11 out of 10 RV owners will tell you that their No. 1 frustration is getting service and repair for their RV.
Unfortunately, the RV lifestyle isn’t all hotdogs, National Parks, and dog walks. A common tongue-in-cheek complaint about RVs is that “the only thing that works on an RV is the owner!”
That’s closely followed by the adaption of Murphy’s Law, “If it can break … it will.”
You may already know that the RV industry is plagued by supply chain woes and quality control shortcomings. You’re probably willing to live with the “shakedown” period common to RVs from (almost) all manufacturers.
But you may not be familiar with the teeth-pulling, hair-graying process that is getting your RV professionally repaired.
- We do not write this article to dissuade or discourage RV ownership. We love RVs!
- Nor do we write this article to denigrate dealerships and their staff who work hard to service their customers.
- Nor, for that matter, is our aim to crucify any RV manufacturer, who might be doing the best they can with what they have.
We are simply acknowledging that getting your RV repaired usually requires weeks or months of waiting.
And that this is a systemic problem with many factors without a clear solution in sight (not yet, anyway).
As an RV owner, you will eventually need professional help servicing your RV. We write this article to educate RV owners on the service status quo – and to offer a few workarounds!
Table of Contents
What's the Problem??
Here’s the problem, in brief.
- Scheduling RV repair service routinely takes 3-4 weeks just to drop off your rig.
- Once you deliver your RV, you twiddle your thumbs for another few weeks (or months) while your dealership and the RV manufacturer swap potshots and haggle over coverage.
- And then you cross your fingers that the right parts were delivered, a trained technician installed them, and a trained technician inspected and verified his work.
It can be infuriating. You can lose half a camping season just waiting for your RV to be repaired.
According to an RVTravel.com poll, 42 percent of RV owners have had their RV in the shop for at least a month! And almost one out of 5 had an RV in the shop for longer than a month several times!
Owners with real horror stories tell of a shop having an RV for a year or more.
Hence why common advice is, “Don’t buy new. Your RV will spend the first two years getting fixed.”
Again, we’re not indicting all dealerships.
Many dealerships pride themselves on accurate diagnostics, trained technicians, and a quick turnaround time. Good dealerships have certified RV technicians with manufacturer-sponsored training (e.g., how to fix Dometic appliances) and top-notch administration.
But those dealerships can be hard to find. And they may be outside your network!
And the good dealerships still get squeezed by manufacturer delays and part shortages.
Again, it’s a systematic problem with deep roots.
A Convoluted Repair Queue
- Find a dealership within the approved network from your manufacturer. Call the RV dealership and arrange a drop-off
- Drop off the RV. Wait (X) days until the RV is actually worked on.
- Dealer submits a warranty claim to the manufacturer and orders parts.
- Manufacturer approves/denies the claim and delivers parts.
- Sometimes, manufacturer waits for custom parts from OEM supplier.
- Parts delivered to dealership. RV repair completed.
With all this back-and-forth, a RV might go in and out of a service bay multiple times.
In all likelihood, your RV will sit on a gravel (sometimes paved) parking lot while in “storage.”
It can take several weeks or months to receive parts from an RV manufacturer, particularly if it’s an oddball custom part, like an entire furniture set or custom molded water tank.
Some dealerships will allow customers to remove their RV for use during the wait; others insist the RV cannot leave the lot, or the customer loses their spot in the queue.
You can imagine how this process is particularly unfriendly to full-time RVers,who are often far from home when their RV breaks down.
It’s Nothing Like Fixing Your Car
No, your RV isn’t like a bigger, squishier car.
If the automotive industry is Star Wars, the RV industry is the Ewoks.
According to an Autoblog report, the cost of developing a new consumer automobile starts at $1 billion and goes up to $6 billion for an all-new platform.
The idea of an RV manufacturer spending $1 billion to develop – well, anything – is absurd and laughable. Sales volume just doesn’t support that kind of investment.
And with customers clamoring for a dozen floor plans and sixteen customization packages, that’s driven from both ends.
