By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Two major national RV retailers have been hit with strict orders and one with a $50,000 fine by New York state. RV One Superstores, Inc. and RV Retailer East, LLC signed off on agreements after the New York Attorney General’s office investigated complaints by consumers. The two outfits were found to have cheated customers in multiple ways. They also dragged their feet when making repairs to customers’ RVs.
RV One Superstores previously owned Albany RV in Latham, New York, and Buffalo RV in West Seneca. The big outfit sold both of these dealerships to RV Retailer in December 2018. Even before the sale, consumers raised a hue and cry that both Albany and Buffalo cheated customers. The complaints were made both to the Attorney General and to the Better Business Bureau.
Classic “bait and switch”
What kind of cheating went on? By customer allegations, “bait and switch” was a big deal. In agreements between the state’s attorney general and both big retailers, here’s how the typical cheat went down. A potential customer would stop in at one of the retail locations and a salesperson would walk them through the lot. “In some cases,” says the agreement, the customer would ask to buy a particular used rig. ‘Sorry,’ the salesman would say, ‘but we’ve already got a deposit on that rig.’ Quoting the agreement, the salesman would then say, ‘We have an ‘identical’ or superior one elsewhere on the lot or at another RV One store.”
Hearing this “good news,” some customers would then agree to buy that “identical” or superior used rig – oftentimes sight unseen. This was based on the salesman’s promise that if the rig needed repairs, it would get them, “or restored to ‘pristine’ condition,” before the RVer came to get the rig.
Set up for a warranty cheat
You can only imagine John Q. RVer, sitting down in the back room. He’s signing off on paperwork, and he’s hearing all about the “warranty” that comes on that rig. The dealer would include a 30-day warranty on all used rigs less than ten years old. What was included in this month-long warranty? Only “major appliances,” like the fridge, water heater, furnace, etc. Of course, for a few dollars more, customers allege they were told they could buy an extended warranty, giving them “bumper to bumper” coverage.
With the paperwork signed, the money put down, RV customers were then given a come-back date for a walk-through of their rig. At their option, the customer could take the rig home on the day of the walk-through. But in many cases, they did not, but opted to get the unit later, or have the seller deliver it to them.
Here’s where the outfits cheated customers. And it probably doesn’t take a mystery-novel fan to figure out the whodunit from here. “A significant number” of the complaints made say that while the customer was shown one rig, which they signed up to buy, when walk-through time came, hey, presto! The rig they bought wasn’t the one the company was going to deliver. It wasn’t uncommon that “a different, inferior one (in poorer condition or missing certain luxury features, e.g., leather interior),” was what they were expected to take away from a dealer lot.
In other cases, some customers said the rig they agreed to buy appeared – at the time of the initial showing – to be in nearly perfect shape. But when the time came to sign off on the paperwork, woopsie! It seems that particular unit isn’t available now. The promise was made to “get them an ‘identical camper’ from the lot” or another location. Paper signed, the deal would go through. But on delivery, that “identical camper” was in much worse shape than the rig they saw to start with. Others said the salesman had promised to repair and clean them – but they didn’t.
Money back? Heck, no!
Naturally, many of these customers balked and demanded they get their deposits back. But RV Retailer and RV Superstores many times refused, essentially telling the customers, “You bought it!” Feeling they were stuck between a rock and hard place, the customers gave in, and “were often stuck waiting for several weeks for repairs/enhancements to accept the camper.”
These dealers cheated customers in other ways, too. Customers complained that those supposed “bumper to bumper” warranties excluded a variety of areas of the rigs. Those that didn’t pump out the money for an extended warranty found their 30-day warranties weren’t quite what they expected. Some found out their warranty period ran from the date of their walk-through, regardless of whether they took delivery at that time or not. The clock had already started running when some found problems that needed to be addressed.
Repair time? More like “drag feet” time
To add insult to injury, many customers complained that when they would call the dealership about a problem, their calls were not returned. Some reported having to wait weeks before they could get a repair appointment. When they did finally get their rigs into the dealership for repair, they would “wait weeks, or sometimes months” before even being told whether the repairs would be covered under warranty. And then, they often found the repairs were not done in the promised time frame, with excuses such as the outfit was “busy with other repairs or waiting for parts.”
Late in December, New York’s attorney general announced agreements with both RV Superstores and RV Retailer. Both were found to have “engaged in deceptive business practices and failed to make timely repairs to consumers’ vehicles”. RV Superstores has ponied up $50,000 in fines. The attorney general reports that both have already repaired many of the rigs. In the agreement, neither RV Retailer nor RV One Superstores “neither admits nor denies” the attorney general’s findings.
Not just fines – significant orders
In addition to the fines, the agreements made with the two outfits contain these directives (and more):
- They will not misrepresent repairs or enhancements made to rigs prior to a customer delivery, nor any material facts about the rig’s condition. They must not misrepresent information about warranty terms or service contracts.
- Must not misrepresent when a repair will be completed, nor the reason why it hasn’t been completed.
- They must not have customers sign off on a contract until the customer has actually seen the rig when the purchase is made in-person and on site.
- Will need to respond to all phone calls and messages in three business days.
- When warranty repair service is called for, the customer must be given “a timely service appointment.” The problem must be prioritized so that customers aren’t prevented from using their rigs. Within five days of a service appointment, the dealers will need to either submit the request for warranty service claims (if required), get started on the work, or order the parts for warranty repairs.
- For customers who buy a rig with a 30-day warranty on a motorhome, the “warranty clock” can’t start until the day the customer moves the rig from the lot.
- And here’s one the dealers will really love: They must “maintain sufficient service technicians on staff so that repairs which [they, the seller] is authorized to perform and not including those to be performed by the manufacturer or other third party, are completed without unreasonable delay, subject to events beyond [their] control.”
If only other states would take notice
That $50,000 fine for cheating customers may be distributed by the attorney general to those injured customers. It’s not clear how many individuals’ complaints were reviewed in the investigation, but we peg it at less than 300. If that’s the case, and the money distributed equally, it would amount to less than $200 each. Pretty much symbolic.
On the other hand, the orders that these two companies have been given are significant. New York’s action doesn’t set legal precedent for other states. But it does send a signal that others might hear. Imagine RV dealerships around the country actually having to provide “timely service” for repair work. Imagine them having to maintain a staff of service technicians so there aren’t “unreasonable delays” in getting your RV back. Could be a pipe dream, but perhaps it’s a start.
Have you been a cheated RV customer? We’d like to hear about it. Use the form below and put “RV cheat” on the subject line.