BUYING A NEW MOTORHOME
Campervans, motorcampers and motorhomes are relatively expensive, whatever your budget. So here are 10 points to help you buy your first one.
10 THINGS TO DO WHEN BUYING A NEW MOTORHOME
1. TAKE YOUR TIME
Buying a motorhome (we’ll use that as a generic term for all derivatives) is quite unlike buying a family sedan, and taking six to 12 months to make a decision is not an unreasonable amount of time. Some people we know measure their buying time in years.
Research is an important part of a motorhome purchase, and while some of it can be done on the internet you’ll eventually want to take one for a test drive. Motorhome dealers are not on every street corner, indeed some cities don’t have any dealers or manufacturers, so travel time is also a factor.
2. TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
I cannot stress this point enough. If you’re new to the business of motorhome ownership, then a lengthy test drive is mandatory. The best way (unless you can find an accommodating dealer) is to hire a motorhome from one of the many motorhome hire companies. They hire everything from two-berth campervans to six-berth motorhomes. Unfortunately the one thing you cannot get, if your tastes run to larger things, is an A class motorhome.
Hiring a motorhome for a week or so will give you a very good idea of what the motorhome lifestyle is all about. It will also give you a very good idea of your personal likes and dislikes and therefore help you determine what you’d want in your own motorhome. On a more personal level, you’ll find out how you and your partner react to living in a confined space without too many methods of escape. It sounds kind of funny, but I heard an unhappy story just the other day of a couple who purchased their retirement ‘dream’ and one of them discovered that they really didn’t like such close living over a long period of time.
It might be expensive to hire a motorhome, but long term it could save you a great deal of money.
If time is not a factor, then a really cheap way to try the motorhome lifestyle is to get onto several relocation deals, which motorhome renters have. A visit to www
.standbycars.com can throw up some good examples. You should remember that rental motorhomes by their nature (built for hard knocks use and rapid depot turn-around) are different to ones you might purchase for travelling. Often they are also slightly narrower.
3. TAKE A DRIVE
That might sound like the above but, when looking at a new motorhome, it’s easy to get carried away by all the good features in the back and forget that quite some hours are going to be spent in the driver’s cab. Some people spend all their lives in a Holden Commodore and expect that driving a motorhome is the same. It isn’t. That is not to say you won’t like driving a motorhome; I am quite happy rumbling down the highway in a 30ft (9.1m) motorhome and many of the Euro-built cab chassis-based motorhomes are much better than they used to be. Most people like automatic gearboxes in their cars, but those currently fitted to commercial vehicles do operate a little differently. They take a bit of getting used to and a few people I know don’t like them, but only experience will confirm it for you.
4. LEARN TO DRIVE
On that same subject, I have heard a few unhappy stories about couples’ retirement ‘dream’ trips ending prematurely because the driver became incapacitated in some way. My opinion is that both parties should be comfortable (and appropriately licensed, especially in the case of rigs with a GVM greater than 4.5 tonnes) with driving their motorhome. I’m not going to be sexist about this either. Often the main driver is the male but I’ve been with a couple or two where the female is definitely the better driver. Don’t be worried about getting a truck licence. Between 4.5 and eight tonnes, a Light Rigid truck licence is required but getting one isn’t particularly difficult and does mean a motorhome with less design compromises.
5. CONSIDER SIZE
In motorhome travel, size is not necessarily everything, but it is high up on the list. Budget is going to be a major factor here but it’s important not to get a particular size motorhome for the wrong reasons. Campervans are undoubtedly the cheapest in the world of motorhomes and the easiest to drive and manoeuvre, but they do offer somewhat cramped living and the bed(s) usually have to be made up every night.
A class motorhomes often have the most comfortable and (usually) largest living spaces, but some people find their bulk too much to drive, and they are the most difficult to manoeuvre. It’s also necessary to get a Medium Rigid licence in many cases.
As with the rest of life, there are compromises. A second-hand motorcamper (large van conversion) can well be the same price as a new campervan. The former, though, will give a larger living area and often permanent beds, while not being much more difficult to drive than a small campervan. A mid-sized B or C class motorhome with slide-outs can offer just as much living space as a larger A class motorhome and therefore be a better driving proposition.
If you like the larger motorhomes but are worried about the physical size, then do try to get behind the wheel of what you are thinking about. You might find you like it!
6. WILL I REALLY NEED IT?
Motorhomes (indeed all RVs) these days are packed with features, and in some cases they truly are a home away from home. A washing machine is a great addition but many people want to do something different from home (otherwise they’d stay there) and want a simpler lifestyle. Laundrettes, caravan parks and even sealed buckets (which are used full of soapy water when travelling along) are quite common. As with a few high-tech electronic devices these days, it’s good to consider whether you’ll actually use all the features.
7. WHAT WILL I NEED?
A slightly different question to the above – for example, if considering long-term free camping, then either a three-way (240V, 12V and gas) fridge is desirable – if using a 12V compressor fridge, then 12V battery capacity and solar panel capacity has to match.
If considering outdoor living, then a fitted slide-out barbecue is just so much easier than unpacking a portable barbecue every evening. If personal safety and security is an issue, then a flat floor design (easy access to and from the driver’s cab) is going to be important and not always available in every motorhome, particularly those based on Japanese trucks.
8. PONDER HOW YOU LIVE
When sitting in your prospective dream purchase, do so for a while and go through all the motions of living. It’s not so much an issue with larger motorhomes but, in smaller ones, sometimes the design compromises (and there will be some) end up being a major irritation. An example in C class motorhomes is the Luton peak (cab-over) bed. In smaller rigs, it’s the most convenient place to put the bed but some travellers don’t like the confined space, nor do they enjoy climbing over their partner in the middle of the night. Some people are also physically restricted and cannot clamber up. Therefore, a bed in the main part of the motorhome is more desirable and that either means making up a dinette bed every night or having a longer motorhome.
The chef in the family should have a very careful look at the catering arrangements. A lack of benchtop space or an oddly located microwave might mean hamburgers every night. Full-sized bathrooms look good but regular caravan park goers often only use them in the middle of the night, so they’re happy with a smaller bathroom if it means more space elsewhere.
9. JOIN THE CLUB
There are a number of smaller clubs around, but the largest as far as motorhomes are concerned is the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia. For full membership you need to own a motorhome. If you don’t, you can still be an associate member and get along to a few rallies. This will not only get you some very experienced member advice, but possibly access to cheaper insurance and other benefits.
10. DO IT NOW!
Not withstanding any other advice given above, if you’ve done all the research, given the whole thing some careful thought and it’s within your budget, then now is a good time. Especially if it’s your retirement dream and you are still fit and healthy!
For more information on finance options, check out Credit One.
Originally published in the Caravan World 464, April 2009.