Axle Replacement Nightmare

We had our regular fellow come in and do our regular maintenance on our three year old Keystone Passport trailer. He noticed we had uneven wear on our tires and suggested a wheel alignment. We asked him who could do this and he looked kind of puzzled and said that he wasn’t sure because the place he used to send people had just closed. The only place he knew of was a particular shop near where he lived but he had never dealt with them. They also did alignments on big coaches not trailers. He suggested we call them to ask for a referral. That was our first mistake.Image We called and they assured us they could easily do the alignment. We explained we had a warranty and our warranty company would not cover any costs without an estimate in advance and they assured us it was not a problem. They gave us a telephone estimate of about $170 for the job. Telephone estimates are not worth the electrons the wires use. Remember that for future reference. When we brought the trailer in, they sent a mechanic out to inspect the axles in the parking lot. He looked underneath and checked the axles and then said it was no problem. They could easily do the alignment for us. We explained again about the need to have an estimate in advance to be approved by our warranty coverage before any work. We signed a paper giving them authorization to work with the statement about an estimate being provided on the top line of the document. We did not sign until my husband made them rewrite it with a line on top saying they were not authorized to do any work unless we had an estimate. That was another clue we were in for trouble. We should have had that without asking. They took our trailer in. I left for work. My husband waited. Two hours later they called my husband in. They told him there was a whole lot more wrong with the trailer. The axles were so badly bent they could not do the alignment. They showed him some measurements they had taken proving the axles were bent. They told him that we had inadequate springs and that was the source of the bending. They said they could fix it putting in a four leaf spring instead of a three leaf spring but they could not guarantee that work because it might not work with the engineering of the trailer and might cause frame damage. They said they could try bending the axles but they could not guarantee that work either because if we went over any bumps it could come out of alignment right away again. Then came the kicker. They did not normally do trailers and they weren’t really sure how to proceed and they were also no longer willing to work with our warranty company. The reason they gave is that the warranty company would underpay them by allowing only one hour for replacing an axle when they charged at least four hours per axle. Therefore we would have to let them do the work, pay them ourselves and then ask for a reimbursement from the warranty company. They also could not give us any kind of estimate in case they opened her up and found even more damage. All they would say was it was just “a lot”. Finally, they said that the trailer was in danger of having a blow out and crash and was not even safe to drive away from their place of business. We had better leave it with them. My husband said he had alarm bells go off. The warranty company thing was the big red flag that made him think we had to get out of here. It was the third clue but sometimes we’re a little too dense and trusting I guess. He called me at work and he told me to come back right away and then he decided to call the Keystone company and ask them what to do. In retrospect we should have done that in the first place. Keystone recommended going to a registered Keystone dealer. They gave us two names since the company we had bought the trailer from was no longer in business. I arrived and I was told the same thing. I now sensed a growing impatience with us for our hesitation to simply give them the go ahead to do “a lot”. I felt intimidated. I specifically asked what the cost would be, expecting an estimate. All I was told was a minimum of four hours per axle of shop time, plus parts plus whatever else might be wrong once they got inside the trailer. I asked how much again. The burly fellow just shrugged and repeated “a lot”. We went away to talk by ourselves. We both agreed this was not a good situation. We called the two Keystone dealers and one told us they could do the work but they had a six week back log and they recommended a place nearby that they sent their overflow to. The other said they couldn’t do the work and referred us to the first one. We called the place recommended by the local dealer. This place was only a few blocks away. They said they knew how to fix the trailer. They did trailers all the time and they were happy to deal with the warranty company. They promised without asking, a written warranty in advance. On the basis of that, we decided to leave the first place and go elsewhere. We got our next shock. Even though absolutely no work had been done beyond measurements, and even though we had never been given a written estimate, we were told we had to pay for two hours of shop time. It was now quite late in the day and near closing. The woman behind the counter was very very firm. She would call to have the trailer brought around front AFTER we paid for the two hours. We protested. No work was done. We had no estimate. She was remained adamant. We pay the two hours and she would have the trailer brought around. If we didn’t like that we could just leave the trailer until morning when the manager was in and discuss it with him. We live in that trailer full time. We had left our dogs in there. We suddenly felt so intimidated we decided to just pay and get out of there. $219.79 for absolutely nothing. When our trailer was returned to us, we hitched up and drove over to the new place recommended to us by the Keystone dealer. Every turn and every little bump made my heart leap in fear the trailer would blow the tire or fall apart or something due to us being told the trailer was not safe to drive. It was only a few miles but it was a very long nerve wracking trip. The new place was closed but we had been told over the phone they had an unofficial boondocking spot so we spent an uneasy night worrying about the trailer. I hardly slept, thinking through how we would cope if the trailer couldn’t be repaired. At opening, the mechanic on duty did a visual inspection for us outside. He immediately said the axles were indeed bent and required replacement based on the visual inspection. When we told them we had purchased an additional warranty he went back into the office and brought out a camera and he took pictures of the damage. He prepared a full list of the parts required and their administrative assistant got to work to give us an estimate in writing as well as a report for us and for our warranty company with the pictures attached. In addition, the mechanic recommended going from a three spring leaf to four and he prepared a short written justification for the warranty company including the number of time he had done the same thing on the same model. Their admin contacted the warranty company for us and arranged to submit all our paperwork. She also