Oct 262010

A few days ago we covered the reasons to consider upgrading your present RV rather than going into debt to buy a new (or newer) motorhome or fifth wheel trailer. But a few people have written to ask when you should consider the other option, of trading in your old rig for something new(er).

Terry and I were faced with that decision last year. For over eight years we lived and traveled in the 1976 MCI bus conversion that we had built ourselves, and we loved that old bus. It was built like a tank, we had unbelievable cargo carrying capacity, and we could carry anything that we could find room to cram into it. We built the bus for extended boondocking, with huge holding tanks, 540 watts of solar power, a large battery bank, and a top of the line pure sine wave inverter.

If we were snowbirds who only went out to Quartzsite to hang out in the winter, or if we were weekend warriors, the bus would have been our home on wheels forever. In fact, we expected it to be.

Bus last day

However, our needs and our traveling style changed over the years, and at the same time, the bus was beginning to need some major upgrades. We have done a lot of boondocking over the years; our longest stint was over seven months without being plugging into electrical power or water. We still don’t mind dry camping for a few days, but we have gotten to the point where we really enjoy being in a campground with full hookups.

We didn’t have slides in the bus, and as our two granddaughters have gotten older, it was getting really cramped when they visited us. We looked into having a living room slide installed, and the cost would have been over $10,000.

The 8V71 Detroit diesel was never a powerhouse, even new, and ours had a million miles on it, and it was getting older and slower every day. Climbing even moderate hills was presenting a real challenge, and the mountains out west were becoming impossible. We found ourselves not going places where we wanted go, because of the limitations of the bus. We were getting to the point where we were not enjoying traveling because we were always worried about a major breakdown.

Another problem was that it was getting harder and harder to find qualified diesel mechanics who knew enough about the old two stroke manually aspirated motors like we had. They are a dying breed. There are plenty of technicians who can plug an analyzer into a data port and tell you everything that is wrong with a modern diesel, but it takes an old school mechanic to understand the quirks of an old Detroit diesel.

We looked into replacing the motor, and the best quote we got for a factory rebuilt 8V92 turbo was $35,000 installed. However, the mechanic, someone who had done a lot of work on the bus for us in the past, and whom we trusted completely, said that our transmission would not hold up to the torque of the newer, more powerful engine. A used transmission would have set us back another $15,000. And then we’d still have cooling issues, so figure another $3,000 to $5,000 for two new radiators and the rest of a cooling system upgrade. Sam told us “You’ll still have a 35 year old bus with a non-electronic engine, that won’t be worth much more than half of what you’ll put into it.”

For us, it was time to step up to a newer coach. We found our 2002 Winnebago Ultimate Advantage, with 33,000 miles on it, for not much more than what we would have invested in upgrading the bus.

Winnebago rear quarter 2

If we weren’t fulltimers, and if  I was a diesel mechanic, and if  I had the necessary tools and a place to do the work, I would have kept the bus and done the upgrades myself. But like my dad used to say, if a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his butt.

So when is it time to trade your old RV in? For us, it was when the basic design no longer fit our needs, and when the cost of upgrading was 3/4 of what it cost to buy a much newer, more powerful motorhome that had more room and more advantages for us than keeping the old bus did.

Now that we have been in the Winnebago for over a year, and put 10,000+ miles on it, we are convinced that we made the right decision for us. Only you can decide which choice is right for your needs, your lifestyle, and your budget.

Thought For The Day – I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  11 Responses to “When Is It Time To Trade In?”

  1. I have been following your columns with interest, and I have a question. My husband and I enjoy going to RV shows, and end up “picking” our favorite rig from the selection. But when we buy a used motorhome one day it seems like it will be much harder. Websites don’t usually show old floorplans, and RV centers only have a few used coaches compared to new ones at a show. What is the best way to find a good used motorhome with a floorplan that will work for you? Other than finding what you want 5 years ahead of when you will buy, then holding out until there are used ones available!

  2. So true, Nick. When your needs change then you need to look at the options. That’s also true for when its time to hang up your keys. Maybe your present rig is great for full timing but as we all age we need a smaller rig or maybe no rig at all. I don’t like to think about that but someday we will.

