By Valerie C.
In my previous blogpost, I described how new RVs have many more problems than used ones, and how you aren’t supposed to begin a year-long trip in a brand new RV — in spite of the dealer telling you not to worry because your rig is under warranty.
We decided to do it anyway, because, we thought, we were going to get the problems fixed right off the bat. After all, our Camping World dealer in Florida kept our brand new Class A motorhome for nearly a month after we bought it to deal with the problems we found our first night.
But driving it home from Florida to Mass a month later, we compiled another list of two dozen items. Mitch began to keep a spreadsheet of the problems and the dates we experienced them. We had three weeks to address these warranty issues before we started our year-long, full-time RV trip in our 2014 Thor Tuscany 45LT.
Back home, we made an appointment at Flagg RV, a dealership in Uxbridge, Mass., an hour away from home but the only service center within two hours that could take us within the next three weeks. Unfortunately, after spending over $100 in gas to get there, and taking the time to go over the long list of 24 issues with the service tech, our RV never even made it into the service garage. They were too busy to even look at it in the week they had it! We were shocked. We were disappointed. I was scheming what to write about our experience with Flagg RV and it was not going to look good.
A sympathetic Flagg service tech told us the last thing we wanted to hear: “It’s not going to be much different at any other dealer. Nobody wants to service these things. Service centers are always short staffed and management makes us put our buying customers first.”
The repairs would have to wait. Our homes were sold, our stuff in storage. The RV was packed. So we made the transition from sticks & bricks home to motor home with a worrisome list of two dozen items to address: some big, some small. We drove out of the driveway in Acton, Mass., leaving our empty house forever, on August 14, 2014.
In the next few days, on the way to Clemson, South Carolina, we added even more issues to the list. Our toad car battery died when it shouldn’t have after a long day of towing, leaving us stranded. The drawers and cabinets wouldn’t stay closed. The trim jiggled loose. Screws worked their way loose and fell from the ceiling while we were driving. A light bulb jiggled out of the socket and fell out, smashing onto the bathroom vanity. The dishwasher wouldn’t complete a cycle, giving a water pressure error. Why wouldn’t the shades pull down? How come the jacks won’t go down? Or up again? What’s wrong with the slide outs? Why isn’t the DirectTV satellite picking up local channels?
We spent hours on the phone with the maker of the tow-car supplemental braking system. We played phone tag with the True Induction cooktop customer service rep. Mitch memorized the DirectTV service number. The Thor customer service rep and Mitch developed a familiar rapport. Every morning, Mitch would take on a new “project.” As long as we could drive it, we kept going.
After dropping my son off for his freshman move-in day at Clemson, a more serious problem came up: sudden and complete loss of the engine while driving. The engine would suddenly die upon acceleration; the power steering and power brakes would fail, causing a dangerous situation if the shoulder of the road wasn’t big enough to pull onto. It was all I could do to steer the 40,000-pound rig and towed car safely onto the shoulder of the road (Yes. I, a young-ish woman, share the driving!). We went through endless diagnosis calls with Freightliner techs, trying to figure out why it was happening.
Mitch and the Freightliner tech figured out if we replaced a certain fuse, we could continue limping along — thank goodness! We compiled a list of every Freightliner service center between St. Louis and Cheyenne, hoping that one of them would be able to take us on a day we were passing through one of those areas. The engine trouble was getting worse and we felt we might inevitably break down for good soon.
Eventually, on day 5 of our 365-day trip, after blowing through ten fuses over the course of several days of travel, our brand new sparkling coach broke down for good on the side of U.S. 25 in Kentucky. Replacing the fuse no longer enabled us to restart the engine.
We had to be towed! The good news was — the tow was covered under manufacturer’s warranty. But then the bad news. A tow isn’t simple. When a diesel coach is in park, the emergency break *MUST* be deployed (otherwise, you’re just in neutral). To tow a 40,000 lb, 45-foot big rig with the emergency break deployed, the rear drive shaft must be removed. It took two hours in the blazing August heat, laying on the ground under the RV with traffic and semi tractor trailers blasting past only feet away, but the tow technician got the drive shaft removed, and towed us to the nearest trucking service center, where we spent the night in the dirt parking lot. In our crippled, brand new coach. Did I mention we had taken delivery of this brand new coach only two months before?
Tag Trucking Center in Calvert City, Kentucky, quickly found the problem — a loose ignition wire had frayed through against the drive shaft. But why??? Because a wire harness wasn’t cinched up properly. Was it oversight? Poor quality control? A broken cable tie? Does it matter? Tag Trucking fixed it (under warranty) and we made up our lost 24 hours of time by driving three long days to Utah instead of four shorter ones.
