RV Service: A View From The Other Side

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November 5, 2009

service2All the RV forums and discussions relating to service issues are always from the point of view of the RV owner.  Not that there is anything wrong with that as they are the customer and did pay the big bucks.  But, what would it be like from the view on the other side of the service window?

Not surprisingly, there are a small percentage of totally unreasonable owners.  Those customers that come in screaming, wanting everything for nothing, insisting on replacing with new in lieu of repair, never happy with anything, and so on.   Unfortunately, as small as the percent may be, these people take a toll on dealers’ service personnel.   This never-happy group erodes service employee’s attitude, ultimately affecting their performance, thus affecting many others.  Those others are people, perhaps like you and me.

This really is nothing new.  A small minority spoiling it for everyone.  We see rules in other avenues of our lives that seem unreasonably restrictive, all put in place because of a minority of people that will not act responsibly nor be accountable.  Pet restrictions in some areas because of lazy owners come to mind.  But, let’s get back to the topic.  Understanding what it is like from the other side of the service counter.

Communication from the customer to the service writer is critical.  But there are many customer personalities that try to describe their issues, or at least their perception of the problems.  This, in itself, can lead to a wide variance as to what may be wrong or what might, in fact, be normal.  Once the customer has conveyed all this information and it has been written up, the technician gets the work order.  Now, the tech translates what he believes the issues are and the work commences.

So, what part of this communication may be skewed in passing the real information?  Well, it could be a number of things.  A customer fails to mention that the problem is an intermittent issue.  That is, sometimes it works, other times it does not.  The lack of that information, and when it is tried and seems to work, may lead the tech to thinking it was not operated correctly.   Here is an example that actually happened.   A motor home owner discovered that his air horns would not work.  He thought at first that the air valve had froze as the temperature was quite cool that morning.  His thought was confirmed later in the day while he travelled and again tried the horns.  They worked fine.  But, an hour later he tested them again and, no sound.  This went on for his entire cross country trip, they work fine sometimes and other times not.  Upon his return home, he took the unit to the dealer for both regular maintenance and to correct several issues, the horns being one.  In conveying the issues he failed to point out to the service writer that the horn failure was an intermittent problem.  Once the technician had the work order he proceeded to make the necessary repairs and corrections.  The air horns, however, appeared to work fine.  He tested them several times and then again upon completion of all the servicing.  They worked fine.  This lead the tech to believing that the owner had probably forgot to turn the on/off switch that controls the power to the control valve.  He checks it off as okay.

The next time the owner uses the motor home, about two weeks after picking it up from the dealer, he uses the horn to greet an oncoming friend.  It does not work, only the small  electric horns sound.  He then tries it several times to no avail.  At this point he was so upset at this he changes direction and drives directly to the dealer.  Upon arriving he approaches the service manager, who was currently involved with another customer.  He interrupted the two and started ranting about their terrible service.  He demanded they drop everything they were doing and attend to this at once.  He also then starts questioning everything else they did on his coach and adds that he wants a full refund for all the work they did.

The original tech that performed the work went out to check it.  He was accompanied by the unhappy owner who continued to insult him and the dealership.  The tech, having trouble getting a word in edgewise, finally managed to say he had tested it and it had worked fine.  At this point the irate customer screams that it works sometimes, but that it should work all the time.  This was news to the tech as no such information was presented at the time of repair.  The tech then immediately started the engine and cycled the air pressure, soon revealing the problem.  The solenoid controlled pneumatic valve would only operate when the air pressure was at or below about 105 psi.  This rendered it intermittent depending on the current system pressure.  Within the next 30 minutes a new valve was in place and the horns operated as they should.

This customer, still unhappy, now turns his rant into “The only way to get things fixed right is to start yelling, then things happen”.  He may or may not ever return to this dealer for service, but he will tell everyone he talks to how terrible the service is there and how he straightened them out.

This clearly was not the fault of the dealer.  As simple as the problem was, the customer did not clearly define the issue, if he had, the tech would have taken a different approach as he finally did after finding out.  The old adage “Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” is still the general rule.  The fault lies purely on the coach owner for failing to adequately communicate all the needed information.  However, the owner wins, and unfairly, the dealer loses.   

