The risky business of buying an older motorhome

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Once you start shopping around for a used motorhome, the first thing you’ll notice is that they’re not cheap. Not cheap at all. Unless you’ve got £15,000 at your disposal then you’ll be looking at buying an older motorhome.

In my eyes there’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying an older motorhome. Just don’t be under the illusion that you’ll hand over your hard earned cash, they’ll hand over the keys and you’ll simply drive off into the sunset without a single problem what so ever.

To be fair, I’m in no doubt that this happens for some people, the lucky people. For the rest of us, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

If you’re looking to buy an older motorhome just know that your typical motorhome is jam packed with everything you need to live in it for extended periods of time. The odds are, after 20-30 years not all of these features are working just the way they did when it left the factory.

You shouldn’t let that put you off, just understand that being “handy” will definitely help you out when it comes to owning a house on wheels that has theoretically circumnavigated the globe 8 times already.

The gist of this post

So why am I writing this post?

I’m writing this post for people that have little to no experience of owning an old motorhome. Particularly the ones that are considering taking the plunge and investing in a little piece of vintage freedom.

As a person who owns and spends most of my time in an old motorhome, I’d like to give an insight of what you could expect from owning a old motorhome. This way you can decide if you’re up for the challenge or if you’d rather throw a little more money at it.

So, for the rest of this article I’m going to touch on:

  • What I consider as an old motohome
  • What motorhome we have
  • The things that we’ve had to fix
  • Is it worth investing in an old motorhome

What am I classing as old

This one is down to personal opinion and in this article I can only express my own opinion. There is no set age that a motorhome goes from being classed as new, to classed as old. It’s all down to YOUR perspective!

For example, someone that owns a 2016, £40,000 motorhome may consider a 2010 model as old. In the same way that someone who owns a 1991 “5 grander” (like me) may consider a 2005 model, new….

For the purpose of this article I’ll be classing anything was made before 2000 as older.

What do we have

our old motorhome parked in a field

Introducing our new motorhome is not something I ever did on this blog. One minute we were hiking through the Himalayas in the middle of winter and the next we are travelling in Europe by motorhome.

I guess I explained it a little in the article I wrote about a different approach to long term travel. Anyways, without anymore messing around, this is our new to us but very old motorhome:

The name:

Langkawi – You can’t have a motorhome without naming it. In our case the the name is Langkawi. We chose this name simply because out of all the amazing places we visited in Asia, the island of Langkawi had it all.

Great food, cheap beer, abundant sunshine, endless sandy beaches and amazing people. Every time we hit up on a place we really didn’t like or we were squished into a 18 hour Vietnamese night bus we would always joke about should we just forget our plans to get to Ha Giang and just book a flight back to Langkawi.

Now we have our very own langkawi 🙂

What is it?:

It’s a 1991 Hobby AK 600 on a Peugeot boxer base. Most people know these as a Peugeot J5.

It’s basically a Talbot with a Peugeot badge. I’m pretty sure Citroen had their badge on the same base vehicle as well.

What does it have?

All day to go up hills, an old musty smell and a saggy back end!

Joking aside, it has many features. Some good and some bad. Here’s a list:

  • 2.5 non turbo diesel engine – Not too bad for an old unit, will hold 60mph on a flat all day long. Different story on a long steep hill. Definitely an A-road cruiser.
  • 130,000 miles on the clock – Still starts first time every time.
  • Left hand drive – Crappy here in the UK but will pay dividends once we cross into Europe this winter.
  • 5 birth – We actually converted it to 4 birth. By converted, I mean threw away heavy piece of wood that made up the 5th bed.
  • 4 seat belts – Yes, a 5 birth motorhome with just 4 seat belts. A lot of motorhomes are like this, some even just two seat belts.
  • Thetford cassette toilet – With electric flush!!!
  • Shower – It’s not great but it washes the stink off….
  • 10 litre water heater – Gas only but only takes about 25 minutes to heat up depending on what temperature you set it to.
  • 70 litre fresh water tank – Was 100 litre but had damage so had to be replaced.
  • Grey water tank
  • Blown air heating – Works well but costs the earth to run.
  • Air suspension
  • Gas locker – Big enough for one 6kg and one 11kg gas tank.
  • 2 ring stove – I so wish it was a 3 ring stove.
  • Double glazing – After 28 years it still airtight with no condensation.
  • 3 way fridge – Think it is a later model but works like a dream.
  • 4 cycle bike rack

What did Langkawi cost?

