An RV Extended Warranty (or “RV Warranty“) is a mechanical breakdown protection product that you can purchase for your RV to give you a financial boost in the event that a system on your RV suddenly fails. By their very nature and reputation, RV warranties are contracts that most RVers either swear by or swear at, and for those of us whose eyes glaze over when reading legal documents, it can be really hard to figure out whether or not buying an RV extended warranty is a worthwhile investment.
This article is the first in a series of articles about RV extended warranties that present our personal case history with our RV warranty on our 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker II LS fifth wheel trailer (four year warranty cost: $1,904). This first article begins by explaining what RV extended warranties are, how they work, and how they differ from RV insurance. It also explains what to look for when buying an RV extended warranty contract. Then it goes on to show our own RV warranty in action during our first claim which was an axle replacement on our fifth wheel trailer ($1,136 reimbursement).
The rest of the articles in this series show our warranty in action. How valuable is this extended trailer warranty to us?
You can navigate through this article using these links:
- RV Extended Warranty Overview – What is an RV Warranty, how does it work, and how does it differ from RV insurance?
- The RV Warranty In Action – Our experience with our first RV warranty claim – a 5th wheel trailer axle replacement
- RV Warranty Analysis – What were the numbers on this claim, and would RV insurance have been better?
- Is An RV Warranty A Good Value? – Having seen it in action, is an RV extended warranty a good investment?
- What to Look For in an RV Extended Warranty – Not all RV warranties are alike
- Final Notes – Summary and conclusions
RV Extended Warranty Overview
All RVs come with a manufacturer’s warranty when they are purchased new, and these warranties are good for a year or two.
After the manufacturer’s warranty expires, you can purchase an RV Extended Service Contract, commonly known as an RV Warranty, from an independent warranty company for another few years. Or you can just hope for the best.
RV extended warranties are contracts that describe in detail what is covered and what is not covered by the policy, and they have a specific start date and end date. You can pay for the warranty outright when you sign the contract or you can purchase it over time with payments. These contracts are designed to cover the mechanical working components on and in your RV.
If you have an RV extended warranty, when there is a system failure on your RV, you begin the process of filing a claim with your warranty provider by finding an RV repair shop of your choice to diagnose the problem. The shop then calls the warranty company’s administrator for authorization to do the repair. The claims adjustor then reviews the details of your failure to determine if the failure falls under the coverage offered by the contract you purchased. After a covered repair is completed, the RV repair facility contacts the warranty company to present them with the bill, and the warranty company pays for the covered items immediately with a corporate credit card. You then pay for the items that were not covered by the warranty plus a deductible.
The real sticking point comes with what is covered and what is not covered by the warranty. It is up to you to determine the likelihood that enough items on your RV will break during the time period that the warranty is in place to cover the cost of the warranty. Obviously — and hopefully — it will cover a bit more than that, just to make you feel like you made a smart decision by buying a warranty in the first place.
What Is The Difference Between Insurance and A Warranty?
In a nutshell, the difference between an insurance policy and a warranty is that insurance covers damage caused by an incident or accident happening, while a warranty covers the failure of something mechanical that shouldn’t have broken.
Insurance is there for damage that can be pinpointed to an event on a particular date: a fire, a theft, a tree falling on the rig, a tornado. Warranties are there for systems that die without an obvious cause: the hot water heater can’t warm the water any more, the fridge can’t keep the food cold any more, the air conditioning is on the fritz, or a slideout room refuses to budge in or out.
Insurance is something we all understand pretty well since we’ve all had to have car insurance since we bought our first car. Warranties are a little less familiar because, for most of us, our only experience is with manufacturers’ warranties or with a home warranty we got as part of the deal when buying a house. There are no laws that say we have to purchase a warranty of any kind for any big asset we own, so many folks (like us) steer clear of them!
