If you're shopping for a new 'van and plan to look at motorhomes for sale at a show, Sonia and Nigel Wignall share their top tips to help you get it right

A motorhome show can be a great place to go if you're looking for motorcaravans or campervans for sale. Having many new 'vans in one place allows you to compare and contrast with ease, helping you find the motorhome of your dreams. But what if the choice is just too much and too bewildering?

Have no fear. We've not long returned from a German show where we bought our next 'van and have lots of great advice to help you do the same. As well as being long term motorcaravanners, we run our own motorhome hire business in north Wales and Cheshire, so have a lot of 'van and touring experience. We will shortly be the proud owners of a new motorhome, a La Strada Regent S 4x4, that will replace the Carthago Chic A-class we sold last year. And, as we've said, we bought the La Strada at a show, the recent CMT show in Stuttgart

We were hunting for motorhomes for sale and we didn’t even know there was a travel and leisure show in Stuttgart, until our search for a new ’van brought us in contact with La Strada, the German panel van manufacturer who recommended it to us. Every January, German manufacturers descend en masse on Stuttgart for the CMT show. This year, a record 241,000 visitors came through the doors to view products and services from over 2000 exhibitors, making it the world’s largest travel and leisure trade show! 

Having sold our Carthago Chic last year, we wanted to downsize to a panel van conversion for easier access to those out-of-the-way places and added adventure opportunities. Having seen and done so much over the past 20 years touring the UK and Europe, it was time to move on to a ’van that would give us a bit more flexibility – it seemed the perfect time to find a new toy, especially now that our sons have grown up! 

Our Carthago had several qualities that we’d come to love, however, and we didn’t want to compromise too much when buying the new ’van. So after a two-year search, we narrowed the options down to three German manufacturers, all exhibiting their vehicles at the CMT – exciting but daunting at the same time! 

Having just found our dream motorhome, we’d like to share 10 top tips for buying a ’van at a motorhome show: 

1. Do your homework beforehand

Find out what’s out there, who sells it and what’s included. There can be so many combinations of base vehicle alone, so know what’s available and what suits you best. Remember that lead times can be months ahead of your order. 

2. Contact manufacturers and dealers

Before you go, contact motorhome manufacturers and dealers for all their brochures, extras lists and specifications, read them and take them with you, writing notes on everything and jotting down questions to ask. Find out what’s standard and what options are available and get an idea of prices. If you already have a ’van, make notes of what you can’t do without and stick to it as much as possible! 

3. Got a manufacturer in mind?

If so, contact them to find out if they are actually exhibiting at the show, ask what models they’ll take and which location they’ll be in. Not all manufacturers exhibit at all shows, so don’t have a wasted journey! Make contact with dealers and get some prices on a few models that you think may suit, and use this information for comparison during show week. 

4. Go prepared!

Buy tickets in advance to avoid queuing, allow a few days where possible and avoid busy weekends. You think you’ll have lots of spare time at the show but you probably won’t – it’s exhausting stuff, so take regular breaks to refresh the mind and start looking again. Stay overnight close by, so it’s less stressful and allows you prompt entry at the start of the show. 

5. Sensibly eliminate 'vans and don’t backtrack!

You’ve hopefully got some sort of shortlist already, so try to get this down to three motorhomes for sale at the show, and visit each model over and over. Don’t be afraid to spend hours on one stand. Go in and out of each 'van looking at everything in great detail and imagine yourselves spending long trips away in it. Is a given model right for you? 

6. Have a break

If it all gets too much, take a break, refresh and go back again! Many dealers will offer you refreshments on the stand – take them up on their offer and use the comfortable surroundings to make more notes, read over old ones and ask questions! Don’t feel as if you’re a nuisance. You have lots of hard-earned cash to spend and you need to be looked after! 

7. Ask questions

There may be several dealers selling the model you may want, so go to each one and ask the same questions. You may get different answers – you’ll be surprised! Get a price from each one to show you’re a genuine prospect but don’t commit to anything – no matter how hard they push – until you know you're ready and it’s the best deal for you. 

8. Extra special?

If dealers are offering free extras, make sure they benefit you: don’t be tempted by freebies that you may not want or use. Would a cash discount be more beneficial? If you have a part-exchange to make, ask for the price of the new ’van to change – after all, that’s the price that matters. 