We found our motorhome on Gumtree listed for £5500. After travelling from Lancashire to South Wales and giving it the 20 minute once over, we spent 30 minutes haggling over a cup of coffee.

As some of the problems listed below were spotted we managed to knock £1250 off the price that the private seller wanted. So a £150 deposit secured it.

Our motorhome cost us £4250. We were prepared to spend more but we were on a very short timescale and the layout of this one suited us very well. For that kind of money it’s worth a punt.

Once again, everyone is different and everyone is looking for different features, layout, size etc. This is just what suited us but if you’re not sure what you are looking for then be sure to read my in depth list of things you should consider before buying your first motorhome.

What we have had to fix

I think it goes without saying, buying a sub-5k motorhome means there will be plenty to fix, and believe me there was. But think of it this way, costing less than £5000 means a much bigger budget to sort out all of those little niggles.

Below is a list of everything we’ve had to fix on our 28 year old motorhome (at the time of writing). I’m sure this list will grow so I’ll add dates as I add extra fixes. That way you can gauge how reliable it is.

As well as listing what we’ve had to fix, I will try to explain how we fixed it so if you find yourself with the same problems in your old motorhome then hopefully it may help. I will also write roughly how much it cost us to fix.

Leaky water tank

The problem:

This was one of the things I managed to spot during our 20 viewing. From inside the motorhome you couldn’t really notice anything was wrong. Nor could we get our damp meter anywhere near the affected area.

Only from beneath the van could we find evidence of anything being a miss. Having a good poke of the underside with a screw driver revealed what resembled wet cardboard. The floor under the tank was completely rotten.

A hairline crack in the bottom of the tank where the pipe to the drain plug exited through the motorhome floor had gone unnoticed for quite some time and rotted the floor. Around 1 sqft of flooring and the bottom edge of the wall needed to be replaced.

The fix:

The only thing you can do with rot is CUT IT OUT!! Everything that is mushy and soft must go.

First thing we did was to remove the bench that covered the water tank. Once that was out, we removed the damaged tank and vinyl flooring. Only now could we see the extent of the damage.

Being able to see the tarmac from inside the motorhome was a bit daunting to say the least. Out came the pad saw and 45 minutes later we were back to dry, solid wood.

At this point it’s time to rebuild. The rotten 25mm wood baton at the bottom of the wall was cut out and replaced. As for the flooring, motorhome floors are very simple. 25mm thick polystyrene sandwiched between two pieces of 3mm plywood.

We basically built a rectangular frame out of 25mm wood baton with one sheet of plywood screwed to the bottom. We then screwed it into the existing good wood of the original floor and the smeared a layer of PVA glue around the plywood and frame.

Cut a piece of polystyrene to be a tight fit inside the frame. Glued that in and then the other piece of plywood was glued and screwed onto the top. Once dry this forms a light but very strong structure.

From the underside of the motorhome we sealed in the new fix with some Sika 512 and then sprayed over the repaired area with some car underseal to waterproof the fix.

We then cut a piece of 12mm ply to the size of the bench that we took out and screwed that over the old and newly replaced floor to add a bit more strength.

With the floor now stronger than ever it was time to refit the tank. Obviously, the 28 year old tank with the crack in it was thrown away and replaced with a brand new one.

Finding a like for like replacement just wasn’t going to happen. The old tank held 100 litres and was made to fit under the bench perfectly but after trawling the net for many hours the biggest one I could find that would fit was a 70 litre fiamma one.

