They dreamed of adventure in their new RV. But, they say, they got geysers of sewage.

Bill and Jennie Mangan dreamed of joining the inland migration of American retirees who live and travel the country in their recreational vehicles. Instead, they say, two years of chronic RV problems have led them to sue the vehicle's builder. Now, they're moving into a home in Lincoln County.
Bill and Jennie Mangan dreamed of joining the inland migration of American retirees who live and travel the country in their recreational vehicles. Instead, they say, two years of chronic RV problems have led them to sue the vehicle's builder. Now, they're moving into a home in Lincoln County. Courtesy of Bill and Jennie Mangan

So much for the lure of the road.

Bill and Jennie Mangan say their dream of spending the first 10 years of joint retirement traveling the country inside their luxury RV quickly faded beneath a cloud of diesel fumes pouring into their bedroom at night as leaking hydraulic fluid seeped into a basement drawer.

Then there was the sewage, which they say pooled daily in their bedroom and geysered from their shower drain like an off-color Old Faithful each time they flushed the toilet. The combination, the couple says, left their new Thor Tuscany 44MT smelling like a $270,000, rolling outhouse.

Once upon a time, the Mangans hoped to join more than the 1 million estimated American retirees who have discarded permanent addresses for golden years of adventure made possible by roomy and tricked-out recreational vehicles.

No longer. This week, the couple sued Thor Industries, the Indiana company that built their RV, seeking a full refund of the sale price plus $100,000 in damages for the 160 separate defects that the couple says have crippled the vehicle during the short time they've owned it.

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Today, Bill and Jennie's would-be chariot to a new way of life sits in a Lincoln County campground, not far from the conventional home they have under construction in nearby Denver.

"We bought the RV for fun, and all it's been is work, headaches, expense and horrible experiences," Jennie says. "We don't believe in this vehicle. There's no trust that it is going to stay put together for the next 10 years. I don't want it anymore. I'm done."

The lawsuit says the couple's highly anticipated life on five wheels instead bogged down into hours lost on the phone or laptop debating warranties and service claims. When they actually drove their 45-foot-long RV anywhere, they say, it was usually a two- to three-day trip to some RV service center in a distant state.

In fact, the Mangans say they took so many 1,000-mile drives to North Carolina-based RV garages from their former New Hampshire home that they found they actually loved the state. They hope to move into their new Lincoln County house by July. Sedentary living never looked so good, Jennie says.

Thor is a major name in the RV industry, with the Tuscany its premium model. Thor Industries is the parent company of Thor Motor Coach, which built and assembled the Mangans' model.

A Missouri couple on their honeymoon said they could not use the bathroom in their cruise cabin aboard Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Triumph because of "black sewage," smelling of poop, that would bubble up out of the shower drain.

On the Better Business Bureau website, Thor receives 3.2 stars out of five. Several of the customer reviews posted closely track what the Mangans say has been their experience — multiple problems surfacing in the RVs soon after purchase. BBB says 36 complaints, most for problems with Thor's products or service, have been closed in the last three years.

T. Michael Pangburn, the attorney for Thor Industries, said in a Wednesday email to the Observer that the company has a limited one-year warranty along with a backup service plan to handle most problems that arise with its vehicles.

"While Thor Motor Coach, Inc. has legal defenses to the lawsuit, it wishes to seek an amicable resolution of the dispute if at all possible," Pangburn wrote. "It is disappointing to learn that an owner of a Thor Motor Coach product is dissatisfied."

The Mangans started searching for an RV in anticipation of Jennie's planned March 2017 retirement from her job as a software engineer. She says they hunted the country online for the best model and price, and believed they found it at a dealership outside Raleigh.

Charlotte Water crews responded to a sewage spill in Mecklenburg County on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. Wastewaters overflowed Monday night making its way down to Long Creek, which flows into the Catawba River and Lake Wylie.

When she climbed aboard the Thor in the store's parking lot in June 2016, Jennie says she was overwhelmed by the vehicle's sophistication and beauty. "Like a shiny penny," she says.

Still, the RV needed several days of final repairs before the Mangans could drive it off the lot, the lawsuit says. The first night they had it, they say, a water line broke. Jennie says she and Bill parked by an all-night Wal-Mart so she could use the store's bathroom.

By the time, they made it back to New England, the "big stuff," as Jennie calls it, began cropping up. On a trip to Florida, she says, sewage from a leaking bathroom pipe puddled on the ground beneath the RV. When the pipe was fixed and the overall water pressure increased, she says, so did the size of the excremental plumes firing out of the shower drain.

According to the complaint, the Mangans' RV has spent a combined six months at various shops and still has problems. A month and a half into ownership, the couple began asking for a full rebate, first from the dealership and eventually Thor; the company has never responded, the lawsuit says.

Without the help of an attorney, the couple has sued under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a 1975 law designed to protect consumers against misleading warranty claims. The couple also has filed a complaint in state courts against the Raleigh dealer.

The Mangans say Thor and its products "have ruined our dreams of ever traveling with any form of RV, now and in the future," the lawsuit says.

"This ... without a doubt has been the most horrible experience of our lives so far."

Researcher Maria David contributed.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095; @MikeGordonOBS