Campervan, caravan or motorhome…Which one should I choose?

Thinking of buying a new leisure vehicle but not sure which one’s right for you? Well you’re in good company. The touring and leisure industry is huge in the UK, contributing £6 billion to the economy. It’s estimated that over one million leisure vehicles are being used in this country, meaning that plenty of other people have faced the same decision that you are now making. So, you want your very own home on wheels but there are too many questions whirling around your brain…. Where do I start? Who can help me? Which leisure vehicle is right for me? What’s a trailer tent? What does MTPLM mean? What even are folding caravans?

You may feel overwhelmed by the numerous options out there but don’t worry! There are lots of guides to help you make the right decision and some of the best are produced by the UK’s two main clubs – The Caravan and Motorhome Club and The Camping and Caravanning Club. Let’s start by taking a whistle stop tour of some of the key things to consider before you buy.

What should I consider?

It’s important to think about your lifestyle and your budget when you choose your new home from home. For a family with three large dogs, a tiny campervan might not be the best use of your space.  However, you can park up easily in a campervan or motorhome and if you’d rather stop at lots of little places along the way to your final destination, these vehicles are probably better suited to your needs than a caravan. Likewise, if you want lots of space and would rather just use the car when you are on holiday instead of packing everything up again to go to the shops, then a caravan, folding caravan, or trailer tent might suit you better.

What else do you need to think about?

1. Budget

Trailer tents are usually cheaper than caravans, folding caravans, campervans and motorhomes. All used leisure vehicles tend to be cheaper than new models and usually have fewer snagging issues, which you tend to get with new caravans and motorhomes. Another thing to consider is whether your new cheap as chips but older campervan or motorhome has a lot of mileage on it. Will you be able to enjoy enough holidays before something expensive happens with the engine?

2. Type of purchase

You could buy from a dealership where there may be special deals on offer and where you have a better likelihood of rectifying a problem, if it is nearby. Do your research and check out the reviews of nearby dealerships using Google reviews or the “Caravan Owner Satisfaction Awards” run by the Camping and Caravanning Club . A local dealership also brings benefits when it comes to your annual service, as it’s a lot easier to drop off and pick up your vehicle from a nearby location rather than having to travel across the country.

Some dealerships also have an adjoining site where you can try out your new home for a free night to check that you are happy with how everything works before you move on. We chose this option and decided to plump for Lowdhams in Nottinghamshire for our first caravan. For us, peace of mind was important. We were guided through the workings of our new caravan’s gadgetry and appliances whilst we could video the whole process in case, we forgot anything. We then stayed overnight and by the next day, we felt secure enough in our knowledge and happy enough with our purchase to start our new adventures.

You can opt for a private sale too. This is a good option if you know what you are looking for and are relatively confident with your technical knowledge. You can of course, always pay for a pre inspection check from the Caravan and Motorhome Club who are happy to check things over for you before you buy. This link gives you more information on the process.

3. Lifestyle

Will you be using your new purchase during the cooler or warmer months? Are you a large family? Are you bothered about having a bathroom? Would you rather have your bed ready for when you arrive, or would you rather make up your bed every night? These are all considerations when buying a new leisure vehicle, and in my opinion, probably the most important.

For us, we just couldn’t afford a campervan, whilst we felt that paying money for something which resulted in us having to use campsite toilets in the middle of the night, just wasn’t worth it. We also preferred the space which a caravan gave us. However, we decided to buy a cheaper preowned caravan at first. We knew that it would keep its value if we didn’t like caravanning after a year, and our initial outlay wasn’t too much. For us this was the perfect choice. Over the course of a year’s caravanning, we came to realise what else we liked: an “L” or “U” shaped lounge for cuddling up; a decent bathroom with a quality shower and lots of cupboard space, (mainly this was because I’m rubbish at deciding what to pack!). We also realised what we didn’t like – a bed we had to make up every night and a small space, (Andy was getting increasingly fed up waking up in the morning next to Cherry’s rear end!) We then invested in a bigger caravan, which now has nearly every feature we want to suit our lifestyle.

