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Beginners Guide to Motorhomes & Motorhoming

Beginners guide to Motorhomes

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Part 3 - Picking Up Your Motorhome

At this point, we have assumed you've performed your extensive research on the motorhome market, you've visited several dealers, and some motorhome shows, and you have decided on which motorhome is for you.

You have visited the motorhome of your dreams, you've negotiated the best deal you can, and now comes the time to actually pick up the van.

Before The Pickup

By the time pickup day arrives, it is assumed that all finance is in place, and ready to be transferred. Inform the seller that the money will be transferred once the handover checks have taken place. Ask them if they can ensure that all systems on the motorhome will be available to be tested. If the van is brand new, and doesn't have gas bottles installed (and you should really make sure you order the gas bottles when you order the van), inform the dealer that you will need to see the gas systems checked, and you would like a gas bottle temporarily connected to enable this check to take place.

Also ask for the seller to make sure the fuel tank is at least half full.

Take a checklist with you. Take a friend with you - by all means, take a partner or "significant other", but a friend will be able to help you check over the van before you hand over any money. The idea is that the motorhome needs to be checked over thoroughly, and we, as the excited new owners, cannot be relied upon to look at it dispassionately. Someone also needs to listen carefully to all of the instructions and guidelines that the dealer or previous owner might say.

Someone unrelated can go through a checklist without getting diverted into discussion about where the previous owners went, how they used the van, "what we used to do was", and anecdotes like that. If something is unclear, a friend will ask questions until it is clear, whereas the new owner might think it is taking a bit of a liberty.

When we picked up our first motorhome, we took a checklist (https://www.motorhomefacts.com/downloads-details-3-7-MHF_Handover_Checklist.html), but most of it got ignored. We bought privately, and the previous owners were really thorough about the handover, showing us how everything worked, and proving that it did. We didn't listen much. It was all new and strange, and all we wanted to do was to get on the road and try it out. In our case, there were very few problems, but the possibility was there.

The Pickup - Checking Over The Van

The day eventually arrives. All the money is in place, and the van is apparently ready to pick up.

If the van is new, it is easy to assume that everything will work fine, but there are numerous instances of problems that miss the factory and dealer checks, so it is important to check that all systems are functioning properly. If the van is second-hand, these checks should have been made when the van was inspected.

Water Systems

Most motorhomes operate with a fresh water tank and a grey water tank, mounted under the floor. The vendor should show you where the fresh water filler cap is, which is usually a locking cap to stop contamination. Both fresh water and grey water (waste water from the kitchen / bathroom sinks and shower) tanks should have drainage taps, which are usually tucked up underneath the bodywork. Make sure the vendor shows you that these work, and are not seized up. Request that the tank is filled, and that water comes from taps in the kitchen and bathroom. Also check that the water tank shows no sign of leakage.

At the start of the handover, tell the vendor that you would like to see the water heating system working, which will give time for the water to heat up during the handover check.

Electrical systems

Most motorhomes have dual electrical systems - 12 volt dc and 240 volt ac. The 12 volt system should work off one or more habitation batteries, which can be charged from the engine whilst it's running or a 240 volt charging system. This system powers the internal lighting and caravan-type electrical sockets. The 240 volt system powers the charger, any 240 volt mains electrical sockets and possibly the fridge. Check that all are working. If possibly, take along an electrical tester (less than £10) to check the correct working of this system.

Get the vendor to show you the location of the habitation battery, and use a voltmeter, set on its 20 volts dc range, to show that the voltage rises when either the engine is running or the 240 volt charger is operational.

Check that all of the internal lights work, and that the water pump operates to give a smooth flow of water through the taps. Water pumps can be replaced reasonably easily, so it's not necessarily a deal-breaker if it can't be shown, but be aware that a simple non-functioning pump may hide the fact that there are leaks in the pipework, or some other fault condition.

Gas systems

Most motorhomes have some sort of LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) system, which is used for a cooker (if fitted), a fridge, and possible water heating. The most common form of LPG is propane, which has better low temperature qualities, and this comes in red metal gas bottles. Butane is the alternative, which is a "Camping Gaz" type, and comes in blue containers. Don't take the excuse that "the gas has just run out", because there are a number of reasons why a gas system may not work, and it is important to see that gas is flowing to the cooker. Repairs to gas fridges can be expensive, since they are non-domestic, and it should be possible to check the pilot light on the fridge and to adjust the temperature and see the gas flame change.