The value of an RV warranty all boils down to risk. Just like insurance, you pay some money up front in the hopes that something major goes wrong that will cost a lot more than the money you paid for the contract. It’s a way of protecting yourself from having to come up with a massive amount of money to pay for an unexpected repair — a way of hedging your bets by paying a little now instead of (possibly) a lot later.
Just like playing the slot machines at the casino, you put in quarters — either with regular payments or by paying for the whole contract at the beginning of the warranty — and you hope the bells suddenly go off and a huge pile of quarters lands in your lap. Unfortunately, in the back of our minds, we all know that when it comes to casinos, “the house” always wins. And who owns the biggest and fanciest office buildings in most major cities? The insurance companies!
So, while we consumers are betting that something bad will happen when we buy insurance or a warranty, the insurance and warranty companies are successfully betting that it won’t.
Our RV warranty Personal Case History
RV extended warranties provide the most value for folks that have a rig that is two or more years old. Our fifth wheel trailer that we live in full-time is a 2007 model, and its aging equipment could be very costly to repair. The hot water heater, RV refrigerator and air conditioning systems are all more and more prone to failure as the days pass. Sometimes older rigs like our develop cracks in the frame or the big slide-outs fail (we have three slides). We’ve heard heard horror stories from fellow RVers of broken trailer axles and unexpected $1,700 refrigerator replacements. We realized that an RV warranty could make a lot of sense for us.
We decided to work with Wholesale Warranties, an RV extended warranty broker. We gave them the details about our rig, and they got quotes from the warranty companies they work with and chose the one that was best suited to our situation. We signed a contract with Portfolio Protection for a $1,904 four year Exclusionary RV Extended Warranty with a $100 deductible.
Some warranty companies are fly-by-night operations that might go out of business before the contract period ends, and others have top ratings with the Better Business Bureau and are backed by A-rated insurance companies that will step in and take over if the warranty company fails.
Wholesale Warranties makes it their business to sort out which companies are the best ones and to establish relationships with them. Wholesale Warranties has been growing by leaps and bounds and was named one of Inc 5000’s Fastest Growing Companies in 2014, and one of San Diego’s fastest growing companies in 2015. More important, they have made many clients very happy.
What is unusual about Wholesale Warranties is that they don’t simply sell a contract and walk away. They are there for their clients to help smooth the process, if necessary, when a claim is filed. In fact, they are willing to pay for a client’s claim themselves, if they believe it was wrongly denied, and then fight with the warranty company behind the scenes after the fact.
The RV Warranty In Action – Trailer Axle Replacement!
About three weeks ago, in mid-July, 2015, Mark noticed some serious and irregular wear on the passenger side tire on our rear trailer axle. Our tires were just 14 months old, had been properly cared for, and had less than 10,000 miles on them. Oddly, one half of the tire had okay tread while the opposite half, 180 degrees out, was a mess. On the bad half, the tire was severely cupping on the outside tread and was nearly bald. The other three tires looked great. Much research and many phone calls later, we realized that our problem was probably a bent axle.
We were wrapping up our travels in Nova Scotia at the time. We weren’t sure what was involved in replacing an axle, and even though our warranty covered repairs in Canada as well as the US, we had friends in Bangor, Maine, and felt better about doing the repair there. Lippert Components helped us locate a phenomenal RV repair facility in Bangor — Harvey RVs — and we nervously drove 450 miles to Bangor on the faulty tire and took the buggy in.
The diagnosis was exactly what we had expected: a bent axle. The bizarre wear on the tire was due to the tire “dribbling” like a basketball as it rolled down the road. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Bangor, the driver’s side tire on the bad axle was also beginning to cup, and we needed both tires replaced.
We decided to take advantage of our RV warranty to have some other broken items repaired as well. This way, one deductible payment would cover all the different warranty repairs. The extender on one of our awning arms had sheered off, and we had just developed some kind of leak in the fresh water tank during the last few weeks.
