We've read many comments to various posts about how the reader would love to have a Class B motorhome but it is just out of their budget. Mike has addressed ten reasons you may want a Class B camper van over a Class A or Class C motorhome despite their higher cost per square foot. So perhaps you decided that, yes indeed, a Class B is just what you need. Then you looked at the price and choked.
It is a matter of priority, but if your budget is such that buying a new Class B RV means you must postpone retirement for several years, then you may be missing some of the best years for traveling in your Class B! You might think an all-electric Roadtrek eTrek would be perfect for your lifestyle, but if $140k is beyond your budget, that doesn't mean you must give up your dream of traveling in a wonderful and comfortable Class B. (Roadtrek does build various Class B models at a range of price points, the eTrek is near the top.)
If you can afford to buy a decent car, you can afford a decent Class B. We're very familiar with Roadtrek models, and Roadtrek has been building very nice Class B motorhomes for 40 years! They have always been expensive, and were mostly purchased by financially well-off empty nesters who took very good care of them. They seldom drove them in the winter. That means there are some great older Class B's out there for those of us that either can't afford, or choose not to tie up that much money in a motorhome.
If you want to buy an “experienced” Class B, do your homework. Research the brands and the models as well as prices. Generally they sell for more than the “blue book” value, but you may be able to find one for the right price if you shop carefully and take your time. Find out what are the most common problems with the models you are considering. Be very wary of rust. Get an expert inspection of both the vehicle and the motorhome parts if you are not able to evaluate those yourself. Some older Class B motorhomes didn't come with all the options. Notably the generator, and some didn't include shower or water heater. But an older generator with low hours is NOT a good thing. If it has less than one elapsed hour per month, you are likely to be facing some expensive generator issues. But do you even need a generator?
When we went looking for a Roadtrek, we wanted an older one. One reason was to make sure we would use one enough to be worth spending a lot of money on a newer one. We didn't start out looking for a Roadtrek. We rented a small Class C and decided it was a klutzy truck. But a good friend loaned us her 1999 Roadtrek 190 Versatile for a weekend and we were sold. We knew we wanted a Popular rather than the Versatile. How did we know? Roadtrek's website nicely includes brochures for years back to 1978 (click here), so you can check out floor plans and features of past models. We also joined the Yahoo Roadtrek List — which does not require you own a Roadtrek– and looked through the archives there.
We started searching around, not terribly seriously, and found a 1995 Dodge 190 Popular just 40 miles away advertised on the Roadtrek International website. We went and looked, and left a deposit. It had all the options except an Onan generator.
After a test drive, we saw it was in very nice shape, and looking underneath it showed little rust (the most expensive thing to have fixed). We liked the handling of the 1995 over the 1999. Dodge went through a chassis redesign in between that changed the handling adversely. The widowed owner was relieved to have someone local interested. We arranged for inspections for both the chassis and the motorhome equipment . We highly recommend that you make any offer contingent on inspection results. It was going to be challenging for the owner to get that done, but she was willing. That was on a Friday. Sunday we called back and offered her a lower price as is — no inspections. She took our offer. We were aware that the tires needed replacement due to age, not wear. It needed new shocks and brakes. Later we only found two things on the motorhome side that needed repair — a broken water line from the fresh water tank and it needed a new furnace control board. The house battery was a little weak as well, but it got us through the first six months. By the time all was done, we had a very sound, attractive motorhome for an investment of about $12,000. The investment was about half the cost of our Chrysler minivan. All in all, not a bad starting point to learn if the Class B lifestyle was for us.
One of the great things about buying a used camper is that you are free to modify it to suit your tastes and lifestyle. No worries about warranty nullification or resale value. We learned lots of great ideas from the internet – especially the Yahoo Roadtrek email list and the Class B Forum. And not just from Class B owners –there are many others with wonderful ideas. We eventually created our own website showing our many modifications (click here). Another advantage of an older Class B is that is it not so valuable a vehicle that you can't allow friends to use it. Red Rover took a trip out west with Lynn's brother's family.
Of course we said that our older Roadtrek was a great investment to try out the Class B lifestyle. We were hooked, but we also fell in love with OUR Roadtrek. Red Rover was more than just a 1995 Dodge 190 Popular — he was our home away from home, our beach house, our cabin in the woods. Our changes just made him better. We admired some new Roadtreks, but they never felt as homey as our Red Rover. We love that the dinette comfortably seats four people for dinner. We love the view through the big Dodge back window. We love that the generator is in a compartment rather than slung underneath. We love the warm oak cabinets and the blue upholstery. Its beds are extremely comfortable. We enjoy the myriad little changes we made to create our Roadtrek home.
We began to worry about Red Rover's age. But Lynn is still driving her 1974 car – Red Rover was a mere infant in comparison. Our mechanic said a Dodge 318 engine should go 300,000 miles but we'd probably have to replace / rebuild the transmission about 200,000 miles. We knew from experience that rust that kills most vehicles. Yes, we could buy a new or newer Roadtrek, but we would loose so many things we had come to love. So we fixed the rust hiding under the window frames, got a new paint job, and have planned for future transmission replacement and engine rebuild when the time comes. We purchased a LG replacement for the Fedders A/C unit in preparation for the day it dies. And we are still financially way ahead of buying a new Class B RV.
There are lots of neat features on the newer vehicles, but you don't need all those bells and whistles to discover if a Class B is really for you. Start with something more modest. Class Bs hold their value very well after the initial depreciation drop, so you should have no trouble selling if you decide after a year or two that the eTrek really is perfect for you. Very few people spend $3000 on their first bicycle, they start with the $300 bicycle (or that $25 garage sale special). Once you learn you are going to really use it, then splurge on the fancy stuff. Or perhaps you will decide that fine classic is just what you want after all.
We love to travel and would never be content to stay in one place in a monster behemoth. And after five years and 80,000 miles of experience we wouldn't trade our Red Rover for the most gorgeous eTrek out there.