Dealers also have to work with the manufacturer on a daily basis where warranty service is involved.  These dealings also require accurate communications and procedures that are time consuming.  In many cases the dealer loses money on much of their warranty service.  The following actual happenings of a dealer warranty service demonstrates the issue.

The dealer sells and services travel trailers manufactured by a popular RV company.  A customer with a trailer that is still under warranty complains about a heavily hazed lens on an outside light.  The following procedure is followed. 

  • The service writer accompanies the owner and looks at the issue.
  • The service writer gets the serial number and writes up the work order.
  • The service writer gets a digital camera and photographs the subject light.
  • The service writer passes the work order and camera to his service coordinator.
  • The service co-coordinator copies the photo to a computer and prepares a factory warranty request complete with photo and sends it.
  • After lunch, with no approval yet received, the coordinator phones the factory.  Shortly the approval to replace the $3.50 lens arrives by e-mail.
  • The coordinator passes the work order to a tech, who, as it is raining, takes a forklift and bring the unit into the shop.
  • The tech goes to the storeroom and logs out the new lens.
  • The tech removes the old lens and installs the new one.
  • The service coordinator is called by the tech to photograph the new lens in place which is done.
  • The tech uses the forklift and pulls the trailer back out into the lot.
  • The coordinator downloads the photo to a computer and fills in the required warranty information and sends it.

Now, with a little luck, in a few weeks payment from the factory will arrive.  Full payment for the dealer cost of the lens and the allowed 0.1 flat rate labor.  This equates to 6 minutes of labor allowance.  This is not an isolated case, and repeats with similar types of time consuming jobs that pay little.

Larger warranty jobs can also be a financial challenge.  A case in point was an axle replacement which, after some lengthy communications with the factory, was approved at the cost of about $6,000.  Upon completion of the work, the taking and sending of photos and needed paperwork, the dealer awaited payment.  When over a month later, with no reimbursement, the dealer followed up with countless calls, all to no avail.  Three months later, without explanation, the payment showed up, $4,000.  The dealer was out $2,000 and would now have to fight to find out how he could get the balance.

Additionally to these events, it is common for the dealer to receive no payment for some warranty work, with a simple “Warranty Denied” message.  All of these were in fact pre-approved by the factory. 

Now, please do not think I’m throwing the manufacturers under the bus.  They too have to deal with these unreasonable belligerent customers.  They may also have had experiences with unscrupulous dealers that bill for fraudulent warranty repairs.  Unfortunately, again a small minority may have spoiled it for all, leading to these never ending hoops that honest dealers must jump.        

The dealer that experienced the warranty lens and axle replacement indicated the following.  It would be cheaper to just supply and do the work for minor repairs at no charge.  This would probably be less costly than incurring the labor required to do the photos, downloads, paperwork, and needed follow up.  This particular dealer seemed very customer service orientated and feels strong about taking care of those that purchase from him.  He did, however, indicate a reluctance to perform warranty work on units that he did not sell, purely because of the financial loss that occurs.  The only exception would be a stranded unit owner.  In this case he would gratefully help them out.  This is certainly a dealer that I would like to buy from.

So, next time things don’t seem to be going right with your RV and your service provider, perhaps you should cut them some slack.  It is not always what we think it is.

The Coin Has Two Sides   –    Lug_Nut    –     Peter Mercer 

Note: The incidents and events, herein described, may not necessarily represent the policies of all manufacturers or dealers.   The sole purpose of this is meant for interest and discussion.

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  5. Bob

    I love the comments, makes you feel like your not alone in the RV world. When I took my RVin the First year with a lot of bugs and problems, The list had a picture of each one thing that I wanted to get fixed. I made an 8×10 pic. for each problem that I could and wrote on the back what was going on or what was broken. I gave it to the dealer and went thru it with him, Got most fixed and what they didnt fix was noted. That way I could see what was fixed and who fixed it at the dealer. I ended up going to the Factory and leaving it for all the rest. They loved the pic. also. they fixed everything. Take a pic and show them it works for me. bob

  6. Dave Albright

    No matter the problem the tech didn’t check the horn and system completely,He tried to blow it and it blew typical tech. You are forgetting one thing here SERVICE/REPAIR.I can tell you are one of the whining service shops. You do it and except pay for it. I pay and expect the job to be preformed completely and being the customer I expect it to be like Burger King if not BYE my money will spend some where else.Oh by the way I am a retired 22 year service manager and my customers were always right.Wake up there’s a real world out here far different than the cumbaha one you want..