Then, heading into Salt Lake City over the mountains, the engine brakes began to fail intermittently. They just stopped coming on when they were supposed to, like when we descended from the Rockies between Wyoming and Utah. Not only was the engine break not helping slow me down when I needed it (I was driving again), but it took us a few scary incidences like this to realize the accelerator pedal was stuck — it wasn’t springing back to neutral when you removed your foot. Yes! MY ACCELERATOR PEDAL WAS STUCK IN THE “GO” POSITION, COMING DOWN SOME OF THE STEEPEST GRADES IN THE U.S.!
To address this last most serious problem, as well as the long list of minor problems, Mitch appealed to our Camping World dealer in Florida to get us an appointment at the Camping World service center in Las Vegas several weeks in advance, where we planned to spend almost two weeks. We gave the Vegas team advance notice of our long list of (now 28) issues, with pictures, but found that they couldn’t start the process of ordering parts before getting approval for the warranty work from the manufacturer, which they couldn’t do until they had the unit in their garage.
“Nobody wants to work on these things,” the service manager said. Deja vu!
Frustrated, I snapped at the service manager, “Well somebody has to! We have a list of issues as long as your arm, and only a year of warranty to get them addressed.”
“The problem is,” he lamented, “that we can’t find techs experienced enough to work on these things. We’ll hire an HVAC guy but he won’t know the first thing about the plumbing, or vice versa. We can hire a furniture medic, but he has never seen RV appliances or slides or the Aqua Hot water system. We have three full-time techs training three guys, and we’re backed up. We aren’t taking any new customer appointments for two months.”
With our expectations low, we left our RV home at the service center anyway. We packed up our belongings in our only two suitcases and as many boxes and bags as we could fit in the Hyundai Veloster toad, including the contents of the fridge and freezer. My sister and brother-in-law invited us to live with them for nearly two weeks in north Vegas.
Mitch called the service center every few days. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” I would say, with my fingers crossed for good news. After a week, they reportedly had fixed the broken sliding doors, the bowed out wall covering, and the stuck storage tray in the basement compartment. They sealed the engine compartment to help prevent the soot problem we were seeing in the bathroom and bedroom. They replaced a missing LED in a headlight strip. They tightened the arm holding the critical side-view mirror so it wouldn’t vibrate so badly. They adjusted drawers so that they would latch securely. They reattached a water filter unit that was leaking. They taped up an awning tear from a massive Tahoe Ponderosa pinecone that fell on it from a heavenly height, and didn’t even charge us for it because it wasn’t covered under warranty. They also performed a 6,000-mile service on the engine (which we did pay for). And on and on, down the list, until the Vegas Camping World had actually addressed the majority of the issues. Anything requiring parts, they agreed to order ahead so that we would have them for our next visit in December.
Thanks to the Las Vegas Camping World, our faith in dealers and warranty work was restored.
People who’ve heard our story often say, “A brand new vehicle isn’t supposed to have all these problems!” Anyone would return a car or truck with so many issues. But it isn’t a car — it’s a home on wheels full of complex systems — appliances, heating, A/C, satellite dish, toilets, compartments, electronics, slides — that shakes when it’s underway like the launch of Apollo 13.
Experienced RVers will certainly identify with our story. They could have told us that half of our problem is with us, the newbie owners, in learning how things work. The cooktop didn’t work because we didn’t have enough steel in our new conductive cookware (we ordered the wrong type, but P.S. the induction cooktop is a source of a lot of complaints even with the right cookware and it makes Val CRAZY. It takes 25 minutes to boil water). The windshield nightshade only goes down part way when the key is in the ignition. Remember, the jacks only operate when the engine is running. Ohhh yeahhh, the slides won’t go out unless the key is in ACC position. That water pressure issue is less of a problem if you just avoid running the dishwasher and taking a shower at the same time (but it turned out to be a hose behind the dishwasher was kinked carelessly during installation). The fireplace might turn off mysteriously (and the central vac won’t run at all) if you’re running the clothes dryer because they both take a lot of power. The DirectTV satellite cable only comes on when a miraculous combination of factors comes together all at once…um…in other words, when Mitch is around, and sometimes not even then. I’m still learning the game of how to turn on the TV system (the score is probably about DirectTV, 8. Val, 0).
Some issues remain, but a new home on wheels requires much time and patience and user training by fire. However, we can see the number of issues diminishing. We have hope! We no longer daily intone our mantra of two months ago: “Different day, different problem.”
