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Used Class B or Class C Motorhome - Advice Sought
Old 05-14-2016, 05:26 PM   #1
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Used Class B or Class C Motorhome - Advice Sought

As you may have seen from another thread, I am thinking about purchasing an older RV/motorhome, with the goal of living in it full-time if all goes well. The idea originally began germinating in the late 1980's/early 1990's, and I started thinking about it more seriously after stopping work 7 years ago. The plan is to do mainly boondocking, both urban and in rural areas, utilizing any cheap or free State Parks I can find, and BLM land from time to time. The main reason for the urban boondocking is so that I can see my best friend here in the SF East Bay on a reasonably regular basis. The exact personal details get a bit complicated, but she's somewhere between a close friend and an SO. Bottom line is that, by choice, I have few close friends, and she's important to me (and my sanity!) She's not interested in RV'ing, and unable to do it due to having to work and other commitments. She is, however, open to me picking her up and taking her somewhere on her days off, so there are all sorts of possibilities there. For instance, there's a winery in Napa that allows overnight boondocking, which would make a great place for a nice dinner in the 4-wheeled home accompanied by a bottle of their wine, and a nice Napa sunset.

I have followed a lot of blogs and YouTube channels and feel quite well-versed in many aspects of the life. I am not going into this blind but at the same time, there is always more to learn and of course, there is nothing like actually doing it.

I'm interested in either a Class B or Class C. I'd much prefer the greater space of a Class C, as I'll be sharing it with 2 or 3 kitties, depending on how long my eldest sticks around. She's OK now, but it may still be a few years before I'm ready to begin the RV odyssey. On the other hand, the advantages of a Class B, as I see it, are the ability to park in regular-sized spaces (very helpful when in urban areas), the greater stealth factor when boondocking on the street, and in general, the better maneuverability. Better gas mileage wouldn't hurt either. I also like the idea of what I think would be the greater structural integrity, and possibly fewer problems with roof leaks in an older unit.

On the other hand, Class C's are roomier.

Even though my budget is limited, I don't want the very cheapest thing I can find. The goal is an adventure - not a nightmare! The blogs and YouTube channels of 2 particular individuals come to mind, who both seemed to spend an awful lot of time fixing things. Both of them had bought older RV's, and both were of a brand (the same one) which is more intended for recreational, as opposed to full-time use. With Class B's I am quite keen on RoadTrek and Pleasure Way, and am currently leaning towards a 1990's-era Dodge Xplorer. In the world of Class C's one brand in particular sticks out as being of particularly solid construction, as well as having thick insulation, and a one-piece aluminum roof (good for leaks), and that is Lazy Daze.

Anyway, if you've read this far, thank you for sticking it out. I'm open to comments of all types, even if only peripherally related. In particular though, I'm interested in any input you can give that could help me hone in on exactly what to look for in an RV/camper/motorhome. If there is a brand/engine/year that is known to be especially good or to be avoided at all costs, I'd be very interested to know. If you think I'm nuts for even thinking of living in a class B with 2 or 3 cats, I'm open to those comments too.

What I'm really looking for though, is input along the lines of, "The 1995 Acme Adventurer is built on a solid Whizzbang chassis, and the V8 engine is very reliable. Mine is at 180,000 miles with just regular maintenance, though an engine rebuild will be needed soon. Also, the roof is made from a single piece of kryptonite by elves, and has never leaked."

This is the part where I share actual dollar figures, and you throw your hands up and decide that I'm out of my mind. I don't want to spend more than 15-20K total on a rig, that total including any initial work required to get it road-worthy (including a 200-300W solar install, if it doesn't already have one). In other words, if it's completely spiffy inside and out, and ready to take on a trip, 20K is the absolute maximum I want to pay (preferably less). If it needs some work, then my max price would be proportionally lower. Really, I'm hoping to get into this for 15K.

Any and all input gratefully received.
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Old 05-14-2016, 05:32 PM   #2
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- and the ads for Pleasure Way motorhomes have already begun appearing on the right-hand side of the screen!
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Old 05-14-2016, 05:34 PM   #3
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For Class C, I highly recommend Born Free. They are made by a small company in Humboldt, Iowa. They are fiberglass with 3 steel roll bars (a redwood tree fell on one during the night a few years back and while it was totaled, no one sleeping inside was injured). The craftsmanship is excellent, and there is an active owners club with a discussion forum that helps out new owners with upgrades and maintenance. Also, the service manager at the factory is helpful to all owners regardless of the age of the coach. There are many 15-20 year old coaches still out there going strong.

