Rookie Mistakes: How Not to Buy a Motorhome

I always think those in car sales and relatable roles are portrayed unfairly. They have this reputation of being pushy and trying to sell you something you do not need – perhaps a bit of a ”Del Boy”! 

(For anyone that does not understand the reference to Del Boy, we have a TV show here in the UK – ”Only Fools and Horses”, and the main character attempts to make his millions by selling absolutely anything to anyone, even if they do not need or want it).

Well, it turns out that sometimes, this representation is spot on!

Now I want to stress, at the very start, that not all salespeople we encountered followed the stereotype, but unfortunately, the one we purchased from definitely did.

A used motorhome for sale at an East of England location where the staff were extremely helpful

There are many dealerships across the country to choose from

Where to look for a used motorhome

After spending the weekend at the NEC, trawling through dealerships looking for the most suitable layout and realising that the wait time for a new motorhome was outlandish for our needs, we restarted our search in earnest for a used model.

I say restarted; realistically, we have been looking for the perfect camper for years; we just did not find it, and, on reflection, as motorhome owners and van lifers will probably tell you, there probably is not such a thing. Even those who convert their own have said they are constantly looking to make alterations and improvements.

We also realised that on this occasion, converting a vehicle ourselves was not on the cards. That is not to say that we will not undertake a project like this in the future. However, with the price of vans skyrocketing and the amount of work we would need to do, we decided a prefabricated camper would be the best solution while trying to get our freelance business off the ground.

Where to find the perfect motorhome?

It is fair to say that we spent hours looking online – eBay, Autotrader, Facebook groups – you name it, we were searching on it, but nothing really jumped out at us. Either the layout was not quite right, the price was higher than we wanted, or the mileage seemed unrealistic. 

We are cautious people; this is a big purchase, so we wanted to get it right. However, our hesitance meant we lost some amazing campers in the process.

It soon became evident that sitting at home looking at these vans through a computer screen was not the answer; we needed to get out there and have a look, so we started to get together a list of motorhome dealerships to visit.

While there are many private sales online, dealerships are few and far between, especially when you live in the East of England. However, the south coast, especially around Dorset, seems to have quite a few; hence this is where our search began.

Before highlighting our experience, I need to point out that some dealerships along the south coast were absolutely fantastic. I would wholly recommend that those looking for a campervan or motorhome in the UK spend time visiting these locations. They were not pushy in any way and allowed us the freedom to look inside models and discuss for ourselves the advantages/disadvantages of the layouts.

Motorhome dealership in Dorset UK

This particular dealership in Dorset were fantastic, they just didn’t have the right camper for us

Our Buying Experience

After visits to several dealerships in Dorset, all of which were fantastic, guiding us when we asked for it, we felt like we had found the perfect vehicle – or nearly as the case was.

Having seen many different layouts, we stumbled across a Bailey Advance with an island bed that we both liked the look of. It had a spacious layout, with lots of seating and a fixed bed we thought we wanted. There was just one problem. For the age and price of the vehicle, the inside was tired. It looked like a herd of small children had been left to run wild for a summer, resulting in chipped woodwork, stains on the seating that would not come out, and marks on the walls. We felt it was just a little too worn for the price asked.

Jumping online, I soon found the same model, at the same price, at another dealership about an hour down the road on the Devon border. 

Deciding that this was the one, we hopped in the car and drove straight there, only to see it driving the opposite way down the road as we arrived.

Gutted, we decided to have a quick look around anyway because it soon became apparent that this particular dealership had more stock than anywhere else we had been at reasonable prices.

Habitation checks are crucial to motorhome life.

Finding the right layout

Within minutes of exploring, we discovered an Elddis that would shortly become our mini home on wheels. There was just one problem – the salesman.

Have you ever walked into a shop and walked straight back out because the sales assistant has asked how they can help as soon as you walk across the threshold? This is how I felt on this particular occasion.

Pushy Salesman

Seeing a potential sale, the guy would not leave us alone. 

He explained all the camper’s features but would not leave us to discuss things. It put me off to the point that I was fully prepared to walk away, knowing that we had not seen anything else we liked and would potentially also lose this one.

