Buying a motorhome or campervan for the first time? Wondering how to choose the best motorhome for you?
I get it- choosing a camper is hard! The whole thing is a weird mix of anticipation and nerves, isn't it? After all- you don't want to get it wrong.
But there are SO. MANY. OPTIONS! How are you possibly supposed to know which motorhome or camper is best for you?
Don't panic. It's just a matter of taking your time and thinking about what you want.
To help, we've put together a BUYING A MOTORHOME FOR THE FIRST TIME GUIDE.
Buying a motorhome for the first time- where to start
So you want to buy a motorhome?
No, I'm not just being rude- this is one of the most important questions you should ask before you even start looking at motorhome for sale.
- WHY do you want to buy a motorhome?
- What do you want to do with it?
- Do you want to stealth camp in the middle of cities?
- Are you hoping to wild camp for weeks on end?
- Do you want to head off for a week in the summer and enjoy the ease of taking your bed and kitchen with you, while the kids play in the campsite pool?
There are many different types of motorhome and campervans, and just as many different reasons for owning them. I ALWAYS recommend renting a motorhome for at least a weekend first before you buy.
By renting, you get an idea of what you love, what you hate and what you can compromise on. If it's really not possible to rent, the following process will hopefully help you.
If you're still not even sure about getting one at all- here are 20 reasons to buy a motorhome RIGHT NOW!
How to choose a motorhome- what type?
When we first started looking at motorhomes, we had NO IDEA what we wanted. We hadn't even really thought of getting one, but we wanted something to tow our motorbikes from country to country and give us a base to sleep in. Sounds simple enough, right?
I always wanted a cool campervan. I am not cool, in any way, but I LOVE the idea that I could be if only we had a campervan.
Sadly, we needed to accommodate us and our teenage daughter, and we wanted her to be able to have her own space, so she could draw or listen to music at one end of the motorhome, whilst we worked or watched a video at the other end.
So we wanted two totally separate sleeping areas. You don't get that in a cool campervan.
I also wanted a dinette area and a fixed bed, so I didn't have to put away the bed each morning.
Mr WB wanted something strong enough to tow the motorbikes (apparently not every motorhome is!) and something with decent sized water and waste tanks so we could wild camp for a few days at least. So a motorhome it was.
Unsurprisingly, this narrowed down our choices a lot.
How to choose a Motorhome – UK vs Europe layout?
Another thing to consider is where you will be doing most of your travelling. We are based in the UK, but we prefer to adventure in Europe.
Our first motorhome was a European layout (meaning the door is on the right side of the motorhome, whereas a UK layout has the door on the left (nearest the kerb). We have owned both layouts, and even though we do most of our exploring in Europe, our current motorhome has a UK door.
We've never found this a problem, as we stay in aires in Europe where you can park either way around, but some campsites only allow you to park in a certain direction (we've found this more in the UK than overseas)- so you might consider this if you are staying on campsites a lot.
Buying a motorhome for the first time- maximum weight and length
Be very clear what your maximum weight is- and understand what that means!
You need to find out a vehicle's MAM- Maximum Authorised Mass. This is its actual weight, PLUS the amount of cargo/ water/ fuel etc it is authorised to carry.
I never ever recommend buying bigger than you need. Bigger motorhomes come with higher costs, higher toll charges, ferry fees etc.
Also, if you passed your driving test on or after the 1st January 1997, you need to take additional driving tests to drive anything over 3.5tonnes (C1).
Bear this in mind when looking for a motorhome and be aware how close many vehicles come to 3.5 tonnes WITHOUT any weight in them.
There are weighbridges all over the UK, where you can phone in advance, book a slot to be weighed, turn up in your motorhome and they will print you out a copy as proof. (We have never been asked for this proof, but it's interesting to know.)
With regards to towing, if you passed your driving test before 19th January 2013, and you have a B on your licence, you can tow trailers up to 750kg MAM (maximum authorised mass).
You can also tow larger trailers if the combined trailer and vehicle MAM isn’t more than 3,500kg.
How to choose a motorhome to buy- fixed bed or not?
I was adamant on having a fixed bed on our first motorhome. What I failed to realise was that, by having a fixed bed at the rear, we only had a small dinette area to sit in, unless we wanted to sit on the bed! I hadn't thought how much we would miss a lounge area, especially if it was raining and we wanted to stretch out and read a book.
So our new van has an end-lounge (it also has a fixed bed which goes up into the ceiling! You can see our motorhome tour above.)
Again, there's no right answer. If you HATE making up a bed every night, then get a fixed bed. If you have a lounge, you'll need to make sure the bed is comfy to sleep on- and find somewhere to store the bedding during the day.
Choosing a Motorhome- end bathroom?