  7. Good advice. Glad to hear it from the other POV.

    As an RV owner, former customer service rep, and former repair-shop operator, I’ve been fortunate enough to see all the sides of these issues (albeit from a different industry). And, although the info was good, the frustration of the author was evident in the writing. It seemed angry and bitter. (“Cut them some slack”, indeed.)

    The stories and concerns were a helpful beginning, but were only half of what is really needed. The last line is a good lead-in to a follow-up post on how to get the most from your repair center. Could you (maybe with the help of comment poster G.E. Maynor) offer specific tips and suggestions (in detail) on how to better communicate, how to speed up the process, and how to work within the service center’s parameters to make the experience more enjoyable and more efficient?

  8. Robert Charles

    During a yearly jamboree sponsered by the RV dealer to all whom purchased RV’s via his dealership, we listened to the Master Mechanic on tips to getting things fixed, both faster as well as completely and the tip was: Put a stickey note on everything that needs service and on that note indicated everything about that item that you have experienced. He felt their would be no way the service Dept. would miss anything by following that recommendation.

  9. Lug_Nut

    Stripes, I totally agree with you, this is not confined only to the RV industry. Thank you for your participation on this topic and for your input.

  10. Stripes

    I work in software, and we also have a lot of cases where the customer doesn’t describe the whole problem, so we think it is user error. However we (the place I work, not software in general) tend to handle it differently. We send it back with “can not reproduce” and the bug isn’t closed until the user can either tell us how they get the flaw to occur, or they are convinced that it wasn’t a problem (or it “works ok now”). (well, it can also be closed if they sit on the bug for a very very long time).

    In other words your mechanic said “works for me” and dropped the problem on the floor rather then telling the customer “we fixed X, Y, and Z, but the horn was ok all along”. Sure that message might get “lost in the noise”, but many will get through. Sure sometimes the forever-unsatisfyed will rear their ugly head and yell “how can you not see it is broken!”, but I bet a more then a few of the “it broke on the road, now I’m Mr. Ugly!” will be perfectly calm and explain it is intermittent, or only breaks when it is raining, or whatever he forgot the first time.

    (and yeah, I’m totally guilty of forgetting to explain everything to my mechanic, but I’m above the rest of the antics you describe…)

  11. Al Paschen, Thank you for sharing your professional experience with us. I’m sure you are more aware of this including the lens incident. I think RV owners should understand the dealer’s position in some of these circumstances. Great input, thank you.

  12. Josepeh makes two very good points. As a dealer, we spend a lot of time diagnosing real or imagined warranty problems. Often it is “please check such and such to see if there is something wrong”. If there is something wrong, it results in warranty work. If it turns out that there is nothing wrong, or it just requires an adjustment, the dealer eats the time. No manufacturer will pay for that and the customer certainly doesn’t expect to pay. It’s just part of what the selling dealer is expected to do, and rightly so. Minor repairs often get done and, as Josepeh points out, it just doesn’t make sense to spend the effort to recover 10 or 20 dollars from the manufacturer.

    I have personal knowledge of the hazy lens incident that I believe is the source of your original hazed lens scenario. I can add details that make it a little less puzzling, but no less disturbing. A fact left out of the story is that the lens in question was an uncommon one that had to be ordered from the manufacturer, resulting in a ridiculous shipping charge. On top of that, the defective lens had to be shipped back to the manufacturer so they could return it to their supplier (so the original supplier can correct the problem in future lens they make, so the argument goes.) The overall cost of the foggy lens problem is escalating! Out-of-pocket cost to the dealer for packaging and shipping is now many times the actual cost of the lens. Not to mention the labor cost of diagnosing, installing, ordering, receiving, packaging and re-shipping. The $3.50 is a minor part of the cost. As pointed out, the whole thing defies logic. But, any way you look at it, this little episode costs the dealer money. It makes sense to do it for your own customer but not for the customer of some other, distant dealer.