Brent Horne, the service manager at Harvey RVs, called our warranty company’s administrator and got same-day authorization to do all three repairs, with the water tank repair pending a full diagnosis.
The axle replacement and awning arm replacement went like clockwork, although we did have to wait ten days for the new axle to be built and shipped from Indiana. A minor complication with the replacement was that the new axle came with electric drum brakes pre-installed and we had to move our new disc brakes from the old axle to the new one.
The diagnosis on the water tank was inconclusive. The leak was at the top of the tank, and we would have to drop the tank out of the trailer frame to determine the cause. Because it was at the top of the tank, it leaked only when the tank was totally topped off, not when it was less than full. We decided to defer that repair to the service folks at the Kansas RV Center (which used to be NuWa, the manufacturer of our trailer) rather than delay our travels waiting for a replacement tank to be shipped to northern Maine. Kansas would be in our general direction as we headed west in the fall.
When the bill for the repairs came, it was the following:
|Awning Arm, tax and labor||46.73|
|Trailer axle, tax and labor||1,089.42|
|Freight for trailer axle||219.90|
|Tires, tax and labor||417.78|
The Service Manager, Brett, called the warranty company and was immediately paid by credit card for the following:
|Awning Arm, tax and labor||46.73|
|Trailer axle, tax and labor||1,089.42|
|Total Covered by Warranty:||1,136.15|
Our bill was the following:
|Freight for trailer axle||219.90|
|Tires, tax and labor||417.78|
|Total Out of Pocket:||737.68|
RV Warranty Analysis
As mentioned above, RV warranties are intended to reimburse the parts, tax and labor expenses for repairing system failures, and the trailer axle and awning arm piece were clear system failures.
However RV warranties do not cover the freight costs for shipping large replacement parts from the manufacturer to the RV repair facility, and they don’t cover “maintenance items” that wear out or need regular maintenance to operate correctly. There is also a very large gray area when it comes to items that were damaged by the failure of something else, like the tires being damaged by the failed axle. Similarly, water damage due to plumbing or roofing failures may or may not be covered.
In our case, even though the tires were very obviously disintegrating because of the bent axle, they are classified as a maintenance item so they weren’t covered. We learned later that Wholesale Warranties has a separate policy for tire failures due to road hazards, but it wouldn’t have helped us in this case either.
So, we paid for the tires out of pocket.
Has our RV warranty done the job so far?
Absolutely! 10 months into our 4 year warranty contract, here’s where we stand:
So, we are ahead of the game at this point. $867.85 more in repairs in the next 38 months, and we will have matched the cost of the warranty.
NOTE: We did not know at the time we wrote this that we’d have a bunch more major repairs in the next THREE MONTHS!
- First, our RV refrigerator was replaced
- Next, we repaired a slew of plumbing problems and leaks
- Then our trailer suspension failed and needed to be replaced too
A financial breakdown of all our repairs is at the top of this page HERE
Could An Insurance Policy Have Done The Job?
Usually, insurance and warranties don’t overlap in the kinds of things they cover. Insurance generally requires an event that caused damage while a warranty generally requires a system to fail on its own. In this particular situation of a bent trailer axle, however, if we could have pinned the axle failure to a particular event, perhaps when we hit one particuarly gargantuan pothole of the thousands we encountered in Nova Scotia, then we could have filed an insurance claim based on hitting that pothole.
Using insurance, our claim would have been:
|Trailer axle, tax and labor||1,089.42|
|Freight for trailer axle||219.90|
|Tires, tax and labor||417.78|
Note that we couldn’t have slid the awning repair into the insurance claim.
If the claim were approved, all of those items would have been covered. However, we have a $500 deductible on our trailer insurance and we would have had to pay the $46.73 awning repair out of pocket.
Here’s the breakdown for comparable repair work (axle and awning) using our warranty versus our insurance policy:
|Covered||Out Of Pocket|
Why Use a Warranty When Insurance Works Too?
