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


Erik's RV Blog said...

It's nice to read such stories. Congrats on the new to you rig!


Merikay said...

Alfateers in Fontana California is an excellent repair facility. Small, but reasonable and gives very personal service!

VaPatroit said...

Congratulations on getting a new rig. I know what you meant about not wanting to change after getting your current one set up "just how you like it". Wish you had posted some pics of the new rig.

Anonymous said...

I would reccomend World Ford Service Dept. in Pensacola,FL
I bought a 2008 Coachmen Class C Concord Motorhome.I had it close to 3 years before I had an electrical problem. My starting battery kept dying. It was idle a
lot, not in use.By the way it has a Ford drive train.World Ford tech, checked it out and found the battery was no good. When I went to pick it up I was presented with an $85.00 repair bill. I told the servise adviser that it was still under warranty. He told me that the warranty had expired.This was a new Ford warranty,good for 3 years and 5 years on power train.
He said he would not charge ne the $85.00 and he said if I could get the warranty into my name from the dealer I bought it from he would geve me a frre Ford installed battery, I got the warranty transfered with a lot trouble from dealer.The service advisor kept his word and I got my problem solved with no charge to me.

Anonymous said...

RV Doctor George is a very personable and friendly service and parts center in Sacramento, CA. Bring a Joke and you will get twenty in return.

Brett said...

In the last 20 years of RVing, I have found Prattville Auto and RV Repair Center in Prattville, Alabama to be family owned, very friendly, professionial, reasonable and most of all Honest. They honor warranty work and an authorized repair facility for Ford & Workhorse. I travel 3 hours to have them maintain & repair my RV.

Jerry X Shea said...

Face it, the RV repair horror stories are plentiful (and I have my share), however, we have had 3 stops at the Winn. Factory over a 6 year period and each one was indeed a great experience.