Do you long for a vintage RV but aren’t quite sure whether you should buy one or not?
Maybe it’s because you don’t know what to look for.
Once you have decided on the style and amenities you want, it’s time to think about just how much a vintage RV will set you back.
There are so many vintage RVs on the market. Of course, you have the cool kids on the block—the Airstreams, Aristocrats, Shastas, and Avions.
Then you have the lesser known names, like Globestar, Fleetwood, and Aladdin.
Whichever name you go for, it seems that vintage is becoming a more and more popular choice these days. They’re stylish, cool, and have lots of personality.
Let’s explore what to look for in a vintage RV and how much they’re likely to cost you.
Why Choose A Vintage RV?
What else is appealing about a vintage RV, apart from their classic good looks and the prestige of owning one? Let’s take a look.
The materials that vintage RVs are made from are solid and not synthetic.
Frames were traditionally masonite—a hardboard which consists of wood chips, pressure-molded and pressed, resulting in a solid board.
The natural process used to create this, together with its long fibers, made it a flexible but strong material.
It can withstand a reasonable amount of pressure and bend without breaking up.
It was good for trailers because it’s inexpensive and quite easy to work with.
Aluminum is another material that was used for framing, particularly in the iconic Airstream trailers.
Vintage RVs have a certain distinction with their cutesy interiors and sometimes smaller size.
Appreciation In Value
Just like many other antiques, vintage trailers tend to increase in value with age, especially if they’ve been restored well.
The cost will depend on whether you want to buy a fixer-upper or something on which all the work has been done.
You can expect to pay anywhere between $1000 to in excess of $80,0000.
Just bear in mind, if you buy a vintage RV to renovate yourself, the costs will increase far above what you pay for it. A restoration could be upwards of $10,000, depending on how much work needs to be done.
It’s like the proverbial money pit and also consumes a lot of your time. Nevertheless, the hard work and many dollars spent could be worth it. You will undoubtedly get covetous looks when you’re out on the road.
Unlike a new RV, the chances are you’ll sell it for significantly more than you spent.
What To Consider When Buying, Renovating Or Selling
There are a few things you need to think about before investing in an RV that you intend to give some tender loving care to.
These apply to the price you could pay for it, as well as how much you can sell it for.
It may cost $1,000 to buy, but in excess of $10,000 to renovate. You might not recoup that investment on resale. Below are some factors affecting this.
What Condition Is It In?
Is the RV’s interior in its original condition or has it been painted at all?
Paint could potentially be hiding damage, so it’s important to give it a good check over.
Also, bear in mind resale for the future if you intend to give it a fresh coat of paint yourself.
Take some before and after pictures, so a potential buyer can see that the original condition was good.
Another point to consider when painting your vintage RV is the color scheme.
While you might think teal blue and sunshine yellow are the perfect companions, not everyone will. You might be better off choosing more neutral colors.
Looking at the outside of the RV, a couple of dents or scrapes are to be expected.
A roof which is peeling off or has been sealed with tar will take a lot of work to make right.
We’re back to paint again for the next point. You will see a lot of vintage RVs where people have tried to get in touch with their artistic side and painted murals on the outside of them.
If this is something that appeals to you, that’s fine. Just remember, though, it might take longer to sell.
Not everyone will appreciate huge daisies or psychedelic colors on their RV.
Restoration Or Renovation?
You might be wondering, is there a difference?
I think there is. To me, and many others, a restoration means that the trailer has been stripped back to the frame and rebuilt from the ground up.
When restored well, it might incorporate many of the original features the trailer would have had.
Renovation indicates that the trailer has been improved.
Maybe the roof or the floor have been replaced, or it’s had a lick of paint.
Any damage might have been replaced to make it useable again. It will not have had a full rebuild.
A fully restored or original trailer in good condition will generally command a higher price tag.
Many people buying vintage trailers tend to favor a smaller size.
These are easier to tow and might not mean an upgrade to their existing tow vehicle.
Consequently, a smaller vintage trailer could sell for more than a larger one or hold its price better.
Also if you’re restoring a trailer—a smaller one—depending on the condition, might take less work and less cash.
How Old Is The Trailer And Is It Rare?
Speaking in general terms, the older and rarer the trailer, the higher the price.
This doesn’t always apply, but it’s worth taking note of. Those produced between the 1930s and 1960s seem to be the most popular.
Rarity can be quite subjective, it could be a one-off restoration you won’t find anywhere else or a particular old model of a certain Airstream you’ve been looking for.
Teardrop Or Square?
The shape of a trailer also seems to affect the price. Teardrop and canned ham-shaped trailers might sell quicker, and for more money, than a square-shaped trailer.
Whether or not a trailer has a title can have a big impact on price.
