"New motor vehicle" includes the chassis, chassis cab, and that portion of a motor home devoted to its propulsion, but does not include any portion designed, used, or maintained primarily for human habitation.
"Coach"? "Chassis"? What?: This is an unfortunately, and to my mind, unnecessarily, complex part of the law. When you study how an RV is manufactured, you will find that there is typically one company that manufactures the parts that make the whole thing go down the road--frame, engine, transmission, wheels, steering, etc.. Some of this is obvious, and some not so much. The engine is obviously part of the chassis, the instrument panel, not so obvious. Once this part of the RV is completed, it is then sent to the coach manufacturer, which then manufacturers and installs the rest of the RV. Not too bad? Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Often, there is a crossover between the two sections. The airbag suspension might be installed by the chassis manufacturer, but the controls installed by the coach manufacturer. To make matters worse, the coach manufacturer sometimes temporarily disconnects a coach component and then re-installs it--sometimes negligently. The bottom line is that, for any problem with an RV, you are going to have to carefully analyze what part or parts are involved, then figure out who made it and installed it. Why bother? Well, for one thing, as I said, there are different coverages under the Lemon Law.
Lemon Law and the Chassis: California Lemon Law provides the same coverage for the chassis or "propulsion" portion of the RV as it does for any car or truck. One of the most important aspects of this, in my experience, is that you cannot be forced to accept a replacement vehicle, instead of getting your money back. Why is that important? Let's assume you've had the kind of experiences that many of my clients have had, which involves a several hundred thousand dollar investment, costing thousands of dollars a month, that was supposed to provide you with a great vacation experiences. What you got, instead, was something that spends most of its time at the dealer repair facility, and, in between, may have stranded you during your attempted trips, ruining your vacation time. How interested would you be in getting another one of these?
Lemon Law and the Coach: The remainder of the RV is treated as a non-vehicle by California Lemon Law. You have protections under the law, but one of the key items that is missing is your right to insist on getting your money back. Coach manufacturers can, and usually do, insist on giving you another RV in exchange for your lemon. Are you going to be happy with this? See above.
Warranty Coverage: Another issue that frequently comes up with RV's is warranty coverage. Even assuming your RV doesn't have problems enough to qualify as a Lemon, there are still going to be things that break, and you're going to want to know if there is warranty coverage. On a car or truck, this is typically a simple matter--the manufacturer provides you with the only warranty. (There are limited exceptions, such as tires.) If the engine in your Chrysler malfunctions, you take it to the Chrysler dealer. If the radio in your Chrysler malfunctions, you take it to the Chrysler dealer, etc.. The RV is a different animal. In fact, I look at an RV as a product produced by a committee. (Old joke: What does a horse designed by a committee look like? A camel!.) Remember that huge case of papers you got with the coach? Take a look (you probably haven't until now) and you see that there are perhaps dozens of different warranties and instruction booklets, all dealing with different parts of your RV, from the coach to the engine to the microwave. If any of these items breaks, you may very well have to go to that specific manufacturer to get it fixed or replaced--unless the warranty has run out.
Keep in mind that warranties on RV's are traditionally very short. A typical motorhome warranty is only one year, so immediately take it to the dealer if you even think there might be a problem. It's common for the coach dealer to say it's an engine problem, and the engine dealer to then say it's a coach problem, so you may have to be persistent and advocate for yourself. Be sure you get complete service records. You can read about that in my previous posts, but apply the rules even more strongly for your RV. Many RV dealers do not create repair records that are as good as you are used to seeing at a car dealership, so you may have to insist that they write everything down.
Of course, this all assumes that all of these manufacturers are still in business. Many of the RV manufacturers have gone out of business the last few years, taking your warranty into oblivion with them.
The bottom line: if you think you may be having a problem with your RV, review your warranties carefully, take action immediately, advocate for yourself and stay on it until the problems are fixed or you've gotten to the point where you need to see a Lemon Law lawyer.
I'll have a new topic for you for my next post. In the meantime, you can get more information from my websites San Diego Lemon Law and When Bad Cars Happen to Good People.
See you next time!
© 2011 Douglas C. Sohn
Doug Sohn is a San Diego attorney specializing in Lemon Law cases. He is a native of San Diego and lives in the North County with his wife, Cheri, and 3 of their 5 children. Cheri also works with Doug in the practice.