When the RV dealer hands you a lemon….


by Deanna Tolliver

Let’s say that six months ago you bought a Brand X fifth wheel from a dealer in the state where you live. From the beginning, the RV has problems. On your first trip the leveling jacks don’t operate. So you take the RV back, and they’re repaired, but your RV was in the shop for three weeks. On your very next trip, the furnace quits. You make do with a space heater, then return the RV to the dealer again. They say they need to order parts. So you’re without your RV for another two weeks (or more). So much for that upcoming vacation; better cancel the reservations.

This scenario repeats itself over the next six months, only with different problems: a slide-out leak, a decal starts to peel, a crack appears in the shower. You’ve become totally frustrated, not only with the dealer, but because you’re worried your RV is a lemon. What to do?

There are RV lemon laws in every state (Click here for a summary) but most of them are so vague that interpretation is often left to a jury. Here is Alabama’s version: “Reasonable number of repair chances or a reasonable amount of time to complete repair during warranty.” Huh? What is reasonable? Three times? Six?

And FYI:  The RV Industry Association is quick to dispatch lobbyists to any state legislature where a bill is proposed to strengthen lemon lawns to better product consumers.

First, understand that any legal action has to be initiated in the state where you bought the RV. So if you live in California but bought the RV in Arizona, you need to work with an attorney in Arizona.

I spoke with Beth Wells, a partner at the Burdge Law Office in  Dayton, Ohio. Her firm handles more RV lemon cases than any other in the nation. Her oft-repeated advice to anyone thinking of pursuing legal action because of an RV lemon is this: Check your warranty very carefully.

You need to read all the fine print. For example, you may think your warranty is good for a year, but from what date? You may think a warranty covers all parts of the RV, but you would probably be wrong. Many manufacturers limit the warranty to the work and/or parts they built or installed themselves. If your chassis was built by another company, your manufacturer will likely not cover it. Or your refrigerator. Or leveling system.

Don’t assume your warranty is good for a year. Read the fine print. Some parts of your RV may be warranted for only 90 days!

Next, gather all your repair invoices, work repair sheets, any communications you’ve had with the dealer. Call the manufacturer. Be persistent. You may get lucky and the manufacturer will contact your dealer and try to work something out. Or, you could not be lucky, and the manufacturer says you have to take your RV back to them. Oh, and by the way, they’re booked solid for four months — and ten states away from where you live.

AFTER ALL THIS, you might consider getting professional help with an attorney who specializes in RV Lemon Laws. Yes, it will cost, but it may also help bring the issue to closure. Most RV lemon cases do not go to trial; if they do, reaching a settlement can take months to years. Most cases result in a settlement, although not always for total repair or replacement. Sometimes you must settle for what you owe on your RV and any outstanding repair bills. Not what you wanted, maybe, but it gets you out from under an albatross that’s been hanging around your neck. You can take a deep breath, wash your hands of the mess, and hopefully find another RV that will not be a problem child.

Dave Angle, an attorney in Missouri, said that it is very common for most lemon law cases to be handled by out-of-state attorneys. To find an attorney experienced in RV lemon laws, you may have to do just that.

Here’s a link to a list of RV lemon law attorneys in all 50 states, provided by the Burdge Law Office. I tried contacting some of these attorneys listed and found that some of the websites weren’t always up-to-date, and some of the attorneys may help with defective vehicles, but not always RVs. If you find that to be the case, you can ask for a referral or contact the Burdge Law Firm directly (click here for a link to the website).

If you missed part one of this series last week, here’s the link.

Back to the May 12, 2018 issue of the RV Travel Newsletter.

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M. Will

The only way to understand most of the small print on a purchase contract to buy an RV would be to hire an attorney and have him sit down with you to explain it all. Then you might be able to understand it. Only in America!!

Dave Telenko

As with most if not ALL RV’s we had major problems. We live in California & we have great lemon laws. We got fed up & found one that didn’t have an up front cost. Actually they got there fees from the manufacture. They would get half of anything above full replacement for any compensation. Sounded great but when we finially talked to the lawyer doing the case all the above was true. BUT you couldn’t use your MH while the process took place. That could be a year or two & NO guarantee you would win. We opted out, fixed the broken stuff & now are in Alaska having fun. Check all the facts befor you sue.

Sam Lunt

Attorney that does lemon law cases has some advice that agrees with you Sally.


I saw, and loved, the floor plan of Thor Class A at Hershey RV Show two years ago. Watched Thor assembly video, and was impressed.
Ready to commit, but waited to do my “homework”.
After reading so many complaintsand horror stories, there is nothing that would get me to spend a dime on a Thor product!
Switched to looking for a used, high quality DP with full records. Will absolutely insist on an independent inspection before any purchase.
Ken S

Kenneth Conley

Federal Lemon laws are much stronger, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act doesn’t care about mileage, whether it is used or new, etc, definitely the best one to use!

