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Old 05-09-2013, 04:17 PM   #1
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Arrow Roadtrip from CT to CA 1981 Winnebago

Guys, me and a few buddies are interested in doing a roadtrip from CT to CA in August. We are all college students, so budget is tight. We will be purchasing a vehicle, preferably for under $5000.

We found this, and will be going out to take a look May 18th. I know next to nothing about RVs, but have decent mechanical knowledge from tooling around with the dirtbike.

1981 winnebago lower price

Can you guys point out some things I should look for when checking it out in person? Are there any specific questions I should ask the owner before/after I test drive it?

Thanks
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Old 05-09-2013, 04:31 PM   #2
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Are you proficient with a compression tester and vacuum gauge?
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Old 05-09-2013, 04:40 PM   #3
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Roof water leaks

Tires older than 5 years regardless of tread

Big bubbles in side walls (delamination)

Any of those run! Unless you can afford new tires.
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Old 05-09-2013, 04:43 PM   #4
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I know what they are but not sure how to use them. I could pick them up from Autozone, what readings am I looking for?
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Old 05-09-2013, 05:50 PM   #5
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I know what they are but not sure how to use them. I could pick them up from Autozone, what readings am I looking for?
Look up the compression and vacuum specs for a Chevy 454 and see what is acceptable. I would personally check compression on all eight cylinders. This can be accomplished by removing all the spark plugs, insert the compression gauge into each cylinder one at a time. Have someone crank to engine till the needle on the gauge jumps three times then stop. Record the readings from each cylinder and make sure they are within the specs that you lookup and within 15% of each other. Also youtube how to read a vacuum gauge, they are extremely easy to attach to the engine. These are the two main tests I perform on all vehicle that I purchase, they will find or eliminate mechanical engine problems. Then check for clean fluid and proper level in the brake master cylinder, transmission and coolant reservoirs. Visually inspect the brake pads for uneven wear and check the front brake calipers for leaking. To inspect the rear brake shoes thoroughly you would have to pull the rear axles, but you can remove the adjustment plug and inspect them with a flashlight. While you're under there check the rear wheel cylinders where the brake lines connects for leaks and check the rear end for leaks. On a long trip you will want everything to hold vital fluids, so you don't risk any failures. Signs of leaking could also be a sign of a lack of maintenance. If you are not comfortable with doing the mechanical inspect a number of mechanics will do a pre-purchase inspect for relatively cheap.

As for the house section you will want to test every appliance and make the current owner show you how it works. If they say they don't know how it works or they say they have never used it before, but they know it works; it's been my experience that it does NOT WORK. Be cautious! Call in advance and tell them to get the refrigerator and AC cold. Make sure they can start the generator and that you can test drive it.

How long will you guys live in the motorhome? Are you worried about resale once you're done?
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Old 05-09-2013, 07:08 PM   #6
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Thanks, that's a lot of valuable information that I'll take into account.

I have a friend whose a mechanic that would most likely be able to tag along with us. I am not too sure how to work on machines this large, so it'd take a while for me to even find all of the spark plugs to test the compression and I don't want to be there all day.

We plan on being in it for about 2 weeks, going coast to coast and back so about 6000 miles. Haven't really thought about resale, but not too worried. Any tips? Obviously I would most likely try to sell it when we get back (mid to end of August) or wait until next summer for RV season to start again. Is there anything else I should look out for?

Thanks
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Old 05-09-2013, 07:15 PM   #7
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The cooling system would be suspect on a coach that age as well - even if it's not leaking a drop at the moment. You start stressing it with high road temps you'll be encountering in August, then throw a mountain or 2 in it's way, and well, I'd be concerned for it?
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Old 05-09-2013, 07:24 PM   #8
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The cooling system would be suspect on a coach that age as well - even if it's not leaking a drop at the moment. You start stressing it with high road temps you'll be encountering in August, then throw a mountain or 2 in it's way, and well, I'd be concerned for it?
Good observation, something I was thinking about too. We'd be traveling through Colorado/Utah and Nevada, then Arizona/Texas on the way home so high temps and mountains will be a factor.

I suppose there isn't any reliable way to test for this ahead of time, correct?
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Old 05-09-2013, 08:07 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Waymon3x6 View Post
Thanks, that's a lot of valuable information that I'll take into account.

