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My partner and I are hoping to hit the road for several years this coming spring following the end of her graduate degree. We've been looking for a Dolphin. We don't necessarily plan to do an overly large amount of driving, and we don't really mind going at a leisurely place. We stumbled upon a 1986 4 Cylinder Automatic with 80,000 miles with nice condition interior. I have yet to test-drive it or inspect it myself (but have photos of it; the owner seems trustworthy enough); I am hoping to do so this week. Seller says they are third owner and that they are sad to part with it; it has Washington plates.

Questions:

--What things should I look for when inspecting it?

--What things should I look/listen/test for when driving it?

--It's being listed for $6,000 dollars. Is this a fair price? (This is pushing our budget, unfortunately). Is there a lower amount that would be considered a fair offer?

--Is there a ballpark amount of money can I expect to put in with regard to maintenance initially?

--We're outdoorsy people, and we're used to tent camping when we road trip; if we're spending longer periods of time in BLM sites with long term permits (i.e. it's parked for 1-2 weeks at a time), I am thinking that in that case we would take it out for weekend jaunts. Would this be harmful to the vehicle/not advisable?

 

Thank you in advance for any advice you can offer! I am a newbie to Toyota RVs in general; really nice forum you've all got here.

Cheers from Arizona.

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owners are never trustworthy. why did the engine have to be redone at only 84,000 miles and what did they do to it. It rains a lot in Washington so you need to look for water damage, mold that kind of thing. If you have more pics post them so we can see. Only one in the ad makes me suspicious. Tires are good but how old are they. They can still have good tread but be too old to use. 6 years and it's time to replace. If anything close to that reduce price accordingly. Check all appliances especially fridge. They are very expensive. Oh heater too.

Don't quite know what last question is about. You can use these rigs for weekends or live in them and travel all the time. Can't imagine sleeping in a tent when you have a house you can take anywhere. So much nicer to look forward to your hike when you feel fully refreshed from your rest. Eating is always good too. make anything you would at home and eat right.

Offer 5 grand. it's the worst time to sell a motorhome. Good for buyers though

Linda S

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Have the owner plug in the refer the day befor you go to check it out. Go to the NHTSA site and learn how to read the tire mfg date. https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/tires

Tires are $800 a set of 6, A rebuilt refer cooling is $400 a new refer is $800. A water heater $225. A house heater is $450. Make sure everything works

"I never used XXXX,  = Its broke

As long as you have a water source and a place to dump waste tank. Staying in an RV on BLM land is cool. We do it all the time. BLM really really frowns on just dumping waste on the ground

As ex-tent campers you should be into water management. I would think you should be able 4-5 days with careful use. As "normal" people we could go 2 -3 days. The real limit is not fresh water but holding tank capacity.

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not to say anything bad about dolphins minis. i wouldn't buy one that old.just for the reason being they are all stick built and I'm sure there is a lot of rot in them.I have a 86 right now that looks darn good.you would never guess by looking at it that 75% is rotten. i just have it for parts if i need them. look around and try to find a aluminum framed mini.

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and i only paid $50 for it .with only 42000 on it.

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13 minutes ago, jdfrost64 said:

not to say anything bad about dolphins minis. i wouldn't buy one that old.just for the reason being they are all stick built and I'm sure there is a lot of rot in them.I have a 86 right now that looks darn good.you would never guess by looking at it that 75% is rotten. i just have it for parts if i need them. look around and try to find a aluminum framed mini.

Thanks for that advice. I am a total newbie to the type; Do you happen to know which specific models are the alumnium framed Toyota minis?

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No particularly bad Toyota MHs, but lots of BAD Previous Owners (PO) with many bad maintenance habits. Check things carefully

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I have worked on thousands of class c and class A rv's .and been around a lot of toy homes.An from ground up restored my toy mini. Witch is a sun land express other than the sun raiders. a sun land express is one of the better built mini. even over a winno. For what I have seen of dolphins they are lacking in quality even in there class A rv's. dry rot and water rot is the killer of stick built rv's no matter how much you maintenance them .

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aluminum framed toys That I know of Escaper, Conquest.

Just because it has aluminum frame does not mean no rot. The roof, walls and floor can all suffer from water damage

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The Conquest has an aluminum frame and we have a couple of members here who had to tear them apart. No matter what you buy unless it's a Sunrader will have all wood connecting the aluminum and it rots same as a Dolphin would. Lots of nasty bad welds we saw too. It's really the previous owners care that matters. yes you can find a good one. Don't get too discouraged by all our nay nay's.

