GreetingsRV’ers. This is going to be a difficult post, as my wife and I love both the trailer we have and its manufacturer, Alliance RV. Unfortunately, as I have observed, the RV industry is stuck in the 1950s in the areas of parts inventory and availability, and service cost estimating and scheduling. Add to this the current supply chain issues, personnel shortages and inflation, and you have a recipie for a very uncomfortable state-of-the-art.
I’m going to lead off with a list of issues that we encountered with our Fifthwheel during the warranty period.
- Front cap damaged during transport. fixed at dealer
- Gray tank showed 1/3 full when dry. dealer fixed by moving the bottom sensor
- Dealer punched a hole in the vinyl flooring with a dropped tool. fixed at dealer
- loose molding behind theater seats. fixed at dealer
- basement slam latches didn’t latch. adjusted at dealer
- interior molding by microwave came loose. fixed at dealer
- theater seat suspension pops. replaced under Lippert warranty
- drivers side rear metal skirt damaged in transit. fixed under alliance warranty
- interior molding by stairway came loose. fixed at dealer
- interior molding above bedroom barn door fell down. fixed at dealer.
- bedroom seam tape on bathroom wall coming loose. glued at dealer
- interior molding by stairway loose again. fixed at dealer
- four LCI hydraulics leaking oil . replaced under warranty
- fridge door throws “door open” error code. OPEN ISSUE.
- December, 2021: Dealer wants to replace the door, but Norcold is pushing back. Issue is that the door doesn’t push the switch up far enough. No one has thought of replacing the switch yet
- January, 2022: no change
- Front basement door warped. replacement provided under warranty
- Summer, 2021: issue first reported and warranty process started. Mfg sent a replacement door but that one was defective
- December, 2022: no progress yet
- Kitchen slide seal won’t lay correctly. OPEN ISSUE.
- December, 2021: Dealer wants to install cleats on the roof just like they do on the sides
- January, 2022: no progress yet
- Living room slide roof – staple coming loose. OPEN ISSUE
- October, 2021: issue reported
- December, 2021: no progress. Dealer suggests pealing back the PVC roof material, repairing the staple and re-applying the PVC
- January, 2021: Dealer wants to repair it surgically by cutting into the PVC and then repairing the cut
- Vinyl floor damaged by theater seat replacement process. OPEN ISSUE
- December, 2021: Dealer discovered and recommended vinyl replacements
- January, 2021: Dealer reports they are waiting on the mfg, as the vinyl is back-ordered
- Running lights stopped working due to loose connection behind one fixture; fixed at dealer.
- AC froze up during first camping trip. Thats Coleman’s fault
- Passenger side slam latch doesn’t stay latched
- 1/4″ plywood paneling under the bed structure is loose (twice)
- December, 2021: Dealer re-stapled. During the 5-mile drive home it popped loose again
Here’s the category breakdown:
- Things that happen during Transport: 2 (metal skirt, front cap)
- Details that the manufacturer missed: 3 (seam tape, gray tank sensor, molding behind theater seat)
- Component quality: 4 (AC, fridge door, theater seat, hydraulic jacks)
- Problems caused by the Dealer: 3 (twice damaged the Vinyl flloor, SLAM latch that comes loose after adjustement)
- Latent mfg defect that manifest during warranty: 8 (slam latches out of adjustment, running lights, LR slide roof, kitchen slide seal, two warped doors, barn door molding, plywood paneling that keeps coming loose ()
- Things to be expected: 3 (moldings just come loose due to travel)
I have made the distinction between “mfg quality control”, which is an inspection-based process at the factory, and “mfg defects” which are not detected at the factory but are “manufactured in” only to show up later. The latter includes things like loose wires, latch adjustements that don’t stay, doors that warp in hot sunlight, staples coming loose under the PVC roof, etc.) manufacturing quality control includes things such as loose moldings behing the theater seat, incomplete wallpaper seam tape, and holding tank sensors incorrectly positioned.
Except for the fact that the dealer damaged the vinyl floor so badly that it needs replacing, I think I’m on the good side of the story, in comparison. You have to consider that RV manufacturers operate differently than auto manufacturers — and for sub-100K fifth wheels I think Alliance has done a spectacular job — I just have to read about the horror stories associated with other mfgs to remind myself that Alliance is doing better than the others. Are they immune to manufacturing problems introduced at the factory? probably not, but they stand behind their product and “make it better” (see below). In short, I’m glad I don’t have “Some other Brand”, as they say!
The Service State-of-the-art
In my opinion, the RV service process is actually designed to fail under stress. The problems include:
- Dealers can’t predict parts ETA due to supplier issues
- Dealers loose control over certain processes on purpose so that they are not responsbile for anything that happens during the repair. One astonishing example happened when we picked up our trialer in December of 2021 after some repairs had been accomplished. When we entered the trailer at hitch-up time we discovered:
- The trailer was unlocked
- The bedroom closet and hallway doors were not latched (not ready for transport)
- There was an open bottle of liquor on the bathroom counter. The dealer feigned any knowledge, explaining that there was no security camera footage showing anyone entering the trailer. Their only explantion was that a “garbage/trash collector” entered our trailer with a garbage bag from some other trailer and left the open bottle there by mistake. What it means is that the dealer has very little control over what happens in their shop.
- There is no way to track or priotiize “the next step” for a repair job. Dealers have stacks of paper that they work through, and when they are waiting for parts to arrive, two really bad things happen
- They loose track of the service order and the only way to discover it is to go through the stack again to see which one is the highest priority. This means they frequently loose track of progress and don’t comunicate with customers. The best service writers will reach out via email from time to time (Thanks Bishs!) but there is no automated system telling the service writers what the next step is in the process and who owns it.
- While waiting for parts, especially for warranty claims, there is a “pass the monkey” circus that happens — dealers submit warranty claims using the manufacturer’s own tools (which means they use several tools/websites) and then manufactuers ask for more information. The process can take weeks because it requires constant babysitting. Even within the dealer itself you have process silos that don’t talk to each other or trigger/pull work when it is due. Parts guys blame their workload, service writers blame everybody because they have no control over anything, and service managers blame the manufacturers. Its juts an amazing game where more effort is spent blaming someone else than decribing what is being done to make it better.
- work on a paricular RV will commence, and then stop,while waiting for parts. But then it takes a new investigation to find out where it is again and re-start work, for example, if a part comes in.
- There is no automated way to track parts arrival that will trigger work on a particular RV
- Technicians are paid by the job, not by the hour, which means they have the wrong motivation. Work gets done quickly and only the very best and most conciencious technicians will perform quality work without watching the clock and trying to cram as much work into the day as possible.
- No one knows how to estimate how long anything will take, for the purpose of scheduling. As a project manager used to estimating work all the time, I find this astonishing. Jobs do get assigned a dollar value at some point but this never translates into any coherent estimate of the work to schedule a coach drop-off. RVs sit for weeks at a time on the lot before getting touched, just because the service writer has no tools to help him estimate when “a technician has time to work on yours”.
In short, the RV industry right now is characterized by unprecidented demand, combined with a complex value chain where each link in the chain blames another one. I suspect all of the complaints are valid, to be perfectly honest – but the dealer/manufacturer you want to align yourself with is the one that doesn’t highlight the faults of others, but instead demonstrates how they are making it better.