This was a personal choice for us. Different people will no doubt, have different priorities about what works best for them. That’s fine and probably the main reason why there are so many choices out there!

Another option is to try before you buy. In other words, you could rent a motorhome or leisure vehicle first, to see how it all works for you. You can try sites or dealerships like Preston Caravans which is very near the M55 and M6 or the Caravan and Motorhome Club which provides information about renting motorhomes across several UK locations.

What’s great about this option is that you don’t have the risk of buying something, if you’re not sure that it’s for you.

4. Storage

This is something which you may think is less important until you realise how many things you end up accumulating as an owner! Some leisure vehicles can be stored in your garage such as a trailer tent, folding caravan, or pop top caravan. Most leisure vehicles are much bigger though. This is fine if you have a drive large enough and lovely neighbours but alternatively, you can store your new home at a nearby storage site. CaSSOA has a list of safe storage sites across the country with a bronze, silver, or gold rating according to the security measures which are in place. Some insurers even offer discounts if your storage facility is CaSSOA rated.

5. Weight  

Not yours, but the weight of your leisure vehicle! Pretty much anyone in their early forties or younger needs to check their DVLA licence. If you passed your driving test after the 1st January 1997, you can only drive vehicles, (or a combination of car plus caravan), weighing up to 3500kg in total. Many motorhomes and campervans match this weight or are lighter and many caravan and car combinations are available within these guidelines too, but quite a lot surprisingly, aren’t. A major factor in our choice of caravan was its weight. We had to check the car could legally tow its maximum weight when laden, (MTPLM), and this narrowed our choice of caravans considerably.

The leisure industry has started to adjust and smaller, lighter tourers are increasingly becoming more mainstream. However, in my opinion, some manufacturers are frustratingly slow at realising that most people in their early forties or younger, are faced with these restrictions and are less likely to pay for a B and E test to allow them to tow a heavier vehicle. Examples of manufacturers that do offer lighter models are Bailey, Elddis, Eriba and Caravelair.  

Where should I start?

The Caravan and Motorhome Club has a brilliant range of buying guides with advantages and disadvantages, clearly explaining each type of home on wheels. It also has information about pre inspections and matching your car to the right type of caravan. The Camping and Caravanning Club has a similar series of guides called “Getting Started” where you can find information about buying vehicles, different campsites and guides to your first caravan, motorhome or campervan holiday.

Another great place to get advice is the “Out and About Live” website which contains reviews of new leisure vehicles, a campsite finder, forums and lots of tips for starting out. Magazines such as Caravan Magazine, Practical Caravan, Campervan Magazine or Practical Motorhome are also great for beginner’s advice. They also have features on different models and layouts to suit different lifestyles. You can also compare makers and models of new caravans in terms of their weights, layouts and key features helping with ideas about what to buy. Of course, there’s also Caravan Finder TV, which has its own leisure vehicle search and virtual tours, just in case you prefer a different way of searching.

Visiting local dealerships or shows are also great ways to formulate your ideas as you can walk inside different models and get a feel for what you want. Even during the Covid-19 era, there are virtual shows and tours which you can experience such as the recent “VanLive” virtual event which ran in October.

So, are you ready to make the next step? Hopefully, you’re beginning to feel a little more confident about the options out there and where to start. Don’t forget to click on the links on this blog for further information. Good luck with your new purchase and let me know which leisure vehicle you decide to buy….

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Published by Rachel Ellis-Lomas

As a keen caravanner and lover of the great outdoors, I have spent many hours planning and experiencing different destinations in the UK and Europe along with my husband and my four pawed fluffball, Cherry. I love discovering new places and particularly, areas less touched by mass tourism. Coming from an education background, I have also written articles and produced content for organisations in the leisure and education sector. I am passionate about writing and the great outdoors, so what better than to be able to blog about it? Like what you've read? Then get in touch about writing content, copy or proofreading services.

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