The discussion forum is open to the public and if you find a coach you want to ask questions about, you can register and post.

Born Free Leap'n Lions RV Club • Index page

(My parents bought one back in the 1980s and loved it, and we have a 2013 model that was custom designed to accommodate DH's power wheelchair.)

I'd be happy to answer any other specific questions you have about them as well. Happy searching!
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Old 05-14-2016, 05:47 PM   #4
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Your price range is low, but I have a relative who bought a high mileage older Roadtrek 190 for about $20K, although this was around 10 years ago. He and his DW drove it through 48 states in the course of a year and had practically no trouble at all. They seem to be quite reliable, and they loved it. When they came to visit us during their travels, they even eschewed use of our guest bedroom, preferring our driveway because they had become so comfortable and used to sleeping in the Roadtrek. It won't be easy, but you might consider trying to find one that fits your budget.
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Old 05-14-2016, 05:48 PM   #5
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I cannot help you with recommendation of different brands, simply because I have limited experience, having owned only one class C and a mediocre one at that.

But I can tell that the trade-off between a class B and a class C is a really tough one. Without a toad for excursions and running errands, a class C is really cumbersome to drive into town, even a medium-sized 25' one like mine. And many class B's are just too small for full-time living.

It looks like you will be living alone most of the time (cats take up little space), so a class B may be OK for full-time living. If buying a class B, I would not go for the smallest one. It may drive you nuts. They are meant for traveling, not for full-time living.
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Old 05-14-2016, 05:50 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Major Tom View Post
I don't want to spend more than 15-20K total on a rig, that total including any initial work required to get it road-worthy (including a 200-300W solar install, if it doesn't already have one). In other words, if it's completely spiffy inside and out, and ready to take on a trip, 20K is the absolute maximum I want to pay (preferably less). If it needs some work, then my max price would be proportionally lower. Really, I'm hoping to get into this for 15K.
As you probably already know, in your price range you'll be looking at a Class B that's about 15 years old or more. I don't think I would choose to live full-time in something as space-constrained as a Class B.
A question:
- Are you dead-set on a Class B or Class C only? There are many fiberglass "egg" trailers (Scamp, Casita, ets) that are famous for requiring very few repairs and can be bought (used, good condition) for $10K or less, and towed with small SUVs, etc. They'd provide more practical living space than a Class B. True, they'd be terrible in built-up urban environments, but a Class B and esp a Class C is also poor. Instead you'd have a nimble tow vehicle for going into the city, and could go back to your "base station" at night. (Anyway, where would anyone find a street level enough to sleep on in the Bay area?). These fiberglass trailers are in demand, and you probably not take big hit on depreciation. As a practical matter, full-timing might be more practical with a separate vehicle for running to town, doing shopping, etc rather than having to haul your house everywhere you go.
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31' Ford chassis RV bought by friends
Old 05-14-2016, 06:48 PM   #7
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31' Ford chassis RV bought by friends

I am going to tell a little story here as to my experiences with a 1994 RV with 45,000 original miles on it that two of my best friends bought late last year as a "retirement project" of sorts. The idea here was to have a camper for periodic use that two guys and their families could use in Texas when the desire arose. Bear in mind that not all old, used RV's are like this, but it is an example of what can be had if you are not diligent in the purchase of one.

Both of my friends are retired professionals with no real "fix it" skills as they came out of careers where they were in sales or senior management. Both can handle light repair work if directed, but have little troubleshooting abilities. They have plenty of time and money though!

They bought a ~ 31' RV, Ford V8 powered from an old gent in town that bought it years earlier with the intention of doing the same in retirement. However, he got too old to do much travel (80's) and sank about $18K in this RV (new Michelin tires, rebuilt transmission, swapped out the interior living area stuff, etc, etc). This spending was over a 5 year period. He (his wife) showed us the receipts.