I have a friend whose a mechanic that would most likely be able to tag along with us. I am not too sure how to work on machines this large, so it'd take a while for me to even find all of the spark plugs to test the compression and I don't want to be there all day.

We plan on being in it for about 2 weeks, going coast to coast and back so about 6000 miles. Haven't really thought about resale, but not too worried. Any tips? Obviously I would most likely try to sell it when we get back (mid to end of August) or wait until next summer for RV season to start again. Is there anything else I should look out for?

Thanks
I know you guys are on a budget, so plan on $3000 - $4000 on gas, mine gets around 7 miles per gal.
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Old 05-09-2013, 08:08 PM   #10
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I asked about resale and trip duration because if you are traveling in the summer and reselling it this summer then minor water damage is a non issue. In fact you could use the water damage to help leverage a better price. Don't think of it as a big vehicle, it is simply a 1 ton chevy pick-up. If your friend is a mechanic have him bring a cooling system pressure tester too. That way he can pressurize the cooling system beyond normal system pressure. This will make even the smallest leak obvious. As far as cooling during the trip as long as the cooling system is sealed then it should be fine.I have a 1984 Winnebago Chieftain with 100k+ miles on the original engine and it has never even ran hot. Last year we went on a trip 100+ degrees outside with the dash air on climbing 8% grades and it didn't even break a sweat. It is a great engine, trans and drivetrain; oh, the trans is a Chevy TH400 (great transmission) not a Allison like the Craigslist ad states. If you have any questions during the inspection please ask, I have been through every inch of my motorhome and know it very well. This could be helpful because I have a very similar motorhome. Expect between 5 and 8 miles per gallon depending on speed and wind.
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Old 05-09-2013, 08:19 PM   #11
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AC and heater disconected? I would want to know why, like is cooling a problem. And you guys are going east coast to west coast to east coast in two weeks? So that is nearly all just driving. How many of you are there? You might save money and get a van and stay at motels. It is going to be devilishly hot in a motor home with no dash air. You can run genny and use roof air but that will not be enough to stay cool in August You will have to stay at places with electric hookup at night to run roof air. Or run genny all of the time. Of course y'all are young and can take the heat.

Wish you the best of luck and let us know how it works out.

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Old 05-09-2013, 08:39 PM   #12
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Sounds like a blast! Be careful and have fun! Safe Travels.
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Old 05-09-2013, 08:57 PM   #13
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Thanks for the added info guys.

CharlieJ - We are planning on allocating about $2400 for gas. 6000 miles @ ~10mpg = 600 gallons x $4 per gallon = $2400.

Winnebeater, I'll ask my buddy if he has a cooling system pressure tester; if he doesn't, is there any other way to check for leaks without one? I assume there isn't much I can do other than take the owner's word for it or take it for a test drive and watch the temp gauge.

ronspradley, great point about the AC/heat. When I spoke to the owner over the phone, I failed to ask why the heating/air had been disconnected. This will be a big factor on deciding if we follow through with this particular vehicle so I'll be sure to ask about it.

The ad notes that the vehicle has a "newer roof ac unit", wouldn't this suffice? My concern is that since the engine's AC/heat has been disconnected, this could mean that the engine's cooling unit may not be able to handle the extra heat added from the compressor. Is this logical?
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Old 05-09-2013, 11:45 PM   #14
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No other way to check it and a short test drive is no indicator o n how the cooling system will perform once you get to some of the dryer/ hotter states. You could probably have a shop do a cooling system pressure test for very cheap, it takes 5-10 minutes.

You may want to recalculate your fuel estimates. I have the same length Winnebago with the same chassis, engine and trans and the absolute best that I have ever got was our trip to So-Cal @ 9.5 mpg. Our first trip when we got our motorhome we got 5 mpg and our average since we bought ours is more around 8 mpg. I noticed that your cost per gallon was estimated high, but that's only roughly 10% above the national average. Not much room for error. If you are estimating 10 mpg (not happening with the motorhome) and you averaged 8 mpg (optimistic) then that is a 20% difference. That could potentially add an additional $200-$300 to your fuel budget. Like I said our all time average is 8 mpg, so I always calculate at 6.5 mpg and add $0.50 per gallon on the price of gas at the most expensive place in my route. This has never failed us. On our worst trip we broke even and on our best trip we had $500 left over.
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