I started out completely clueless, I really did. And I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I had a to-do list a mile long dealing with downsizing and moving out of the house, and I just needed to check this purchase off the list. I started seriously researching at the beginning of June, and bought the RV in mid-July.
I think the first criteria I decided on was price: I don’t have much money, so I wanted to get the least expensive RV I could find, while still meeting my needs and being reliable. The second criteria was that I was not willing to give up my little 2008 Mazda Miata. Not only did I absolutely love the car, but I didn’t want to spend the money to purchase a replacement vehicle. I wanted to park the motor home, and toodle (is that a word??) around in the Miata.
The fact that I wanted to keep the Miata completely ruled out any kind of trailer. Although trailers are less expensive than motorhomes, I was not interested in purchasing a truck or an SUV to tow a trailer. And, I wanted something simple, something I felt I could handle on my own. A fifth wheel was very intimidating to me. So that left the motorhomes: Class A’s, B’s and C’s. I ruled out Class B’s (more like converted vans) as being too small for full time use. Class A’s seemed too large. I liked the fact that Class C’s are built on a truck chassis and therefore seem easier to maneuver than the Class A’s.
Once I narrowed my search to Class C’s, I learned that the hot commodity in the Class C market is the Sprinter chassis with the Mercedes Benz diesel engine. These bad boys will last forever, but cost over $100,000 new, and perhaps $40,000 used. This type of motorhome was certainly desirable, but I ruled it out as not being affordable for me.
After browsing on rvtrader.com and looking at many options, it seemed that I should be able to find something suitable, gently used, in the $25,000 range, so that became my budget.
The next step was to identify the layout and other features I liked. Whether or not I wanted a slide-out was a critical decision. A slide-out certainly adds more square footage to the living space, but it also adds cost and complexity – and it’s one more thing to maintain. I went back and forth on this and ultimately decided that a slide-out made sense for full time living. I also decided that I liked having the “always-down bed”, as opposed to models which involve making a bed every night from the sofa. And, I wanted the over-the-cab bunk bed, both for the additional storage it offers, and the extra sleeping space (hoping for guests, most especially my children!). And I wanted the RV to be as short as possible, while still capturing all of these features. My target was 24 feet.
I think the biggest surprise for me was that when I started looking at the websites of local RV dealers, I only found ONE in a two hour radius from me that fit my criteria, except that the asking price was $32,000. Eric and I went to look, hoping they would come down in price closer to my $25,000 budget. The rig was actually perfect, and even included a back-up camera and hydraulic leveling system. But the dealer wouldn’t come down much in price, and when I called to check on it a couple of weeks later, it had sold for $31,000.
I then did a nationwide search on rvtrader.com for Class C motorhomes with the following criteria: mileage less than 30,000, price less than $30,000, 1 slide out, over cab storage, length 26 feet or less, and with an “always down bed”. There were 4, three of which were on the west coast, and the fourth was in Mississippi. I also searched on Craigslist, which as you know is geographically based, looking at locations within a day’s drive. I found one which matched my criteria in the Buffalo area, about a 6-7 hour drive from me.
It was a 2004 Coachmen Freelander with 27,000 miles on it, priced at $22,750. It had all the important features I wanted. So I told my boss I needed to take a couple of days off for an “RV Emergency”, and Eric and I rented a car, went up there and bought it.