Age is more than a number. Wine is not the only product that gets better with age. Quality construction never gets old and most older RVs come with top quality construction that surpasses today’s modern models. However, not all older RVs fit into this category.
If you only go back 10 years, then you will find that 5th wheel trailers built by Doubletree, now DRV. Another choice would be New Horizons and we have already heard an owner state, that he won’t give this brand up for anything.
To learn more about this topic and which older 5th wheels are the best and which are the worst, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about if you are tired of the inferior modern models that just do not hold up in any camping situation.
This may get a little long as it is an important topic with many facets to it. You have heard that buying an older, used car is inheriting other people’s problems. That holds true for most used 5th wheels.
Unless the previous owner or owners kept the RV in top shape, expect to pay a lot of money in repairs over your first year of ownership. Older RVs do come with maintenance and repair issues that make many new owners regret their purchase.
When you go to buy an older RV, check the brand name first.; Not all older models are built the same and there were lemons throughout the history of RV making. Just like today, there will be good older RVs and bad ones.
Do some research to make sure you can tell the difference and avoid those brands that have a bad reputation for quality and construction. The good news about buying an older 5th wheel is that you can get what you want when you want.
There is no waiting for the company to build your new RV, it is already built and ready for service. That is in most cases. There is one important criterion you should go by when shopping for an older RV.
If the older 5th wheel is beyond your capacity to spend time and money on it, then it is too old and in too rough of shape to buy. Pick something that will fit your time schedule and your budget.
Anything built prior to 1971, in the majority of cases, will need a lot of time and money to restore and keep running. These are more project vehicles in the beginning. Those 5th wheels built after 1971 are the ones that are ready for the road, in most cases.
You have to be realistic when shopping for an older 5th wheel. Why most are built better than today’s models, that does not guarantee that the engine will hold out, or the plumbing remains in good shape.
Also, when shopping for an older RV, there are many issues you have to keep an eye out for. These issues can get expensive as well as be a risk to your health. The following list is not exhaustive but gives you an idea of what can be part of your older 5th wheel purchase:
- Black mold infestation
- Destroyed by fire
- Holding tank corruption
- Interior/exterior vandalism
- Massive water damage
- Nonworking engine/transmission
- Severely damaged frame
- Twisted, bent, or broken chassis
This is not going to be a difficult task. You have many sources to check when your heart is set on owning an older 5th wheel. The first place you can check would be those dealers that take trade-ins. The dealers want to get them off the lot as quickly as possible so you may be able to strike a great deal.
The second place to look will be those RV lots that act like car lots. They have newer and used 5th wheels for sale and it is always possible to negotiate a purchase price that is in your favor. This is a good spot to find some older hard to find 5th wheel trailers.
The third place to look will be the internet. There are a few RV sales websites that dot the internet highway. They have a wide range of 5th-wheel trailers for sale. What makes looking on these websites easier is if you already know the make, model, and year of the 5th wheel you want.
While they may have a wide range of 5th-wheel trailers and other RVs, your specific model may not be in great supply. Make sure to have a second and third choice ready if you can’t find your first choice.
Finally, you have the classified ads. Whether this is Craigslist or the old-fashioned newspaper classifieds, you can find motivated sellers in these locations. It just takes finding them in an area near you.
Classified ads will have some cheap models as well as some more expensive 5th-wheel trailers whose owners are not that motivated. Don’t assume they are all motivated sellers and do not insult them with a low ball bid.
Be patient as it may take time to find the best 5th-wheel trailer using any one of these sources.
While we will put some brand and some model names here, not everyone will agree with our selection. One reason for that disagreement is that there were too many brands back then that built a wide array of models and some models may inadvertently be left off of this list.
1. 2007 Heartland Bighorn 3400RL- is said by its owners to not have anything break for 10 years. The owner gave this model a straight set of 5 stars in every category
2. 2007 Ameri-camp Summit Ridge SF26DS- is said to be well constructed as the owners experienced zero leaks, and all mechanicals worked flawlessly. Plus, the floors remained solid.
3. 2007 DRV Mobile Suites 36SB3- This model was built very sturdy and that quality construction showed 15 years later. The owner only gave 2 stars for the warranty and customer service and the floor plan 4 stars. The rest of the categories received 5 stars.
4. 2007 Heartland Sundance 3200ES- The owners loved the three slide-outs and the comfortable home-like feel to the floor plan. However, they gave low marks for the warranty /customer service category. Every other category received 5 stars.
5. 2005 Wildcat- The owner reluctantly parted with it as they needed a 3rd bunk for family members. During their ownership, they did not seem to have one complaint about the features, floor plan, or construction quality.
6. 2001 35ft Alpenlite Avalon RK- This is built so good the owners are not going to part with it until they pass away. That says something about the quality of construction, the livability of the 5th wheel, and more.
7. 2002 Gulf Stream Sea Hawk- This model comes with high praise from its owner. They also store it indoors ensuring the weather does not do any damage to it. Be careful as there are other models of RVs that use the Sea Hawk name.
8. 2002/2004 Sunnybrook- These trailers seem to be very well built. The owners are very pleased with the service they got, the room inside as well as the quality of construction. One owner feels his model will last long enough for his grandkids to enjoy it.
