New to RVing, looking to purchase an old-skool model :)

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MZBuckeye

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Cleveland, OH
Hello, I'm a 27 year old first time RV'er from Cleveland, OH and my fiancee and I are shopping for a cheap used RV to give a try.  We both are very anxious to try out RVing, but renting seems to be very cost prohibitive.    We're in the market for an old, cheap RV to get started, and I stumbled across a 1978 GMC Travelcraft 23' Class C motorhome with generator.  It looks dated and a bit shabby inside, but it's got only 40xxx miles and 20-some hours on the generator.  The roof did leak at one time, but it's been resealed and doesn't leak anymore (according to the seller).  All the systems work, minus the cab air conditioning, which seems to be a common problem with older class C's.  Is this true?    Is it just too expensive to fix, and is running with the roof air+generator while on the road a better solution?  Also, it needs tires, what can I expect to pay for a new set?  The interior needs updated badly, but that's something that I can handle (carpet, upholstery, wallpaper, etc).  I'm most concerned about the age.  The buy-it-now price is WELL within my price range, but I'm worried about it becoming a money-pit :)

I'm going to go see it soon and look it over real good.  Any tips on some things to look for other than the obvious tires, brakes, leaks, etc etc?  Not only have I never owned an RV, I've never driven one, in fact I've never spent any time in an RV outside of tailgating.    Here's the ebay link (it's local to me)  CLICK

Also, here's all the questions I've asked so far, as well as the responses.

Hello, couple of questions. The roof currently does not leak, correct? How's the condition of the floor, any soft spots? Does everything inside work except for the cab air? Does the generator have controls to operate it from inside the motorhome? Does it have batteries that it can run off of when parked, without the generator? How does the couch bed work, does it just fold down flat or does it pull out like a hide-a-bed? I'm trying to get an idea of the layout inside, is that couch across the very back, then kitchen, bathroom on the driver's side, and dinette across from the bathroom? What's the exterior condition, the pictures make it look pretty nice, any rust? Any other water damage than the warping you spoke of? What's the towing capacity, can it tow a car? Does it have cruise control? Stereo? Thanks for your help!

ROOF DOESN'T LEAK
FLOOR NO SPOTS FLOOR IS GOOD
ALL WORKS EXCEPT CAB AIR
CAN OPERATE GENERATOR INSIDE YES
YES HAS BATTERIES TO RUN WITHOUT GENERATOR
COUCH PULLS OUT FLAT
COUCH ACROSS BACK THEN KITCHEN
YES DINETTE ACROSS FROM BATHROOM
SOME SURFACE RUST VERY LITTLE
WILL SEND PICTURES OF SURFACE RUST IN INTERESTED,,
WARPING JUST IN WALL PANELING, REPAINTED CEILING TO COVER WATER SPOT BUT NO DAMAGE TO CEILING
YES I TOWED A JEEP WRANGLER
NO CRUISE CONTROL
AM/FM CASSETTE

Any help/advice/things to look for/opinions are all welcome.  I'm not 100% sure how much I'd use an RV (I think a lot), so I'd like something cheap to start out with.  However, I do have dreams of taking it long distances, etc, and I'd sure hate like hell to get stranded somewhere remote.  Thanks again.

Dan
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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There are so many good used RVs available at reasonable prices that I would not rush into one that seemed shaby or shaky in any way.  Check the RV For Sale sites like rvclassified.com and rvtrader.com and you will likely find others in your general area and in better shape. RVs generally have much lower mielage than cars or trucks, so low mileage is the norm. The RVIA figures a typical RV is driven less than 6000 miles a year - even those that are used regularly. And I would look at small Class A's as well as Class C's. An A gives you more interior space for the money and usually more exterior storage too.

If you buy a a motorhome that has 16 inch diameter wheels, it will be able to use light truck or SUV tires. Since that is a big tire market, mass production & competitive pressures keep the prices reasonable, usually around $100-$150 per tire. Specialty sizes for RVs (e.g.19.5' or 22.5") will run 2x-3x that. Tires have a finite life of about 7 years. Learn how to read the DOT date codes on the sidewalls (see the RVForum.net Glossary for how-to) and plan on replacing any tires that are reaching their 7th birthday, regardless of how good they look or how much tread.

Lack of use can be a problem with older RVs. Generators need exercise regularly and low hours is often not good. Yes, it is good practice to run the genset and house air rather than the dash air - most of us do it be preference rather than necessity. It is efficient and effective.

Yeah, renting is expensive but we recommend it rather than buying an expensive rig and then finding out RVing isn't for you - or perhaps just a passing fancy. But you are shopping down in the price range where you can't get hurt too badly if you decide to dump it after a few trips, so you may as well skip the rental stage.

