Things you need to think about before buying a campervan or motorhome

An old style campervan with the sun setting in the background

Van Conversion or Motorhome – what to choose?

It may sound like a simple decision, but it was one of the hardest things for us to agree upon.

When we started researching our dream lifestyle of travelling Europe in four wheels, we automatically thought we would do it in a campervan. Ideally, one that we had converted ourselves – after all, Paul is a mechanic by trade; my father is a retired builder, and my uncle a carpenter. We also knew of an electrician who I am sure would have helped with the wiring.

Therefore, it came as a shock to everyone when we purchased Gulliver.

Gulliver is an Elddis 196 Autoquest Majestic, and some might say he is a bit big for two, and perhaps they are correct; after all, he is a six berth, 7.3 metre long motorhome. However, having spent a couple of months living and working in Gulliver while we travel Europe, I think it’s fair to say we are both grateful for the layout.

New to vanlife and setting out on a tour of Europe in our motorhome Gulliver.

Meet Gulliver, an Elddis Autoquest 196

Inside, we have an electric drop-down double bed that sits above the dining area, plus the ability to turn that dining area into a double sleeping space. While at the other end of the camper, we have two sofa areas, one for each of us to relax on, which turns into yet another large double.

Personally, the flexibility of this van alone is a winner.

I love that I can work from one end of the camper and lounge at the other.

It’s always a struggle not to take your work home with you, but when you work from home, even one on wheels, it is essential to have clear, defined spaces, and for us, the front of the van is now very much an office space during the day (unless it is warm enough to work outside under the awning of course).

But that isn’t where our initial thoughts went, surprisingly enough. We didn’t really consider the working side of van life, so why did we choose a motorhome over a van conversion?

Earlier this year, we went to the NEC Motorhome and Caravan Show not to purchase but to check out what layout would work best for us, and this is something we would both highly recommend first-time buyers do.

A trip to the NEC in Birmingham to look for our perfect mini home

Not quite a motorhome, but a great way to get ideas for compact living especially if you are going to complete your own van conversion

This is a big purchase and one that shouldn’t be rushed. Even if you buy a home off-plan, chances are you have looked at some show homes and researched the build quality, so the same consideration should be made when buying a camper.

It was during the show that we noted a few things:

#1 The price of a campervan was high – in fact, most small campervans were more expensive than the motorhomes on show.

#2 While ingeniously thought out, campervans lacked the seating space we were after.

#3 Did we want the hassle of converting the eating area into a bed daily?

However, even with these thoughts running through our minds, we refused to rule out a campervan, especially a campervan conversion. That was until we saw the price of vans for sale.

Since the pandemic hit, converting a van has become the thing to do, and I fully understand why. We were in lockdown for a long while, so people wanted something to do. It also meant that when the world finally opened up again, people had the flexibility to travel but remain self-contained. Perfect. What a brilliant idea.

{For anyone interested in converting a van for themselves, check out these YouTube channels for inspiration and advice}.

It was also a bump in the road we had not planned for (not that anyone prepared for it, of course! We were stuck in Italy during the lockdown if not, I am pretty sure that is when we would have started our van conversion).

It did, however, leave us with a bit of a dilemma.

a)Should we spend more than we had hoped to buy a van to convert it ourselves, knowing that the cost of materials had also increased and that parts were becoming increasingly difficult to source?

b) Should we spend out on a van that had already been converted?

c) Should we explore other options?

It soon became apparent that option 1 was not suitable for us at this particular time. That’s not to say we don’t have plans to convert something for ourselves in the future; it just means that, for right now, we have ruled it out.

Option 2 sounded great, however, we quickly found that we either didn’t like the layout or the finish was not what we wanted. That meant that, If we purchased a pre-converted van, we would then need to spend additional money and time updating things to our preferences.

We also looked at van conversion companies, and don’t get me wrong, some gorgeous vans out there, but again the price shocked us, with many wanting more than what some people pay for bricks and mortar.

That left us with one option, a motorhome.

That, however, didn’t come without its challenges, and there are certainly a few things we wish we had known ahead of our search.

Things to Consider when Buying a Motorhome

#1 Buying new is not necessarily the right thing to do

It may sound like the perfect option; after all, who doesn’t want everything to be shiny and new, but buying straight from the factory has its problems.

When we brought a new house a few years back, our snagging list covered three A4 pages before we even moved in. Over the first year, we had builders coming in and out, rectifying their mistakes, including a window they put in wonky. Obviously, you would hope that the windows in a motorhome would be straight, but that doesn’t mean other faults won’t appear.

We were offered a good bit of advice when we first started out, one we are glad we took, and that is to:

Buy a camper, be it either a campervan or a motorhome, which has been run in by someone else.

This means that the little niggles should have been found and resolved, the engine will have been run in, and everything will have settled into place.

I do also think a word of warning is needed here.

