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Why your local RV dealer won’t honor your warranty

You bought a new RV and you got a great deal out of state. But now you have a few things wrong with it and so you take it to the corner dealership where you saw the RV the first time. Now they’re saying they won’t work on it. What’s going on? Are they trying to rip you off?

Actually, this is fully legitimate and well within the agreement between the manufacturers and the dealership. So what’s going on?

Understanding RV dealerships 

When you go to a car dealership, that dealership is a franchise. That means that the franchisor, which is the vehicle manufacturer, can make demands on the dealership. In turn, they have to agree to the demand to be in compliance with that franchise agreement. 

This can include things like signage, branding, having brochure racks in the lobby and also details about the service department. A vehicle manufacturer can demand that a franchise dealer have a specific number of certified service technicians. It can also demand that some, or all, of those technicians go through the manufacturer’s service training. 

Nowadays, with customer ratings being more important than ever, it can also be the case that vehicle manufacturers require a dealership to maintain a certain rating with the customers as well. 

Can an RV dealership refuse to do warranty work on your RV if you didn’t buy it there? We have the answer from an RV dealer warranty administrator.

Service training

Most vehicle manufacturers also have training and certification programs. We’ve all seen signs that read something like “factory authorized service” or “factory trained service” at a vehicle dealership. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this at an RV dealership and, right now, it’s not likely that we will, either. 

There are very few RV manufacturers that even have training programs. Further, some RV manufacturers don’t consistently build the products they sell us. 

How are RVs built

RVs are built in different ways, but some manufacturers only have a general idea of how an RV is going to be made. It’s up to the workers on the line to flesh out those details. 

For example, there are RV factories where there are huge spools of wire at the point on the line that the electrical is being installed. When they need to wire in a light fixture, a line worker will just pull enough wire to complete the task. Today they may have red wire with a white stripe. Then, after that spool is done, they may switch to blue wire with a yellow stripe. 

So your RV might be wired with very different colors of wire from the one that followed it down the assembly line. That may also be somewhat true of plumbing. While some RV manufacturers are really consistent about how they wire and plumb their products, this isn’t universally true in the RV space. 

In fact, one of the more unusual things I’ve seen on an RV assembly line is workers hand-cutting holes in floors, ceilings and even side walls for things like windows and doors, vents, and plumbing. It just boggles my mind. 

When a vehicle is being built you can bet that the manufacturers very closely monitor every aspect of that build from the wiring to the number of screws being used. Much of that assembly is done by machines that very precisely repeat the same process over and over, day in and day out. 

RVs are almost all built by hand

RVs are almost all built by hand and while they do use a lot of the same components, there are still a huge number of pieces that are built by human beings on the assembly line. In fact you see RV companies brag about this. But think about how much better automobiles became after the assembly line made production so much more consistent. 

I recently talked with one marketing manager who said his RV company had almost 500 floor plans. This is just one of the many brands from a major name in the RV space who also owns many, many other brands. Imagine going into a car dealership and seeing 500 different choices of Chevrolets or Toyotas? 

Dizzying diversity of floor plans

The dizzying diversity of floor plans including dozens of almost identical layouts that are built by differing brands held by a large company means there’s not often a lot of planning or design that goes into a floor plan. For example, Thor’s Jayco division might build almost the same floor plan as Thor’s K-Z or MPG divisions, but the three divisions are completely independent of one another. 

Of course there are measurements and drawings of the units. But those planning documents don’t necessarily include where the wiring, plumbing, or other things go. This lack of wiring diagrams and specific plumbing schematics means that the tech at your local RV dealership might be spending as much time figuring out how a light or stereo is wired and what color wires are used in this RV as they are spending to actually repair an issue. 

In fact, one of the issues our techs constantly complained about was the lack of available wiring and plumbing diagrams. 



Cost of warranty

A lot of the time spent on the warranty repair of an RV may be the tech just figuring out the wiring and plumbing or other aspects of how that RV was built. 

When an RV dealership has a warranty claim, typically they figure out what’s wrong, take as many photos as possible of the offending pieces, and then submit the claim to the manufacturer. The manufacturer then evaluates whether the claim has merit and approves or denies the claim. 

