • Grits58

        Curtis, I have a 1990 Fleetwood Pace Arrow 34L good conditions on the inside and 22,054 miles on it. I m the 2nd owner it was made out in Riverside CA. bought new has all the manuals for all the equipment in side. But on the driver side I have 3 small bubbles around the bottom of my windows which is where the moisture got in through the windows,..I notice when it rains the black velts that the window slides on get wet and I think that is where the water is coming in. This is my first motorhome and I got it at a really good cost I throught untill I started reading the forum and found out about Delamination….now Im thinking 5000 maybe wasn’t a good deal after all..I did have to reroof the top..BC

  • don rowley

    Have you heard about delamination of the sidewall above the large slide in a ’95 Avion 5th wheel trailer? Perhaps caused by stress from the slide? Repair options?

  • Curtis

    Don, delamination regardless of brand or type is an expensive and often futile repair issue. It’s usually an indication of water infiltration because it is the plys of the plywood separating, not the fiberglass letting loose from the plywood.

  • Al

    I have a 2002 American Tradition that is showing quite a bet if delamination on both sides..There ar large bubbles in the exterior wall. The unit only has 40,000 miles on and is in excellent shape otherwise. Both insid and out. Is there anything I can do to prevent furthur problems. I contacted fleetwood bu they blame it on maintenance or lack of same ., which is crap

    • Curtis

      Al, most often delamination occurs from water migrating into the wall panel causing the outer ply of the plywood to separate.  The best way to avoid further delamination is to prevent any further water from getting in.  This would mean resealing windows.  On my second hand fourwinds, a much less expensive RV, I ran a bead of clear silicon around every window or vent and closely inspected the roof edge for any small breaks in the rubber membrane.  

    • Bill Robertson

      Al I’m the guy who has the American Dream with the delamination issure. I to contacted Fleetwod and was told the same thing, like you this is BS. I have spoken to other people with Fleetwood coaches and they have similar problems. I beleive that if we could get enough people with problems we could file a class action lawsuit. Why is there so many problems with Fleetwood? I know many people with other coaches and not one has a delamination problem. Fleetwood knows they have a problem which they choose to ignor blaming it on the owner. I have spoke to dealers which are also aware of Fleetwood delamination. My email address is wlr3100@yahoo.com if you wish to discuss this proposal. 

  • Cory

    I purchased a new fifth wheel in 2009 and it now has dinner plate and larger delamination bubbles on both sides. The manufacturer says they will pay to have the bad spots cut out and repaired. This is something that seems to be a defect in the manufacturing process. The trailer was 2 months out of warenty when we seen the first bubble and has grown three more in the past two weeks while sitting on the dealers lot. Any advise?

  • Cory

    I purchased a new fifth wheel in 2009 and it now has dinner plate and larger delamination bubbles on both sides. The manufacturer says they will pay to have the bad spots cut out and repaired. This is something that seems to be a defect in the manufacturing process. The trailer was 2 months out of warenty when we seen the first bubble and has grown three more in the past two weeks while sitting on the dealers lot. Any advise?

    • Curtis

      Cory, if the manufacturer will pay to fix it I wouldn’t waste any time having it done.  Make sure to have pre-approval in writing before the work starts so they won’t mysteriously change their mind.  My guess is this is going to be an ongoing problem down the road too.   

  • Kelly

    good article!  We learned a lot !

  • Bill Robertson

    I have a 2003 1/2 American Dream. This is one that only a few were made with three slides. This was a coach from the south. We purchased this coach in 2008 and it has been garaged since then only on the road in Florida for the winter. I went over the roof and awning rails along with the sky light in the shower with clear silicone. I have seen delamination on the passenger side behind the slide out which is not a bubble type but shows the design of the super structure. I went to Fleetwood in 2010 and showed them the problem, they indicated they had no idea what the problem was never seeing anything like that. They said if it were delamination the inside wall of the coach would be showing signs of wet or feel wet which it doesn’t. Any idea if this can be repaired Fleetwood said they could replace the back wall at a cost of $40,000. I’m very sorry we purchased a Fleetwood product and will never again.

    • Curtis

      Bill, I cringe when I think of such an expensive coach having delamination issues.  Sadly Fleetwood is correct.  Replacing the whole wall structure is the only real cure. The one problem with such a costly repair is there is no guarantee that similar delamination won’t occur somewhere else on the coach later on.    Delamination can also be present without water leakage.  If you sealed a seam that had been leaking, the water would eventually dry up but the damage would have already been done.    Also the plywood layer can delaminate with long term storage in high temperatures (southwest summer desert heat).  There is no win in this situation I’m afraid.

    • http://www.facebook.com/allen.knapp2 Allen Knapp

      I have a 2002 American Dream with delamination problems on both sides. Get the same response from fleetwood. I too will never purchase or reccommend the purchase of any fleetwood product. The company does not stand behind their products.

