Keep these general guidelines in-mind when considering a class C motorhome.
New, used, or well used, when shopping for a conventional class B+ or C, the most important consideration is how it is constructed. This post outlines construction methods which are most affordable and methods that cost more, but are built to hold up much better to the elements and also the punishment of the road.
Some motor home manufactures offer different levels of quality through their various model lines. Instead of providing a list of brands to consider, it is best to identify what "Better"
When shopping for a motor home, don't get distracted with "Eye Candy" and "Square Footage". You want to pay close attention to how the house is constructed. Water infiltration is the number one killer of motor homes, rotting them away long before anything is worn out. Once water gets inside, it is like termites. By the time you realize there is a problem, a lot of damage has already occurred. Also consider that mold & mildew can grow inside the walls which then you have a health hazard. My advise focuses on identifying a reliably well sealed motor home.
(Very Expensive, Can Be 1.5 times the cost of Second Best)
NO structural seam work. The brand Coach House
is a fine example. It is seamless, made from a mold. The only places where water can leak is cutouts for windows, entry door, roof-top vents & a/c unit, storage compartments & maintenance access, all of which are in areas of very low stress. Because they have a seamless shell, these motor homes are not common and have a limited selection of sizes and floor plans.
#2 SECOND BEST
Common, Affordable, & comes in Many Sizes so this is my main focus
I own an example of this type. My Rig Here
manufactured by Phoenix USA
Made in sections, but assembled in a way that greatly reduces the threat of water damage. Here are the good things you want to look for.
a) Structural Seams Away From Corners
When a motor home is driven, the house bounces, resonates, shakes, and leans countless times, representing a endless series of earthquakes. Corner seams see greater stresses than seams located elsewhere. Corner seams are more easily split, especially when the caulk gets brittle with age & exposure to the sun. One extremely bad bump in the road can instantly breach a corner seam. Seams hold up much better when they are brought in from the corners in lesser stressed areas.
b) A Seamless Over-The-Van Front Cap
A huge bed above the van’s roof is the most vulnerable area of a motor home. No matter how well they are made, that long frontal over-hang resonates when the RV is driven making it common for seams to split there, most troublesome with age & exposure to the elements. HERE
is an example, one of many water-damage threads I have read. Scroll down in that thread to see pictures of the real damage.
The small front aerodynamic cap of a B+ design HERE
eliminates the overhang which eliminates most of the resonation, along with the most vulnerable seam work.
There are a few conventional “C” Designs (big over-van bed) where that area is seamless. If you absolutely must have that huge bed, then look for a seamless bucket-like design. The Itasca Navion
is a fine example. If your requirements are to have a large class-C with a massive over-van bed, the best example I seen was this Fleetwood Tioga
model offered around 2008-2009. It is unfortunate all class-Cs don't practice seamless cab-over area construction for it would greatly improve the class-C industry.
Increasing in popularity by many manufactures is a shallow bucket design with fewer seams located in less-stressed areas. The Nexus Triumph
is one such example. This shallow bucket design is a reasonable compromise.
If you plan to accommodate more than 2 people, having that large extra cab-over bed will be extremely useful.
c) A Crowned Roof
Rain and snow melt runs off a crowned roof. A flat roof will sag over time, then water puddles around heavy roof-top items like the a/c unit. Water eventually finds it's way inside after gaskets & caulk have degraded from age, sun, and change in seasons.
d) Rolled-Over-The-Edge seamless Fiberglass Roof Sheathing
A single sheet of fiberglass as shown HERE
that rolls over the right & left sides of the roof, down to the wall. The overlapping of fiberglass to the wall provides a good water seal and the fiberglass sheathing holds up better than roofs made of sheet rubber or thin plastic called TPO, which require more attention to keep your RV well protected.
e) A Five Sided Rear Wall Cap
A five sided back wall moves the seams around to the sides to areas of much less stress as seen HERE
. The rear wall resembles a shallow rectangular cooking pan standing on it's side. Like the example, some rear wall sections are constructed with an integrated spare tire compartment and rear storage compartment. Not only are they convenience features, but that rear wall/cap offers a solid double-wall for exceptional strength which is more resistant to flexing the adjoining seam work. It helps in keeping the house together.
