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Guide to buying a Motorhome

Know what you want

Before you start looking for the perfect motorhome know what you want. Considerations such as budget, size and weight can instantly simplify your search.

Budget

Know your budget and stick to it. When determining this you need to consider the purchase price and the running costs. While an older van may seem like a real bargain to start, it may require much further investment down the line and is therefore much more costly. Set an estimated figure in your head when you start your search, with prices ranging from £1,000 to £1,000,000 it's easy to get carried away. Other costs to factor in include insurance, servicing, recovery changes, refurbishment and fuel.

What size motorhome are you looking for?

Motorhomes are the perfect example of optimizing space. That said there is no denying that squeezing a kitchen, bathroom, dining room, lounge and bedrooms into one small space is a compromise. Remain open to the layout you want, and remember no motorhome is going to provide you with the space you want.

Kitchen areas can be cramped. Once there is adequate space to prepare a meal you're good to go. Not all motorhomes have a separate toilet and those used to roughing it will survive. Know yourself where space matters most and where you are willing to sacrifice.

Weight Restriction

When buying a motorhome it is important to assess the prospective weight the motorhome will carry. How many passengers will be travelling on a regular basis, will you require additional fixtures i.e. bike stand or roof rack? Take all of this into consideration to ensure you do not exceed the maximum legal

MTPLM

This refers to the legal maximum loaded weight the motorhome is permitted to weigh. This includes the manufacture weight plus furniture, camping equipment and the occupants i.e. the complete weight of the loaded motorhome.

Mass In Running Order (MIRO)

This refers to the weight of the motorhome as it leaves the factory i.e. including furniture, fuel tank, essential equipment needed for it to function properly and . It does not include the weight of additional baggage and occupants.

Payload

Payload is the difference between the MIRO and the MTPLM. The weight of a motorhome must not exceed the maximum legal payload.

Do your research

Different types of layouts available

Shop around for different types of layouts depending on your requirements. If you are looking for a 4 berth van with a rear living room research various varieties make sure you find the perfect one to suit your needs.

Price comparison within the market

Compare prices within the trade and private market as this can vary significantly. If you find a motorhome at a particularly low price that seems too good to be true, it generally is! Investigate the catch or steer clear.

Find out as much as possible about the van

Ownership and warranty documents, service receipts and invoices, log book, Tax and MOT Certificate, VRM documentation all assess the van's history. Generally a motorhome carrying well maintained service documents is a van that has been well looked after.

Common Problems

Common problems within models that require checks - if certain brands or models are prone to faults become familiar with this and check the van thoroughly. Do any retro-fitted accessories, such as reversing sensors, work as they should? Consider which accessories you need to fit and how these might affect visibility. The obvious one is a rear cycle carrier, which lengthens the vehicle and restricts your rearward view.

Check sellers details

Make sure they are who they say they are. If there are discrepancies, be wary.

Motorhome inspection checklist

Interior Inspection

Check the van for dampness. This indicates a moist condition with no visible water at the surface causing the floor and walls to rot away. As a result the vehicle is left with holes, a bad smell and a minefield of potential health hazards. Once dampness sets in the walls and floors will never be the same again. They can be repaired, however unless carried out by a professional the outcome can result in bulging or discoloration. Dampness can reside all over the van so check everywhere. While the smell is a major tell-tale, look out for bumps on panels, stains or mould. Springy floors, discolouration and foot mats around the door can be a giveaway. Damp testers are available from most camping retailers and minimize the risk of damp when buying a motorhome.

Apart from dampness interior checks should assess carpets, cupboards, handles and upholstery. Be aware of any personalization, this is generally a cover up for something.

Exterior Inspection

Check for visible external damages including dents, scratches or broken surfaces. Assess the sealants; when is resealing required? Oil based sealants should last 5 years, Acrylic compounds, 10 years and Silicone based sealants, 20 years. A professional job can cost up to £250 so be aware of when your exterior needs resealing. Thoroughly check your external features - handles, windows, wheels, aerial roof, lights, door, hitch and electronics.

Check the outside of your vehicle for cracks, sun damage, knocks and scrapes. On the underside check the chassis, engine and mileage.

Doors and windows

Check the main door to ensure the lock and hinges are secure. Check it has a watertight fit all the way around to avoid dampness. Assess the fit of any windows and roof vents. Keep an eye out for internal condensation in double glazed units. Replacing these parts can be costly and in some instances exact parts may not be manufactured anymore poising further concern.

