Thinking about buying a ‘van? There are many things to consider when you’re looking to buy the best motorhome.
All vehicles are very complicated – microcontrollers look after all sorts of stuff – but ’vans have the additional complexity of the habitation side.
There’s more to think about than just the layout and the colour of the soft furnishings. For example, if the MTPLM is over 3500kg, are you licensed to drive it? Does it have a good payload?
Will an A-class cost more to service because of restricted access to the engine bay? And do you have a secure parking place at home, or will you need to find a secure storage site?
Ride quality and other questions
Then, there’s the whole matter of the ownership experience to consider.
I recently received an enquiry about suspension upgrades for an A-class motorhome. It turned out the vehicle was only a few months old, but since taking delivery, the owner had found that the ride quality left a great deal to be desired, with lots of banging and crashing over rough roads.
He even asked: “How do some manufacturers get away with building vehicles that drive so badly?”
Well, it’s like this: you look at lots of motorhomes until you find one that has the layout you like, you choose the pattern for the soft furnishings and place your order, at which point you’re given a provisional delivery date, often three to six months in the future. It is not unusual for this date to move even further into the future – I have heard of people waiting up to nine months to take delivery of their new ’van.
So when the delivery date finally arrives, most people are so excited to get their hands on their dream vehicle, they are looking at everything through rose-tinted glasses.
But a month or so on, and the niggles start to make themselves known – stuff that doesn’t work as you might have expected, door and drawer handles that break much too easily, or perhaps suspension that is just too harsh.
Now, the basic stuff – such as broken door catches – can be dealt with easily, but the bigger problems, such as harsh suspension and paltry payloads, are not as simple to resolve.
The motorhome in this particular case is based on the almost ubiquitous Fiat Ducato, on the light chassis with 15-inch wheels.
A-class motorhome bodies are not lightweight items, especially at the front end, and the big drop-down bed over the cab can easily weigh 150kg or more. That often leads to the front axle being close to, or even exceeding, its design maximum.
If your ’van exceeds its design axle loadings, you would have a good case for rejecting it – but that is going to be a time-consuming and costly exercise, during which period, you can’t use it.
If you were trying to reject it as ‘not fit for purpose’, continuing to use it would mean that you consider it actually is fit for purpose – Catch-22!
The alternative is to pay up for improved suspension and uprated maximum axle and overall weights.
However, the real answer is to do some research before you place your order, take a proper test drive on a variety of road surfaces, and obtain a weighbridge certificate showing actual axle weights, then compare that to the vehicle’s VIN plate data.
If any of these essential details are not right, walk away and start looking at some different motorhomes.
Research the brands before you buy
I’d suggest checking online forums to see what reliability is like for any brand you’re looking at (and take a look at our best motorhome brands guide, of course!). Pay particular attention to things such as water ingress.
Most of the equipment fitted in ’vans comes from a small number of firms, such as Alde, Dometic, Propex, Truma, Thetford, Whale and so on. All are pretty robust, so I wouldn’t get too hung up on which heater or fridge has been installed. It’s more important to research the types of equipment.
Then consider continuing costs, such as servicing and maintenance. On a basic motorhome with a standard cab, there won’t be that much difference between brands. But if you’re looking at larger ’vans, perhaps with tandem rear axles or A-class body design, bear in mind that you have more tyres to replace when due, more wheels that need brakes servicing, and in the case of the A-class, both the above as well as limited access to the engine bay.
Restricted access often means that a service takes longer, so you get a bigger labour bill. Only recently, I had in an A-class based on the Mercedes Sprinter with 3.0-litre V6 engine. Access to the engine bay was among the trickiest I’ve come across.
The bonnet is 600-700mm tall, but when you open it, the radiator and slam panel account for the biggest part; the space to access the engine is barely more than 100mm high – just about enough to get the air filter through!
In fact, I couldn’t even see the fuel filter. The customer told me that the ’van’s last service was carried out by a Mercedes main agent and it took them a long time – those hours cost money!
Looking for more tips and advice to help you with buying a motorhome? Then be sure to head to our Back to Basics – Buying a van category, where you can find plenty of ideas that will help you buy the perfect ‘van for you!
Future Publishing Limited, the publisher of practicalmotorhome.com, provides the information in this article in good faith and makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Individuals carrying out the instructions do so at their own risk and must exercise their independent judgement in determining the appropriateness of the advice to their circumstances. Individuals should take appropriate safety precautions and be aware of the risk of electrocution when dealing with electrical products. To the fullest extent permitted by law, neither Future nor its employees or agents shall have any liability in connection with the use of this information. You should check that any van warranty will not be affected before proceeding with DIY projects.
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