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When A Purchase Deal Turns Sour, RV Lemon Law

When A Purchase Deal Turns Sour, RV Lemon Law

By K. Susie Adams #134068

In April 2016, Nina purchased a new 40 ft. fifth-wheel trailer. Having already been a full-time RVer for many years, Nina met with several dealers and shopped around for the best RV. She was assured by the dealer that this fifth- wheel would be the best. Still, she knew to also purchase extra RV service agreement coverage offered by the dealer for an extra $2,500. And, she admitted later, she signed on the dotted line having not read the fine print (all 12 pages) on the service agreement.

In Sections II and III, the extended service agreement promised to pay the cost of covered repairs. It stated coverage for the failure of a lengthy list of parts, appliances, equipment and various systems in the RV. It also reimbursed for trip interruption, service calls and emergency roadside assistance. Then, in Section IX, it specified what wasn’t covered and included such items as “damage to a covered component caused by the failure of a component not listed as covered under this agreement.” And, in bold letters, after listing in detail all that one hand gave and what the other hand took away, there was the following language: Warranty of merchantability and warranty of fitness for a particular purpose are expressly excluded.

Nina was happy, heading back to her full-time RVing life in her new RV. However, after being at one campsite for five months, she began to wonder if, perhaps, she had a lemon. There were 27 issues with her new camper. Now, this may be no different from purchasing a new home. In the first few months, there’s usually a list created by the purchaser to give to the builder for items that need adjustments. That’s what Nina assumed as well. However, compared to her other RV, this list of adjustments seemed rather long. Her earlier RV had been purchased from another RVer, so she figured they must have worked out the kinks beforehand. But, this time, she was the original owner. Surely, this wasn’t normal.

The list of issues included rain causing water leaks onto her living room carpet causing a musty odor, shower leaks, a refrigerator not kept cold while driving, the levelers would not work and the slides would not open, a thumping noise in the living room A/C, pink insulation hanging out of the vents and some sort of black “stuff” in the bathroom sink that kept reappearing, to name a few.

She contacted the dealer, who was 12 hours away, and arranged to bring the RV back for repairs. The service agreement provided for payment of up to $125 per day, for a maximum of three days of layover for repairs. In all, the dealer spent four days repairing the RV. By the time she left, she was cautiously hopeful that now she would be able to hit the road with ease and comfort.

Only six hours after leaving the dealership, Nina set up camp for the night, walked into the RV and found that her sink had fallen out of the kitchen cabinet—a whole new problem! She soon discovered that many of the issues she had asked them to fix appeared to be only temporarily working and band-aided back together.

So she asked, “Is this a lemon?” and the follow-up question, “If so, what can I do?”

I. Know Your State’s RV Lemon Law Rights.
The first step is to check your state’s lemon law statute to see what is required of the purchaser. Because Nina was domiciled in Texas at the time of the purchase, and her RV was registered and titled in Texas, she might use Texas lemon laws. However, she purchased the RV elsewhere, and the repairs were made in several different locations. An experienced “Lemon Lawyer” could help her determine what choices she had to file her complaint. Texas law requires that you give the dealer/manufacturer a “reasonable number of attempts” to fix the RV. Case law has helped define “reasonable” as well as the statute: if you have four unsuccessful repairs and that at least two occur within the shorter of one year or 12,000 miles, that’s reasonable. Or, if the repairs are for a serious safety defect, only two unsuccessful repairs are required within two years. It appears that Texas requires that you give the dealer more than one chance to repair.

II. Keep copious records of all the repairs.
Keep notes of the time, place, scope, etc. of each repair attempt and attach all receipts and money paid to fix the problems. Organize all correspondence with the repairmen. Keep together all the warranty and sales agreements concerning your RV. Also, keep a journal of your concerns.

III. Determine the best outcome you hope to achieve.
How would you like this resolved?

IV. Decide whether the problem is worth your while to take it to an attorney.
Nina’s service agreement required that any dispute go to arbitration rather than court, as is apparently true for most such agreements. In Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. v. Texas Department of Transportation, MV Division, 383 S.W. 3rd 217 (Tex. App.–Austin, 2012), the court found for the purchaser of the RV that, after an arbitration where the purchaser prevailed, he had the right for reimbursement.

One question presented in that case was whether the trailer’s value was substantially impaired by the constant need for repair. The manufacturer argued that since all repairs had been made, there was no substantial impairment. As in Nina’s case, her RV suffered from repaired water leaks that left a lingering odor and new emerging problems. Also, the A/C didn’t work properly, so drying out the RV proved to be difficult. However, unlike Nina’s case, this purchaser’s RV had been out of commission for over 30 days while being repaired.

In the Dutchmen case, the purchaser of the RV was worried that when he might try to sell the RV in the future, he would have a duty to disclose all the problems. And, he was also worried that with such a litany of problems in the first two years of ownership, many other problems may be lurking below the surface. Basically, he was concerned that he had purchased a “lemon.” This is also reflected in Nina’s case.

The court found in favor of the RV purchaser, that he had a right to reimbursement. In the court’s reasoning, they used the “reasonable-purchaser standard”: Would a reasonable purchaser be deterred from buying this vehicle or substantially negatively affect how much they would be willing to pay for the vehicle due to all the problems. They found that a reasonable purchaser might shy away from this man’s RV and that the manufacturer should reimburse.

Nina is hesitant, however, because the manufacturer has been nice and accommodating in trying to help her with her RV. Even still, she doesn’t know what might be best. Being a full-time RVer, when your rig is in the shop, you are stuck. Unlike cars or other motor vehicles, an RV is more like a home. In fact, it begs the question, should RVs be covered only by lemon laws, or also by the “laws of habitability.” Or, should they be covered by the Deceptive Trade Practices Act that, when successfully used in litigation, can require payment of three times actual damages. Currently, lemon laws seem to be the remedy, but, if more and more RVers take to the road full-time, this may change.

In conclusion, if you think you might have purchased a lemon RV, do all you can to compile the evidence. Also, notify the manufacturer or dealer and give them the chance to make repairs. Determine how you would best like this problem resolved and, if necessary, seek legal help to assist you through this interesting, yet difficult, process.

K. Susie Adams has been a lawyer for over 30 years, spending 15 of those years working as a trial lawyer. She also taught legal writing at the University of Houston Law School. From 2011–2016, she was executive director of Childrenz Haven, the Child Advocacy Center of Polk County, Texas. Susie and her husband, James Frost, reside in Livingston, Texas.

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