Looking for first RV

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DsrtRat08

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Hello everyone
I am new to the forum and new to getting into the RV thing.

My wife and I are currently looking for approximately a 30ft class A or C to get going. The absolute top of our budget is about 20k. There have been a few late 90s and early 2000s class As that fit the budget but recently a 1990 Chieftain has come up for 8k click here for the listing. I have not seen it in person yet but appears to be in great shape from the pictures. The owner states it is currently getting a new fan clutch, timing worked on an vacuum system work done. He also stated it will need a new power converter. Are these expensive or difficult to swap out? I enjoy working on cars and do most of my own vehicle work but have never worked on an RV. I know that water damage, electrical and plumbing are major things to check on these but any other tips or areas to watch out for would be greatly appreciated.

We do not plan to keep this RV long term. Currently our plan is live in the RV with our two labs for anywhere from 2-6 months between selling our current home and purchasing another. After our move to a new home we would like to do some light renovation on whichever RV we get, sell it and upgrade to a nicer unit. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. I know the age is making us second guess this RV but I think it's worth at least taking a look at.
 
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1blue78

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You should be able to pick a decent power converter for ~$200 and install 'should' be pretty straight forward. Ad says it is a Ford but no mention of the engine size - call the owner.
 

Mark_K5LXP

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Once any vehicle hits 20 years old they need a little bit of everything. With an RV, there are lots of little bits. Even optimistically if there isn't some outright damage pretty much everything is in some state of decomposition. Plastics get brittle, rubber seals get hard or crumble, metals rust or corrode. I would consider the engine to be the least of the items to consider, those usually hold up OK but it's the rest that requires the most attention. Tires, brakes, suspension, cooling system, A/C are all high on the list for repair or replacement. On the house side the roof will be shot, A/C not far behind, window seals degraded, then you get into the utilities like the house power- batteries, converter/inverter, plumbing/water heater, refrigerator and furnace. Then any electronics that are broken or obsolete like tube TV's. Think about what you'd expect to see in a regular home that hasn't been updated in 20 years, but in this case it's a home that has sat and baked in the sun, froze solid in the winter and being in what amounts to be a minor earthquake whenever it went down the road. Not saying you couldn't or shouldn't try, but just setting the expectation that with these things it's not just a matter of some TLC, get ready for some down and dirty renovation and replacements that will take serious time and money. You *will* discover issues, just comes down to which ones you choose to address. There's a reason motorhomes depreciate so much, once they hit a certain point you spend more time working on them than driving them. Maybe as a "flip" you might do OK but realistically there's not a lot of margin left because even "fixed up" it's still 20+ years old.

Mark B.
Albuquerque, NM
 
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Gary RV_Wizard

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The Chevrolet chassis with 454 V8 was standard and the Ford chassis with 460 V8 optional. That and may more details are available in the 1990 Chieftain brochure:

The Chieftain was a quite nice coach in its day, an upper-midrange model. Potentially a great find if in good condition. However, any 1990 coach is a potential money-pit, plus fuel economy and performance were generally poor in that era. Of course, all motorhomes are poor in those regards, but the early 90's were rather worse than those of 1996 and later.

With your mechanic skills you can be more tolerant of the repair risks than many others. There are probably several unfamiliar systems in the coach, but they aren't complex and we can help you learn about them as needed. There is also a lot of help avaiable in our RESOURCE section and elsewhere online, including YouTube videos on many topics.
 

Isaac-1

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I personally would not buy it based on age alone, note I own a motorhome that will turn 20 this year, this one is 30 years old, which is just too old for many of the systems, and is asking for trouble if they have not been replaced (air conditioners, water heaters, refrigerators, etc.) in addition an early 1990's engine is a lot harder to work on than a late 1990's / early 2000 engines, both from a parts availability standpoint and from diagnostic standpoint as they lack OBDII ports, etc..
 

scottydl

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As much as I'm a proponent of buying good used RVs, I agree that 30+ years is pretty far down that road (so to speak) and you could be buying an expensive project. Was this RV sitting parked/unused for a long period of time? That's bad news for these rigs. They need to be kept "warm", used often, and maintained regularly. Belts, hoses, tires, fluids would all need to be inspected and/or replaced, unless done recently. Roof A/C, generator, and fridge are pricey items that age out too. Not to mention the possibility of cracks in the rubber roof structure/seams that could lead to leaks.

Only if ALL of those items were handled would I consider coming anywhere near $8k as a purchase price. That's the same amount I sold my 1994 Class A for, and that was 9 years ago in 2012!

