Our First RV - the Disastermobile

This won’t be our first trip to the RV rodeo.  Several years ago we used an inheritance to buy this 1978 23’ Starcraft Class C.  Our kids were young and we had grand visions of family camping trips to some of Michigan’s great state parks.

The ownership experience, however, was a disaster.
We were young and not very wise in the ways of purchasing RV’s - I’m not even sure we looked at 5 motorhomes before buying this one.  Mainly I remember liking the floorplan which included a fairly large rear bathroom for a rig it’s size.  We were still in the mode of bathing kids so it was attractive.  It also had a unique dinette arrangement in that the front seat would flip forward so both seats would face the front window while driving.

It’s been long enough now that I’ve managed to forget some of what we ended up having to do to this thing, but it started off with:

  • Getting a new rear bumper welded on
  • Having a receiver hitch installed
  • Having spring work done in the rear to correct a lean (the fresh water, gray water, black water, and LP tanks were all on one side).
  • Getting front ball joints replaced

On our first family camping trip we were headed north to Ludington State Park and blew a tire on the way.  We limped into a rest stop and paid weekend rates to get a new tire installed right there.

We also used the rig to retrieve a ‘58 Willys Wagon from Kansas City. An hour from home we blew a brakeline.  I crimped it off with a vice grips and we limped again—this time to a brake shop just off the expressway.  Another overnight and we were on our way home again.

So far - it was a tolerable ownership experience.  Then came the year we stored the motorhome outdoors for the winter and I didn’t get it on any sort of angle.  When we went back in the spring to pick it up I walked in and noted the ceiling was sagging. I cut a slit in the ceiling with a utility knife and a couple of gallons of water rushed out.  We realized that the interior stain that the previous owner dismissed as a “bees nest or something” was in fact one of a few roof leaks:

So - we were faced with a decision.  An RV in this state is about worthless - we’d be lucky to sell it to someone wanting the drivetrain parts. We decided to repair. And - while we were at it - redecorate.

The first order of business was to fix the roof.  I went to the local RV dealer and ordered a rubber roof kit - basically a large roll of “EPDM Rubber”.  While that was being shipped in we stripped the roof of everything - air conditioner, roof vents, antenna, and railings.  We reinforced a few spots with some 1” square metal tubing, and re-decked the entire roof with 3/8” plywood.  The roll of rubber came in and we glued that down, replaced all the necessary roof components, and re-sealed everything.  This is a quick process to explain, but was actually weeks of work.

From there we faced the state of the interior.  Between the damage and the 70’s styling it was a special kind of ugly:

In for a penny, in for a pound, right?

We knew that most RV’s are manufactured in the Elkhart, Indiana area - and my folks had purchased RV supplies and components at some surplus dealers down there.  Based on knowing we could drive down and purchase new furniture at less than new prices we decided to tear into the interior.

We removed the couch, dinette, bunk mattress, front seats and carpeting - and hauled it all to the dump:

The cockpit area got a layer of sound-deadening rubber, then carpet padding, then new berber carpet edged in vinyl.  I installed seats from a junked Ford Astro minivan and a new stereo:

The bathroom got a repaired wall, a new outlet, a new sink & faucet, and window film (to avoid needing a curtain):

The living area got a repaired ceiling, repainted walls and cupboard interiors, new shelving, carpet in the cupboards, a new dinette/table, a new couch, and a new vinyl floor.  In the bunk we put a new residential mattress - and the interior was done:

We cleaned out our tools, swept out the floor, took the pics you see above, and sat back with a cup of coffee admiring our work.

Then it hit me.

This thing will never be worth more than it is right now.

I considered all the work we had done to this motorhome, vs the time we actually had used it to enjoy time off.  I realized that - no matter the state of the interior - I had not done much to the major appliances or drivetrain.  There was still so much that could go wrong, and I had lost all confidence in the unit.

So we gave it a final wax job and slapped a for sale sign on it.  It took awhile but a neighbor who was a geology professor finally bought it to use on digs out west.  I think we recovered just a bit more than the cost of the interior materials - but I was never so happy to sell something in my life.  We bought a nice tent and I swore I’d never own an RV again.

And now we’re looking at RV’s again.

I’m resolved to be smarter this time - taking the time climb on the roof and crawl underneath.  Any history of leaks and the unit is ruled out.  Any suspicious interior stains and we’ll move on. And - we’ll simply just buy newer and spend more in hopes of not repeating the first RV ownership experience.


4 Comments Our First RV - the Disastermobile

  1. Picture of Dianne Dianne November 07, 2015

    Man, I could have written this. We bought a motorhome based mostly on layout and had NO idea what we were in for.  Didn’t realize there were leaks in the roof, everywhere.  We blew a tire driving and it demolished the grey water tank.  By the time we sold it after 5 years, we had dumped over $9k into it and were barely able to sell it for $2500.  Lesson learned.

  2. Picture of Robin Canfield Robin Canfield March 16, 2017

    WOW so sorry to see your adventure to California was a bust , makes me wonder was the seller dishonest or clueless?  either way after the above story I can understand why you passed on that unit.  here’s hoping you don’t end up in motel 6 , and find the perfect unit for you , love the blog .
    Happy trails   Robin

  3. Picture of Michael Boyink Michael Boyink March 17, 2017

    The motel 6 is next door..;)

    Thanks Robin - appreciate the comments!

  4. Picture of Nicole roofing solution Nicole roofing solution July 17, 2018

    The roll of rubber came in and we glued that down, replaced all the necessary roof components, and re-sealed everything. Best Way to Repair with Rv Roof Coatings has made it easiest to repair or recoat the RV.

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