Fitting the new tank was pretty straight forward. Just drill a 20mm hole for the pump outlet, attach the pump, attach the inlet pipe and screw it down. Unfortunately, the water level gauge was made for the deeper tanks so could not be fitted to the new tank.

We decided to not bother adding a drain plug to the tank. If it ever needs draining I’ll just run the kitchen tap…

The cost:

The tank was the most expensive part at just over £70 delivered. The 25mm baton, 3mm ply, 12mm ply, polystyrene, PVA glue, Sika 512 and underseal came to just over £50 all in.

So call it a total of £125 and around 6 hours work. This is the main reason I was able to knock £1250 of the price.

Fair enough this is not the most professional fix in the world but if I was to take it to a coachbuild repair shop it would be hundreds if not thousands of pounds to put it right.

Bottom line, the fix was cheap and 8 months on, it’s still solid!!

Faulty water heater

The problem:

This is one that seemed all good on the 20 minute viewing. The seller turned the switch to on and the temperature to 50 and we could hear the igniter clicking away for a few seconds until it ignited.

We repeated this a couple of times, and it worked like a dream. Or so we thought!

The problem arose when we turned the gas water heater on and a few minutes had lapsed. Once ignited, the little green light on the controller would come on to tell us that everything is fine but 5 minutes later the red light would come on and the gas would be cut.

We had absolutely no idea what was causing the fault but it would happen every time!

The Fix:

After hours of trawling the internet it was hard to find an answer. We managed to find a couple of people on forums that had the same Truma B10 water heater with the exact same symptoms as ours.

The problem was that these people asked the question and got many responses with different things to try but never wrote back to say what worked and what didn’t.

After much more trawling, we came across a thread that had been answered by someone who had the same problem and they knew how to fix it!

White wine vinegar!!! The fault is caused by limescale build up on the thermostat and internals.

The fix is to fill the 10 litre Truma B10 water heater with 20% white wine vinegar and 80% water and leave for 24 hours. But how do you do this???

Faulty truma b10 water heater

On the Truma B10 water heater, the best way to achieve this is to take off the pipe at the top of the boiler and fill from there (you may need to heat the pipe a little to get it off).

So, take the top pipe off, attach 40cm of hose to the inlet with a jubilee clip and on the other a funnel. Add 2 litres of white wine vinegar and 8 litres of water, remove makeshift funnel attachment and reattach normal pipe.

Leave for 24 hours an then rinse it through, and rinse it through well!! To do this just fill the fresh water tank to capacity and run the hot tap until it is empty. I did this 3 times.

The water heater has worked fine ever since.

The cost:

£5 for 2 litres of white wine vinegar and the rest I had lying around. Not bad considering a replacement water heater is £300-400 and then you should get a gas fitter to fit it.

No hot water at the taps

The problem:

Now the boiler was working properly, obviously I wanted to test it out. So I put the water heater on 50C and left until it got to temperature and turned itself off.

20 minutes later I went for a hot shower. A hot shower that was lute warm at best. WTF! My head blagged, I set about tracing pipes around the motorhome trying to locate some illusive hidden mixer valve that could explain the issue.

No such luck!! Absolutely baffled, the water heater is hot, there’s warm water leaving on the pipe to the hot tap but there’s also warm water in the cold feed pipe to the taps. At this point this motorhomes plumbing is bending the laws of physics!

Even the water in the fresh water tank is warm!

The fix:

After much more googling, it turns out that this problem is not entirely unheard of. The failure, or in my case the lack of a none return valve.

It must of had one at some point but seems someone has been messing with the plumbing and removed it. With our motohome being an old continental model the plumbing shop told us we needed a strange size.

I just bought what he had and with a bit of butchery I managed to fit it just after the fresh water tank. Now the water could not slowly flow back to the fresh water tank from the water heater.

Shower time mk2 – 50C is hot!!!

The cost:

£12 for the non return valve and 20 minutes to fit.

Headlight not working

The problem:

Full beam on the driver side just wouldn’t work. At first I though it was just a blown bulb, but after swapping them over it turns out it wasn’t a blown bulb.

