On the road again...
July 15, 2010 4:53 PM   Subscribe

What should I have done to an older vehicle I just purchased?

I am about to go pick up my new (to me) 20ft 1974 Dodge motorhome. (weeee!)

It's in decent running condition (for a 36 year old motorhome I guess)...and I am not looking to take it across country. Just weekend camping trips in the area. The furthest it will ever go is probably 60 miles round trip.

But first things first...I want to take it in for a tune up and oil change and general 'once over' by a good mechanic.

My questions:

Have you ever brought an older vehicle in for a tune up? Is it worth it? How much did you pay?

Are there any other things outside of the standard tune up checklist that I should automatically have done? Are there things I shouldn't bother with? Are there any no brainer cheap things to do? (ie replace radiator cap, etc)

Also....The thought crossed my mind that I could bring it into an RV dealership that has a full service center...but...there is nothing RV specific that I want looked at. Is there any advantage to bringing it to an RV mechanic versus any other full service shop?
posted by ian1977 to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oops! I almost forgot....

posted by ian1977 at 5:07 PM on July 15, 2010

I agree with everything CrayDrygu except the timing belt. That motor has a timing chain and they're made of steel rather than rubber like a timing belt. Timing chains are (were) designed to outlast the motor and don't usually need replacement. Like all things mechanical, timing chains do fail on occasion, but not often enough to justify automatic replacement.
posted by buggzzee23 at 5:27 PM on July 15, 2010


Depending on the chassis, there's a very good chance it may have front and rear drum brakes. Definitely get those looked at by a pro. Even if it has front discs, get 'em checked.

This will almost certainly have a timing chain not a timing belt, and if it goes it will bend valves and do other nasty things. If you don't know its age you don't have to get that done immediately but it should be on your list of things to replace in the first year.

Also, this may be alarmist, but be aware that some of the older motor homes used all kinds of nasty, nasty stuff as insulation. I would not be surprised at all if there was asbestos present in the insulation. If you see any insulation that's exposed, get it tested! Truthfully, I would consider the presence of exposed insulation to be a deal breaker unless I could get confirmation that it did not contain any asbestos.

Best of luck!
posted by mosk at 5:42 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the case of an RV I'd imagine that you'd want to be sure that the battery and charging system are up to par, because it's kind of a worst case scenario: not only does camping drain the battery more since you tend to use more accessories like lights, but also if you do wind up with a drained battery you're in the middle of nowhere and it's a pain to get a tow or get home.

Other easy and cheap things include making sure the tires are inflated properly -- check for a sticker on the door frame or in the manual if it still exists to get the recommended pressure. If it's been sitting for a while it wouldn't hurt to dump a bottle of fuel stabilizer in the tank which will help absorb any water that condensed. With a 74 you might encounter problems starting if it's especially cold and the choke is out of adjustment, so it also wouldn't hurt to have a bottle of starting fluid on hand just in case. And while you're at it throw in an extra gallon or two of 50/50 antifreeze/water mixture and some duct tape just in case an old cracked rubber hose decides to bust a leak while you're in the middle of the woods.

As far as the actual tune-up goes, there are plenty of things that need actual tuning on a car like this, unlike all modern cars, so there are a gazillion things to be checked but your mechanic can take care of all that.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:18 PM on July 15, 2010

If you're especially curious about the engine's level of wear, and what particular types of wear are going on, you could extract a sample of motor oil and submit it for analysis. This is one place that does it:

Blackstone Labs
posted by Hither at 7:21 PM on July 15, 2010

You want to make sure it'll safely get you where you're going. That means stuff like brakes, suspension and transmission. After buying a used vehicle, a round of fluid changes is always a good idea. That way you know the state of them all. That includes fluid in the brake lines, transmission, power steering, engine oil and engine coolant. Seeing the condition of the stuff already in there, like seeing burned transmission or steering fluid, can give you a clue about the condition of mechanisms. You really don't want to have the transmission slipping going up hill, or have the brakes fail coming back down.

For most of the mechanical stuff it's just like any other truck of that era. For the RV body parts though it probably wouldn't hurt to have an RV dealer give it a look over. They could, presumably, be better able to look out for RV-specific trouble spots (like frame failures, etc). But for general drive train issues any decent mechanic should be able to do the work. I'd probably start by paying a local RV place to inspect it and give you an estimate. That way if they don't see any major RV-related issues you have options.
posted by wkearney99 at 8:36 PM on July 15, 2010

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