My buddies buy this thing for $5K. Here is a recent picture at a local camp site (click on the picture for a larger view):

IMG_20160224_175615466_HDR.jpg

Nice looking rig, eh?

When they bought it, the RV had not run in a while. Brake calipers were leaking and the battery was dead. About $1,200 was spent having a complete brake job done and replacing the battery.

Once they got it roadworthy, I was asked to shake it down. The cab A/C was not working and that required a new compressor and drier, plus recharge. They spent $800 on that. Also during that repair, we replaced the serpinetine drive belt and did an oil change. I noticed the dual wheels did not have air valve extensions out to the outside wheel and those were added along with a missing hubcap (lost coming home).

It was decided that the interior was not up to snuff so they sprang for new wall paper and window blinds. I don't know what they spent on that. The bed in the back area and the mattress above the cab were both shot so another $600 or so was spent replacing those. In the meantime, we noticed the Formica on the counter, sink, and table was peeling up in places. The decision was made to have it replaced ($1500). While the tops of the sinks were off, I replaced some of the sink and water heater poly piping as there were old water stains near it. New cabinet door stays were put in and I replaced the under cabinet electrical outlets because they could not hold a plug. Interestingly, those special wall plugs are made for campers and cost around $12 each.

On the Maiden voyage (see picture), the 80 gallon fresh water tank plumbing under the rear bed started leaking and we had to drain the whole tank. Fixing the plumbing (total replace job) was a pain in the @$$ as we had to remove the entire bed and rear closet to get at the lines. We spent $300 in parts. I did the work saving them $$$.

Other issues included finding water leak from the roof vent in the bathroom and a water leak where the TV antenna (analog, mind you!) bolts to the roof. We fixed those leaks and replaced the antenna with a new, modern one for $300. Also, the standby generator was not charging the second battery and new switch gear had to be installed along with a new battery. Another $250.

Since the unit had a history of water leaks, although well hidden, two storage compartments had sheet metal bottoms that looked like Swiss cheese. So we cut plywood floor inserts for those.

Another issue is that the dash has no provision for charging cell phones, etc. I added a $25 USB outlet with 4 USB ports and fixed the cigar lighter which was dead.

Right now the RV is having all the existing old seam sealant removed to eliminate future leaks. That is being done at a local RV shop and I'll bet the bill will be $500 or more. The guys think they have about $11,000 in this RV at the moment and it has become a bit more reliable, however, it is still an aged unit. Remember, a lot of the fix it was by me (us). The real test will come this summer when living quarters A/C is tested for capacity. I could add more, but you get the picture.

Bottom line of this very long reply is that if you are to buy an older RV, really have it looked over and also make sure it has been sealed up so it is water tight. Also, electronics should have been upgraded for use with modern stuff.
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Old 05-14-2016, 07:55 PM   #8
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Let me get it straight. You want a Class B or Class C for urban boondocking in the East SF area? Are you looking for a free or inexpensive place to stay every night--like in a Walmart parking lot?

The Class B's are travel vehicles and rather small on the inside. The Class C's are marginal on room and just as expensive as a entry level Class A. And used, they can all be full of surprises since they're all so complicated--and high maintenance.

You might do better to find a RV or trailer park that allows RV's and just get a 5th wheel trailer with slides to park on a semi-permanent basis. Mine has great room and would be just fine to live in full time. Moving from here to there is just not very desirable to me. And I've been a RV'er since 1995.
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Old 05-14-2016, 07:59 PM   #9
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Major Tom talked about wanting to travel and to see the US. So, camping out long-term in an RV park will not be his goal.

While traveling and staying one night here and there at RV parks, I have run across many campgrounds where people parked their travel trailer or 5th wheel long-term for use as a 2nd home, when they want to escape the city. One man at a campground in New Brunswick told me that he did not even have a truck to pull it. He hired someone to tow it to the campground and leave it there as his summer home.

What was more interesting was that in the winter when the campground shut down, he moved back to his apartment in town. And it was less than 10 miles from the RV. A lot of people did that in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. At many commercial campgrounds, we were among the few travelers.

