Join Date: Dec 2003
I just got back from my whirlwind truck conversion factory tour. I visited Showhauler, Haulmark and Renegade yesterday, spending about 2 1/2 hours at each location.
Floor plans, configurations, equipment and options are pretty similar between the three. It seems everyone buys their windows, appliances, furniture, flooring and other products from the same place. When it comes to custom work, Showhauler is the most flexible. I got the impression Lonnie would build just about anything you could imagine. He was working on a motorhome/garage rig for a New Zealand owner which had right hand drive, requiring all curb and roadside construction to be reversed, European power, and a one of a kind bunk which extended a berth over the hood of the sprint car garage...very unique. Renegade will do a non standard floor plan, with a wide selection of finish materials, and Haulmark pretty much limits you to their standard plans and options due to their wall construction (more on that later).
All three will build on your customer furnished chassis, or provide a new one for you. Showhauler seemed most willing to procure and work with a used chassis, with about a third of their current production on used, owner furnished chassis. I want an automatic, so used is just about ruled out for me. If you can deal with a manual or autoshift trans, used is the way to go, IMO. The FL Columbia is the most popular new chassis, comprising the majority of production unit's at all three facilities. Both HM and Renegade had units built on a Volvo chassis with 500hp Cummins and Meritor Freedom trans. Very sharp tractor, with the nicest cab I have seen yet. The price is supposedly a just a few thousand higher than the FL Columbia/MBE9000/Freedom combo. FL has another price increase coming in March, so it may be apples to apples soon.
Renegade and Showhauler order a slightly better equipped FL cab than Haulmark, with an extensive gauge package, trip computer and electronic information center. I checked with a Freightliner dealer and found this to be about a $300 upgrade. If you buy Haulmark, I would ask them to order the chassis with this. I am taking a chassis out of inventory to avoid the latest FL price increase, so it wasn't an option for me.
All three used a similar floor construction technique. HM and SH use 2x3 tube steel at 16" oc, Renegade uses 2x2. SH and HM build their floors in a jig; Renegade builds theirs on the chassis. All three are attached to the chassis similarly. All three are painted and undercoated. HM and Renegade employ a sandwich construction method, with insulation and wood sleepers sandwiched between a galvanized sheet and 3/4" plywood decking. I didn't have a chance to witness the floor construction at SH, but it appears similar. SH and HM extend a tube steel frame down from the floor to support the cargo bins, Renegade appears to bolt modular boxes to the bottom of the floor frame. All three appeared equally substantial. HM uses urethane insulation, which offers a higher R/inch than the EPS (expanded polystyrene or beadboard) used by SH and Renegade.
Walls and Roof
This is the single largest difference between the three. SH uses a heavy gauge hat channel wall framed at 16" oc and welded to the perimeter of the floor frame. The channel is 1" deep by about 2-1/2" wide. All openings are framed in 1x3 tube steel. The .065 (or something in that range) metal skin is fastened to the channel using VHB tape. As a personal preference, I don't care for the vertical seams, but the finished product is very straight, with no "oil canning" or waviness evident. Inside, foil bubble wrap insulation is installed in all of the wall cavities, and 7/16" OSB is screwed to the hat channel. Furring strips are applied to create wire raceways, and the finished wall panel is stapled to the channels. This "double wall" takes about 2" out of the interior width. SH offers an insulation option for the cavities; I would take it for noise reduction if nothing else. The roof is framed with tube steel at 16" oc (can't recall the size) and welded to the sidewalls. The roof doesn't actually bear on the walls; it is connected with the radius roof channel which runs the perimeter of the roof. It all looks very substantial.
Renegade uses a heavy gauge Z channel welded to the frame which the walls screw to. The walls are seamless, one piece 5/8" plywood panels with FRP applied to both sides, creating a mini "stress skin" panel. They paint all exposed edges at windows and cutouts with the same gel-coat the panel is faced with. This prevents water from entering the panel and causing delamination, the primary cause of failure in FRP walls. Attention to detail in this area was very good. Renegade screws the FRP to the channel with what looked like #12 or #14 self drilling screws spaced 6" oc. The wood studs are glued and stapled to the inside of the FRP at 16" oc to provide an insulation cavity and wire raceway. The cavities are insulated with bead-board polystyrene insulation, and the finished wall panel is stapled on. Unfortunately, I didn't get a good look at the roof construction as the only unit in that stage was being roofed.
Haulmark uses an aluminum framed wall utilizing 1-1/2" x 3" welded tubular aluminum. There is no common spacing (i.e. 16" or 24"). The framing is laid out provide support anywhere a wall, cabinet or any other fixture attached. This is the reason HM is the most inflexible of the three when it comes to making floor plan changes. I got a look at the engineering drawings for a 30' unit, and there are areas where the spacing is 12", and areas that were over 2' (barely). The cavities are filled with urethane insulation. The exterior is a gel coated 5/16 plywood panel, the interior panel is the same industry standard finish wall panel the others use. The whole assembly is vacuum bonded, creating a true stress skin panel. The panels seemed very rigid as they were being moved around the plant. The lower tube is filled solid with plywood to prevent it from deforming when it is fastened. The panel rests on the Z channel and is screwed through the channel with what looked like #12 self drilling screws spaced 16" oc. I have requested that they space them at 6" on mine. The roof is another prefabricated panel, with welded tubular aluminum bows at 16" oc. The cavity is filled with a custom tapered urethane insulation which completely fills the cavity, and 1/4" luaun panels are vacuum bonded to each side. A continuous aluminum angle, welded to the roof rafters, runs the perimeter of the roof. It is screwed to the top of the wall frame at 16" oc. Again, I am requesting fasteners at 6" on mine.