Don't be fooled. Some manufactures add rear wall sectional styling which gives the appearance of a 5-sided pan design. Though not as desirable, they are still an improvement because all the holes for lighting and such are not in the structural wall where water could otherwise get inside the house. You can easily tell by noting the sections & seams between them and the flat back wall that remains exposed. CLICK HERE
to see an example.
f) Walls Are Either Resting On The Floor Or Bolted Against It
Common sense would say the walls should rest on the floor, but some manufactures actually bolt the walls into the side of the floor framing as ILLUSTRATED HERE
. This means the weight of the roof and walls (and everything hanging on them) rests on mounting bolts. How well will that method hold up when being driven for so many thousands of miles? Checking for this is very difficult. It takes a trained eye for sure. CLICK HERE
for an example of it done right with the walls resting on the floor.
Bigger Will Be Weaker
The size & floor plan you select MUST FIRST meet your needs before this consideration.
The bigger the house, the weaker the structure will be. Consider two cardboard boxes made from the exact same corrugated material. The smaller box would naturally be stronger. It will be more resistant to bending, twisting, and other types of flexing. So if you are on the fence between models, the smaller one will be your stronger choice.
Potentially Troublesome Construction
Entry level motor homes are made with seams in corners and finished off with trim, including the massive cab-over bed. Their roof is flat and finished with rubber or TPO. They are most affordable, and come in all sizes. HERE
is one such example. If considering this construction type, keep in-mind they require more regular care with bi-annual inspections. Plan to use a caulking gun now and then. When buying a used one, consider that you really don't know how well the previous owner maintained it. Buying new or used, that construction method will be counting on you to be a good non-neglectful owner.
There are also the rare exception of the Lazy Daze
which has seam work in the corners, but the substructure and sealing method is of the highest quality that it holds up like a seamless body. It's excellent sectional construction methods are not commonly found in other brands. I am no expert on this, but I'd give it a #1.5 Almost Like Best
A Caution Concerning Slide Outs
Slide outs are most popular. Everybody loves the extra floor space they provide. There are so few motor homes made without at least one slide out. Unfortunately slide outs can introduce risk of water damage to the main floor around them. Good seals work when the rig is young, but can loose their ability to seal properly as they age. When looking at used rigs with slide outs, closely examine the main floor around each one. If you can lift the carpet adjacent to the slide out and see the wood floor is a gray color, that is a sign that water gets inside. Also, completely open the slide out and step on the main floor adjacent to the slide out. If it feels soft, the plywood or chip board material underneath likely requires replacing.
Concern Over Bad Plumbing Practices
Once in a while, a manufacture of motorhomes will simply Build Bad
1) CLICK HERE
for a picture of the whole house water filter, and CLICK HERE
for the water pump, both placed in the same compartment with all the electronics. If anything comes loose and water sprays around inside this compartment, your motorhome is electrcially destroyed.
2) CLICK HERE
and CLICK HERE
to see hot and cold water plumbing lines being routed underneath the motorhome, completely vulnerable to freezing. Summer camping at high altitude and in Canada will often see temperatures below freezing, with spring and fall being much more threatening. Think about the ruptured plumbing you will forever deal with over this engineering debacle.
About The Chassis
The most popular is the Ford E350 and E450 with the V10 engine, but Ford recently replaced that 6.8L-V10 with a larger more powerful 7.3L-V8 that happens to be a little more fuel efficient, a win-win for sure. The Ford Transit diesel & gas turbo along with the Mercedes Sprinter diesel are popular alternatives to the E350 in the smaller sizes. The GM 3500 & 4500 chassis are not popular but are a very good choice for the right application. Any of the chassis mentioned made since 1998 are real good, new or used. If you plan to tow a car or trailer, be aware that the Transit and Sprinter will be least powered. People who tow with them, tow lighter and cruise slower. Do your research if you have something specific in-mind to tow.
If considering a recent “small” class B+ or C motor home, here is a comparison between the two current main chassis contenders, the Sprinter with the V6 diesel engine and the Ford E350 with the V10 gasoline engine.
Advantages Of The Mercedes Sprinter With Diesel Engine
- Offers a 35%-40% improvement in fuel economy over the Ford-V10, when both are loaded and driven identically.
- More ergonomic driver compartment with more leg room.
- Comfort continues with a car-like feel & quiet ride.
- A grander view out the windshield
- Made by Mercedes which people are attracted to.
Advantages Of The Ford E350 with gasoline V10 or the latest larger V8 engine
- Given identical motor homes both brand and model, the Ford is around $24,000 MSRP cheaper
- The Ford V10 engine has 50% more horse power and torque
- The Ford E350 chassis handles 1430 pounds more weight.
- The E350 is able to tow a heavier load.
- The E350 rear axle is significantly wider which translates to better stability.
