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Is Renovating A Vintage RV Worth The Effort Or Just A Huge Money Pit?

Published on December 15th, 2023 by Emily Lawrence

exterior of vintage rv fully renovated.

Cash or Clunker? When is a Vintage RV Worth Renovating?

If you’ve ever passed a cute little retro camper, maybe you had the thought, “I should get one of those!” Modern RVs are comfortable, but they lack often lack the personality of their older counterparts. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of money and effort to make a vintage RV liveable. Don’t be fooled by the Instagram photoshoots and rosy stories. If a camper is vintage, that usually means it’s at least 25 years old. And unlike many antiques, vehicles don’t necessarily get better with age. But that doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your dreams of owning a vintage RV. You just need to be prepared for the ups and downs of a project like this.

In the end, only you can decide if renovating an RV will be worth your time. They’re pretty cheap up-front, but it’s the repairs and renovations that can add up. If you set a budget, be realistic, and have fun, you might find that this process is extremely rewarding. You’ll need to make a plan and stick to it, though.

Pros

Maintains Value Over Time

RV depreciation is no joke! Buying a brand new model never makes financial sense, and you can usually find great deals in the secondhand market. Vintage RVs are a bit of a toss-up when it comes to price. Some are dirt cheap, while others can be pricey if they come from a nice brand. But if you put money and effort into renovating a vintage RV, you can almost always make it back on the sale. These campers are long-lasting and, therefore, desirable. Well-known brands like Airstream, Shasta, and Boler maintain their value particularly well.

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Fairly Cheap Prices

Speaking of price, let’s talk about the up-front cost. If you’re buying a vintage model, there will be a wide range of prices. If you’re looking for a specific model or a popular brand, the price may be comparable to a modern option. However, most vintage RVs are quite affordable. Many cost less than $5,000! If you want a cheap, blank canvas to work with, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding something that fits your budget.

Cute, Unique Appearance

One of the major appeals of vintage campers is their appearance. These often have rounded shapes and fun colors that are rare to see on the modern market. Although modern luxury campers are nice on the inside, their exterior is usually nothing to write home about. If you want an RV that will stand out in a crowd, retro is the way to go.

Easier to Tow

Next up, let’s talk towability. Vintage campers tend to be lighter and smaller than their modern counterparts. That’s because tow vehicles were not as strong back in the day. So if you don’t want to invest in a high-powered truck, a vintage RV could be the solution.

Simple Utilities and Maintenance

This next point could be a pro or a con (depending on how you look at it). A vintage RV will be fairly old, so it won’t have the complex systems you’ll find in a modern camper. This usually means that you’ll only have one functional sink. Bathrooms are not always included either. This setup makes it easy to winterize your RV, and it saves you a lot of maintenance work since you don’t have to deal with water tanks and sewage. You may need to adjust your lifestyle to fit this new setup, but your list of chores and maintenance tasks will be shorter!

Use a Vintage RV as a Rental or Permanent Fixture

Although retro campers are cute, they’re not always cut out for long trips. But if you want to enjoy this cute little space all year long, you can always park it in your yard and turn it into an extension of your home. If you want to make a little extra money, you could even rent it out as an Airbnb.

Perfect Canvas for Decorating

Finally, a vintage RV is the perfect opportunity for you to design a unique living space. These campers are the perfect blank canvas, especially once you strip the existing furniture and appliances. You’ll be able to create a layout that suits your needs. And if you love decorating, this is the ideal space to play with! Vintage campers have plenty of fun shapes, colors, and unique features.

Cons

Vintage RVs are Old

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but vintage RVs have lived through several years of wear and tear. They’re old and are more likely to have issues as a result. Common problems include mold, water damage, black streaks, delamination, asbestos, and structural flaws. In addition, the appliances and furniture will be quite outdated. Although it may still be useable, it probably won’t be stylish or comfortable at first glance. They also won’t have modern appliances or amenities unless you decide to install them.

May Require hard-to-find Parts

Once you begin work on a vintage RV, you’ll discover that it comes with several unique challenges. For instance, it can be tricky to find specific auto parts for repairs. Plenty of vintage models require parts that are no longer in stock. You’ll have to spend extra time and money to seek out suitable replacements.

It can be Difficult to Find a Specific Model of Vintage RV

Although scrapyards and RV lots are full of vintage campers, you might not be interested in any of these offerings. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s good! If you have your heart set on a particular model or style, you’ll need to do extra research to find a suitable option. Look for the right combination of brand, age, condition, and price. And remember, if you find something that seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. Tread carefully while you search for your dream RV.

Some Models are No Longer Roadworthy

If you’re buying an RV, there’s a good chance that you want to use it for camping and road trips. But you may need to change your plans if you’re working with a vintage model. Even well-maintained vehicles break down over time, so many of these RVs are no longer roadworthy. This is especially true for motorhomes, but even towable vehicles have these same issues. You may need to take trips that are close to home or park the RV in your yard for the foreseeable future. Full-time RVing is rarely an option in a vehicle like this.

Renovation costs Add Up

Don’t be fooled by the low price tag when you buy an old camper. It may be cheap now, but you need to consider all the money you’ll spend on materials, furniture, and upgraded amenities. Of course, low-budget renovations are possible, but you can easily go over budget if an unexpected problem pops up. It’s hard to put a precise number on how much you might spend, but you should expect to spend at least a couple thousand dollars over the course of this project.

Requires Lots of Work to Make a Vintage RV Liveable

The money is just one aspect of renovation. You also need tools, time, and know-how. Some jobs might require professional help, while others can be done by yourself. Either way, you’ll probably spend a lot of long days working on your vintage RV, so you need to make sure you really love it before you commit. If you want the benefits of a vintage RV without all the work and risk, you can explore newer models that are designed with a retro aesthetic. These may be pricey, but they eliminate lots of renovation problems.

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