Buying older motorhome - what to anticipate ....

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Sep 4, 2018
My wife and I have pretty much made up our mind to buy our first motorhome (used). We?ve identified a tempting prospect: 1 owner, 22k original documented miles, overall nice condition, great price. No water damage, no musty smells,  but ?\

It?s a 1986 model (Winnebago Chieftain 33), 454 Chevy, carbureted, Turbo 400 Trans

It?s been sitting since 2012 (or 2002 ? my wife and I disagree on the registration sticker).

Has a few problems that we know of: Fridge isn?t working, 6.5Kw generator turns over but won?t start, needs batteries, one of the two roof A/Cs not cooling.
These are reflected in the asking price.

We?re trying to anticipate what else is likely to need immediate attention in order to come up with an offer BEFORE spending the money for a professional inspection (which we absolutely will be doing). What we?ve come up with so far:

All engine belts, hoses, fluids. Probably a carb rebuild (dry internals, as well as replacing with parts compatible with today?s ethanol-laced fuels),
Transmission flush, filter, etc. Complete lube job,

Roof coating, caulking all around,

Tires look okay, no visible cracking, but will probably count on replacing them before any substantial trips,

Cassette radio has got to go 8^)

Anything else?

We have a pretty limited budget, and if we make a mistake, we?re going to end up with a big, expensive lawn ornament ?..

Thanks in advance; See ya on the road!
If it is free it would be overpriced. 30+ year old RVs are a money pit. Sitting for 6 years is a huge negative. There is nothing positive about this unit. It is a disaster.
You covered a lot of the parts needed but you have no way of knowing what could happen. You could do the things you mentioned and ride without problems for who-knows-how-long. I've also seen engines with rubber valve guide seals that disintegrated and got in the oil pump pickup ruined the crank bearings. You can be on the road and possibly save a lot of money over buying a new one but at the same time I would have lots of money on hand in case you blow an engine or transmission. If you look at the worst case scenario and say that you had to put a $5,000 engine and a $3,000 Transmission in it do you have that money sitting there and money for a motel or transportation to get home. If you don't have a pile of money behind you don't do it stay home.

I'm not saying that in a mean way. I'm saying that you have to be sustainable. I personally know two people who took retirement buyouts and are now living in relatives yards down south with blown engines. There are endless YouTube videos about chucking it all and hitting the road but they never tell you the bad side of things. Things like needing a $12,000 diesel engine.

I talked to a Canadian couple with a gm diesel around the 2004 years iirc when they had injector isses. He noticed smoke but no codes made it into a dealer and they put in some injectors and he thought it was straightened out did it again they put in the rest of the injectors carried on from there and blew the engine and ended up spending $10 k.
In a word: Everything!

I?m beginning to wonder if my 2004 was too old when I bought it a year and a half ago. So far it hasn?t stranded me and I?ve been able to do all the work myself. It would have me in the poor house if I had to hire it done. This week I?ve replaced the engine A/C compressor and the tranny cooler lines ($600 in parts and fluids).
The deal may sound sweet buy, as said above can you financially sustain a major breakdown or are you a mechanic who can do most of the repairs yourself. The 454 is a great engine but they do not store well. Valves tend to stick in the valve stems on that engine when sitting for long periods. It could be a good deal if you buy it to repair yourself. If you have to pay someone to do the repairs for you, I personally believe you would have more money in it than what it is worth.
SeilerBird's comment was a little more to the point but I agree - when you say the known issues are reflected in the price, that price would need to be very, very low. It could require much more substantial engine work than you've considered. There is a 100% certainty that it needs tires no matter what they look like - it should be driven, once you get it running, directly to the tire shop. The door seals and cooling unit on the fridge are probably gone so I would factor in a new fridge - check prices at Camping World and elsewhere to get an idea. All the brake components could need replacing. You could easily spend $1000 on the generator. I could go on and on.

A very old, non running motorhome for someone on a "limited budget" as you describe your situation, truly is a recipe for disaster - there is simply no way to anticipate everything that could be required to get it back on the road and you could well spend more than the rig is worth trying to do so. The fact that you said you'll be getting it professionally inspected is good. If you get to that point be certain the inspector not only identifies issues but also the specifics required to address them. For example, you already know the generator won't start. You need to know what it will take to make it run, plus you need to know that once running it will make electricity.
If you have the time, knowledge and the tools to do the work, then it might be feasible.  There are old and antique cars everywhere and they work because the owners know what to do.  I have been using my 1979 van as needed since new.

Does the dash air conditioner work?
Rusted ring gear from sitting. The portion in the oil is okay but what is exposed to air can be heavily rusted. Rusted brake drums and parts. Rusted wheel cylinders and calipers. Rusted brake and fuel lines. Parking brake cables froze may need to pass inspection. Any rubber parts such as tank valve seals, brake  hoses, propane lines. Wheel bearings can be pitted from not rotating and being lubricated.
It's common for the complete AC system to be rotted out after 12 13 14 years. The pinhole leaks will move from one component to the next as you replace them

Sorry for sounding so negative but it really is about being sustainable. It's no different than all these clowns on youtube telling everyone to Chuck everything and adopt the mobile lifestyle. It's all fun and games until some poor woman is in a truck stop in the middle of nowhere with a blown engine and waiting on her $1200 a month check. What does she do now, become a lot lizard?
Welcome to the forum. I know that was your first post, and probably not what you want to hear. But that was a lot of honest opinions based on years of experience.  Your plan is one that we hear often, and we don't want you to invest a chunk of money only to be disappointed. Even if the owner is being honest and truthful about the condition, it is a huge unknown. 

