Tuesday, May 29, 2012

RV service with a smile

I have had many questions related to customer service and many of them are from obvious dissatisfied customers. Most have to do with warranty and repair. Often it seems that RV service centers want the rig for several days, keep customers in the dark as to repair progress, break more than they fix and are unclear as to how the charges will be figured. I also get a lot of questions on how to go about purchasing a used RV. I thought I would answer both of these issues with a recent experience we just had with purchasing a used motorhome.

We bought a 2006 Winnebago Sightseer 29R. I first saw it on Ebay and it was actually in my hometown. I was immediately interested. It only had 1,700 miles on it. The owner had used it as his up north cabin, even decorating it with forest scenes and log wallpaper. My first impression of the Ebay pictures was that someone had actually put fake logs in his motorhome. I was out of town when the auction ended and could not email the owner to see if it sold. I did some detective work and after a few weeks found the motorhome still unsold. The owners had moved out of state and a relative was trying to sell it for them. There were two reasons I did not buy it at that point. First, I was now 1,800 miles away in Glacier National Park, and second, I was suspect. It was priced twenty thousand dollars less than anything like it online.

We were in Glacier for two months and when I came home I thought for sure it would be gone at this low price. I called and it was still available. Now I was even more suspect. We drove out and I crawled all over the beast. It had hardly been used. I was worried that mice may have been residing in it and chewed wiring. I was afraid some of the plumbing seals might be dried and cracked from lack of use. I was worried about the roof seal, generator and many other systems that suffer from lack of attention and use. I could find very little wrong with this unit. At forty grand it seemed like a good buy, but I just couldn't pull the trigger. A month later, in September, friends from Florida with the same model were visiting and they wanted to see it. I called and it was still available. We all went out. Took dozens of pictures, looked at all the many options the RV had, again climbed all over it, and again didn't make an offer.

We really liked the Jayco motorhome we had, it was paid for and we had recently put a lot of money into making it exactly the way we wanted it, with everything familiar and in working order. Did we have to get into a new relationship with a different rig?

I THOUGHT WE HAD MADE A GOOD DECISION and forgot about it. In January, my wife said, "Email the guy and see if he sold it so we can forget about it and delete all these pictures off the laptop." I did and received an immediate response from his ex-wife. She never wanted the thing in the first place and ended up with it in the divorce. She said she was a very motivated seller, but she had relocated the motorhome 900 miles away. I made her an offer and she immediately took it. I was confident that the unit had little wrong with it, she was a wonderful person to do business with, and it was right on our way to Arizona/New Mexico anyway. When we picked it up it was full of gas (75 gallons), propane, three new batteries and clean as a whistle. She said her husband might have used the refrigerator for popsicles once.

I immediately took it to a local service center and had it checked out, the fluids changed and the brakes checked. They could find nothing wrong.

I guess the moral of the RV shopping story is to take your time, make no rash, impulse buying decisions, look for a unit that is loaded with options you don't have to buy later, and put an effort into dealing with sellers you feel comfortable with. Also, study enough models to know what you want, then narrow your search so that you can compare apples to apples. Know what to look for as problem areas, such as roof leaks, plumbing seals, appliance functions, engine systems, etc.

Now for "The Rest of the Story," as my old friend Paul Harvey used to say. When I was in high school I worked for Warner Trailer Sales in Pontiac, Michigan, the largest Airstream dealer in the country. If I could find a dealership and repair facility that even came close to the way they treated customers I would think I had died and gone to heaven. Maybe one exists, but I haven't found it yet. Fair, courteous, friendly, reasonable, and just plain squared-away. If you know of such a place, share it with the rest of us.

