My advice would be to stay open minded. When you find a unit you think will work for you don't throw it out because it's on a GM chassis. I have a Chevy P30 chassis and havent had any major issues. The 454 is strong and the transmission has been no problem whatsoever. Some had the automatic parking brake which had some issues I've heard. My unkle had that chassis and never had a problem with his but, it does sound like a common issue.
I also have a friend that has a 31 foot class A on the Ford chassis with the 460 and she loves it. Never had any problems worth mentioning.
As to years, I would stay open minded. I have seen some older units that were beautiful and some newer one's that were trashed. When looking for a used motorhome you have to take each one as an individual. Plus, go back a couple of years and you can really go higher end like Holiday Rambler, etc.. I'm not the least bit scared of an older motorhome as long as it's been loved.
Do the research to see what twenty grand will buy. You will probably find a better deal from an individual but, you'll not get the servicing that you may get buying used from a dealer. Doing a service on a gasser isn't a big deal and doesn't cost a lot (depending on the materials you choose). But, if I were buying I'd do a major service before any big trips.
For goodness sake check the tires. If they aren't recent figure that into your cost. Also, as you are aware, look it over for water damage, soft spots, etc.. A little, minor water damage may be no big deal. But, a neglected leak can completely ruin a motorhome. All roofs eventually leak. The attention to detail and repairs is critical. I wouldn't hesitate to get a motorhome with a rubber roof. But, I know that it might need some TLC. They work just fine and are easy to repair.
When you buy used, if it hasn't already been done expect to have to do a few things like:
Oil and filter on the generator (may need fuel filter)
Oil and filter on the chassis
lube the entire chassis
May need to flush brake fluid
Flush radiator by the book
Wiper blades (can be pricy)
Tune up (probably just plugs)
Check the spare tire if it has one.
Flush the fresh water tank and use some bleach
I just use Fram filters and dino motoroil except on the generator which gets Rotella (still dino oil). I'll spend a little on a set of plugs just because I don't want to mess with it again for a while. I do my own lube on the chassis and it cost me very little to do that.
Keep in mind that not everything posted here is fact. I had a 454 Vortec in '96 even though they were posted as '97 here.
I have had no problems with my slides in 10 years and they sure do give a lot of room.
A little far for you to go but PPL in Houston had 7 MH under $20,000 and 33 ft or less. I would think that with your criteria, the right coach for you is just around the corner. Best to you in your search.
1999 National Tradewinds
2001 Honda Odyssey--Toad
For your price range you will be looking at older MH's. I think the general condition is more important than brand. If basement storage is not important to you there are allot of non-slide MH's. There are allot of known issues of both the 454 and 460's and folks tend to stay away from them. If you spend sometime on this forum you will understand all of these know issues such as leaking exhaust manifolds, early Ford transmission problems, Chevy auto park issues, overheating issues with both. Because these issues are well known they can be fixed and that vintage MH can run and drive fine. Knowing what I know now that I did not know when I bought my 1996 GBM 8 years ago I would look for either brand that has been modified to fix the known issues. For example headers fix the leaking exhaust issues, reduce overheating problems, and give more power for hill climbing. Steer safe fixes allot off the wandering issues with the P-30 that many talk about. Adding a transmission cooler to the early Fords will help etc. I don't want to write a book here but I would look for a MH that has these mod's done or be prepared to do them your self and you will have a nice MH for less cost the a new Honda Civic that will out run most diesel M/Hs for twice the price.
As the owner of an antique motorhome, I can tell you you have both a solid plan and lots of good information here.
Yes, the tire date code is a DOT specification, but it is only on one side of the tire and unless the owner was very specific, it will be the least visible side (inside the front or between the duals).
Yes, many of the gas MH need major service before 100K, this is largely because they are less well cared for ("Hey, its a pickup driveline"). People that spent the extra money on a diesel know what it will cost if they don't take care of it. (<= Remember that)
If you buy any diesel, find and buy ($$$) the real service manuals for the engine and transmission. You sound like a capable wrench, but with the coloring books on hand, you will have the authority as what is required and how to do it. It is also a great help if you need another to do anything and he is not a company trained guy. If he can read (check on that first), he can always follow the instructions he has. (This from a guy with a 40yo coach that very few have any experience servicing.)
What ever you and up with, take it slow and enjoy the scenery.
Matt & Mary Colie
A sailor, his bride and their black dog going to see some dry places that have Geocaches in a coach made the year we married.
Last July I traded in my 2000 32ft Tiffin Allegro to a dealer. Got 20K for it, they sold it 10 days later for 23,500. 31,000 miles on it, loaded with every feature like heat pump ac unit, auto seek satellite dish, 2 furnaces and more. One large slide street side never had a problem with. Ford V10 was excellant and towed my wife's Rav4 on a dolly with out even knowing it was there. Units like my old Allegro (wife hated to trade it in)are out there. I also would look at Holiday Ramblers. Many of their units have fiberglass roofs (easier with tree branches and such)and real nice interior amenities. Good luck on your search and hope to see you down the road!
The search continues. Thanks for the good advice. Looked at two today, delamination in both. Both owners were older folks and didn't have a clue. At least that was the impression they gave me, since there weren't any visable big bubbles or such, but when you pushed on the sides there was some give in a number of areas. Have a 1994 Bounder to look at tomorrow afternoon. Any advice on that vintage Bounders? As far as Diesels go, have had three different diesel boats and off road diesel with out tax isn't bad, but other maintenance costs add up, so am staying with gas for the MH. But might be interested if engine was big Cummins and the owner was in a must sell situation--but not likely in my price range. Again thanks for the information.
My old MH has a little delamination on the drivers side. Frankly I don't really care. It's mine for better or worse and there's nothing reasonable that I can do about it so, I don't care. It doesn't affect anything. The good news, or the bad news, is that the MH being a 1990 model it won't have much of a resale anyway. If I were in your shoes I'd have to make a judgement call on all the units.
As far as the Bounders, some of them were very good motorhomes. They, like many, used the the same basic everything that all the other motorhomes used. I have a buddy who's older than fossils that has a vintage Bounder. He uses it a lot. He dry camps as much as he can because he's cheap. I once saw him in Maggie Valley dry camping with RV parks everywhere. Anyway, his old Bounder is still kicking but, he keeps up with repairs and servicing. It's a solid motorhome. I would look at what chassis it is on and make my decision based on that. The house is probably well built. Then there is the issue of it's cost vs. upkeep.