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Retro RV - How to Save Money Buying a Used Motorhome and Upgrading It Your Way.

Updated on January 20, 2020
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don has been an avid traveler and motorhome owner for most of his life and he shares his experiences along with valuable tips for RV owners.

My used Winnebago Project

my new Used Winnebago Motorhome
my new Used Winnebago Motorhome | Source

We went Retro and we saved!

I know, it sounds weird to suggest that someone avoid purchasing a new motorhome, but let me explain.

A few years ago, my wife and I were both going through a number of health problems and even though we had a really nice motorhome, it was actually just sitting in storage and depreciating.

We were making some pretty large payments then on our RV at that time we just couldn't see any realistic health solutions available to us.

I won’t go into the details of our health at that time, but we are both diabetics, and some other physical limitations looked to be permanent.

Considering everything, we were in our mid-Sisties and we were not very confident that we would ever be able to travel like we had in the past so we decided to get rid of our Big Rig.

But luckily, over the next two years we were able to get our health issues under control and we were really missing our traveling lifestyle.

We wanted to get back on the road again.

Oh, I don’t mean running coast-to-coast like had in the past, but we did feel confident that we could at least take a lot of short trips around the Southeast part of the US and start have some camping fun again.

Of course, we realized my days driving for up to ten hours at a time on interstate highways were over.

My Doctors did say that I could safely drive for five, maybe six hours a day without endangering my health with considering my collection of health problems, including; Blood Clots, erratic Blood Sugar, major Arthritic pains and other such maladies that can attack people like myself when they overdo it.

This level of restrictions would make our travel runs longer for us to get to our final destinations, but to be honest, my wife was actually happy about this new restriction on me, considering her bad back and her need to move around a lot to relieve her pains.

We soon realized that if we planned well, we could easily do this type of RV traveling, and after a little research, we saw we could save a lot of money and do this type of travel in another motorhome, possibly an older one.

Our research showed that there were so many "slightly used" older motorhomes on the market that suited our comfort needs for short trips of only a two-three weeks at a time.

And of course, traveling this way made our legion of Doctors happy because they could see us regularly to keep us as healthy as possible

So, after a lot of conversation and web searches for older motorhomes we had a checklist of what we really needed (and could afford) in order for us to get back on the road.

Our Retro-Motorhome Criteria

The key criteria for us in our search were;

1- We wanted a Class-A Motorhome that was from 32-36 feet long, manufactured by a quality company and because of pricing, was between ten and fifteen years old.

2- We needed the extra space provided by an RV with at least two slides, one in the Living area and one in the Bedroom. We knew from past experience that we needed enough space to get around while we worked on our projects on our PCs and also when we relaxed at night.

3- We wanted a Gas and not a Diesel engine. Besides the lower cost for fuel, we are going to be short hop people, driving most often on Interstate highways but also on state roads to get to the campgrounds and parks that we wanted to access for our book research..

4- We needed 2 TVs, mostly because we have different tastes in entertainment and in the evenings. Like most couples we got along better when we both got what we wanted.

5- We needed a decent kitchen area because we both love to cook and you can't eat out every day nor can you survive on fast food or take-out. When on the road, we eat the same foods as we do when we are at home.

6- We are both active on the web with our Blogs and Websites as well as the books we write so we both need a decent computer workplace and decent access to the web.

7- And, of course, we had our own list of luxury amenities that we like, such as; a ducted AC/Heat system, an Ice Maker, digital HD TV's, adequate storage for clothes, a roomy Bath/toilet, and such. And of course, we needed a reasonable amount of outside storage for our grill, rugs, folding chairs, tables, and those other things that make spending an afternoon outside, enjoyable.

After several weeks of initial research, we were really excited because we realized there were a lot of really good used Motorhomes out there, on the market, that were actually in great shape and were priced surprisingly low relative to a new RV that was comparable.

Accepting the realities of yesterday's RV standards

Of course, we we knew we had to accept the reality that an older Motorhome would not be as luxurious as our previously owned 43-foot Monaco Camelot.

What we could afford probably would not have a beautiful full-body paint job.

It would not have the room that four large slides provided to the occupants.

It would not have an Air ride, nor would it ride as quietly as a Diesel Pusher.

And the electronics and other accessories would be simpler and utilize older technologies, even if it would still be just as functional.

But, honestly, a lot of what we were seeing on the market looked pretty good to us for our new traveling needs.

