Is Your RV Warranty Worthless?

I begin this article by asking the question if your RV warranty is really worth anything. I found out through experience mine didn’t seem to be worth as much as I thought. That has something to do with my particular circumstances and somebody else might find that the same warranty, from the same manufacturer, on the same model and year RV to be worth more. Maybe. Maybe not.

By way of laying some groundwork, one needs to understand that RV warranties are different than other warranties such as those on automobiles in terms of who is obligated to perform warranty work. Take my Ford truck for example: if I’m not mistaken, any Ford dealer that has the ability to repair my truck under the terms of the applicable Ford warranty has an obligation to take in the vehicle for repair. That means wherever I go, be it 1 mile from home or 1,000 miles, if the truck needs warranty attention any qualified Ford dealer I wish to bring the truck to for repair has to accept the job. They sign onto that when they become a dealer.

As an RV owner, however, you may find that dealers willing to take in your RV for warranty repairs are few and far between. That’s because, unlike the automobile industry, RV dealers are not obligated by way of contracts with RV manufacturers to accept RVs for warranty repairs unless they are the selling dealer. Such is my understanding, anyway, and I’m sure I will be corrected if I am mistaken. It’s not only my understanding, but it has been my experience. I have been turned away for warranty repairs by several authorized dealers of the brand that I own. So, if like me, you bought your RV from a dealer 800 miles from home, or if you travel in it–and who doesn’t?–you may find yourself far away from a dealer willing to perform warranty repairs. The dealer nearest my California home that is an authorized dealer of the brand of RV I own flat out refused to take in my RV for warranty work, and they were not the only authorized dealer of my brand to do so.

The main electrical line from the transfer switch rests on the edge of the water pump which is beginning to dig into the insulation
Here, the main electrical line from the transfer switch rests on the edge of the water pump which is beginning to dig into the insulation. This is how my RV came brand new from the factory! There was potential here for the pump to cut its way through the insulation over time as the RV bounced down the road, eventually creating a short circuit and possibly a fire. This is one example why you need to check everywhere you possibly can on your RV including behind all the access panels.

Why would an RV shop turn away warranty work? Because it may not pay as well as servicing retail customers. The amount you might be charged to have a new water pump installed, for example, may be more than an RV manufacturer would pay the RV shop for the exact same job. So, if an RV shop isn’t hurting for work–and many are not anywhere close to hurting as evidenced by the wait times of weeks to months for an appointment–why should they agree to work for less than they otherwise could? Not only that, I have been turned away for full-pay retail work because shops can be so busy they aren’t taking anybody for any work unless they bought their RV there!

The lesson here is not to expect it to be easy to get warranty work performed on an RV–or any work for that matter–if you are not near the selling dealer, and even if you are you may have to wait a good while for your RV to be taken into the shop. Even then the warranty work performed may be less than stellar requiring one or more return visits to the shop because their technicians are poorly or improperly trained, hurried, or just don’t give a damn, but I digress, the subject of quality of workmanship is one somewhat separate from this article. If it isn’t easy, or even possible to get your RV in for warranty work, then what is the warranty really worth? Not much.

Dangerous water line routing.
The water heater, water pump and transfer switch are behind an access panel in the main storage compartment of my 5th wheel. When I removed the access panel I found water lines resting on the transfer switch. If they broke or leaked water could drip into the switch and cause a short circuit and fire. Holy crap! The red circles show where water lines rest on the transfer switch.

In hopes of increasing the likelihood of a sale, or possibly in complete earnestness, an RV dealer or manufacturer might say to you that you don’t need to take your RV to an authorized dealer of your brand in order to get warranty work and that you can take it to any RV shop. That’s what I was told both before and after I bought my RV, and I found it reassuring. Now, knowing what I do from actual experience, if an RV dealer or manufacturer said that to me I would laugh in his face and say back sarcastically, “Hahaha, very funny!”