Linda S

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9 minutes ago, linda s said:

The Conquest has an aluminum frame and we have a couple of members here who had to tear them apart. No matter what you buy unless it's a Sunrader will have all wood connecting the aluminum and it rots same as a Dolphin would. Lots of nasty bad welds we saw too. It's really the previous owners care that matters. yes you can find a good one. Don't get too discouraged by all our nay nay's.

Linda S

Thanks, I've really appreciated all the info from today's responses!

The Sunrader really does look like the best option at this point. I'm of course dreaming of a 4x4 model, but that's a future goal unfortunately, considering my budget. I found a Sunrader in good condition in Oregon for $4500, but the interior was semi-stripped, so it would need some project work. The under-developed crafty side of me had its interest peaked.

With regard to previous owner's care; is it storage with a cover that can help prevent rot, as well as the location of storage, etc? Is there anything else to consider in this regard? I'm assuming that not every owner of an alumnium or all-wood framed camper goes in to investigate the status of the interior construction ...

I will keep looking! I will not be discouraged!

 

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Its all about leaks. Yes storing it inside of course helps but resealing seams, vents and windows regularly is the main thing needed. Also fixing leaks as soon as you see them happening. The Dolphin you first mentioned does look good from the one pic I saw. yes I found the ad. You just need the knowledge to check it out carefully and your getting that here. Good Luck. I checked the vin. It has the correct axle but different wheels in the front just like mine. Some think you need 2 spare tires. You don't. If we get that far I'll go further into it

Linda S

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9 hours ago, linda s said:

I checked the vin. It has the correct axle but different wheels in the front just like mine. Some think you need 2 spare tires. You don't. If we get that far I'll go further into it

So essentially, a spare for the front won't work as a spare in the back? Is this just a manufacturing quirk because of its model year, or something after market?

My goal today is to look in the Craigslist market further east of us (where its generally dry/sunny) and see what prices are like on early 90s models.

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29 minutes ago, xfgdvc said:

So essentially, a spare for the front won't work as a spare in the back? Is this just a manufacturing quirk because of its model year, or something after market?

My goal today is to look in the Craigslist market further east of us (where its generally dry/sunny) and see what prices are like on early 90s models.

Most often if the axle was replaced the wheels were different front to rear until they came with a full floating axle from Toyota.

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Being on these forums for a few years the absolute worse problem I have seen is over heating.  Very hard to diagnose the cause and many dollars spent trying to remedy the problem up to replacing the motor.   I know of 2 or 3 that are replacing motors this year, due to over heating.

The culprit is often the magic elixer radiator and head gasket sealers, clogging cooling passages.  Not a common problem but I would drive the vehicle hard and any signs of over heating I would walk away! 

 

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28 minutes ago, Maineah said:

Most often if the axle was replaced the wheels were different front to rear until they came with a full floating axle from Toyota.

It makes me think that I should really be patient and shop around for a 1990 until I find a good deal; The more and more I read about mid 80's models, the more I get nervous. That said, I did find an 84 Sun Land Express in west Texas this morning that looked really clean . . .

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3 minutes ago, jjrbus said:

Being on these forums for a few years the absolute worse problem I have seen is over heating.  Very hard to diagnose the cause and many dollars spent trying to remedy the problem up to replacing the motor.   I know of 2 or 3 that are replacing motors this year, due to over heating.

The culprit is often the magic elixer radiator and head gasket sealers, clogging cooling passages.  Not a common problem but I would drive the vehicle hard and any signs of over heating I would walk away! 

 

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Thanks for this info. I will pay close attention to heat when I am test driving (and I will work the engine hard). Any tips in this regard? Are there any telltale signs of a tendency toward overheating beyond the obvious?

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The V6 engine has it's own issues to deal with. I haven't seen a ton of 4 cylinders damaged from overheating or there wouldn't still be so many on the road all these years later . Again it all comes down to maintenance. Either they took care of it or not.

Linda S

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13 minutes ago, linda s said:

The V6 engine has it's own issues to deal with. I haven't seen a ton of 4 cylinders damaged from overheating or there wouldn't still be so many on the road all these years later . Again it all comes down to maintenance. Either they took care of it or not.

Linda S

There are still an awful lot of V6s still on the road, so it can't be that bad! :)

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Just now, Derek up North said:

There are still an awful lot of V6s still on the road, so it can't be that bad! :)

I read that basically early V6 engines had head gasket problems and that if they weren't sent in for recall then they could have major issues.

does anyone know the approximate max altitude for the 4-cylinder? How high up can I take it before it stops working very well? Can it go over 10,000 feet? Assuming that the load is relatively light in the camper.

