If you are completely new to motorhomes or campervans, the best advice is to look at as many different types as you can, there is no substitute for seeing a motorhome 'in the flesh' - they often look quite different to the pictures in magazines and manufacturers promotional material. The best places to see lots of motorhomes in one place are the motorhome shows that are organised around the country, we have a list here.
A very good book, almost 'essential reading' for anyone considering buying a motorhome, is Go Motorhoming and Campervanning, written by Meli George and Chris Doree. It's full of useful information and even 'old hands' will learn from it. Complementing this is a book from John Wickersham, The Motorcaravanning Handbook. It has a much more technical bias.
It is a really good idea, for those unfamiliar with the practicalities of using a motorhome or campervan, to hire one. Even a weekend hire will give a useful insight, before spending a lot of money!
The following was written by K. Stephen Busick, for the Family Motorcoach Association in the USA, but is just as relevant to the UK. It is reproduced here, with alterations and additions for the UK, with his kind permission.
A motorhome, whether new or used, is a sizable investment. In addition to being a motor vehicle, it's a home. For many people, it's the second-largest purchase they will ever make. It's important to remember that whichever motorhome is selected, it probably will not be the last one purchased. Just as needs related to permanent housing change as a family changes, motorhome-related needs also change. Obviously, this article will not give the definitive answer to all of your questions, but perhaps it will provide the information needed to begin your search.
The first question many people who have never purchased a motorhome ask is about the cost.
It must be remembered that although motorhomes are similar to cars in that both have a chassis and other automotive systems, they are truly "homes." They have plumbing, 12v and 240v electrical systems, and heating and cooling systems, plus kitchens, bathrooms, and sleeping areas.
Motorhomes have to endure earthquake-type forces every day when they are driven down less than perfect roads. And driving through a rainstorm often subjects them to storm-force rains. Through all of this, they are expected to stay together, not leak, and to function properly immediately after being taken out of storage. When viewed from this perspective, it's not surprising that even entry-level motorhomes often cost many thousands of pounds.
Another frequent question is what size motorhome is needed. Buying a motorhome is similar to purchasing a suit: You should purchase the one that fits you. A size 52 suit is not the best purchase for a person who wears a size 44, even if they both cost the same.
Larger does not necessarily mean better when buying a suit or a motorhome. However, the person needing the size 52 suit will not be happy in a size 44 regardless of how great the deal was on the suit. Almost the same can be said for buying a motorhome. While the many owners say their next motorhome will be larger than their current one, buying the "correct size" is important. Just as many owners of large motorhomes are extremely pleased with their purchase, so are the owners of some of the smallest motorhomes imaginable. Like any home and every suit, it's the "fit" that makes it comfortable.
Perhaps a rule of thumb regarding size could be, the longer the motorhome will stay in one location, the longer it should be. You probably wouldn't choose a big A-class motorhome if you needed to use it as daily transportation. Obviously, no motorhome is cumbersome when it's parked, regardless of its size. And, while not all motorhomes are big enough to live in, almost all of them are big enough to live out of. Awnings, safari rooms, and even folding chairs increase living space.
The interior of the motorhome should be determined not only by where the motorhome will be used, but also by who will use it. If the motorhome will be used in unpaved locations, such as in the woods or at the beach, carpeting throughout may not be a good idea. However, if most use will occur in a resort-type setting, the luxury of carpeting underfoot is hard to beat. If a family will travel in the motorhome, make sure there are enough seats with seat belts to accommodate everyone.
Sit on the couches, are they comfortable, do you hit your head on the cupboards above? Is there space for a TV if you want one - can you see it easily from the seats? Decide if the layout will suit your lifestyle, some people like room to sprawl, others prefer to sit more upright
Several types of sleeping arrangements are found in motorhomes, you need to decide which one is for you. Many have an over-cab sleeping space, but some people find this claustrophobic - make sure that you can get up and down easily and that there is sufficient headroom if you like to sit up in bed. Most motorhomes have some beds that are made up from a seating area - pretend to make up the bed to find out how easy it is and whether all corners can be reached easily. Some people prefer a fixed bed that can be left made up in the daytime, but you need to bear in mind that this may take up valuable space. The 'drop-down' bed often found in A-class motorhomes can give you the best of both worlds, a permanently made bed that is simply lifted out of the way during the day. Make sure that you pull it down and push it up again to check how easy this is. Climb into the bed, is it easy to get in and out, can you sit up in the bed?