It can take a lot of time and effort to obtain a title for a vintage trailer and you might not want to be bothered the hassle.
If you have a vintage RV without a title, you might be better off getting one before selling it.
It could open up the market of potential buyers for you. Some people just won’t entertain a trailer without one.
This might seem to be an obvious piece of advice, but don’t limit your search for a vintage RV to just your local area.
Trailers can always be shipped to wherever you are. Prices can differ across the country depending on supply and demand.
This will inherently come with its own issues; apart from photographs, you could be buying “sight unseen.”
On the other hand, if the condition is what you expect and it saves a few thousand dollars, it might be worth it.
You might also find the prices to be cheaper in states where they have cold winters.
People generally sell for a lower price in the fall in these areas, so they don’t have to pay for storage for their RV over winter.
What To Check For Before Buying
We have already discovered that buying a vintage RV can be a costly venture. Cut down on additional outlay on repairs, by checking for the following:
Leaks leading to water damage are a major issue for any RV—vintage or not.
Over time, the water can work its way into nooks and crannies causing mold, mildew, and rotting.
Make sure you look all over the RV for water damage—particularly near windows and vents, inside cupboards, and in corners.
Beware—some unscrupulous sellers will try to hide water damage by painting the RV.
New paintwork should be a red flag that you need to be extra cautious about and ascertain why the painting was done.
It could be innocent and purely for aesthetic reasons, but it’s worth checking.
Flooring And Roofing
Replacing the roof or floor of an RV can be costly and time-consuming. Check out both for soft spots or previous repairs.
Keep in mind that replacing a floor will involve possibly removing beds, seating, cupboards, and other parts of the interior.
Axle And Tires
The axle and tires of an RV need to be in good condition. After all, it’s these that keep it on the road.
An axle repair can be expensive, so make sure the bolts and springs are strong.
Tires might not be such a deal-breaker, but you still need to know what condition they’re in.
Changing them out for new ones will be a necessary outlay. Worn tires jeopardize your safety when towing an RV.
Window frames with intact hardware and glass are another thing you should be looking out for.
Replacing a window is no easy task. Not to mention, the older the RV, the harder they will be to find.
It follows, when something is hard to get hold of, that it generally ends up costing a lot of money.
These are hidden behind the paneling in an RV. If they aren’t working, you need to remove the panels to rewire or fix a fault.
No matter how careful you are, there is a risk you could damage the paneling during this process.
Check out things such as the tail lights and turn signals, interior lights, fans, electrical outlets and the battery.
Appliances And Propane Lines
Appliances such as the fridge and stove should be checked. Not only will it mean you can get out on the road quicker if they are, but it’s also a good indication that the propane lines are working.
Check the gas regulators, hoses, pressure adjusters, and gas lines as well as the appliances.
A trailer which has been sitting for some time might have had some unwanted visitors.
These include everything from rats and mice, to bugs and mold. Rotting wood from water damage will also leave an unpleasant smell.
Over the years, cushions and seats might inevitably take on a funky smell of their own.
If this is the cause of odor, they can easily be replaced.
Rats and mice, along with their urine and droppings, to me, is a complete deal-breaker.
Who knows what other damage they might have done that’s not visible?
How To Check If A Vintage RV Is Good Value
There are no reference lists for price comparisons on vintage trailers. Your best source of reference will be to do your own research.
This is where you let your fingers do the walking and check out the numerous websites selling vintage trailers.
There are so many to choose from, such as eBay, Craigslist, and RV Trader, to name a few.
Decide what type or model you’re looking for, whether you want an original, renovated, or restored trailer.
Once you have decided what you want, start comparing prices.
Although supply and demand can affect this, you will build up a picture of the top and bottom ranges when it comes to price.
At the end of the day, the cost of something will represent its value and worth to you.
Spending a couple of thousand more might get you a vintage RV you can hook up and hit the road with straight away.
This could be better than needing to work on it first.
From my own research, I have found you can get a vintage RV, ready to use, from about $2000 up to $10,000 or more. A fixer-upper can be $2500 or less.
Trailers at the top end of the range, in perfect original condition or well-restored can cost anywhere from $10,000 to over $80,000.
Choosing a vintage RV over a new one can be an exciting experience.
It’s more likely to appreciate in value, unlike a new one that loses value the minute you tow it off the lot.
The costs can vary hugely, depending on whether you want one restored and ready to go, or one you can renovate and customize.
One thing that’s apparent when it comes to RVs, is that old does not mean it’s time for the trailer graveyard.
More and more people are seeking these retro relics to restore and resell.
Do you have a vintage RV or have you renovated or restored one? Have you been shopping around for one and got some insights you can share?
Let us know your thoughts, and don’t forget to share the article.