If we had filed an insurance claim, there would have been a wait for an insurance adjuster to assess the damage. With the warranty, the authorization for the repair is given to the service provider as soon as they call. Also, our “reward” for filing the insurance claim would have been a ding on our insurance record which would have affected our insurance premium in the future.
If we had had one of those nifty insurance policies that has a “disappearing deductible” that decreases each year that no claim is filed, the clock would have started over again at the maximum deductible amount the next year after we filed the claim.
I’m not sure if the difference in out of pocket costs of $190.95 ($737.68 in the case of using the warranty minus $546.73 in the case of using the insurance policy) would have been made up in the next three years of insurance premiums (the time period that the warranty will continue to be in effect), but it’s easy to imagine this claim resulting in an increase in our annual insurance premium of $66.67 ($190.95 / 3 years).
Of course, this particular system failure — a bent trailer axle — is unusual in that it is even possible that an insurance policy might have been used to pay for it. In most cases, RV systems die on their own without a specific event causing the failure (an accident, road hazard, theft, etc.), and those failures are not eligible for insurance coverage at all.
Is An RV Warranty A Good Value?
RVs are notorious for system failures, and sooner or later big expensive stuff is going to break on every RV.
If you don’t like large, unexpected financial outlays, an RV extended warranty can mitigate or eliminate the cost completely when a major system on board goes on the blink. There’s a lot to be said for that when you are suddenly jerked off the road and away from your travels and dumped into the waiting room at an RV repair shop while you nervously wonder if the service guys are any good and if your rolling home is going to be repaired correctly.
Obvioiusly, you could simply bank the amount you would have put into buying an RV warranty and use that cash as needed when things fail. It is easy to go that route when you remember that, on average, RV warranties must work out in favor of the warranty companies or they couldn’t stay in business.
However, an intangible in all of this is peace of mind when chaos reins. Abandoning your travels to take care of an ailing RV is really stressful. Believe me! And there are lots of stresses involved in any repair that is big enough to be warranty-worthy.
There is stress in finding a repair facility that has the right equipment and the right skill set and a good reputation, especially when you are traveling in a part of the country you don’t know. There’s stress in taking a detour to get your RV to the shop if it’s not in totally safe driving condition (like ours was). There’s stress in figuring out where you’re going to stay while your RV is in the shop, if you can’t stay in it. And there’s stress as you wait, first for a shop appointment, and then for the necessary parts to come in.
Going through all that stress while also knowing in the back of your mind that the repair is going to put a big hole in your bank account makes it even worse.
The purpose of an RV warranty is to pay up front to cover potential costs later. Where they get the bad rap is when you pay up front to cover potential costs that never materialize or that materialize but aren’t covered. However, if you think about it, in many ways the devil that you don’t know may be worse than the devil that you do.
What I mean is that paying a fixed amount for an RV warranty, an amount that you know up front, may save you more or less cash for repairs in the end, but at least you’ve lessened the surprises and you know your costs. Plus, you may save far more than just cash when all is said and done. Even if having the warranty doesn’t save you all the cash you spent on it, you can view the difference as the price of peace of mind. If it saves you more than it cost you, you’re ahead.
What to Look For in an RV Extended Warranty
It is easiest to turn to a company like Wholesale Warranties to get a warranty. When you work with them they will evaluate which warranty product is the best fit for your RV. Whichever warranty company they recommend for you, one of their requirements is that the warranty company call them if you file a claim that is over $500 so they can be part of the claims process and help it be as smooth as possible.
Since we got our RV warranty (our warranty company is Portfolio Protection), Wholesale Warranties has grown a lot and has begun providing their own warranty protection in addition to brokering for warranty companies like Portfolio Protection. This is a new and exciting development, because they have been through the claims process with their clients so many times that they know what RVers really need. The name of their warranty company is Viking Protection.