As we searched, we narrowed the available Motorhomes to those within 500 miles of our home in Florida down to just over fifty motorhomes before we even contacted anyone for more specific information about any of them.

What you end up with is a list of your semi-finalists, all of which you feel fit your needs.

We then sat down with the data we collected on these fifty-plus units and went through another, much more harsh, sort criteria of each unit, We paid a lot more attention to; how each one looked in the provided pictures, as well as its overall external, internal and mechanical condition.

RV Wash and Wax

MEGUIAR'S G55012 Classic Wash & Wax Kit
MEGUIAR'S G55012 Classic Wash & Wax Kit
I've used a lot of different products to clean my RV's over the years I have found this brand to be the best for the price. I use these cleaners exclusively.

We did develop some New Criteria during our search.

By this point in our search our main criteria was simply just how much was it going to cost us to bring each used Motorhome that remained on our list up to our standards of quality, reliability and of course, functionality.

By this time, after weeks of investigating what was out there and what they were selling for around the country, we had established three more requirements for our “new old-Motorhome”.

First, we knew we wanted a motorhome that was no more than 15 years old, Sure, we wanted a motorhome that was as new as possible, but we had a seriously fixed spending limit on what we would purchase.

The real reason we had this age limit was because of the technology that would be available, built into motorhome models this age or newer.

Motorhome manufacturers, like automobile manufacturers and those of any product that is redesigned and introduced annually, will utilize pretty much the same technologies in their accessories and appliances.

We already knew, as most RVers do, that the years 2000, 2001 was a pivotal period for some very progressive and useful designs, functions and options in motorhomes, so we would not even waste our time looking at these much older motorhomes.

RV Fiberglass Restoration System

MEGUIAR'S M-4965 MG Fiberglass Oxidation Removal Kit
MEGUIAR'S M-4965 MG Fiberglass Oxidation Removal Kit
I used this product by Meguiar's on my used Winnebago and it worked great for me, like all of their other quality products.

Buy Used for 10-20% of the same RV model New.

Our research showed us that if we were diligent, we could purchase a motorhome that met our needs for a price of between $18K and $30K.

With our limited budget, and our desire to pay Cash for whatever we would buy, and thus not have any kind of outstanding loan, this ended up being our realistic pricing range.

So, as I mentioned, we were looking for a quality RV for as little as 10-20-percent of the same motorhome model when NEW.

And finally, we had set a limit of just how much we were willing to spend to upgrade our RETRO motorhome and we had set a spending limit of $3K to $5K.

We figured if the RV was a good one, and in good condition, this was a reasonable expectation of what we should spend to upgrade the usual things that either wear out or become outdated in a motorhome.

Reasonable expectations for Upgrades

Many things will go out of date on motorhomes over time; such things as; the electronics in the RV, HD-TVs, antennas, internet and web access, a decent GPS system, a BlueRay DVD player, quality Audio System, to name a few.

Also, with a motorhome at this potential age(10 to 15 years old) , even if it is well maintained, reality says that it would probably need certain maintenance upgrades performed on it.

Here is a list of what we were seeing in the used vehicles available that would require upgrades, repairs or replacement on different ones of the motorhomes we were looking at;

  1. New Upholstery like; a new sofa-bed, a new lounge chair, a new bed mattress, a new driver's seat,
  2. an upgrade to a Convection microwave,
  3. carpet replacement,
  4. a decent stereo with external inputs,
  5. new window shades,
  6. a resealed roof,
  7. a good “up to 5000-lb.” tow hitch,
  8. good tires less than five years old and the list goes on.

Of course, most of the motorhomes would only require two or three of the major things I have listed, but still, every Camper we looked at needed replacement and required a certain amount of "up front" money.

These new limits thinned our list of prospective purchases down to 18. That means just a dozen and a half prospects for us to move on to for the next step of actually calling owners/dealers for answers to our questions before we actually got into real negotiations.

RV Patio Awning replacement fabric

SunWave Awning Fabric Ocean Blue Fade 16'(approximate Fabric Width 15' 2-3")
SunWave Awning Fabric Ocean Blue Fade 16'(approximate Fabric Width 15' 2-3")
The awning fabric on my used Winnebago was faded and torn in one spot so I purchased a new one from this company and it has held up great for me.

Our final motorhome selection

Our short-list included motorhomes located in Florida, of course, but also in Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and even New Jersey.

After I started calling about these finalists, two were quickly eliminated because they were “Hurricane” motorhomes that looked good in the pictures, but had “Scrap” titles.