    However now we will stay with our present rig and upgrade. Just got the call for our guy here, next week our coach goes in for a complete paint job. It will be the same design but all new paint. She should look great. The coach has a nice outside shape and we like the original design of the paint. So even though most people won’t see a different, we will. It’s all about what’s best for you and your situation.

  3. Nick, concise and to the point, while making it quite clear. I liked that article a lot, then again I keep reading your blog because I like what you have to say most of the time. Also love the frog had wings saying * chuckle *

  4. Our choice is clear at this point. We had talked about downsizing, but haven’t gotten our own selves downsized yet, although we are working on it. Current plan – strip off all the old decals and striping, get Michelle or someone to do a nice new paint job with conservative decoration (if any). Then get the interior re-done. I’d sure love to have a new computer desk like you have. Our last interior re-do was a large fiasco which was never done properly, and we sure won’t go back there again!

  5. Trisha,
    When shopping for a used coach, you have to decide ahead of time what you want (makes and models, engine size, length, options), what you would like to have (residential style refrigerator, washer/dryer combo, automatic awning), and what you don’t want under any circumstances (propane generator, etc.), and then look and look until you find the one that fits your needs and your budget. Don’t fall in love with the first rig you see. There are a lot of them out there. Terry and I looked at well over 75 motorhomes before we found our Winnebago, which fit all of our criteria for “must have” and most of our criteria for our “wants.”

  6. Style of travel makes a difference, too. When we were traveling all the time, doing places like Route 66 and the Blue Ridge Parkway, the small Winnebago View was right for us. But when we slowed down and started spending more time inside our home, it got too small so we traded it for the Winnebago Journey Express and now have a lovely home that we can move instead of a vehicle we can live in.

  7. Hi Nick, I’d be interested in your thoughts on a MH vs. travel trailer (Airstream in particular.) Trying to decide which way to go on this. We do want to be able to get into CG’s that don’t accommodate big rigs (i.e., over 30′) and figure that a 27′ AS might be easier to get into NP’s and State CGs. The under 30′ MH’s all look cheaply built, don’t seem to have the room of a 27′ AS and they always seem to be all overloaded. What do you think? Bob

  8. Bob,
    Everything in life is a trade off. I love Airstreams, but the lack of large storage bays would be a problem for us. But for getting into smaller campsites, if you can back a trailer up (I can’t), one might be the right choice for you.

  9. I looked for over a year and studied many choices for what I wanted – fifth wheel or MH and had decided on around a 30 foot MH as my primary choice – I looked several times at Nick’s MCI and test drove it, but had my own problems with 40 feet and a million miles. I found my 78 Newell 35′ parked alonf the road in a farmers field and bought it the next day – I had never considered a Newell but knew about their reputation and quality and knew I could never afford one. All of a sudden here was one that I could pay for and that had the primary features I needed.
    We do not always know what we want in a used coach until we find it and cannot study used plans the way we do look at new units because to look for an exact model and plan in a used coach is a needle in a haystack adventure. I am very happy with my choice.

  10. Two good online sources are rvtraderoline.com and ebay.com. The sellers here will often post all the particulars, and they even sometimes put up a picture of the floorplan.

    Also, a number of the manufacturer’s websites will have legacy pages for all the info on some of their older models, going back a number of years.

  11. A 35′ Newell? Didn’t know that even existed. From what I’ve read, the Newell is pretty hard to beat for quality. I too wish I could afford one, but what I can afford wouldn’t have any slides, so no Newell for this camper.

    I’ve been researching MH’s and 5th wheels for probably 20 years. I even sold motor homes for a year. I keep coming back to the Winnebago Ultimate Advantage. The three slide version especially. Nick, IMHO you made a really good decision. The Ultimate Freedom’s are nice, too, but I don’t think I want that 400HP Cummins. 350 or 370 is ample power and much less fuel consumption (based only on what I’ve read).

    (Great! Now someone will probably run right out and buy the one I’m fawning over. I’ve got to learn to be more discreet.)

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