So you are thinking of getting a motorhome
There are many questions you should ask yourself when choosing a motorhome for your touring and or holiday needs.
Question 1 – Buy or Hire?
If your intended travel duration is for around 3 months or less and it may be the only occasion in the next few years you intend travelling by motorhome, then it is probably better to hire a vehicle rather than buy one.
This way all you need to do is book the rental in advance, provide the necessary documentation to the rental company and they will have the vehicle ready for you on your arrival.
However, you will pay a fairly hefty rental fee and will probably not get the configuration best suited to your needs, and if you are a first time motorhomer you may not really know what configuration will best suit your needs, anyhow.
A configuration that may be suitable for a 1 or 2 week holiday may not work out for the best over a longer term or if you intend full timing.
What you may be able to put up with for a week or two may really get up your nose after a month or more.
You could easily pay around £500 or $AUD1000/week for a rental vehicle, depending on whether high or low season, your travel destination, duration and distance to be travelled.
OK, so you have decided you don’t want those hefty expenses and have decided that outright purchase is best for you.
Question 2 – New or Pre-loved?
Yes, it is really great taking delivery of a sparkling new, never been driven, never been tried and tested motorhome and setting off on your next adventure.
However, no matter the brand (Rolls Royce brand or Budget Brand reputation) there are likely to be some teething problems.
Some teething problems with new motorhomes can take upwards of 12 months to sort out, depending on your frequency of usage.
Having a nice long warranty is a great comfort, however if you purchased your motorhome in Perth Scotland or Stafford England and are in the Loire Valley France with a problem, then a real problem it may be, as the definition of “warranty” is usually return to base for repairs – even if there is a reciprocal arrangement in place organising warranty work could be a problem in a foreign language.
Some insurance companies may be reluctant to insure a motorhome for in excess of £50,000, especially if you plan to tour “abroad”.
So maybe “pre-loved” could be the way to go for you – not so old that it is a “klunker” but old enough that it has proven itself and has all the bugs ironed out and has had a few accessories added to make it really practical and will provide everything you need.
There are of course also the financial considerations as a considerable amount of money is lost in VAT etc as soon as a new vehicle is driven out of the showroom whereas with a preloved vehicle, if a prudent purchase was made originally, you may be able to recover all or the majority of your initial investment.
Question 3 – What Brand of Motorhome?
You don’t want to be stuck in some remote location with a problem that can’t be sorted so it is probably better to go for a brand with a good reputation and that has a dealer network to be able to provide parts and service both in the UK and in Europe.
A motorhome brand with a good reputation is also an advantage at resale time as the person looking at buying your motorhome should probably have similar requirements to what we are talking about here.
Question 4 – Which layout should I choose?
An ideal layout could be one that has everything that you think you need, is as short as possible, as narrow as possible, with minimum height and as economical as possible.
I don’t think that layout really exists, but you should try to get as close as possible to that.
If you intend spending long periods in your motorhome then having one that is light, bright and airy with plenty of windows could be the way to go – so a garage model may not be the answer as they have fewer windows because of the internal space taken up by the garage, particularly in the shorter models.
A garage model may seem like a good idea if you want to store bikes, however many people have found that once they put the bikes in the garage there is no room left for their other goodies as the bikes either take up so much room or make accessing other items very difficult and so they end up putting their bikes on an external bike rack anyway.
Some people say motorhomes must be under 6 metres in length and under 3500kg, particularly if you intend travelling through Europe and particularly Norway.
In Norway there are many ferry crossings, and they charge by the length of the motorhome – under 6 metres is cheaper than over 6 metres (about double the price) and this measurement includes bikes on a bike rack.
However, if the increased cost for all your tripping around Norway on ferries is only going to be an extra £100 or so, then I believe it is well advised to go for a little extra length for all the additional comfort you will receive for your entire trip.
Space in a motorhome is similar to that on a boat – it is all a compromise – if you have an extra foot here then you possibly miss out on having something there.
However, a foot or two can really change the layout – let me use as an example the difference between a Hymer 544, 564 or 584 as compared to a Hymer 544 Classic layout.
Most Hymer 544, 564 and 584 motorhomes are all around 5.99 metres long, which makes them good for ferry crossings, whereas a 544 Classic is 6-6 metres long – so what do you get with just another 2 feet in length you may ask?
The answer is a separate toilet and shower as opposed to a combined shower and toilet, a 150 litre 2 door fridge and freezer as opposed to a single door 90 litre fridge freezer and a more practical kitchen and bench top layout.
Seating – there are many different layouts available – pop up tables and swivel tables may save room but may not provide the space required for your touring planning when you want to spread several maps and research material out for research – café style seating with seating for 2 on both sides of a table is ideal for planning.
It may be a good idea to hire a couple of motorhomes with different layouts for a week at a time to see which layout suits you best, before you commit to buying.
Questions 5 – What Inclusions should I choose?
The fewer devices you have that will run on 230V power only, the better – the more of these that you have the more you will be restricted to staying in expensive caravan parks and campsites and sometimes there may not be any in your current location or they may be fully occupied.
Devices with 230V, 12 volt and or gas options are good.
Devices such as microwave ovens, ovens and grills, hairdryers, electric heaters, air conditioners etc usually draw a huge amount of power, particularly at start up and may flatten your leisure batteries in a very short time.