You see, it seems that there are some dealers who are buying motorhomes that have been damaged by water during hurricanes and tornados and floods and are then scrapped by insurance companies. Bu some dealers clean these units up and list them in other markets, especially Florida.

Six other motorhomes were eliminated because five were with dealers and one was with an individual seller all of whom would not budge from their pricing which was far above the NADA listed value.

Of the remaining dozen, two only had four pictures in their listing and the seller did not want to send any more pictures. Each of them suggested that I “drop by” and check the camper out personally, which would be my next step anyway but each of them was more than two states away, so I set them aside.

Four others were close enough to our home (less than 100-miles) that we made quick trips and inspected them. One turned out to be a maybe, and the other three were nothing like their pictures.

So, now we were down to just six prospects after our intensive several weeks of research.

As I put all of my paperwork away one evening, looking forward to a nice glass of red wine to relax with after all of the work I had done, I looked down and I saw a listing for what seemed a good prospect, and it was less than twenty miles away from my home.

I groaned, expecting more disappointment, but I called them anyway and, guess what? He told me he couldn’t drop the price on the unit I had called about. Then he threw in the big BUT!

He said;

“But, I do have a consignment unit that I think you would love and the owner is willing to consider offers.”

After less than ten minutes of questions, I was very interested and we had set up a meeting for the next morning. After I had hung up, I explained to my wife that with this dealer being only twenty miles away we had to check the motorhome out.

So, the next morning, we pulled into the dealership bright and early and the salesman walked us out to this dirty 2001 Winnebago Adventurer sitting on the back row of the lot.

A quick walk around the outside showed that the body was in great shape, with no signs of any damage at all, and it had a new set of tires.

The thing that looked bad, and I happen to know turns a lot of RV hunters away was the stripes. They were decals and in the past the owner's had let too many people use a pressure washer on the Rig.

You see, if the person operating the pressure washer lets that high pressure washer stream get too close to the Decals on a Camper, the edges will eventually start to lift and then try to peel away from the fiberglass body.

I just shook my head, and made the salesman open all of the basement doors and there were three obviously good things under the Rig.

1- All of the doors and their latches worked perfectly.

2- All of the compartments were extremely clean. And,

3- everything mechanical and electrical in the compartments looked good and was functional.

When I had finished outside, I looked around and my wife and the salesman had gone inside, so I followed them. And, I was hooked right there

There were no odors, the carpet was new, and everything had obviously been taken care of by the owner. The upholstery was in good shape, the woodwork was real wood and had a good finish.

I could go on with my list, but to summarize, although some of the electronics was dated, the RV looked like it might be 3-4 years old, rather than over my 15-year limit.

Looking over at my wife, I could see her obvious interest in this Rig after all of the others we had seen.

My wife and I took a break from the salesman and walked around their lot discussing everything about this RV, especially the price.

After a few minutes we made our mind up and we walked back and started grilling the salesman, jumping the conversation between the Rig itself, and what the owner wanted for it.

Finally, after a half an hour of dickering we agreed that I should make and offer, if I was serious.

So, having already looked the unit up on NADA from what he had told me the day before, I dropped a relatively low number on a piece of paper, along with a list of provisional demands.

These were demands for a specific list of inspections, servicing, and repairs, if necessary.

In the end, after even more negotiating, I actually got my price and only had to add a few hundred bucks for some of the more costly service and maintenance parts costs.

It took them a week to get everything I had required done on the Motorhome and I drove it home with no problems.

the damaged Decals on My Winnebago

A closeup of the damaged decals on my used Winnebago
A closeup of the damaged decals on my used Winnebago | Source

Our first RETRO Used Motorhome was a Winnebago

We now owned a nice new (to us) used (2001) Winnebago Motorhome and everything in it and on it worked.

Any money I needed to spend, in the future, other than for regular service, would be for any upgrades I wanted to add. And finally, the price was so low that I paid cash so there were no monthly payments.

Here is what we ended up purchasing;

It was a 2001 Winnebago Adventurer 35U, on a Ford chassis and V10 Vortec engine with 4-speed Ford transmission, It also had these options;

  • two slide-outs,
  • basement AC/Furnace,
  • Onan 5500 Generator, rear camera,
  • 2-TVs, new microwave,
  • Queen bed with new mattress,
  • all new tires,
  • Dashboard Desk for the Navigator seat,
  • flip-up desk for lounge seat area,
  • Corian countertops,
  • stainless steel double sink,
  • push-to-reset DC “fuses”,
  • fridge/freezer with ice-maker,
  • roomy bathroom and shower,
  • lots of storage inside and out,

and with the slides out, lots of room for a couple to move around and live comfortable, plus a single original owner and most of his service records.

