If your overall goal in buying a vehicle is the best possible value, boy do I have news for you. Recently, I've been shopping for an RV, and in that process I've discovered that, pound for pound, they've got to be the cheapest vehicles money can buy.
Earlier today I mentioned my upcoming move from LA, which makes a lot of rational sense but is pretty filled with emotion for me. I've sold my house, and I can be pretty emotional about inanimate things, silly as that may be. So it's not surprising I've been sort of down.
But my wife had a great idea to snap me out of my funk, since she must have been getting pretty sick of me looking wistfully at burned-out power outlets and sagging gutters instead of helping to pack. The idea was simple: we have to get across the US with our toddler, a dog, two cats, and a car. So why not make it fun? Instead of getting expensive plane tickets and animal flying permits and shipping the car, what if we drove across the US? In a camper!
Once a car was in the equation, everything looked up for me. I've always sort of wanted an RV, anyway, since they satisfy that same part of my brain that loves Salyut space station interiors and gets off on extreme space utilization. Plus, this could be my chance to finally own a cab-over vehicle! I was hooked.
What I wasn't prepared for was the reality of how incredibly unloved campers and RVs are, as a group. I can't think of any object outside of CRT TVs that people want to own less. They're big, incredibly fuel-thirsty, and even just being able to park one inside of LA is challenging.
Looking at used RVs, I was amazed by how many are available in the $2000-$6000 price range. I don't think any vehicles depreciate quite like an RV does — it's fascinating. If you stand next to a new RV on the lot, you can actually hear the faint whistling sound of the value plummeting. The actual hardware value of the vehicles you'd think would be quite high — you're getting both a car and a functioning house, all in one, with all the associated systems associated with both. It's a hell of a lot of equipment.
But the truth is, people just don't use RVs nearly as much as they seem to think they will, and as a result most RVs seem to have been sitting since the days when AOL would send you CDs in the mail, if not earlier. I looked at RVs from the early 90s with less than 40,000 miles on them that were enormous boxes of rot and neglect.
There's also very little more depressing than looking at used RVs, because at some point you'll encounter one that's being used as someone's primary residence, and outside of roaming wild retirees, that's not usually a decision people come to happily.
So, I while still excited by the idea of buying a new motorized anything, I was getting a little despondent. Would anything I could afford be a huge mess of hornet's nests in plumbing pipes and engines whose oil has re-evolved back into some sort of reptilian life?
But I got lucky. Holy crap did I get lucky. I found one Craigslist ad for a 1977 Dodge Tioga RV. It was 23 feet long, had a bathroom with a shower and toilet, and a massive 440 V8 engine. That's about 7.2 liters, which means it's bigger than the other three cars I have combined. It looked really well maintained, and I was interested.
But here's what sold me on the Dodge: the very, very meticulous and careful owner had installed an array of gauges on the dash to keep track of transmission coolant temperature, oil pressure, oil temperature, volts, and more. These are not the actions of a typical RV owner: these are the actions of someone who really knows and appreciates a car.
When I inspected the car, I was stunned at how well it was maintained. There was a new transmission, new transmission cooler, new steel gas tank, modified radiator for better cooling, a massive 70 amp generator, and every bit of the RV was immaculate. The doghouse inside that housed the engine (yes, it's a cab-over, even) had custom flames stitched into it. Everything was in glorious '70s technicolor-Woody-Allen-movie-brown. I was in love.
Incredibly, a vehicle this well maintained, with every system in good working order, still only cost me a little over $5000. That's insane. The engine alone on this thing would be worth close to that for someone building a Mopar hot-rod.
So, I'm now a homeowner again, only this time my home is a capable of lumbering around at 70 MPH, guzzling gas at a rate of probably 6-8 MPG. My wife Sally's been at the inside a bit already, and it's incredible how comfortable and homey it already feels. Otto, my three-year-old, loves the over-cab bunk area.
So, if I have to leave a city I've grown to really love, this is the way to do it, I think. In a vintage, well-loved RV, ready to find some adventures or solve crimes or whatever it is people in old RVs tend to do these days.
I'll be heading out in early August and ideally will be writing from the road in Torchlopnik Mobile HQ, so hopefully I'll have some good stuff to post en route. Maybe we can encounter some Jalops on the way?
This part will be fun. More to come!