Gas and electrics Check

Always check the gas, electrics and plumbing thoroughly. Faulty systems can be lethal and expensive down the line. If in doubt get a professional to carry out checks.

Fitted Equipment Check

If buying through a dealer your van’s equipment should be tested as part of the pre-delivery inspection. If buying privately this does not apply so take a small gas cylinder and a 12 volt battery with you. The fire, fridge and water heater are generally reliable but if they do give trouble it’s normally when operated on gas. Check the operation of the hob, grill and oven with the gas cylinder paying particular attention to any spark ignition systems. Check out additional sockets and lights by a qualified electrician, test battery leads and connectors for damages. If you can plug the van into a mains supply take along a test plug for the sockets to verify that they have been wired correctly. Ensure the water pump will deliver water to all the taps. Check the condition of any mastic seals in the washroom especially any surrounding the shower tray.

Mechanical leaks Check

Again this is an important thing that should be checked on the used vehicle. Always look for signs of leaks in the aspect of automatic transmission. It is recommended that you don’t pursue a used motorhome for sale with that leaky transmission. Similarly vehicles with leaking brake components or radiators are generally cause for alarm and can be costly to rectify.

Chassis and running gear Check

Always check the condition of the chassis, the hitch and the suspension as repairs can be costly. Check for corrosion on the chassis and look out for signs of new paint or under seal that might be hiding something underneath. Check the hitch mechanism moves freely and the rubber gaiter is not split. Check the jockey wheel winds up and down easily and rotates freely. Check the handbrake is effective and ensure the mechanism moves freely. Look to see if grease nipples appear to have been neglected.

MTPML

Maximum Vehicle Weight, Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), and Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM) all refer to the legal maximum loaded weight including all occupants and contents of a motorhome. Converters of motor home can have the vehicle weight re-assigned both up and down. The MTPLM should not be confused with the Gross Train Weight (GTW) a higher figure that specifies the maximum combined weight of the motorhome when towing a trailer.

Payload

Payload refers to the difference in weight between an empty motorhome (as calculated by manufacturers) and a fully loaded motorhome to its specified MTPLM. We believe the payload should be sufficient in normal use to prevent you exceeding the MTPLM. Unfortunately this is not as straightforward as it seems as motorhome manufacturers include or exclude different items into the empty weight that is known as Mass In Running Order (MIRO).

MIRO

MIRO refers to the entire manufactured weight of a motorhome and the equipment required to operate and in the case of motorhomes includes 'essential habitation equipment '. Manufacturers interpret the regulations differently. Motorhomes bought before July 2011 and then subsequently second-hand may have different MIRO and payload calculations.

Wheelbase, overhang and clearance

Wheelbase is the distance between the centre point of the front and rear wheels of a motorhome. Overhang is the distance from the centre point on the rear wheel to the rear of the motorhome. The legal limit of this distance is 60%, it is recommended the distance is less than 55% wheelbase to allow for towbars or bike racks.

Axle weights

Axle weights may total more than the maximum vehicle weight MTPLM as this allows for load variation. The most likely thing to cause an overloaded rear axle is 2/300kg of scooter and rack hanging off the back of a motorhome. Motorhomes with 60% overhang or longer increase the risk of exceeding rear axle weights.

Check the history

Find out as much as you can about the history of the van. Check receipts and invoices for previous service history. Research how often the van was used, distances and conditions travelled in. Generally an owner with the original handbook has probably looked after the van.

Get an Experian check to check the official history of the van. The check can tell you if the van has previously been stolen, was written off, has outstanding finance, mileage discrepancies, realistic valuation and much more. Check the mileage, MOT and tax certificates to ensure they are legitimate.

Tips on buying your motorhome security device

There are hundreds of security devices on the market and some are better than others. None will make your motorhome totally thief-proof, but they will make most thieves think twice about stealing your 'van. Buy the best security you can afford and make sure the thief knows the device is fitted. Stickers are usually supplied with security items – so use them!

Wheel Clamps

There are many different kinds of wheel clamps on the market, but remember, generally speaking the easier they are to put on the easier they are for a thief to take off.

Buy a good clamp and check that it correctly fits your motorhome wheel - if they don't fit correctly, a thief can remove the wheel and the clamp with it.