We decided against an end bathroom, purely because we agreed that we could compromise on the size of the bathroom so we would get more space elsewhere.
I would LOVE a bathroom as big as the ones you get in an end bathroom, but then again, my ideal motorhome would be about 17m long!! 🙂
Whilst we're on the subject of bathrooms, make sure you inspect the bathroom thoroughly. Stupid things like checking the shower fits over your head (ours didn't- I had to crouch!) and that you can shut the bathroom door whilst you're on the toilet.
Also, I like to do the towel test- close the bathroom door and pretend you are drying yourself with a towel. You'll be amazed how difficult it is in a lot of bathrooms without banging your elbow!
Buying a motorhome- budget
Budget is an incredible important (and personal) question to ask yourself. DO NOT EVER exceed your budget.
Salesmen (and women!) are trained to get the most they can out of you. If they can upsell you by a few thousand pounds (or more!) they will.
Set your budget before you even go to a showroom. And then stick to it. If you discover a model you LOVE but can't afford, either find a cheaper alternative, find an older version or save for a while in order to afford it. Alternatively, you might want to look at caravans instead of motorhomes– they can be cheaper as a starting point.
If you are buying a camper on finance, be very clear about how much you can borrow and what the repayment schedule will be.
What is the Best motorhome to buy used?
An excellent question- if only we knew the answer! There is no BEST- it's whatever works for you. Sure, some brands are more reliable than others or have better reviews than others- but those brands are often more expensive and therefore out of budget for many people.
We went from having an overcab bed to having a lower profile model to reduce the toll fees in Europe- anything over 3m high is charged as a truck! Don't forget that you can buy awnings and attachable rooms (often called safari rooms) to temporarily increase your living space.
Make sure everyone has a comfortable place to sleep- nothing can ruin a holiday quicker than lack of sleep! Think about where the kids will go at night and where the adults will be. If you have pets, where will they sleep?
There is no right or wrong answer, it's what is best for you and your situation. These are all just things to consider.
What is the Best Month to buy a used motorhome?
In many respects, buying a used Motorhome is like buying a used car. The high season is around April- September, so if you buy outside that you might get a great deal.
Motorhome shows are also a great place to land a good deal, both for new models or used, and there are many of these around the UK throughout the year.
Another place to look is ex-hire vehicles. Our last Motorhome was an ex-hire, which allowed us to purchase a model normally outside our price range. Yes, there were a few things to fix and there is some cosmetic damage, but we were really happy with our choice.
Having said that, we have now downsized to a smaller motorhome. You can see inside our new camper HERE
Buy a motorhome in UK tips- is it cheaper to buy in Europe?
We looked into getting a French motorhome, but we actually found them more expensive. Gone are the days of getting good deals on the continent. Of course, you might find a bargain, so don't be put off looking, but don't be surprised by the high prices!
Can I drive an RV in the UK?
It depends on its size! The maximum length of a motorhome allowed in the UK is 12m long and 2.55m wide.
The measurements don’t include driving mirrors, rear bumpers, lamps, or reflectors. I also don't think it includes slide outs, as it's only the width whilst driving.
There’s no height limit, but if the motorhome is over 3 metres tall you must have a notice showing the height where the driver can see it. We taped ours above the windscreen on the driver's side- it's amazing how often we glanced at it just to be sure. Put the height in feet AND in metres, to cover both UK and Europe.
Buying a motorhome for the first time- test drive!
Test drive as many different motorhome models as you can before you buy. As with cars, all vehicles handle differently and you will find you prefer some makes over others. Also, remember you will likely be driving for longer than you normally do, so make sure the seats are comfy and the dashboard works for you.
We look for things like cup holders, headrests, stereo (very important for our favourite Road trip songs!) and somewhere to put the Sat Nav.
Choosing a Motorhome- be open-minded but focussed.
Our very first motorhome was the first motorhome we saw which ticked most of our boxes and was within our price range. Seriously, we spent less than 2 days researching and buying. I REALLY don't recommend this strategy!
We sorta, vaguely, kinda knew what we wanted…. but ended up with something totally different. Our first motorhome just FELT right- which is a terrible way to buy a vehicle.
Still, we had some brilliant great adventures in that van. Our second van was more planned, as we knew what we were looking for, but we still had to make compromises.
Be open-minded with your search, especially if you're looking around at a show, but don't waste time looking at models which definitely aren't right for you. You'll end up feeling completely overwhelmed and the whole thing will start to lose its shine.
I hope you found these tips useful, and I hope you have the time to put them to good use. Try not to buy on a whim or because the salesman is being pushy. Take your time and, eventually, you'll find your dream motorhome.
When you are ready to seriously buy, here are 11 ESSENTIAL questions you must ask BEFORE you buy.