  • Roger

    I recently came accross a 90 sun soverigne for the lumpsum of free. Interior is great though it shows signs of delamination. Now I consider myself a very handy person,and the delamination is happening in the wheel wells, is there any possible to take the lower portion of the siding off to relaminate the componant sides affected? If I do need to cut thr fiberglass at the corner of lower storage

    • Curtis

      Roger, Can’t beat free! Being an older unit at the right price, I’d probably be willing to try an idea that won’t look like a factory repair. What say you cut out the section of fiberglass that is bad. Probably from each side of the wheel well cut straight up then cut horizontally to connect the two vertical cuts. Only cut through the fiberglass, not the wood behind it. Removing what will look like fender skirts, address any rotten wood issues, then re-glue the fiberglass back in place. Find some trim material and attache it over the seams where you made the cuts. In the end it will look like the area around the wheels was it’s own separate panel and assuming you have to do this repair to both sides it should look neat and clean when you’re done.

  • rtrt94

    I need advise ASAP
    we bought a 2011 new in April 2012 holdover..long story short…we believe roof leaking and the fiberglass is coming away from the camper wall. there is a long vertical bubble you can see. it is just starting to leak inside camper….my question is, what should i be asking for when they go to fix it. my hubby and i have no clue when it comes to body work….it is still under warranty so that is not the issue…i don’t want a half ass fix then it blows apart 1 day after warranty expires….HELP

    • Curtis

      rtr94, The only real correct repair for a delaminated sidewall is to replace the whole wall. I had an early 90′s Winnebago motorhome that developed a cracked sidewall. The factory did replace the whole wall after I traded it back in to the dealer. The problem is going to be in convincing them to do it when it is a water infiltration issue. They will claim you didn’t maintain the roof seams. Keep in mind it could be an insurance claim issue as well if it gets declined for warranty.

  • nb1996

    Looking at a 2005 Alfa that has started showing blisters on the big slide. Does that mean it will delaminate? Can this be fixed or replace the whole wall? Otherwise it is a good price for a beautiful coach. Also looking at another 2005 Alfa that does not show signs of blisters. Is it possible it can develop later? Mfg. 09/2004.

    • Curtis

      nb1996, If delamination has started it will mostly worsen. It’s a very expensive proposition to repair properly. Unless you’re getting one heck of a good deal and don’t mind the looks I’d stay away from it. As to one not blistering at this time, there’s no way to tell what the future will hold.

      • nb1996

        That’s not what I wanted to hear…..but what I expected. :-( Thanks. We will probably veer away from the bells and whistles and buy the less expensive coach and hope that it never blisters. From what I have read, Alfa is not the only one that has this problem, so will just have to take our chances.

        • Curtis

          nb1996, True, it is a wide spread issue that pretty much leaves any brand that uses a laminated wall consisting of fiberglass, plywood, and styrofoam insulation susceptible. You’d think after +20 years they’d find a better method of construction.

  • Nadine Hendrickson

    Hi, I have a 2002 Nomad fiberglass camper. We had a leak, wall & floor were damaged. We’ve replaced the floor & removed the interior wall panel. My question is, the wood that was glued to the styrofoam & fiberglass shell has separated & rotted. What is the best way to fix this?

    • Curtis

      Nadine, There is no best way to fix it. You could spend a ton of money only to have another spot separate leaving you with the same issue. Delamination is a wide spread issue in the RV world and really hurts resale value.

      • Nadine Hendrickson

        I was afraid of that. My husband is an Upholsterer (boats, cars, etc) & has come up with a plan. I’ll let you know if it works. Thanks!

  • lee brown

    Hello. I was reading your article and Im hoping you can help me out a bit with some information. I am
    re-siding my motor home and am trying to figure out the order in which things should be done.
    we have a 1994 travelcraft 36 ft
    the siding started to crack
    we have removed the inside panels and found no vertical support for the last 10 ft from the door to the windshield. it only had horizontal wood and foam glued to the outside wood .
    we have added steel framing around the windows and installed 2 vertical supports
    now it is time to replace the out side siding .my question is do I laminate the aluminum to the wood before we in stall it or put the wood on then then glue the siding on after. we have to tuck under the fiberglass roof and under the fiberglass front end. the bottom and the back is glued to the next pannel that did not need replacing .

    • Curtis

      Lee, What ever works for you. Original laminated walls are pressed together under pressure as a single unit. Self designed repairs are a what ever works situation.

  • mandajones76

    We just bought a 82 Avion.. In pretty good shape but the wall covering is disgusting.. Can you tell me how to wash it properly without ruining or needing to replace it?

    • Curtis

      mandajones76, This is only a guess because I don’t know if the wall covering is vinyl coated. I’d try something like 409 but try a small spot first to make sure it doesn’t damage the the wall covering. Odds are with an RV that old the wall covering has become discolored due to ultraviolet rays. If so, nothing is going to bring it back to new. Painting the interior may be your only choice to make it look decent.

    • mandajones76

      Do you have a suggestion on what type of paint to use?

      • Curtis

        mandajones76, Interior of the RV, same as interior on a house. I always go for Latex. Easy clean up. It the wall surface is vinyl coated it may take a couple coats to get good coverage.