Captn John

Happy I bought my last RV last year. After reading all this I may go buy a lottery ticket. I purchased my last 3 units from CW in Myrtle Beach. All 3, a Heartland, a Keystone Cougar, and a Keystone Montana HC, had minor problems repaired under warranty. They have done mods to the units and my truck as well. Only 1 warranty repair I’m not 100% satisfied, a cosmetic issue that will be addressed I AM going to buy that ticket today.

Jim Krauciunas

My 2015 Winnebago view had a recall on the steering wheel controls for the $1500 optional navigation system with Bluetooth handless phone. The recall involved removing this option that I paid for. Now I have inoperable buttons on my steering wheel.
Winnebago told me that it was a safety issue because the system they installed was interfering with the engine control module and they don’t have to fix it with their new version because it was out of warranty.
Better business bureau and attorney general investigated it and Winnebago stood firm that it is only a minor inconvenience and will not fix it.
Winnebago should be ashamed for installing inferior and dangerous products, and when caught by the National Highway Safety Commission, they simply remove it instead of repairing it.


Here’s another menace: I bought my 2017 Roadtrek CS Adventurous from a dealer in Michigan. It’s been in the shop as much as it’s been on the road, and since I’m living in it full-time, that means living in RV dealers’ parking lots, waiting for parts….not the scenic, romantic life I was looking forward to! The list of repairs to both the chassis and the house grows and grows. At this moment I’ve just come from Santa Fe (STAY AWAY FROM SANTA FE RV!!!), where I spent a week sitting waiting for repairs that were not even done!!! I now have no fridge (3rd Norcold to die in as many months), no water pump (Santa Fe RV “threw in a new one,” but they failed to adjust the flow so duh, it doesn’t work), no heat (the reason I went to Santa Fe in the first place is they are an Alde dealer, but they don’t know how to trouble shoot the systems and were totally unwilling to work with the Alde rep to learn).

So why are all these systems failing on a rig that’s been on the road for one year? A few months ago I was hooked up to shore power and suddenly there was an explosion. Smoke filled the rig. I bailed out with the dog. The smoke cleared and I started looking for the source of the explosion. Long story short, the power transfer switch had caught fire! Cause, according to my trusted RV repair people in Tucson (Freedom RV): arcing from exposed wires! Knowing this, Roadtrek is allegedly eager to get all these systems fixed, but who is going to do the work, short of my driving this annoying crate to Canada and dropping it in their laps?

The dealership where I bought it was recently gobbled up by Camping World, and the records of their prior sales are in storage. They made a mistake on my bill of sale and did not include the $20,000 deposit I made when I ordered this technological marvel, which causes me problems with insurance, so that’s yet another problem. They refuse to have anything to do with deals made by the previous owners.

It’s maddening that the “good faith” is all on the side of the buyer. There need to be more protections so we’re not simply hung out in the breeze to dry after making these enormous commitments, both financial and lifestyle: many of us sell our homes and most of our possessions in order to get into our truly mobile homes, only to find that we are stuck with a lemon from hell.

Al in Seattle

My life lesson is: “Buy a used RV from an knowledgeable owner, who will show it to you at his or her home.” We’ve had four 10+ year old trailers. None had any issues beyond normal maintenance. We also purchased a brand new Mercedes chassis Class C. Headache after headache with zero support from the dealership. After a year, I improved the suspension, fixed all the gremlins and was able to sell it, from my home, with an absolutely clear conscience. I also told the buyers that if they found any problems with it after taking a couple of trips , to call me and I’d make it right. I also told them to call or Email anytime should they encounter a problem beyond their skill set. Yes, we lost about 20% on the transaction. However, we later found a 2004 Tioga with 10k documented miles for about the same cost as another year of depreciation on the Mercedes. It was for sale by owner, at their home and needed tires, which the seller replaced. Its of much better construction and whatever bugs it had are fixed. Yes, it burns more fuel than a diesel, but, parts and maintenance are cheaper, depreciation is FAR less and i know I’ll never be the last owner.


Your link to the state lemon laws didn’t work for me, tried several times.

Mike Sokol

One of the best things I taught my children was how to work on and fix things. So they can easily change car tires and do their own tire rotation. My one son pulled the head on his Honda Civic to replace a burned exhaust valve. My twin boys replaced the starter on a Saturn and fixed a troublesome electrical problem. And they mostly do their own oil changes, check fluid levels, and change brake pads, etc…

Of course, I supervised most of this, especially when they were really young. But now they know how to learn what must be done for most repairs, and can decide when a job needs to be left to a professional, like swap in an engine. However, they’ve checked with all their 20-something friends, and NONE of them have anywhere the same experiences and level of mechanical/electrical knowledge that they do. Yes, I know they’re my kids and I’m a professional troubleshooter of all types of mechanical/electrical things, but please teach your children how to change a tire.

