Seen a secondhand ’van that you want to buy from a private owner instead of a motorhome dealer? You’ll need to examine it closely to ensure you’re not buying a dud – or a stolen motorhome.

After you’ve taken your prospective new motorhome for a test drive, you should inspect the vehicle and its habitation area closely. Take a torch and a camera with you and use the torch to check the underneath of the motorhome. It is also useful to have a few snaps to refer to when you’re at home afterwards pondering over your prospective purchase.

 1. Check the exterior

  • Stand at each end of the ’van and check for dents or damage to the sides.
  • Check that the windows haven’t been scratched badly enough to need replacing.
  • Look for DIY modifications that might invalidate any warranty
  • Check that DIY jobs have not resulted in water ingress.
  • Check that all paintwork matches around the doors, wings and bumper.
  • Retouched paint can indicate repair work after a crash.
  • There should be no splits or cracks in tyre walls.
  • The tyre treads should have worn evenly.
  • Use your torch to look at the inside of the tyre walls.
  • Check the motorhome thoroughly for oil leaks.
  • Examine the exhaust and rest of the chassis for rust or corrosion.
  • Have a look at the motorhome’s hydraulic pipes.

 2. Check the interior

  • Take note of the interior smell – any dampness or mustiness should be checked out.
  • Press the ceiling and walls to see if they are spongy anywhere.
  • Look inside lockers and under seats for signs of damp.
  • Check all appliances.
  • Ask for the instruction manuals for appliances (a careful owner will have kept them).
  • Walk slowly across every inch of the floor to feel for any soft areas; this can expose delamination.
  • Ensure that the sealant around the basin and shower is intact.
  • Lie on all the beds to check that they are comfortable and the right size.
  • Make up the non-fixed beds to ensure that you have all the cushions you need.

 3. Is it stolen?

  • Run a data check (see below) to ensure the motorhome isn’t stolen.
  • Ask the vendor for the V5C (log book).
  • Check the V5C against the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), aka the ‘chassis number’. This is the manufacturer’s ID, found stamped on a plate under the bonnet or under the carpet by the driver’s seat. 
  • Look for any identity marks on the windows – the vehicle registration or an ISR (International Security Register) number.
  • You can check the ISR with Retainagroup on 07000 111333, for a small charge.

 4. Seal the deal

  • Check the name of the vendor.
  • Meet at the seller’s home.
  • Ensure the seller has a working knowledge of the motorhome.
  • Confirm that the seller lives there; ask to go inside and see a utility bill.
  • Make sure that address is on the ‘van’s insurance documents.
  • Don’t meet in anonymous lay-bys, car parks or the street.
  • Don’t meet at your house – thieves could come back to steal the vehicle.
  • Do not pay in cash – pay by cheque or a banker’s draft.
  • When the sale has been completed, drive it away with essential documents such as MoT certificates, radio codes, spare keys, and manuals.

 5. Use a pre-purchase vehicle-checking service

  • The AA will carry out pre-purchase vehicle history checks for you. For most vehicles you can ring the AA on 0800 316 3564, but for motorhome-specific vehicle inspections the AA has a special phone number: 0800 056 8040. All the details are also on the AA website
  • HPI Pre-purchase vehicle history checks are an alternative. Ring 0845 300 8905 for a quote or visit the HPI Check website to find out more or get an instant check result to see if a motorhome has been reported as stolen or has outstanding finance on it or has been previously written off.
  • AIM Vehicle Inspections will also carry out motorhome-specific vehicle inspections (up to 3.5 tonnes maximum gross vehicle weight). Ring Aim Vehicle Inspections on 0800 043 4300 or visit the Aim Vehicle Inspections website for details and a quote. 
  • The Mobile Caravan Engineers’ Association has joined forces with The Caravan Club to offer pre-purchase inspections of motorhomes and caravans, concentrating on the habitation area of your potential purchase. The MCE also has an online database of mobile caravan engineers. Ring the MCE on 01249 651 036 or visit the Mobile Caravan Engineers’ Association website for more details.
  • RAC Pre-purchase history checks and base-vehicle inspections are also available and you can ring them on 0800 085 2529 or visit the RAC website to find out more about the data checks and inspections, too.