If you have $250,000 or more in disposable income, you can go ahead and skip this section. This is not for you. This article is for those of us with champagne wishes on beer budgets. I am here to tell you that a safe and reliable motorhome equipped for cross country travel can be had for almost any budget. There are a number of reasons why you can buy used RVs for relatively cheap prices. First and foremost is the fact that RV’s depreciate more quickly than just about anything else with an engine. My first diesel motorhome was a 1998 Holiday Rambler Endeavor with one slide out room. When new, it retailed for just about $180,000. Twelve years later, it was still in great shape and had been well cared for. I bought it for $24,500. Our family criss crossed the USA with “Dottie” for 6 years making epic memories for us and our boys along the way. When I sold the old gal last year, I got $27,000 for her! There is nothing magical about this math. Not everyone can expect to make a profit after six years of use, but you can certainly limit your depreciation by buying an older unit that has already depreciated to rock bottom levels.
So What to Buy?
I am only going to recommend different varieties of Class A Diesel Pushers. I am not going to discuss gas models for a couple of reasons. The first being that gas motorhomes continue to depreciate well beyond diesel pushers. It will be very difficult to limit your depreciation with a gas RV of any kind. The second reason is that I am not a fan of gas motorhomes in general, but that is a discussion for another day. The third reason is that I don’t have personal experience with a gas RV. I prefer to talk from first hand experience.
CHEAP and RELIABLE. 1990-2002 Diesel Pushers Budget $10,000 – $25,000
In this price range you can buy a quality diesel pusher. What you are giving up to get to this price point in the ever popular slide out room. Around 1998 slide outs became the norm on diesel pushers. In truth they make a huge difference and if you can afford an RV with one, I suggest that you buy a unit with a slideout. If however price is the determining factor, then there is huge value to be found in a used motorhome without a slideout. Due to the popularity of the slideout, RV’s without them plummeted in value. Buying an older RV is all about the seller. You want to find the elderly couple that spent $200,000 on this unit in 1995 and used it five times and kept it in their barn. This happens more than you would think. If you look through the classifieds you will see tons of used RV’s with little to no mileage regardless of age. Unfortunately many people learn that RV’ing isn’t for them them only after investing their life savings into a new motorhome. I would always recommend an inspection by an RV dealer before buying any used motorhome. There are a lot of expensive systems on a motorhome. You want them all the be checked out prior to purchase. In my opinion the top brands of this era are, Foretravel, Monaco, Holiday Rambler, Country Coach, Beaver, and Safari.
This price point will bring you into the range where you can buy a motorhome with a slideout room. The difference in space between an RV with a slideout to one without is night and day. If you can afford to break into this price point, you will find yourself good value at a good price point. The interiors are going to look a little dated at this point, but keep in mind that you are saving big money and something needs to be sacrificed. Updating the interior is always an option. Many RV shops specialize in updating older RV’s. One of the most popular update packages include installing hardwood floors and updating the TV’s to flat screens. If you are handy, these things can be done for very little cost. As always, buying a used RV is all about the seller. You want to find someone who kept all the service records, meticulously maintained the unit and are the original owner. I always recommend buying from a private party who can tell you the whole history of the machine. You will also save a ton of money buying privately as compared to a dealer. These sellers get desperate fast and there is often a lot of room for negotiation.
More$$$$ and more Luxury $35,000 – $45,000 2002-2006 Diesel Pusher with multiple slideouts
The reason that I stop at 2006 is that 10 years or more is where depreciation has taken the largest chunk out of the price. Anything newer than 10 years is going to continue to depreciate fast. This article is about minimizing your downside and this is how to do it. In this price range, you are going to find interiors that look close to up to date, potentially several slideouts, bigger engines, lower mileage, and nicer options. One thing to be aware of is that slideout rooms add significant weight to an RV. If you are looking at a unit with 2 or more slideouts, I would recommend that it has an engine big enough to push all that weight around. The cummins 5.9 is a very popular engine in older RV’s. However it is a little undersized for larger RV’s with multiple slidouts. You are better off looking for an 8.3 liter cummins or a caterpillar engine rated at 320 HP or more. My favorite RV layouts are those with opposing living room slides. Talk about space! This setup makes the best use of livable space bar none.
Universal Tips for Buying an RV on a Budget.
There is no such thing as a fixer upper when it comes to RV’s. If a motorhome has is so damaged that one would view it as a “fixer upper” it is most likely garbage. RV’s are not built like houses and can’t be fixed as easily as them either. Run…don’t walk from anything that shows any sign of ever having a water leak. Water leaks can be devastating to an RV. Don’t be scared off be mileage. If the RV you are looking at has high mileage, but has been properly maintained I would not cross it off your list. These engine and transmissions are designed for 500,000 miles and more. An RV with 100,000 is barely broken in. These high mileage units usually sell for very cheap prices because many people are scared off by the mileage. I used this to my advantage when I bought my 1998 Holiday Rammbler with 100,000 miles for $24,000 in 2010. We crossed the country six times in “Dottie” and I never had one mechanical problem. I always recommend a pre-purchase inspection by a reputable RV dealer before buying anything. On of the most important things to look out for in a used RV is the condition of the radiator. While a new radiator in a car could cost you up to $400, a new radiator in your RV can easily cost $4,000!! RV radiator problems come in multiple varieties. One of the more common problems is that the radiator has become covered in oil from a poorly designed engine blow by tube that essentially sprays hot oil almost directly on the radiator. This is a particular problem in rear radiator units. Side radiators are a better design, but have suffered their own problems like broken mounts and other cracks due to poor designs. Having the radiator thoroughly inspected can save you a ton of headaches and $$$$ down the road. Also beware of any RV built on a roadmaster chassis in the early to mid 2000’s. Many of these units suffered very dangerous rear suspension failures. There is a fix for this, but it will set you back a couple of thousand dollars. My own RV suffered this problem, but I was able to negotiate with the seller to have it fixed at his expense.
Buying the biggest most luxurious RV you can afford is a typical rookie mistake. I would argue that smaller is almost always better when it comes to Class A motorhomes. Huge RV’s really limit where you can camp. Most national, state, and local campgrounds have size limits in the 35 foot range. Anything over that and you will be limited to commercial campgrounds. To me, the whole camping experience is about finding the most scenic and serene campgrounds available. Even National Park campgrounds have strict size limitations. When I travel thousands of miles to a beautiful locale like Yosemite National Park, I want to stay in Yosemite National Park not 30 minutes away in a town outside of the park. This is however the limitations that you will face with a monster sized motorhome. Last time that I was at Yosemite, I had a 37 foot Holiday Rambler and that was the absolute max size that would fit at that campground. Thirty five feet seems to be the limitation that I see most often at non-commercial campgrounds. This is not to say that I have not squeezed into dozens of sites limited to 35 feet with my old 37 foot camper, but the key word is squeezed. Squeezing into a spot in a big motorhome with limited visibility is no fun at all. With the purchase of my second motorhome, we downsized to a 2004 34 foot Monaco Knight with three slides. Loosing three feet made a big difference in maneuverability and the selection of sites that we could get into. Also by loosing three foot of length and gaining the extra room with the three slideouts, the RV feels much bigger than the old one. Unfortunately for whatever reason, these smaller Class A diesels are relatively rare. The vast majority are 36 -40 feet.