Buying a used motorhome from a dealer is not the only way to get into motorcaravanning for less. As with cars, there are specialist motorhome auctions where you can hunt for a bargain. 

But the auction house can be an intimidating place and the buying process an unfamiliar one. To help make sure you’re well prepared, so you can buy with confidence and take home a great ‘van, be sure to follow our five top tips.

1. Visit a few auctions

Go to several motorhome auctions just to have a look, before buying at one, so that you know the ropes and have a good idea of current prices. There are motorhome auctions at Silverstone Auctions, BCA 
(British Car Auctions) and Manheim Remarketing. Also 
check independent local car auctions, which may have a few campervans for sale.

2. Draw up a shortlist

Once at an auction, you may be tempted by ’vans that aren’t on your shortlist. Keep your ‘must-have’ list (such as number of belted seats and berths) separate from your ‘would-be-nice’ list (such as a fixed bed or a Transit base) to avoid buying an unsuitable ‘bargain’.

3. Inspect the goods

All ’vans are sold as seen, so if you’re not mechanically minded, take someone with you who is. Inspect the engine bay, look underneath, start the engine, listen for rattles and look for puffs of unburnt fuel. Also, check for signs of water ingress in the ’van body, inside lockers and around windows and rooflights. Walk the interior, feeling for sponginess and sniffing for any damp, mouldy smells.

We have plenty more advice on buying used motorhomes and what to look out for when you do your own pre-purchase inspections

4. Check the financials

Find out in advance whether you have to pay in cash or otherwise, and if there’s a ‘buyer’s premium’: a percentage figure over and above the hammer price. Check if there’s a guarantee that the ’van isn’t stolen or subject to outstanding finance repayments, or hasn’t been repaired after a serious accident. If this isn’t offered, it’s easy and cheap to get an HPI check online by just typing in the vehicle registration number.

5. How to bid

Hold up your catalogue to catch the auctioneer’s eye for your first bid; after this, you’ll usually just need to nod. Remember, it’s
 a case of ‘buyer beware’ at an auction – there’s no wiggle room for complaint. But if you know what you’re doing, you could save big money by buying your motorhome at an auction.

Check the latest stock list online

To get an idea of the quality of stock currently available at auction, we checked BCA’s stock list. At the time of writing, the next auction in Glasgow had an attractive-looking Bailey Approach with just over 3500 miles on the clock. In BCA Nottingham there was an Auto-Trail Apache with 64,000 miles on the clock and an Auto-Trail Arapaho that has travelled 40,000 miles. It’s a good indication that some terrific motorhomes do get sold at auction. It’s anyone’s guess how much these beauties would be likely to go for when the hammer came down!

To find out more about the experience of attending a motorhome auction, let’s look back at the day Practical Motorhome sent regular columnist Gentleman Jack off to a motorhome auction. Here’s how he got on.

Jack recalls a day at the auction

Silverstone – just the name is evocative in the motor transport world. Add the renowned Silverstone Auctions, Jonathan Humbert as guest auctioneer and more than 30 well-presented motorcaravans with guide prices ranging from £3000-£5000 at entry level to a huge RV at £47,000-£52,000, and the profile rises even more.

Silverstone Auctions is well known for its classic-car auctions – and now it holds motorhome sales. The motorhome auction I went to was the first one, held back in 2013 and open to all, and Paul Sadler did a great job of making sure that there was a good variety of immaculately presented vehicles, with nearly all undercover in The Silverstone Wing building. 

The motorhomes had been on show for a week prior to the auction so there was plenty of time to give them a thorough inspection before bidding got underway at 12 noon on the Sunday. It was a ‘walking auction’, meaning that the bidding itself took place in front of each ’van being sold.

Despite only a modest number in attendance, bidding was brisk: commission bids had already been received and telephone bids were taken as the auction progressed. A well-produced catalogue included colour photos and all salient details. Bidders had to register just prior to the sale and, of course, winning bidders had to pay 
a buyer’s premium of 6% plus VAT above the hammer price.

The catalogue’s guide prices revealed that the most popular price point was from £20,000–£30,000 per ’van. These prices were never exceeded and were usually around 8% over-optimistic. Only seven motorhomes remained unsold by the end, though: a great result for Silverstone Auctions’ first foray into selling motorcaravans – more motorhome auctions have been held since.

The sale offered a good alternative to the traditional routes of buying privately or from retail dealerships. My considered judgement is that big savings can be made, but you should remember that it is the ‘cost-to-change’ that is important rather than just the purchase price of any new-to-you ’van.

Here’s a look at some of our star picks from that show, to give you an idea as to what kinds of ‘vans you could expect to see.

Value-for-money choice

Our value-for-money choice from the ‘vans on offer at that 2013 Silverstone Auctions sale was a gorgeous R-reg Auto-Sleeper Duetto with power-assisted steering, some service history and many useful accessories. There was not one blemish on the body (it’s a third-generation Transit, so it must have been refinished) and only 54,000 miles covered. The guide price was £10,500-£12,000. It was the first to go under the hammer and bidding was brisk. It went to a trade bidder for £10,000.

Mid-range marvel

A 2006 Auto-Trail Frontier Mohican SE on the sought-after and quite rare Mercedes-Benz Sprinter was our mid-range marvel of choice at that sale. And there’s more: it was a torque-converter automatic, not a controversial ‘Sprintshift’. With top tackle, low miles and immaculate order, its guide price was £29,000-£32,000. Several interested private buyers were in the room, but 
in the end it went to a phone bidder for £27,800.

Rolling-palace pick

Our rolling-palace pick was a 2009 Swift Kon-Tiki 649, barely 
run-in with only 5500 miles on the clock. It was fully loaded, with a three-litre lump, plus cab air-con. The guide price was £40,000-£45,000. Bidding was reluctant to start, then perked up, but finally petered out at £35,500. It was officially unsold, but I’m reliably informed that £37,000 would have bought it. Thus there may be some wiggle room if the vendor and highest bidder are both willing to compromise, as the offer is only 4% light.

Bancroft’s biggest bargain

There was a spacious and practical 2004 (54) six-berth McLouis Glen, which boasted a 2.8JTD engine and had obviously been well looked after or hardly used. 
It was like new, and had only covered 24,000 miles in nine years! A young family ‘stole’ it for just £13,850. We 
hope they’ve been enjoying many happy holidays ever since.

Over to you – auction, private sale, dealer or show?

If you’re after a brand new motorhome, we’d recommend reading our latest motorhome reviews, watching our video reviews and visiting a motorhome show so that you can see plenty of ‘vans all in one place, making it easy to compare and work out what you want.

Whether you want to buy an old campervan or a dazzling new motorhome, there’s a lot to consider. To make it easy, we’ve come up with just 12 steps to your perfect ‘van. Or maybe you’d like some inspiration from a couple that bought a £3000 ‘van on eBay? Either way – good luck!