Part of that process is the dealership requesting reimbursement for time spent on making the repair. Most of the warranty repairs typically have an hourly time estimate assigned to them by the RV manufacturer. For example, if the tech has to replace a stereo, the manufacturer might include 20 minutes of time to do so. 

Let’s say that you have a speaker that’s not working. The tech first spends time fiddling with the stereo to make sure that it’s set correctly, and then more time removing the speaker and testing the wires that lead up to it. Overall the tech may have spent an hour or more just figuring out that the speaker was bad. 

Warranty guidelines from the manufacturer

Examples of wiring issues found by our techs during warranty work. Normally these should be connected

The warranty guidelines from the manufacturer may only budget 15 minutes to replace a speaker. That means that the dealership could end up just “eating” all but 15 minutes of the tech’s time to facilitate that repair. 

This is just one example. When I was facilitating warranty claims at a dealership there were times where it would take hours for the tech to even figure out what the issue was and then additional time removing the broken component. 

Furthermore, not only did we pay the tech who facilitated the repair itself, the dealership also had to pay me to manage all these warranty claims. There was absolutely no accommodation in the reimbursement schedules of RV warranty departments for my time or for the time of whoever is administering the warranties at a dealership. 

My time included not only handling the photographs and details of the warranty claim, but also, if there were parts involved, boxing up and shipping the failed components back to the manufacturer. 

After we got the claim approved, we would have to order the new component, and the tech would then spend time putting that new component in. In the meantime, sometimes we’d have to store the owner’s RV while we were waiting for parts to arrive. 

This was one thing in the days when parts were readily available. But as I write this, many parts are on severe back order so it can take weeks or even months for some parts to arrive at the dealership. And that’s assuming that the repair is even authorized by the manufacturer. 

It’s not worth it

So, the bottom line on all of this is that warranty service at a dealership isn’t a profit center at all. Many dealerships only do the warranty service for customers who purchased their RVs there simply because it’s such a money losing proposition. 

The shortage of RV technicians only compounds the problem. Your local dealership might only be able to find enough qualified technicians to barely cover the warranty claims from customers who purchased their RVs at the dealership. 

Many times I had customers shop us and spend time with our sales staff, who were very well trained and educated, only to ultimately purchase their RV at a wholesale dealer a few hundred miles away. Now not only did we lose that sale, that customer also took time from the sales staff. Later they would return wanting us to do warranty work, which is typically done at a loss.

In this circumstance, which was common, we had no obligation to the customer to perform warranty work on their RV. Furthermore, our techs were so busy servicing the customers who did buy from us there just wasn’t time to service the RVs from people who did not buy from us. So we were within our rights to refuse to do warranty work on RVs that weren’t purchased from us. 

But that’s not always the case. 



Good neighbor policy

There were times when someone was traveling and had an issue that would force them to go back home if it weren’t repaired while they were on their journey. We took in a number of these people just so they could enjoy the remainder of their getaway. 

Our practice was also to help folks who had moved into the area and discovered an issue with their RV. In fact there was such a housing shortage where the dealership I worked for was located, many traveling medical professionals and educators actually lived in their RVs because there weren’t enough houses available. 

Again, we got a decent number of folks who simply took the time of our sales staff and then went a few hundred miles away to an RV discounter and bought from them. The funny thing is, we would have happily matched their pricing if they had given us the opportunity. 

What can you do?

If you find yourself in the position that a local dealership won’t do warranty work on your RV, there are actually things you can do. 

Knowing that there’s such a shortage of RV technicians and service people, some RV manufacturers are now authorizing independent service professionals to perform warranty work. You might contact the manufacturer of your RV and ask them where the closest RV service places are. 

There are also occasions where an RV manufacturer may authorize a mobile RV technician to perform the warranty work. However, this isn’t always the case as mobile technicians often charge a significant fee just to show up at the door. You might work out with your RV’s manufacturer to pay for the cost of the technician to show up and then they reimburse that technician, or you, for the actual cost of the job that needs to be done. 

Final thoughts

Lastly, there is something we all need to do. If you know someone who is relatively handy or has a good work ethic, you might advocate to them to look at a career in the RV industry. It may shock some of you to know that there are hundreds of thousands of RVs being built every year – but there are no more RV technicians out there today than were there ten years ago!

Being an RV technician is a great opportunity and is a job that does pay well. Learning the trade can happen at a local dealership. There are also training schools where someone can become certified in the trade and increase their earning power. 