Wheel Stands

If you think that wheel stands are the only way to keep hold of your ‘van, think again. A determined thief will come prepared with a set of wheels. But wheel stands can be a deterrent; if you make sure they are locked in place.

Check your handbook as some chassis manufacturers recommend axle stands for winter storage. Make sure you check with your insurers that they are happy to let you keep your motorhome on wheel stands, as some insurance policies call for the van to be fitted with a wheel clamp at all times.

Alarms and Immobilisers

Fit your motorhome with an alarm and/or immobilizer to reduce the risk of theft. This prevents the engine from running unless with the correct key therefore making it impossible for thieves to hot wire the vehicle.

Tracking devices

A tracking device allows you determine the exact location of the vehicle. This is particularly useful if stolen as it can be recovered quickly. This also decreases the amount of insurance you pay on the vehicle.

Security Posts

Security Posts are particularly useful for those who keep their motorhome in the driveway at home. They are cemented into the drive and physically block movement of the motorhome. Some can be fitted with a tow bar on top of the post so that the motorhome can be fixed with a hitch lock. Others are detachable or can fold down so that the motorhome can be maneuvered into position.

Make Crime Pay

If you have any information concerning motorhome theft or disposal of stolen motorhomes contact the confidential free phone Crimestoppers Line on 0800 555111. You can stay anonymous and you may be entitled to a reward.

Leaving your motorhome

Storage sites are particularly popular with thieves - there are lots of motorhomes to choose from and often plenty of undisturbed time in which to work. Thieves don't care if you are on holiday - they'll steal motorhomes from lay-bys, motorway service stations and picnic sites. Even if you're just stopping for a cup of tea or to stretch your legs, make sure your motorhome is secured. Parking in your driveway or garden is no guarantee against theft either, so stay alert.

Selling

If you are selling a motorhome, never part with your motorhome until the cheque has cleared. This includes building society cheques and bank drafts - they could be stolen or forged, leaving you without a motorhome or money.

Buying

When you are buying a motorhome, always meet at the seller's house. If they insist on meeting at another location, such as a car park or your house, be suspicious. Make sure that the house they claim to live in is actually theirs - sellers have been known to use the driveway of an empty house.

If the seller asks you to ring only at certain times, be wary. They may be using a public call box to cover their tracks – dial 100 and ask the operator to check for you

Final checks

Experian Vehicle Check

Carry out an Experian Vehicle check to check the official history of the van. The check can tell you if the van has previously been stolen, written off, outstanding finance, mileage discrepancies, realistic valuation and much more.

Tyre Check

One of the most important checks you can carry out it is to have safe and legal tyres. Each year hundreds of motorhomes are destroyed resulting in serious injuries. The reason why motorhome tyres are prone to blow outs is due to infrequent usage. Tyre walls are over-looked and the infrequent usage increases the presence of cracks in the tyre’s walls. When heated the tyre becomes prone to blow outs.

How to read a motorhome tyre

Most tyres have digits along the wall of the tyres for example (photo top right ) 195/60 R15 88H.195 is the tyre's width in millimeters, 60 is the sidewall height, expressed as a percentage of the width. R indicates a radial type construction.15 is the wheel diameter in inches. 88 is the Load Index.H is the speed rating (See guide right).

Engine Check

Assess the engine thoroughly. I would advise getting a professional to check this to eliminate the risk down the line. Ensure the oil has been checked on a regular basis and the mileage is accurate. An owner who has kept service receipts is typically a cautious owner.

Registration Documentation

Check the motorhome's registration document carefully. Pay particular attention to the model/type and taxation class details: avoid any motorvan whose vehicle registration document carry discrepancies. In this instance it may have started as one make and been converted to another which is never a good sign. Or, if the taxation class is shown as ‘Private HGV’ and the motorhome weighs more than 3.85 tonnes, then those who suffer from diabetes, or who are over 70 years old could be prohibited from driving it or have certain restrictions placed upon them.

Ask for documentation relating to the service history of the vehicle, generally well kept documentation reflects a well maintained van. You should also request any paperwork relating to warranty if this is applicable to you.

Last minute checks

Fluid checks - oil, water, fuel and ensure there are no leaks.
Sealants - these can be costly to replace.
Water Ingress (dampness) - almost impossible to eliminate as surfaces become soft.