Well, we hit the road within a couple of weeks and we used that great RiG for three years without a mishap of any kind.

But, we did trade up after three years. We found a deal on a 2006 Bounder that we liked better and we bought it for a good price.

So yes, we are still buying used RETRO motorhomes and we are still traveling around the US (or parts of it), even at our age. Sure, when we pull into a campground we don't turn heads with our glitzy paint job or shiny chrome trim, but like I tell people, OURS IS PAID FOR!

How to remove old Decal Striping from your RV

2001 Winnebago RV Oxidation removal and wax

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • Maria Antonia profile image

      Antoinette Lee Toscano 

      5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      I love camping life Don. I spent 5-days camping and whitewater kayaking in the desert at Mexican Hat, Utah on the San Juan river. You are living the life man.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      Maria- I'm one of those people who has to learn his lessons the hard way.

      I spent a small fortune over the years buying the latest and newest RV.

      This time, in my newfound wisdom, I purchased an older RV, for a reasonable price that I could write a check for.

      And, guess what? We are very comfortable in our Retro-Winnie. So what if I have to replace a few worn out parts?

      All is well.

      And we are having a ball camping again.

      Keep the faith and, who knows? You could be camping soon.

      Thanks for the comment,


    • Maria Antonia profile image

      Antoinette Lee Toscano 

      5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Owning an RV is on my bucket list. We've rented in the past but I'd like to own one someday. Thanks for doing such a great job at breaking all of this down us. I'm a much more educated consumer now.

    • velzipmur profile image

      Shelly Wyatt 

      5 years ago from Maryland

      Great article friend! I learned a great deal, we have an older motor home and we are looking to upgrade it. I will be referring to some of your articles for tips and advice.

      Shelly Wyatt aka Velzipmur

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      ladyguitarpicker- I guess it just gets into your blood after you spend a lot of time with great people and great sights. You miss it and I had that fifth-wheeler for over a year, but it just wasn't the same as rolling in your home.

      Thanks for the comment,


    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      5 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi nice article, we have a very similar story even living in Ruskin at one time we bought a 2001 Kountry Star we both had health issues but went back to a class A motor home, because we miss the camping.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      JamaGenee- So Great to hear from you, again.

      And, I agree with you about having a fifth-wheeler as a home base and using the tow vehicle for exploration.

      We, went the other way, and used a Motorhome and towed a Jeep, for the same reasons.

      I guess it is a personal preference thing, really.

      As I mentioned, with our health situation, we can't actually RUN like we used to, but we can HOP from one place to another.

      We are going to take smaller trips and sit longer and "smell the Roses".

      Have a great day,


    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      wheelinall over- I guess you are right, once you set a real limit of how much space you need to live comfortably, it is an amazing thing. I found that what I had in my home (house) that I really treasured were pieces of furniture that mu Dad had made. Other than that, things that were essentially mementos of my wife and mine were precious to us, but there were only a few of those. So, we were traveling around the country with a few hard items and what it took to live well.

      I am so ready to hit the road again, just thinking about it.


    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      5 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      I found when I lived a year on the road that you will be amazed what you can do without. A 24 ft motor home carried everything I needed. It is also amazing what you learn. A motor home climbing constantly doesn't get good mileage.

      I agree you can park an RV just about anywhere you want. Just not on the side of the freeway. I was only in the South East in the RV one time. It was actually the most RV friendly area I was ever in.

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      dahoglund- Thanks for the comment. We have enjoyed traveling in a motorhome for a long time and to us its our second home, just like many people have.

      Ours just has wheels and we can park it anywhere we want in the USA.

      Thanks again for the read and comment.


    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

      rpward51- When were in better health, we were going to run around the country for several years and we had a Big Rig with a tag axle. In fact the one you see as the header of my blog rvandcamper.

      It does give you a nicer ride but the main reason for having a Tag axle is that you can tow/carry a larger load, with some rigs as much as 17,000 pounds.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Sounds great. We have thought about campers but don't know if we will actually get into it. Enjoy your trips.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Oh, never mind about the tag axle. I was looking at the wrong picture. Stupid me.


    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Nice rig. I like the fact it's got a tag axle. They're supposed to help the ride and handling a good deal.


    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 

      5 years ago from Arlington, TX

      Great article Don.

      The Frog


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