Your RV Has Its Own Warranty—and Legal Issues

Warranties, sales and lease fraud, and deceptive practices in Ohio

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Recreational vehicles, which include motorhomes and trailers, have become a huge market in the states. Approximately 6.75 million households reported owning an RV in 2017, and the industry claimed sales increases of 15 percent over the previous year. And, contrary to what you might think, buyers are getting younger: more than half are under the age of 45.

With the surge in RV ownership has come all the accompanying things that can go wrong with an expensive auto purchase—everything from engine or parts failures to interior issues, like a wonky fridge or leaky roof. And while these may sound like vastly different problems, you can go to one lawyer for all of your RV issues.

While most of the applicable laws are the same as automobiles, the consumer warranties are considerably different, says Dayton consumer law attorney Ronald Burdge, who’s been handling RV cases for more than 30 years.

“Recreational vehicles are just fascinating—in terms of the clientele, the consumers who buy them, and the RV companies who do everything they can to keep from having any responsibility,” he says. “You’ve got pop-up campers that might only cost a few thousand dollars, all the way up to million-dollar-plus RVs. There’s also a tremendous amount of fifth-wheel trailers, with no motor or engine; you just tow it, and the average cost of one of those is around $125,000. It’s not a motor vehicle, but it’s still a consumer product.”

Interestingly, many states—though not Ohio—specifically exclude motorhomes from their lemon law coverage, making it necessary to file a claim under another consumer protection theory, such as the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

“The reason that the Magnuson-Moss Act came about was because it was shown that the filigreed warranties people would get on a car didn’t actually give you anything,” says Burdge. In response to this deception, Congress enacted the federal legislation governing consumer product warranties. While the law doesn’t require that a specific warranty be provided, it does mandate transparency to the consumer, as well as enforceability of written warranty provisions. It also provides for fee-shifting, meaning that consumers aren’t on the hook to foot the bill for vindicating their rights.

“The RV industry has done everything it can in the last decade to make sure they minimize their actual legal obligations in the warranties they provide,” Burdge says. “In fact, I’ve often said that if you buy a new RV, you would actually be better off if you got no warranty at all—because state laws give you more legal rights than what these warranties provide.”

In addition to warranty issues, RVs can be subject to sales or lease fraud, as well as other unfair practices. Claims may be brought  under applicable state consumer protection laws, or under the federal Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices regulations.

“There are rights out there you can assert,” says Burdge. If you recently purchased or leased an RV and have a concern about either the vehicle or the transaction, talk to an experienced consumer law attorney who specializes in RV claims.

Ohio

“The RV industry has done everything it can in the last decade to make sure they minimize their actual legal obligations in the warranties they provide. In fact, I’ve often said that if you buy a new RV, you would actually be better off if you got no warranty at all—because state laws give you more legal rights than what these warranties provide.”

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