With three cats and two dogs, flying out to Elko was not an option, so we thought renting an RV for the trip was a good idea. Having seen so much of this great country as we crossed proved that the idea was a good one; it was in the execution that things went horribly wrong.
We settled on a 24' RV from Cruise America (www,cruiseamerica.com). Big mistake! Despite the claim on their website that "..Cruise America's 33 year reputation of quality service is proof of our commitment to fun family vacations.", our experience shows that nothing could be further from the truth.
The fiasco started at their local rental office, when Jeannee dropped me off to pick up the vehicle that was to be both transportation and accommodation for the next six days. Before you get the keys, you get to watch a 20 - 30 minute video on the operation of the RV - a lot of common sense stuff (have a spotter when you back up, be aware of the vehicle height, know that the tail swings wide in tight turns, etc.), along with specific instructions on how to operate the various equipment onboard, like the water heater and the holding tanks system. The video showed that the sink and shower drain into the 'grey' water tank, while the toilet drained into the 'black' water tank. Each tank has a separate drain valve, and there is a proper sequence for the emptying process (remove cap - attach hose and put other end in the drain at the dumping station - pull valve to drain 'black' tank - pull other valve to drain 'grey' tank - close valves - remove & rinse out hose - replace cap). At least, that's what the video described.
Gloria (the manager of the rental office) then took me out to the vehicle for a walk around inspection, and she instructed me to note any defects. There were a couple of superficial scratched on the exterior, and one broken drawer inside that I noted on the form. But when we went to the waste drainage access area, she pointed out that it was to be returned the way same way it was as we looked at it - with THE valve opened and the cap off to show the tank had been emptied. When I pointed out that the video showed TWO valves, she quickly bent down, put the cap on the outlet and shut the access hatch, saying "this model only has one valve" and ushered me back inside to finish up the paper work. I paid, I signed and I pulled out to head home.
The trouble started almost immediately. On the ride down I-95,the grille on the cook-top started rattling so bad that I had to pull over and set it on the seat. Merely a minor inconvenience, but it was just a taste of what lie ahead. We loaded up a few boxes of stuff, our clothes and our supplies for the trip, and the following morning we corralled the menagerie and left before dawn, with the first leg of the trip going north on the Turnpike. Once we had reached cruising speed, a number of other defects were made evident:
The rubber gasketing in the slider windows was dried up, broken or otherwise missing. The window glass rattled in their frames. Stuffing a variety of business cars, matchbook covers and paper towels would quiet it for a while, until these temporary fixes would work themselves back out.
Half of the door and drawer latches were missing, broken or misaligned, so as we went around turns or over bumps in the road, we would get treated to them slamming open and shut by themselves. We ran out of duct tape our first day out.
The screen door also rattled non stop. Stuffing rags around it and then shutting the door was our Rube Goldberg inspired fix here.
The cook-top literally shook itself apart during the trip, especially when we hit the crappy, washboard roads in Georgia. Remember when you used to drag out Mom's pots and pans and beat on them with big spoons like you were Buddy Rich? Try to picture 5 days of that.
The control panel for the RV systems like the waste tank levels and LP gas level would only work intermittently.
One of the reasons we decided on an RV was that it had amenities on board, like a shower. On the first night, we wanted to take showers so I flipped the switch to turn on the water heater, we heard the heater fire up, but we got nothing but ice water. When I looked into the hatch outside for the water heater, I found an electrical terminal block was broken loose and hanging near the exhaust of the LP powered heater! This did not appear to be a UL approved application, so we did not get to use the water heater at all during the trip.
The cruise control had the nasty habits of sticking on Accel on the level, and of cutting off on steep grades - usually when there was a Peterbuilt about to run up our backside. I lost count of the birds that I got flipped from unhappy, fellow motorists.
And so it went for the first three days, slam, bang, rattle, rattle, bang. There was so much noise in the vehicle that we could not speak to each other in the cockpit - we had to scream at each other just to be heard over the din! Our three cats and two dogs were nervous and unsettled for the majority of the trip. Jeannee was reduced to tears at several points along the way. And if can believe it the worst, at least for me, was yet to come.
We stayed at campgrounds each night, and by our third day out we were at a little place in Missouri. We took a walk around the frozen pond, with our dogs setting foot in snow for the first time. Since the waste tank level was at 2/3 (on a rare occasion when the control panel did work), it appeared to be time to empty the tanks.
I got the drain hose out, and fitted one end into the drain at the campsite as I had been instructed on the video. But when I took off the cap, the contents of both tanks began to immediately discharge onto the ground and onto my person. Now I don't know how you feel about such things, but once something has left my system, I have no desire to see it again, let alone let it slip through my frozen fingers! Then, in my haste to replace the cap, I cut the bejesus out of the back of my hand on the jagged edge of the access hatch, adding the potential for infectious insult to my injury. In her haste to get me to sign off and drive away, the manager had not even closed the single valve on the unit - she had merely replaced the cap!
Thankfully, Jeannee was an EMT and a Medical Assistant instructor, and had the fore site to bring a bottle of hydrogen peroxide along on the trip. Yet even after repeated washings (with ice water - no hot water, remember) and a couple of peroxide rinses, my hand looked and felt like, well, like crap.
When we finally made it to Elko, I dropped Jeannee and the critters off, and headed straight back to Salt Lake City, UT to drop off the RV a day early. The guy at that location, while sympathetic to my situation, could do little but give me an email address and a fax number for Customer Service at Cruise America - no phone number, though. Perhaps they shut it off due to too many complaints like mine.
So, I emailed Lori (firstname.lastname@example.org) on the 15th of February with a summary of my experience, requesting a refund. I have received no reply.
I subsequently sent a fax to Lori at 480-464-7321 - a copy of my previously ignored request on the 23rd of February, with the same result.
Today, the 29th I called Salt Lake City office where I had returned the vehicle, to learn that the manager there has been appraised of my situation, but he hasn't seen fit to call me back, or to light a fire under the higher-ups regarding this issue, so I've resorted to the only option still open to me, and I've disputed the charge on my Visa card.
Had the trip gone as we had hoped, or anything close to it (a nice family road-trip most of the way across the USA), I would have been happy to pay the $2,267.02 for the rental.
Had somebody, anybody, at Cruise America had the sense or the decency to simply acknowledge my complaint in a timely manner (beyond the guy at the counter in Salt Lake City), they might have found that I would have been satisfied with a refund of part of that amount.
But, after two weeks of emails, faxes and long distance phone calls at my expense with nothing but silence in return, even getting all my money back isn't enough. Copies of this chronicle are being forwarded to:
Cruise America Corporate Headquarters in Kingman, AZ - in hopes that SOMEBODY gets the message!
The Better Business Bureaus in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Salt Lake City, UT and Kingman, AZ - in an effort to keep others from doing business with them!
The Rip-Off Report (www.ripoffreport.com) and other consumer advocacy sites - to further spread the word about this fiasco!
DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU! STAY AWAY FROM CRUISE AMERICA RV!