The prices of solar panels are still decreasing and a good set up with around 200 watts feeding in to around 200 AH of leisure batteries could save you a lot of money during your travels, not to mention that you will be able to “wild camp” for long periods of time without having to rely on electric hook up.
Don’t forget to have a pure sine wave inverter wired in to the 12 volt system so you can recharge phones, cameras. laptops, electric bike batteries etc.
Make sure your solar system is set up to charge both your starter and leisure batteries.
An external gas fitting to run a small BBQ such as a CADAC Safari Chef is a good idea – some BBQs can be too big and heavy but the Safari Chef is an ideal size – don’t skimp on the length of your gas hose as you may want to relocate the BBQ in windy conditions – using a BBQ instead of an internal oven gets you out in to the fresh air and reduces cooking smells inside the vehicle.
A permanently plumbed in twin bottle “autogas” tank system such as the Gaslow brand will save you lots of money on refills and avoid having to lug heavy bottles around when refilling.
It is advisable to have tyres with “M+S” – mud and snow, stamped on them as required in some countries in the winter months.
Question 6 – What Sized Engine?
If you are planning on a long term trip and will probably be wanting to load up with a few goodies to eat and drink and are considering driving through some mountain passes in the UK and or Europe then a smaller engine is probably not the way to go – an engine of 2.8 litre turbo diesel capacity or more would probably be advisable.
Question 7 – LHD or RHD?
If you don’t plan on crossing the Channel, or will only spend a small amount of time in Europe or are planning on exporting your motorhome back to a RHD country then a RHD vehicle is probably the way to go.
However, if you are planning on going to Europe regularly and or spending more time in Europe than in the UK then a LHD vehicle is probably the way to go.
What accessories should I consider?
You may not be able to park the motorhome exactly where you would like to go, so bikes or electric bikes may be an option worth considering.
If you have a garage model motorhome they may or may not fit in the garage otherwise they will need to go on a rear mounted bike rack.
Each bike will add upwards of 25kgs to the total weight of the vehicle so this should be taken in to account – additionally it could add between 2 to 3 feet to your overall length, depending on the number of bikes.
Don’t forget to include a cable lock to secure the bikes to the bike rack – they are available either as a key lock or a combination lock – alternatively there are also cable alarms available so that if someone cuts the cable the alarm sounds.
Fiamma bike covers are made of very thin material and with very flimsy zippers and will probably only last a very short time whereas the Hindermann brand are made of thicker material with much better zippers and will last a lot longer – take care when buying as there are several different models suited to different styles of racks – a clear plastic sleeve is required to hold the red and white striped warning sign.
A good GPS system is a must – something like a Garmin 770 Camper which allows you to enter the length, width, height and weight of your vehicle – handy for all those narrow roads and low bridges in Europe.
Don’t forget to load the latest map before you leave home as the latest maps could be around 10GB which will soon eat up your data allowance when you are on the road.
Reversing/Rear View Camera
A good camera system provides extra safety whilst driving and or reversing – some people prefer the camera to be permanently set on the rear bumper for reversing whilst others prefer it set to be a rear view camera so they can see what is going on behind, in addition to their mirrors.
Silver heat/cold screens
Silver screens fitted to the front and side windows whilst stationary will assist in keeping the cold out in winter and the sun out in summer – however they will delay the time it takes to get under way again if you need to get going quickly when “wild camping”.
Levelling ramps and weight spreading plates
A good set of 3 stage levelling ramps for sloping sites is a good inclusion to have.
Additionally, a set of weight spreading plates about 2 feet long and a foot wide will assist in guarding against getting bogged in soft ground – sets made of PVC type material are fine and help in keeping the vehicle gross mass down.
Hydraulic Bottle Jack and Jack Base
For that dreaded time when you may need to change a tyre a good hydraulic bottle jack is essential.
You may not be on level ground so a good base to stand the jack on will assist with safety as well as attaining the height required – don’t forget to chock the other wheels prior to jacking.
Theft Prevention Devices
A good intrusion alarm system is advisable – one where the internal sensors can be turned off during the night so the system will only be set off by a door or locker being opened from the outside.
A disklok steering wheel lock may also provide an extra level of protection against theft as well as having something like Fiamma locks fitted to all external lockers and driver’s door as well as an ABUS lock fitted to the habitation door.
Phones, Internet, WiFi etc
Ready to go WiFi systems are available from companies like www.motorhomewifi.com.
Several different models are available depending on whether you require just a MiFi device with an external antenna to boost performance or require a “sniffer” type device to tap into 3rd party WiFi networks.
Just slot your SIM card in to the MiFi device and it should connect to your supplier’s network.
Several UK suppliers such as three.co.uk can provide SIM cards for use in Europe, however they may only work for up to 2-3 months before being disconnected (timed-out).
For Australians, Telstra have data plans of up to 2.5GB/month for personal accounts and 4GB/month for business accounts, which may be adequate for your needs – the plans work in most European countries and so you don’t need to worry about topping up or time-out periods.
Finding SIM card shops in Europe can be difficult particularly if the writing is in a Cyrillic script or a foreign language such as in Bulgaria or Greece so it may pay to have your comms sorted out before entering Europe.
Trying to get foreign SIM cards topped up online can be a real challenge if you don’t have e really good understanding of the language.