Buying a motorhome or camper van is much like buying a touring caravan, but with the tow car included!
As such, it’s doubly important to ensure that everything is in good working order… something which requires rather more mechanical knowledge than buying just a caravan.
If you’re confident enough to buy a tidy second hand car, that’s half of the battle won. Less mechanically minded? Consider having a knowledgeable friend or family member take a look, or employ the services of a mechanic to give everything a once over.
If your caravan tow car breaks down or needs to be replaced, it’s fairly straight forward in the grand scheme of things. Engine in your motorhome gone pop? That’s rather more worrisome, so best avoided if at all possible!
Further to typical mechanical best practices, here are 6 things to take into account when buying a motorhome or camper van:
Licensed to motor
Much like towing restrictions for caravans, if you passed your driving test in the last 20 years, there are limitations on what you can legally drive.
Most typical “camper vans” are without worry due to their relatively diminutive size. If, however, you are looking at larger motorhome-type vehicles, especially American-style RVs, you’ll need to check your license.
If the vehicle is over 3500 kg and you’ve passed your test since the end of 1996, you’ll need to invest in taking an advanced driving test.
VW T5 transporter conversion? No bother. This Burstner Delfin Performance 821? At 5000 kg, not everyone can just saddle up and drive it, so be sure to check…
Hopefully you’ll be doing many happy miles in your new motorhome. As such, fuel efficiency is something to consider.
Look for a sensible trade-off between economy and performance… nothing puts a dampener on your holiday like 10 sluggish hours on the motorway, or spending hundreds and hundreds of pounds in fuel to get to Scotland!
Modern turbo diesels are a popular choice, but don’t overlook a smaller petrol motorhome or camper because of this, some of them are very efficient… you can find typical MPG figures for most makes and models online, so do your research.
The bigger the better?
Completely aside from the weight restrictions detailed above, bigger might not always be better. Is this your first camper or motorhome? Have you driven large vehicles before?
You need to account for manoeuvring, turning circle, wind buffeting on the motorway… typical things which affect larger road vehicles.
If you’re unsure, arrange to test drive a couple of different sized vehicles to find something which suits you. You should enjoy driving your camper or motorhome, so make sure you buy something which you enjoy driving and won’t absolutely dread having to reverse around a corner!
On a budget
This might sound like common sense, but it’s important to set a budget, and stick to it! Setting a budget allows you to narrow down your search, and being strict with your budget—avoiding “budget creep”—means you won’t be upsold, or tempted to spend too much/more than you can really afford.
Don’t start your motorhome or camper van journey by stretching yourself too far, or putting yourself under unnecessary financial strain… owning one should be relaxing and enjoyable, not a money worry!
New, or used?
A new motorhome or camper conversion is a huge luxury, but you need to be prepared to absorb the initial depreciation in value, much like you would with a new car. If you plan to keep it for many years, it’ll be an easier pill to swallow… but if there’s a chance you’ll want—or need—to sell up in the short term, you need to consider taking a fairly significant financial hit.
On the flip side, this makes used motorhomes—especially “nearly new” ones—a very attractive option for buyers. What’s more, a well-priced, well-looked-after, used example should hold its value nicely, which is always good news when it comes time sell up, or trade up!
Look at residual values: used VW Transporter and Caddy conversions hold their money very well, beyond the initial depreciation. Similarly, you could likely now buy and run a mid-90s Mazda Bongo for a couple of years and not lose a penny, if you look after it properly, as used prices have reached a plateau.
Private sale, or caravan/camper/motorhome dealer?
That cheap ‘van for sale in the free ads might seem tempting, but is it too good to be true?
Plenty of legitimate owners sell their motorhomes and camper vans privately every week, but you should always be cautious when buying privately.
Dealers, whether main manufacturer or independent, are bound by rules and regulations, while private sellers are not. If you’re planning to buy privately, be sure to check—and double check!—everything. This includes an HPI check, to verify the vehicles identity, and ensure that no finance is outstanding. You’ll also want to check for service history, and make sure the camper aspect of the vehicle exhibits no signs of damp.
Buying from a reputable dealer may be a better option, especially for a first time camper/motorhome buyer. You’ll have access to unlimited sound advice, both at the point of sale and going forward, as well as warranty and servicing options.
Just remember: buyer beware, always!
So, there you have it…
Consider all of the above, take your time, and most importantly of all – enjoy yourself… buying your first camper van or motorhome should be a pleasure, not a chore!