We’re not sure it’s a “lived happily ever after” story, but it is one that shows the value of perseverance. An Australian couple, William and Deborah Hoskin, bought a new travel trailer (“caravan”) back in 2017. Right from the start the rig leaked—and leaked—and never could the manufacturer get it to stop. Their story of frustration to final vindication could shine a ray of hope for Americans who struggle with a lemon RV.
“Lather, rinse, repeat” lemon RV story
William and Deborah’s story sounds like one we hear far too often from RVtravel.com readers. Buy a new rig, find a problem, go back to the dealer. Dealer allegedly “fixes” the problem. Customer takes back RV, only to find the problem returns, or really wasn’t fixed right. As the commercial says, “Lather, rinse, repeat,” hitting bigger heights of frustration.
The Hoskins plunked down nearly 95,000 Australian dollars in early 2017 for a new Avida Topaz Multi-Terrain Caravan. We can only imagine their excitement on taking it out for their first trip a few weeks later. But when they opened the cabinets, imagine their dismay to find pooling water. The water dripped onto the galley countertops, and oozed its way into the electrics in the ceiling. Back to the dealer the rig went.
Around four months later, after the rig had been returned to them as repaired, the Hoskins found more water leakage. Back to the dealer the trailer goes. Next month, rain fell on the rig—and didn’t stop outside. More leaks. A few months passed, and now 2018 has rolled around—about a year after their purchase. They kept the rig under cover, and didn’t spend time on the road until 2019. That year, they had a blissful 38 days on the road; likewise, in 2020, 57 more travel days. In both those years, their travels were done under fair skies.
But in January 2021, things got ugly again. Getting the rig ready for a trip, they found “extensive corrosion and rust” in the metal sheeting the manufacturer had used in the flooring. This time William and Deborah took their complaints to the builder, Avida. They fired off photos of the damage. Avida responded quickly, acknowledging the rust was caused by water damage, and directed them to a specific repair firm. That outfit told the Hoskins that the roof needed to be resealed, and that everything up topside, including the rig’s solar panels, would need to be removed. The company said they could do the work, but couldn’t guarantee that would necessarily stop the leaks. They’d need nearly $5,500 for the job.
A few days after getting the quote, the Hoskins had had enough. They told the trailer manufacturer, Avida, that the company needed to pay for the roof reseal, or buy back their trailer. Avida quickly responded, “too bad,” that the Hoskin’s warranty had been breached because the Hoskins’ rig, “had not been regularly serviced.” The family argued that Avida’s work did not meet “acceptable quality” under Australian law. A lemon RV. At that point, Avida told the Hoskins to bring their rig back to the factory, where the company would do the repairs.
And after a few months…
Several months later, on June 1, Avida contacted the Hoskins and told them their rig was ready for pick up. The floor damage was fixed, and repairs had been done underneath the rig, but, the company said, they couldn’t find out where the leak was coming from. Avida essentially told the Hoskins, “If you can find the leak, bring it back, we’ll fix it.” You can guess the rest of the story. About a month later, while taking a road trip with their trailer, William and Deborah were dismayed to find more water leakage. Compounding the issue, some cabinets started to peel away from the walls, there was a crack in the shower floor, and the electric steps stopped working.
Less than two months after the factory repairs were done, the Hoskins once again towed their rig back to the Avida plant. “Sorry,” said Avida, “No can do. We can’t fix the cabinets and the shower—that’s too much major work.” Even if the company had been willing to do the work, they couldn’t guarantee that the repairs would actually fit properly. As for those electric steps, the company said they couldn’t get to it for six months. Fed up, the Hoskins told the RV dealer they wanted their money back. It refused.
No need to shop for a lemon RV attorney
What’s the next stop in this lemon RV case? Would the Hoskins be shopping for an attorney? Not in the Land Down Under. The Hoskins turned to QCAT, the Queensland Civil Administrative Tribunal. It’s an independent agency that “efficiently resolves disputes and makes decisions on a range of matters.” Less formal than a court, the tribunal is usually presided over by a lawyer. While folks who seek help from the tribunal can be represented by a lawyer of their own, it’s not necessary, and many do speak for themselves.
William and Deborah Hoskin took their case to QCAT and argued it on their own. They had wisely hired a structural engineer to look over their trailer, and used his report as part of their argument that Avida had not done a proper job of manufacturing their rig.
In its findings, the tribunal referred to Australian law as it applies to a “guarantee as to acceptable quality.” If a firm sells something, it essentially warrants that the product is fit for “all the purposes for which goods of that kind are commonly supplied … free from defects and … safe and … endurable as a reasonable consumer … would regard as acceptable.”
The tribunal found, “[T]he caravan was not of acceptable quality at time of sale. It was not free of defects, safe or durable as a reasonable consumer fully acquainted with the state and condition of the goods (including the water leak and damage caused by the leak) would regard as acceptable.” The Hoskins had themselves a certified lemon RV. They were given two weeks to return the trailer to the dealer, and for its part, the dealer would need to cut the Hoskins a check for their original purchase price.
U.S. legal counterpart?
So how does this all play out in the U.S.? Sadly, there is no equivalent of a Civil Administration Tribunal. Lemon RVs are too valuable to fall into the small claims court arena. And while many states do have automotive lemon laws, not all would apply to a wide range of RVs. However, there is a federal law that does apply to lemon RVs, and its basic principles seem to mirror Australia’s “guarantee as to acceptable quality.”
The federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, often referred to as the federal lemon law, provides a legal basis for lemon RVs. Under the act, goods costing more than $25 that have a written warranty and fail to perform to the expected standards after multiple failed repair attempts must either be replaced with a new, effective product, or the consumer has to be reimbursed for the purchase of the item. Here’s a more detailed explanation of state lemon laws and the federal “lemon law.”
But hiring an attorney does create some hesitation. If the matter goes to court, attorney fees should be picked up with a favorable ruling. Some lemon RV law attorneys also tout that if the case is settled out of court, they’ll also see to it that attorney fees are covered. One says, “As always, with our FAIR FEE GUARANTEE our attorneys’ fees will never exceed your out of court compensation.” Hang on, let’s read that again, real s-l-o-w. We’ll never have to pay the attorney more than our out of court compensation? Read the fine print in the contract, and maybe get a second opinion before you hire.
In a related area, it might be possible to be compensated for what so many RVers complain about: aggravation and inconvenience experienced with the repeat visits to the shop and loss of use of your RV. Tallied as “incidental and consequential damages,” you’ll likely find these excluded in the RV’s written warranty. However, if your dealer failed to make effective repairs “with a reasonable opportunity” and it can be proven, they may be on the hook for compensation.
While William and Deborah Hoskins seem to have had a fairly easy go under the Australian system, even in the U.S., it’s possible to get relief from a lemon RV.