    Much of this would go away if it were possible for dealers to stock every “common part”. We try, but don’t even come close. Every manufacturer uses a different light fixture, different ones on different models, and then change from year to year.

    In a perfect world, the man with the foggy lens would have removed it himself, stopped in at the dealership on his way to the grocery store and swapped it for a new lens, at no cost.

  13. Joespeh, I fully agree with you and actually do that myself. My last coach had the air horn valve seize up very early in its life. It was still under warranty, but upon looking at the valve and seeing it was an OEM plastic unit, I replaced it with an industrial grade aluminum and never looked back. The valve cost me about $50 or so and I was pleased to have something that would last forever.
    Thank you for pointing this out and for your very good input.

  14. Joespeh

    Gary’s post, combined with the story about the $3.50 hazy light cover, drives home a point that has long puzzled me about RVers and the RV industry.

    Both sides go out of their way to make things more complicated than they need to be for no reason other than ‘that’s the way it’s supposed to happen. RVers will spend hours bringing their rigs in for problems that they could have fixed themselves with minimal time or expense. Sure, the dealer is supposed to fix the problem for you, but sometimes you save time and money (it cost’s fuel to get the RV down the road) by just doing it yourself.

    The hazy light story really has me scratching my head. You know you’re loosing money by going through the warranty claims process, so why not just throw a new lens on there and move on to something else. Sure, the factory is supposed to pay you for it, but you loose less money by just eating the cost of the lens and not wasting employee time on approval and paperwork. You might even generate some customer goodwill.

    As there so few people on both sides of the service desk that see the actual value of their time and money?

  15. Gary, That is a case of a poor tech working for that dealer, not necessarily their best work maybe. I agree, you must feel comfortable with your service provider. Thank you for your input on this topic.

  16. Al Paschen, Very interesting post. Hopefully the increase in service demand, albeit in a very short period, helps the bottom line somewhat. Thank you for your very informative input.

  17. Gary

    Sometimes it is difficult for the RV owner and sometimes difficult for the dealer. When I first bought the 5th wheel, the vent fan over the stove made a lot of noise. My wife took the filter off and turned the fan on. Good thing it was plastic because it came off and hit her right in the chest. Since the RV was brand new, I took it back for other service work and asked the tech to fix the fan. He stuck the fan back in and actually took a pair of pliers and squeezed the plastic piece that was supposed to hold the fan on. Of course it broke but the tech just left it that way. I forgot to check it and we were down the road a ways when the fan got turned on. Yikes… Fixed it myself – just stupid for something like that to happen at the dealership where I bought my rv. I do buy stuff there but I do not get things serviced there.

  18. As a long-time RV Dealer that has been through several of these economic downturns before, I got an unexpected surprise this Fall. It is causing a serious temporary problem in properly servicing RV owners.

    A majority of our customers are not snowbirds or full-timers — many are families that do most of their camping during our short northern summer. They cannot go to the factory for service and when they need a repair just before vacation, they need it quickly. I don’t know if many of the readers of this blog are in that category or not. We struggle to take care of our owners every summer, but this summer was especially difficult because both we and the parts suppliers were operating with reduced staff. We told RV owners that were not our customers (and there turned out to be many, because of all the dealers that went out of business) that we could take care of their repairs in about Oct. if their problem could wait till then.

    We had no idea how many there would be wanting service in Oct! We are grateful for all the work in our slow season, but I know we are going to have some RV owners that are justifiably impatient and unhappy. Our lot is overflowing with units waiting to be fixed (and winterized!) and it is now Nov. This is a temporary problem because we will hire people and gear up for the increased service business, but we can’t do it overnight. It takes time to find and train techs and other staff. In the meantime we will be swamped.

    I imagine other surviving dealers around the country are dealing with the same problem/opportunity. Existing RVs still need to be repaired but there are less dealers to do the work. In the long run, service will probably improve, but short term there is going to be a rough patch.

