As the dust from the crashing economy continues to settle out, more and more RVers are finding themselves in the unenviable position of owning an orphan. Some very big names in the RV trade—those who have been building rigs seemingly for ages—are simply no longer in existence.
Where does that leave you if you have a relatively new rig still under warranty on paper, but not in practice? Or how about those whose venerable geriatric rigs are way out of warranty but still going strong?
Is Your Warranty Worthless?
Did your RV’s manufacturer go out of business, or did it file for bankruptcy? There is a difference. Some companies have filed for “reorganization” under bankruptcy law, meaning they’re trying to stay alive by cutting deals with creditors to get some relief. You may still have hope of getting warranty service—talk to your RV dealer. But if the company is under reorganization, this is not the time to dally if your rig has a problem that needs fixing.
If the manufacturer has truly closed its doors, then your manufacturer warranty could very well be valueless. RV dealers who do factory warranty service get paid by the manufacturer. No manufacturer—no payment. Happily, in the interests of good will, some RV dealers will work with customers to provide warranty service even when the mother company is dead and gone. It never hurts to ask your dealer.
Most appliances in RVs are warranted directly by their makers. If your flat screen TV goes on the fritz, it’s most likely covered by a separate warranty by the TV manufacturer. If the warranty is still in date, you should be covered even if the RV builder is dead.
But what if there’s a problem with the RV itself and the dealership can’t help you? Ah, friend, you’re on your own. Hopefully your bank account is big enough to handle the out-of-pocket expense, or else your skills as a do-it-yourself RV technician are strong enough to bail you out of most trouble. (Shameless self-promo: Remember, your friends at the Tech Tips column are here every single month to help you refine your skills!)
What About Parts?
Being orphaned puts parts availability into an interesting nether world. If a part you need for repair was made by the RV maker itself, you could be in a world of hurt. Happily that’s a pretty rare situation, as most RV builders buy their components from part suppliers and build the rig to their own specs.
These components range from stuff in the plumbing line such as faucets and toilets to appliances such as gas ranges and refrigerators. Most of the major component makers are still viable. For example, Dometic and Norcold, the two big makers of RV refrigerators, are still alive and well, and that’s a cool thing. Smaller outfits making stuff like door hardware, faucets and light fixtures may come and go. Fortunately, other manufacturers usually build items like these that are “close enough” that you won’t have trouble filling your needs for replacement units and individual parts.
But then, what about those times when you can’t seem to find the part you need? Maybe it turns out to be a part truly unique to your orphan RV, what then? You’ll need to turn to the RV parts orphanage. Think about it, they’ve got wrecking yards for automobiles, how about RVs? Those old hulks have gotta go somewhere. In addition to RV wrecking yards (many of whom do business by mail), there are also RV surplus stores, many located in RV manufacturing hubs where all those “leftovers” go when there’s been a change on the assembly line. And what do you think happens when an RV manufacturer croaks? They don’t just walk away and leave all the stuff just sitting behind the fence—they have a closeout auction and folks line up like buzzards in a Warner Brothers cartoon.
So how do you find an RV salvage yard? Or an orphan parts supply store? An Internet search using the search term “RV salvage” can bring a vast display of material to search through. One recently verified site that’s a “must see” is one that lists salvage yards, RV surplus dealers and other outfits that also sell new parts you might need. The list is found at www.myrvparks.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1656.
A few words of caution are always in order: If you do decide to go hunting for used parts, it’s always best to do so in person. Yes, some outfits will ship an order to you, but it can be difficult to ascertain just what condition the part is in over the phone or Internet. If you can’t go there, ask plenty of questions, see if the seller will send you photos of the ACTUAL item you’re considering (not one “just like it”), and find out if the seller will warrant the part.
When shopping by Internet, be prepared for some frustration. Few RV salvage yards have a web presence, and those that do probably spend more time pulling parts then they do posting current listings and photos. A telephone call is apt to get a much faster (and more gratifying) response than an e-mail inquiry.
What other resources are available? Don’t hesitate to turn to a friendly RV forum on the Internet. There are plenty of other folks out there who’ve suffered the same fate as you—finding themselves with RV orphans. It won’t be surprising to us at all to see more and more “RV support groups” springing up in the web to help one another find parts, manuals and advice as we deal with the fallout of the great RV crash of the decade.
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. They also provide great resources in their book, Camp Hosting USA—Your Guide to State Park Volunteering. Visit www.icanrv.com for more information.