We Bought a Micro Motorhome for Our Cross Country Trip

We are now the proud owners of this beautiful diesel, 1981 Toyota Sunrader.

Us with the Sunrader on the first day of ownership.

Us with the Sunrader on the first day of ownership.

Eight hours left in the auction. One hour left in the auction. Five minutes left in the auction. Ninety seconds left.

This countdown was silently happening in my head as the Penguins were playing the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I had been silently watching and observing camper vans for well over a year now on eBay and Craigslist to get a feel for a fair price.

With about an hour and a half to I ran it by Emily to see if she was interested in this beautiful Toyota Sunrader. To my surprise, she said yes and I submitted a fair bid.

The auction was set to end late Saturday night after the Penguins defeated the Rangers to advance in the playoffs. So, we were out on the town, even though my mind was stuck on this van. Trying to think if I should submit a slightly higher bid to deter people from outbidding me. (which I only increased my bid by $33.33 for some drunken reason)

With ninety seconds left, I put my phone in my pocket and we stood around for an eternity. It felt like nothing else mattered at that moment in time. In my head, I surely thought that someone would have outbid me – especially considering these things sell for $10,000+ regularly.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and saw a screen similar to this one.

Winning Bidder on eBay

Winning Bidder on eBay

Holy shit.
It looks like we bought a van to do the Great Forty-Eight.


Our initial budget for a vehicle for this ‘challenge’ was around $5,000-$7,000. Yes, I know that Mongol Rally vehicles can be bought for less than a $1,000, but this is a house on wheels! We have friends getting engaged/married, having children, and doing other typical, mid-twenties, adult things – here we are buying a¬†camper van.

Having looked at the photos & videos carefully the week leading up to the auction close, I knew what we were getting.

We’d need –

  • a whole new set of tires (7 of them – yes, it has the full 6-lug, 1-ton axle on the back – I did my research)
  • propane tank to run the stove, oven, and fridge (yep, a 3-way fridge)
  • a coach battery to run the lights inside the camper
  • a new locking storage door for the driver side
  • other small items

So, with the addition of all those tires, this quickly inflated our price up to ~$4,000 USD (pictured below).

When we received the vehicle, I let it sit at my work parking lot for a day and a half before attempting to get manual driving lessons from friends. However, on the turn of the ignition, no engine starting noise was heard. Just the clicking of the starter solenoid.

Wonderful, I thought. The money pit has fully opened up.

After some troubleshooting and browsing the Toyota Motorhomes Forums, I was able to diagnose that both batteries under the hood were far too old. One of them being made in 1998 – making it 18 years old.

I’ve completed other small work in the past month by myself¬†but had to take it to a mechanic to get new tires, an alignment, and an oil change. Yes, an oil change. The previous owner sprayed a rust proof coating on the underbelly that seized up the oil pan drain plug. Something so simple already proving to be a roadblock for me manually fixing it.

Over this weekend, I’m hoping to install a new set of glow plugs, clean the rust from the rims, spray paint the rims with a rust preventative paint, and re-test the house battery connection.

We’ve never done anything quite like this and are still in the discovery phase of figuring out what all she needs to be a beautiful running machine (and pass Pennsylvania State Inspection). I found myself getting flustered too easily when things wouldn’t go as planned (changing oil, house battery, and more). But, I was reminded of this quote –

How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.

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