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The Trip of a Lifetime:  Close Calls and Shady RV Dealers

The morning after visiting the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, we continued our journey west toward The Black Hills of South Dakota.  However, the night before we left our campground in Wall, South Dakota, I was making final checks for the next leg of our journey when I discovered my right front trailer tire once again had very low tire pressure, so I pulled out the air compressor and filled the tire for the second time since the start of the trip.  By the next morning the tire pressure had dropped from 50 psi to 35 psi, so I pumped air into it for a third time, and told my wife we needed to get it checked soon.  Obviously, the tire had a slow leak and needed to be repaired or maybe, replaced.  My friend was also having some minor problems with his tow hitch, so he called Camping World in Rapid City, South Dakota, and made an appointment for both of us.

Camping World took care of the hitch issue for my friend, but after inspecting my tire, they found a small split in the corner of the tire tread and the side wall that could not be plugged or replaced since they did not have the size tire my trailer needed in stock.  As it turned out, that was a blessing.  I drove the camper to Dale’s Tires a couple of exits down Interstate 90 from Camping World where they graciously worked me into their busy schedule.  The manager of the store was a hoot!  He joked and made wise cracks the whole two hours my wife and I were in his store.  Jim was by far the best part of our day.

Two hours later we were on our way to Custer, South Dakota.  Two hours to change a tire?  Well, as it turned out I didn’t need one tire – I needed four new tires.  In addition to the right front tire being replaced, the old hippie (literally an old hippie) working on my tires called me to the shop to show me the condition of the other tires.  The right rear tire had splinters of steel protruding in several places from the rubber on the inside tread.  Both tires on the left side of the trailer were rounded rather than flat and bulging.  It was a miracle we made it as far as we did on those tires.  That one or more of those tires had not blown was a testament to a guardian angel watching over and traveling with us.

Although I was thankful we had not been stranded on the side of the road or rolled over in a ravine, I also felt anger.  Prior to leaving for the trip I took my camper to the dealership where I bought it for a complete check over.  I specifically asked them to inspect the tires and replace any of the tires that showed undue wear or stress.  The dealership gave the tires a clean bill of health, and said there were no problems.  I asked the old hippie if the problems he found with my camper’s tires could have developed over maybe 1500 miles, and he said one tire failing or even two was possible, but the probability of all four tires going bad during that span was slim.  Based on the tire evidence he saw, he said the tires should have been replaced before we left home, and whoever inspected them should have made that recommendation.  The dealership did not, which chalked up yet another point in my growing suspicions that many RV (recreational vehicle) dealers do not take the safety of their customers seriously.  Get the customer in, take his money, and get him out as quickly as possible seems to be a growing trend in the RV world.  On the other side of the coin, I am as much to blame as the dealer.  I should not have put so much faith in the word of the dealership and paid closer attention to the tires!  Fortunately, luck and my guardian angel gave me a second chance to take care of my own backside and not depend so much on others.  Next time, I will trust my travel trailer tires to places like Dale’s Tires (Firestone) or Goodyear for inspection and service.  In the future, if I am going to trust anyone, it will be the experts.

After the hitch and tires issues, our trip continued without further mechanical problems until we reached Great Falls, Montana.  While in Great Falls, my friend’s camper developed a pooper valve issue (black water tank).  The valve handle stripped and the black water tank began to leak nasty stuff, so once again, we found ourselves seeking a place for repairs.  My buddy, located a local RV center that would work him in on a busy Saturday morning.  The valve issue turned out to be a minor fix, but the mechanic discovered the camper’s running lights were not working.  A travel trailer without running lights is a serious problem and must be addressed immediately, so the mechanic spent two and one-half hours working on the issue.  Finding the cause of the problem was not easy, but finally, he found a short in the camper wiring and applied a temporary fix until we get home in early September.  My friend and his wife were elated the issue had been resolved – until they saw the bill.  The cost of no parts and two and one-half hours of labor was a whopping $590.00.  Luckily, my friend’s camper is still under warranty, and he will get at least a portion of the bill reimbursed.  However, I couldn’t help but wonder if the exorbitant bill was just another example of shady practices by a RV dealer.  I mean is $590 for two and one-half hours of labor reasonable, or did this particular dealer stick it to an out of town traveler, or was the dealer simply milking the warranty?  I can’t help but believe it’s one of the latter two if not both.  Either way is just as shady as not properly inspecting my camper’s tires as requested.

There are three guarantees when camping in a travel trailer that can lead to close calls or worse: shady dealers, the unexpected, and RVers who depend too much on others for their safety.  A great lesson the four of us have learned is to look out for ourselves and each other.  Now, we check and double check everything before taking to the road: hookups, rollups, put-ups, engine service, hitches, tires, and lights.  We are no longer in a rush to break camp; we check behind one another before leaving.  To have a successful and safe road trip, we have learned we must be our neighbor’s keeper or at least constantly looking over his shoulder.  The more eyes looking for potential problems the better.  Lesson learned!

JL

©Jack Linton, July 26, 2017

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