Motorhomes offer great flexibility on where you stay and for how long. It's also great to have the self-catering option of travelling with your own well-stocked kitchen.
Nevertheless, it's an expensive investment up front, and while saving money on hotels sounds attractive, budgeting must also take into account fuel efficiency, insurance, MOT, storing it when not on the road and servicing costs.
Motorhome and campervan types
First and foremost, have a good think about the type of vehicle you want. These are your main motorhome or campervan types.
- Micro-motorhomes - usually based on car-derived vans or the smallest panel vans - have limited space and facilities but with a windsurfer or smaller dinghy, can be a relatively cheap option.
- Campervans - often VW-based although other makes are also popular - are compact, reasonably car-like to drive, and usually capable of towing a fair-sized trailer.
- Van conversions - typically Fiat Ducato-based although again plenty of other types - are more spacious and usually include a washroom with toilet and shower.
- Coachbuilt - again often Fiat Ducato-based - have a chassis cab and caravan-type body, offering more space, better insulation and often more storage
- A-class motorhomes - have a fully integrated body - offering generally high-end, luxury units with prices to match for those who need the creature comforts of a mobile hotel room.
Martin Spencer, Technical Manager for the Caravan and Motorhome Club, says: "Most motorhomes can tow, and many have quite generous towing limits, meaning they can cope with most kinds of small boat. Always check the manufacturer’s information though, just to make sure."
Likewise, he stresses that you should check your driving license. All driving licences allow you to tow, but if you passed your test from 1 January 1997, you’re limited to driving a motorhome of no more than 3,500kg maximum weight (which covers most models) and to towing a small trailer of up to 750kg, or a combined maximum weight of vehicle and trailer of 3,500kg. If necessary, you can take a ‘BE’ test for increased towing entitlement. Aged over 70? Check your entitlements and any DVLA medical requirements.
Choosing a motorhome or campervan
When it comes to choosing a motorhome, the Caravan and Motorhome Club also suggests considering the following.
- Size: It could be a small van little bigger than a car, a larger van or even a huge RV almost like a bus. Your choice affects ease of driving, parking and storage, plus comfort in use
- Budget: If you’re buying new, most types start around £40,000 and go up from there. However, these vehicles last a very long time. Older vehicles, if well-maintained, are perfectly viable and can be sourced for a few thousand pounds upwards. Look for a comprehensive warranty if buying from a dealer, and consider getting the vehicle checked in terms of its mechanical condition and the state of the habitation area if you have any doubts, or are buying privately
- When to buy: Most new motorhomes are delivered around March/April, so that’s also when dealers will have plenty of trade-ins. The tail end of the touring season (October/November) is another time, as vehicles are sold before the winter
- Weight: If you're likely to take the vehicle onto the beach, smaller vehicles may be less likely to get bogged down. Four wheel drive models are quite rare, but useful when launching and retrieving boats if you can find one
- Features: smaller vans tend not to have toilets or fixed beds with proper mattresses. They may have limited storage for wet weather gear, life jackets and all those ‘essentials’ of any active hobby. Coach built models usually have toilets, washrooms with shower and often external storage lockers or even a ‘garage’ area intended for carrying bikes, but ideal for all sorts of other kit
- Is it ‘Approved’? Look for the National Caravan Council 'NCC Approved' badge for peace of mind that the vehicle fully complies with legislation, mandatory and recommended best practice, safety standards and industry codes of practice. It’s well worth looking for, as the scope covers everything from the safety of children’s beds and gas safety standards
- Tow bar fitting: Look for a member of the National Trailer and Towing Association’s ‘Quality Secured’ scheme https://ntta.co.uk/about-us/ntta-quality-secured/
Buying second hand from a specialist retailer will give you the benefit of product knowledge and if it's near to home, a local contact for servicing and repair work. It will also give you more legal rights and probably a warranty of three to 12 months.
A private purchase meanwhile may offer greater savings. While most sellers will be genuine, however, it is worth applying the same diligence as you would to buying any new home - buyer beware!
Top tips for buying secondhand motorhomes and campervans
The Camping and Caravanning Club has the following advice when looking at previously-owned vehicles:
- Make initial viewings during daylight hours; it's too easy to miss things in the dark.
- Exteriors should be free of any damage or signs of major repair work. Check leading edges especially and scrape marks on wing mirrors. Slight changes of colour can indicate panels have been replaced.
- Water ingress - check exterior sealant, look for signs of leaks and ask for results of any damp tests.
- Exterior locker doors should open and shut easily and locks should work.
- Ensure items like corner steadies and retractable steps are fully operational.
- Check tyres: Many motorhomes have long periods of inactivity and though the tyres may look serviceable they'll have aged; it may seem counter-intuitive but an idle tyre ages faster than one frequently used.
- Inside: go through the motions of bed making and using the kitchen (cooker, sink, fridge), washroom (shower, toilet, hand basin) and other facilities (eg. lights, awning).
- Try all seats for comfort, including living quarters and driving position.
- Documentation - ask for the full MOT, service, repair/conversion history, as well as the vehicle's own history (owners, etc).
- Ask for owner and operating manuals.
- Dealers should be able to offer up to a year's MOT and tax and evidence of a full inspection and any repair work, plus a warranty.
- Mileage: 4,000 to 6,000 is a typical average annual mileage; MOT certificates will verify any mileage claims.
- If buying privately, always view at the seller's house, the address of which should correspond with the vehicle's V5C certificate (log book).
- Consider using an independent specialist motorhome inspector.
- Check if a second-hand motorhome has any outstanding payments due on it by contacting HPI.
Many people on a budget or with specialist watersports needs choose to convert a van. There are a number of specialist companies that offer this service, such as Action Van, while some handier sailors choose to do some basic fit-outs themselves.
Try before you buy
Exhibitions and shows will give you an overview of what’s out there, a chance to explore interiors and cabs, and you may even get a good deal. Ask experienced motorhome owners for advice, and consider hiring one for a taster of the touring experience, to help you make an informed choice.
Whether you decide to buy from the dealer or privately, go for a test drive. And finally, remember to haggle - be it on the main price, additional items or the warranty. Use the savings to make it your very own home from home!