Here are some top tips for buying a campervan or motorcaravan. Written by our guest blogger Jeff Pickersgill – a loyal Peter Roberts customer for many years. Experienced owner of The Green Tin Box.
You need to ask yourself several questions before you purchase your dream-machine. If you intend to park it on your own property, can you actually drive it off the road and onto a drive then onto the pad where you intend to park it? Is your drive wide enough to accept it? Can you leave it far enough along the drive so that the postman or yourselves do not need to navigate an obstacle course to reach the house? Could you park it on the road legally? Is there a clause in your deeds that prevents you from using the lawn in front of your house? If you fall foul of these, there might well be someone in your area who has land that is used for motorhome storage – for a fee, naturally but the problem will be solved.
Sorting out what you want in the way of living accommodation is always a compromise. Our camper is almost perfect for us but might be totally impractical for your purposes. One point I make when asked questions, is to tell the person to buy the largest van that you can afford (taking all of the above into consideration). There are only two of us but our first one was a four-berth. We had an over-cab bed that was the “bedroom”, leaving the downstairs solely as a lounge, rather that needing to create a bed down there every night. The luton also acted as a junk room to transport bulky items until we were set up on site.
We try to spend at least a few days in the second home (on wheels) every month, so warmth was an important factor. We excluded pop-tops, those with lift-up roofs that give extra height and, possibly, more sleeping accommodation. For us good insulation is needed for winter use and enough interior, vertical space for my six-foot frame to fit without the need to imitate the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or to induce severe headaches so, now we have a conversion on a high-top panel van.
Naturally, a bed is of great importance. Ask for demonstrations of everything, sales staff will be happy to help. Were you to be travelling only in summer and are barbecue aficionados, you might decide that all you need is a couple of gas rings rather than a full oven with a grill. When I cook outside, I use a Beauclaire gas griddle because I find it less messy than charcoal. A gas take-off was not on any list of options but was fitted outside during construction at our request, so we do not need to carry an extra gas bottle to run it. In fact, we do not own one. Another request was for an external gas tank for all domestic fuel: diesel and LPG (liquid petroleum gas) can often be topped up at the same service station. We do have a full oven – make sure that it is not merely a warming oven; a hob with three gas rings and one that runs off mains electricity plus; a grill. However, were we to change The Box, we would order a hob and grill, not the oven because we own a Remoska (contact Lakeland Limited), which is a fabulous, electric pan that can cook anything from jacket spuds to Victoria sponges via chickens and Yorkshire puddings. The oven is only used as a bread bin: an extra cupboard would be more useful.
Most ‘vans come with a fridge of some sort, that can be run from a mains electricity supply, your gas bottle or, when you are driving, from a twelve volt supply linked to the engine.
Dining can be interesting. Most designers have developed sensible solutions for feeding the occupants but some are decidedly odd. We had a famous make’s offering that was supposed to seat four, except that one unlucky person could not reach the table from the seat provided and there was nowhere else to sit. Oops!
Many layouts have a banquette – a seat for two people – and use the cab seats for two more, if they have only two or four berths. As we like to sprawl in a most ungainly manner, we have a long settee in our current model which does allow for the decadence. To convert it into the bed, we pull out the base with a dinky, little handle and the sofa back drops into place. Hey Presto, once a settee, now sleeping accommodation.
The greatest compromise in following this life-style is the loo. Unless the vehicle is a whacking great American thing, that has an enormous, septic tank for “detritus”, there will be a wc using a cassette tank that will require emptying at frequent intervals, depending upon the number of occupants and their visits. It is not a difficult job; sites do have a dedicated emptying point. Smaller ‘vans might have only have a Porta-Potty, a type of posh guzzunder that lives in a cupboard.
For many (we are among them) a shower tends to be a pre-requisite today because we can be found, legally, in a field with a fresh water tap and a dump point for waste water and loo emptying. Some showers are in separate cubicles but I suggest that most are similar to ours. If one is contemplating on the loo, then one’s feet are in the shower tray. It is not a wet-room, so a curtain keeps various parts dry. The showerhead is on a flexible hose and is part of the mixer tap for the washbasin in the toilet compartment, thus water is not limited to soaking bodies and the tray. For us, it is necessary to plan loo visits before showers commence. We have lived for nearly twenty-nine years with variations on this theme but have to admit that the plaited leg dance has been performed on more than one occasion by one of us, while the other is scraping a layer of muck off!
How is the water heated? There is a ten litre tank that is run off the gas supply or mains electricity. It is sufficient to provide a couple of quick, hot showers, even in winter.
What about extra space? An awning has been fitted to each of our campers. Once we are on site we leave the ‘van on its pitch and use feet or public transport. On a motorhome with plenty of payload, we bought sides and a front for the awning to create a room almost as large as the vehicle. Sleeping and some cooking were internal “jobs” (exempting barbecueing) but we used to live in the “safari” room. Now, we have only the awning, which makes a very good sunshade and keeps the rain off on a warm day, if the wind is in the correct direction. We never leave the awning out if we leave the vehicle or, when we go to bed. The resultant damage from a strong gust of wind lifting it can cause much, expensive damage. We have seen the results several times.
When the home on wheels has a full complement of fittings and fixtures within, there is quite a load in most of them. Many people are restricted to driving vehicles weighing no more than 3,500kg., fully laden. There is a famous company that used to advertise a six-berth vehicle but had only 138kg. payload left for passengers, their food, clothing and bedding, etc. Beware, it is against the law to drive an overloaded vehicle, so always ask for details. Even after this, we have always loaded the ‘van with everything we need for our longest holiday as soon as we have taken delivery and take it to the nearest, public weighbridge. Once, we had an unpleasant surprise, returned home and removed many items that were only “minor” essentials. The police will stop you if they are suspicious: we have seen it happen, particularly near the Channel ports, where drivers have brought home lots of lovely wine from the Continent, only to see ladies and gentlemen in blue force them to unload it all – with no recompense.
Motorhomes have problems that other vehicles do not encounter. They tend to stand idle for long periods. A large number do not move from September to Easter. This places extra pressure on the tyres and causes weakness in the sidewalls, leading to cracks. Even though the tread might be well inside the limit for wear, they are not within the law. If a camper is off the road for winter, it should be driven periodically to reduce this risk, or at the very least moved, so that a different part of the tyre is taking the pressure. For the same reason, being stationary causes problems of rust on the brake discs. Even though we drive far more than the average mileage for a leisure vehicle, we have needed to have remedial work carried out during servicing.
We have spent a lot of money on the purchase of campervans so we consider it a necessity to have habitation and engine services every year, even though friends say that it is not necessary. I would rather be safe than sorry. Do not be afraid to ask motorhome owners questions, no matter how silly you might think your query might be. Any more questions? Just ask Jeff or contact Peter Roberts on firstname.lastname@example.org