A guide to buying your first motorhome

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Because we had to come home unexpectedly from the trip to the East Cape I thought I would put this article together. It’s been banging round in my head for a while and with summer approaching rapidly now seemed like a good time to write this.

Sounds simple like any fool could do this, but actually there is far more to buying your first motorhome than you might expect. There are some choices that might seem obvious at the start of the process but you might be surprised by how these change as you navigate the purchase of the motorhome.

This article is dedicated more to the novice buyer. It’s quite a minefield out there with so many choices available so many different sizes and so many different layouts,  not to mention price so where is the best place to start.

The first word you probably need to learn is compromise, this is because it’s almost impossible to fit a travelling house into something between 6 and 10 metres long. So any choice you make will most likely involve a compromise of some sort. Sometimes bigger is not always better but it can go a long way towards adding bits you might want however that potentially then brings other challenges like class 2 licence extra RUC costs etc.

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One of the most important things to ask yourself is what are we going to use this motorhome for. If you are going to live and travel the country then you probably have a completely set of requirements to those people who just want to head away for the odd weekend and holiday once a year.

What are the most important things to you and just because they are important to you doesn’t mean that they are important to your partner (if you have one)

  • Money: The root of evil and source of countless arguments but a budget is probably the most important thing to sort out. This will allow you to eliminate vast numbers of motorhomes both above and below your intended budget. Of course you may want to review things as you move along although it’s important not to overstretch yourselves.
  • Space and headroom: how much usable space do you need can you fit around each other inside the motorhome and if you are over 180cm tall what is the headroom like.
  • Number of Beds: Sometimes its easy to make assumptions like there are only the two of us so one bed will be fine. However what happens if someone wants/needs to come away with you. Is there provision to make up another bed. Also motorhomes with more than one bed are easier to resell.
  • Fixed bed/s or make up: If you are only going away on an occasional basis then having beds that you make up from the seating areas probably gives you additional usable space but becomes a real chore if you are spending long periods of time or living in the motorhome.
  • Storage space: Remember things always look bigger when they are empty is there enough room or a place to store a kayak or inflatable boat if you decide to add one or two later. Is there a bike rack on the back or do you need one of these, is there even space to mount one.
  • Kitchen space: I talked about compromise earlier and often the kitchen is one place that really suffers in motorhomes. Think about what you like cooking, how much bench space do you use, is the oven big enough or even there?
  • Water tanks: If you are going to take full advantage of the motorhome lifestyle you are probably going to go freedom camping at some stage so how much fresh water do you have on board and how much waste water will the tank hold. The minimum requirements for self containment are 4 litres per person per day with a minimum of 3 days capacity.
  • Shower: Talking about water is there a shower if so can you actually use it, some are so small it’s almost impossible to actually wash yourself inside them. You will also need a bigger tank than the minimum requirement to be practical if you are going to shower in the motorhome.
  • Cassette toilet or black tank: If the motorhome is fitted with a cassette what size is it and is there a spare? Some of the smaller cassettes would be lucky to last 3 days when freedom camping without nearby toilets. If it’s a black tank what size and have there been any issues with the macerator.
  • Interior colours: Sounds stupid but can you live with the colour scheme inside the van. Is that bright red upholstery your colour or will you need to recover the squabs.
  • Gas bottles: If you are buying a larger motorhome what size gas bottles are fitted this becomes especially important if it has gas central heating as this can empty a 9kg cylinder in a matter of a few days. Some motorhomes only have one bottle so what do you do if it runs out, others have 2 X 4kg cylinders so not much capacity here.
  • Heating: What sort of heating is there in the motorhome both gas and diesel give you the advantage of being able to freedom camp but if it’s electric only that obviously means you must be connected to power and that makes for expensive camping.
  • Self Containment: Is the motorhome already self contained if not will it pass a check. Remember that you can be fined $200 for staying in lots of places without a self containment certificate.
  • Water tightness: It’s important to remember that a lot of older and some newer motorhomes will suffer from water leaks. It might be worth investing in a cheap water detector to check out any vehicle you are considering or paying to have it professionally done as leaks cause rotten timber costing potentially thousands to repair.
  • Solar capacity: Is the motorhome fitted with solar panels if so what capacity and how old are they if fitted to an older motorhome, as the older panels do loose their effectiveness over time.
  • House batteries: Tied in with the solar is the capacity of the house batteries how old are they and will they provide you with enough power for what you want to do. Is there an inverter fitted?
  • Television: What size has been fitted is it located in a place that make for comfortable viewing for all of you. What sort of aerial has been fitted?
  • Accessories: For lots of people having thing like an awning or external BBQ fitting are quite important but it might not be something you have even considered. So when doing your research take note of things you might like and add these to your shopping list.
  • Weight capacity: Consider how much weight you can legally carry if your motorhome is running on a WOF then it’s capacity is likely to be quite low.
  • Towing Capacity: Are you wanting to tow a vehicle behind you if so what will you total length be are you comfortable driving something that size. Does the engine in the camper have sufficient horse power to pull the car.

