Baby Steps: Buying an Older Class C RV

(In the next week all my websites are going to be undergoing major renovations. The chances are very good that the transition is going to bumpy and messy. I can only ask that you be patient and forgive me for the inconvenience.)

In this post I want to talk again about taking baby steps toward changing your life. The step I want to recommend to you is buying an older Class C RV to take trips in and to start making the transition to mobile living.

C-Brian-camp

This nice old Class C is very comfortable and while it gets terrible mpg, the Ford Festiva he tows gets 40 mpg!

Three of my best friends live in older Class Cs and they are all very happy with their choices. One is 1979 Dodge based (which cost less than $3000), the second is a 1982 Chevy based, which cost less than $4000. The last is a 1983 Ford (I don’t know how much it cost). Personally, a Class C is not a good fit for me, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be perfect for you like it is for my friends. In this post I’m going to try to fairly present their pros and cons for you to decide for yourself.

This is a mid-80s 18 foot Mobile Traveler Class C. It is one of the bet rigs I have ever seen in person! He gets 10 mpg and carries a Honda Trail 50 on the front bumper that gets 100 mpg. The shorty, Mobile Travelers are in high demand so it was not cheap.

This is a mid-80s 18 foot Mobile Traveler Class C. It is one of the best rigs I have ever seen in person! He gets 10 mpg and carries a Honda Trail 50 on the front bumper that gets 100 mpg. The shorty, Mobile Travelers are in high demand so it was not cheap.

Here are some reasons you should strongly consider an older Class C:

1) Older vehicles are easier to work on and parts are surprisingly available. Chances are good that you can find any parts you need and lots of people to work on it.

2) Because they have a regular van nose, you sit in a fairly normal position and adjusting to driving one is easier than a Class A. Class Bs are overpriced to begin with and hold their resale value very well. It’s much harder to find one if you are a very tight budget ($2000-$3000).

3) Most Class C comes with big engines that allow them to tow the car you already own. That way you can minimize driving it and once you set up camp, you park the RV and drive your car (that gets 30-40 mpg). If you don’t move camp very often, you never have to break camp and you won’t spend much on gas. I know you are probably thinking it must be too hard and you can’t do it–yes you can! Towing is much easier than you would think, anyone can learn to hitch and un-hitch the toad and it is not difficult at all. You can be unhitched in just a few minutes. The actual towing is amazingly easy—you can do it.

4) The hitch can be expensive, but there are lots of used ones commonly available. By getting your RV now, you can take your time and wait for a used one to be for sale in your area. Be aware that not all cars can be towed (for example, most automatic transmissions can’t be towed), that is something to research. If your car can’t be towed, this will give you time to sell or trade it for one that can be.

Here is a close-up of the Fesitva hitched up. You have to buy the part that attaches to the car for each car, so you probably won't find it used. Everything else is universal and very commonly available used.  Each of the arms has a pneumatic arm so all you have to do is get close and then pull the arm to the vehicle to hook it. That makes it easy!

Here is a close-up of the Fesitva hitched up. You have to buy the part that attaches to the car for each car, so you probably won’t find it used. Everything else is universal and commonly available used for half price. Each of the arms is pneumatic so all you have to do is get close and then pull the arm to the vehicle to hook it. That makes it easy!

5) You can buy a good used Class C for very little money. Since you are a few years away from going mobile, you can start right now to save money to buy an older used Class C. You need to start selling stuff anyway so sell everything you can for the most money you can and save it toward the Class C. You should be able to get one for $2000-$3000 (with luck, you can even get them for less!). So if you can save $200 a month, in a year you can afford one. Since you have so much time, you can keep looking until you find the very best deal on the very best RV.

6) Most of them get driven very little so they are easy to find with low miles. Because the engines from that era didn’t last very long, it’s also very easy to find one with a rebuilt engine and transmission. If you buy wisely, and drive it very little, you might be looking at many trouble-free years from the engine and transmission.

This is a friends 1979 Class C. I cae with 70,000 miles and rebuilt engine and transmission. He drove it for many years with little or no problems.

This is a friends 1979 Class C. It came with 70,000 miles and rebuilt engine and transmission. He drove it for many years with little or no problems.

7) You can start taking trips and vacations in it while you are getting ready to go mobile. That way you can learn the ins and outs of RVing and mobile living while still in the security of your home.

8) You can get a realistic idea of how little they hold so you can know how much of your “stuff” you have to get rid of. Because they are so much bigger than a van, you won’t have to get rid of as much stuff or make as many really hard decisions

9) Once you have it you can slowly work on repairing and upgrading it at your leisure and as you can afford it. So if you are handy, you can buy one that is basically sound but needs some easy repairs and get it much cheaper For example, if it needs a brake job, you can save for a month or two and then get brakes put on it. Or if it’s great but it needs new tires you can buy a new tire a month as you can afford it. After 6 months you will have all new tires.

