Thursday, September 18, 2008

Winnebago: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers. " Chapter 7

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." This line is from Henry VI, part 2, by William Shakespeare.
Of course, Will never heard of Winnebago. But this line should have rung in my head like a great bell, the instant we started talking about hiring a lawyer.
In our naivte, we thought that any reasonable person who heard our story would agree that we had a grievance.
We wrote a letter to Winnebago, chronicling our woes, and asked that the purchase contract be rescinded.
Winnebago refused.
We contacted McClain's RV, with the same request.
McClain's refused.

So we went to talk to a lawyer.
Finding a lawyer who handles this type of case was a journey in itself. Most lawyers we talked to were not interested once they found out that there were no excessive damages in the offing. They are more interested in handling cases on contingency, and taking a third or more of the settlement.

We finally found a lawyer who would listen to our story. His immediate response was that we had a solid case.
He said he has never lost a case against Winnebago.
He told us that it would probably cost around $15,000, maybe as much as $20,000.
He was only interested in clients who would commit to going the distance, no matter what.

We talked.
We prayed.
We asked advice from family and friends.

We hired the lawyer, and he filed a suit against Winnebago, McClain's, Freightliner, and the extended warranty company, Coach-Net.

We waited.
And waited.
And waited.

It's been two years and ten months since we started this journey through the legal system.

Some years ago I read a novel, Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. Bleak House is the story of a lawsuit filed in London. The suit wended its way through the British legal system for many years. When it was finally settled, the whole estate which was the subject of the lawsuit had been consumed by legal fees.

I can now identify with the characters in Bleak House.

This case had consumed our time, our energy, and our resources. We have nothing left.

We are in the process of negotiating a settlement which offers neither fairness nor justice.

We are settling for less than we want, less than we deserve, less than we can really afford to lose, because of the amount of money that has been sucked up by the lawyers, the mediator (also a lawyer), and the cost of keeping the Winnebago at least minimally functional.

We are out of patience, and out of money.

The proposal states that we will not reveal the conditions of the settlement by any means, whether by telling others, writing a book, e-mailing, or blogging.

So this will be my last entry about Winnebago.

Let me finish with an admonition: learn from our misfortunes and our mistakes.

Now I have to think of something else to blog about.

I'm sure something will occur to me eventually.

Maybe the fifth wheel travel trailer we are considering...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Winnebago: That's Not Cool. Chapter Six

The last trip we took in the Winnebago Journey was mid-June, during a drought, in blazing hot weather. We went to Lake Texoma to camp with his brothers and families. When I opened the refrigerator door to fix lunch, we realized that the refrigerator had stopped working.

We drove to Sherman, to North Texas RV, to see if they could fix it. They thought they could. As it turned out, they couldn't.

We made three trips over there, and each time they thought they had it fixed. Wick finally figured out that the fan was not working. So he went to Wal-mart, bought a couple of clip-on fans, and rigged them up to keep the refrigerator working at least temporarily.

Mid-week, the inverter blew out. It took out most of the electrical and electronic equipment, including the microwave, both tvs, the radio sitting on the dash (the one we had to use because the built-in dash radio never worked right, even after being replaced), and the sleep number mattress.

We said to ourselves, well, it could be worse. At least we have insurance through First Extended.

Wrong. Well....we did pay for the coverage. It was in force. But the company refused to pay. Their representative promised to come look at the Winnebago, if we would take it to an "authorized service center"--so we took it to Tyler RV, the closest "authorized" service center to our lake home.

It sat there for over two months, and the representative never arrived. When we called, we were told repeatedly, "He'll be there next week."

Finally, we were notified that the claim had been denied, since the Extended Warranty rep said he thought the damage had been caused by a lightning strike, and we should file a claim with our auto insurance company.

Lightning. In the middle of a drought. There had not been a cloud as big as my hand in months.

A couple of years earlier, lightning struck our pickup. It was quite noticeable. Loud. And scary. It blew out the tires, cracked the windshield, and left a big burn mark on the truck and on the ground, as well as blowing out the electrical system. We knew when it struck, even though we were not actually in the truck at the time.

And we were living in the RV. I think we would have noticed, if lightning had struck the Winnebago.

Our auto insurance company said there was no sign of lightning striking. The man at Tyler RV said he couldn't find any sign of a lightning strike. So we told Extended Warranty. They finally sent someone to actually look at the Winnebago.

