One thing about Volkswagen and Winnebago is that they do make some interesting-looking RVs. Their looks put them in a class by themselves. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with these smaller RVs. They have run into some difficulties that have ruined their ownership.
One of the problems with this vehicle is getting parts. Not because Winnebago stopped production 20 years ago but because many of the components were built in Europe. This is great for European owners, but not so good for American ones.
To learn more about this RV and its pros and cons, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about so you can decide if this 20+ year-old RV is the right fit for your retired lifestyle.
One of the things about reporting problems is that they do not become common until those problems happen to everyone else. Or a majority of owners at least. Here are 5 of the most common problems you can experience when you own this RV.
1. The Air Conditioner
It seems that Winnebago overdid it with the coolant. Instead of using only 39 ounces they went ahead and crammed in 48 ounces of coolant. Then the compressors failed frequently.
They were vulnerable to early breakdowns robbing people of cool air at the most important times. The only fix for this problem was another compressor which may or may not break down again.
2. Too small of a generator
The company used the ONAN Micro-Lite Generators which is supposed to be the smallest model out of all the ones Onan made. The problem is that the generator would start for a few seconds and then shut down.
Plus, owners got a low battery signal due to the failure of the generator to recharge the battery. The fix may be to replace the battery, fuel pump, and anything other than the generator.
3. The Norcold Fridge
The problem with this appliance is that it had a hard time staying on when using propane. The source could vary but a couple of the more specific problems were a carbon build-up at the burner and a defective thermocouple.
The solutions were to replace the Thermocouple, Burner Orifice, Thermostat, Gas Safety Valve, and Interrupter. The last resort was to replace the fridge. A manometer is needed to fully test the fridge to see if it was good or not.
For some reason, this part just did not want to shift to other gears. It seems this major part needed a cooler to function correctly. If your RV does not have a cooler, then it is about time to install one.
If you are having problems, take the vehicle to a good transmission repair shop. There are too many possible sources to list here and you need an expert to look at them to make sure what is wrong.
5. Electrical problems
These are numerous as well as you may have switched on the headlights but only got the brake & tail lights but not the headlights. Or the window AC and wipers would not work but the emergency brake warning light and the audio warning came on.
The problem source is usually the sensor but it could also be bad wiring. Replace the sensor and if the problems continue, redo the wiring.
In 1995, Volkswagen built a 2.5 L Gas engine and coupled that with an automatic transmission. They kept that engine model for the 1996 model year. Then from 1997 to 2001, they went with a 4-speed electronically controlled transmission and a 2.8 L fuel-injected engine,
Finally, from 2002 to 2005, the engine under the hood was a V6 or VR6 24-valve 2.8 L gas engine. The transmission was also a 4-speed electronically controlled automatic.
The horsepower of the later engines reached 201 to 203 HP. What made this model of RV so popular was that it could just about anywhere a Class A RV could not go.
Its dimensions included 7 feet 4 inches wide and 8 feet 6 inches tall. This RV was also almost 22 feet long. So it had the size to go where any car could go and you would not lose any comfort as you toured the downtown sections of most cities.
The only difference between all model years was the floor plans. There were 4 to choose from and they were given labels like QD, HD, & FD but those letters probably never stood for anything.
The chassis were all the same no matter which floor plan or model you bought. The difference between the two FD models is that the standard came with a full bed, while the optional had twin-size beds.
There was not a lot of room for more than 2 people in the Rialta RVs.
This is going to be a subjective valuation as the J. D. Power website which places values on older RVs has a low retail at just under $16,000 and a high retail value at just under $19,000.
However, when you check the used RV lots, you will discover a different story. One lot did not have any 1998 models for sale but 1996 models were priced between $26,000 and $28,000 while 1999 were listed between $25,000 and $28,000.
A 1997 was listed at $23,000. One used RV website listed the 1998 models between $17,000 and $33,000 and those prices were probably set by the owners of each model.
In other words, you are going to have a value placed all over the price map. You would have to look at the condition, miles, and other factors to bring those prices closer to reality. Make sure to be a good negotiator to get the price you want.
Remember you are talking about 20 to 27-year-old RVs. Some may be in top condition and others will need some renovation and repair work. The actual value of these RVs will be what you feel comfortable paying.
As you can see, the prices for different model years depend on the individual owner or used RV lot. Some people build negotiating room into their asking prices to make sure they get the purchase price they want. There is room to negotiate.
Especially if you use the J.D. Power website as your guide. Just so you know, the state the RV is located in influences the price. For example, that $33,000 1998 Rialta was located in California, while the $17,000 model was located in Florida.
Montana had an asking price of $27,000, while one in Oregon and one n Georgia were not advertising their prices. These expensive Rialtas need to be in almost new condition to be worth those higher asking prices.
The one in Florida seems closest to the actual value of the 1998 RV.
These should give you an idea of what these RVs are like. They should also let you know if this used RV is worth buying or not.