If you did buy this, I think it would be tough to re-sell also. No slides or other modern items that most RV buyers are looking for (and I'd suggest for you too). Keep shopping and keep asking questions! :)
 

DsrtRat08

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As much as I'm a proponent of buying good used RVs, I agree that 30+ years is pretty far down that road (so to speak) and you could be buying an expensive project. Was this RV sitting parked/unused for a long period of time? That's bad news for these rigs. They need to be kept "warm", used often, and maintained regularly. Belts, hoses, tires, fluids would all need to be inspected and/or replaced, unless done recently. Roof A/C, generator, and fridge are pricey items that age out too. Not to mention the possibility of cracks in the rubber roof structure/seams that could lead to leaks.

Only if ALL of those items were handled would I consider coming anywhere near $8k as a purchase price. That's the same amount I sold my 1994 Class A for, and that was 9 years ago in 2012!

If you did buy this, I think it would be tough to re-sell also. No slides or other modern items that most RV buyers are looking for (and I'd suggest for you too). Keep shopping and keep asking questions! :)
I am going to try to get out to see the RV in person in the next few days. The owner stated that he has been staying in to be closer to medical care he needed over the last year which is when he bought it. He said he bought it from a guy that had just driven it all the way from Florida. This gives me a little hope it has been taken care of. Judging by the pictures I would have thought the colors would have been faded more and it appears the two ac units aren't the same possibly indicating one has been replaced ?
 

scottydl

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An in-person inspection is a must, but its important that you know what you're looking at also. Not everything will be visible, such as evidence of water leaks underneath wallpaper (common in those older units) or wall panels. Hiring a local RV mobile mechanic for a 2 hour complete inspection (for instance) could be well worth $100-200, if you are seriously considering purchase.

Ask for maintenance records and check the age of the tires using the DOT code printed on the sidewall. Those are good places to start, and can be done over email before you even go in person.
 

Isaac-1

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I tend to agree, though a complete inspection would take a lot more than 2 hours and would cost a lot more than $200 for it to be done right. The problem is these older coaches are not economically worth having a proper professoinal inspection done on them, after all who wants to pay $750-$900 for a proper inspection that takes 5+ hours to complete just to be handed a 12 page long list of issues, on a $8,000 coach. Even if well maintained chances are there would be a multi page list of issues found as chances are everything in the coach that is still original is on its last legs.

The biggest part of the problem is anything made out of plastic or rubber, this includes plumbing fixtures, many older lower and mid range RV's will have plastic sinks, showers and toilets, and plastic gets brittle with age, so you have to ask if that pristine looking shower that no one has used in years will crack the first time a person steps into it. In addition to this many RV's built before about 2000 used polybutylene plumbing which does not age well, and was the subject of a big class action lawsuit 20 or so years ago. Newer units either use (red / blue) PEX or fiber reinforced poly hose for plumbing. In addition to this you have rubber seals around all the windows and doors, often an EPDM rubber roof which has about a 15 year life under the best of conditions if regularly cleaned and maintained, often rubber propane hoses, and rubber diaphragm in the propane regulator, then we get to suspension and steering bushings, rubber fuel line to the generator, ....

Having said that if I were to consider a coach from this era, it would be something built by one of the premium coach makers, probably a diesel pusher, featuring things like a fiberglass or Aluminum roof, fiberglass or solid surface plumbing fixtures, PEX plumbing or better. Coaches built by companies like Foretravel, Country Coach, Beaver, Safari, Blue Bird Wanderlodge, etc. Though you will not likely find any of these for $8,000, you might get lucky and find one for $20,000 in good shape, just because everyone these days wants slides, and electronic gadgets.
 

Mark_K5LXP

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Having owned mostly "seasoned" vehicles my whole life I guess I'm more sensitive to the chassis side of maintenance and repair. When they get to the point they're old enough to vote I don't care how well "cared for" a given vehicle is, they start falling apart. Anything plastic is brittle, especially under-hood where things get hot. So that's every electrical connector, clamp, clip, module and sensor there is. Seals get hard or crack and stop sealing, so what once was clean and dry may now may get wet and dirty, such as the above electrical connectors. That translates to intermittent/whacky symptoms. All belts and hoses are on borrowed time. People tend to focus on the obvious ones like radiator hoses and serpentine belts but there are literally dozens of fluid and air hoses in place. Replace every one or take your chances? Few people ever talk about replacing power steering lines. I've replaced two of those in my life, one of them when it split and sprayed fluid on the exhaust manifold going down the road and with tons of smoke billowing out from the front of the car I thought I was a goner. Brakes are another latent problem, few owners do regular fluid changes so moisture is silently eating at the steel lines and age is degrading the rubber ones. Every single bushing and bumper in the suspension is exposed to the elements, and is likely shot. This includes the ball joint and tie rod boots and once dirt and water starts getting in those, game over. It's not practical to preemptively replace every single aged component so you end up doing what you can and hoping for the best with the rest. Just making the point that no matter how "clean" it is, the ravages of time take their toll no matter who built it or how it was used, and one has to weigh the risk/benefit to buying anything old. I'm self maintained and can address things as discovered when parked at home but I would have to think very carefully about taking a "vintage" RV on an extended trip, where even a simple failure might result in a tow and time at a service shop. I would at least have a contingency plan in place that goes beyond just "roadside assistance" for that possibility.

