Why Buying a 20 Year Old Motor Home Is Risky

Updated on June 23, 2017
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I am an avid RV enthusiast who understands that my life and my safety depend on the condition of the equipment in my coach.

Some people think it’s a great idea to buy an RV that is twenty or more years old because they may feel such vehicles are better constructed than newer ones and will also cost less to purchase.

Others buy them because they love a particular year and brand and don’t mind spending the money to refurbish them.

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 an extremely old motor home is not a good idea for most people.
Buying an extremely old motor home is not a good idea for most people. | 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 high end 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.

Low prices for high end motor homes, even used ones, should serve as a warning to buyers.
Low prices for high end motor homes, even used ones, should serve as a warning to buyers. | Source

Price Should Be a Red Flag

Someone who pays $39,000 for a 20 year old unit that cost $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 point alone 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 well-maintained old luxury motor homes maintain their original beauty, but this often is a false lure for people wishing to own one.

The truth is that although a coach may look good, it may well be eroding from the inside out.

For example

  • Twenty year old wiring will be brittle, fragile and can break easily. When this happens, appliances and amenities can 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.

Thus traveling in an old coach, which means lots of road vibration, can result in one 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 eventually will far outweigh the pleasures of owning it!

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.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Anybody who owns a motor home, 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 motor home:

  • 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 invertor 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 a 20 year old coach that would have ongoing problems.

Finding Parts

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 one year but were unable to find the parts that held them in place. Nobody sold them anymore because the demand for them was almost nonexistent.

The Ugly Truth

Older motor homes 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 really old recreational vehicles saves you money is a big mistake.

In the long run, these types of travel units can cost you plenty.

Not only that, but they are very difficult to sell once they reach old age.

Even if people buy them for full-time living, the problems will never stop, so it’s best to buy something newer and avoid the risks.

Avoid the Risks

There are inherent risks in buying any motor home, 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 motor home. 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 motor home had mechanical issues.

Would you ever consider buying an extremely old motor home?

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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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