And no, there are no permanent residents at these campgrounds. They would freeze their buns off, so everything shuts down in mid October, and everyone goes home, leaving their RV behind on long-term leased lots. The RV park owner locks up, then heads south to the US or Mexico.
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Old 05-14-2016, 08:04 PM   #10
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The idea of stealth factor when boondocking on the street and class B motorhome is really funny...

You might be able to stealth mode park a van with tinted windows on a street, but not a rig like a motorhome.

Get a truck and trailer, and you can park the trailer and then drive into town in a pickup truck and fit right in. (as others have suggested).
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Old 05-14-2016, 08:11 PM   #11
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I've been thinking on this too (not seriously) and the thought of driving this large truck around is kinda scary. I guess that's why I see a lot of RV's going down the road towing small cars behind them.

Me thinks the pickup truck with the 5th wheel makes sense. Drop the trailer in the park and do the local w/o the load. Rinse and repeat.
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Old 05-14-2016, 08:13 PM   #12
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I was going to ask if you were mechanical and could do your own repairs but think aja8888 covered that. Do your cats get car sick?
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Old 05-14-2016, 08:20 PM   #13
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Quote:
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The idea of stealth factor when boondocking on the street and class B motorhome is really funny...

You might be able to stealth mode park a van with tinted windows on a street, but not a rig like a motorhome...
A man has described how he was able to park his class B in the middle of SF, on a steep street, and had a photo to prove it. In one of his blog posts, he described how he had not paid once for campground fees in the 2 or 3 years since he started out.

He's a semi-ER professional musician. He has now gone even smaller, and lives in a VW Vanagon that he modified. He travels quite a bit, and is not an urban camper except for when he needs to be in town. He lives in the national forests more often than in the cities.
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Old 05-14-2016, 08:49 PM   #14
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Basically, the mobility and stealth factor of a B is hard to beat. If you are on the go a lot, then that really helps, as well as the fuel economy. The main drawback is the small interior room for a full-timer. Here, it depends on the individual. A full-timer in a class B tends to be a single male.

If you have two vehicles, either a pickup pulling a trailer or a motorhome pulling a car, then you give up the mobility for the ability to detach them and use the pickup or the towed car to make excursions or to run errands. After 6 years of RV'ing, my wife and I agree that our class C pulling a car makes the most sense for us.

When I feel tired and want to pull over in a rest area or a truck stop to take a nap, I just shut down the engine and go to the bed in the back. In comparison, I have seen people scrambling in the snow or rain to go from their pickup to the trailer in the back. Same for people with truck camper.

I can detach or reattach the car to the motorhome in just a few minutes. I don't know how long it takes for one to do the same with a 5th wheel or a travel trailer, but I doubt that they can beat me. Again, it all depends on how much mobility one desires.

Sorry that I have deviated quite a bit from Major Tom's desire. And that is he wants to know the recommendations for a good used class B or class C.
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Old 05-14-2016, 08:59 PM   #15
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Some great replies and useful input - thank you.

MBAustin - thanks for the recommendation. I don't know much about Born Free, but have bookmarked the forum, and will do some more reading. It is quality construction that I am interested in, so will give these some consideration.

braumeister - Roadtrek was the first brand of motorhome/camper that grabbed my attention when I began to think more seriously on the subject back in 2009. I noticed that they have a strong and loyal following, and it seems with good reason too.

NW-Bound - I do like my creature comforts, and am becoming painfully aware that I will not get everything I want in an RV/motorhome. What I do hope, however, is that I will adapt, and the benefits of the lifestyle will more than make up for the shortcomings. Yes, the trade-offs between Class B's and C's are tough ones to decide between. I am hoping that I'll be able to find a way to live comfortably in a Class B, as the other benefits are really worth something to me.

samclem - Yes, I'm pretty much decided on either a B or a C. I really want something in which the driving cab is connected to the living space. One reason is the ability to turn the key and leave fairly quickly without having to go outside first, if need be. In reality, I doubt the need will present itself very often, if at all, but when camping on the street in built-up areas, it's nice to know that option is there. To a lesser extent, the driving area becomes a small part of the living area too, as a passenger captain's seat can swivel round and be used for seating in the living space. I know a separate tow vehicle is handy for jaunts into town, but my compromise in that area will be to hang a bicycle to the tow hitch and use that instead (obviously only for relatively short trips).