9. Location, location, location

Dealers are widespread, so bear this in mind when buying. Are you happy to travel to pick up the ’van and go back if there are issues after you’ve taken delivery, and for regular servicing? 

10. Don't panic!

If at the end of your time at the show you still can’t decide, then don’t panic buy. Go away, think over everything and go to the next show to do it all again if necessary. Sometimes you need several attempts to know you’re making the right choice. You certainly don’t want a costly mistake. 

The show itself ran from 17 to 25 January and for us, after having been to the impressive Düsseldorf show a couple of times, we naively thought this Stuttgart show would be something of a disappointment in comparison. Well, how wrong we were! 

Arriving at Stuttgart airport, a very convenient five-minute walk led us from the terminal building to the Stuttgart Messe. A line-up of impressive 2015 models was displayed majestically on the exterior forecourt of the exhibition centre, leading the way to a massive nine halls. 

Realising that this was obviously a very well organised, highly respected and popular event in the German calendar, we couldn’t wait to get browsing. The only problem was that it seemed like the rest of Germany was doing the same thing. Arriving on a Saturday, the crowds were piling in and we were beginning to wonder if we’d see anything at all. It was a wise decision to have booked four days at the show just to get round everything! 

The halls were filled with everything you could possibly want to know. It was a motorcaravanner’s dream! It was also great to have sections that weren’t just displays of motorhomes. An incredible four halls housed travel and touring destinations filled with so many amazing and unusual ideas that we just wanted to see and do everything on offer! Worldwide from Canada to New Zealand, Norway to Croatia, Africa to South America it seemed that every country in the world had a stand, with endless opportunities for overseas motorhome hire, touring with your own in a convoy, safari jeep camps – in all, fabulous choices of different, exciting travel ideas with displays to match! 

Our close European neighbours didn’t escape our attention either, with Ireland having a brilliant display complete with Irish pub and fantastic touring suggestions. It was also reassuring to see Visit Britain there, hopefully pulling in some European tourists to the UK. It was great to see such enthusiasm from all involved, no shortage of national costumes, country emblems, traditions, well-known local customs and plenty of local food and delicacies available to taste – all very tempting! 

For us it was a great opportunity to check out the German and Austrian stands. Wanting to do more travel in these regions, we were able to get a good feel for some areas to explore in our new ’van.

There was also no shortage of entertainment. Musical interludes were on offer in a theatre type set up for those ready for a break from walking the long corridors from hall to hall. A lively Caribbean dance troupe took to the stage for some really energetic colourful entertainment along with singing and instrumental overtones for variety! 

All the big name and lesser known manufacturers seemed to have motorhomes on display here: Hymer, Niesmann + Bischoff, Bi-Mobil, Dethleffs, Pössl, Globecar, Westfalia, Carthago, Knaus – the list could go on and on! Everything from the smallest van conversions to big beasts such as overland off-road trucks. We couldn’t really tell the difference between the incredible Düsseldorf show and what we were seeing at Stuttgart, as both seemed equally impressive to us. 

Motorcaravan and camping accessories weren’t in short supply either, with two halls full of goodies, selling everything for the outdoors enthusiast from the motorhome world. 

Back to business, we headed to Hall 5 for the panel van conversions and to choose a new ’van – the whole reason for our visit and the perfect opportunity to actually see all the ’vans under one roof. We’d already been in contact a fair bit beforehand with Elite Motorhomes in Banbury (dealers for La Strada), although they didn’t actually have any in stock for us to see at their base. The other two manufacturers on our list would mean importing them ourselves, a slightly daunting prospect, but possibly worthwhile to get the right ’van for us. 

It made perfect sense to take a few days out and take our time studying each model, with such a big investment and important decision ahead for our new holiday home on wheels! It was a good job we had four full days at the show as it turned out that we needed every minute. With so much to see and delve into, it was an exhausting procedure! 

We finally made our decision, though, eliminating two of the three manufacturers fairly quickly. Then with the greatly appreciated assistance of Marco and Beryl, our English-speaking contacts on the excellent La Strada stand, coupled with lots of calls and emails to the UK dealer, we placed our order with a very patient Peter from Elite Motorhomes at Banbury. Our La Strada Regent S 4x4 is a bit out of the ordinary, but hopefully built to last on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter base.

There should be some great adventures ahead, but unfortunately not until July. It’s going to be a long wait but should be worth every minute!

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