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Open the specification sheet above to check off ideas on your new motorhome.
Once you have nutted out the basics of what you want in the motorhome it’s time to think about the shape or style of what you both like.

  • Smaller van: Really handy if it’s more of somewhere to sleep whilst you do other things and obviously easy to drive and park almost anywhere. Important to check that it ‘s self containment is up to date.
  • Large van: Long wheelbase high roof vans most often an ex rental these usually are fitted with shower/toilet/kitchen making self containment easier than smaller vans and almost always still on a WOF.
  • Low profile motorhome: (B Class) Body purpose built to sleep between 2 and 4 people main advantage is the lower centre of gravity. Usually still lightweight build on a WOF.
  • C class motorhome: These usually have a similar floor plan to the B class but have the usable area extended over the cab most often to provide an additional bed although in some cases this becomes the only bed with the balance of the motorhome being used for additional living space. Given the additional size most of these are on a COF.
  • Converted bus: So many choices here wide or narrow body with lengths varying from around 7 metres right through to 12 metres plus. If you are looking at a bus what is the quality of the conversion. As most are privately made there is a huge variance in quality.
  • A class motorhome: Usually the most expensive motorhomes on the market with a similar floor plan to the C class but with a custom body that widens the cab to the width of the rear giving more usable space in the front with an almost bus like appearance. Generally on a COF due to the larger size of these vans.

Once you have these sorted then ask yourselves who is driving, are you both going to drive, do you need a manual or automatic. If you are looking at larger vehicle do you need to get class 2 licences.

So where do you start looking for your new motorhome on any given day Trade Me has in excess of 1000 motorhomes listed for sale and you can sort by size or price. There is also a website Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations as well as a Facebook group you would need to join. Plus of course a visit to a local dealer if there is one in your area.

Finally you have narrowed it all down to a couple of choices at this point if you haven’t already it’s time to take them for a decent drive. This should be at least 30 to 45 minutes in length and should include both up and downhill as well as open road driving to get a proper feel of what it’s like to drive.

One thing that a lot of people recommend is to go out and rent something, ideally the same as what you are looking at buying or very close too. Drive this and live in it for at least 5 days and see what you think. You may find that you whole perspective changes after this.

If you aren’t used to driving something this size get the person who is selling it to take it somewhere quiet for you to start out with. It can be quite different to start but you will soon get used to it. Don’t not buy something because it feels to big on a 5 minute test drive.

Once satisfied with the road test and assuming that you are not buying a new motorhome think about getting it inspected either by a professional inspection company if they will look at something that size. Or consider taking it to the service agent for the manufacturer for a full mechanical check. A few dollars spent here could save you thousands later on.

Now all that remains is to part with your money but before you do that, you do need to ensure that the motorhome is free of any finance owing. You can check this by contacting one of the companies that specialise in vehicle reports. They can also alert you to any inconsistencies with the speedometer or outstanding road user charges. These checks could save you thousands of dollars if there is a problem with the vehicle you are buying.  Motorweb and Carjam are two of the more popular companies. These checks will cost but it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

I haven’t talked here about arranging finance but will say that if you are looking to buy privately and need finance you will probably need to arrange a valuation from a licensed dealer for the finance company so they know they are not over exposed.

You are now ready to hit the road. Just make sure you read my blog about places to visit before you go! Enjoy yourself that’s what owning a motorhome is all about. I hope to see you on the road one day.

If you have any questions about this article or would like any further information or advice on your purchase please feel free to email me mail@johnpedersen.co.nz

To view the places we have visited click here to see them on Google maps. You can click the links to read the blog about that area.


To view the Ratings we have done for other camps click here 

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