aja8888 - Thank you for the long and detailed response. The first thing I did before reading the text was to look at the photo, and notice that it is a Four Winds RV. Although I don't know a lot about them, I have read enough to not include them on my list of brands I'd trust if I were buying them as used, older vehicles. The happy customers seem to be mainly the folk who bought them new or nearly new, who didn't live in them full-time, and who didn't own them for long enough to see problems. I've read too many instances of owners who ran into multiple problems once their units were old, or got past around 50,000 miles. On a similar note, Tioga George seemed to spend a great deal of time fixing problems on his Tioga, as did Eric aka Nomadic Fanatic, with his. I wouldn't buy an older Tioga or Four Winds. Before starting this thread, the only brand of Class C I'd want to buy used was Lazy Daze but now, thanks to MB Austin, I may be able to add Born Free to that list.

There is a mechanic in this area who used to work at the Lazy Daze factory. He has also worked at RV dealerships and as an independent mechanic and RV technician. I'd be keen to have him check out a Class C before buying, if I were to go the Class C route. The last thing I want is a money pit on wheels. I'm budgeting on an average of $250/month ($3K/year) for maintenance, and hope I can keep it close to that figure. Mind you, perhaps spending just a little more on the rig would end up costing me less in maintenance over the longer term? I'm trying to figure out what that sweet spot is.

Bamaman - yes, NW-Bound is right. I don't want to stay in any one place for too long. Although I'll probably stay within 50-100 miles of home at first, I hope to get the SO used to me taking longer trips, so that I can at least explore the Western states more. Once she gets used to it, I think she'll be OK with us seeing each other a little less often. She has health issues right now and really needs my presence, but those should all be dealt with by the end of the year.

Sunset - stealth, at least the way I interpret it, doesn't refer so much to no-one knowing that a vehicle might actually be lived in, but more that no-one minds. I've followed blogs and vlogs by several experienced urban boondockers, and they say the same thing - that it has more to do with whether people mind your presence or not. From what I've read, residents and homeowners seem to mind Class B's less than they do Class C's, especially if you don't stay in any one location for more than 2 days max. If I ever try it out, I'll let you know.

RobbieB - thanks, but I'm just not into 5th wheels, partially for reasons stated above. I do understand the advantages of separating the living space from the engine and drive train. Perhaps I'll come around.

splitdw - I don't know much about engines. All I'm comfortable doing is changing oil, hoses, filters, and things like that. I'm OK with electrical, and would like the chance to install a solar system. My problem with any physical/mechanical task is that I'm very slow, and often obsessed with getting it perfect. Because I haven't done a lot of this kind of stuff in the past, I read volumes before even picking up a tool, and when performing the task, will often keep referring back to the books. What would take an experienced technician a day would take me many, many days - perhaps even a week or three

NW-Bound - I love both of Glenn Morrisette's blogs. He has a matter of fact approach, which I appreciate. He doesn't exaggerate the successes or the failures. Rather, he is earnest about accurately describing his life on the road, instead of creating a cult based around himself, which some RV bloggers and vloggers seem intent on doing. Oh, and don't worry about deviating. I always enjoy your online musings.

Thank you for all your comments so far. They are really appreciated.
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Old 05-14-2016, 09:11 PM   #16
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One more thing about the B motorhome.

I have often thought ahead, to the time when I need to downsize to a B if I want to continue to travel. My wife has never been at the wheel of this class C. What scares her is its width. It's 99" wide, and the maximum width of any vehicle, commercial trucks included, is 102". And that does not include mirror extensions. B motorhomes are significantly narrower, and also shorter.

So, when I need to downsize to a B so that my wife can help with the driving, what do I look for in a B?

I would not go for the smallest one, primarily for a decent bathroom. Yes, the concern is the bathroom, not sleeping space. We are skinny people and do not need a large bed.

The smaller B's require you to pull out some dividers for privacy when you use the toilet. And then, their waste tanks are so puny. For taking showers, they have makeshift stalls that extend out into the middle of the aisle.

I want a permanent toilet, which is also a wet bath. No pulling out a tray or dividers when you want a shower. For non-RV'ers, a wet bath means that when you take a shower, the toilet will also get wet. I think I have seen a B with a separate bath, but it is super long and expensive.

