Top Guide To Buying A Motorhome

Mercedes Sprinter campervan
Motorhome Show
Stuttgart Show

Top Guide to Buying a Motorhome

Here’s our Top Guide to buying a motorhome. Over the past 20 years we’ve bought and sold a wide variety of motorhomes. There’s nothing more exciting than choosing that perfect motorhome yet it can be daunting too.

So, we’re here to offer our top guide from our own experiences of buying a motorhome and what we’ve learnt along the way.

After all, if you make the wrong decision, it can be a costly mistake and one that can put you off owning that dream motorhome forever.

Mercedes Sprinter Campervan

A Motorhome Show

Firstly, a show is a really good place to begin the search. Here in the UK, October is a big month in the motorhome calendar. Not only is is the time when manufacturers launch their new models, but it’s also when they show these for the first time.

The main event, is The Motorhome and Caravan Show, held at the NEC in Birmingham. Here, the halls are full of the latest campervan and motorhome models from across the UK and Europe.

We love it so much, that since 1997, we’ve bought every caravan, motorhome and campervan from the NEC show.

Yes, we just love a good show even if it means travelling to Germany to visit one. Where over in Dusseldorf, the biggest motorhome show in the world is held each August. There’s also a very good motorhome show at Stuttgart every January, were we bought our current van in 2015.

Top Guide to buying a motorhome

Before Buying

  • We research a lot but with so much choice out there it can be overwhelming.
  • Manufactuer websites or other online resources are an ideal research tool.
  • Magazines such as Practical Motorhome Magazine bring useful information on layouts and manufacturers in one place.
  • A show is a really good way to get ideas of layouts, fitments and technology all under one roof.
  • Budget is key for us on deciding a base vehicle and the size, although it usually increases to find the right van.
  • Deciding on a layout is also really important.
Try and think of everything and leave out nothing!
  • We establish a short-list of vans suitable for us, thinking about where we’ll be travelling to and what we’ll be using it for.
  • Think about if you’re going to be using it in the UK only or will there be extremes of hot and cold climates?
  • Will you want to ship it worldwide?
  • Possibly you may just use it for short trips or maybe you’ll be full-time or somewhere in-between. These are all considerations.
  • Thinking about what suits us best, for example: Is making a bed up every night what you really want or is a fixed bed better?
  • What about storage for skies; bikes; kayaks; golf bags etc..The list goes on!
  • There’s the functional elements too, such as heating options. As well as water tanks, battery sizes and insulation.
  • Think about weights and payloads. It’s no use having a huge motorhome that has a tiny payload.
  • If it’s over 3.5 tonne, is the driver licence of the driver covered? Homework is key remember.
Small isn’t always less
  • Some smaller campervans can be as functional as larger ones.
  • It’s often getting the model and layout right along with good storage options that make a difference.
  • Do you want to be off-grid or will you be using campsites?
  • Do you want to be self-sufficient or will you be plugging in to electric every couple of days?
  • What appeals most will determine the fitments needed to sustain the campervan lifestyle that’s trying to be achieved.
  • Motorhome Shows are a great way for us to see everything under the one roof. Saving time and money travelling to individual dealerships in the long run.

What’s the difference between a Campervan and a Motorhome?

A Motorhome is generally a larger self-contained vehicle with a habitation area purpose built by a manufacturer and fitted onto a chassis that is bought in separately.

The Chassis most commonly used is a Fiat Ducato, Citroen Relay and Peugeot Boxer. All these 3 are a part of a joint partnership known as Sevel – an Italian company. Although they each have their own drive train and badge, they are otherwise identical.

Also used by motorhome manufacturer’s are: The Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter and Iveco Daily.

A Campervan however, is generally a panel van that is converted into a habitable area. So, this is an empty van that is bought and converted by the campervan manufacturer.

Traditionally a campervan would be small and basic and probably too short to stand up in. Often, they would have a pop-up roof tent to sleep in and no separate shower and toilet area.

However in recent years this has changed. There’s been a big move towards buying larger panel vans that you can both stand up in comfortably and fit a proper shower room and plenty of cupboards and a kitchen too. So most now come with the same fitments that you’d get in a motorhome and are fully self-contained.