The RV industry also recognizes the issue and the RV Industry Association, or RVIA, has put together a school to train technicians. The cost of completing a certification program is probably lower than just the lunch privileges at a local college but could return a lifetime of income.



An RV technician brings joy to customers

An RV technician is a job that brings joy to customers because you’re saving people’s vacations and there is absolutely no shortage of work. Opportunities exist at dealerships and other RV service centers. And there’s also plenty of work for someone if they want to strike out on their own. 

I have often said that if someone chooses this career path and gets certified and trained in the repairs needed, they can buy a van and put a magnetic sign on it and have so much work just by driving through an RV park that they’ll want to take that magnetic sign off now and then just to get a break. 

Not all bad.

I also want readers to know that not all RV companies operate in the same manner. While I often come across people complaining about companies like Thor and Forest River, it’s important to know that these larger companies encourage their various brands to operate fairly independently and also to often compete with one another. 

As much as I’ve seen RV companies operate willy nilly, I’ve also seen very precise and quality-oriented practices. I try to share what I know in my daily RV reviews here on RVTravel.com, including how a company handles warranty claims, if I have direct knowlege of that. 

##RVT1030

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Brett Cook
6 months ago

Thanks for this info. As an engineer, I understand the importance of having detailed drawings. Not only does it mean more consistent assembly, it makes it easier to spot problems before they escape to the customer
As you point out, this would also save time trouble shooting, and getting the correct parts by a local tech.
This makes me want to request plumbing and electrical diagrams for any unit I’m considering buying so I can vet manufacturers quality.
I feel like this is something that manufacturers should be able to supply. If they can’t, that’s a red flag.

Jane
7 months ago

Do your research, it’s not such a great deal if you now have to travel 4 states away to have warranty work done. We learned this 1 week before we were planning to pick up our New MH, 4 states away, and canceled the deal. They didn’t seem surprised when we told them why and they gave us our deposit back without any hassle. We then found a local mom-and-pop dealer 1 hour from home who matched the price. We had to order it and only took a couple of months longer at the time, pre-pandemic.

Richard
7 months ago

All RV’s have manufacturing issues and any brand CAN have a disaster happen on the road. However, it seems clear that the INCIDENCE of such disasters is much greater with some than with others. Just like with cars: you expect Toyotas to break down LESS often than Fiats. Perhaps the answer is to buy those that need less warranty work to begin with. The problem is that, unlike cars, more reliable RV’s usually cost significantly more. Therefore, people should understand that, for example, a 4-5 year old LTV, Coach House or Phoenix Cruiser (and other quality brands) may be a much better choice than a brand new, similarly equipped and similarly priced, Forest River or Thor product.

Larry Hento
7 months ago

Excellent article! This was one of my main concerns when shopping for our diesel pusher motorhome in 2018. After several years of thorough research, I sent build sheets to 5 dealers across the country. All responded with quotes and the difference between the highest and lowest was only $5,000. When I visited our local dealership, they did not want to deal with a knowledgeable buyer and refused to give us a quote. We purchased from a dealer 2000 miles away and the deal couldn’t have gone smoother. When it was time for warranty work we called the service department of our local dealer. They were more than happy to address all our needs. Guess where we take our motorhome for our now out of warranty work and maintenance? Yes, the local dealer service department earned our continued business and loyalty.

friz
7 months ago

“So, the bottom line on all of this is that warranty service at a dealership isn’t a profit center at all. Many dealerships only do the warranty service for customers who purchased their RVs there simply because it’s such a money losing proposition.” You took page after page of unrelated words to say this. egads.  

Scott Gitlin
7 months ago

Generally speaking, warranty service is a losing proposition in all service industries. I think it would make more sense to do research, inspect, and then buy used from a private party with no warranty. If a repair comes up that you cannot handle, service centers are more willing to handle your problem. A healthy service center has a higher ratio of COD to warranty repairs.

Montgomery D Bonner
7 months ago

Was Master RV Tech-Retired. I left industry because I would get call, diagnose issue, submit estimate, and then the customer says, Oh I will fix it myself. I should have charged them for my time, but I try to give more than I get, unfortunately, usually I would get stiffed. People want it for nothing, and do not want to pay, at least that is my experience. Yes, RV Tech is great job, but work for dealership and moonlight if necessary. Quality service techs are rare. And be specific on which systems you are going to service, i.e., Hydro-hot/oasis, Suburban furnace or all Attwood. More higher quality clients, and when heat is out, they want it fixed.