And that's my must-have in a B, even though I will be using one for travel up to a couple of months at a time, and not even for full-timing. Of course, YMMV.
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Old 05-14-2016, 09:21 PM   #17
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Some people trade in an older Born Free for a newer one - so the factory has a few for sale now and then.
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Old 05-14-2016, 09:33 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Major Tom View Post
... Sunset - stealth, at least the way I interpret it, doesn't refer so much to no-one knowing that a vehicle might actually be lived in, but more that no-one minds. I've followed blogs and vlogs by several experienced urban boondockers, and they say the same thing - that it has more to do with whether people mind your presence or not. From what I've read, residents and homeowners seem to mind Class B's less than they do Class C's, especially if you don't stay in any one location for more than 2 days max. If I ever try it out, I'll let you know.
This is very true. If someone parks a C like mine in front of my home, I will investigate and may call a cop. So, I have never parked overnight on any residential street. A B is small and non-obstrusive enough that one may get away with parking overnight in any commercial establishment parking lot, or some residential streets.

With my C that sticks out like a sore thumb, when in transit and need to stop for the night, I use rest areas, truck stops, and of course Walmarts. A full-timer who wanders around a lot more needs more options than the above.
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Old 05-14-2016, 09:57 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
This is very true. If someone parks a C like mine in front of my home, I will investigate and may call a cop. So, I have never parked overnight on any residential street. A B is small and non-obstrusive enough that one may get away with parking overnight in any commercial establishment parking lot, or some residential streets.
I have a friend who lives in an old Dodge van in Berkeley. I met her when she was living on my street in an old Class C. It was in a reasonable state of repair but admittedly, didn't look shiny and new. Most people didn't mind her being there. One of the homeowners actively liked her presence. However, one fellow reacted badly when she parked it right in front of his house. He banged on the door of the RV, yelled at her that she was lowering his property value and that if she didn't move it immediately, he'd call the cops. All this before she even had a chance to open her mouth - and she is a friendly and compliant person, who would have gladly agreed to move if he had just chatted to her in a reasonable fashion. Some people are just horrible at conflict resolution.

For the 4 1/2 brief years during which I owned a house, I remember that I wasn't too keen if any of the neighbors parked their cars in front. I never said anything, as I knew they had a legal right to do so, but it bugged me a bit, as I wanted to be able to park in front of my house if I so wanted. I imagine that I would have been even less keen if I suspected that someone was living in a vehicle right in front of my house. It's all to do with territory and space. I can understand why homeowners don't like it. That's why urban boondockers are careful where they park, and move frequently.

One boondocking video I was watching on YouTube (I forget who it was) was by a guy who had found a residential area he wanted to park in. The street was lined with houses, except for one lot, which was empty, so he parked in front of that. He doubted that anyone would give him problems about parking in front of an empty lot if he only stayed a night or two, and he was right.
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Old 05-14-2016, 10:27 PM   #20
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Our city ordinance actually prohibits the parking of commercial vehicles and RVs on the streets. However, it is not enforced until someone complains.

A guy down the street from me parked his huge new 5th wheel in front of his home for a week or two solid while he was doing some interior work on it. It blocked the view of drivers and could cause a hazard, but apparently he was on good terms with his immediate neighbors, so it was OK. However, if he parked it there permanently, it would be a big no-no.

Note that if we had an HOA, they would immediately demand that he moved his 5th wheel. HOA's typically allow parking an RV for one or two hours max for loading/unloading, and that's it. Once, I visited my aunt in the LA area and she lived in a gated community. They allowed RV parking for 2 nights max.

Anyway, most cities are not strict, same as mine, and if you pull in late at night and move out early in the morning, none will be the wiser. And if you linger for a bit, each of the home owners may think that the RV belongs to a visitor of another home. The main thing is not to park directly in front of any home, as you noted.

I know all that, but as I am just passing through town and stop for one night, driving my class C and its towed car around looking for a "stealth" place is just too much work. So, rest areas and Walmarts it is.

Now, any RV'er will have his own way to pick a good spot at Walmart for the night. Man, once I parked way too close to the loading dock, and delivery semi-trailers interrupted my sleep all night, but I was too tired to move to another spot.
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