However, if you want to research RV warranty companies on your own, here are some things to think about:
Inspection and Age of RV
With the better warranty companies you will need to make your RV available for an inspection to determine the condition of everything at the start of the contract. This way, when you file a claim, there is no question as to whether the problem was a pre-existing condition. The warranty companies that Wholesale Warranties works with will send an agent to your RV, wherever it is parked, to do the inspection, and you don’t have to lift a finger.
If your RV is older than a 2001 model or has over 100,000 miles on the odometer, it may be difficult to find a warranty company. In some cases, a motorhome with more than 100k miles can get a “coach only” warranty for everything except the engine and drive train.
There are two major warranty types: Stated Components and Exclusionary Contracts. Stated Component contracts cover only what is listed in the contract. Exclusionary Contracts cover everything EXCEPT the items listed. Definitely get an Exclusionary Contract, as many more things are covered in that type of contract.
You Choose the RV Repair Shop
Make sure there’s no clause that restricts who can do the work. You want to choose the best repair facility you can find and not be forced into using one that is not up to your standards.
Deductibles can vary. Make sure you know what it is!
Fair Treatment of the RV Repair Shop
Be sure the warranty company guarantees to pay the RV repair shop quickly, preferably immediately with a corporate credit card, and make sure they pay the shop’s standard prices for the parts rather than wholesale or some amount to be negotiated. RV repair shops are often little outfits, and they can’t afford to be toyed with by a warranty company.
What Happens if the RV is Sold
Be sure the contract will be valid for another owner, just in case you decide to sell before it expires. A warranty is a nice perk to offer the buyer that may set your rig apart from others they are considering.
Cancellation, Missed Payments and Refund
Find out what happens if you decide to cancel the contract prematurely, and whether the purchase price will be refunded in whole or in part, and find out what happens if you miss a payment. Some warranty companies offer a month-to-month payment arrangement, but in the event that you miss a payment the contract terminates. Wholesale Warranties goes the extra mile and will work with you if you have extenuating circumstances that make it hard to make a payment, and if you cancel before the contract is up, you will be refunded the unused portion of the contract.
Hotel & Lodging Reimbursement
Some warranties cover a certain amount of lodging if you can’t stay in the RV during the repair. This is where Wholesale Warranties is really taking care of RVers with their new Viking Protection contracts. You will be reimbursed for “trip interruption” expenses of: $150/day in hotel rooms (up to $750), $50/meal for 2 meals a day (up to $500), $75/day for a rental car (up to $450), up to $100 towards boarding your pet and up to $200 to cover a mobile mechanic’s upfront fee for coming out to your RV.
Towing and Roadside Assistance
Some warranty companies offer reimbursements for some amount of towing and/or roadside assistance. Wholesale Warranties‘ new Viking Protection reimburses up to $750 in towing expenses.
Canadian RVers and RVing in Canada
If you plan to travel to Canada, make sure the warranty company covers repairs done in Canada. Also, not all warranty companies cover RVs that are registered in Canada. Wholesale Warranties’ new Viking Protection does!
We couldn’t be happier with our RV warranty so far, and have been convinced in the value of purchasing an RV warranty.
At this point we still have three years to go on our warranty, and we have a big repair looming as we tackle the problem with our fresh water tank. We have no idea how our RV warranty will come into play on that repair, or if it will at all, and of course, we will be posting and analyzing that repair!
It’s a pain to feel that you have to buy yet one more big ticket item for your RV, and I am the last person to say you need to do this or that in your RVing adventures. However, if you are interested, Wholesale Warranties is offering a $50 discount to our readers. Mention that you heard about them through our website, Roads Less Traveled, and they will deduct $50 from the quoted price at the time of purchase. Just be sure to ask! You can get a quote for your RV (not including the discount) at this link:
Or you can call them at 800-939-2806. Ask for our contact, Staci Ritchie-Roman. Or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: We had no idea during this first repair that in the next few months we would have a slew of major failures after our trailer axle was replaced. The summary of our warranty reimbursements to date is below:
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