Saturday, December 2, 2023


RVers — Watch out for “helpful” con artists


By Russ and Tiña De Maris

A few years ago we were parked at a Utah Walmart when a man knocked on our door. He said he noticed we had a serious suspension problem with our trailer, and just wanted to let us know about it. He also helpfully pointed to a nearby service station, where, he said, we could probably get the issue fixed. For some reason, something didn’t sound right about it so later, when we pulled out, we went across town to a different shop. There a relatively minor suspension problem was found on the opposite side of our rig — and was fixed inexpensively.

We’re not pointing the finger at any particular state, but this “helpful” person issue popped up on the radar again. A court case out of New Harmony, Utah, brings up the point. In this case, a “helpful” fellow flagged over Curt Albert, a Utah man, who was towing his trailer with Montana plates down Interstate 15. The man told Albert that he’d spotted his right-rear trailer tire wobbling, and suggested Albert follow him to a shop he worked at. Albert “bit,” and when he left Freeway Tire in New Harmony he had four new shock absorbers on his trailer, and was $1,018.10 lighter in the pocketbook.

Last March, an administrative law judge ordered Freeway Tire to fork over $27,500 in fines for violating consumer protection law. How did Freeway Tire end up in court? It’s because Curt Albert figured out he’d been scammed. In a story appearing in The Salt Lake Tribune, Albert says what really ticked him off was that he’d ignored the warning signs. The helpful service man who stopped him said he’d seen the right-rear tire wobbling — but the man in the shop found “a broken shock” on the left side of the rig, and told him he should replace all four — this on a rig towed less than 2,000 miles. Incidentally, those shocks scaled in at more than $700 of the final bill — and the same make and model of those four shocks could be purchased at a nearby NAPA store for less than $30 each.

Freeway Tire also came under the judge’s ire for another “helpful” intercession. A 78-year-old Las Vegas RVer dropped in to buy ice, and a Freeway Tire employee kindly pointed out the man’s front tires were “cracked.” He went away deflated of $1,121 for two tires, fees, service, equalizer bags, and tax. The judge ruled some of the tire shop’s representations to the man were lies, and they didn’t adequately explain the charges the man would be paying.

This isn’t the first time Utah stations have come under legal fire for ripping off travelers. Back in 2015 the state’s Division of Consumer Protection fined Flying J franchises in Scipio and Beaver $10,000 after they “represented to consumers that repairs, inspections, or other services are necessary when such is not the fact” and that the businesses “represented to consumers that goods being inspected or diagnosed are in dangerous condition … when such is not the fact.”

The basis for the judgment boiled down to this: When travelers pulled in for fuel at Flying J stations, drivers (typically RVers) were told by a station employee that their tire (or tires) looked as if they were ready to separate. They would then be directed to a nearby shop, in one town called Goober’s Service, in another, Goober and Gomer’s Service, whereupon they’d be offered new tires, and in some cases would be also sold new shocks or suspension parts. One older RVer reported he wasn’t told how much the replacement tires would cost him until the rig was off the ground and all the tires removed.

In our case, we didn’t get directed to any of these three businesses, but to an entirely different outfit. But what probably saved our bacon was not ignoring that little suspicion buzzer that went off in our heads. We didn’t go where it was suggested we go, we kept going, looking for a different shop. Yes, there may truly be some folks out there who will legitimately point out what they believe to be problems with someone’s rig. But if they tell you where to go — you might be better off telling them where to go.

And if you think you might really have a problem, then pull over to a safe spot and cool down. If you have Internet access, look up Yelp! and check out other customer comments, or Angie’s List if you’re a member. Look up the Better Business Bureau website and see if there are complaints about a shop you may be thinking about using. And when you do get there, get a written repair estimate BEFORE you give a go-ahead. Make sure the repair order specifies all the work to be done, including what parts are needed, and how much you’ll be charged for labor — and how. Hourly? Or by the job? If you’re told that you’ll need parts, ask to see the part that needs replacing. And don’t let them just show you a part — make sure they show you, on your own rig, where the part goes. Some rotters will just show you a bad part off someone else’s unit, trying to convince you that you’re in trouble.



Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.



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steve (@guest_11911)
6 years ago

We have a Simular problem in FL. If you take your vehicle to one of those quick oil change places they will clean you out if you let them. It is a smaller scale than a motor home but still is a crime by the greedy.

Keith (@guest_11823)
6 years ago

Last April we stopped at a Utah Visitor’s Center just off of I-15 and south St George. When we came out of the Visitor’s Center (where we were helped by a very nice and well-informed volunteer) there was a guy checking out our trailer. He claimed to have spotted a suspension problem and knew just where we should go to get it fixed. With all kinds of alarm bells sounding in my head we declined. I crawled under the trailer when we got to our campground and could find nothing wrong. So yes, beware in Utah !

Susie (@guest_12178)
6 years ago
Reply to  Keith

Same thing, same place in 2016. That Visitor’s Center parking lot has probably been a scammer hotbed for years. We didn’t take the bait either.

Streamintrip (@guest_11807)
6 years ago

Well, we live in UT, and the points the aforementioned readers have made are VERY RELEVANT! Right now the State is in the midst of a 2nd major investigation of similar issues in the last 2 years.Visit us, we’ve a lot to offer in the way of absolute beauty, BUT BEWARE of ‘helpful advice’ while on the road!!

Marilyn (@guest_11795)
6 years ago

Back in 2009 I was travelling from northern Alberta down to Tucson. Yup. Utah. Gas station. Told I needed at least 1 if not 2 tires. Here I was – a single woman with her dog, never towed before in my life – I bought into it hook, line and sinker to the tune of $1,000.
Nowadays I would know differently.

Tommy Molnar (@guest_11745)
6 years ago

Whoa! Bad press for Utah. We’ll keep this in mind next time we cross over into UT.

Jay (@guest_11729)
6 years ago

I, too, had a similar experience in utah, along I 15. Stopped to get a Dairy Queen, saw a guy walking to the other side of my motor home. When I came out, he stopped me and said I had a bulging tire, but could get it fixed at a tire store at the Same exit.

Checked the tire (on the far side of the rig, of course), looked like he had kicked it to make it bulge. Stopped at the tire store, looked at it again, wasnt bad. Told the owner I ought to report him to the highway patrol. He looked at the tire, said he didn’t think it needed to be replaced after all. Headed down the road.

West side of I-15, somewhere North of I-70 junction, rural area with small shopping center with Dairy Queen at south end, tire shop at north end. Be carefull

Dick Mallery (@guest_11727)
6 years ago

Had the same thing happen at Walmart in Cedar City, Ut. Found a guy laying under my motorhome as I walked out of the store. When I asked him what he was doing he told me I had issues with my shocks and I should stop over to his shop. The scam alert in my head was going off immediately.

L. Z. (@guest_11689)
6 years ago

If you want to go to Utah to see the rocks do it; but do not buy anything from anyone in Utah. I would not trust any business in Utah; believe me, this is from experience.

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