THE STAYING POWER OF OLDER RVS

I can still remember the excitement I felt riding in the back of our gold station wagon (with a 455-cubic engine!) that pulled my family’s 1970 Starcraft travel trailer. It was an older RV but my siblings and I didn’t care. We were off for a weekend of adventure that meant time to roam the woods, explore caves, and roast marshmallows around a campfire. My childhood was filled with road trips and weekends at campgrounds that remain some of my fondest memories. The love of the road is a gene I inherited from my parents.

Like the one belonging to my parents, our own first RV, a 1996 Jayco folding camping trailer, was over a decade old. We had a small budget but big plans to give our kids oodles of childhood memories. Although that RV was 13 years old when we bought it, it gave us years of fun as we camped on the shores of the Pacific Ocean or under a canopy of Redwoods. It required very little aside from general maintenance and was in exceptional shape for its age.

When we decided to become full time RVers in 2011, we bought a five-year-old fifth wheel. We purchased it from the original owners who had been meticulous about maintenance. We put over 50 thousand miles on that RV with very few problems proving a used RV with a little care can provide miles upon miles of wonderful memories.

Since our little Jayco, we’ve owned three more RVs including a vintage Avion that was as sturdy as a tank but the wrong floorplan for our family and an older Airstream that we are currently customizing. These RVs had one thing in common: regular maintenance. Whether new or used, regular maintenance is the key to keeping your RV on the road for many years to come.

We aren’t the only ones with stories of older well-loved RVs. I talked to other people who bought new and kept the same RV for many years or who decided to buy an older RV. If you are considering purchasing an older rig or wondering how long your new rig might last, read on for these encouraging stories showcasing the staying power of older RVs.

Todd and Tammy Smith purchased a new 2001 Terry travel trailer to live in while they built a house. At the time they had 7 children and lived in it for about 8 months. Since then it’s been used heavily, for camping, summers visiting family and twice they used it for extended trips traveling across the US. One trip lasted for 7 months and another for 6 months. Tammy says, “It has held up remarkably well. We make sure it’s winterized each season, lube the slide, seals, and gaskets. We have remodeled it several times, most recently painting the interior walls, cabinets, and trim. We have resealed the roof twice. It’s important to inspect the roof regularly, and if looking at an older rig, check for soft spots. We have also repaired a minor tear in the awning. Water is the biggest enemy of an RV. Making sure it’s tight with no leaks will keep it in good shape.”

The Weed Family has been a full time RVing family for 18 years. Living in Beverly Hills, CA, they hit the road, so they could spend more time as a family since Kevin, the dad, was spending so much time away for work. They have visited 45 states and their oldest son has driven across the entire United States at least a dozen times! Tara says this about their first RV, “We lived and traveled in our old RV, which we bought new, for over 14 years. Yes, it had issues but was a solidly built rig.” They are grateful for the memories they made in their first RV and sometimes still miss it. Moving out into their new rig was bittersweet indeed.

After considering a 5th wheel the Chan family decided on a 1985 34’ Airstream. While their RV has its quirks, overall, it’s been a good rig for their family. Maintenance so far has been replacing the tires and lubing anything that moves, as well as a few fan replacements. Bigger things they plan to do are strip and reseal all the exterior seams and lube the window gaskets. Their advice for people in the market for a used RV, “If you are going to consider an older rig, definitely spend the money to get it professionally inspected. While we love our rig, there are some things that we found later on which might have made us continue looking for another one. Even though we had a good checklist and were pretty thorough, there are some things we see now that were symptomatic of other potential issues. We could have negotiated for a lower price and at least went in with eyes wide open.”

The Siemens family chose a 2007 Newmar Allstar 3950 because they loved the layout. They decided to buy used for a few reasons. One, the floorplan was perfect for their family and it was only available in 2007. In addition, they wanted to be able to customize without feeling bad for taking out brand new furniture and painting new cabinets. They say, “We renovated the entire inside complete with new furniture. We have done regular oil changes and the ONLY maintenance we have had to do is replace a wheel bearing!! I always encourage people to buy older rigs for the reasons listed above and to take the time to renovate it to make it your own! Our RV is unique and is a perfect home for us!!”

It started with a single picture that popped up in a search for vintage trailers. Scott and Corrinne Gilbertson were not looking for a motorhome, but a bit of research revealed that the sleek, blue and white 60s-looking RV was a Dodge Travco. Travcos were once king of the RVs, Johnny Cash toured in one and John Wayne used one on several sets. Today while there are still quite a few on the road, they aren’t very common. The Gilbertsons continued to watch Craigslist somewhat obsessively until, about six months later, they found one that was what they were looking for, at a price they liked. They brought it home and got to work. It took about eighteen months to get it road ready. They’ve had it now for almost three years and lived in it full time for the last nine months. Scott says, “There have been challenges, and it definitely has quirks, but we love it. And, as a kind of bonus, we’ve met scores of people in our travels who came over to just  talk to us about our RV.”

Dustin bought a used 1995 Cobra 26’ 5th wheel by Sierra. There were a few problems but Dustin is handy and has dealt with almost everything, plus adding improvements that are not always found in older RVs like LED lighting. His advice about owning an older RV, “All in all, this little, old RV works great for me. I do wish it had a slide out, but the price was right. As of right now, it’s just me in it. The water heater will (mostly likely) need maintenance right away when you buy it. Plan on replacing the anode rod immediately. These are pretty easy to replace and give you a good opportunity to inspect the tank. The anode rod is designed to take all the corrosion and to fail, keeping your water heater safe and in good working order. Also, plan on replacing the smoke detector as they usually have a 10-year expiration date. This is a good time to upgrade to a smoke and CO detector. It is advisable to install a propane detector on the floor at this time. Not all older units have them.”

Whether new or used or in between, with regular maintenance and care you can expect many years of enjoyment and miles of memories in your RV. What about you? Do you have an older RV with staying power that you love? We’d love to hear your story!