As Kim and I continued on our quest for a quality Class C RV under $40,000, we resorted to research.
As with anything, the world of RVs can be overwhelming. There’s a lot of vocabulary and terminology to learn. There are a multitude of models and features. There are plenty of things to look at when you inspect a rig. If you’re a perfectionist like me, panic can set in.
To cope with this onslaught of information, I sought out advice online. I read through RV websites and forums. I downloaded a couple of ebooks about selecting and buying an RV. (None of these ebooks was particularly helpful, so I’m not linking to them.) As our search progressed, I came to rely on a handful of tools:
- The RV Consumer Group offers a downloadable database of recreational vehicle data. Their info includes typical depreciation costs, as well as safety and reliability ratings. This app costs fifty bucks, but is well worth the peace of mind it provides. Any time we found a coach that looked interesting, I printed its report.
- NADA Guides provides info on RV prices and values. These estimates are only guidelines, of course, but they can provide context for asking prices in ads. Also useful was RVT, an online classified service for RV owners. When we found an RV we liked in Portland, we’d compare its price to similar rigs on RVT.
- Carfax allows you to search a vehicle’s history, including registration info, past accidents, and certain maintenance records. This is useful when you find an rig that you think you’d like to purchase.
Armed with these weapons, we were better able to analyze potential purchases.
For instance, we continued to be interested in the 2004 Fleetwood Tioga we’d looked at during the weekend before Thanksgiving. It was a decent motorhome in great condition. But the owner wanted $40,000 for it, which seemed far too expensive based on all the info we could find. If he would have taken $30,000, we might have purchased it, but we were too far apart on price.
In early December, after about a month of searching, we found one motorhome that seemed especially promising: a 29-foot 2000 Bigfoot 30MH29RQ selling for $21,000. While the rig was a bit rundown, and it lacked the slide-out that Kim wanted for space, I was impressed. There was an obvious quality difference between the Bigfoot and most of the vehicles we’d seen before. Even in its “well-loved” condition, it was easy to see that the construction was better, the materials were better, and the design was better.
The RV Consumer Group data on this coach was re-assuring. It scored an 80 (out of 100) on reliability, and 82 on value, and a 90 on highway control. Not great, but very good. Certainly better than most of the motorhomes we’d been looking at.
The big problem? Carfax showed the Bigfoot had been written off as a “total loss” in 2011. The vehicle had a “salvage title”, meaning that the insurance company had written it off as a complete loss at one point. I emailed the owner to ask for clarification, and this was his reply:
From my understanding the insurance company bought back the motor home due to water damage to the rear end (differential). Due to the vehicle being bought through an insurance auction house, little information is available to the buying public as all vehicles are sold as is.
Before I purchased the motor home my mechanic not only checked the overall mechanical condition but also looked for any signs of apparent collision repair. I’ve had the motor home to the beach and up through Mt. Hood numerous times with both the drivability and all RV systems solid. My best assumption is that wherever the motor home was parked, it flooded or maybe a flash flood of sorts, and water was introduced into the rear differential at that time.
So, the current owner had used it without problem, but would it work for me and Kim? Would it survive a year-long trip around North America? To find out, we had the Bigfoot inspected by All RV and Equipment Services. The report wasn’t very reassuring.
First, the rubber roof was in poor shape. Water was pooling on soft spots, and water had leaked into the front half of the coach causing probably dry rot. The water heater was damaged. The generator was reluctant to work. “A lot of small stuff is wrong too,” the inspector told me. “And if you stand at the back of the vehicle and look down the driver’s side, the compartments aren’t straight. The rig is crooked. I’ve never seen the side of a motorhome like that. It’s almost like this rig was in a flood or something.”
I asked for the bottom line. “For $21,000, I wouldn’t touch this motorhome with a ten-foot pole,” the inspector said. “You walk around inside and it’s gorgeous. But with the issues we found…”
I asked if the Bigfoot could do a cross-country adventure. “Sure, this rig is capable of doing your trip. But when you go to sell, it’s going to bite you in the butt. Nobody’s going to want to buy it.”
Despite this report, Kim and I still considered buying the Bigfoot. It was the first motorhome that just felt right. In the end, however, we weren’t willing to take the risk. It sounded too much like we’d be throwing away $21,000.