Oh yeah - don't be afraid to make low buy offers, whether to dealer or private individuals.  And don't be afraid to walk away either.  Check the NADA Older Recreational Vehicle Guide for price ranges, but do not feel obliged to pay NADA suggested retail prices, especially in private sales.  NADA price guides
 

MZBuckeye

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Cleveland, OH
Funny, I was just looking at that Ohio Beauty :D  I've never seen one like that, and it does look kinda interesting.  What's the deal with the cab-over bunk?  Is that the preferred place to sleep in a class-c, or is it kinda just an extra for kids?  Plus that OH beauty has no generator and I'm sure that's an expensive upgrade.
 

scottydl

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Hey Buckeye, my wife and I are in the same situation as you... looking to buy our first RV to try out the lifestyle.  I've got a little experience driving & camping w/ motorhomes, but for the most part my knowledge on the subject has come from about 6-7 months of research at this forum and all the online classifieds out there.  You really have to watch the ads for awhile and see which MH's sell (and at what prices) to get an idea of what a fair market value is.  $3700 for anything from 1978 that needs work is too much IMO.  ;)  Don't get sucked in too quick by the allure of RVing, and buy something hastily.

Gary pretty much mentioned everything important, and believe me he is one of the many experts on this forum!  Obviously tires are a big deal, and for 6 tires be prepared to spend $700 *minimum* once you figure in all the mounting/balancing etc.  Many, many sellers will tell you "tires are fine, have less than 10k" or "tread is good" when you ask about tires... so make sure you ask about the actual tire AGE for the reasons Gary mentioned.  I've had people tell me that the 9-year-old tires (on a MH they are selling) are absolutely fine because they've hardly been used.  If I was less educated, I'd probably believe them, buy the rig, and then be in for a roadside blowout and expensive lesson later on.  MH high-speed blowouts can cause extensive body damage and can rip out plumbing components and all other types of things that regular cars don't have.

Other big-ticket items on used MH's:  refrigerator, A/C (roof *or* dash), and generator.  All of those repairs/replacements can easily top $1000 if not working when you buy the rig.  If a fridge smells like ammonia when you open it, there's a refrigerant leak somewhere... run away.  It is common for dash air to *not* work on older models.  Recharging is almost not even an option, because the old R-12 (?) freon is hardly available anymore.  Plus is any closed system needs a recharge, then there's a leak that will have to be addressed eventually.  Every so often you'll find an older unit that's been converted to use the new R-134a refrigerant.  That's a pretty good deal, because even a recharge would only cost you $20 or so and you can easily do it yourself... vs. $200-300 at a shop with the old stuff.  The option of running the generator + roof air seems pretty common and recommended anyway, so dash air isn't crucial.

Ask sellers about maintenance... if they pull out a folder full of receipts, that's a good sign.  If they look at you blankly or say "oh I just had things fixed when they broke", that's a bad sign.  On older units, low miles can be bad because it means the MH sat for a LONG time unused.  Any kind of known leaking/warping mentioned (like in that '78 eBay auction) I'd really recommend against... once you start tearing things down like wallpaper and paneling, there's a real good chance the water damage will be much more extensive "under the surface".

Class C beds... they are usually full or queen size (often the biggest bed in the rig), and are fine for adults if you don't mind the low headroom and climbing up and down.  Some of our older, more distinguised RVers don't enjoy either of those features.  ;)  I wouldn't mind it at all if we found the right rig for our family... I'm in the market for a Class A or Class C.  A Class B (van conversion) such as that "Ohio Beauty" may be a great option for you, to have something easy to drive and not too big.

That's about all I can think of for now, but post back with any more questions!  The classifieds I check several times a week include eBay (of course), rvtrader.com, rvtraderonline.com, rvsearch.com, my local online newspapers, and the RV section of my local Craislist.com.  Good luck!
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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What's the deal with the cab-over bunk?  Is that the preferred place to sleep in a class-c, or is it kinda just an extra for kids?

Preferred? Not really, though its decent enough if you don't mind scrambling up into it. We had a similar sleeping arrangement in our first fifth wheel, but we were younger and more spry back then.  Originally the bunks were put up there to free up space on the main floor for eating, stiing, bathroom, etc.  As C's got larger, that was less of a need and regular bedrooms were added, leaving the cab area as a spare bed for kds or for other uses.  In many newer/larger  Class C's the cabover area is used for entertainment equipment, storage or whatever rather than bedding.
 

MZBuckeye

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Cleveland, OH
Thanks for the inputs thus far.  I think I'm gonna let that '78 go.    I need more time to decide exactly what I want.    I have another question regarding a tow vehicle.  Basically, do I need one?    We have two cars, a 2004 Mazda 6 and a 2005 Mazda Tribute, and I'm not thrilled about towing either one.  Plus, will a smaller class c be up to the task of towing a car?    I also have a 2002 Yamaha FZ1 motorcycle that I was thinking of getting a trailer for and pulling that around behind the RV.  I just can't decide how necessary a tow vehicle is.  I have a friend that has a HUGE diesel pusher and he says you must have a tow vehicle, but he's also got the $$$ that I don't.    Is it really a drag to disconnect from a campsite to go daytripping?    What do you guys think?  Damn, I'm a NOOB!    ???
 

scottydl

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Hehe, hey I'M still a newb too and don't even own a MH yet... but I'm telling you, stick with this forum for awhile and you'll be a virtual pro.  ;)

Tow vehicle opinions will range of course, but I think if you're not TOO far from home and are taking mostly weekend trips then it's unnecessary.  You can take all the food you need with you from home, or pull off at a supermarket before reaching the campground.  Many campgrounds have activities to keep you busy, it just takes planning.  Or you could take along bicycles or small scooters to get you where walking is too far.  If you absolutely need a car, you can have your other half drive behind the MH to your destination.  And if worse comes to worse, sure you can unhook the MH and drive it where you need to go... especially with a small Class C. 