Motorhome parking

What’s An Alko Chassis?

An Alko Chassis is when the motorhome manufacturer orders the Cab without the van manufacturers chassis.

Instead they will then have the Alko chassis built on to the cab. This provides a lower, more refined look as well as a greater weight flexibility.

These are usually fitted to higher end motorhomes rather than entry level specifications.

There aren’t any panel vans with an Alko Chassis but Fiat do a Maxi chassis to allow for greater weight.

What’s the difference between an A-Class and Coachbuilt?

First of all, a Coachbuilt motorhome utilises the original manufacturers cab. So the cab doors, windscreen, bonnet etc will all look the same and be familiar. For example: A Fiat Ducato van has the same appearance as Fiat Ducato Coachbuilt motorhome.

An A-Class motorhome will just use the skeletal framework I.E: The engine, dashboard and wheels and then the motorhome manufacturer will build their own vehicle around this and will most likely use the Alko Chassis.

The end result is the habitation side of the motorhome merging into the newly created cab area. This also means the cab can be better insulated and it can be wider than a coachbuilt cab. It will also have a very large windscreen, giving a better viewing area.

A Class Motorhome

Layout Options – Top guide to buying a motorhome

Nowadays, the layout options are pretty endless. The most popular though are:

  • A fixed rear bed which can be either transverse (running side to side) or French style (along one side). The bed is always made up so there’s no need to store bulky bedding and make up a bed each night.
  • A transverse bed is ideal for those wanting a big garage, allowing for a large storage area which is accessible from the outside.
  • A rear or front lounge which is then converted into a bed at night is another option. This will mean making up a bed, storing bedding separately and sometimes having to climb over the made up bed to reach the toilet or the overcab bed.
  • Bunk beds and twin rear beds are other sleeping options, ideal for children and those who want to sleep separately.

Berths don’t mean seatbelts

One often misunderstood misconception is that the amount of berths in a motorhome or campervan will equate to the number of people who can legally travel.

Well it doesn’t! So you can have a 5-berth motorhome but only 2 seatbelts or a 2-berth motorhome which has 4 seatbelts! Confusing – yes!

For example, most motorhomes that have 6 seatbelts and 6 berths will have a layout with a train-like seating arrangement behind the 2 front cab seats. So there will be 2-forward facing seats and 2-rear facing seats with seatbelts and a table between – in addition to the cab seats. This would then be made into a bed at night.

This is why it’s so important to do the research!

Power EHU and 12V

Unless you have solar power fitted on the roof, the habitation battery will need to be charged regularly by plugging into a site electric supply or EHU. This would be every couple of days.

No charge = no power.

Plugging into power allows for the use of items in the motorhome such as power points, TV, lights, fridge, hot water and heating. However, you still need to be careful with what you’re using at any one time. Otherwise the EHU may trip.

In order to use a motorhome off grid properly – solar power is a must. This allows to charge the habitation battery and use of the 12V system without the need for an EHU. This will keep some appliances working but it still has to be used cautiously to save power.

Don’t expect to have a 12V TV on whilst running the fridge, heating, lights and charging gadgets for long periods of time.

Household 3-pin Power points won’t work off 12V, so USB charging points and 12V sockets are needed off-grid. An Inverter is a good option to use a mains appliance, such as a hairdryer, but it needs to be a powerful one and still have the charge off the solar.

Any inverter should be professionally fitted and the size should be checked against what appliance you want to use it for. We typically use ours for a hairdryer, straighteners and a shaver.

Heating and Hot Water

There are a few methods out there to get heating and hot water. These are mainly:

Diesel: The most user-friendly option for off-grid travel as it runs purely off the engine fuel. So as long as there is fuel in the fuel tank and no less than a couple of notches on the fuel gauge, then the heating and hot water will work.

These main ones are Truma; Eberspacher and Webasto. The heat is circulated through blown air ducts around the van and it can be used whilst driving.

Gas: Truma is the main brand which is powered by either gas bottles (propane) or gas tanks beneath the van.

The heat is blown around the van through ducts but can’t be used whilst driving.

Alde – this is a wet system, similar to radiators we have in a house. It’s also silent and can be used whilst driving. It takes up space, so is usually only used in larger motorhomes.