In spite of how terrible it may sound, it’s so worth it. We are loving the full-time RV life. We love taking out the little propane hibachi grill and grilling up some burgers (veggie for me), and walking around the RV park at night. We love sitting outside and watching recorded shows under the stars (we never thought we’d use that outdoor TV that was designed for tailgating but ohhh yeahhh, the stars!).
We love taking the car to explore the natural wonders of Monument Valley, Arches, Canyonlands…Oh, and how! We love THIS Love Shack, this Beast, with our comfy king-sized bed and all its quirks and accommodations. It’s still so cool!! We are loving it so much, that we recently decided to keep going long past the initial year.
For all the beauty and wonder we’ve seen and the fun we’ve had the first two months, we feel like we’re rushing too much and missing so much. We can see that 12 months won’t be nearly enough time to see all this country has to offer and visit everyone we want to visit.
Our new mantra is, “Two more years!”
And our second new mantra is, “Fix it yourself when you can!” With our new-found experience, we always strive to diagnose and fix problems ourselves (rather Mitch’s self) when we can. Barring that, we call the manufacturer ahead of time, get them to approve a diagnosis at one service center when we’re on the move, and order the part to arrive at another service center in the direction we’re headed.
Then, when it’s time to give up the RV for service, we take our laptops, our pillows, and set up CAMP in their waiting room. Then we bug them repeatedly. We visit the service desk every couple of hours, pushing for an update. “Is our RV in the bay yet?” “Did you get a diagnosis yet?” “Did you order the part?” etc. You have to BE the squeaky wheel. And when they see pillows in the waiting room, they want you out of there!
Experience is the reward of the adventures of full-time RVing.
When the new accelerator pedal assembly failed AGAIN driving down the Appalachian Mountains (why is it always coming down the biggest mountain ranges in the country? And WHY am *I* always driving??), we now know, after we’re done swearing (or y’know, after I’m done swearing), to reach under the accelerator pedal with our right foot and pull up. That allows the engine break to engage.
Yes, experience rules. The SECOND time we had that accelerator pedal assembly replaced at the Freightliner facility in South Carolina (that’s right, it failed TWICE), I went and checked their work. I had to tell a grizzled white-beard tech dude that they had installed it wrong. Again. The pedal was further than my long legs could reach with the seat pulled all the way up (and I’m 5’9″, all leg), and the brake pedal was too close, far from the same plane as the accelerator pedal. The last time that happened I had a very scary ride until we got back to the service center — and then we were back on the hamster wheel trying to get them to fit us into the schedule so they could fix their flawed installation. The seasoned, Santa-esque technician argued with me in his southern drawl — “Look woman, ain’t no other way to install it!” I made him look at the assembly until he found a sliding adjustment nut. When he saw I was right, he re-installed it correctly. Don’t argue with a coach driver on her second accelerator pedal installation!
Experience really can be a bitch!
Post script: 2018. Tuscany is not a low-quality coach. It’s high end; it’s nice. Thor has been a great company and has stood by their product. If you have money to throw into a higher quality coach, go for the best one you can afford! But first, ask around and you’ll see a common thread — a newbie will still have problems with a new coach. A new Prevost owner we met who spent perhaps $1.5 MILLION on his new luxury coach, told us that he had a frustrating amount of problems in his coach also. He said the only difference was, the company would fly out the mechanic in a helicopter to the middle of nowhere to help. We believe he was only half serious. But it’s a funny way to illustrate the point.
We have also met people who say, “Oh, we didn’t have any problems like that in our RV. Oh my goodness! No never!” Our response is somewhere between disbelief and skepticism. “REALLY…? Interesting! How long have you been RVing?” The answer will invariably be “since childhood” or something approaching eons. THEN the story comes out…”Well, we had a problem with our slides in our old bumper pull the first few months, but we got that fixed and it’s been fine ever since. We really haven’t had many problems. But then we mostly just stay in one place for months at a time.”
Whatever crazy repair adventure is in store, don’t let it deter you from what can be an amazing, life-fulfilling dream. We are a cautionary tale: a big rig with all the fixin’s (not to mention a toad) is likely going to be a constant source of projects, especially if you plan to aggressively (actually, really) travel. We confess, it’s been four years since we bought our coach and I no longer call it the Big Rolling Turd (What? It’s brown and it’s trouble!). Mitch doesn’t keep a spreadsheet of issues anymore. Just a little list. But he regularly gets his hands dirty. In fact, I have told him numerous times he would be an ace at running an RV service center! He has grappled with just about every darned system in this coach — and he would be so good, they’d turn a profit!
But to do that, we’d have to stop traveling so much.
See you in the warm places!
Read the next post: Life Lessons from Colorado.
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To read our story from the beginning, start here.