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How not to buy a motorhome

Updated on October 18, 2014
GollyGearHope profile image

Hope Saidel is co-owner of Golly Gear, a bricks-and-mortar and online shop featuring fun, affordable and practical small dog products

World's most expensive sunset (hyperbolically speaking)

This is our view of sunset over the Atlantic Ocean/Caribbean Sea from our camp site in Marathon, Florida - about half-way between the mainland (Key Largo) and the tip of the Keys (Key West). Aside from home, Marathon is our favorite place in the world.

It's gorgeous. It's relaxed. It's home to some of our dearest friends and the most amazing dolphin facility - the Dolphin Research Center.

Getting here wasn't easy. It was a miserable, stressful, traumatic experience, and I hope other people can learn exactly what not to do when buying an RV/motorhome.

Look before you leap!

I wish we'd had this book before we started our adventure. Learn from our mistakes! Arm yourself with knowledge.

The bane of our existence

My sister and I (two dog-obsessed, middle-aged single ladies) decided it would be a fine idea to buy a motorhome. No, we weren't actually drinking at the time - that came later.

We thought it would be a convenient way of travelling with our dogs - to dog agility trials, obedience trials, visit long-distance friends and see the country. It seemed brilliant at the time.

So we did some research, asked RV-owning friends and set about finding the perfect Class C motorhome for us.

New was pretty much out of the question - the dollars involved were staggering. And we were warned that dealerships were notorious for asking top dollar for used RVs - the smart way to go was either online classifieds or auction sites.

Fool me once

The first camper/RV/motorhome that sounded perfect was local - discovered through an online classified website. A friend and I went to see it. It was filthy - used for dirt bike hauling and racing by a man and his three sons. A bit of elbow-grease and it would be okay, as in everything worked. It wasn't too old and there was even a whole room for the dogs and their paraphernalia. So - drum roll for stupidity - I put down a deposit on the thing and made arrangements to come back in a couple of weeks to get it.

During those two weeks a friend who works in a car dealership offered to get a report on the vehicle's Identification Number. It came back with a "Salvage Title." My friend advised me to run away as fast as I could. Needless to say, the not-very-nice man and his three sons refused to return the deposit.

Expensive lesson learned: always check the vehicle's title before spending a dime.

Fooled me twice

Our next "find" was on an auction site. The vehicle seemed perfect - the description even included the VIN number, so I could get a report on the title before making a bid. It came back absolutely clean.

We anxiously watched the auction and pounced at the last moment. We won! Yay!

Of course it was located halfway across the country, so I flew out to get it. The seller met me at the airport, took me to the vehicle, informed me the generator was broken, handed me the keys and drove off.

No, I'd never driven an RV before - except for the first one in a vacant lot for 15 minutes.

One point of view has it that I'm incredibly brave, spunky, and intrepid. Or stupid, depending how you look at it.

Fortunately, I got home two days later. I discovered that the generator wasn't the only broken bit. The furnace didn't work either. We found an RV mechanic and discovered wasps in the furnace, mice in the generator, and an urgent need for a new exhaust system. Which would explain why I couldn't hear after driving for two days.

A little respite

After extensive time in the shop - we were ready for our first adventure. We chose a local campground and discovered something wonderful - we love camping!

Camping our way, that is. With our own refrigerator, television, comfy beds and private bathroom. And the dogs had a wonderful time - long walks in natural surrounding with many wonderful new scents.

We dared to hope our travails were at an end.

Hit me again

We live in the northern part of the U.S. and knew enough to have the RV winterized before the cold weather came. We didn't know it would leak like a sieve in the worst winter we'd seen in years.

We had to have the entire interior treated for black mold and rebuilt in the spring. It was not a pretty sight.

On the road

We forgave our RV for betraying us again and costing us umpteen thousand dollars. And yes, it had occurred to us by then that purchasing a dealer-used RV would have been less expensive by now. However - this was the RV we had and the prospects for any other were slim. And none. So we made lemonade and had a lovely summer of adventure, a weekend at a time. We learned how to use all the RV stuff and were, once again, convinced we'd made a decision we could live with.

Once more unto the breach!

Of course we couldn't be content with tootling around the area enjoying our new phenomenally expensive toy. Of course not!

We decided that celebrating an event at the Dolphin Research Center would be a perfect cross-country trip for us, our dogs, and the RV. Because we're just that optimistic.

I got in the RV with the dogs and the GPS and headed out.

This adventure included new and exciting experiences for a flatlander like me. Thrilling things like driving through the mountains in the pouring rain in a 7 ton vehicle and seeing a "runaway truck ramp" for the first time.

And then the RV started making not-so-good noises. It turns out that it burns oil, inexplicably and in huge quantities. To the tune of filling up every 100 miles. Not with gas. With motor oil.

Home at last

I finally got to Marathon, Florida in one piece. And found paradise.

The RV lives there now - we were lucky to find a campground that has storage. So we go and visit our little piece of heaven whenever we can.