I don't feel qualified to rate them structurally, but I'll give you my opinion. SH is the best built of the three. The materials were heavy duty, and the welds plentiful. It is also the heaviest, by about 2,000 pounds from what I heard. I know these are heavy duty trucks, but a ton is still a lot of weight. Renegade is the most unique. To hear it described, it sounds flimsy, but it is remarkably rigid. I test drove a three year old unit with 50k miles and it was quiet as a mouse on the road. The HM uses a more "RV like" construction. I am comfortable with the wall construction, but I think they are skimping on the fasteners, and should coat the exposed edges of the FRP panel for a more durable panel. I'm not hung up on framing spacing. Standard spacing of 12, 16, 19.2 and 24 came about as a way to provide maximum design flexibility and still accommodate modular panels. The wall will perform as required as long as static and dynamic loads are transferred or chased down to the floor frame regardless of the wall frame spacing. The exterior skin is a matter of preference between the three. All three are heavy duty, durable products, although delamination is never an issue with the aluminum. I prefer the smooth gel coat of the HM, although the patterned Renegade finish is growing on me.
The cab roof cutout is the single feature that swayed me to the HM over the Renegade. After viewing how it's done, I'm not sure how sound the waterproofing design is. It exposes the bulb seal to direct headwinds, and uses large amounts of silicone caulk to seal it. The rubber bulb doesn't like to bend at sharp angles, and the transition from vertical to horizontal requires large amounts of sealer to conform to the cab. It looks like the sealant might prevent the bulb from draining properly, which is how it removes water which defeats the seal. The traditional vertical cab cutout seems much more secure. Renegade is so concerned about their vertical cutout that they install a bumper beneath the cab to limit the movement of the cab air suspension. It is their opinion that even the standard rubber bulb flashed rear cutout can't withstand the differential movement of the cab and coach. Structurally, the roof cutout seems ok. The B pillar on the FL is massive, and I couldn't detect any movement or flex on a unit that had been cut out. Still, I have the option of not having the cutout, so I need to give it some thought.
MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) systems seemed similar between the three. Attention to detail was best on SH, followed by Renegade, then HM. Little things like brass vs. plastic valves, consistent fastening of piping and ducting, orthogonal piping and wiring layouts and user access add significantly to the quality of the SH. All three are in another league compared to MH builders, though. Had I not visited SH, I would have sworn HM or Renegade was as good as it gets.
Interior cabinetry and woodwork goes to SH, but only by a hair. Renegade and HM were tied. All cabinets are solid oak, pocket screwed, with solid wood drawers and doors. SH makes their boxes and buys doors and drawer fronts, Renegade and HM both outsource their cabinets. All three use solid oak passage doors, jambs and trim. HM and Renegade trim the windows with shadow boxes, which keep the window shades in place when the MH is moving.
The last, and to me one of the most important things to look at, is the attitude of the workers that actually build the coach. In this category, I was most impressed with Renegade. There was a noticeable team attitude among the crews. They seemed glad to see me, yet anxious to get back to work after I was through looking. They work as teams, and receive bonuses for efficiency. Any warranty or rework costs are deducted from the bonuses, so incentives to produce quality are in place.
I didn't sense anything negative at SH, but it was a quiet bunch. Of course, I did visit at 8:00am, so maybe their coffee hadn't kicked in yet. At HM, I felt like I was intruding as I looked around. The relationship between the sales rep and the workers seemed distant, like you would expect at a large company. Lonnie at SH and Jack at Renegade seemed to have a great rapport with everyone on the floor, and seemed well respected. In my experience, this can be more important than design differences. An inferior process performed by a worker who cares is better than a superior process performed by a disgruntled worker.
In a nutshell, the SH seems to be the best built of the three. Not by a landslide, but undeniably better everywhere you look. It is also the most expensive. I didn't speak with a SH dealer to determine their bottom line as I did with Renegade and HM, and don't plan to as my mind is made up. Based on "ball park" conversations with Lonnie, I estimate SH to be more expensive by at least $20k if not more.
HM is the price leader, and Renegade provides the most bang for the buck. Had I visited the plants before buying, I would have gone Renegade. Because this is our first MH, I will probably replace it in 2-3 years when I have an idea of what I want based on experience. When I plan to buy a coach for the long haul, it will probably be SH, although I'll certainly talk to Renegade. For my present needs, the Haulmark works, so I'm going to stick with my order. Sorry to ramble so, but it was a loooooooong drive home.