Electric: All the above can come with an electric option too. This can only be used when plugged into an EHU and isn’t as powerful as when used on Gas or Diesel.

Note: Blown Air uses power to operate the fan, so this can cause issues if the 12V is not charged enough to power the fan.

Hot Water: All the above come with a hot water setting which takes about 30 minutes to heat the water in the boiler.

However, if the Alde heating and Diesel heating is on, this automatically warms the water too, although it may need a boost for showering.

Once the water in the boiler is used up, the heating up of the cold water that replaces it starts again – so another 30 minutes would be needed.

wild camping in the south of France

Fridge, Oven and Hob – Top Guide to Buying a motorhome

All motorhomes and campervans will come with a fridge and a hob but an oven may be an option or not fitted at all.

Fridge:

An Absorber fridge is the type most used and can be run off electric, gas or 12V once cooled down (usually just for driving).

If using on electric in hot countries, the temperature can be too difficult to regulate. So often, a boost from gas is needed to keep it cool enough.

They are good but for off-grid travel a compressor fridge is more practical.

A Compressor Fridge operates off 12V without the need to change it over whilst driving/stationary. They are superb and work extremely well at all temperatures, so suit those travelling to hot and cold destinations.

The downside is that they are usually smaller than an Absorber fridge.

Oven:

An oven work’s off gas but they can be slow to cook food and do take valuable room in some layouts where an extra cupboard may be more useful.

Top Guide to Buying a Motorhome – Buying at a Show

Some tips for buying a motorhome at a show.

  • We pick up a show guide on arrival and go to the area that best suits us.  
  • These shows can be huge and it’s easy to end up in the wrong hall.
  • Sometimes, we like to have more than one day at a show to absorb everything.
  • Taking time to look at everything that’s on our shortlist.
  • If we haven’t done a shortlist we start doing one and use the show as homework.
  • Look and look again, we don’t feel pressurised and certainly don’t feel as if we’re wasting the sales persons time.
  • It’s good to take a coffee break, pause and re-think.
  • Reading again any checklist of requirements, checking we haven’t forgotten a vital point.
Sales staff are there to sell and may not be motorhomer’s
  • We ask lots of questions and if the sales team don’t know the answer or if we are in doubt of the reply, we ask again or ask them to find out for us.
  • Lead times on delivery are important, adding time on from what we’ve been told, as manufacturers can go over.
  • Browsing at our leisure. If we don’t want to be pestered we just blend in with the crowds until we’re ready to make contact.
  • Sales staff are there to sell, we’re a little cautious on them being experts on all the vans they are selling or the wider industry! They may also be from dealerships across the country and just on a particular stand for the show.
  • The actual manufacturer may have staff present, so may be from Europe, for example, especially if it’s a non-UK manufacturer. This can be very useful as they tend to be very knowledgable about their own product.
Show offers – Top Guide to buying a motorhome
  • Show offers are usually pretty good and are there to tempt people into buying during the show itself. They probably won’t be available once the dealers go back to their dealerships.  However, we don’t rush into a decision just because we’ll get a TV and an an awning thrown in! Instead we ask if they’ll keep an offer available for us post show and if so for how long.
  • We ask exactly what’s standard, the show model may be full of extra’s and £’s over the basic van.
  • We’re not afraid to haggle, at least we know we’ve tried even if it doesn’t work!
  • We carefully look at build quality both exterior and interior of fitments, furniture, everywhere!
  • When choosing colour schemes, think practically, is that light cream seating practical, is it a colour that we really like and can live with?
  • If we’re ready to do that deal, we just check on where the dealer is located, are we prepared to collect from anywhere in the country or do we have a maximum distance in mind.
  • Finally, if there isn’t the right van at the right price for us, we’re prepared to walk away, thinking of it as a homework exercise in preparation for next time or for when we’re ready.
Top guide to buying a motorhome at a show

Finally, we wish you lots of luck with your search, we hope you enjoy motorhome adventure travel as much as we do! Last but not least, our guide is our own experiences – always check out and research the best motorhome or campervan design, layout and fitments for you!

After all it’s a personnel choice and only you know what you really need!

top guide buying a motorhome

Thanks for reading “Our Top Guide to Buying a Motorhome!

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