BILLY Bob Thronton
7 months ago

This story never ends. So, do this. Buy from whoever you like, and bank the savings in an imaginary accout. Then, when you need work performed, pay for it. Warranties vary, but most stuff is prety much out of coverage by the end of year two or three.

Then, do the math and see if it worked out for you. Oh, and one more thing, report back here when an article of this particular topic appears and we can all learn from the exercise.

Bob Parish
7 months ago

The need for technicians is real. Unfortunately a lot of dealers don’t pay their techs very well despite charging upwards of $150.00 an hour. I went to a RV tech school in Texas in 2018 and started my own mobile repair service and have been flooded with work since. We do some manufacture warranty work, but not through them, we have the customer pay us and we give them a detailed invoice to get reimbursed by the manufacturer, most people don’t have a problem with it. The RV industry is self governed, therefore there is very little quality control in the manufacturing of these units.

Roy Davis
7 months ago

Great article. When I said pretty much the same thing on an “owners” forum I was lambasted by fellow members saying I didn’t know what I was talking about. This was over a safety recall. They were told that they would have to wait 3 months and their own customers got taken care of first. Having been involved in the car industry and knowing a family who owned a RV dealership, I was well aware of the differences. I just posted this week that dealerships had been fixing the build on RV for years.

Brenda
7 months ago

We were told on our first RV, that only a Keystone trained person could fix our rig, that needed to be fixed due to Keystone put on wall on one of our water lines. We got lucky and found someone in NV. That’s why we never purchased an extended warranty. So wrong.

bull
7 months ago
Reply to  Brenda

Keystone was/is able to pay ANYONE they want to do Warranty work on their behalf. It does not have to be a Keystone dealer. Remember there is No Franchise Agreement with the selling dealer and Keystone.

If Keystone chooses to use an independent tech familiar with their product to do a WARRANTY REPAIR on their behalf so be it. If the repair is approved as a warranty repair the manufacturer is paying the bill so they are going to have a say in who performs the work. Remember only the product manufacturer can legally give you a “Warranty”.

An “Extended Warranty” you purchase is a SERVICE CONTRACT NOT A WARRANTY. If you purchase one coverage DOES NOT activate/pay for covered repairs until Manufacturer Warranty runs out do to time or any other limiting EXCLUSIONS written in their Manufacturer’s Warranty.

Last edited 7 months ago by bull
Suzanne Davis
7 months ago

On my gosh, thank you for this article. We have our firsr rig on order, but in the mean time we’ve decided to leave and move to possibly TN. That will make any Waranty work really hard.

I think we should get our deposit back and buy back east. The rig we ordered is a western style.

But we were hoping to possibly live in it if we needed to until we find the house we want. What a pickle.

Sincerely,

Suzanne D

Richard Chabrajez
7 months ago

First – If RV manufacturers were compelled by legislature to pay ALL warranty repair claims, regardless of who does the repair, I’m betting wiring and plumbing standards and diagrams (and better quality) would show up pretty quickly.

Second – I spoke with 2 different qualified RV technicians who said the wages they were offered when applying at RV dealerships were insultingly low. C’mon dealers, STEP UP!.

Barnacle Bill
7 months ago

I couldn’t agree more! Perhaps RVIA or manufacturers could have a school teaching workers how to do quality work and have pride in their work. Based on the quality coming out of most manufacturers neither the workers nor the manufacturers are concerned with putting out a quality product. It seems like the workers don’t care and there doesn’t seem to be any quality control or inspections by the manufacturers at the end of the line.

Mike Schwab
7 months ago
Reply to  Barnacle Bill
Joseph Cox
7 months ago

Interesting reading article and comments. We living in so. Calf. We went to the Lance dealer and went through their factory. Not that many models as most manufacturers. Not saying Lance does not have their share of issues, but seem to have more of an assembly line.. We are doing some upgrades so we took it to the factory, for the upgrades. No real problems with our rig.
Not everyone can go to the factory, but seems like a BIG advantage if you can

wanderer
7 months ago
Reply to  Joseph Cox

As the author describes, there are too many floorplans, too many variations to allow for quick and quality builds. I disagree with the author about hand-building being the problem, that’s not the problem, it’s constantly shifting designs, poorly thought out for building and maintenance.