The automobile industry is exponentially larger than the RV industry. In 2020, RV manufacturers sold about 430,000 RVs. That same year, auto manufacturers sold 14.5 million – and that was a good year for RVs and a bad one for cars!
Plus, car companies like Toyota pioneered modern systems of manufacturing, such as LEAN, Materials Resource Planning (MRP), and Six Sigma quality control systems.
No, your RV isn’t like your car. Because your RV manufacturer isn’t like your car manufacturer. The R&D and quality control processes in the RV industry can’t hold a candle to the automobile world, and the product reflects that.
COVID-19 Has Overloaded the Infrastructure
The COVID pandemic has become both boon and bane for the RV industry.
On the one hand, sales have exploded. In 2020, the RV manufacturing industry delivered more than 600,000 units, almost a whopping 20 percent increase over the previous high of 2017. And nobody was ready for it.
- Campgrounds are packed, with zero availability.
- RV dealership service center bays are woefully undersized.
- There is a severe lack of trained, certified RV technicians.
- Buyers are clamoring for replacement parts when COVID-19 has completely
- disrupted the international supply chain.
The system was already strained.
- There was just one major RV campground network: KOA.
- There was just one big parts distributor: NPT-Stag.
- There were just a few major suppliers, like Lippert, AP Products, and Dometic.
COVID-19 was the straw that cracked the camel’s back.
RV Repair Demand Waxes and Wanes
Demand for RV repair and service tends to peak at two times:
In the spring, when RV owners are waking up their rigs after hibernation
In the fall, after RVs have been subjected to a few thousand miles of traveling
And, of course, there’s a consistent stream of repair and service problems throughout the summer.
If a dealership sells 200 RVs every year, but only has four service bays, you can imagine how after five years (that’s 1,000 RVs sold!) the service department would be woefully undersized for the demand.
The seasonal nature of RVing means that everyone else probably wants their RV fixed at the same time as you do. And dealerships don’t want to invest massive amounts of money in extra service bays and staff just to cover peak demands.
Dealerships Put a Ring On It
Dealerships don’t exactly love warranty work. It’s a lot of finger-pointing and paperwork and pleading for reimbursement and parts. It doesn’t typically pay as well as retail or emergency work.
They especially don’t love it when you didn’t even buy from them in the first place.
So because RV dealers hate warranty work, they’ll normally tell you that if you don’t buy from them, you’re last in line.
(This is also a shady high-pressure sales tactic.)
Also, dealerships will sometimes require your RV to present, parked, in the sales lot, before they’ll add it to the queue.
(Note I didn’t say “until they work on it.” I said “until they add it to the queue.” Meaning you might drop off your RV, but the dealer won’t touch it for another five days! Or, in some cases, five months.)
RV manufacturers play the same game. Many will only honor warranty claims by dealers within their approved network.
So you can’t just call around to 3, 4, or 5 RV service centers and ask for the soonest time slot. You gotta play the game. If you want warranty service outside of the normal network, you might have to call the RV manufacturer and get permission, first.
It’s a pretty odd relationship, akin to a Mexican standoff. No one really likes each other, but they all have to work together.
In some cases, frustrated customers even contact the RV manufacturer to twist the thumbscrews on a lazy dealership!
Or customers raise such a ruckus that the manufacturer itself offers to repair their RV. How strange! Just imagine if Ford took time off from assembly and design to repair your F-150?
Manufacturers Rely On Custom Parts
Some parts, such as water pumps, faucets, sinks and most appliances, are mostly off-the-shelf components. These are available from major distributors and wholesalers like NPT-Stag.
But some of the parts inside your RV, such as the shower pan, water tanks, fender skirts, and countertops, might be “custom parts.” They are made-to-order specifically (and only) for that RV model and series.
Your RV dealer does not stock these parts. It is quite possible the RV manufacturer itself does not stock these parts! In which case a request for a replacement will trigger a specialty PO to the OEM. In some cases, such as a rotomolded water tank, OEMs won’t produce single parts.
To add insult to injury, there’s no guarantee that an RV manufacturer or parts supplier will keep warranty stock or save the molds. Dometic and Lippert commonly discontinue parts and appliances without offering any compatible replacements!