I would consider your RV a great place to begin your own journey of learning how to fix things, and teach your children as well. So buy yourself some decent tools, find appropriate youtube videos on simple repairs, and get your hands dirty. Even changing your own windshield wipers can be rewarding.

But it is a shame that paying good money for a new RV doesn’t guarantee a high quality product. However, if you suffer alone nothing will be done to change the system. So speak up about your experiences here as well as any other forums you can find. If enough of you raise your voices, you WILL be heard.

Marcia Bliss

We purchased a 2017 Dynamax Isata 5 in Sept. of 2017 only to find our there are no service centers in our area that can handle our chassis. We had to find an independent service center and get permission from Dodge to have it serviced pay for the repairs and submit to bill to a casemanager for reimbursement. We were told any Dodge service center could handle it. We just went through 2 recall repairs and are waiting for reimbursement. We have to take the documentation to a service center to get the service repair documented that is has been done.


Morning, Just a thought and would like to hear others. Hire an independent RV tech. Tell the dealer no deal until your tech goes over the unit and gives his OK. No money laid out to the dealer without a WRITTEN CONTRACT stating this. Also, no more than a few hundred dollars to them. Finally, make deal dependant on the dealer paying you techs fees. This way, quite possibly the dealer may want to make a sale.

Joe Mueller

Thank you for posting this article. I don’t know of ANY RVers who haven’t had significant issues with the quality of their RV’s. RV manufacturers won’t be motivated under the current administration to listen to consumers unless we continue to make our issues public and impact their sales.
Interestingly, several months ago you published a letter from a reader who whined and complained about your (truthful) articles about problems within the RV industry. His letter suggested that he wanted to hear only glowing (false) reports. It made me wonder if his income didn’t depend on RV sales.
Keep reporting on the good and the bad sides of our lifestyle!

Dick and Sandy

A quick look at many of the various state RV Lemon laws shows the words “CHASSIS ONLY”. What that means is that the LIVING PORTION of the RV is NOT COVERED by the lemon law. Unfortunately, that is where the great majority of the problems are located and are not subject to the lemon law leaving the buyer out in the cold. That needs to be changed so that the majority of the problems can be covered. However, the RV industry lobby has managed to keep the CHASSIS ONLY provisions intact and will obviously continue that practice.

Margaret B.

I’m so glad you are covering this issue as I am going through the worst consumer process of my life. My husband and I purchased a 2012 THOR ACE and loved our RV but sadly he passed away from a massive heart attack in 2014 while out buying my Valentines Day flowers. I did go away in the RV a few times after he passed but found it very painful not to have him there so I decided to trade my RV in at the 2017 Seattle RV show and there my hell began. I purchased another brand new 2017 THOR ACE and was told I could pick it up the following week but as each week passed they stalled and delayed my PDI and eventually all calls stopped where I constantly had to call them. They told me there were warranty issues and that they damaged the bedroom door and were waiting for parts. I was finally told I could pick my RV up so I drove the 86 miles with my daughter only to find out nothing had been fixed. They ended up having a 15 staff walkout weeks later and closed their service center so I had to get permission from THOR to transfer it to another service where I had to wait in line at their busiest time along with THOR taking their time to ok repairs and send parts. I am now at 15 months and never had my RV a single day this whole time and the treatment I’m now receiving from THOR has been shocking to say the least, threatening that I can’t turn the RV back over to them and they won’t compensate or renew my warranty. They have dragged this on until my warranty has now expired and I’ve yet to take possession of it. The stress this has caused on top of the loss of my husband has been unbelievable. I also found out that the dealership did not put the RV in my name until May a full 3 months after I signed the papers and was making payments on it plus my tax, insurance and RV storage. I am sickened by the whole process and waiting to collect my RV next week as each time I went in to collect it the repairs had failed again before I could take the RV. Sorry this is so long but I couldn’t believe this was the article this week and there are many more people like me going through this and nobody cares. I just want to drive off with my RV and have my full years warranty and get on with my life!


After buying a new Grand Design Reflection fifth wheel at the dealer in Pasco,Washington last year I discovered a list of problems too numerous to list here…contacting the dealer for repairs was futile..but they did have a mediator who offered $50 to pacify me…really? Buyer beware of any grand Design product as their so called”three PDI” claim is a racket to get your money.The entire RV industry has a quality control problem and most manufacturers,and dealers, could care less after the sale.