- great fuel mileage
- easy to maneuver
- can fit into most parking spots for cars
- built with German engineering
- comes or came with a great warranty by both Volkswagen and Winnebago
- when you need a 3rd car, this is it
- one size fits all
- limited payload capacity
- not for tall people, need to be under 5’ 10” to be comfortable
- not a lot of privacy, you need to love being in close quarters with your partner
- not all dealers work on Rialtas
- holding tank is on the small side
- some parts can be expensive
If you want a lot more information about the Rialta RV and for all model years then click here. That link takes you to a website that has more information on a Rialta than we could possibly put in this short article.
Age is not going to be one of the criteria here. The reason for saying that is that both Volkswagen and Winnebago stopped production on this model 20 years ago approx.
You have to decide if you really want a used RV or not before you start looking at Rialtas. Once that decision is made, here are some things to check out before you agree to buy:
1. Condition- this one word covers a lot of territory. It includes the overall condition and if the RV is in nice shape or not. But it also includes the windshield, motor, appliances, water pump, and other powered features.
Check all the windows while you are checking the windshield.
2. Keys- does the owner have all the keys to all the locks and ignition? And does he have two sets or not? Making sure all the keys are there is important.
3. Test drive the vehicle- this will tell you if the Rialta has faulty brakes, steering, or other problems like bad shocks or springs. These need to be in good shape or they will become expensive repairs.
4. Light bulbs- check them all and even though this is a minor area to be concerned about, you should be buying something that has everything working or you will be shelling out more money that you hadn’t planned on.
Look for DIY wiring while you are at it. These little details can end up being costly if they were not done correctly.
5. Check for a spare tire- a very important part that should be there at the time of sale. Plus, it should be inflated and have no holes or other damage. This reminds us that you should check the tread on the spare and all tires.
Put a dime in the tread and if you see most of the dime, then you will be looking at replacing tires shortly.
6. Check the appliances- make sure everything is working from the water pump to the water heater and from the fridge to the AC unit and so on. If they are not working, lower your offer to compensate for the repair costs.
7. Test drive 2- as you drive and walk around the Rialta, listen for any weird noises. These are indications that there are hidden problems that need to be addressed.
8. Check the exhaust fan, cushions, drapes, and mattress- see if they work and what kind of condition they are in. Used mattresses are never fun to sleep on.
If you find anything wrong, use them as negotiating points to lower your purchase costs. Also, check the title to make sure it is clean and not a salvage one.
If you have any more questions, there seem to be a couple of Rialta groups on Facebook. You can check those out, join and ask your questions of actual Rialta owners
This too will be a bit subjective as each owner will say their model year was the best if they had no problems with it. For example, one owner in Quebec stated that his 97 had no problems for 3 years while his 99 was trouble-free for 1 year.
His implication was that the 97 was better than the 99 because it was trouble-free for 2 extra years. Then, you could look at the engine and say that when Winnebago and Volkswagen changed to the V6 2.8 L, those were the best model years.
Those models had more power under the hood than previous versions. It is hard to say which is the best model year because this RV series were all given the same chassis and the same dimensions.
They also got around the same amount of fuel mileage. Plus, they also had the same towing capacity, 2000 pounds. The best model year would be the one that has given you the least amount of trouble while performing up to your expectations.
One either loves this RV or they hate it. There are plenty of those owners who love the Rialta because of its size, and versatility and they can live with some minor inconveniences.
Some of those inconveniences, according to one owner, was the lack of oil filters and tires for this RV. Other owners loved their floor plan but they did not like the lack of power. They felt it was underpowered for the size and weight of the RV.
Another owner did not like the floor rust. He said he has owned 4 Riatas and they all developed floor rust after a while. Then, one owner did not like the 2 seats offered in the QD model.
He took them out replacing them with bench seats against the wall. He got more storage space and legroom when he did that. But he also enjoyed owning his Rialta.
A 10-year owner of a 99 has said that parts are not hard to come by and he has driven all over North America with it. He is pleased with his purchase. That is what we have found.
Most owners like their Rialta and give it favorable reviews despite the problems that come with owning one.
This is one of the features that most owners and reviewers raved about. The fuel economy on this RV was outstanding for most owners. On average they were receiving between 15 and 18 mpg depending on driving habits, etc.
Other owners have reported a 17 to 20 mpg range but they may be driving in ideal regions of the country. This is a 7000+ RV so gas mileage should be good. But do expect to get lower than average when you are driving through a city or a town with lots of traffic lights.
The website that we linked to includes a web page talking about the Volkswagen and other vehicles' VINs. It seems there is some controversy over the VW VIN.
The 4th to 8th numbers of the 17-digit code were often confused and what they meant depended on which internet VIN decoder you were using. Those decoders may not work and only provide whatever information the owner of those websites wants you to see.
You can read all about this issue at this link. Plus, it has a PDF explanation for every Rialta model year. That website does not seem to be updated since 2013 but since the Rialta is not being made anymore, the information should not change.
Buying a used RV is not a bad idea. Not only do you get to save some money, but you also get some nicely built RVs. The Rialta seems to be a very well-built RV despite the common problems.
But if you are buying used, the previous owner or owners may have fixed those problems and you won’t experience them. It is worth checking into and seeing if the Rialta is for you or not.