Our last motorhome was a Swift 496 Esprit. It's 7.8m long and weighs a healthy 4 tonnes, give or take. We owned her for 18 months, which seems a reasonable length of time to discuss the pros and cons of owning a motorhome over 3.5 tonnes, instead of a small motorhome like our current camper.
Why did we buy a motorhome over 3.5 tonnes?
We didn't set out looking for a motorhome over 3.5tonnes, but we DID see a layout we loved but couldn't afford. (A brand new Bailey Autograph, if anyone's interested!)
The Bailey motorhome was actually less than 3.5 tonnes (just!) but there was no way we could afford it, so we set out to find something similar on the market. Enter the Swift 496.
She has a fantastic layout AND we got her for a great price as she was an ex-hire vehicle. There were several problems, including the fridge and solar panel, but we knew we could sort those out.
We discussed whether the weight would be a problem, as it meant I couldn't drive our new motorhome due to licence restrictions, but we agreed that Mr WB prefers to drive anyway and I prefer to navigate, so it wouldn't be an issue.
Pros of a large motorhome
There are some obvious advantages to a bigger motorhome.
- More living space
- More storage space
- Better payload
- No worrying about the weight of things you put onboard
Let's go through those a little. We deliberately chose a motorhome with an end lounge area and a separate dinette. When buying a motorhome, it's always a toss-up between cost, layout and availability- and somewhere there needs to be a compromise.
Better living space in a larger motorhome
We LOVED (still do!) the living space and it was perfect for us over all our travels, including 5 weeks in Norway, several weeks in Germany, France, Italy and much more.
Better storage space
We also loved the storage space- the van holds SO. MUCH. KIT and it's never an issue because our payload is crazy. Seriously, we've put hydraulic legs, kayak, paddleboard, solar panel, generator and a million other things onto it… and we still have about 300kg of payload left if we want it.
I love having a motorhome where we don't need to worry about storage if we go off for a couple of months at a time.
Looking for help with your motorhome storage?
However, we recently hired a small motorhome and loved it. We loved how easy it was to park and much storage there was inside. Although the van we had wasn't our dream layout, we really enjoyed experiencing a different type of motorhoming. It opened our eyes to the possibility of what we could get with a smaller van.
Which brings us to the cons of a motorhome over 3.5 tonnes.
Cons of a motorhome over 3.5 tonnes
- Speed limits are lower on roads in Europe
- Toll charges are more
- Difficult to get toll passes, vignettes or other such things for vehicle over 3.5 tonnes
- I can't drive it
- Longer= harder to park
We loved our motorhome, we really did. But there are some things about it which just didn't work for us- and most of them revolve around the weight/ size.
Reduced speed limit for motorhomes over 3.5 tonnes
One of the biggest problems is the reduced speed limits for vehicles over 3.5 tonnes. We do a LOT of driving both in UK and Europe and having to almost double our journey time can be frustrating. You can find a list of European speed limits here.
And no, it's not a typo- if your vehicle weighs over 3.05 tonnes, you can only do 60 on UK dual carriageways, 50 on other roads unless lower speed limit applies.
Vignettes/ Toll passes
Also, we LOVE travelling Europe in our motorhome, but toll passes and some vignettes are only applicable to vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes. After that, you need to go to one of the official border crossings and fill in paperwork. In some countries, you need to have a box installed which tracks your mileage.
Restrictions on driving licences
All our travelling has made it really difficult to get my C1 (that, and a lack of motivation!!) But honestly, it's silly having a camper that I can't drive should I ever need to. Safety first.
Longer= harder to park
Lastly, this isn't down to weight, but having a longer vehicle is harder to park- especially when we attach a 3m motorbike trailer to the back of it! With our van and a trailer, we are longer than two parking spaces, making it tough to pop into a supermarket or car park as we travel- we're always hanging over the edge somewhere!
We also have to avoid some aires around Europe, as they are restricted to up to 8m. With a shorter van, we can squeeze in, even with the trailer!
So, with all that said, we decided to sell our large motorhome and get a smaller one! People often say the third boat you buy is the perfect one for you- I wonder if the same applies to campers?
Should you buy a motorhome over 3.5 tonnes?
So, should you buy a motorhome of over 3.5 tonnes? Absolutely, if it's right for you!
There are some INCREDIBLE campers around and if you're not affected/ not bothered by any of the above-mentioned points, then definitely go for it, especially if you have a family.
We've been ALL over the place in our motorhome and the size/ weight wasn't a problem at all until our daughter stopped travelling with us and we realised we didn't need so much space. If she were younger and still adventuring with us, we wouldn't have downsized our motorhome at all.
Which is why there are so many types of motorhome on the market- one size most definitely does NOT fit all and you need to pick a motorhome which works for the stage of life you're in right now.
If you're choosing a motorhome or camper at the moment, let me know what you pick!