Most motorhomes spend most of their life sitting. Month after month, they seldom move. Motorhomes 9+ years old can be found with less than 20,000 miles on them. So why do they sit in the back row of some RV dealers lot for so long? Because they are ugly!
Outdated furnishings, sun faded fabrics, musty smelling carpet, dull exterior finish, all reasons for the buyer to turn up their noses in favor of new and shiny. If it was owned by a smoker, even worse. The smell of old cigarette smoke closed up for years can be a turn-off.
The good part, with such low mileage there should be lots of life left in the running gear. The bad part, the quickest way for the running gear to fall into disrepair is to let it sit around and not run it on a regular basis. Depending on your level of mechanical expertise, this is where you find the real bargains.
The most important inspection you can give to a candidate you are looking at is the undercarriage. Put on some coveralls and get up close and personal with the underside. When a motorhome is stored on a dirt surface moisture will wick up into the drive train. Humidity means rust, lots of rust. Check the frame, steering components, suspension parts, brakes, look at everything. Sitting for a long time, even the oil filter can rust through. Excessive rust should stop a sale in its tracks. Rust won’t stop; it only gets worse. We hired a self-contained motorhome to travel the North Island in New Zealand last year, and even though the motorhome was only seven years old, we could see rust around the window seals. A common problem on recreational vehicles.
Check for leaks, seals dry out and weep without normal use. Look for dripping from the front and rear of the transmission, front and rear of the engine, and the differential. Green is antifreeze, black is oil, and red is transmission or power steering. Not to say leaks are deal breakers, just be aware of what your buying and negotiate the price accordingly.
Be sure to do a compression test on the engine. If it sat for years without starting the rings and valves may not seal
properly. Engine performance will suffer, and the only cure is an engine rebuild. If all cylinders have similar compression you’re probably OK.
With an old motorhome, the appliances could be an issue. Refrigerators that sit for years fail as the cooling unit becomes plugged with corrosion and sediment. Gas appliances, stoves, furnaces seem to corrode and fail as well. Expect to spend $2-3,000 to replace them. Same with the roof air conditioner.
How far you go with remodeling is up to you, upgrading wall covering, changing out carpeting and window treatments will make your low buck motorhome look new and fresh. Personally, my favorite upgrades are removing the dinette in favor of a nice oak table and chairs, tearing out the carpeting in favor of laminated wood flooring, and getting rid of the cheap folding sofa bed in favor of a real couch.
The nicest part of this type of project is you’re putting your signature on it. It will be done to your taste, not what a factory says is best. They are concerned with standardization to lower manufacturing costs. You are more interested in making it homey, warm and comfortable.
With some good shopping you can probably buy and rebuild a motorhome that will give you years of pleasure for $10-15,000. With new motorhomes starting at $100,000 you tell me if its a good alternative?