- In most places traveled, gasoline costs less than diesel fuel
- The Sprinter diesel has limited mechanical service shops around North America
- The Sprinter diesel is typically outfitted with a propane generator. Propane is a critical fuel for RV operations, and generally needs to be rationed when dry camping.
- The V6 Sprinter (and Transit) diesel engine is not allowed to idle for extended periods. This limitation is detrimental when you need a/c but there are generator restrictions, you are low on propane, or you have a mechanical failure with the generator or roof a/c. The Ford gas engine offers a great backup system. The V10 can safely idle for hours on end, heating, cooling, and battery charging, all valuable if you have a baby, pets, or health/respiratory issues.
You decide what your priorities are, and pick the appropriate chassis. There are some really sweet motor homes being built exclusively on the Sprinter chassis, such as the Winnebago Navion and View.
The Ford Transit Chassis
This chassis is increasing in popularity in the smallest sizes. According to Ford's website, the Transit DRW chassis is offered in the 156", and 178" wheel base, and is rated as high as 10,360 GVWR. Ford offers a motor home package specific for the RV industry. It's diesel engine compares to the Sprinter in power and fuel economy, but is more affordable and is easily serviced at Ford service centers, just like the E350 & E450. The cab has a lower stance than the Sprinter making it much more friendly to get into and out from for people in their later years. Entering and exiting is more like a mini-van rather than a standard van. The Transit's lower cab also offers roomier over-head bunks that are easier to access.
Ford recently discontinued the diesel engine, replacing it with a gasoline 3.5L-V6 twin-turbo direct-injection engine. This eliminates a lot of diesel-related draw-backs, but I understand the fuel economy is not much better than the E350's large V8. So if fuel economy is your primary reason to consider a Transit, know what you are giving up for only a 10% improvement. Also consider the reliability of a large simple naturally aspirated engine versus a complex twin turbo engine with high pressure direct fuel injection.
The Dodge Promaster 3500 Cut-Away Chassis
This front wheel drive chassis is another recent entry in the RV industry. I am concerned over it's lack of load capability as reflected with single free-wheeling rear wheels. I have been reading posts written by new Promaster RV owners stating they are over-weight with just two people, some personal effects and food. They say they can't carry water and never a 3rd person. I would not be comfortable with such a limited load range in a B+ or C. This chassis is perfect for class "B" motor home market because being front wheel drive, there is no drive shaft or rear differential. The extra undercarriage space gets well utilized by the outfitters with more batteries, bigger waste & propane tanks, and other under-the-floor utilities.
The Chevy 3500 & 4500 Chassis
Unfortunately this chassis is not more popular, primarily because GM sort-of gave up on competing with the Ford E350 & E450. It offers more interior comfort than the Ford, but not as much as the Sprinter. It's power & weight ratings are a little less than their Ford counter-parts making them a great chassis for all but the heaviest of class Cs. They are also a little better on fuel consumption. One thing to keep in-mind, if you are counting inches in storing your rig, the Chevy is a little longer than the Ford by a number of inches which was critical for us with our garage as seen HERE
with our Ford 2007 E350 rig. That could be the reason why the Chevy has a little more interior driver/passenger leg room.
The Ford E350 & E450
The majority of class B+ and C motor homes are built on one of these two chassis for a number of very good reasons, and with the changes in recent years to the engine and transmission, the good reasons increase. They have more power and load capability than the others. Ford approves outfitters to modify the chassis to increase or decrease the wheel base which supplies motor home companies a lot of design freedom. Ford has off-the-shelf components that work with the wheel base modification. So if you need a new drive shaft, fuel line, brake line, parking brake cable, wire harness, whatever, Ford has them available. Finally, the E350 and E450 chassis is competitively priced.
Engine Power Ratings of Ford, MB-Sprinter, Chevy, and Dodge
Ford E350 & E450
- 6.8L-V10, 305hp, 420ft (7.3L-V8 starting in 2020, 350hp, 468ft)
- 3.2L-I5 diesel, 185hp, 350ft (3.5L-V6 twin-turbo direct-injection 310hp, 400ft)
for Ford Transit and E-Series Motorhome Package Specs.
Mercedes Sprinter Diesel
- 3.0L-V6, 188hp, 325ft
Chevy 3500 & 4500
- 6.0L-V8, 323hp, 373ft
- 3.6L-V6 (GVW only 9,300 pounds)
Click on the video below for a slide-show presentation on the construction of a Phoenix Cruiser and turn up your volume. It was made in 2007 and updated a year later. As old as this presentation is, Phoenix Cruisers are still made this way today.
I feel this presentation teaches so much, especially about hidden things that unsuspecting buyers would never think about.