Why You Should Avoid Buying a Really Old RV

Updated on January 24, 2019
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I have had a great deal of experience both buying and selling RVs and think people should understand the mechanics of doing these things.

Some people think it’s a great idea to buy an RV that is 20 or more years old because they may believe such vehicles are better-constructed than newer ones and will also cost less. Others buy them because they love a particular year and brand and don’t mind spending the money to refurbish.

These all are good reasons for buying vintage travel units, but the truth is that for most people, coaches that old have seen better days and are fraught with ongoing and expensive problems.

Buying older RVs can create many problems for owners.
Buying older RVs can create many problems for owners. | Source

What About Buying High End Units?

Recreational Vehicles that sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars are generally better constructed than cheaper models. As a result, those that have been taken care of would seem to be a safer investment.

The problem is that even luxury coaches deteriorate over time, and maintaining them can be extremely expensive. While the exteriors and interiors may be beautiful and plush, it is the inner workings that cost owners plenty and also ruin their vacations.

The Low Price Should Be a Red Flag

Someone who pays $39,000 for a very old unit that was $300,000 new thinks he’s getting a great deal! However, before buying, that same person should stop and wonder why the current price is so much less!

The answer is that RVs deteriorate over time, and their value depreciates to reflect this point. This should serve as a red flag to buyers who think they may be saving money, because the truth is that if the RV industry makes it clear that a coach has seen better days, buyers should beware of buying them!

This coach looks beautiful, but it was full of black mold due to a roof leak that was never fixed.
This coach looks beautiful, but it was full of black mold due to a roof leak that was never fixed. | Source

Looks Aren’t Everything

Many older, well-maintained luxury RVs maintain their original beauty, but looks alone are a bad reason to buy. The truth is that although a coach may look good, it may well be eroding from the inside out. For example:

  • Old wiring will be brittle, fragile, and easily damaged. When this happens, appliances and other amenities will stop working.
  • Finding and repairing broken wiring is a complicated and time-consuming thing that can be very expensive.
  • Furthermore, you can fix one broken wire, and then another one will go.

Wiring is only one problem that buyers cannot see when inspecting an RV. There can be many more, each of which will waste time and money.

In an old coach, road vibration can result in one new problem or another that needs to be fixed just about every day of a vacation! So while a unit may be beautiful or even luxurious, the problems it has will eventually far outweigh the pleasures of owning it!

What Could Possibly Go Wrong in an Old RV?

Anybody who owns an RV, old or new, will tell you that there are many things that can go wrong. This is especially true of luxury coaches, because they have so many amenities!

Here is a partial list of issues to consider before buying a very old travel unit:

  • air bags that don’t work properly or at all,
  • worn-out tires,
  • heavy rust, especially on the underside of a coach,
  • a generator with too many hours on it,
  • engine problems,
  • an inverter that’s on its last legs,
  • fogged windows,
  • old air conditioners that will need to be replaced,
  • worn, stained upholstery,
  • torn or dirty window treatments,
  • damaged mirrors,
  • windows that won’t stay closed, and
  • cabinet doors and drawers that need adjustment.

Most of these items can be fixed, but the cost of doing so can be staggering. For example, at this writing a new diesel generator can cost $7,000 and an inverter can cost $2000.

By the time a new owner is finished repairing and upgrading, he could easily pay more than the cost of his unit, and he would still be driving an old camper, travel trailer or motorhome that would have ongoing problems.

Newer RVs Have Fewer Problems

Older recreational vehicles often have complex mechanical systems which can easily break down when stressed by the rigors of road vibration and long distance travel.

Thinking that buying one saves you money is a big mistake, because upkeep and repairs will cost you plenty. Furthermore, having to constantly deal with these types of issues during vacations isn't much fun.

To avoid problems, consider buying a newer camper, travel trailer or motorhome. You'll be glad you did!

Finding Parts for an Old RV Can Be Difficult

One of the biggest problems with extremely old coaches is that finding parts for them can be difficult, if not impossible. My husband and I wanted to replace the screens in our older coach but were unable to find the parts that held them in place. Nobody sold them anymore because the demand for them was almost nonexistent.

Avoid the Risks

There are inherent risks in buying any motorhome, camper, or travel trailer. However, there is no reason for anybody to buy a unit that is so old that it is sure to have serious and costly issues.

Below is an interesting video of how a man restored a 1974 motorhome. It's beautiful, but just imagine the costs that were involved, even though he's an RV dealer!

Coaches more than twenty years old are generally a bad deal for most people, especially those who don’t have mechanical skills. RVers should want to spend their vacations enjoying themselves, not running from one repair shop to the next because their RVs had mechanical issues.

Would you ever consider buying an extremely old RV?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • The devaluation of any RV is a steep drop. None hold their initial value. Quality RVs are still good buys at 20 years. I have had one for past 6 years. Yes I do upgrades and maintain it. So far the total cost of ownership for six years is well below the annual depreciation of a new RV purchase. The Cummins diesel has 350K miles at least left on it before any major work. Upgrades to systems is fine. Things are better. So this negative article you wrote, is it just to sell new RVs?

    Of course not. Why would I want to do that? I'm simply conveying information based on my own experiences and research. What you don't "get" is that most people do not maintain their RVs properly, so buying an older one, even one of quality, is a crap shoot. I purchased a Country Coach years ago...very high quality...but older...and had nothing but problems with it from day one. I know this happens to many people. Much depends on the RV you choose and your ability and desire to maintain it properly. If yours has worked out well for you, that's great, but many who buy these coaches are novices with few mechanical skills and not enough money to pay to have work done. You can't paint every situation with the same brush. This is not a negative article, even though you interpret it that way. It is an article meant to state facts and apprise readers of potential issues.

  • I am considering turning a cargo trailer into an RV, what do you think?

    That depends on what you want to have in it. RVs need electric, plumbing, air conditioning, bathrooms,sleeping and living areas, kitchens, etc. You would have to know how much weight the chassis could carry and many other important details. People have done it, but in the long run you probably would be better off to just buy a good used RV.

© 2017 Sondra Rochelle

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