Considering a 1978 Class C as first RV

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New member
Jan 29, 2006
I called a nearby RV dealer. He mentioned someone wanted to sell his RV for 3K. After I expressed interest, the dealer had the owner bring it in. Then his mechanic suggested the following repairs/maintenance:

1978 Ford Chateau - 22 foot Class C RV, 61K milage, 220 hours on generator

Front Head Light Bulb
Driver side Back up lights

Oil change
Spark plugs & wires
Brakes Front + Rear
Possibly Water Pump, if so + Thermostat
Tires have some dry rot (can buy better used tires)

The dealer also mentioned I might want to take care of a few RV related items such as the ignition switch.

I only saw the RV for the first time this Friday. He hasn't received a firm estimate for repairs yet. I was able to test drive it and it seemed fine.

The current owner was building a new house and kept it parked. I am thinking of going to Florida (1,000 miles) maybe leaving it there for the summer while I spend the summer in a cooler climate.

I grew up in Florida but can longer longer handle the summer humidity. I spent 20 years and California then 7 near Seattle. So unless the RV turns out to be a lemon, I might want to take it West at some point.

I'm nervous because I've never purchased such an old vehicle. In the back of my mind I'm figuring if it gets to Florida OK, I at least saving lodging costs while there. And I might be able to park at a relatives home.

If the repairs are about 1K, then RV related things 200 or so, then it's only about 4200 + tags, license, insurance. While I wouldn't want to waste the money on something that was a headache, I can handle the risk of losing the investment.

Any thoughts on if 1978 iis just too old to be useful?



As long as the MotorHome (MH) passes the mechanical tests it is always best to purchase a used MH as your first MH.  This is so you can first decide whether you really like motorhoming and second so you can decide what it is you really want in a MH when you buy your next one.

28 year old vehicle is very chancy. Too many things could be bad. Hard to find parts.

Check the generator carefully. If not exercised regularly, these can quit working and are then hard to fix.

Tires have a 6 +/- 1 year life. Do not replace with used - very unsafe. Go to our library and read up on how to find date code on tire. Buy only if less than 6 months old.
Once an RV is more than 12-15 years old, condition and maintenance is everything. A well-maintained Rv may not be a bad risk, but is is very hard to be confident.  And you should be able to find a somewhat newer rig for the same price range, though the same caveats still apply.  But if you are looking for something in this price range and the overall condition indicates it has had an easy life and good care, this may be as good a choice as any.

You definitely need new tires all around unless they have been replaced within the last 5 years. Don't rely on appearances or even the advice of mechanics or tire shop guys - go strictly by date. Learn about tire date codes as Russ suggests.  And I would add new belts and water hoses to the mechanic's list - they are most likely rotten with age unless they have been replaced in the past 6-7 years.

The big (read expensive) risks are the transmission (have it serviced now), the engine itself,  the refrigerator, the air conditioning (dashboard & rooftop) and the generator.  All these have the potential for $1000+ replacement costs and are fairly common problems in old Rvs.

A trailer would be much less risky (no engine & transmission to worry about) and makes more sense if you plan to leave it somewhere for several months or more.
In 1978 there were items not yet in general production, such as DSI on the furnace, water heater and fridge.  Unless the appliances have been replaced t is likey you will need to light manually.  Not a terrible task, but a PIA.  Water heater easiest, then fridge, and by my experience, the furnace.  Might not need the furnace, but these are issues.

As mentioned, if you are going to leave it mostly, you would likely be better off with a towable, but what do you have to tow with?  Most dealers will deliver, we do it often, but if a western trip is on the horizon, consider the towing.

At that price range you will have to deal mainly with older units and private party sales.  Just be careful.

Thanks everyone for the advice. Much appreciated.

The salesman said the appliance are new and they looked new. Especially the range. The refrigerator freezer needed to be de-frosted so it probably isn't brand new. It's probably 5-6 cubic feet - a little larger than the one I had in my college dorm ages ago.

The saleman's description of the current owner is that he primarily parked it while he built a house. That he wasn't the 'brightest' and would avoid repairs. Like it needs an 'ignition switch' on the generator and the owner just found an alternative way to get it to start when the part would only have cost $15.

I tried to run a VIN with but it said it can only run VIN reports for 1981 or later when they became 17 digits. I don't know if there is an alternative way to run a VIN report for a 1978.

I have a 1988 Acura that has been great. I am the 3rd owner, The first owner did every repair on a timely basis, the 2nd did the transmission. I was able to call Acura of Seattle and verify the maintenance record. Prior to buying the Acura a few years ago it was the 'oldest' vehicle I had purchased so I was also skeptical of age. But my previous car had been in an accident and I needed a replacement asap. The Acura has been great. Before driving off cross country I asked an Acura mechanic that worked from home to replace anything that might go wrong in a year. He replaced most belts, hoses, brake pads etc in 2004. I have had no problems since.

As far as tires for the RV, I have always purchased new tires. There are six tires, the back are doubled up. So I hope to get a quote for new vrs. repacing them with 'used tires.'

My problem at the moment, is that I still don't have the repair estimate. I figure the salesman is busy and this is not a lucrative sale as the dealership mostly has new RVs. The salesman said he isn't making a commission he is just brokering the deal. That doesn't make sense as he said the owner originally asked him to sell it on consignment. He declined. Then I called shortly after.

I also don't know the towing capacity for the RV. I am currently cat sitting for RV owners that purchsed two RVs at this nearby dealer. The 2nd was 80K. They should be home this week. I might be better off waiting until they get back so the husband can look it over. I will probably come back to this town twice a year to cat sit for these owners so I would plan to get foreseeable repairs done at the local RV mechanic.

beware. not to scare you, but the gas mileage on the older ones was pretty bad. I have an in-law with a late 70's dodge, and gets only 6mpg highway, and it's only a 23 foot model. generator and a/c units would be a big concern - lack of use kills these parts.
talk more with folks who have owned one or more rv's, and if possible, have them go with you to ask questions.
there's nothing like a separate set of eyes and ears when looking at a used rv.
good luck.
For local camping it may be fine, but I don't know how confident I would be on a cross country trip.  Tow capacity, is likely 2500 or less. Just an semi-educated guess.  Newer C's are typically about 3500, some hitting 5000. 

The mileage on this is less troubling than the age and the fact it has been sitting.  As to used tires, find the link on how to guage the tire dates and watch them on the used tires. 

Are you in FL now? 

The other thing is at that price range private party is about the only way to go.  When we get trades that old we usually wholesale them or send them to the auction.  We do not sell consignment either. 


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