With a Ford 360 or Chevy 350 engine (which many smaller C's and B's have under the hood), you're right in that towing would be a strain on the engine.  The Ford 460 and Chevy 454 (in most larger Class C's and Class A's) you'd be okay, but there are a whole slew of other issues that come with towing... supplementary braking, toad transmission modifications, type of trailer, hitch installation on the MH, etc.  etc.  IMO toads are a convenience, and I'd say only necessary for full-timers and/or long, extended, far-from-home vacations.
 

MZBuckeye

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Bump on this.

I've still been having corespondance with the seller of that old beater, since it didn't sell I'm thinking I might have the upper hand in negotiations now.    I still can't decide if it's worth it, but I do know that I've never seen a nicer rig for such a low price that's not a complete piece of ****.    I might still go look at it, I can't decide.  Anyone else have any thoughts?  If it runs well, and is in decent shape would it be worth, say $3200?
 

scottydl

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I will say this... I've seen RV's *newer* than that one, in running order and needing *few* or *no* repairs sell for less than $3200.  I think you'd be buying yourself a heap of trouble with that one, even at half that price.  Unless you've got the money to burn, I'd recommend you hold on tight to your cash and look elsewhere.

As far as an RV paint job, I'm no expert... but unless you have a good friend that owns a body shop, that can be a money pit also.  Sure you can get a budget paint-over some places for $600, that will fade and flake after a couple years.  If you want it done right, good paint work easily costs in the thousands... and that's with a car, so I'm sure those numbers are multiplied with motorhomes.

P.S. Check out this thread, Buying Older Motorhomes, from some months back for good discussion on the topic.  See especially the post by TheDude, who found and bought a 1984 Holiday Rambler 34' Class A (with EVERYTHING working) for $3000.  Those deals are not everywhere, but they can be found!
 

MZBuckeye

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Cleveland, OH
Yeah, I'm starting to think you guys are right.  That, however, is one REDICULOUS deal on that class a.  I've seen nothing anywhere close to that in my searches.  HERE is another one I"m eyeballing right now, however I don't know any details on it yet.
 

scottydl

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MZBuckeye said:
Yeah, I'm starting to think you guys are right.  That, however, is one REDICULOUS deal on that class a.  I've seen nothing anywhere close to that in my searches.

And chances are you won't see that kind of deal advertised... but that coach could have been listed at $5000 or more and the seller just became desperate to sell.  Cash-in-hand is a big motivator for those kinds of sales, or so I hear.  Obviously I haven't found that kind of deal yet either, or I'd be telling about *my* motorhome.  ;)

MZBuckeye said:
HERE is another one I"m eyeballing right now, however I don't know any details on it yet.

The mention of "new tires" and "new fridge" along with the NEGOTIABLE notation after the price are all good things.  :)  Ask about leaks, generator, and the A/C & furnace, and if those things check out you could have yourself a nice rig.  I'd also certainly ask for clarification on the tires... "new" to some means they're actually 5 years old but have only been driven 1000 miles.  ::)
 

MZBuckeye

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Cleveland, OH
I got a response back from the seller with a bunch of questions answered.

it has a very good engine and trans.
no generator
fridge works on electric only, it's new and big and holds cold until you get where your going
stereo needs an antenna
new hot water heater
oven, stove, shower in great condition.
new tires
fixed leaks by the front upper window
lots of new parts on the engine, reliable now

Ugh, no generator.  Is this a deal breaker?    Gotta have a generator right?  The fridge running on electric only is pretty lame too, probably means its' not a real RV fridge.

Up side, there's a 1984 Allegro on craigslist in my area right now for around $5000, that sounds promising.  27 ft class A
 

scottydl

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A generator is not necessarily a MUST, dependig on where you plan on camping.  If you'll always be in a campground with shore power, then you're okay.  An electric-only fridge would be okay IF you had a generator, so you could still run the electrical system (with the gen) while rolling down the road... but with the lack of both, you have no reliable way to keep food cold when you're not plugged in.  But again that depends on how far you're traveling... many fridges can stay cold (you can add small fans to circulate cold air) for several hours while not powered, if the door is not opened & closed frequently.  I'd certainly check on the Allegro you mentioned, as well as anything else that falls within your range of wants/needs.  By researching more and looking at as many MH's as possible, you'll refine the parameters of exactly what features you want.  That will in turn reduce the scope of your search and make it more productive (although possibly longer).
 
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