  19. Joespeh, You are quite correct, some should not affect all, but, unfortunitely it happens. As far as the RV buyer not being concerned with what dealer/manufacturer policies are, that may well be. But, there costs have to be financially do-able or the price of their products have to increase. It’s a tough balancing act. I’m not in support of the dealer/manufacturer nor that of the RV owner (Of which I too am one). I’m in support of understanding the challenges of both and working together. It has to work for both parties.

    I wrote this to give some, that are unaware, a view as to the challenges faced today by the RV service industry. I wish it was so simple as to just say, “It isn’t my problem, fix it” and it happens. There is more behind the scenes that we should be aware of.

    Having some understanding of this may help people deal and communicate with their servicing dealer in a more positive way. This can result in a win, win situation.

    Thank you for your well stated input.

  20. Joespeh

    Anyone who has worked to diagnose and fix problems presented by users can relate to your article, but too much of this read like a series of excuses for the bad treatment reasonable customers get from the industry.

    Instead of standing up and saying ‘here are the problems that make things so difficult, and this is how we could fix them’, the article reads like ‘here are the problems, we’re going to keep doing things the same way, so the customers are just going to have to deal with it.’

    The customer doesn’t know the hassles that the factory puts in the way of the dealer. That’s not the customers fault and they don’t care. The customer doesn’t and shouldn’t be expected to know enough to describe the problems in a way that can help you id the problem. If you think that problem is bad now, wait for the next generation of RV’ers who have even less mechanical background.

    I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

    Some customers are a royal PITA, and people can understand that. Taking the attitude that all of the reasonable customers will have to suffer as a result is the kind of attitude that is killing the industry. It is a tough problem to solve, but the industry needs to get together and work on it. Otherwise, they’ll be left even more people who are afraid to pay big bucks for a RV full of problems and hassles.

  21. Liz Bard, Yes, I believe you have the right idea so that you remember everything. As far as the distance to service, I agree. I prefer to drive further if it means getting better service. I have my coach only factory serviced, 500 miles from home. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  22. Kate Copp, That a great idea, to pre-type all the issues. Additionally it will eliminate forgetting one, like happens often. Thank you for your valued input.

  23. Wayne Kingston, Thank you for the kind words and being a regular reader. Your experience in this and post, contributes to the understanding. Thanks for taking the time.

  24. Chris Burton, It is great that people with your background comment on this topic. It adds greatly to the understanding. Thank you.

  25. Thomas Becher, Yes it all starts at the service writter. If he is not experienced things can start to go wrong fast. Thank you for sharing that with us.

  26. Bob West, I’m glad you found the article of interest. Yes, I know what you mean about the ones that think they are doing you a favor. There are campgrounds that project that also as well as many other types of business’s too. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  27. G.E. Maynor, It is great to have your comments as you have the experience that we are talking about. I do, however disagree with “Every Customer Can Be Satified”. I believe there are ones that are never happy regardless. Thanks for your post.

  28. Jim, It certainly does come back to communications which may not be an easy thing to fix. Thanks for your valued input on this topic.

  29. Bullitt Bill, You are right, I did not touch on the affordability, but that, in itself, would be a whole other topic. Thanks for your input.

  30. Liz Bard

    Because I live 120 miles from the dealership where I take my RV for repairs (not the dealership I purchased it from), I too make a note of things that need repairs and type a neat list for them and keep one for me. After I take it in and make sure the service writer understands what I am talking about (sometimes I ask them to come out with me to the RV so I can show them and sometimes I will put a sticky note in the area so they know where I am talking about. This is in case I don’t call something the same as they do). Then when they say it is fixed, I look over the list they give me, then before I drive out I make sure everything got done. Sometimes I have stayed overnight somewhere so I could take it back the next day.

    I purchased the RV 80 miles from me, but do not trust them to work on the coach and they do not work on the chassis but send you all over town. That is why I will gladly drive 120 miles from home. I couldn’t tell you their phone number as they are in my address book on my cell phone. Since I am a newby with RV’s, I have even called the service department with a question on how to make something work (like the heaters since we bought it when we didn’t need heaters) and I had the manual but it wasn’t written where I could understand it. They have been helpful or if I remember when I take it in, they even give me a few minutes so I understand how to operate something. I only wish they had had a unit in my price range when we bought this one. This is our learning RV so I know I will make mistakes.