If you are unsure about any part of the gas system, try to arrange an inspection by a Corgi-registered gas engineer, who can check for leaks and bad installation.


By far the most common toilet installed in motorhomes is the Thetford cassette type. These are mounted next to a wall of the van, and allow the cassette to be changed from outside. Check the flush (either manual or electric) is working, and that the trap door into the storage cassette operates easily. It is a common courtesy for a vendor to empty the toilet before putting a van up for sale. If the toilet is smelly, be wary that the vendor might not have taken much care in their treatment of the rest of the motorhome.

Go outside, and make sure that the cassette door opens easily, and ask the vendor to show you how the cassette is removed. Watch out for any signs of "leakage" in the cassette compartments. Spares are widely available for Thetford toilets, but even so it might be better to get the vendor to fix any problems in this area before you pick the van up.

Mechanical systems

Most motorhomes have opening windows, which should all operate (sometimes, they can be a little "sticky" on the rubber seals if they haven't been used for a while), and locking mechanisms to hold the windows open should work. Replacement parts are generally available for most window types.

There are usually skylights for ventilation, around the kitchen area and in the bathroom. Ensure the vendor shows you these opening and locking. Some motorhomes have roof hatches (sometimes called "Hekis"), which are larger, and can be used as an escape route as well as for better ventilation in warm weather.

If the van has retractable steps, make sure these work (either manually or electrically), and that any warning buzzer (to alert the driver to the fact that the steps are still in their "out" position) also works.

Any doors (including entrance and locker doors) should open easily, and close firmly. Test the locking mechanisms, and that you have keys to all of the locks on the van, which might include main entry door, gas locker, storage lockers, and the toilet cassette door.

It may seem silly, but with the concentration on the habitation side of the motorhome, don't neglect the "van" part. Check that lights, indicators, and windscreen washers all function properly. This is a requirement of law, and once you hand over the money, the vehicle is yours, and once you sit behind the steering wheel with the engine running, you are the driver, and responsible for the legality of the vehicle.

Don't forget to ask the location of the fuel filler cap, and make sure you have any keys required to allow you to get fuel. It may seem trivial, but can easily be overlooked in the excitement of the pickup.

Quite often, a side awning is fitted to a motorhome to provide shade and rain cover for the outside living area. Get the vendor to show you how the awning is extended, and how the support legs are withdrawn and set up. Watch carefully for any knobs that may need to be released before the awning can be erected. Also watch how the legs are stored away inside the awning cover, as incorrect storage can cause the awning mechanism to fail to close the awning completely, and may damage the mechanism.

Cycle racks are common accessories, and although fairly simple, make sure that all the relevant fixings and brackets to hold the bokes are in place.

Finally, Before You Hand Over The Cheque!

Perform one final circuit of the van, looking for any fluid leaks, and checking that all the accessories that you saw when you first agreed to buy the van are still actually on it (it has been known for unscrupulous sellers to remove bike racks or awnings between the sale agreement and the pickup).

Also, make sure you know (as you walk completely round the van) what all the little doors and caps and openings do. If you're in any doubt, ask the vendor to explain. It is much better to ask several times until you're clear on all of the features of the motorhome, than risk not understanding something when you're miles away from any help.

The First Few Days

Unless you are an experienced motorhomer, take great care on your onward journey from the pickup. Don't attempt to drive too far on the first day, and don't immediately start off on a huge tour. Give yourself time to get used to the motorhome, and how everything works. Many new owners have spent the first night in their motorhome in the driveway of their house! This is actually a very sensible idea, so that if anything goes wrong, you can "bail out" and return to the security of bricks and mortar.

It is recommended that you spend your first night in your motorhome not too far from your home base. It may be worth considering booking into a full-service campsite, with shop and restaurant on-site, so that you don't feel pressured into using everything on the van on that first night. Some people just use the motorhome to sleep in at first, and then graduate to cooking and washing later. And the advantage of an on-site shop is that it gives you the opportunity to get all those many additional accessories that you didn't know you needed until you're using the motorhome. Don't be afraid to ask other motorhomers for advice or assistance. We are generally a helpful, gregarious bunch, and are always willing to lend a hand to a "newbie".

Happy motorhoming!