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Beginners Guide to Motorhomes & Motorhoming
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Part 2 - Choosing Your Motorhome
Having decided which sort of motorhome you're looking for, you now need to look at some!
Should I Look For A New Motorhome Or Second Hand?
It's an age-old choice. Some people love the smell of a new vehicle, and the thought that no one has used it before you. However, like cars, there is no doubt that the value of a motorhome drops as soon as you drive away from the dealer's forecourt.
There are some very good second-hand motorhomes around. By the nature of their use, many are a second vehicle, and therefore clock up few miles. Ours was 6 years old, and had done less than 11,000 miles. The interior was unmarked, and we paid less than 50% of the new model price.
So, the advice is to look at some recent model motorhomes before you commit to buying new. You can save many thousands of pounds.
Where Can I See Some Motorhomes?
There are dealer's who specialise in selling motorhomes, and there are several monthly magazines available featuring adverts to enable you to find a dealer in your area. This is a good start point, to get a "feel" for the different styles of motorhome, and what you can get for your money.
If you're still undecided on which motorhome "fits the bill" as far as your requirements go, try to get to a motorhome exhibition. There are several throughout the year - during the summer, some are held in showgrounds, and are predominantly outdoors. In the winter, and early spring / late autumn, there are some exhibitions which are held in larger exhibition halls. The NEC has a show in October / November each year, where most manufacturers and importers are represented. An exhibition is a good place to see lots of motorhomes all in one space.
How Do I Know Which One Is Right For Me?
This is a difficult question. It's very rare to find a motorhome that "ticks all the boxes" as far as your own requirements are concerned. Nearly all of us have to make compromises, whether it's in space, or budget, or one of the other criteria discussed in the first part of the guide. Having said that, sometimes you will look at a motorhome, and immediately know it's not right for you.
When you're viewing motorhomes, don't be afraid to ask questions of the owner / dealer. Make sure you try all the features out - lie on the bed to judge the size, walk into the shower area to see how much room there is when you arte showering, stand in the kitchen are and move around, sit on the lounge seats etc.
Shall I Buy Privately?
This is an age-old question. There's no doubt you can save money, and sometimes many thousands of pounds, by buying from a private seller. However, if you're new to motorhomes, you have to be aware that you have no recourse if something goes wrong with the motorhome after you drive it away. However, sometimes motorhome dealers are similarly reluctant to put right minor problems with the van during the warranty period.
Obviously, buying from a dealer usually means that you have several vans to look at, which is invaluable in comparing the differing types and layouts. It may be a good idea, once you have found your dream van, to see if there is one available privately, so you can compare prices and equipment specifications.
It is always a good idea to take someone with experience with you when you view motorhomes, at least until you get some knowledge. Never part with any money before you see the motorhome, and if you do view it, try to get "a feel" for the vendors, whether they seem to be the genuine owners, or whether they're "selling it for a friend". Never agree to view a motorhome in a pub car park - always at the owners address. Make sure that they're actually using that address, and not just using the drive whilst the real owners are away.
Isn't Ebay A Good Place To Find A Bargain?
The short answer is: NO! The high value of motorhomes attracts the wrong sort of people. You can buy a motorhome at a very good price from Ebay, but there are several cams that are seen time and time again.
Sometimes, an unscrupulous seller can copy the pictures and text from another online motorhome ad, and just reproduce them. They have no motorhome, nor will you be able to view one, but in these cases, the seller is trying to extract a deposit from you before you view.
Look out for very short auctions (3 day auctions are a bit of a giveaway); a seller who asks you to contact them directly by email "because of the delay in Ebay messages getting through" (there is no delay); a seller who says the motorhome is in the UK somewhere, but the Ebay profile states he's in the USA; all of these have been seen on Ebay. There are a number of motorhome owners who check Ebay regularly, and if they see an advert which looks suspect, they will report it. Ebay are usually quick to remove fraudulent adverts but even so, the advert can sometimes be online for several hours, sometimes days. Remember the old adage: "If it's too cheap, there's probably a good reason".
In 2006, a south-western UK police force uncovered a haul of over 80 motorhomes which had been stolen from around the UK. They surmised that they would be sold through classified adverts in local newspapers and online auctions.
Having said all of that, Ebay can feature a good buy, but BE VERY CAREFUL.
When viewing your motorhome, try to remain dispassionate about it. Don't "fall in love" with the appearance of it from outside. Of course, check the quality of the bodywork, looking for rust and accident damage.
Always ask plenty of questions - how long have they had it? Why are they selling it? Have they had any problems? How often did they use it? What made them buy it in the first place? Maintain a friendly attitude, but beware of being over-friendly, and listen carefully to everything the seller says. Make notes in a small notebook.
When you're in the rear part of the motorhome, see if there is a "musty" smell from it. Some motorhomes, (especially older ones) can suffer from moisture, either through a water leak or condensation. A moisture meter only costs a few pounds, and could possibly save an expensive repair bill.
Ensure all of the basis services are working. There should be water in the tank (don't accept an excuse like "I drained it because I wasn't using it". It only takes a couple of moments to put some water in. Then you should check all the taps - in the kitchen and in the bathroom. See if the water runs clear, and doesn't have an odour.
It is always best to check the gas system, and verify the cooker is working and that the water heater and gas fire (if fitted) both work properly.
Check the electrical systems, both 12 volt and 240 volt, if fitted. Being told "the bettery needs a bit of a charge" could be a signal of much bigger problems.
Check all cupboard doors open smoothly, and any mechanisms (e.g. for making up a double bed) all work, and that all the cushions are available.
Smell the upholstery, to see if it has been damp at any time.
Any problems in these areas might not be enough to dissuade you from buying, but they might form a good lever at the negotiation stage.
The Test Drive
Whatever the situation, whomsoever you're buying from, always insist on taking a test drive. Don't accept an excuse of "there's not much fuel in the tank", or "I need to put some air in the tyres first". If the seller is serious about selling you the motorhome, he / she should have been prepared for a test drive.
Don't necessarily insist on driving it yourself. Some sellers are concerned about insurance issues, especially if you're new to motorhomes, and not used to the size and weight.
Try to insist you drive on open roads, so you can get to 50mph or above. A lot of suspension and steering faults might only appear at reasonable speeds. Listen out for any rattles or knocks, especially from underneath. Watch out for the excuse "oh yeah, there's a little panel loose, nothing to worry about". If you're not driving, watch the driver's hands, to see if there's any unusual shaking from the steering wheel, or if excessive force is needed to turn the wheel.
Motorhomes are very similar to cars, so many of the normal tests employed when viewing a car can be used on a motorhome. Listen for unusual sounds from the engine, drivetrain (gearbox and axle), brakes, and suspension. If you aren't comfortable doing this, try to take someone along who has some experience of buying or repairing vehicles.
Some people are born negotiators; some have learned to negotiate; others hate negotiating. The first piece of advice is: if you're not good at negotiating, take someone along who is, if you can. If this is impossible, there are some simple guidelines to follow from experienced salesman, and Motorhomefacts member G2EWS (Chris):