On closer inspection of the headlight lamp holders contacts, it became apparent that they were a bit corroded.

The fix:

Bit of a scrapping with a tiny flat headed screwdriver.

The cost:

30 seconds of my life.

Loss of power from the leisure batteries

The problem:

For months there had been nothing wrong with electrical systems in our motorhome but one day that changed. Every time we used the tap the lights would dim to almost nothing.

At first I thought it was the leisure batteries were on their last legs, as using a 20w water pump was causing everything else we were using to be starved of electric.

Then thinking about it again, we have an inverter and when we use that to power say, a 200w appliance the lights that are fed directly from the battery don’t dim. At this point I’m doubting the leisure batteries being dead.

After disconnecting everything from the leisure batteries for 4 hours and then testing the voltage they are reading 12.64v. That confirmed it, there’s nothing wrong with the leisure batteries.

My 10 years of experience as an electrician is now making me think its a loose connection somewhere, but where!?

Normally, I would start from the appliance or outlet that is not working and work back but seen as this was affecting everything after the motorhome control unit it seems apparent that it is the feed to the control unit that has the fault on it.

So I started at the batteries. There it was! An inline fuse holder with loose, corroded connections.

The fix:

The fix for this one was simple. Cut out the old fuse holder and crimp on a new one.

Replacement inline fuse holder to leisure batteries
The new one…

For some reason I can’t remember I had a spare one in the motorhome along with some blue through crimps and ratchet crimping tool.

The cost:

£0 as I already had everything needed to fix it. Even if you don’t have one lying about you can get an inline blade fuse holder for a few quid.

Rusty wheel arches

The problem:

It’s a Talbot!! Renowned for rust! Rusty wheel arches on a motorhome of this age is just the norm.

A little surface rust/bubbles on the wheel arches is nothing major to worry about but it is a little unsightly and I wanted rid!

rusty talbot wheel arch

It’s pretty common knowledge that the only way to treat rust is, just like rot, you must cut it out. However, cutting it out creates major damage and requires new wheel arches to be welded on.

I’ve only ever tried welding once when I was 15 and that just resulted in A LOT of holes so I opted to the temporary/cosmetic fix.

The Fix:

The fix for me was to buy a wire wheel and grind the paint/rust back to shiny metal.

Once back to shiny metal and all visible traces of rust gone I slopped copious amounts of a rust inhibitor on it. After lots of research online, the general consensus is that Dinitrol is the best on the market, so that is what i used.

Once the Dinitrol had turned black this means it has neutralised any remaining rust and it was time to give a light sanding.

After sanding smooth with a bit of 100 grit it was time to use some body filler. I used big boy body filler. I mixed 20% of the tub with 20% of the supplied hardener.

I smoothed it on best I could. Once it was dry (2 hours) I sanded the life out of it, first with a bit of 100 grit to get rid of all the big chunky bits and then used a much finer 600 grit sandpaper.

One thing I learnt is that if you think it’s pretty smooth then it’s still rough as a dog’s ass. Sand some more!!

Once the sanding session is over its time mask up and mask up well. Atleast 50cm in every direction. Spray paint travels further than you would think. Now for a few layers of primer.

wheel arch covered in primer

Once the primer is completely dry (I’d recommend leaving for at least 24 hours) it’s then time for the top coat. In our case the paint of choice is Bianco Corfu.

You can find the paint colour code under the bonnet on a plaque and you can get it mixed at various place all over the UK.

painted talbot wheel arch
The finished result

I gave it a good 5 coats and 8 months on it still looks decent. To be fair its far from perfect but as far as a cheap fix from a complete rookie goes, it ain’t bad!

The cost:

The specially mixed colour paint cost £11 a can, sand paper was £4, primer was £8, the Dinitrol was £20 and the body filler was £7.

So, a grand total of £50 and we have plenty left over to treat anymore that shows up.

Fridge not lighting on gas

The problem:

The 3-way fridge that is installed in our motorhome does not have a manual Piezo igniter, instead it has the more modern automatic one. On our fridge you just press the gas switch to the on position and then push in the gas level dial which makes the igniter click away constantly until the flame ignites.

