Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sharing my Lessons of NOT Purchasing an RV (Part 1)

I’ve had a really miserable week.  Partly because I’ve ended this week a bit under the weather; but mostly because I can’t tell you about owning a new RV, the good news that should have started this past week.

The call came to me a week ago Friday.  The new RV I ordered had arrived, and the dealership wanted me to arrive this past Tuesday to participate, per my purchase-order agreement, in the PDI (pre-delivery inspection).

And so I drove off at 4 a.m. this past Tuesday morning, feeling both stress over the amount of activity this day would require, and extremely excited to know that Tuesday evening should find me pulling my new RV into a commercial RV park, for the night, before a Wednesday drive back to my neck-of-the-woods.

Let me start at the end:

Fact 1: the specific new unit I ordered, from a dealership associated with a manufacturer well-known for its long history of quality product, had multiple SIGNIFICANT issues uncovered during the PDI.

Fact 2:  the service department’s actions and reactions to the rig’s anomalies caused MULTIPLE instances of immediate damage or potential future damage.
Because of Fact 1 and Fact 2, Tuesday afternoon found me driving away from the dealership without the rig, choking back emotional frustration, AND with my original deposit refunded to me by the dealership.  

I was exhausted and dehydrated.  I had no RV for the traveling lifestyle that is so important to me.  By Tuesday night I was throwing up at home and entering a multi-day loss-for-words process.

The good in this story is that I did not make a significant or costly mistake. 

The good is that I was not harassed nor bullied by the dealership.  In fact, when it became apparent in MY mind that I was NOT going to purchase this damaged new rig, the service manager went with me to talk to the sales management team.  He did not have to do that.  As you might guess, the conversations were not easy.  But they were not angry conversations (in my presence); my version of integrity would not allow that.

The good in this story is that I was NOT an ignorant customer.  I knew the details of how the systems on this rig should work, and I knew the importance of being present for the PDI.  If I had not been involved in the PDI, but simply shown up for the usual customer “familiarization training” after purchase—it is most likely that I would have driven away with a mal-functioning and damaged rig.  How many RVers do that?  A lot.  I hear them talk about their lemons.

So I’m not really sure where to go with this particular story, as I don’t want to vent about the multiple problems uncovered and/or created.  I decided sharing my life-lessons, based on this experience (and former successful RV purchase experiences), might be most useful.  If you know someone considering an RV purchase, you might want to share it. 

(This blog post will focus on being a knowledgeable buyer.  The next post will focus on being a wise buyer, when it comes to ensuring no harm is done to your rig.)

Part 1:  Be a Knowledgeable Buyer:

1.    Do NOT ever sign a purchase agreement for a new or used RV without negotiating, in writing ON the purchase agreement, to be present during the PDI (pre-delivery inspection).  Dealerships will try and tell you they can’t do this; dealerships will try and tell you that you can NOT be in their service bay.  But if you have NOT signed a purchase agreement, and it is obvious that this nonnegotiable request is the only reason your signature has not landed on the contract page, my three-time experience, at different dealerships, is that the dealership WILL agree to this.

2.   Make sure your presence at the beginning of PDI, and during all aspects of PDI, is written onto the purchase agreement (contract).   Make sure the salesperson has coordinated with the service department manger before you or the salesperson signs the purchase order.  I’ve had one experience where the sales MANAGER said yes, but the service MANAGER said no.  I requested they talk to THEIR manager, the DEALERSHIP MANAGER.  He said yes.  This point is very important:  if only the salesperson was involved in your PDI negotiation, you could show up to a hostile service team not expecting your presence.  If the dealership will not agree to your PDI presence being written on the purchase order, I believe you are at the wrong dealership.  I’d walk away. 

3.   Do NOT treat your presence during the PDI as a training session to ask questions.  Do your homework.  Have the owner’s manual and other pertinent specifications studied BEFORE arriving. Most owners’ manuals are available via the web.  Be knowledgeable about the major systems of your RV, from the psi for the tires to the method of waste-water tank management, to the operation of electrical and plumbing systems.  Service personnel are not training personnel.  But if you demonstrate knowledgeable, useful, hands-on help, they may just teach you more than you know.  And it may turn out that they learn something from your knowledge.