Although I haven't found a dealer/service center that fits that bill, I did find a manufacturer. With the few things I found wrong with our new Winnebago, we decided to make a pit stop at the factory in Forest City, IA on the way home this spring. I found that the awning had never been used and the material was rotted. I called ahead and was told they were two weeks out for an appointment, but that we could show up and they would fit us in. When we arrived at the customer service counter, we ran into smiling, genuinely friendly people who wanted to help. They set our appointment for the next morning, gave us hookups in a park-like setting next to customer service, offered wifi, coffee, games, reading room, parts store and a great group of other Winnebago owners going through the same process. We felt right at home.

Then there is the town. More friendly people. We could walk uptown by sidewalk, or down along the Winnebago River by bike trail.

The next morning we were assigned a technician who came out and talked to us about the new awning and answered all the other questions I had about the rig. He then drove off with the motorhome for the day. He said he would return with it at 3:30.

We walked into town and went to Sally's restaurant for breakfast. My wife always finds it hard to order steam basted eggs in a restaurant. It always seems to confuse the wait staff. Here, Sally, the owner, came out of the kitchen, sat down with us and said, "Just tell me exactly how you want those eggs and I will make them for you."

I was hoping they needed to work on the motorhome a few days, I loved this place. We took the factory tour with a retired Winnebago employee who was not only knowledgable, but one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet. The time we spent in the waiting lobby passed quickly as we met dozens of other Winnebago owners and all had stories to tell.

At 3:30 all of our motorhomes started pulling into the parking lot. Our personal technician met with us and went over the work that had been done. In our case we were finished. Not only had Winnebago replaced the awning, but they found some broken screws along the awning rail that held the one piece roof in place. Even though we were no longer under any warranty, they replaced the awning rails on both sides of the motorhome and re-sealed the entire roof at no extra charge.

IN THE BEGINNING OF THIS STORY I said I was looking for, "Fair, courteous, friendly, reasonable, and just plain squared-away" service. I found that and more in Forest City, Iowa. If I ever need any work done, there is no question where I will be headed.

What did I find wrong with this rig after living in it for three months and going over it with a fine-toothed comb? Besides the rotted awning, I had to wash the pig. It sat outside unattended for a few years and the elements stuck to it like glue. I hand scrubbed it completely, used Poly Ox on the whole thing, then six coats of Poly Glow. It now shines like a new penny. The Fernco rubber plumbing fitting from the black water tank to the slide valve assembly was cracked and leaking. That's an easy fix as long as you are a contortionist. The original dealer did not winterize it properly for the seller, although they did charge him an arm and a leg for the service. I had to replace the water pump screen bulb that was never emptied and tighten a couple hose fittings behind the shower wall. Other than that it drives like a dream, gets better mileage than my old Class "C", has more power, more room with two slides and seems to be built like a brick outhouse.

There are online sites that specialize in rating RV service centers. It's like Amazon comments. Customers describe the experience they've had with these establishments. You just have to read and take a consensus. Some people will complain if they are hung with a new rope, but overall you get a sense of how you are going to be treated when you walk in the door of an establishment that has been rated on these sites.

I'm sure that you can find someone that had an unhappy experience at the Winnebago factory, but on a scale of 1 to 10, I give them a 12.

--Keep Smilin', R.V. Shrink

Monday, May 21, 2012

RV Oily Mess


Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We live in our motorhome full-time and have no home base. My husband likes to change the oil himself and always is very careful to catch it all and not to make a production out of it. Last week a national forest campsite neighbor saw him changing the oil and came over and pitched a fit. He said it was illegal to change oil in the campground and accused us of polluting. My husband was very embarrassed and put things away immediately. I know for a fact it is not illegal. I also know my husband would never think of spilling a drop, and we have to do it somewhere. He has a very efficient system that collects the old oil and we carry it with us until the next town stop and dispose of it responsibly. I think he should have told the nosey neighbor to take a hike, but he doesn't like to rock the boat. He is a little upset that I had a few words with the jerk. We do not run into this type of individual that often, but they are out there waiting to pounce. Should I just turn the other cheek in the future, or bite back?
--The oil sheiks of Wyoming