When I viewed the motorhome, the seller did show me that the gas igniter worked. When I tried to light the fridge on gas there was no sound coming from the igniter and it would never cool.

I had no idea what the seller did different to me but he did say it could be a little temperamental at times.

The Fix:

Obviously, we needed a fridge and a new 3-way fridge isn’t cheap. Bottom line ours needed to be fixed.

Once again, hours spent on google yielded nothing! At this point we decided to strip away some of the cupboard which housed our 3-way fridge to expose the wiring connections on the top.

Straight away the problem became apparent. One of the wires which ran to the igniter was just floating in no mans land. Years of travel bumps or a crappy connection to start with meant that the feed to the igniter had worked itself loose.

2 minutes with the multi-meter revealed which of the connected wires were the 12v system. Simply reconnected the igniter and all was well.

The igniter was clicking away beautifully and the gas lighting in only a couple of seconds. However, the neon in the 12v switch has never worked, even after fixing the loose connection.

So if you have a problem with an old 3-way fridge don’t assume there is no supply to it just because the switches aren’t lighting up.

The cost:

Not a penny! Just a couple hours of our time.

Damp in over-cab bed

The problem:

Damp in the over-cab bed is very common among older motorhomes and is somewhere you should inspect extremely well before making a purchase.

This is something that I thought I had done. Evidently not!

We only realised we had damp in the over-cab bed area of our motorhome when we were lead in bed talking and realised that there was a slightly soft area in the corner.

We climbed straight out of bed and proceeded to strip the bed of quilt, pillows and memory foam mattress. Our hearts sank as we pulled back the lino that had covered the wood bed base as it revealed damp and rotten plywood, accompanied by the unmistakable small of damp.

Damp in the over cab bed
Every motorhomers worse nightmare

We tore the bed base to pieces, hellbent on getting rid of anything that had the slightest resemblance of something damp. We ended up with a rectangle of around 1ft by 2ft that needed to be replaced.

The Fix:

As always with any damp problem the first thing to do is find out where the water ingress is coming from and seal it.

In this case the damp stemmed from one of the small lights on the front of the over-cab bed fibreglass moulding. Unscrewing it from the outside revealed that the sealant around it had perished and it was 10mm deep in water.

light on over cab fibreglass shell
The culprit…

Water emptied, both lights sealed up and it was time to tackle the damage inside. Instead of just repairing the small section that was damaged we decided to pull out most of the bed to replace the lot.

I was fully expecting to a wooden frame filled with polystyrene and covered with plywood. Instead what we found was just one solid polystyrene board with a piece of 6mm stuck to it, all just resting on the fibreglass moulding.

Cutting the damp out of a motorhome
After we had cut out the damp!

Replicating the same was easy! Polystyrene, some beefier 12mm ply and a whole lot of PVA glue.

All we did was make a template from the removed pieces that were still intact, cut the polystyrene and plywood from them, glue the polystyrene to the plywood with PVA glue and then glued them both to the fibreglass using more PVA.

We then set about filling the gaps with gorilla glue. We used gorilla glue because it expands to fill the gaps and then sets rock hard within a couple of hours.

rebuilding the over cab bed
Not a bad bodge…

Granted it’s not the most professional job ever but our over-cab bed is now solid and damp free!!

The cost:

For this job we wanted it fixed a soon as possible, especially as sleeping in a damp atmosphere is not good for your health. Given more time we could have sourced all of the materials for a cheaper price but we just wanted it done.

In a rush we headed to the nearest B&Q and spent a grand total of £50. Add that to 5 hours of labour time and the bed is strong and dry.

As a total to fix up the old girl

In total so far we have spent £242 fixing things that HAD to be fixed. Add to that many hours spent googling how to fix it and time spent shopping for materials but still doing well in my eyes.

One thing you may notice about this list is that there is nothing mechanical on it!? That’s because our 28 year old motorhome just keeps on going!!

