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Beginners Guide to Motorhomes & Motorhoming

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

This is the first of four beginners guides to motorhoming that will hopefully smooth your entry into this fascinating and enjoyable pastime. Part one is entitled "Choice of motorhome", and we will discuss the choices available to any prospective motorhome owner and how to steer a path through the huge variety of models available. Part two is "How to choose" detailing the viewing of motorhomes for sale. Part three is "The pickup", where we will help you ensure your first experiences with your motorhome are without hiccup. And finally part four is "Acclimatisation", where we will discuss the services and facilities in the motorhome and how to get the best out of it. Also many thanks to geraldandannie for writing this series of Beginners Guides to Motorhomes.


For some, motorhoming is a hobby, for others it's a way of life, living in their motorhome full time, and enjoying the freedom that the lifestyle brings. The first motorhomes, or campervans, started appearing in the 1950s. The first UK motorhome dealership appeared in London in 1958, and the first motorhome rally was held at Woburn Abbey in 1960. Since then the motorhome has enjoyed periods of popularity. There has always been an enthusiasm for motorhomes from the devotees, but since the early part of the millennium, the popularity for them has entered the mainstream. In 2006, over 90,000 new motorhomes were registered across the European Union. The biggest market for new motorhomes is France, followed by Germany, and the UK saw 11,300 new motorhomes registered.

So I Want A Motorhome - What Types Are There?

Currently, there are over 90 manufacturers of motorhomes available in the UK. They fall into a few broad categories:

  1. Panel van conversions. These motorhomes are based on a commercial metal-panelled van.
  2. Coachbuilts. Here, the manufacturer takes a chassis and cab from the commercial vehicle manufacturer, but fits their own (usually fibreglass) body to the rear.
  3. A-class. Similar to coachbuilts, the manufacturer just takes the chassis from the commercial vehicle, and fits their own cab and body.
  4. RV. These Recreational Vehicles are usually imported from the USA.
  5. Demountables / fifth wheels. Rare in the UK, these are usually of American design, and use a pickup to carry the camping body, either on the pickup directly or towed from the pickup bed.

More information:

Which Is The Best?

The smaller the vehicle, the better the fuel consumption, and the convenience in day-to-day use from the point of view of parking and access to narrow roads. However, they are normally restricted in space and storage. The more space and facilities you have, the bigger the van, and the disadvantages that brings.

How Do I Choose?

There are a number of criteria you should use when choosing the best motorhome for you.

What's your budget?

How much can you afford to spend? Do you have a little money, maybe from a pension lump sum payout? Or have you sold your residence, looking to go .full time.? Or are you prepared to borrow money, either via hire purchase or bank loan?

Whatever sum you have available, there is a motorhome for you! That.s the good news. The bad news is that you will need to have multiples of tens of thousands of pounds to buy the ultimate in mobile living luxury. And in between, there are a huge number of options.

I would advise you have two figures in mind for your budget . one which you would like to spend on your motorhome, and the maximum you can spend. This will give you a budget spread, which will be useful when you are looking at vans for sale.

What seasonal use do you expect?

All motorhomes are good for use in fine spring to autumn weather. Some motorhomes are designed for slightly harsher environments, especially with regard to temperature. They can be built with double skin floors, so water tanks are contained in an enclosed (sometimes heated) space, to avoid getting frozen. The insulation, between the outer skin and the inner walls, can vary. Category 3 is the best insulation category, and specifies that the water system must be able to be kept frost-free. This is one you would choose if your hobbies included skiing in the winter. This type of van would be called .winterised..

How many people / pets?

Motorhomes are built with the ability for people to sleep in them. You must think how many people will be sleeping with you - is it just the two of you? Occasional children / grandchildren? Teenagers? Will you have pets with you?

You may see a motorhome advertised as "6 berth". i.e. 6 people can sleep in it. But you must consider in what sort of comfort will this be? Are the beds / bunks big enough? Are there mobility issues, with climbing over items or people to use the toilet in the night? And although you might be happy with the sleeping arrangements, what about the cooking? Is the kitchen area big enough to cook for the amount of people with you? Have you all got room to sit and eat? If you have children, especially teenagers, they may want an area to sit away from the adults - their own space, if you will.

There is another aspect to the "family motorhome". Although they may be advertised as "6 berth" or "4 berth", sometimes the travelling accommodation is compromised. Current UK law states that all travelling passengers must have seat belts if they are seated in forward-facing seats. Some motorhomes provide only lap belts, which some purchasers may not be comfortable using. In law, you are allowed to travel "unbelted" in the rear of a vehicle if there are insufficient seatbelts, but the wisdom of this must be questioned. Not wearing a seatbelt (where there is one available) carries a fine of £500.