This is the kitchen of a friends Class C. He wanted it to look like home so he painted all the cabinets in cheery colors he liked, making it very homey!

This is the kitchen of a friends Class C. He wanted it to look like home so he painted the roof and all the cabinets in cheery colors he liked, making it very homey!

10) The key thing is to find the problems when you are buying it and get a discount for them. If you aren’t a mechanic or RV tech, be sure to have it inspected thoroughly by one and get a full written report. Use that as your negotiating tool.

11) The transition to a Class C will be MUCH easier than to a van because they have lots of room and comforts. Moving into a van can be a terrible shock because they are so tiny and unfamiliar. Moving into a Class C is much easier because they have so much room and they look like a little home. For one thing, you can stand up in one!! It’s hard to underestimate how great that is! Instead of sitting on a 5 gallon bucket, you can step into a real bathroom, shut the door and sit on a real toilet—admittedly it will be tiny, but it will still obviously be a bathroom. It should have a real shower, and most of us really do want the comfort of a shower.

Here are some BIG disadvantages of a Class C:

1) There is a LOT more that can go wrong. The many living systems in the house part of the RV all get old and fail. The Fridge is especially fragile and likely to be a problem. But the plumbing can have leaks anywhere in it, the hot water heater can be rusted out, the furnace can be burned out. The holding tanks and lines can be a nightmare if not well taken care of. A van has NONE of those things so it will nickel and dime you much less for repairs!

2) It will be 30-40 years old. Not only are the mechanical elements very old, but just time and old-age will damage rubber seals, belts, hoses and many other parts of the vehicle. Rust and corrosion can be hidden many places where you can’t see it. Some parts might be obsolete. For example, many of the wheels on older RVs don’t have tires made for them anymore, so you may have to pay a fortune for tires or buy all new wheels and tires. For the same amount of money you can pretty easily buy a van that is less than 20 years old.

My friend Wayne (in the white shirt) and his Class C with the Mistubishi Montero he tows. It gets 20 mpg and has great 4x4 letting him go and ekplore wherever he wants.

My friend Wayne (in the white shirt) and his Class C with the Mistubishi Montero he tows. It gets 20 mpg and has great 4×4 letting him go and explore wherever he wants.

3) There is an extreme risk of hidden damage you might miss. For example, there could be dry rot in the walls and a leak in the roof that you can’t see. The tires might look great with good tread but be so old and sun damaged they are death traps. I’m not enough of a mechanic to even begin to tell you all that could be wrong—which is why you MUST get it inspected BEFORE you buy it by someone who is competent.

4) They get terrible gas mileage (5-8 mpg)! But to be fair, modern RVs really don’t do a whole lot better. The heavy weight and terrible aerodynamics of an RV requires a big engine working hard, and they all suck-up gas. But those big engines have a big advantage as well: they make it pretty easy to tow an economy car. All of my friends do. One has an older Ford Festiva that gets an honest 40 mpg and the other has an older Mitsubishi Montero 4×4 that gets and honest 20 mpg and has very good off-road abilities; finally the last one has a Toyota pickup that is ultra-reliable and gets 22 mpg. It gives them a lot of flexibility in where and how they live and travel and they are very comfortable at the same time. When you balance the terrible MPG of the RV with the much better MPG of the towed vehicle (commonly called a toad) the overall balance is actually pretty good.

5) They are big, cumbersome beasts and will not go many places a van will go.

What about a Toyota Class C?

Some people absolutely love the Toyota Class C. I think of them as under-powered and over-weight--a terrible combination.

Some people absolutely love the Toyota Class C. I think of them as under-powered and over-weight–a terrible combination.

I haven’t owned or spent much time in one, so bear that in mind as I comment. I do know several people who travel in them and who love them. My problem with them is they have a small engine working very, very hard all the time. Granted, it is one of the best engines ever made, but it still works very hard all the time. To be honest I think you would be better off with the big, mediocre engine like a 460 Ford or 454 Chevy and tow an economy car like a Geo Metro, Ford Festive or older Honda Civic. Getting 40 MPG with the car will much more than offset the 7 MPG of the RV if you park and sit in one place. At the end of the year you will spend less on gas than the Toyota and you will have a lot more room and comfort. The Toyota is much too underpowered and overloaded to tow anything. Those two words mean I will never own a Toyota Class C. The Toyota Chinook is another thing altogether and not really a Class C. I would strongly consider owning one of those, but they are very hard to find.

The Toyota Chinook is a great little rig I recommend. But they are difficult to find.

The Toyota Chinook is a great little rig I recommend. But they are difficult to find.

An older Class C is not the choice I have made, but for some people it is the very BEST possible choice!!

Bob
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I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

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