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.