More imformation:

Children can sleep in tents by the side of the motorhome, and some motorhomes have "safari rooms", which are zip-on tents attached to an awning on the side of the van. You must consider the possibility of bad weather or illness, and you may need to accommodate everyone in the motorhome.

Where will you use the motorhome?

Some motorhome owners are content to visit areas of the UK, where you can normally enjoy reasonable access for a large vehicle. But if you wish to travel to other countries, there are other aspects to consider. Don't forget the cost of travelling across the channel. Even short Dover-Calais hops can cost from around 㿞 to upwards of 𧶀, depending on time of travel and time of year.

France and Germany have good road networks, but from Italy east, the roads can become challenging to a large motorhome or RV. If your penchant is for exploration in Eastern Europe or Scandinavia, you may wish to consider a smaller motorhome or van conversion.

Fuel consumption

Most modern motorhomes use efficient diesel engines, but our expectations in terms of facilities raises the weight, and hence increases fuel consumption by a small amount. As a rough rule of thumb, a small panel van conversion could give you over 35 miles per gallon, a medium-sized coachbuilt will return from 20mpg to 30mpg, and an American RV may only return 10mpg. To mitigate this fuel consumption, some RVs are converted to run on LPG, which is approximately half the price of diesel, but less readily available.

Size limitations for storage

A lot of people these days keep their cars on a drive at the front or side of the house. A motorhome can be a much bigger, and heavier, vehicle. A typical family car might be 4.5m (14.7 feet) long, 1.7m (5.6 feet) wide, and weigh 1.5 tonnes. A medium-sized motorhome could be 6.8m (22.3 feet) long, 2.5m (8.2 feet) wide, and weigh 3.5 tonnes.

If the motorhome of your dreams is too big to keep at home, there are storage facilities available. Consult the Caravan Storage Site Owners' Association (CaSSOA) for a list of those in your area. Some have a waiting list, so apply early if you think you will need this.

More information:

Driving licence restrictions?

Before January 1st, 1997, anyone passing their driving test is permitted to drive a motorhome up the 7.5 tonnes - this is called a category C1 entitlement. Anyone passing their test after that year is only permitted to drive a motorhome up to 3.5 tonnes - category B entitlement. Anyone wishing to drive an American RV weighing more than 7.5 tonnes will need to take an LGV driving course and pass the test to obtain a category C entitlement licence.

More information:

These weights are the MAM (Maximum Allowable Mass), which is the weight of the motorhome, with driver and fuel, water and gas bottles.

Payload and weight definitions

UW (Unladen Weight) is the weight of the vehicle without driver or fluids (empty tanks).
MIRO (Mass In Running Order) - the unladen weight of the vehicle, plus driver and 90% fuel.
MAM (Maximum Allowable Mass) is the maximum weight of the vehicle, passengers and their belongings, including driver and 90% fuel. This is the weight as it may be measured when the vehicle is being driven.
GTW (Gross Train Weight) is the weight of the vehicle under normal driving conditions (MAM) plus and trailer it may be pulling.

From these, you can work out your maximum allowable payload. This can be calculated as the MAM - MIRO - i.e. subtract the weight of the vehicle in running order from the maximum allowable weight on the road. This tells you how much you can carry with you, in weight passengers, their belongings, cycles, scooters, TVs, satellite gear, etc etc.

There are dangers associated with driving an overloaded vehicle. Apart from the obvious risks of the steering and suspension failing or not working properly, your vehicle insurance becomes invalid (overloading a vehicle is illegal), and you can be fined up to £5000 for the overloading offence. If someone is killed in an accident involving an overloaded vehicle, the driver can be charged with manslaughter or causing death by dangerous driving.

More information (PDF file):


For some motorhome owners, an additional vehicle is useful when parked up for longer periods, or full timing. A small motorcycle or scooter can be carried on a rack fitted to the back of the motorhome, or a small car can be towed behind the motorhome. The most straightforward method of towing a car is on a trailer. You must take care that you do not exceed the GTW (see above) for the motorhome. The weight of cars "normally" used for towing are less than 1 tonne.

It is also possible to tow a car on an A-frame. This is a system which attaches rigidly direct to the towed car, and the car sits on its own wheels - sometimes, with the front wheels lifted off the road. The legal situation regarding towing on A-frames is a little unclear, and the best advice is to request written information from either a motorhome dealer or an A-frame manufacturer. Towing a car behind a motorhome is quite common, but care must be taken with any equipment used in the towing, and approved manufacturers and installers should always be used.

More information:


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