Thinking about buying? Why not ‘try before you buy’

It's a big or 'very' big purchase so we recommend you look around, talk to lots of dealers, go online and ask yourself a number of questions that may be obvious, but will determine exactly what you want from a mobile home. Don't get carried away by the vanlife dream without assessing what you actually need from a van/motorhome. We spoke to Jeff Green of CaravanTalk about things people think about before buying a van.

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How do I want to sleep?

Certainly try before you buy a bed in a motorhome! We think the bed is a good place to start. Manufacturers and owners often see the bed as the starting point for the purchase of a motorhome, and we would agree. There are several options to choose from when buying a motorhome. Island, fixed, transverse beds, etc. What you need to think about is how you get in and out of the bed. What if you have to go to the bathroom at night, is that easy or do you have to climb over your partner to reach the bathroom? Does the bed have the proper height for you? Do you need stairs to get there and is that a problem? And will you still be comfortable with such a bed in a few years time? Pro tip: always try the bed. This way you experience what it is like to get in and to get out and whether there is enough space between the mattress and the ceiling.

Campervan Beds

If you are in a camper the big decision is whether to go across the back or a caravan style U shape (where the sitting area converts into the bed. As space if tight some people prefer to fix the bed each day but other prefer a fixed bed with storage underneath. If you are in a small space often the bed becomes the place to relax, read, watch TV etc but you lose the options of seating so make sure you have considered where you will eat and work. Also think about privacy! If you are travelling with kids many campers have beds in the roof which is fine for a short period but things can get cramped so make sure you think about an awning and a tent to pitch outside to create more living space.

Man testing out the bed when buying a motorhome

Tip: Take your time to test the mattress when buying a motorhome

Do we have enough space for our stuff and ourselves?

Man testing out the shower in motorhome

Tip: Make sure the motorhome offers enough space for you and your fellow travellers

Do you have enough space in the driver’s seat? You’ll be spending a lot of time there when you travel. So is it comfortable? Also, take a seat on the toilet with the door closed. Do you have enough room? Try standing in the shower? Does it fit and can you get beneath the showerhead? And of course, with space, we think about the luggage space. Is there enough space for all your luggage and that of fellow travellers? Are you taking bicycles for instance or other big articles for your hobbies? What about spare clothes, spare shoes, wetsuits?

Why not consider roof rack and make sure you pack light! Are you using overhead wasted space? Fit some storage on the walls to create additional storage options maybe?

Can I bring everything?

This time we don’t mean space, but weight. It is also important to study the numbers carefully. What are the numbers that go with this vehicle? How much weight can I add before I cross the limit? Can my car tow this caravan? What is the actual weight instead of the weight stated on the license plate? The latter can deviate a lot.

Man buying motorhome at a dealer

Tip: Check if the storage is big enough for your bike, surfboard, or other gear.

What is the best campervan or motorhome for you depends very much on the way of travelling and with which company you travel. Do you really need all those clothes? Why not use launderettes on the way round for example and choose sites to wash clothes for example. Choose a coat that is versatile for all needs.

What are my holiday plans?

This question certainly also applies to the ergonomics of a motorhome. The best way to find out which motorhome is right for you is to rent different models and types and just try it out. Should it be a campervan or an alcove, a used or a new one, a large or a small one, etc. Each model has its own characteristics. Each type has its own advantages, with a campervan you’ll be a bit more flexible in small towns, with an integrated motorhome you’ll have a lot more storage than a campervan and with an alcove, you’ll have your beds very efficiently stored.

Different types of motorhomes and campervans

Tip: Try out different types and sizes of motorhomes, each one has it’s benefits.

The best motorhome to buy does not exist…

Don’t forget that the ideal camper does not exist. It is often said that the best motorhome is the next motorhome you buy. People who have ever built a house themselves know this all too well. If they did it again it would all look very different. So our tip: look for the camper that best suits your current way of travelling. The purchase is often a snapshot. In the future, your family situation might change, or your way of travelling. This will also change your own wishes for the camper. Therefore, always focus on the situation as it is now and try to take the future into account, but the latter should never determine the final decision. Also, think about conversions versus dealer purchases? How bespoke do you want to be? How much hassle do you need and depreciation do you really need rather than buying nearly new?

The best time to buy a motorhome or campervan

So you want to try before you buy however the when you are ready best time to buy a motorhome is in the autumn or winter, from October to December. After the summer season, many vehicle owners realize they want to sell their vehicle or buy a new one. Also, motorhome dealers will be trying to sell their stock, which often comes with attractive discounts on new vehicles as well. Campervans are a very seasonal product so it can have a lot of effect on prices due to demand and supply, therefore you want to buy a vehicle before others start to think about it. Do note that this does mean that you will start to pay monthly costs such as storage and insurance earlier. Of course, we also understand if you don’t have the patience to wait till the cold days!

Checklist: buying a used motorhome

Finally, when buying a used motorhome: here is a checklist to keep in mind when checking out the vehicle.

  1. Check whether all the papers of the vehicle are present. Check if the mileage is correct.
  2. Check for dents, scratches, rust, aluminium rot and also check the roof for hail damage.
  3. When was the vehicle last MOT inspected?  Are there any comments on the inspection report?
  4. Are the tyres still in good condition (including the spare tire)? These should not be older than six years. Note: tread depth at least 1.6 mm, winter tires 4 mm. Also check for dry rot in the side of the tire. These can occur with somewhat older tires.
  5. Check the age of the timing belt. Were they replaced recently? A timing belt usually needs to be replaced every 100,000 km or three to four years. Just what comes first.
  6. The gas installation: ask for the inspection and gas certificate report and look at the age of the flexible hose and pressure regulator. Also pay attention to any cracks in the hose. To do this, bend the hose carefully in a sharp bend.
  7. Interior: check that the interior is not damaged and that it smells fresh. Have people been smoking inside the vehicle? Are there dark spots on the ceiling?
  8. Check for mould spots (moisture). Take a good look at every corner of the camper. Behind the curtains, in the shower, the toilet and in the closets. If there are obvious damp spots, be aware that that repair can be very expensive.
  9. Use an expert if you know someone to check the vehicle out be aware buying private carries a lot more risk than from a dealer (who usually offer a warranty even on second hand units)

Thinking about renting before you buy a motorhome or campervan?

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