If may wise to pass on this one and find something either not as old, or one that has been driven and maintained regularly.  Often a well maintained vehicle with 100K miles on it is a better bet than one that has been sitting with only a few miles. 

Good luck,  and let us know what you decide.
If the "known problems" are reflected in the price, then the seller should fix these are increase the price.  The seller is not doing that because those problems are very expensive to fix and he or she does not want to open that proverbial can of worms. 

The problem is that there are so many problems which are unknown that this could be a very expensive RV.  The number of miles is really not relevant, by the way. In fact, it is probably a negative.  You are better off with an RV which has been used recently and continuously than one that has sat for several years.  At least with the one with higher use and more miles, you could take it for a drive and test the systems. So try for one that is maybe 15 or so years newer. 
I pretty much agree with all the comments so far - this is a high risk venture unless you are capable of doing major house and chassis repairs yourself and have the time and place to do so.  Just the things you  know about  are likely to be very expensive, so I hope that "reflected in the price" means the coach is well under $5000. More like $3000, I think.  If you will have to pay professionals to do those repairs, I wouldn't buy it at any price. With RV and chassis shops charging $100-$140 per hour, you could easily run up several thousands in just the items you cited.  Tires alone will be $1200 or so.
One other item that no one else has mentioned yet.  Mice, squirrels, and other varmints often move in and nest when a rig is immobile for some time.  For reasons that are a mystery to me, they LOVE to chew on electrical wires. (Can that damn synthetic insulation actually taste GOOD to them?)  Anyway, this rig could turn into an electrical nightmare that requires massive, if not complete, replacement of the wiring.
Hi jbefumo,

I bought a ten year old Class A coach in 2016 when it was ten years old. I made an offer based on what I thought it would cost to repair (after taking it to a RV repair center for inspection) which was $4,000 for repairs. I also put on new tires for $2,000. Right away had a transfer switch go out on me and that had to be repaired. I drove it from that time until the beginning of this summer and had some other repairs (windsheild motor and controller and back up camera which I replaced) that cost almost $1,400. I have put in maintance each year at about $300 to $400. I do worry a lot about my refrigerator, A/C and a host of other items that may or may not continue to work. I have a budget of $2,000 per year to fix things. Something major breaks and it could be much more. It has been my observation based on my motorhome, that with age more things break down and have to be fixed. Now lets think about what you are looking at.

What you are looking at is 32 years old. They have listed some items that need to be worked on. I can tell you that some things may work now but will break down shortly after you begin to use them. I would bet that you will have two or three times more items to fix after you get it home (if you can even drive it home) and start to use it. It will be a night mare. My personal feelings right now are buying a motorhome in the 6 to 8 year range should be the cut off on low to mid cost RV's. Maybe higher end RV's you could buy a few years older but they will cost more and cost more to fix. The saying you get what you pay for is very true here and we all want you to be able to have a good RV experience but you should buy much newer. Best wishes!
:))love you guys :-* ! learning learning... I always learning something when I come to the side .
CAMPERal-said "buying a motorhome in the 6 to 8 year "
which RV brand mean Chevy or Ford would be more affordable to have fix? how about the engine 350 or 450.
ok - dont get something that has been sitting for so long ..RV which has been used recently and continuously than one that has sat for several years. I was looking for  RV with no more than 50k  but it seems that it would not be the case as if they have been using that mean they have to maintain the RV ..which is a good thing , right ?
So you guys know we are not mechanic incline... so my question for now is which mile range i'm safe from major repair?  as a lady I look for how it looks inside and out using pictures as my guide. reading all the details im not good ..transmission  etc etc.. need you guidance to what look for when reading about the RV..
I'm glad you're taking the advice that's been offered in the spirit it's intended!  At the risk of piling on, let me offer that vintage engines and transmissions are gas hogs. Even if everything is working properly, a carbureted engine and a transmission without overdrive or a lockup torque converter will use substantially more fuel to move the motorhome down the road.

Fuel costs are a major part of the budget for touring RVers.

Look at mid-90s or later to get the advantages of fuel injection and the improved 4 speed transmissions.

The next improvement came in the late 1990s, when Ford introduced the V-10 engine.  They found their  large bore 460 V-8 was having trouble meeting stricter smog standards because the large cylinder diameter was leaving a pool of unburned fuel in the center of the piston, which then went out the exhaust increasing the unburned hydrocarbon count.  GM addressed this problem by injecting air into the exhaust manifold to burn the wasted gas there, Ford addressed the source of the problem and reduced the bore diameter below the critical size with the V-10 engine.
Anticipate tears,regret,headaches,disappointment, no actual camping.  It is horrible for an engine to just sit for years.

Keep watching and the right one will come along.
Agree with the above - we want you to have a good first RV experience!  Motorhomes like to be driven, otherwise fuel gunks up (love that good technical term!), rubber dries out and cracks, stuff corrodes and/or rusts, etc. etc. etc.  Where has this RV been sitting for six years?  If in the hot and dry desert west, then the rubber components probably are dried out and will need replacing.  If in the damp and humid southeast, then there's probably a lot of rust and corrosion, much of which will not will be visible.  We always suggest that you make sure everything runs when buying a used RV and based on what you said, a lot will NOT be in working condition in this particular RV.  Please do keep looking for something newer and in better condition.

All the same applies to older Travel Trailers (TT)
I have a 30 year old TT that has been USED and loved and I keep her running down the road at least once a month (only got her in March this year)

My search brought out a lot of trailers, most had been sitting for years.... but the adds all said, towes great, all parts work... then you go and see them and ask, when is the last time it has been moved... oh, 2 years we had it out camping...  :mad: ..... very frustrating....

Keep looking, the right RV will be found.
(Appears that the OP has not been back since the original post)

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