Buying a Motorhome – The Basics


Often when people are buying a motorhome they will come and post on our forum something like; “We are new to motorhomes but we have seen a Swift XYZ Motorhome can anyone tell us anything good or bad about this particular model are Swift a good make?”

That is a great question if you’ve done your homework and narrowed your motorhome down to this particular model, except very often that is not the case. We discover that the person has seen just one or two motorhomes at their local dealer and is going to buy one of them.  This is NOT the way to buy.  Of the thousands of motorhomes out there, most of them will not be ideal for you.

Buying a Motorhome; decide what you want

When buying a motorhome everyone’s requirements are going to be different; the hard part is deciding what you need and then prioritising those needs. This is hard for the newcomer, but it’s very important. Otherwise you’ll buy a van all excited but after a few trips you’ll discover it’s not quite the right van for you. Then you’ll change it, and you’ll discover that this can be horrendously expensive.


Buying a motorhome

Buying a Motorhome

First you need to have a clear idea how you might use your motorhome. Do you envisage just three weeks a year and the odd weekend, or will you do trips that last the whole summer, go skiing in winter, maybe there is a chance you might live in it full time.   How many people will travel are any of them children?  Then look at other lifestyle items. For example, some people love to cook in their motorhome while others may never use their oven. The number one priority for some is that they have their own shower; others only use the shower to store wet wellies and raincoats, preferring to use camp site facilities.  A fixed bed might be essential for you, but with 3 kids bunk beds might have a higher priority.  Some people love to explore every little lane and byway, often wildcamping when they find somewhere nice to park up for the night while others are happier when on a site that offers a hard standing, a hook up and every facility. Then, some will only want to use their motorhome in the summer, others wait for the snow to take their motorhome up mountains and use it as a base for skiing.

There are a number of other factors to consider when choosing a motorhome, what does your licence allow, how much storage do you need, how many people will be travelling on each trip etc. Most of us make a compromise somewhere, whether on size, style or price etc. We need to find our high priority requirements first, and then all the others are a bonus. Don’t worry too much about the base vehicle. Your ideal motorhome might be on a Fiat, Merc or Chevrolet discount the chassis at first, and there are other things that are MUCH more important.

Deciding upon what is important for you then weighing all this information up will determine the most important three words in motorhome selection.

Layout, Layout and Layout

The biggest reason that people change motorhomes is because they subsequently decide the layout is wrong, they hate the middle kitchen or want a bigger bathroom or more storage, more belted travel seats, they want to lounge rather than sit at a dinette, they can’t get in the shower, they hate eating on the sofa and would prefer a dinette, the list goes on and on.

Get the layout right and you’ll keep the motorhome for longer have more fun and save a lot of money. The only way to get it right is to do plenty of research. Go to motorhome shows or large dealerships where you’ll find hundreds of vans and then study the layouts, sit on sofas, lay on beds, sit on loos, imagine the whole family sat watching TV. Look at the kitchen, imagine cooking in it, where are the saucepans and cereal packets being stored. Is it winterised, where would you hang a wet winter coat, etc etc.  After spending a lot of time siting/laying/standing and exploring and experimenting, with such things as making beds up, and standing in showers,you’ll slowly decide what suits you best, it will be a big feature first, such as a it fixed bed, a middle kitchen a U shaped lounge, but then you’ll add other requirements like internal water tanks or pass through lockers for skis, you are now honing in on your perfect motorhome.

However there will still be hundreds to choose from, but as soon as you add in your purchase price to the mix as well as your location the number of available vans that meet your criteria will shrink. You’ll be getting closer to the van you’ll end up buying, but then it gets serious. And you have a couple more things to consider before you even think of reaching for your credit card.

Size also needs to be considered early on. If space is tight at home then know EXACTLY what it is because it’s easy to get carried away and buy bigger than you should! You wouldn’t be the first to get a van home only to discover that it doesn’t fit on the drive.

It’s not uncommon for a motorhome to last for twenty years or more, get it right and you might not buy again for a while. However, the truth is, no matter how hard some people try to get it right first time; your first motorhome will probably not be your last. You will find fault with it, “if only this were longer, wider, softer” etc.

The first thing is to ensure that the seller owns it! Buy a stolen motorhome and you may lose everything. Secondly, do not buy a damp motorhome, it may literally rot away. Use your nose, does it smell of damp? Smell inside cupboards, wardrobes and under the sink. Study the roof lining and look for visible stains and water marks. Pay particular attention around the roof vent openings and where walls meet ceiling and where walls meet walls. Look for rust showing on any nails or screws or staples. Look inside the overhead cabinets and check the ceiling. Mildew stains may show up as black spots on ceilings and wallboards, but behind the scenes, where the water has entered there may well be dry-rot problems. Check the area where the wall panel meets the floor for water marks, also look carefully in all the corners, these will often be in cupboards, but look carefully as corners are very susceptible to leaking. Look in the area underneath each window. Water ingress can also cause delamination, once water is getting in, it may travel to a different part of the motorhome and do its damage there. The cost of putting right rotting walls, floors or ceilings is horrendous.

Now you’ve got a motorhome with the right layout, it’s not stolen and not riddled with damp.  All you have to do now is pit your wits against the sellers and negotiate the best price. Buying a motorhome easy if you know how. Buying a motorhome should be exciting but not stressful.


The Motorhome Buyers Guide

The definitive guide for defining, choosing
and negotiating for your motorhome.
Guaranteed to save you a lot of money.

  • How to choose the right motorhome type for you
  • How to Research and find exactly what you need
  • Understanding Base Vehicles, their capabilities and limitations
  • Comprehensive Pre Purchase Checklists. Don’t get caught out.
  • Deciding on the best layout for you, whether you are on your own, a couple, a family or even fulltiming
  • How to save lots of money when negotiating while remaining on good terms with the seller.
  • Buying from Dealers, what to look out for
  • Buying Privately the do’s don’t s and the advantages and how to spot a dodgy seller
  • Buying off Ebay- Getting a bargain the right way.
  • The Golden Rules about buying
  • How to check the motorhome documents, and what to look out for
  • How to ensure you are not buying a stolen Motorhome
  • Detailed checklists for the Test Drive
  • Closing the Deal, how to do it

Find out more


About Author

Jim is a long time motorhome enthusiast travelling extensively in the UK and Europe. Averaging 12000 motorhome miles a year. He has owned many motorhomes both British and Continental. His present motorhome is a 27ft C class RV.

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