(Side note: This is one reason for the practice of “cannibalism,” where dealers raid RVs on their lot to fulfill backlogged warranty work on sold units. It’s also why your RV might have arrived with a missing refrigerator door. Sorry about that.)
What’s the Solution??
1. Be the Squeaky Wheel
As the saying goes, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” If your RV has been sitting in a dealership lot for an unacceptable amount of time, make like a stinkbug and start throwing a fit. Ask for email copies to confirm that parts were ordered, claims approved, and inspections completed.
2. Hire an RV Mobile Service Technician
Obviously, traditional RV brick n’ mortar dealerships have really dropped the ball. If you want to learn more about this problem, you can read Part 4 of Greg Gerber’s “The RV Industry Death Spiral.”
RV mobile service technicians have arisen to meet this need. You can call a mobile tech for common repairs and fixes (clogged black tanks, busted pipes, defective furnace, malfunctioning fridge) and have someone out to your RV within 24 hours.
Obviously, a mobile tech can’t help if your wall has delaminated and you need a new sidewall, but they can relieve the pain of a broken appliance, clogged pump, or malfunctioning converter.
Also, if you’re seeking warranty coverage, confirm with your manufacturer or extended warranty provider that they’ll reimburse you.
3. Prod the RV Industry
The RV industry is slowly awakening to the realization that the lack of after-sale service is unacceptable.
- Winnebago has partnered with dealerships to decrease their repair event cycle time (RECT). Other manufacturers are following in their stead.
- The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) has unveiled the RV Technical Institute, a training facility in Elkhart, Indiana dedicated to training a new generation of RV technicians.
- RVDA also offers Vendor Training Plus program to train dealers how to work with common products like MoRyde suspension, Go Power! Solar systems, and Reese towing solutions.
While change is slow, hopefully, the tortoise will win the race.
4. Buy a High-Quality RV
If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then purchase an RV from a well-regarded manufacturer!
Some of the best RV builders are far from Elkhart, such as Winnebago in Iowa, Northwood Manufacturing in Oregon, Airstream in Ohio, and Casita Travel Trailers in Texas. You can see all – literally all! – North American RV manufacturers in our comprehensive RV manufacturers list.
Also, don’t buy from the bottom of the barrel. Cheap RVs are cheap for a reason. Avoid entry-level travel trailers. You’ll typically find better quality in full-timer 5th wheels, luxury travel trailers, fiberglass campers, and Class B motorhomes. See our RV Model type guide here.
And if you’re buying a used RV, download our Etsy RV PDI Inspection Checklist.
5. Fix It Yourself
To quote (with apologies) Secondhand Lions:
“Look, we don’t know nothing about [RVs], so if you need something, find it yourself. Better yet, learn to do without.”
Many RV problems can be fixed with some elbow grease, a drill, and a tool you can rent from AutoZone or O’Reilly.
Sadly, there are no Chilton manuals for RVs. You’ll find most information on RV forums, YouTube videos, and helpful RV DIY blogs. You can find some of these resources on our Helpful Resources page.
You can also shop for parts at our gear store and through our partners. If you’re hunting for used, salvage or hard-to-find-parts, check our state listings for RV salvage yards and independent part stores.
We hope that an RV service delay nightmare never happens to you. Take good care of your RV, and it will take good (or better, anyway) care of you!
But if you do find yourself stuck in an endless loop, take charge. Be the squeaky wheel!
- Call your dealer AND the manufacturer. (But be patient! Don’t twist anyone’s arm who can’t
- Ask for reimbursement for either fixing it yourself or hiring a mobile service technician.
- If you don’t get the response you deserve (and you’ve exhausted every other avenue), consider posting your story on social media.
Most importantly, remember the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Andy Herrick is a blogging nerd, #8 Enneagram, wannabe bread baker, INTJ, RV industry professional, and small business entrepreneur. He can be found hanging out with his lovely wife and family, skiing, cycling, climbing, hiking, and convincing anyone who will listen why dogs aren’t really that great of pets. Also, he runs this website.