He said there was no sign of lightning striking. He was their guy, and he told them they were wrong.

They still refused to pay.

So, when we talked to our attorney, we asked him to add Extended Warranty to the lawsuit.

We had to pay for having the tvs, the microwave, and the refrigerator fixed ourselves.

Because the Winnebago sat on the Tyler RV lot for more than two months, we had to rent an apartment. We live too far from our teaching jobs to commute, and the Winnebago was still at Tyler RV, waiting for someone from Extended Warranty to look at it and make a decision.

The furniture in an RV is pretty much built in. When you move in, you bring your clothes, your cooking utensils, and food, and you are pretty much set. Unlike moving into an apartment.

Renting an apartment involved signing a year-long lease.
And buying furniture.
A bed.
A washer and dryer.

So...there we were, still paying a thousand dollars a month for a Winnebago that was immobile, plus rent on an apartment,and furniture we didn't really want or need when we eventually moved back into the RV.

We bought a Winnebago so we could travel.

But whenever we actually traveled, something broke. Every time.

So we were paying for a vehicle that was stationary.

I have to say, I quite resented paying that much every month to live in roughly 300 square feet of space, unable to use the Winnebago for what we bought it for---traveling.

We had the refrigerator fixed, and the tvs, and the microwave. The water heater still was only working intermittently. The rest, we decided, we could live without.

We are still living without those things, nearly three years later, because all our money had gone to pay our lawyer.

And that is the next chapter in our saga.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Winnebago: A Not So Happy New Year. Chapter Five

During the Christmas holidays, we visited family. We spent New Year's Eve at our niece's house, parked in her driveway. New Year's morning, we started home.

We got about two miles. We were stranded on the service road of a busy highway.

There is no service facility open on New Year's Day.

The next day, we got someone to bring us a new belt. It didn't fit.

The right size belt was not available in Texas. It had to be shipped from Oklahoma. For five days, we were stranded.

By August, we were feeling optimistic enough to make a trip to Oklahoma City.

We didn't even make it to Ardmore. The closest place that had a tow truck big enough to haul a Winnebago was in Oklahoma City.

We had planned to camp at Lake Thunderbird with Wick's brother and his wife. And we had picked up their teen age grandson, so he could go with us to meet them at the lake.

In addition to a teenager, we also had our Pomeranian, Frankie.

Once the Winnebago was hooked up to the tow truck, which took more than an hour, we piled into the little Jeep we had been towing, and started to follow the tow truck. Less than 30 minutes later, the transmission fell out of the Jeep.

So we all piled into the cab of the tow truck. Wick sat in the passenger seat, and Frankie, the boy, and I wedged ourselves on the edge of the sleeper.

Wick's brother agreed to meet us at a highway intersection near a Wal-mart. Unfortunately, the trucker couldn't get off the highway to take us up to the Wal-mart. He pulled over onto a vee between the highway and another highway that was merging with it.

We had thrown a few things into a couple of Wal-mart bags, such as our meds, and a change of clothes. We had to cross a couple of lanes, climb a fence, cross an access road, and walk about a quarter of a mile to get to the Wal-mart. Suddenly, it occurred to us that we could not take Frankie into the Wal-mart.

Looking further down the pavement shimmering in the August heat, we saw a Lowe's lumberyard. We headed there. I collapsed onto a handy folding chair, and Wick went in search of cold water. We poured some over Frankie, who was panting heavily, drank some, then poured the rest over our heads.

Finally, Wick's brother arrived, just in time to prevent his grandson from expiring of embarrassment.

The Winnebago was towed to Freightliner. We expected it to be fixed within a few days.

Thirteen days later, we were still at Wick's brother's house. Fortunately, we are a close family, and get along well. But thirteen days is a long time to have company, and I am sure they were relieved when we finally were able to pick up the Winnebago.

The mechanic at Freightliner told us that it was overfilled with oil, which had spewed out all over the engine, and that the radiator had just water, no coolant. We were nonplussed. After some discussion, we concluded that these problems must have occurred while the Winnebago was at McClain's being repaired.

Our next step was to find a lawyer.

Winnebago: Waiting for Service. Chapter 4

We bought our Winnebago Journey from McClain's in November.

By June, we had accumulated a list of nine items that needed attention. We called for a service appointment, and were told that it would take about a week to fix everything. Since we were planning a cruise, we set up the appointment for the week we would be gone.