The first time I tried bringing my RV to a shop for warranty work the RV shop put together an estimate for the manufacturer and the manufacturer offered them roughly half of the amount of the estimate so the RV shop turned down the job. What did that mean to me? It meant that I took hours getting my RV to the shop and back, taking time away from other things; it meant the expense of doing so (my truck is not cheap to run), and getting involved in an accident along the way. It left me with an RV still in need of warranty repair and a new, additional hassle of dealing with body work, insurance companies, PLUS significantly increased insurance rates on top of the warranty work. In my opinion, in regard to this situation, my warranty was worth nothing… zip, zero, nada… nothing. Even worse, I had new damage to the RV and new headaches to go along with much higher insurance premiums. In my opinion, in this situation, my warranty was a liability which is even less than being worth nothing. It was a big hassle and cost me a lot and no warranty repairs were performed!

t properly deploy perhaps increasing the potential for water intrusion into the living area.
The main slide seal on my brand new RV did not properly deploy perhaps increasing the potential for water intrusion into the living area.

All this happened close to the time I had to leave on an important cross-country trip I had planned that really couldn’t be delayed–I needed to be on the opposite coast on deadline. That meant setting sail with an RV needing repairs. It also meant trying to book repairs while traveling and if I made it sound difficult trying to get warranty work performed while at home let me say it can be even more difficult when traveling. When you aren’t sure exactly where you will be, when you will be there or for how long, scheduling anything is difficult, and when RV shops are booking repairs weeks or months in advance and there is no guarantee they will accept the offer from the warranting manufacturer, getting warranty work performed becomes damned near impossible, in my experience and opinion. On top of all that, things become even more difficult when you live in your RV–where will you stay and what will that cost when the RV is in the shop?

I’ve had RV shops say to me that I would have to pay for warranty repairs and get reimbursed from the manufacturer. That kind of arrangement leaves the RV owner in the unenviable position of having to pay out-of-pocket then negotiate with manufacturer in hopes of being made whole for something that in my opinion should be repaired under warranty without hassle or negotiation. It’s conceivable a repair may be performed and paid for by the consumer who is never able to get reimbursed by the manufacturer. In all fairness to the maker of my RV, I did pay CampingWorld for one repair at the retail rate and I was reimbursed without any hassle from the maker of my RV for the full amount. I’m not sure why the manufacturer didn’t offer me less but I expect it may be due to the fact that it was a relatively small amount and that CampingWorld is a large, well established business that would be difficult for the maker of my RV to accuse of trying to rip them off, a claim they have put forward about independent shops more than once.

Sawdust and copper strands inside the transfer switch case.
My brand new RV had sawdust and copper wire strands inside the transfer switch case that IMHO was a dangerous situation. All the AC electricity flows through this box and anything that could cause a short circuit or catch fire does not belong. If you ask me there is no excuse for this kind of sloppy, haphazard workmanship, but you should probably expect it, need to look for, find and fix it. It can endanger lives, but do RV manufacturers care?

Another lesson here is to buy your new RV at a dealer nearby if at all possible unless you have been assured of hassle-free warranty repairs elsewhere, meaning that you won’t have to pay out-of-pocket in hopes of reimbursement and warranty work won’t be delayed or denied because the repair facility and manufacturer can’t come to terms. If you can get those reassurances, which I highly doubt, get them in writing from the customer service manager at the manufacturer, otherwise, and perhaps even then, they may not be worth anything.

If you have owned an RV previously you are probably all too aware of all the work they require. If you are looking at RVs for the first time you may be surprised at how many things need fixing even–perhaps especially–on a new RV. I think it fair to say that among RV owners the general consensus is RVs are not well assembled. I’m not stating this as fact because I don’t want to have to prove it in a court of law because I’m sued by an irate manufacturer, but in my opinion based on the RVs I have owned and what others have told me, quality workmanship is frequently, if not usually lacking, whereas lazy, haphazard, shoddy–pick your negative adjective–workmanship is usually the norm, in some instances creating potentially dangerous or life threatening hazards.