4.   If you need a cheat-sheet, create one before you go and have it tucked into your pocket.  Don’t pull it out to lecture or advise the service department; pull it out for yourself if you can’t remember important information.  I walk away from the bay if I need to look at my cheat-sheet.  To develop my cheat-sheet, I ask myself: What are the critical systems that would cause me to be side-lined on the side of the road?  What key system failures would prevent me from continuing a camping trip?   I arrive at the PDI knowing how those systems should nominally work and what checks SHOULD be done during PDI to confirm proper operation.

5.   Be prepared to work and be helpful.  If I showed up at PDI appearing to be looking for service mistakes or judging the service person’s work, I would not be welcome.  I make it clear from the beginning that I’m present to help if they wish, for their successful day, and to make sure that the rig is thoroughly checked out, for my successful day.  I’ve done everything from holding a flashlight for the service person inspecting (or replacing) an item difficult to see; to running the water in sinks and shower (to fill the grey tank and watch the monitoring of the grey tank fill); to flushing the toilet (to fill the black tank and watch the monitoring of the black tank fill).  These last two examples are CRITICAL as they gave me assurance that no water overflow would occur while the service person was performing other PDI work.  The added bonus:  you can evaluate the accuracy of the monitoring system.

6.   Arrive dressed to be working with service personnel.  Closed-toed shoes, relaxed-fit jeans, loose-fitting T-shirt and baseball cap are my attire.  I knew this past Tuesday would have 95 degree heat, but I also knew the service personnel would not be in shorts; neither would I.

7.   Support the service department’s order of events for conducting the PDI; be a follower of their process not a dictator of your cheat-sheet material.  Don’t ask open-ended questions about what they are planning to do.  Remember, from their perspective, they’d rather you not be there.  Proving yourself helpful, by THEIR definition of helpful is important.  And THEIR definition starts with the unspoken rule of:  Don’t get in their way.

8.   If something seems wrong, or missed, or incorrect, speak up then—don’t wait until the end of PDI.  Speak up with what my mother would call a “helpful voice” rather than an accusatory voice. 

9.   Be aware that the service department and sales department are different departments.  I would NOT interact with the sales department during the PDI, until the PDI is successfully completed and I am ready to complete the sale and purchase the rig; OR until I’m certain that the number of off-nominal issues found during the PDI (or caused by the PDI) result in my not purchasing the rig.

The Best PDI will probably find a few problems—don’t be surprised.  

I was involved in the PDI and successful purchase of a 28’ Airstream a few years ago.  I noted that the plumbing inspection and testing did not involve the exercising of water cut-off valves.  At my request, two plumbing shut-off valves were exercised that would not have been checked if I had not been present.  Both cut-off valves leaked in the “off” position.  On discovery, the service person replaced both valves as a part of the PDI.  The result:  I never had a problem with the rig during its multi-year use.  If this cut-off valve check and replacement had not occurred, the first time I shut off the water to the toilet (a step in my method of cleaning it), water would have leaked from this valve over the floor.  A service-warranty trip would have been required during peak traveling weather.  I would NOT have been a happy camper.

Remember:  no PDI will inspect and test every function of an RV.  Do your homework on the critical systems; understand what should be tested to ensure proper working order; talk to other RVers on their good and bad experiences of what does and doesn’t tend to fail; and be a positive, knowledgeable customer.

So without telling tales about what was wrong with the rig I ordered, I can say with a glass half-full:  I did NOT make a costly and frustrating mistake.  I did NOT buy a problem rig because I was a Knowledgeable Customer.

But do know, I am so very sad and frustrated and a bit distraught over NOT having a forward plan for my beloved RVing lifestyle.

My next blog post will finish with my lesson of not purchasing this RV.  And this week? I’ll go on a daytrip, for that’s the best I can do; for now.

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