It’s important to remember that ultimately you are buying a vehicle, and things can break, leak and frustratingly go wrong when you least expect it.

To give you an example, Gulliver had just 4,000 miles on the clock when we purchased him, he looked brand new, but within weeks of us buying him, we developed a leak. The water pump ran continuously, and water seeped through into the back lounge.

However, this seems relatively minor compared to the issues this family faces.

A used motorhome, Autotrail model

One of the many motorhomes we considered

This brings me nicely to my second piece of advice.

#2 Whenever possible, buy local.

This isn’t an advert for keeping the local community going. However, if you do have a local trader, I strongly advise you to use them if possible; it is more about getting you to consider the travel distance.

If something goes wrong and you need to return to the place of purchase, do you really want to travel miles?

This isn’t always practical – and we failed miserably at this – opting to travel from Essex to Plymouth – but it is sound advice nonetheless.

When Gulliver had his initial issues, the company we purchased from didn’t really want to know (that’s another story and another blog post). We were miles away in Bedfordshire, and rather than helping us (as they promised during their sales speech), they offered no real guidance. It very quickly became evident that we needed to fix the problem for ourselves, which we did, but had we been closer, we could have arrived on their driveway and asked them to look at it under the warranty we had been given.

#3 Remember that some motorhome salespeople are like some car salespeople

I know this is an awful statement to make, but please remember that some people in sales will tell you absolutely anything you want to hear to make a sale. They will tell you that they have the best warranty, offer the best pre-sale servicing, and are better than the people down the road – this may all be correct; however, it may also be a little white lie because they want to sell you something.


Don’t feel the pressure; give yourself time to think everything through, make sure you get the answers you want, and if you are not happy, walk away; there are plenty of other vans out there.

This also applies to any shows you may visit. As mentioned, the NEC caravan and camping show was a great experience, but the amount of sales people that told us if we ordered during the show, we would not only get a discount, but the camper would be with us in July/Oct/before the end of the year. 

Realistically, at the moment, with the low volume of motorhomes and campervans coming into the UK, the wait time has increased. So if you do decide to buy new, you may be waiting for more than a right now.

I would, at this point, like to thank the one salesman (who worked for Roller Team) who was brutally honest when we asked about the T Line 700. He didn’t lie; he told us it had a waiting list of 18 months. 

In comparison, a stockist at the same show; told us we could have the exact motorhome, and it would be delivered within three months. Bearing in mind, it was a brand new design, and if Roller Team can’t make delivery in 2022, what hope do others have?

#4 It all comes down to personal preference

Don’t be swayed by others. Van life has become increasingly popular, and some out there don’t believe travelling full time in a motorhome is as authentic as travelling around in your own converted van.

You can see the same places, park up at the same locations and live the same way – so it really shouldn’t matter what vehicle you decide upon.

Yes, in the past, motorhoming has been associated with those of retirement age, but they are now far more affordable, which makes it far more appealing, and with the cost of van conversions only increasing, it may be more wallet-friendly to go for a pre-made motorhome.

 Likewise, you may be adamant that you want to convert your own van; if that is the case, go for it.

It is your choice to make.

A converted lorry into a mobile home on wheels on display at the overlanding show in Stratford upon Avon in 2022

You could always go to the extreme and create something truly unique

#5 Make sure you fully understand what is and isn’t included in the sale

Be clear with the person you are buying from.

– Is it being sold as seen? Is the bike rack included? The removal tow bar?

– Does it come with a warranty – and if so, what does it cover, and for how long?

– What checks will be made before the sale is completed?

– Check all the paperwork to ensure any servicing they mention has been done.

– Understand what other costs may be involved that have yet to be mentioned – habitation checks, road tax, and any outstanding work that needs to be completed.

– When was the cam belt changed if buying second-hand? On this note, also check when it should be changed, which varies depending on the chassis used.

– In the UK, Gas bottles are not included in the sale (at least not from dealerships), which means you will need to add this into your costs.

#6 Get an independent check done

If you have no recourse once the purchase has been made, make sure you have gained advice from an independent specialist. If you drive away and the camper breaks down 15 miles away, chances are the person you brought it from will deny all responsibility lies with them. Yes, you could challenge it and request a refund, but that could get messy.

Finally, remember to use common sense and don’t let your heart entirely rule your head!

One last thought to leave you with…

Remember to do a search and find out how many of your preferred campervan or motorhome is up for sale.

Having too many on the market isn’t necessarily a good thing. Yes, it provides you with more opportunities to find the perfect one, but it may also suggest that there are not the best vehicles to purchase, hence why they are flooding the resale market.

Have you purchased a motorhome or campervan, or perhaps you have completed a van conversion for yourself? We would love to hear about your buying experiences and any other top tips you might have for others just starting out.

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Should you buy a campervan or a motorhome? Looking for tips on how to go about buying your first van? Then check out @tbookjunkie for some helpful tips

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