Buying a pre-owned motorhome can present you with a great way of saving money, but it also exposes you to the activities of unscrupulous sellers and scammers, especially if you buy from a private vendor.
A few years ago, I spent a lot of time dreaming of car purchases, scanning the trade magazines for my perfect motor. I soon became adept at spotting the scams. It wasn’t rocket science – they were simply too good to be true, with a bargain price, always a tale of woe, and often based abroad.
The vendor usually had a very English name, too: Amelia or Caroline, say, and a surprising number were doctors. All contact was by email: “Send the money,” they’d write, ‘then we’ll deliver the car’. All in strangely flawed English!
More recently, I saw a motorhome advert along the same lines – a choice used model at an extremely low price. The story? An acrimonious divorce, an aggrieved wife wreaking revenge by flogging her ex’s pride and joy. And, oh, the ‘van was in Holland.
Well, what a stroke of luck, I was visiting that town next week – could I pop by and pick it up, and pay cash on delivery?
Of course I couldn’t. The vehicle didn’t exist, except in pictures, and when I dropped the woman’s profile photo into Google images, it turned out she was a model from a Brazilian toothpaste advert.
Beware the scammers
It’s not just scams that are a danger to private buyers: motorhomes can have undiscovered or undisclosed problems that could cost a packet to fix.
But if you follow our tips for buying used, you should be able to find an absolute peach at a bargain price – and if you’re looking for some ‘van inspiration, our best used motorhome round-up could be a great place to start.
Don’t forget to take a look at our guides to the interior checks that you should carry out when looking at a pre-owned motorhome too, as we talk you through the numerous aspects to keep your eyes peeled for.
Typically, a used motorhome can be bought from a major dealership with full facilities, a smaller dealership, or a private individual via a small ad or a portal such as eBay or Gumtree. If you are buying from a dealership, aim to pay for all of your purchase, or even just a deposit, on a credit card. This ensures that your entire outlay will be covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act (between £10 and £30,000). Different legislation offers protection above this amount.
Large dealerships have reputations to protect, so buying from one is seen as being a pretty safe bet. Also, check our Owner Satisfaction Awards to find one that’s impressed other readers. Dealers can help if something goes wrong in future; if you buy privately, you’ll have little comeback if there’s a post-purchase problem.
However you decide to buy, do your research – get a rough idea of how much you should expect to pay for the ‘van that you want, from online sites such as AutoTrader.
Private sellers can sometimes throw in lots of extras with the sale, but with dealers, you might have to negotiate. One crucial thing to remember is that if there’s anything you’re not happy with, you can walk away.
Think carefully about the layout of any motorhome you might be considering. Is it going to fulfil your requirements? Sounds obvious, but getting basic decisions such as these wrong can prove very costly. You can find out more about the different types on offer by reading our guide to motorhome layouts.
If buying privately, meet the vendor at their home when you view the motorhome.
Once you’ve decided on a motorhome to look at, and organised the viewing, print out a screen grab to take with you so that you can double check the ‘van you’re viewing is the same year as stated in the advertisement, and that the bodywork is in the same condition as the photograph.
Our online forum offers useful advice and in-depth detail about problems to look out for.
Make sure that you view the motorhome in daylight and when it’s not raining. Give the exterior a good once-over, looking for any evidence of problems such as dents, cracks, scratches, filler and mismatched paintwork.
It’s not ideal, but if you’re operating on a tight budget and don’t want to pay for an independent expert to check your prospective purchase, do make sure you give the motorhome a thorough inspection yourself.
This once-over should include all of the electrics (plugged into the mains and on leisure battery).
Ask the vendor to chill the fridge before you arrive. Likewise, request that the space and water heating system is on when you get there (especially with Alde heating, which takes longer to warm up). You will soon know if everything’s working as it should be.
Check tyre wear, all exterior lights and any spare wheel.
Then step inside your prospective buy to scrutinise taps, shower, toilet flush mechanisms, and the hob, oven and grill.
The paperwork is also very important – be sure to inspect the most recent service and MOT documents to check for any advisories.
Be sure to give the windows a close inspection – are any of them misted up or scratched?
Remember, any ‘van that’s been used for one two-week holiday once a year, rather than five UK tours and a trip to Spain, will have experienced much less wear and tear, but might have suffered from spending long periods kept immobile in storage.
Before parting with any cash, you should get an HPI check on the vehicle. This uses the registration number to allow you to get up-to-date information on whether the vehicle is an insurance write-off, has had any numberplate changes, has any outstanding finance on it, and much more. It’s worth paying for the most comprehensive check possible; for more details, see https://hpicheck.com.
Check all of the ‘van’s ownership and service documentation. Has it been regularly, properly serviced? Has the servicing been carried out by a reputable technician? Ask about who has done the servicing when you call the seller, then check the service firm out online.
Examine the age of the tyres. You’ll find this vital information displayed on the tyre wall.
It comprises two numbers – say 37 15 – which denotes that the tyre was made in week 37 of 2015.
In this case, the ‘van’s tyres – however much tread depth remains – should be replaced some time in the next few months, because they will be five years old in the 37th week of 2020.
Check the motorhome’s condition matches its declared age and usage.
Inspect the floor to check for delamination. You should be able to feel quite clearly if the outer veneer of the plywood floor has bubbled up. Take a look inside cupboards and under beds and sofas, too.
Damp is the hidden motorhome killer. Does the ‘van smell damp when you enter? Heavily fragranced interiors might be hiding something. Look for any signs in corners, including those under the beds and in lockers. Also, check back through the paperwork for any notes about damp that has previously been picked up by a professional tester.
Always take a proper test drive to get a feel for the cab controls and an insight into how the vehicle runs. If you want an idea about what to look out for, we talk you through taking a ‘van for a test drive.
Check out the roof of the motorhome for signs of damage, and likewise, make sure that you also look underneath for any potential problems with the chassis and the floor.
Do all of the ‘van’s accessories work? This could include things such as auto-levelling, air conditioning, alarm, tracker and satellite dish.
How old is the ‘van’s leisure battery and is it a reputable brand? Is the gas bottle included in the sale?
Are remote controls supplied and, if so, are they working properly?
Are all of the keys available, and do they function correctly?
Triple check that you have the correct driving licence for the vehicle that you’re planning to buy.
Use any problems you find, along with the associated repair costs, to negotiate on the price. Take a pen and paper with you to make notes, and factor in the time and travel that the repairs will incur, as well as any lost touring time.
Always remember the golden rule. If a deal looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is! And never get involved in sales with motorhomes which are ‘abroad at the moment’ – it’s very likely to be a scam.
Buying a used motorhome is a great way to save money, and there are some brilliant bargains, if you take your time and you’re prepared to walk away.
Apply our advice and your purchase should be as safe as any can be. The price of buying from a private vendor should reflect the fact that you have little or no comeback – we’d say a minimum of 15-20% less than a large dealership price. Buying your next ‘van from a keen motorcaravanner, who feels their beloved vehicle is worth more than a dealer will offer, can be a good way to get a bargain – but you do need to take care.
Looking for more tips and advice to help you buy the right motorhome for you? 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!
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If you don't want to pay for an independent expert to check out your prospective purchase, give the motorhome a really thorough inspection yourself