Most people don't mind being a bit crowded when they eat, or even eating outside or in "shifts," but sleeping is a different story. Make sure the motorhome can sleep the needed number of people comfortably.
While dinettes and sofas are sometimes touted as sleeping two people, those two people often should be children. No seller should object if potential buyers remove their shoes and lie on the bed to see whether it is large enough. One thing new buyers may not realise is that many beds in a motorhome are non-standard sizes, measuring the bed before buying a motorhome may prevent the new owner from buying fitted sheets that don't fit well. If the bed is situated against the wall, realise that getting into and out of bed can be a chore when the "aisle" person is sleeping. Is there enough storage space for clothing? If dresses will be taken on trips, can they hang freely in the wardrobe?
No matter how small a kitchen is in a house, it's probably larger than the one in a motorhome. Buyers must ask themselves what kind of meals they will prepare in this kitchen. Many pre-owned motorhomes feature ovens that have never been used. Many continental motorhomes have no oven or grill fitted. Perhaps a simple microwave or combination microwave-convection oven is sufficient if you intend to use electric hook-ups most of the time. If not, conventional ovens and other kitchen appliances are available to be retro-fitted. Make sure the galley has adequate storage for both the food that will be prepared and for the utensils and crockery that will be used to prepare it and serve it. Is there a spot big enough for the largest pan or portable appliance that will be used? Pretend to prepare a meal, is there enough room to cook whilst others are sitting in the seats? Do the drawers and cupboard doors work easily yet have some provision for not coming open as the motorhome is driven? Open shelves and 'cubby holes' may look attractive but may not be practical as they can only really be used when parked up.
Motorhome owners seem to fall into two categories when it comes to bathrooms. Some like large bathrooms, while others prefer to have the extra space utilised elsewhere in the motorhome, because of the relatively small amount of time spent in the bathroom or the fact that they always use the on-site facilities. Keep in mind that the water heater probably will hold only a few gallons, while the one at home will have a much greater capacity. Thus, frugality with the hot water may be essential. Obviously, the same is true when using the shower. Whichever style of bathroom is chosen, make sure it fits the your lifestyle and physical body. Take off your shoes and stand in the shower to see whether it has sufficient headroom and enough space to move comfortably. Also, sit on the toilet and make sure there is adequate room when the door is closed.
The test drive
When test driving a motorhome, it's a good idea to take it on a selection of road types of roads. It's unlikely that any motorhome will handle the same as a family car, but if you feel that it's too cumbersome, it will not be used as much as it should. Make sure the mirrors can be adjusted for good visibility. If vision to the rear or side is a problem, cameras and additional mirrors to minimize this problem are available and can be installed at any time. Also, make sure the co-pilot has a chance to drive the motorhome before purchasing it.
Ask the seller what the motorhome weighs. Ideally you should know the weight carried by each axle and compared them with the weight ratings given on the vehicle's VIN plate. If the seller doesn't know this information you should ask if the vehicle can be taken to a weighbridge for checking. If you find that your motorhome is overweight it may be possible to have the chassis upgraded on some models by specialist companies. An overloaded motorhome can be unsafe and illegal to operate. If the motorhome is empty, remember that water, fuel, tools, food, clothing, people, and all of the other things that go into most motorhomes will weigh hundreds of kilos. The power, acceleration, and handling of the motorhome during a test drive may change once the vehicle is fully loaded. If possible, talk with other owners about their experience with the same motorhome.
If the motorhome being bought from a dealer, check the terms of any warranty. Check to see whether the manufacturer is still in business. Although parts such as pumps, water heaters, and windows are often made by various manufacturers regardless of motorhome brand, parts such as body mouldings, trim pieces etc. can be difficult or impossible to locate if the motorhome manufacturer is no longer in business.
Verify the model year of both the base vehicle and the conversion. Manufacturers often stockpile chassis, and it's not unusual for them to have chassis from the previous model year when production for the new model year begins. This is not bad in itself, but it can cause confusion when having the vehicle serviced.
Like any motor vehicle, the motorhome will need servicing. Finding a service centre near home that can do routine maintenance saves time and helps to prevent inconvenient breakdowns on the road.
When owners are asked for a one-sentence summary of what they tell their friends to do when contemplating the purchase of a motorhome the following advice comes up time and again:
"Take your time," "Do your homework," and "Talk to people" are typical answers. So are "Attend motorhome shows," "Find a good dealer," and "Check with owners of similar motorhomes."
Remember, there is a new or used motorhome for just about every budget and every family. It just takes some time to find it.