The most important consideration in selecting a motor home is how it is constructed. What methods are built to last, and what methods are built to be most affordable. Since you are considering a used motor home in the $10k-$20k range, this issue becomes even more sensitive.
Some motor home manufactures offer differnet levels of quality through their various model lines. Instead of providing a list of brands to consider, it is better to identify what "Better" is.
When shopping for a motor home, don't get distracted with what I call "Eye Candy" and/or "Square Footage". You want to pay close attention to how the house is constructed. Rain, ice, and snow-melt is the number one killer of motor homes, rotting them away long before anything is worn out. Once water gets in, it is like termites. By the time you realize there is a problem, a lot of damage has already occurred. Mold can also form and then you have a health hazard. My advise focuses on identifying a Reliably Well Sealed motor home.
(Very Expensive, Can Be 1.75 to 2 times the cost of Second Best)
NO structural seam work. The brand Coach House
is a fine example. It is seamless, made from a mold. The only places where water can leak is cutouts for windows, door, roof-top vents and a/c unit, all of which are in areas of very low stress. Because they have a seamless shell, these motor homes are limited in size.
#2 SECOND BEST
Common, Affordable, & comes in Many Sizes so this is my main focus
I own an example of this type. My Rig Here
manufactured by Phoenix USA
Made in sections, but assembled in a way that greatly reduces the threat of water. Here are the good things you want to look for.
a) Structural Seams Away From Corners
When a motor home is driven, the house bounces, resonates, shakes, and leans, many thousands of times. Corner seams see greater stresses than seams located elsewhere. Corner seams are more easily split, especially when the caulk gets brittle with age & exposure to the sun. One extremely bad bump in the road can instantly breach a corner seam. Seams hold up much better when they are brought in from the corners in lower stressed areas.
b) A Seamless Over-The-Van Front Cap
A huge bed above the van’s roof is the most vulnerable area of a motor home. No matter how well they are made, that long frontal over-hang resonates when the RV is driven. It is common for seams to split there, most troublesome with age & exposure to the elements. The small front aerodynamic cap of a B+ design eliminates the overhang which eliminates most of the resonation, along with most seam work.
There are a few conventional “C” Designs (big over-van bed) where that area is seamless. If you absolutely must have that huge bed, then look for a seamless bucket-like design. Some manufactures as of late offer a particial bucket design with fewer seams located in less-stressed areas. That seems to be a reasonable compromise. If you plan to accommodate more than 2 people, that extra bed would be extremely important.
c) A Crowned Roof
Rain and snow melt runs off a crowned roof. A flat roof will sag over time, then water puddles around heavy roof-top items like the a/c unit. Water eventually finds it's way inside after the caulk has dried out from age & sun, as well as fatigue from the change in seasons.
d) Rolled-Over-The-Edge seamless Fiberglass Roof Sheathing
A single sheet of fiberglass that rolls over the right & left sides of the roof, down the wall a few inches. The fiberglass sheathing holds up better than roofs made of sheet rubber or thin plastic called TPO, which require more attention to keep your RV well protected.
e) A 5 Sided Rear Wall Cap
This 5 sided back wall moves the seams around to the sides to areas of much less stress.
Potentially Troublesome Construction
Try to avoid this if possible. Entry level motor homes are made with seams in corners and finished off with trim. They are most affordable, and come in all sizes. If considering this type, keep in-mind they require more regular care with bi-annual inspections. Plan to use a caulking gun now and then. When buying a used one, consider that you really don't know how well the previous owner maintained it. Buying new or used, that construction method will be counting on you to be a good non-neglectful owner.
There are also rare exception like the Lazy Daze which has seam work in the corners, but the substructure and sealing method is of the highest quality that it holds up like a seamless body. It's excellent sectional construction methods are not commonly found in other brands. I am no expert on this, but I'd give it a #1.5 Almost Like Best
About The Chassis
The most popular is the Ford E-Series with the V10 engine. The Sprinter diesel is a popular alternative to the E350 in the smaller sizes. The GM chassis is not popular, but is a very good choice for the right application. Any of those three brands since 1998 are real good, new or used. If you plan to tow a car or trailer, then I advise to avoid the Sprinter because it lacks the power of the other two. But there are a few people who tow cars with a Sprinter. They just take it easier to make it work for them.
If considering a recent “small” class B+/C motor home, here is a comparison between the two main contenders, the Sprinter with the V6 diesel engine and the Ford E350 with the V10 gasoline engine.
Advantages Of The Sprinter With Diesel Engine
- Offers a 35% improvement in fuel economy over the Ford-V10, when both are loaded and driven identically.
- More ergonomic driver compartment with more leg room.
- Comfort continues with a car-like feel & quiet ride.
- A grander view out the windshield
- Made by Mercedes which people are attracted to.
Advantages Of The Ford E350 with V10 Engine
- Given identical motor homes both brand and model, the Ford is around $13,000 MSRP cheaper
- The Ford V10 engine has 50% more horse power and torque
- The Ford E350 chassis handles 1430 pounds more weight.
- The E350 is able to tow a heavier load.
- The E350 rear axle is significantly wider which translates to better stability.
- In most places traveled, gasoline costs less than diesel fuel
- The Sprinter diesel has limited mechanical service shops around North America
- The Sprinter diesel is typically outfitted with a propane generator. Propane is a critical fuel for RV operations, and generally needs to be rationed when dry camping.
- This Next Point Is Debatable But Still Worth Noting....The V6 Sprinter diesel engine is not allowed to idle for extended periods. This limitation is detrimental when you need a/c but there are generator restrictions or you are dangerously low on propane, or you have a mechanical failure with the generator or roof a/c. The Ford V10 can safely idle for hours on end, heating, cooling, and battery charging, all valuable if you have a baby, pets, or health/respiratory issues.
You decide what your priorities are, and pick the appropriate chassis. There are some really sweet motor homes being built exclusively on the Sprinter chassis, such as the Winnebago
Via, View and View Profile. Others like Phoenix USA
build their model 2350
on both the Sprinter and Ford E350. They will even build it on the heaviest duty E450 upon request for a nominal fee. People who request an E450 for a small motor home, tow heavier things like for example, a multi-horse trailer. You can even special order a E350 & E450 4x4
There is so much cool stuff offered in recent years, and even more anticipated with the upcoming Ford T-Series
chassis. The general public hopes it will become available for the RV industry. It is kind-of like a Sprinter in size and fuel economy, but hopeful to be much more affordable.
The Chevy GMC 3500/4500 Chassis
I think these should be more popular than they are. I assume it has to do with the cost of the chassis. The Chevy/GMC offers more interior comfort than the Ford, but not as much as the Sprinter. It's power & weight ratings are a little less than their Ford counter-parts making them a great chassis for all but the heaviest of class Cs. They are also a little better on fuel consumption. One thing to keep in-mind, if you are counting inches to store your rig, the Chevy/GMC adds an additional 9" to the front bumper compared to the Ford. I learned that researching rigs that could fit in my 25'-0" deep garage. By default, the Ford gave me 9 more inches to work with.