More Frugal RV Living Tips – Buy A Cheap, Used Car, Truck or Van

Our 1991 Ford Aerostar, AWD Van - Paid Under $1000

Everyday, we experience more frugal rv living tips to share. For those of you with 5th wheels or travel trailers, this may not apply…but we traveled 2 years in a travel trailer before buying a used motorhome, and we think our 1993 Fleetwood Bounder was a wiser decision.

Life is not only easier rving in a motorhome, where there is no unhooking or setting up involved, it seems more cost effective to us, too. We no longer have to worry about two separate vehicles/trailers needing new parts, tires, etc. The gas mileage driving across the country was virtually the same, to our surprise, and felt much more stable than pulling the travel trailer in windy conditions.

For those of you who haven’t followed our rv blog, we are cheap rv living, which means we aren’t wealthy or living off a savings account, etc. RVing all over the country is extremely expensive, so at this point in our lives we have accepted compromise, so that we can continue living this lifestyle, and generally rv full time in only two locations. Glacier National Park, Montana, is our home during the warmer months, and we visit family in Illinois in colder months. Yes, by the way, Illinois is a cold place to rv in winter…but my daughter, mom and George live in the state.

To live cheaply in an rv, you need to plan the most economical way to travel and exist. For us, pulling a used car across the country did not seem like a financially sound idea, as far as gas mileage is concerned. So we decided to buy a very, very, VERY inexpensive vehicle to use while we are in Illinois.

The main tip is this: We pay cash only, and buy a car that is so cheap, even if it breaks down, we will get a large portion of our money back (part it out, let junkyard buy it, etc)…which can be used to buy another vehicle. If it continues running and we like it, we will keep it in the state and use it again next season. If we don’t like it, we can sell it and get the same or even more money for it than we paid. By doing this, you are keeping the monetary risk extremely low. A $3000 car or an $800 car can both be lemons or require expensive repair. How much do you think you would get back for a non-working $3000 car? Paying cash only and getting ripped off would be devastating to our budget on a more expensive vehicle. This way, even if we do get a lemon, the loss is minimal.

Can you get cheap, used cars for under $1000? Absolutely…and they run, too. When we lived in a house, one of the best cars we got was a cheap Honda to drive back and forth to work each day (100 miles round trip). It lasted years and needed nothing. When we sold it years later, because most people are willing to pay close to a thousand for a car that runs, we actually received the SAME AMOUNT of money from the buyer that we paid for it! So we drove it 2 years for free.

You do need to spend the time looking, because time is money when cheap rving. Put aside looks and get the best vehicle for your money. We’ve had the best luck on Craigslist, but you need to act fast and check new listings a few times per day. Not only do you need to take it for a test drive, do not buy it if it needs a major investment (bad tires, needing a new clutch, etc.). There are absolutely vehicles out there that are much older, so they can’t be sold for more than a grand, but they were well maintained, garaged, etc. These are the cars you are looking for.

So far, our van is doing great. When we leave for Montana in May, if we feel we got a good deal, we will leave it here until we return next fall. When we get to Montana, we plan to do the same and find an affordable vehicle to drive around town.

A few more tips about buying cheap, older vehicles:

With a motorhome, you actually HAVE another vehicle for in an emergency. Unlike when we pulled the travel trailer, now we feel we have two “cars” we could drive, if one or the other broke down.

Also, insurance is an additional cost, but not much! Because our insurance company gives us a discount for having two vehicles, the van is only $20/month for liability only. When we leave Illinois, if we still have the van, we will take liability off until fall and put liability on whatever vehicle we find in Montana. In this way, we have two vehicles in two states, and we turn the insurance off or on, depending on which half of the year it is and where we are.


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