Buying a motorhome in the UK: complete guide and top tips
We guide you through the dos and don'ts of buying a motorhome, and offer some valuable tips and advice to help you along the way
So you’ve decided you’re ready to take the plunge and buy your own motorhome. But where do you even start? What kind of camper, conversion or van do you need, and what should you look out for if buying used?
The market can be a minefield, but Auto Express is here to help with some wise words before you set out, plus there's some top tips from our very own CEO, Nicola Bates.
Motorhome buying guide
What to look for
If you’re buying new, you’ll want to consider things such as interior layout and storage – particularly if you’re planning on taking bikes or other bulky kit – but buying a used motorhome requires a bit more thought.
Perhaps the most obvious is the condition of the van. People often live in them for weeks on end, and that can take its toll. Make sure all the specified kit is present and correct, be that cushions or mattresses, or even discs for factory-fitted navigation systems.
Many vans have removable gas tanks. These aren’t always expensive to fill, but the canisters are sold on a deposit basis, so you’ll need one to hand back to avoid paying twice. Ensure these are where they should be, and knock some cash off the price if they’re not.
Finally, many vans will be left standing during the winter, which isn’t great for any vehicle. Make sure the tyres are in good condition (many need special rubber, rather than normal road-car tyres) and the water tank is clean and free from mould. The same goes for the cabin; conversions are particularly susceptible to condensation, which can result in unwanted smells.
Is bigger always better?
Bigger vans often have more amenities and bigger beds, even toilets and showers. But they also have their limitations. Sheer size can influence route choice, because narrow roads and rural camping spots can be a no-go for the biggest vans. Larger vehicles, especially those over 3,500kg, may need extra licence categories or more confidence to drive, too. Many will also be speed-limited, making longer trips more of a chore.
The space and practicality of smaller models might surprise you. Many have foldaway beds to maximise interior room during the day, and flip-up tables or pop-out chairs that can be hidden away when not in use.
Factory build or conversion?
There's no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing between a factory-built camper or converted motorhome. A conversion allows you greater input into the van’s design or features, but what appeals to you may not interest used buyers when it comes to selling.
While opting for a factory build will likely be more expensive, quality is often superior, with warranties similar to those when buying a new car. And with competitive finance, it may be cheaper than you think.
Rent before you buy
You can rent vans and motorhomes for the weekend, month or more from around £40 per day (off season). It’s a great way to see what vehicle best suits your needs. Just book early to avoid the summer rush.
In fact, Nicola is a shining example of how renting a camper could even save your marriage. She and her husband knew they didn’t want a massive motorhome, so they borrowed a Volkswagen with a pop-up roof.
“We came very close to divorce one night trying to get the bed set up!” she told us. “We realised what we needed was a [boot] that was big enough for a scooter or bikes, and enough storage to be self-sufficient. We wanted fixed beds, too, so there was none of the faff of making the beds each night.
Q&A with Nicola Bates - CEO Autovia
What type of van do you have and why did you buy it?
We’ve got an Adria Supreme SL. We went through phases of working out what we needed and decided that this particular van was going to be perfect.
How often do you use your van?
We’re away all the time – even in winter. We’ve used it in November, December and February, and we went to Yorkshire a couple of weeks ago.
What kind of trips do you tend to do in the van?
It’s mainly weekends. Ordinarily you say: ‘shall we go away for a weekend?’ You book into a hotel and before you know it, with dinner, you’ve dropped £600-£700. But with the motorhome it costs £25 for most places that we stay.
You either love it or you don’t, but to wake up in a different place each time? There was one place on the Isle of Skye with a view over the loch with otters bobbing up and we just thought: ‘this is pretty special’.
Do you find it frustrating to have to pack everything up to go anywhere?
Ordinarily, if we’re not too far from home, we’ll take a car and use that. But because fuel is astronomical at the minute, if it’s only an hour and a half away, we ask: ‘do we indulge in taking two vehicles?’ If it’s further, we’ll take the bikes; we’ve got electric mountain bikes.
You get into your routine when you’re away. We just get up and go, [my husband] does that, I do this. The biggest thing is making sure everything is secure and it’s not going to rattle around when we’re driving. My top tip is having plenty of towels in your crockery cupboards!
What could you not live without?
The toilet! But also there are USB ports everywhere so you can plug in and keep your phones charged. A lot of people have proper ovens; we just have a gas hob. But then we tend to have barbecues outside, or tapas.
Any big plans for the summer?
We want to do Norway. My husband has done that on a motorbike and thinks it’d be amazing in the van. Also the south of France, but it’s just finding the time to do that. There are plenty of places closer to home which are good for popping away to when you want a change of scenery.
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