explained to them the only slightly extra cost to put in better springs and how this would be better for them because the trailer would not be damaged again the same way. They also inspected the trailer and told us we could safely drive it home and back the following week although they did recommend not driving it on long trips until it was fixed and being gentle with it. We left in under an hour with a full estimate and tentative approval for the work from our warranty company. The new company warned us we might also need some new bolts and support plates and if we did they would contact the warranty company before they added them so hopefully the warranty company would also cover that additional expense. We had a return appointment scheduled for five days later which also gave us time to think it all over and get another estimate if we had wanted to. We felt so good about the experience with this new place that we decided to stick with them. When we got home there was an email message waiting saying the work had been approved by our warranty company. The day of our repairs we again boondocked in order to be there at the 7:00am opening and they took our trailer in. The work was completed right on schedule. As we live in the trailer, we had left our cat in it and took the dogs to visit relatives. When we checked back later the mechanic on duty showed us what he was doing and showed us the bent axles after removal. He had made sure they left the trailer indoors until we were ready to hitch up out of his concern our cat not get overheated if the trailer were left out in the sun. It was time to pay our bill. The same admin who had dealt with our warranty company explained every charge on the bill. Once the work started, they found a few additional problems having to do with sheared bolts and cracked supports as they warned us there might be. The admin had already sent everything off to the warranty company and they had already approved the additional cost. The job had been completed for less than the original allotted labor time and she negotiated the extra costs for us with them. Our original estimate was for $1200 and the final bill was $1400, the extra balance covered by our warranty. The warranty did not cover the new tires and maintenance such as greasing the new bearings. We ended up getting half our total bill back on warranty. $1400 covered complete axle replacement, new springs, new bolts, supports, 4 new tires, and the required maintenance such as greasing the new bearings on the new axles, alignments and 3.5 hours of labor. Afterward, in follow up, a representative of our warranty company commented on what an excellent business they were to work with. We filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau on that first company and initially the response was they did two hours of work, they don’t work for nothing. We went three rounds of negotiation with the BBB. We also mailed a copy of our complaint to the company’s head office in another province after getting an offer for a refund of half the charge. Five days after we sent the letter to the head office, we got a resolution back in the form of promise for a full refund. The cheque is in the mail. (The cheque did arrive six days later with nothing else signed by the manager who had been so nasty. It did not bounce.) We also made a special point of filing a kudos for the second company with BBB. That way the people coming behind us will hopefully see the resolved BBB complaint on one company and the glowing report on another nearby and go to the good company. We also contacted the Keystone dealer who had referred us to the good company to report our experience and we let our regular maintenance guy know what happened. He thanked us and is very pleased to have a good company to refer people to. We also let Keystone know what happened. We have always been very careful not to overload our trailer. Overall we have been delighted with the quality and workmanship on our trailer but this was troubling. Why did the axles bend in the first place? Keystone has had some issues with axles with trailers made in our year but they say they have since fixed it. We are happy about our newer and better springs so maybe we have fixed ours too. Maybe it was those vicious back hill roads in northern California or the mega pot hills in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. Possibly it was that rough road in northern Manitoba. I now know a lot more about axles and the next purchase I make, I’ll be crawling underneath to check axles before I look at decor or how big the shower is. I’ve seen a brand new type of trailer with a square metal box support around the axles that merits more research when I am ready to replace the one I am in. I’m not sure what the moral of the story is except always go to with certified dealers and those they refer to although I expect there a few bad dealers are out there. If you don’t like what is happening, or you get bad feelings about a place, leave, even if you have to shell out some good money for nothing. Verbal assurances mean nothing so never accept them. We should have gotten an estimate in writing before they took our trailer inside. It must be in writing and even then it is possibly for people to try to bully you. The world is full of crooks and liars ready to cheat people. There are also good decent companies who do the job right out there. Find them. Treasure them. If you hit a bad one, take the time to make some trouble for them and demand a refund. Do it for yourself and for the next person coming in behind you. Write to the head office if it is a big company. They sometimes don’t know what goes on in their business and big businesses don’t stay that way if underlings are cheating people. Check what the Better Business Bureau has to say even if it is just a small job. Remember, we started out thinking we were in for only a $170 alignment. I expect our bill would have been at minimum $3000 (at least double) what we finally paid if we had not left the first place when we did, perhaps more. Buyer beware. It’s a nasty world out there.

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About tumbleweedstumbling

I have three blogs, embryogenesis explained, tumbleweed tumbling AND fulltimetumbleweed. I am a scientist, and my husband and I have written a book which was published by World Scientific Publishing in Nov 2016 called Embryogensis Explained. Full time tumbleweed was my first blog which I worked on during five years of living full time in a travel trailer. I have now retired that blog in favour of Tumbleweeds Tumbling since we bought a stick house in April 2015 and are no longer full-time. I have a blended family of five sons and one daughter, all grown up now. I am (step)grandmother to nine boys and one girl. My husband and I have two dogs and a cat. We spend summers in Manitoba, Canada, in a 480 square foot house on a half acre of land in the tiny town of Alonsa. We spend winters in the USA. My husband is retired and being a US citizen, he does volunteer work in winters for Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Panacea Florida as their emeritus. I retired in Sept 2013 and so far I am loving it.
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