We always look at the bright side. It's much more fuel-efficient to drive our cars down to the camper. And storing it there is actually cheaper than at home. And whenever we want to run away from home - we have another waiting for us with a view that can't be matched.

Right where we belong!

The behemoth survived months without us - but I got to visit her again. Don't we look right at home?

We made a video of the adventure for a contest - and, no surprise, lost

Are you ready to dive into RVing?

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    • Vilja profile image


      6 years ago from Helsinki

      Oh my goodness, you poor people. XD I'm glad it worked out in the end!

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Glad to find a happy ending at the end of your story. SquidAngel Blessings.

    • ElizabethSheppard profile image

      Elizabeth Sheppard 

      6 years ago from Bowling Green, Kentucky

      Not yet - - but when I do, I will definitely be back here for more wisdom on what NOT to do to get one. This was a funny lens, and reminds me of times I have had buying other things. Thanks for sharing!

    • intermarks profile image


      6 years ago

      I love reading your story and I feel sorry for what you have encountered. It will be nice to travel with RV.

    • Ann1Az2 LM profile image

      Ann1Az2 LM 

      6 years ago

      This story kind of reminds me of the movie RV with Robin Williams - one of the funniest movies I've ever seen (sorry), but you did make it funny. I am sorry you had all those troubles, but it sounds like you're finally enjoying the RV now.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is a sad story. I am so sorry your experience has been less than positive. We have been very lucky with our RV and found a great deal at a local dealer. Time was not on our side because we had to sell our car in order to buy the RV, but didn't want to buy it until we were done with the car. So the week before we were to move out of our house to start living in an RV full-time, we were finally completing the details of our purchase. We bought a used 1997 34 foot Class A motorhome. Not what we really wanted but what we could afford. In fact, we got such great financing that the RV payments and insurance is less than we were paying on the car. We've been on the road almost a year, and have had mostly good experiences. We did have to replace a starter, and there are things that are loose and need to be replaced. But we love our little home and the cats love it too. I think. They don't like it when we drive some where.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This story sounds like a Lucy and Ethel story. Very informative.

    • Rosaquid profile image


      6 years ago

      This was fun to read. I'm glad you got it all figured out and were willing to share!

      We had a motorhome when I was growing up. We had some good times!

    • PlethoraReader profile image


      6 years ago from Silicon Valley

      Wow, a horrible adventure, but love your perpetual positive attitude. Blessed

    • SheilaMilne profile image


      6 years ago from Kent, UK

      I think I'd like to hire one for a try but just for the experience, and definitely not in our country with its narrow and twisty roads. I'm so glad your adventure has turned out all right in the end.

    • Ardyn25 profile image


      6 years ago

      A great lens...gave me a heads up should I purchase an RV. I really want to go traveling and RVing is the best way to really see the country and meet the locals.

    • jlshernandez profile image


      6 years ago

      We all learn from our experiences. Thank goodness, I am not the RV type. But thanks for sharing such an enjoyable read.

    • Phoenix2361 profile image


      6 years ago

      I have to admire your spirit in the face of adversity. Thanks for advice and warnings.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Quite a good read - sounds like a great way to see the country. Sorry about your troubles, though!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Oh, what a terrible experience!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great, I appreciate you effort.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      love the creative ideas you got !

    • allenwebstarme profile image


      6 years ago

      Beautiful story with ups and down.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great story. Sorry about your troubles. Like other commenters here, I have been toying with the idea, but not seriously. Just something to consider for the future now and then.

    • LisaDH profile image


      6 years ago

      I've never owned an RV, but after reading your story, I think if I ever decide to buy one, I'll find a reputable used RV dealer!

    • GollyGearHope profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Skokie, Illinois

      @igottahaveone: Thanks for the advice! I'll definitely check it out!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Love the story, sorry about the bad luck and bad deal. Unfortunately it happens to all of us. If it is actually burning that much oil there would be huge clouds of blueish smoke behind the vehicle anytime it is running. If your not seeing that you more likely just have a leak and with it being that much oil it is probably just an oil cooler line, oil filter, oil filter adapter or the oil cooler. Not as bad of a fix as if it was actually burning the oil. In most cases even a leaky valve cover or oil pan would not allow that much oil to pass by.

      By the way that is the only way to camp in my opinion! Good luck! and get that thing back on the road. All of the things I mentioned should be far less than a day to fix. One other thing that should be checked is the oil drain plug. Did you have the oil changed when you got it home? If you drove it for two days with no problem and then had the oil changed I would suspect oil filter or oil plug.

    • rottiesforever profile image


      6 years ago

      Loved your story! As a 'past middle age' female I have toyed with this idea for years now. Have the dogs, don't have the sister to travel with, so I guess its just going to be a dream for now!

      Thanks for sharing!!


    • profile image

      NC Shepherd 

      6 years ago

      Glad to read this. I'd just begun thinking (again) of getting a small RV. I appreciate your cautions. I'm really just afraid to take the plunge. I admire that you did.


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