However, after physically walking away from him (he remained seated in the motorhome) and discussing the layout, price, low mileage, and the suitability of the motorhome for our needs, we did return and put a deposit down. 

You could see the guy’s eyes light up. He knew he had us and therefore was prepared to keep going until he had his sale. Now, this is where our research and experience at the NEC did help. 

Firstly, because he was not going to divulge, we asked about warranties and checks that would be made before we purchased. We also asked about extras and how much they would cost.

You could tell he loved us, knowing we were new to buying and wanted to try and rinse us for all we had. Not a great quality in anyone!

Sensibly, however, we never buy anything without thoroughly researching something, and Paul was very quick to highlight what we wanted, what we did not want, and how much we were prepared to pay for it.

It is fair to say we walked away both bamboozled and elated at the thought that we would pick up a motorhome in just a few short weeks.

Our new motorhome, an Elddis 196 autoquest

Our very first motorhome

The After-Sales Experience

Once we signed on the dotted line, as they say, we returned to our holiday rental and had a large glass of wine to celebrate and get over the shock of suddenly finding something. After all the time spent pondering over models, I felt sick to the stomach about what we had just done.

We had arranged to return within the month to collect the keys and hand over the funds; a far shorter time than any other dealership had offered. Maybe this should have been a warning sign.

The second sign should have been that we now could not get hold of the very attentive salesman.

It seems that he felt his work was done and simply did not need to respond to the email we sent asking for a few things to be clarified.

It took several calls, again all ignored, before my frustration boiled over and I phoned their Head Office, whom I have to say did come back with the answers to our queries very quickly.

The Day of Pick Up

Feeling more confident after our conversation with the Head Office team, we set off early for our collection. We had been told to be there at 9 am for a complete walk-around and handover. Now, this is a 5.5-hour drive for us, so it was an extremely early start, and as soon as we arrived, I had a sinking feeling that things were not going to run smoothly.

Firstly, we arrived at the location given to us by the over-attentive salesman, only to find that neither he nor our motorhome was there. It turns out they were at another store, and while only a short distance away, we felt annoyed that this simple piece of information was not passed over to us ahead of time.

We were told our camper was not ready when we arrived at the new location.

I mean, come on. We arrived at 9 am on a Saturday, as agreed, only to be told that it would be mid-morning before they would be ready for us. It really was not a good start.

After several hours we finally got to sit down with Mr. Wheeler-Dealer, only to be rushed through the paperwork, asked if we wanted a maintenance package, and frequently told how he was missing out because he should have been on his boat that day. I kid you not!

The day of collection at a dealership in Devon

Finally, we get to drive away with our new home on wheels

He also proceeded to tell us that it was the commission earned from the sales of motorhomes that led to this very extravagant purchase. Now for all we know, it could have been a rubber dingy, but he clearly wanted us to know that he thought he was the bees-knees. 

Finally, after having to listen to him go on about himself while at the same time serving anyone else who walked through the door in the hope that more commission would come his way, he led us outside to our motorhome and proceeded to show us around in record time.

In fact, within 5 minutes, he had walked us through everything we needed to know, apparently.

Did we feel confident with our purchase?

Although the salesman thought he was done, it was not the case.

He knew we were brand new to motorhoming, so we had many questions to ask about how things worked, including the new Gaslow bottles we had asked them to install.

Gaslow refillable bottles are an idea solution for both motorhomes and campervans

Gaslow bottles are well worth the extreme initial cost in our opinion

It turns out he had installed them, but could not fill them, even though we had paid for this service, so had tried to avoid the conversation entirely in the hope that we would simply drive away. This meant we had to wait a further hour while someone from the parts team drove unsuccessfully around Paignton and the surrounding area, trying to find LPG. 

With no genuine apology, we were handed the keys and told that the whole country was struggling due to a lack of supply and there was nothing they could do. They also failed to refund us for this top-up.

Completely frustrated, we walked away.

We had booked a few days on a campsite nearby just in case we had any issues and needed to return, so we decided to go and figure things out for ourselves. Plus, campsites are full of others happy to offer advice should we need it. We would be unable to test out the oven, hob, or anything else requiring gas, but they are not necessary, right?

Unperturbed, we set off and had a lovely week away figuring out how we would use the layout and just getting a feel for living in a smaller space.