There are things you can do to make getting warranty repairs either easier or more difficult. When purchasing new, if you can get a good enough deal from a dealer nearby and one that has a good reputation based on word-of-mouth, online reviews including the Better Business Bureau, and whom you feel good about having visited their showroom and their shop including a chat with the shop manager, it may be worth more than saving a little by purchasing out of town in the time and hassle you will save dragging the RV back and forth to the shop.

Go over your new or new-to-you RV with as fine a tooth comb as your skills allow or hire somebody to look it over, thoroughly. In my experience the kind of pre-purchase inspections performed by selling deslers or RV shops you might hire to inspect can be pretty superficial. Remove access panels and look behind them. Check under the RV, inside and on the roof of the RV for loose screws, fittings, electrical connections and outlets, the mounting of lamps and light fixtures, electrical panels, door and cabinet hinges. Check the lap seal and silicone seal on all seams and windows. Check every screw you can by gently trying to tighten it–you may find a great many of them aren’t doing anything and just spin in place because the substrate into which they have been screwed has been damaged by over tightening at the factory or because they were inserted so close to the edge of the thin luan plywood used in RVs that the luan broke. If you have a trailer with tandem axles measure the distance between tires on both sides to see if the distance is the same. If not the wheels may be out of alignment. Look as closely as you can for as long as you can at as many things as you can and use your RV as much as you can while on warranty because the more you do the more issues you are likely to unearth. If you are buying used and you see any water staining inside, especially on the ceiling, RUN AWAY! It seems to me that nearly every time I turn around I come across problems I hadn’t discovered previously, even after living in my RV full-time for more than a year.

So, what’s your RV warranty really worth? I think that depends on a number of factors, some of which I have pointed to above, and I hope that which I have written will help you get the most out of it. Expect dealing with warranty repairs to be a hassle and if it turns out they are not you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If they are then at least you’ll be better prepared to see it coming.


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4 thoughts on “Is Your RV Warranty Worthless?”

  1. I’d have to agree with you on hassles of trying to get good repair service on the road. RVing is not for inflexible campers. It’s ironic that dealers think that they should only work on rigs that they sell. We bought our RV to travel in not stay close to home. Greed by dealers should be pointed out in blogs like yours Russ to steer buyers to reputable shops who are willing to help people who are far from their base if they even have a base. We don’t because we are full time and did so to be able to travel where the weather suits our clothes.

    1. It is apparent that some shops have more business than they can handle, like the nearby shop that is only accepting repair work from people that purchased from them. I can understand why a dealer would feel the need to service their own first. That said, it shouldn’t be so hard to get service. There is something wrong with the industry.

  2. I have a Northwood Mfg travel trailer which I purchased new. I only had a few warranty items that needed attending to during the first year of ownership. Northwood allowed me to go to any service center I chose for warranty repairs. I had no issue with them approving warranty repairs. Every repair I requested was approved. This is one advantage of purchasing from a smaller manufacturer.

    The problems described in this article are one reason I would not purchase from one of the big manufacturers in Elkhart

    1. Thanks for your comment, Deb!

      I’m glad you feel well treated by Northwood. The irony here is that I too have a Northwood product and Northwood also told me I could go to any shop I wanted, which, as you know from reading my article, turned out not to be true.

      You may choose to steer away from the “big manufacturers in Elkhart”, but let me relate my experience with one of those. For a while I owned a Coachmen Class C. I bought it second hand and it was out of warranty. Over the years I owned it I peppered Coachmen’s warranty and service manager Ron Ross with question after question and received answer after answer. He was enormously helpful. When I was passing through Middlebury, IN, I stopped in at their factory. They have a campground for their customers where I stayed free for four or five days. While there, Coachmen performed a number of repair jobs on my RV and didn’t charge me a nickel… and remember it was a second hand rig out of warranty.

      That said, the RV itself was, IMHO, carelessly assembled, but as I expressed in my article that seems to be the norm rather than the exception, and I would say the same about my current Northwood product.

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