Buying the new toy.

Many, many years ago, before the children came along, we had a campervan. Ever since they left home, (that is now also many years ago) we’ve been talking about getting another. Maybe there’s a bit of gypsy in me, but there is something very appealing about moving from place to place, taking my home with me. Last year (2014) we finally decided to take the plunge. We’ve kept a log of our experiences, good and bad, and as so many people seem drawn to this sort of holidaying, I thought I’d upload that log to this blog.
Perhaps I should say more about our reasons for buying a motorhome – there was more to it than holidays. We enjoy going to folk festivals. There are lots of them and they are very popular. So popular that finding accommodation near an event is becoming very difficult, but there is usually a campsite nearby. In fact, many of the larger festivals arrange their own temporary site. We also thought that one would make visiting more distant friends easy and give extra accommodation when all of the family come to stay.
After justifying the decision to ourselves, the first problem was the bewildering array of vehicles available. What’s the difference between a campervan and a motorhome? What do the terms coachbuilt and A-Class mean? We found out.
8990With a campervan a manufacturer has taken a commercial van as the starting point, cut out windows, lined the inside and fitted the kitchen and sleeping units. The initial van is still easily identified when looking at the finished vehicle. In this example of a campervan by Autotrail, the shape of the Fiat Ducato base van is unchanged.
With a ‘coachbuilt motorhome’ the manufacturer buys as the base vehicle the cab, engine, chassis and running gear of a commercial van and then builds M9047.jpg ford coachbuiltonto it a new structure that often includes an overcab bed. In this example Trigano has built a motorhome onto the cab and chassis of a Ford Transit resulting in a vehicle of different shape, but sit in the cab and you’d think you were in a Transit.
With an ‘A-Class motorhome’ the manufacturer buys just the engine, chassis and running gear, but no cab, of a commercial van and builds a complete structure. In this example of topic-515744.jpg A-class a Burstner A-Class it is impossible to tell from the appearance that the base vehicle was a Fiat Ducato. A-Class models are generally reckoned to be the most spacious and luxurious, but they can have some quirky features. We came across one that had no opening doors from the outside to the area with the driver and passenger seats. The only access into, and out of, the vehicle was through what is known as the ‘habitation’ door towards the rear, which really didn’t feel safe.
Incidentally, officially there is no difference between a campervan and a motorhome. Looking on the DVLA site to check on levels of road tax, we found that the terms aren’t recognised. Legally they are neither campervans nor motorhomes, but ‘motor caravans’ and we’ve since met people who painstakingly refer to their vehicle as a motor caravan and their hobby as motor caravanning.
Well, that was a small amount of progress – at least we knew what the ads meant – but we still had to somehow sift through the huge range of models available. We needed a list of priorities. A glance at the price tags attached to these things makes it clear that top of the list had to be the maximum price we were prepared to pay. After that came number of berths, number of seat belts, internal layout and length. As these are essentially motor vehicles then the usual service history, MOT and mileage had to be taken into account.
We considered renting different models for holidays to see how we got on with them, but the models available for hire are less than three years old. As we couldn’t afford to buy one that new we thought that trying out such a model, and then looking at much older models to buy, would make any purchase feel a let-down from the start.
Although there would usually be just the two of us, we decided on a 4-berth model thinking that we’d find the extra space valuable on a long trip. There were also the possibilities of taking our granddaughter on trips, or lending it to our son to use for family holidays.
At this stage we came across something that still strikes us as very peculiar. A large proportion of the motor caravans with three, four or five berths only have two seats fitted with seatbelts – the driver and front passenger seats. In these safety-conscious days it feels unacceptable to design a vehicle that doesn’t have a seatbelt for all of the passengers. Of the various internal layouts only the one with a central dinette (two bench seats and a table) comes with two forward-facing belted seats. As much as the rear lounge layout appealed, it never comes with belted seats at the back.
That was two decisions made: 4-berth with a central dinette layout – and we wanted a minimal amount of work to convert from day use to sleeping layout.
When it came to length we wanted the shortest that met our requirements, partly because we have limited parking space at home, but mainly because of suspected problems on trips. Spaces in public car parks seem to be getting tighter and we thought that anything significantly longer than a large car would prove difficult to park in towns.
4-berth combined with short length meant going for a model with an overcab bed, which is also the design that involves least hassle when preparing beds.
dsc_8691_128.jpeg Compass 100Now we had a pretty good idea of what we thought we wanted. The short models that seemed to crop up most often on dealers’ forecourts were the Compass Avangarde 100 and the Elddis Autoquest 100, which turned out to be made by sister companies and differed only in the badge.
The less money we had to part with the better. What was very striking was the difference between buying from a dealer and buying privately. There were seven suitable models for sale from southwest dealers dating from 2001-2003 ranging in price from £16,500 to £17,995. We found a 2002 Compass for sale privately. It had 24,000 miles on the clock, full service history, 12 months MOT (with all advisories done) and looked to be in sound, clean condition. The service history showed that a new clutch had been fitted, and the gearbox re-built, within the last 2,000 miles. The gearbox felt a bit notchy, but otherwise it drove fine. I know there are risks attached to buying vehicles privately, even more so with a motorhome than a car as there are so many more functioning components – shower, cooker, fridge, loo – but with a saving of around £6,000 I thought it was a chance worth taking. We bought it for £11,500.
I phoned around for insurance quotes and was amazed at how cheap it is to insure a motorhome. Saga quoted just £163 p.a. Although it was a new policy with no existing no claims bonus to utilise, Saga allowed the same full N.C.B. that we have on our car policy.
Insurance arranged, we travelled by train to collect it from West Cornwall.
Next time I’ll describe our early experiences – and why we soon decided that we’d made a mistake.