It also gave us time to reflect on the buying process, and while frustrated with the salesman, overall, we were happy with our purchase.

One Week On

After leaving the campsite and heading to Worthing to arrange for solar panels to be added, we decided to try again and fill up the gas bottles.

It turns out we were not given quite what we had asked for.

We had requested two 11kg bottles, but they installed two 6kg bottles.

This is where I lost it.

Not only had they not filled them, but they also had knowingly charged us for two bigger bottles, failed to mention it, and hoped we would ignore it.

After failing to get hold of the now MIA salesman, I again phoned their head office team and asked why they thought this was acceptable behaviour. Surprisingly, no one had an answer for us.

It took a further week for the company to agree to refund the money we paid for goods we did not receive, plus an extra goodwill payment for the atrocious service we had received, and nearly three more weeks for the money to appear in our account.

I would love to say this is where we parted ways with the dealership vowing never to reach out to them again, but that is not the case.

We also had a water leak under the sink that was not picked up during the habitation check and heating pipes that were not connected. You have to wonder just how well they serviced the vehicle.

Once again, back on the phone, no one wanted to help. We were passed on to aftercare sales who said a maintenance team member would get back to us. Three times we had to chase them.

Paul managed to get through and spoke to someone who promised to come back with us within 24 hours. Nearly 48 hours later, we were back on the phone only to be told that the person we spoke to was on holiday.

The next call we made, we were told that we had interrupted someone’s morning coffee and that they could not tell us when they would be able to fit us in, so the best thing would be to drive down, and they would see what they could do. 

Um… 5.5 hours, only to be sent away; I do not think so.

After more than a week of chasing, it was decided that Paul would work on the camper himself, thankfully fixing the issues.

Pulling out the sink in our motorhome to find the leak

Pulling out the sink to find the leak

Fixing the leak for ourselves after the dealership were no help

Unfortunately, this has left us with a bad feeling about buying not just from that dealership again but any in the future, as you can imagine.

Advice to others looking to buy at a dealership

We wanted to share our experiences because we wanted others to learn from our mistakes. No one should feel as deflated as we did after making such a life-changing purchase.

If you are reading this ahead of making a similar purchase, we would therefore suggest you do the following:

Before Visiting

  • Search dealerships and read the reviews from others. It offers excellent insights and is something we really should have taken notice of before buying.

Before Purchase

  • Once you have found your camper – ask to be left alone to discuss it. Do not feel pressured into any sale.
  • Ask for a test drive just like you would with a car. How do you know you will like driving the vehicle unless you have a go?
  • Ask to see the service book and ensure everything is up to date.
  • Check under the sinks and by the pump to ensure no water leaks.
  • Check mattresses and sofas for damage and markings. It could be a sign of dampness setting in. If just dirty, ask for a new mattress and sofas to be thoroughly cleaned.
  • Check the treads on the tyres – do they need replacing? Also, if the vehicle is over five years old, find out when the tyres were last changed. Five years is the maximum safe life of the tyres on a motorhome, regardless of how many miles it has done.
  • Ask about cam belts – different models have different requirements, and if needed, the dealership should change this ahead of your purchase.
On Deposit
  • Only hand over a deposit once you know what is included. Ask about habitation checks, warranties, MOT, tax, and parts that need replacing so that you have a clear understanding of what will and will not be covered. Also, confirm that they will undertake a moisture meter check and give you all the results. You do not want to drive away with a vehicle prone to dampness and mould.
On Collection
  • On the collection day, make sure they thoroughly review everything with you. Not only the paperwork but how everything works – the heating, the toilet, how to get hot water, how to empty the tanks. Check all gas equipment. No question is silly, and they may have been asked it a thousand times, but it is their job to make sure you walk away happy.
  • Ask for the phone numbers of the aftercare team.
  • Make sure you have all the extras you have paid for.
  • Clarify any insurances or extended warranties you have purchased.
  • Make sure you walk away knowing the height and length of your motorhome.

For those experienced in buying a second-hand motorhome, is there anything you would add? Perhaps you have had a wonderful experience and would like to name the dealership you used, or maybe you had a similar encounter to ourselves.

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How not to buy a motorhome, these are the rookie mistakes to avoid via @tbookjunkie

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