Choosing the right campervan can be a difficult decision, especially if it will be your first one. Here Van Life Matters shares an introductory guide on how to choose the right campervan for you.
Before we get stuck into the ins and outs of choosing a campervan, you should understand that most vehicle manufacturers don’t produce campervans.
They simply produce what’s known as the ‘base vehicle’, from which campervan conversion companies tend to order from new and build the habitation area.
You may also come across ‘self-conversions’, some of which will have been been converted from new but the vast majority of DIY campervan conversions tend to be based on a panel van which has had a previous life as a commercial vehicle.
Campervans can range from a few thousand pounds to several hundred thousand, so it's a good idea to first establish a budget and stick to it.
Don't forget that there will be other costs involved too, so be mindful about ongoing costs for your chosen campervan.
These may include campervan insurance, fuel, breakdown and recovery, storage costs and servicing, repairs and parts.
Whatever budget you decide, it's reassuring to know that while the initial cost of a campervan tends to be much more than a typical car, leisure vehicles do have much stronger long-term residuals.
Think about campervan size
The size of the campervan depends on how many people will be traveling with you, the amount of storage space you need, and your driving preferences.
Campervans range from small, compact vehicles to larger, more spacious models.
The size of a campervan can have a significant impact on its livability, maneuverability, and overall functionality.
Consider where you'll be driving and parking. Larger campervans can prove awkward for some when it comes to tight country lanes and busy car parks.
You'll also need it to be big enough for your family and any equipment that you need, just be mindful that you comply with vehicle weight restrictions.
Different campervans have different features, so it's important to decide which features are important to you. Do you need a shower, toilet, or kitchen? What about air conditioning or heating? Think about what will make your camping experience more comfortable and convenient.
- Sleeping area: Campervans usually have a dedicated sleeping area that can range from a simple bed platform to a more elaborate setup with a mattress, bedding, and storage.
- Kitchen: Many campervans have a small kitchenette with a sink, stove, and refrigerator. Some may also have a microwave, oven, or other appliances.
- Bathroom facilities: Larger campervans often have a separate bathroom area with a toilet, shower, and sink. Smaller campervans may have a portable toilet or a more basic setup with a sink and shower head.
- Storage: Campervans typically have built-in storage areas to keep clothes, food, and other essentials organized. This can include overhead cabinets, drawers, and under-bed storage.
- Power supply: Campervans usually have a power supply system that includes a battery or generator to provide electricity for appliances and lighting. Some may also have solar panels to provide renewable energy.
- Heating and cooling: Depending on the climate and intended use, campervans may have heating and cooling systems to regulate temperature. This can include a furnace, air conditioning, or a ventilation system.
- Entertainment systems: Many campervans have entertainment systems such as a TV, stereo, or DVD player to provide entertainment during downtime.
- Outdoor accessories: Some campervans may have an awning or outdoor area that provides shade and shelter, and allows for outdoor activities such as cooking, dining, or relaxing.
Research the make and model
Once you have a clear idea of your needs and budget, you can start to drill-down to specific campervan models.
Look at manufacturers' websites, read reviews, and browse online forums and Facebook groups to get an idea of what's available and what other campervan owners recommend.
As with all vehicles, most campervans tend to have owners clubs and these are an excellent source of genuine owner reviews, many of whom will be more than willing to offer vehicle-specific tips and advice.
Be sure to ask about the the pros and cons of ownership, common faults and rectification costs.
Owners clubs can also be a great source for a well-looked after campervan too.
Seeing a campervan in-person can help you get a better sense of their size, layout, and features, so it's worth attending a campervan show or visiting a campervan dealership - you may also get a chance to test drive a few models to get a feel for how they handle on the road.
Hire before you buy
Once you think you know what you want, always hire a campervan before committing to buy one.
What you think you need from a campervan and what you actually need can be two very different things.
Only by experiencing life in a campervan will you get to understand the essential campervan 'must-haves' and 'nice-to-haves' for you and your family.
Campervan hire provides an opportunity to test out different models and features to see which one is the best fit for you.
What should you look for when buying a campervan?
When looking around a prospective purchase, there are a number of essential campervan checks that you should be making:
- Campervan HPI check: A HPI Check report is a vehicle check, arming you with vital information about the campervan you want to buy to protect you from motoring scams and fraud. Free HPI checks can provide basic vehicle background checks while paid-for reports tend to offer the most comprehensive checks. Buyers are well-advised to check for outstanding finance, vehicle write-offs and stolen vehicles as the bare minimum.
- Check for water damage: Water damage to any extent can be expensive to repair or replace. As campervans are used in all weather conditions, it's always worth checking the whole vehicle for any potential damage. Buyers can use a damp metre or, better still, arrange for a professional habitation check.
- Service history: Campervan service history is a good barometer as to how well the campervan has been looked after. Don't forget to look for habitation service history too, if the campervan has gas and electric appliances.
- Tyres: How many miles has it done on the existing tyres? Does the tread look okay? Are there any cracks or other damage to the tyres? If the campervan has been parked or in storage for a while then there’s the potential that the tyres could have cracks or splits in the side walls.
- MOT history: Check the vehicle's MOT history for an indication on the vehicle's health. Look carefully at any 'advisories' and ask the seller if they have been rectified. The MOT history is also a good way of ensuring the mileage checks out too.
- Heating/ air conditioning: These can be expensive to fix, check they both work.
- Bodywork: Check for any rust, damage to the seals, and any other dents, scrapes or chips. Check for even panel gaps on the cab, open the bonnet and ensure the subframe isn't bent, checking for any signs of accident damage.
Overall, choosing the right campervan requires careful consideration of your needs, preferences, and budget.
By following these steps, you can find a campervan that will make your camping experience enjoyable and memorable.