So if you can’t buy from a factory, buy from one of the manufacturers which tries to keep the same models year to year, so the builders can master how to build them properly.

Doug
7 months ago

I’ve done residential repairs, home theater installations and computer work for 15+ years and thought about becoming a RV technician, but hearing your description of the non-standards in the build process makes me want to run away from this vocation. What a nightmare!

Mike Schwab
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug

All your residential repair experience would apply to RVs. Home theater installs would help with electrical work. Maybe buy an old RV for next to nothing and rebuild? Water damage can need everything taken out and replacing walls and often can be bought for little to nothing.

Tom
7 months ago

Great article! I learned all these lessons the hard way. Bought my first RV from a local dealer. The service was excellent. Bought my second RV from Camping World. My local dealer wouldn’t perform any warranty work on it until I sat down with the owner. He then begrudgingly agreed to repair some stuff but not all. Of course I haven’t been back since and low and behold he sold the dealership to Camping World. Go figure!
Now I do most of the work on the RV except Chassis work which Freightliner has done on all my RVs.
This is an industry begging for change. If someone ever takes this on in a quality way they will make a killing.

bull
7 months ago

What’s the difference between a “Warranty” and a “Service Contract”?

Many consumer products including cars, appliances and electronic devices come with a WARRANTY which is the MANUFACTURER’S PROMISE to stand behind the product. Warranties Are Included in the Purchase Price Of The Product. If a company offers a Warranty it must be available for you to read BEFORE you buy even when you’re shopping by catalog or online.

IT’S THE LAW!

What a Warranty covers can vary widely. When you’re shopping for things by price or style consider comparing what the Warranty also covers.

A “Service Contract” is sometimes called an “Extended Warranty” but Service Contracts ARE NOT Warranties. A Service Contract can help you fix or maintain your product for a specific time like a Warranty. UNLIKE A WARRANTY a service contract costs YOU EXTRA MONEY.
You can find some Service Contracts May or May Not give you the same coverage you got from the original Manufacturer’s Warranty.

Read Contract Terms!

Bob S
7 months ago

This story is further reason:
1) To not buy a new RV.
2) To not buy an RV from a dealer.

CHARLES S
7 months ago
Reply to  Bob S

I agree! Never ever TRUST a RV dealer or Manufacturer unless you have experience with them that makes them TRUSTworthy.

Steve Murray
7 months ago

Don’t Buy the Mostly Worthless extra Warranty. Take the one that came with the RV. Don’t pay Dealer Prep or other BS Fees.. Take your savings and find a Mobile RV Tech or Independent Service Center. Have your RV Inspected at the Dealership at Purchase and Cancel if they don’t fix it immediately. Have your RV Inspected before your Manufacturers Warranty runs out. The Dealers don’t care about you.

K. Howland
7 months ago

Don’t expect the dealer to keep you on the road. Learn to maintain, alter, and repair things yourself. We’ve had three new and two used RVs in the last five years, and none have been back to the dealer for anything. These are simple, poorly designed and manufactured, easy-to-repair vehicles. If it’s got an automotive chassis (Class A, B or C) use the Ford, Chevy, Mercedes dealer for mechanical repair, but learn to fix the RV part yourself.

CLeeNick
7 months ago
Reply to  K. Howland

I can’t agree more with the “learn to fix the RV part yourself” statement. Out here in the western US, I’ve found that when things fail, we’re usually 100 or more miles from ANY RV parts or service center. We’re carrying parts for things that could fail and wreck our trip..spare water pump, some plumbing repair fittings, electronic boards for furnace, fridge, water heater, some electrical wire and connectors, even spare faucets since they are cheap and easy to replace..we boondock a lot and water is at a premium in the desert southwest, so no leaks/drips is very important. We’ve had faucets start to drip out in the boonies and I can switch one out in no time and then fiddle around with fixing the leaky one when we get back home. There’s nothing worse than having to use up travel/vacation time trying to do a bodgy repair when I can just quickly swap something out and bet back to having fun.

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