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Any engine does not do well if run with a blown head gasket, not just the 3VZE. And no engine is immune to a failed head gasket. At least the 3VZE has a Special Service Campaign to replace them. And there are still quite a few 3VZEs driving around with the original, so they don't have a 100% failure rate.:)

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yes linda you are right they all rot the same aluminum or stick built guess you never seen what's under a dolphin sidewall under skin at least the older ones they are a poor designed framing.as with a aluminum framed rv . very little wood to replace in the framing .other than the under sidewall skin witch is nothing to replace . rather than replacing a whole rotten sidewall framing and under skin that's the difference between the two.

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It doesn't really matter. The deal is no one wants to replace all the paneling and siding and leaks can happen no matter what the frame is made out of. There's no magic bullet here other than careful inspection

Linda S

Yes I've seen a ton of rotten RV's of all makes.

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21 hours ago, xfgdvc said:

Thanks for this info. I will pay close attention to heat when I am test driving (and I will work the engine hard). Any tips in this regard? Are there any telltale signs of a tendency toward overheating beyond the obvious?

Nothing that I know of, which is why it is so hard to diagnose. This lady did a good job of documenting what she went through and never completely cured her problem and is now considering a new motor.   This is not a V6 or Toyota problem can happen with any vehicle. http://toyotamotorhome.org/forums/index.php?/topic/8460-1991-v6-30-3vz-e-overheating-please-help/

 

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You asked about a maximum altitude for a 4 cylinder.  I have an '88 Escaper with 22Re engine and automatic tranny.  I have been over several passes in the Rockies, including Independence Pass-12,095 ft, Beartooth Highway-10,947 ft, Tioiga Pass-9,943 ft, and Trail Ridge Road-11,827 ft and others.  The only one that gave me any problems was going up Highway 14a from the west through the Bighorn Mountains.  The engine warmed up a bit but never got warm enough to cause me any concerns. 

The biggest thing to remember is that the 4 cylinder engines love to rev up. Install a tach and don't lug the engine. 

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Like Bob C states and he knows the 4 banger! I don’t agree with the statement that an 86 is too old and will probably be rotting out. Mine has never leaked anywhere and the inside coach roof, walls and floor are solid. A very close visual inspection Everywhere is a must! Look for soft spots, water stains and knock on surfaces. Should be a solid sound and not muffled. If there’s any evidence of water leakage I would avoid it unless your a good carpenter and can tear out walls and repair. Look @ the condition of the roof. If it looks like any repairs are needed it probably has already leaked. Welcome and Good Luck! 

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On October 14, 2017 at 10:23 AM, Derek up North said:

Even a '94 is old enough to have rotted out. :(

Agreed. I think it's unrealistic (near impossible) at this point in time to find an old toyo rig with zero water damage. 

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That looks like another good and clean option for a fair price. Go see it in person. This thread is filled with great advice so I think you’re probably prepared with the essential info to help you evaluate the decision after seeing it and driving it.  You won’t regret having bought a toy home —as long as you are mechanically inclined or willing to roll up your sleeves and work on it or pay for a random part that fails and needs replacing.

Keep in mind that asking questions of the family member of the deceased may be a little annoying and painful. Instead just say that you have a checklist to go through regarding the appliances and let the seller decide if they feel the need to supervise you.

If it makes you feel more comfortable with the purchase, I paid more for higher miles, an older version, and a lot of rust.  Just got back from a 9k mike trip to the Rockies and consider the one I bought a bargain.  Pull the trigger, get to work making it yours, and enjoy the process! ?

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21 hours ago, xfgdvc said:

Seller is selling relative's vehicle that passed away (he was second owner, bought in California)- vehicle has 57k original miles, clean title: https://phoenix.craigslist.org/evl/rvs/d/1987-toyota-dolphin-57k/6367553742.html

 

Given the low mileage and the location in Arizona, it's possible that there's no water damage. But like everyone else has pointed out, inspect closely in case it does. 

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- Missing truck radio antenna;

- Missing vinyl insert trim;

- Tired stripes/decals;

- Rear bumper bent up(?); 

- walk-through insert sagging;

- missing left rear side marker light lens.

FWIW, that layout is very rare. To me, that indicates it's the least 'livable' one, otherwise more people would have bought it and National wouldn't have dropped it. Others might love it. Being rare does not make it worth a fortune. :)

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