Dear DIY:
Sometimes people make up laws for what seems out of the ordinary to them. Some people have way too much time on their hands and need to supervise those around them, whether they know them or not. I agree with your husband on a couple counts. I consider oil changes the life-blood of my engine and do not care to hire it out to people I don't know and can't watch. I can see how someone might take offense to having repair or maintenance work being done in a campground while they are there to camp and relax. It is best to pick your time and place where you do not have an audience. If maintenance is necessary, it must be done without spilling fluids on the ground or disposing of parts in campground receptacles. Perhaps in the past this neighbor had seen other, not so responsible RV owners leave a mess. Your husband made the right decision to clean up and shut things down and wait for a better time and place. Your parting shots might have made you feel better, but did nothing but fuel the flames of discontent. It sounds like your bark is worse than your bite, but I would suggest you keep both in the holster.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

RV Bugs

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My wife is always bugging me. I know you are always suggesting that responsibilities be shared, and I agree, especially when it comes to bugs. For some reason my wife cannot stand having one dead bug on the front of our rig. I get the hot tongue and cold shoulder unless I scrub new carcasses off the front every time we stop. She does a body count even if we stop at a rest area for lunch. She has this fetish about the front of our rig being clean. I despise these kamikazes that purposely dive bomb the front of our rig and immediately turn into cement. I spend way too much time debugging our rig. Can you help me? 
--Exoskeleton Mortician in Motion

Dear Mort:
I think bug removal is not only important, but the perfect shared responsibility. One of you can take the high road, the other the low road. That way you do not have to share the ladder. I would start by not cleaning as often, but that is something you will have to work out with your wife. They say the last thing that goes through a bug's mind when he hits your windshield is his acid. They also leave a lot of bug juice that will eventually ruin the finish on your rig. Cleaning this material off regularly is a great idea. You can also take some preventative measures. There are sprays that adhere to the surface making it easier to remove recent casualties. I often see rigs with vinyl bras or shields that take the bug bullet instead of the RV itself. A window expert told me once that I could use "0000" steel wool (dry) to remove glass bound bugs. I have never risked it, but it might be worth some experimental scrubbing. Another suggestion is to shy away from driving into the night. You will experience a lot more collisions at dusk and in the dark. So pick your half  and put your scrubs on. Working as a team may convince your wife the job should not be a constant chore. 
` --Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Thursday, May 10, 2012

RV Movement

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have a nice 5th wheel we live in about nine months of the year. It came pretty well loaded with amenities making it convenient for us to camp with or without hookups. I don't want to put all men in the same category but most of them do like gadgets. My husband is no different. I don't mind him buying things we will use a lot or that can make chores more convenient, but I don't think we have to keep up with the Jones'. He saw a guy at the dump station with a grinding pump that allows black water to go through a garden hose. My husband thought that was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He now wants to spend over three hundred dollars so he can grind up stink and put it through a smaller hose. He hasn't been very convincing as to how often we would need this item. We have been RVing for thirty years and we haven't needed one yet. Should I humor him and go along with this foolishness or hold my ground?
 --Black water puree in Pontiac

 Dear Black Water: It sounds like you two discuss what goes into your budget and what does not. If your husband really thinks he needs a macerator pump he will just have to sell you on it. Many new rigs do have them. They are convenient if you have to move black water a distance. Many people use them at home to dump into a home septic system. They are slower when you are at a dump station where a three inch hose is convenient. Most require 12V power or a water source to run. There are many things on your rig that are not absolutely necessary. The two of you will have to decide if this is an investment you think would be beneficial. I would suggest checking Craigslist and Ebay for a unit that someone else has already bought and then decided they didn't need one more thing to haul around. Their investment loss will be your gain, until you decide you really didn't need it either. The water driven system is about a third the price. Just don't hold up the line at the dump station arguing over who gets to go back to the old grind. --Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink