When I first heard about the Road Performance Assessment, I dismissed it as just another fancy marketing gimmick, like the old gag of calling janitors “sanitation engineers”. All hat, no boots, so to speak. It’s a test drive, right?
I was in for a surprise….
At that time, I barely knew Robert Henderson. A lean, unassuming middle-aged guy smiled at me and confidently took the helm of my precious RV, “Howie”. We pulled out of the shop and onto SR199 in gloomy Oregon Fall weather and headed out of town.
Robert’s self-assigned task was deceptively simple: drive my RV and analyze its handling characteristics. Determine if it had any worn or misadjusted chassis components, and identify opportunities for after-market improvements. My job was even simpler: shut up and try not to scream.
You see, Robert has been doing “RV stuff” for decades, and his driving and road-savvy abilities far exceed anything that you or I are ever likely to achieve. Furthermore, he drives a vast variety of RV’s every day of his life, and can easily jump from a diminutive class-B van into a monster 44-foot diesel pusher, without even breaking stride. So the wet streets and my twitchy steering problem simply didn’t phase him. I just held on for the ride.
I don’t mean to make this sound like an amusement park roller-coaster (albeit there are superficial parallels). Robert’s moves are precisely calculated to assess the chassis’ condition and capabilities, and he never ever exceeds them. That said, some maneuvers are definitely attention-getting.
We’re rolling down a straight stretch of SR199. Robert checks all mirrors, looks over at me and says “Ready?”. “Sure…” I respond with what I hope is an air of confidence.
Whoosh-whoosh, wobble, zzzip. Howie moves over a full lane in half a heartbeat. Good gravy, I didn’t think Howie had it in him. I’m about to wet myself, but Robert is calm and methodical. “Yes, there’s some steering play we’ll have to look at”, he comments thoughtfully.
After the lane change, there’s a long, snappy serpentine country roadway that doesn’t seem too intimidating. Just an occasional sharp intake of breath. And the rolling whoop-de-do surfaces (to check suspension response) are relatively tame and nothing actually flies completely out of my pockets.
In 20-30 minutes of firmly-applied driving, Robert has garnered a solid understanding of what’s right and wrong with Howie’s chassis and suspension. We head to the shop for some much-needed adjustments and some carefully selected upgrades.
The assessment is spot-on. Loose steering linkages and even a loosened chassis cross-member have been contributing to some squirrely handling. And the overall steering feedback and self-centering indicate the need for a Safe-T-Plus type of upgrade. When all the fixes and changes have been made, it’s truly like driving a different motorhome. Howie hasn’t become a sports car, but I no longer have to tense up and grit my teeth when we travel down a twisty mountain road.
Later, I learn that the RPA is not some mystical art-form skill understood only by a single guru. Robert has been able to structure and compartmentalize his umpteen-odd years of experience, and encapsulate it into an educational course. RPA’s can now be performed by any service facility willing to invest in the RPA training.
When we drive our RV’s, we get used to them, including their bad habits. When I went in for the RPA, I had a vague feeling that Howie was somewhat ill-mannered, but no real sense of how things should be. Robert’s objective analysis was invaluable in getting a high level of safety and performance from my RV.
I’ve used some humor (and a bit of writer’s license) to make fun of what is actually a very serious, but safe, process. Robert has never had any accident or incident in all his years of performance assessments, and despite the startling nature of some of the maneuvers, there is no excessive risk involved. That said – - pop a Valium before you leave.