  31. Kate Copp

    I agree….there are people who are obnoxious and pushy, and want things done for free. And there are problems with communications.
    To avoid the “communications” issues….I neatly typed out a list of things that needed to be done on the RV…..and none of it was warranty work….our RV is too old to be under warranty…..but everything was spelled out for them, including “rear driver’s side bay door needs lock replaced, as the key broke off in it”…….dealership calls, everything is done, come pick it up…..we pay the bill, the service guy gives me a “new key” for the “new lock”….and off we go to get the RV….everything on the list is done….except that nothing at all was done to the bay door, broken key is still in the lock and someone removed one of the “swivel latches” on the inside so that the only thing keeping the bay door shut was one latch…….I understand that “things happen”…..and people don’t explain what needs to be done….but sometimes IT IS the service department. All in all, we were very, very happy with the service, and luckily it was a quick fix.

  32. Wayne Kingston

    Peter, I’ve been reading your stuff ever since I happened onto this blog several years ago, and you’ve never hit it quite as squarely as this time. I truely retired after working for several years in exactly the situation you described, and I’m sure the owner is still wondering hy they went bankrupt.

  33. Chris Burton

    As a former service manager, body shop manager, technician, and now a software engineer, I have to agree with the statements that many service advisors fail to ask the correct questions to get technicians pointed to the real problem. Too many times, service advisors shut down and fail to fully listen, fail to ask pertinent questions regarding a complaint, and expect technicians to be magicians. Too often they also fail to express to customers the need for diagnosis and communication during the repair to ensure that the real issue is being fixed. I also think the author of the article shows a bias against customers. Most customers come into a shop with an attitude of distrust, because they have been taken advantage of before. It takes time and effort to win a customers confidence, and while it’s true there are some you will never impress, they are by far a minority.

  34. Thomas Becher

    I think the company should hire service writers that understand the product that is brought to them for repair. I had a friend that got laid off from a knitting co. that went to work for a large auto dealer as a service writer. I asked him how he could do that because he had NO knowlage of cars. His reply, just put down what the customer says is wrong,and like your example did he ask questions, of course not. He wouldn’t have had a clue what to ask.

  35. Bob West

    Interesting article and I am sure there are customers that do exactly the things described. There are also providers who treat us like we are stupid or fail to treat us like we are stupid when we are i.e. don’t have a clue. Basically the dealer or provider needs to listen to us and ask questions and give us advice. The dealer who I bought my moho from always treated me like they were doing me a favor. I go to Camping World in Madison for help and one of the representatives gives me good advice and steers me in a good direction. He asks the problem I want to fix and redirects me if I am spending more than necessary to get it done. So I go back and have all my work I can done there. Yup some customers are really bad and for those it is too bad and when you find a good place you can trust make sure you keep them in business.

  36. G.E. Maynor

    As a retired Auto Service Manager/ Writer at the dealership level, I can say that without a doubt, communication is the #1 problem in the service department. Dealing with un-happy owners is the nature of the business and if you can’t communicate, find another line of work. Even the worst customer can be satisfied with a little “friendly” communication. I have also encountered poorly trained staff over the course of my career and made it a point to continue my education of the products so as to avoid this situation. The other points above about the factories, well that’s a management problem, not the customers! If the dealers fail at this level, it won’t be long before they are gone.

  37. Jim

    I too am an ex auto mechanic and Repair Service owner.
    A lot of the problem comes from service writers who are not and do not claim to be mechanics. Point blank they do not ASK the RIGHT questions from the customer, so as to be able to explain the problem to a mechanic. The mechanics do not get paid to talk to customers to ask the RIGHT questions. This has been one of my pet peeves while turning wrenches.

  38. Bullitt Bill

    As a retired automotive technician of 25+years ( I teach now), you hit the nail on the head. If we don’t have a good description, our chances of finding the problem are greatly reduced. One huge problem you didn’t allude to is a customer who can’t really afford what they are driving. Be it a car, bus or boat it seems if they are over their head they find more wrong (can you say lemon law?).