As you may have noticed, we stayed in the early 2000s for our examples. That does not mean any older RVs are not any good, it is just that there are too many top examples that we could not put them all here.
As you look for even older RV 5th wheel trailers, the numbers are going to dwindle. You may be lucky to find top quality used older 5th wheel trailers if you search hard enough.
Some models, like the 1939 GM Futurliner, are so rare, only 12 survive, that the cost to buy them is only reasonable for the wealthiest of families. It costs $4 million right now at auction. Be prepared to pay a lot for antique (1910 to 1944) or vintage models (1945 to 1970).
Unless you have deep pockets, the older 5th-wheel trailers to avoid are the ones that are going to cost a lot to refurbish. These project 5th wheel trailers will also cost a lot in time as it will take a lot of time to repair all the damage and upgrade some of the systems.
When it comes to modern 5th-wheel trailers, Jayco is number one on the list of brands to avoid. However, it was not always this way and older Jayco 5th wheel trailers came with a good reputation as well as being known for being well-built. This brand will be a hit-or-miss gamble.
Most lists of this nature only mention modern RV brands. Those include Winnebago, Fleetwood, Thor, Coachman, and Gulfstream. Jayco is on these lists as well.
When it comes to older 5th-wheel trailers, it is not so much the brand but the age of the trailer you have to watch out for. Time does take its toll and even once good 5th wheel trailers are now not so good.
Here are some tips to guide your search when you go looking for older 5th-wheel trailers:
1. If the price is too low, then that is a red flag- you have to ask yourself why a $300,000 5th wheel is only selling for $40,000. Check everything to make sure you are not buying someone else’s problems.
Those figures are just an example. Older trailers may not even reach 15,000 to 20,000 dollars on the used market so use your best judgment on this category.
2. If the price is too high, then it is a red flag- some people place sentimental and other values on their older 5th-wheel trailers. That behavior tends to influence owners to put a very high price tag on their models.
They may also think that the older the 5th wheel the more valuable but that is only in certain cases and does not apply to all older models.
3. Don’t judge the 5th wheel by the exterior look- the trailer may look good on the outside and even in the interior. However, those good looks may be hiding the fact that the trailer is rotting in between those two walls.
What you cannot see can hurt you financially as the repair work will be costly. The good exterior looks may influence you to pay more than you should.
4. Make sure parts are available- this is one of the biggest issues with older 5th-wheel trailers. If the parts are rare or no longer available, then avoid buying that older 5th-wheel trailer.
Do some research to see if you can get parts or not. Fabricating replacement parts may not work or be cheap.
There are lots of features and designs to look for when shopping for an older RV.
1. Price- make sure it is priced reasonably and is affordable. It is hard to get loans on very old RVs let alone 5th wheel trailers. Do not over pay and make sure you know the depreciation rates for the model you want to buy.
2. Looks- if it is in good shape that is a good sign. Just do not let the looks stop you from investigating the interior of the walls to make sure everything inside the trailer is in good shape. You do not want repair surprises.
3. Floor plan- Make sure the floor plan is comfortable and something you can live with. Older 5th-wheel trailers may not come with the space where you want it to be. Check the paths to the bathroom, exit, and beds to make sure you have easy access to all three.
4. Brand- Some top brands do make a lemon from time to time. Those are hard to find. However, there are brands you should avoid because the quality is just not there.
Do not buy an RV just because it has a famous or well-known brand name. Or if it is the same model as a friend. Models are never exactly the same and the construction may not be the same either.
5. Sleeping capacity- make sure the older 5th wheel has enough beds for everyone who is going to sleep in it. Don’t short yourself beds because the price may be right. Having everyone comfortable makes for a better camping experience.
The average lifespan of a modern 5th-wheel trailer is roughly 10 to 15 years. But these were probably not as well built as older models were built. Some owners are getting longer lifespans out of older 5th-wheel trailers because of the quality of construction.
Others get longevity because they maintain their 5th wheel well. Good regular maintenance is a key component to extending the lifespan of any 5th wheel or other trailer or RV.
In the end, there are many factors that contribute to the lifespan of the 5th-wheel trailer. If you stick to mostly paved roads, then the trailer won’t experience so many bumps, drops, and vibrations.
Those elements tend to add wear and tear to the trailer. Also, the weather will play a role in how long the trailer will last. One stored inside will last longer than one kept outside.
It is said that for most people wanting an older 5th-wheel trailer, they should not buy anything older than 20 years. The older the 5th wheel trailer, the more possible repairs you will have to do.
Those repairs can get costly as parts may not be readily found. It is possible to restore pre-2000 5th Wheel trailers and make them look great again, but consider the overall cost before you buy a project vehicle.
The hidden costs will wear you down as well and drain your budget faster than you had planned. If you do not have mechanical or construction skills, then those costs will go up and the quality of work may not be on par with those high costs.
Buying an older 5th wheel may be a way to save money. Newer 5th wheel trailers are very expensive these days and do not come with the quality construction older models have.
That alone makes older 5th-wheel trailers very tempting to buy. However, what you save on the purchase price may be spent on repairing the older 5th-wheel trailer. Think this purchase through so you are prepared for any hidden costs not seen at the time of purchase.
There are still some great older 5th-wheel trailers around, but… It is a gamble when you go older.