What with the cruise, and a couple of days' travel time, we got back ten days later.

Nothing had been done.


The service manager at McClain's offered us a parking spot so that we could stay in the RV at night, while they worked on it during the day.

None of the items were major--things like a radio that had never worked, a water heater that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't, the energy control panel that burned up, and an air conditioner vent that was broken when the Winnebago was delivered.

The service manager had no excuse for why the work was not done while we were gone.

Most of the items were finally fixed, a week later, but they never did fix the radio. McClain's ordered a new one, but had it shipped to us. Wick took out the old one and installed the new one. It still didn't work right.

All the money we paid for a Winnebago, and the radio never worked right. We had to put a little one on the dash and plug it in.

Winnebago: It Was All Downhill. Chapter 3

Having replaced the out-of-round tire, and solved the problem of the Schraeder valve, we thought we had taken care of any lurking problems. We planned a trip with two of Wick's brothers and their wives to Colorado, Mount Rushmore, and Yellowstone.

The first few days were delightful. The weather was good, for the most part, and we always enjoy our trips with Wick's brothers. Other than a rainstorm the night we were in Amarillo, parked on the Wal-mart parking lot, the first few days were uneventful.

As we left Estes Park, we were enjoying the sunny day, and the breathtaking views on the mountain roads winding through the high peaks. Suddenly, the dash instruments went out.

We were barreling down a mountain road with no instruments.

Wick couldn't even tell if the engine was running, or if he had brakes. Winnebagos have air brakes, and if they are not working, maneuvering on a steep mountain road can be deadly. Wick radioed to his brothers, explaining the situation; since they were ahead of us, we were hoping they could find a safe place for us to pull over.

Finally, a wide, fairly flat area on the side of the road promised a safe place to coast to a stop.

My sisters-in-law and I stood on the side of the road, half-crying with relief, while the guys tried to locate the source of the problem.

The trouble-shooting ran into a couple of hours, still with no resolution. We decided to drive on to our next stop, driving slowly, hoping for the best.

We were many miles from a service center, and having an RV towed through the Rocky Mountains is strictly a last resort. We made it to the next campground, where the guys kept searching for the problem.

Finally, after four days, Wick was able to find the problem and repair it. A wire had shorted out in the engine compartment.

Our confidence in the Winnebago was dwindling. When we bought this "industry standard", with the "best service record in the industry", we did not anticipate being put in danger of crashing down a mountainside.

Fortunately, our next breakdown, just six months later, was at least in a safer place.

Winnebago: "Industry Standard"? That's a hot one. Chapter 2

The out-of-round tire was only the beginning of our RV troubles.
We live in Texas. It gets hot here pretty much year 'round. So air conditioner problems are huge for us. When the dash air went out inn the Winnebago Journey, we found it most uncomfortable to drive anywhere in it. The "house" air simply couldn't keep up when we were going down the road.

So we made a trip to the Winnebago dealership for repairs. Now when we were buying the Winnebago Journey, we were careful to specify that we would be living in the Winnebago. Full-time. Not just on vacations. So we asked if full-time RVers get preferential treatment when problems arise. The salesman assured us that we would always go to the top of the list, head of the line, and usually get through within one day.

We spent the day at Freightliner, while they searched for a Schraeder valve. I have no idea what a Schraeder valve is, but apparently it is necessary for the operation of the dash air.

The Freightliner rep told us that in all of Dallas, Ft. Worth, and surrounding metropolitan area, there was no Schraeder valve to be found. He assured us that just as soon as one was located, it would be sent to his store immediately, and he would call us.

We waited.
And waited.
And waited.

Finally, after about six weeks, we called McClain's RV, where we had bought the Winnebago. The service manager said he still had not located a Schraeder valve. Wick asked to speak to the owner, Mr. McClain.

The service manager assured us that he would find a Schraeder valve. We made an appointment. When we got there, he said he still had not located a Schraeder valve.

After a rather warm discussion, the service manager vowed that he would fix our air conditioner that day.

We waited.
And waited.
And waited.

Finally, just before closing time, he told us that the valve had been located and installed.

We asked where he finally found it.

He took it out of another Winnebago on his lot.

We felt for the owners of the other Winnebago, but were delighted that our problem had been fixed.

Or so we thought.