Issues not connected to condition

As well as the need to patch it up when things break there are other issues to think about when buying an older motorhome. Here’s my top 4 things you should think about when buying an older motorhome:


Many insurance brokers would not offer us a quote due to the motorhome being over 25 years old. There are still plenty out there that will but your options for cover will be a lot less than if you had a new motorhome.

Breakdown cover

Pretty much the same as the problems you’ll find when you’re looking for insurance. Breakdown companies don’t want to know you as soon as you tell them your motorhome is over 25 years old.

Once again, there are companies out there that will cover you but expect to pay a higher premium.

They’re slow…

Our motorhome weighs close to 3 tonnes and it’s 2.5 litre normally aspirated engine has 73 bhp. Well, it had 73 bhp 28 years ago so maybe 60 now!? If we’re lucky….

To put that into context I used to own a car that weighed 1.2 tonnes and had 197 bhp.

Add to that the fact that it’s about as aerodynamic as a brick and I’m sure you’ll understand that if you buy an old motorhome you’ll also be old by the time you get to your destination.

Parts can be hard to find

The older a vehicle gets, the harder it can be to find parts to fix them when they inevitably break. Luckily for us, the base vehicle we have was extremely popular back in the day and secondhand or reconditioned parts are readily available.

On the other hand, break a motohome house window and I’m guessing I’ll struggle to find a replacement. I think I’d just have to get one the same size or bigger and adapt the motorhome for it to fit.

You should do a little research into the availability of parts before you invest in an older motorhome.

Would I recommend buying an older motorhome?

Let’s be serious, if we had loads of cash then of course we’d love to have a £80,000 hymer A-class tag axle but we don’t have loads of money and our 28 year old Talbot can go anywhere a 80k motorhome can go. Well, except London.

For people like us who don’t have loads of money then maybe an older motorhome is the way to go. You get all the same freedom as if you were in a brand new motorhome but with only 10% of the financial outlay.

The compromise is that you have to be prepared to get where your going a little bit slower and understand you might have to fix something when you get there.

At the end of the day our “Langkawi” has got personality by the bucket load and now we don’t think we could spend tens of thousands on a newer motorhome that has nicer cupboards and goes a little faster…

I hope this article has given you a little food for thought if you are someone debating whether it’s worth buying an older motorhome.

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old hobby motorhome

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2 thoughts on “The risky business of buying an older motorhome

  • September 24, 2019 at 1:22 am

    My wife and I have been in the market for a smaller motorhome and we are considering a used model. I agree with you buying a used motorhome can be a scary proposition. Some of the units we have looked at seem to be in good shape, and you can sure save some serious coin, but there are risks. One of them we looked at seemed all good and fine until I leaned against the wall in the bedroom area. I literally sunk into the wall. The woman who was selling it tried to tell me nothing was wrong with it. Ugh, I turned and walked away. Are there any brands to steer clear of? I don’t know if it’s worth paying up for a brand new one if you can find a decent used model. Thanks for your insight, this is a very helpful article.

    • September 24, 2019 at 7:38 pm

      Hi steve, yes it is a very scary proposition and here’s lots of rubbish out there. I guess in part it all comes down to how handy your are at DIY as materials for fixing motorhomes are pretty cheap its just the fact that the coachbuilders will charge between £60-100 per hour to do the repairs.

      Yes damp is a killer blow to many an old motorhome. A lot of damp in an difficult area and they’re likely to become uneconomical to fix. There’s plenty written on the forums about Autotrail motorhomes around the 2005 mark having a major design flaw involving bonding the side skirts to the motorhome body. Apparently, a high percentage suffered from damp and autotrail washed their hands of it. I would seriously stay away from an autotrail.

      As for buying new vs second hand – New motorhomes aren’t cheap but if well cared for, they hold their value extremely well. If your buying second hand and want piece of mind then buy from a dealer, get a INDEPENDENT habitation check and if all comes back well get it resealed by a professional and you should be good to go for many years. Just know that second hand from a dealer vs private sale you’ll be looking at an extra 20-30% on the price.

      I hope that helps.


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