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12/04/2004 Archived Entry: "The infamous RV parts conspiracy"

SOMTHING I'M LEARNING ABOUT LIVING IN A LITTLE TRAILER whose every minute part leaks or creaks: All RVs and travel trailers are exactly the same. Not only that, but they've all been exactly the same from the primitive dawn of trailerism.

It doesn't matter whether you've got some $100,000 highway palace or some tin can you hauled out of a friend's backyard for $25. They are all exactly alike.

You go in to the RV store to replace a valve or a faucet or a pilot light assembly and there is one -- count 'em -- one choice. And it's in a package simply labeled "water heater pilot light assembly" -- with no long list of models and brands it fits. Just "water heater pilot light assembly" for every heater ya got.

This is a slight exaggeration. Sometimes there are two or three models. And where cosmetic values are involved, as in bathroom water faucets, there may be four or five. But those are the exceptions. You gotta replace your waste water valve, you'll have only one kind of valve to choose from. Now, the fittings may come in different colors, or they may have add-on functions (like one that has a built-in hose attachment for really cleaning out the tank and therefore for some insane reason is made of clear plastic, ick). But every waste water valve in the known universe will fit every trailer, fifth-wheel, mini-motorhome, or motorhome in the known universe. And some company nobody ever heard of named Valterra is raking in more bux than Enron in its heyday. And is actually doing something real to earn the money.

Okay, these universal RV parts may not fit one of those million dollar black-box-bus RVs owned by the truly awesome and incautious individuals who probably purchase their custom-cast, gold-plated, titanium alloy waste valves from Rolls Royce. But the universal RV part fits on everything else, I swear.

(An aside: If you're wondering at this point why anyone with any sense would buy the $100,000 rolling palace rather than the 30-year-old tin-can trailer if they're both the same in their inner workings, I have some choice words for you:

avocado green, harvest gold, dark walnut, plaid olefin, leaky ceilings, and shag carpeting.)

At first, I'm sure many of us libertarians envision some dark corporate conspiracy, some vast industrial cartel destined to keep one monopoly for every one RV part. Those with a vested interest in female-threaded hoogiewatsits conspire to keep all the Howard Roark/Hank Reardon/Wyatt Oil type innovators out of the hoogiewatsits market. It's Evil.

But for anyone who has to stop 12 leaks in nine different home-cobbled plumbing lines and replace three electrical fixtures that cause your fuses to blow every time you stick a light bulb in them, it's a major godsend. You're out here in the middle of nowhere. You make an hour drive - maybe two - to the nearest "big city" (which, BTW, has only one RV supply and the next nearest is 100 miles away), and you didn't remember to bring the part. Or you forgot the measurements you took. And you don't have to worry, because when you say, "I want the whichimawhosits that attaches to the thurgiflatsis on the forble," you'll drive home secure in the knowledge that you'll have the right one, since it's the only one there is.

Not only that but, because RV part conspirators realize they have to sell to the trailer-trash market like me, as well as the country music star market, the part is usually reasonably priced. Perhaps not as much as it might be at Wal-Mart (shrine at which we rural folk worship), but you won't have to be Howard Hughes' mystery heir to afford it, either.

When some innovator does come along and break the monopoly, or when some government agency issues some bizarre (or occasionally sensible) requirement, and someone decides to change a stove or space heater, then from then on every single trailer ever made in the known universe has that kind of heater valve or that kind of pilot light assembly on it. And if you have the old kind on your trailer, then you'll never, ever, ever find it anywhere as long as you live.

Because there can only be ONE.

It's okay, though. Because the trailer cartel tends to be very conservative. I've taken parts off this trailer that look as if they were manufactured by blind, starving Irish immigrant orphans in nineteenth-century sweatshops and they still turn out to be The One Official Part.

And when it turns out some pre-Victorian design has finally been replaced, you know what? You'll nearly always find that the brand new, authorized, official one-and-only brand spanking new design is near enough to the old one to horse it into doing the job.

It's a conspiracy. But in my current state of investing in weeglemathiggers I appreciate it. Until I go in and discover that my one-and-only toilet valve turns out not to be RV, but to be marine. And therefore that means I'm expected to be rich and foolish enough to think it's normal to pay $53 for a two inch circle of plastic with two water-line connections on it and a brass rod running through it with, presumably, some kind of simple hose-closing valve inside it like the kind you can buy for $3 at the hardware store.

Pay $53 for $5.99 worth of plumbing part, just because some idjit conspicuous consumptionist uses it on his yacht? This, I assure you is not going to happen before the heat-death of the universe. Thus last week's observation that J.B.Weld is one of four substances that hold together the universe.

Posted by Claire @ 12:03 PM CST

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