Toyota Motorhome Buyer's Guide

We all love these wonderful little creatures, but we also don't want to bury ourselves at the point of purchase by buying junk or paying too much. These Toyota motorhomes are the only motorhomes on the market that are actually appreciating. That being said, let's not get all frothing over them when the work of buying one is still in the future.

Making the Call

You'll save yourself a lot of time and aggravation by asking good questions on the phone or an email. The history of the coach, general condition, miles (of course), and any drama the present owner is aware of. Don't lead the witness...let the owner tell you why it's worth your while to fly or drive halfway across the country to see the Toyota motorhome they have for sale...and then sift through what you've learned. If you make a date to view the coach, then ask the owner to make sure it has propane, water, and power available so you can properly test the systems. Also make sure in advance that they have a title and registration and that the motorhome can be purchased on that day: you don't want to go through alot of exercise only to find out that they're doing a market survey to see what a Toyota RV is worth. It's happened to me more than once, so don't forget to ask...and it'll let them know you're a serious player. Also ask the owner to turn the motorhome's refrigerator and the hot water tank on 3 hours in advance of the appointment...because there's no way to tell if it works without letting it cool down and it really takes those 3 hours.

At First Glance

I've never bought a Toyota motorhome that I initially didn't like, and you shouldn't either. Your first instinct is a good guide on things as complex as these little motorhomes. If it looks unkempt, crooked, ratty, or homely, chances are they're all true. Almost nothing looks worse than a motorhome that looks bad. The nicest Toyota RVs I've owned came from nice homes and nice people. People keep their coaches just like they keep their homes...look around and you'll learn a lot.

Looking Around the Outside

Motorhomes are like boats...only upside down. You need to get up on the roof and look around...and if there's no ladder, you better take an 8ft. ladder with you, because if there are issues up there, chances are nobody is going to volunteer one. I had to climb a fence to get on the house roof to look at the worst Dolphin roof I've ever seen: concave...a swimming pool looking for a place to leak. The later Dolphins have one-piece roofs, but the 90 and older are inherently weak with the panels lapped sideways for strength and are always suspect.

Leaks are common on all older motorhomes and you'll get a chance to look around inside later, but a general feel for the strength and water tightness guides you here.

Look up top at the marker lights and vent covers...if these things are broken or missing, then other deferred maintenance is's not a deal breaker, but you have to factor all this stuff in.

When you look at the exterior panels, the stripes are usually alligator-y and faded because they have a life expectancy of about eight years...although the stripes last longer if the RV is covered or waxed (rare). The panels themselves are different on each coach builder, the worst being the early Dolphin/Seabreeze units up to the late 1980s. Later Dolphin units switched to an opaque corrugated panel with more substantial gel coat. Winnebago (Itasca) was always ahead of the pack with one piece aluminum roofs in the late 80's and aluminum, then flat resin-based sandwich panels for the walls. When you go to look at a Toyota motorhome to buy, take with you a porous shop rag and a little cleaner/wax like "Mothers" or Turtle Wax/Cleaner to check the different spots on the coach for gel coat. It should bring up a gloss with little effort; otherwise, it's been neglected too long.

If the first time you walk into the coach you get the feeling that people have been living in it for a long time, you're probably right, and you probably don't want that coach. These things are a little small for humans (and their pets) and all their worldly possessions to live in full time. I've been in these and you'll have to take my word on it. It's okay if YOU are going to live in just want to be the first one.

Does Everything Work?

So, start turning things on...lights, fans, DSI water heater, and put your hand in the freezer to see how it's doing. If you're on the 12 volt coach battery, see how everything works, and then switch to (plug in) 110V or start the generator. Turn on the roof air after the gen's been running ten minutes and see how it all works together and how cold the roof air is. The hot water should be ready to test by now...fifteen minutes is plenty...and you can turn on the furnace. First the fan will go on, then after twenty seconds the gas will ignite and blow hot air. Turn the water pump switch on and run hot and cold independently through the shower, bathroom sink, kitchen sink, and outside shower if the RV has one.

Check for Leaks

Now let's look for plumbing leaks while you're moving water through the system. Open all the base cabinets, follow the plumbing and look for drops and wet areas. Run your hand around and under the pipes and sinks...most of these coaches have access doors under the shower pan sill in the bathroom, so get your flashlight and take a look.

Next, go forward and pull the cabover mattress off the shelf and crawl up there and look for water damage and dampness. Let me say this: maybe 2% of class C motorhomes older than ten years are completely dry up there, and Toyota motorhomes are no exception. The design is flawed and invites leaking through both the forward windows and the angles of the design. When you travel in a rainstorm, the water is driven into any possible seamas or cracks...and most new class C's no longer have a front cabover window for this reason. So again, dampness and evidence of leaking is not a deal breaker...but look hard and make sure it's not more drama than you want to deal with. If you seal all the windows and vents and corner metal sites, it should dry out with some help from time.

Take It for a Spin

So drive this little devil and get the feel for the strength and power...wind it out as best you can and decide if it can pull itself up a moderate hill. All motorhomes push a lot of air, so expect resistance, but you should feel safe to drive on a freeway. Most 6 cylinder/automatic configurations have enough power on the grades unless they're sick. The 4 cylinders with a stick are manageable, but with the automatic it's a stretch. I'd try to stay away unless your journeys are exclusively in the flats.

The usual chassis issues are the same as all cars you've driven so I won't go into all that. The 6-cylinder head gasket recall which impacted most Toyota 6-cylinder 3.0 motors from late 1989 - 1992, but the scope of the recall has been exaggerated by Toyota service departments to include other years beyond the original recall. Most Toyota RVs with the 3.0 have been fixed or officially excluded, and the recall has been completed according to Toyota.

The Overall Impression...

Let's go back to the very beginning when you first saw the motorhome...does it look good? Does it run good? Does it smell good? And does it look like something that you'd take your loved ones on a vacation in, or does it look like a living place for the homeless? Answer these questions honestly and you'll make the right decision.

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