Mark B.
Albuquerque, NM
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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Maybe not as grim a picture as Mark implies, but yeah, a 20-year-old coach can suffer from any of those things, and maybe several of them over a few years of travel. Some can be handled proactively with preventive maintenance, but its seldom financially practical to eliminate all the effects of advancing age.
 

TheBar

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As mentioned there seems to be little fading on the exterior which suggests it may have been stored inside or at least covered. That really reduces the aging process. I'm not sure but I believe the roof is fiberglass which is a big plus but a big negative if stored outside all those years. If it was never lived in full time the appliances and A/C may have many years of service life left. But not knowing it's history means it is a big gamble. There are 5 times the number of money pit stories vs success stories on old RVs.

My 1997 MH is 7 years newer than this one and had 55K miles on it when I bought it for $8,000 it in 2014. My budget was $50K at the time but this one was in better condition than the $50k MHs we found. I figured that left $42 for repairs. But there have been zero appliance or A/C failures and very few minor problems. But I did do $700 of preventative maintenance when I bought it. We camp about 70-90 days a year so we use it often.
 

DsrtRat08

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Thanks for all of the different things to look at and consider. We were supposed to go take a look at it yesterday but we decided it’s just more risk than we are willing to accept. We are still looking but at this point are expanding our search to include travel trailers and 5th wheels. It seems that we would be able to get a much newer one at a similar price of an older motorhome
 

scottydl

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Thanks for all of the different things to look at and consider. We were supposed to go take a look at it yesterday but we decided it’s just more risk than we are willing to accept. We are still looking but at this point are expanding our search to include travel trailers and 5th wheels. It seems that we would be able to get a much newer one at a similar price of an older motorhome

I think that's a good choice on that particular MH. And you're right about trailer prices, which are typically lower... but you also have to factor in the price of a tow vehicle (truck or SUV) big enough to handle the size trailer you want. That's a whole separate topic!
 

DsrtRat08

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We ended up pulling the trigger on a 25 foot 5th wheel with one manual slide, a 2000 terry lite. Slightly dated but overall everything looks good on it. A few things I have noticed that I will need to do is repair some caulking, replace the shocks as the bushings are shot, and I’m sure I’ll find more as I go. I’ll be searching a tow vehicle next. This trailer is pretty light with a GVWR of just over 6k pounds. I did want to do a little more searching but the market is horrible with pricing and I felt good about getting into this one for $4500. There are a few spots where the wallpaper is coming off along with a few spot on the shower. Is this something that can be put back in place with adhesive? I didn’t note any obvious water damage and the floor felt solid.
 

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scottydl

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Congrats! If it meets your budget and camping needs, that's the most important part! Depending on caulking locations and surfaces, make sure you purchase the correct self-leveling Dicor lap sealant if called for (such as roof repairs). Eternabond sealing tape is an excellent item to have on hand also, and check the date codes on those tires before you tow it too far. ;)

We dont say this often about 5th wheels, but at 6k GVWR that ought to actually be towable with a 1/2 ton truck.
 

Larry N.

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We dont say this often about 5th wheels, but at 6k GVWR that ought to actually be towable with a 1/2 ton truck.
Maybe -- 20% of that for hitch weight is 1200 lbs, which chews up even a generous payload for a 1/2 ton. It would be marginal at best.
 

X-Roughneck Strike 3

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May I also suggest you call your Insurance agent for a "Pretend Quote" on what you are looking at.

I insure my Class C for $500 a year thru Progressive/USAA. I was looking at Class A (Tiffen 34PA) Insurance quotes were running $1900ish a year. Class A more expensive to Register and Insure also.

We have a 2017 Winnebago 32' Class C.
 
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scottydl

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Maybe -- 20% of that for hitch weight is 1200 lbs, which chews up even a generous payload for a 1/2 ton. It would be marginal at best.
Very valid point, and I neglected to add on the importance of a new-enough 1/2 ton + HD towing package to get as many factory upgrades as possible for hauling.

To the OP, as Larry mentioned, when truck shopping make sure you are checking out the yellow "loading information" sticker inside the drivers doorframe of the truck. Ask for a photo of that sticker if shopping online. It will list available payload (Cargo Carrying Capacity) for that truck at the time it left the factory. An important number for handling pin weight of 5th wheels.
 
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