Campervan purchase and road trip planning.

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Buying a camper van or motorhome and setting off on an European road trip is a big decision. The following is an abridged version of Chapter 2 from Go Motorhoming and Campervanning and should help with campervan purchase and road trip planning.

What is a motorhome?
Legally a motorhome is a self-contained vehicle. It must contain living accommodation including seats and tables, a bed which may convert from the seats, cooking facilities and storage facilities. In addition, if you wish to use motorhome stopovers you will need a toilet and contained water storage.

Budget: "How much does a motorhome cost?"
Consider both the purchase price and running costs of your campervan. As prices range from £1,000 to over £1,000,000 it is easy to become carried away, and you will probably find you need to spend more than you originally thought. Factor in insurance, servicing and recovery charges, as well as fuel economy. If you find you don't have the budget to buy a campervan, there are several motorhome companies that offer long-term renting options.

Second-Hand Motorhomes
Check the overall condition of the motorhome including: chassis/underneath, engine and mileage. Check the seals and trims on the outside for cracks, sun damage, knocks and scrapes. Inside the motorhome check carpets, cupboards, handles and upholstery, be aware of any personalisation.
You must check for damp as this can be a problem in older motorhomes, but it can usually be cured. Motorhomes suffering damp have a distinctive smell and often suffer from other signs like mildew in cupboards, but an inexpensive damp metre is worth having. Motorhome floors can de-laminate giving a bouncy feeling, but again this can be cured. Wear and tear should be in line with the age of the motorhome. Ensure, by testing, that all gas/electrical parts are working. An older motorhome in excellent condition may be preferable to a younger one in poor condition.

Motorhome Living Accommodation
Compromise is the only word that explains the motorhome living accommodation. Thousands of motorhome layouts have been designed and continue to evolve, but there is no easy way to squeeze a kitchen, bathroom, dining room, lounge and bedrooms into a motorhome, so try not to be too rigid, as none of them will be perfect.

Bathroom - Not all motorhomes have a separate shower or a toilet, those who can rough it will survive without, but in reality this is inadequate. To be considered a 'self-contained motorhome' in Europe you must have a toilet, even if it is a free-standing porta potty. Public toilets vary in availability and cleanliness in Europe, not taking a toilet with you may prove embarrassingly costly!

Bedroom/sleeping - Poor sleep can be a big problem when away in your motorhome. Roughing it for a week can be fun, but after a month you may not be laughing. If you have more people than can sleep in your camper van you will need to use campsites. You are not allowed to use tents at the motorhome stopovers.

Kitchens - Can be cramped so ensure there is enough space to prepare a meal but, as with bathrooms, motorhome kitchens only need to be just big enough.

Legal Stuff You Need to Know
Maximum Vehicle Weight, Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), and Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM) all refer to the legal maximum loaded weight, including all occupants, of a motorhome. Converters of motor caravans can have the vehicle weight re-assigned both up and down. The MTPLM should not be confused with the Gross Train Weight (GTW) a higher figure that specifies the maximum combined weight of the motorhome when towing a trailer

Payload - We cannot stress enough how important it is for you to understand payload. Payload refers to the leftover weight between an empty motorhome (as calculated by manufacturers) and fully loaded to its specified MTPLM. We believe the payload should be sufficient in normal use to prevent you exceeding the MTPLM. Unfortunately, this is not as straightforward as it seems as motorhome manufacturers include or exclude different items into the empty weight that is known as Mass In Running Order (MIRO).

Mass In Running Order (MIRO) - MIRO refers to the entire manufactured weight of a motorhome, the equipment required to operate it and, in the case of motorhomes, the 'essential habitation equipment'. Currently each manufacturer interprets the regulations differently. Therefore motorhomes bought before harmonization in July 2011, and those bought subsequently second-hand, may have different MIRO and payload calculations.

Axle Weights - Axle weights may total more than the maximum vehicle weight (MTPLM) as this allows for load variation. Motorhomes with 60% overhang or longer increase the risk of exceeding rear axle weights. The most likely thing to cause an overloaded rear axle is 2/300kg of equipment, such as a scooter and rack, hanging off the back of a motorhome. Axles are always numbered from front to rear 1-2 and 3 when a tag axle is present.

Driving Restrictions - If you passed your driving test after 1997 or are over 70 years old you must check your driving licence as you will probably be limited to a motorhome of a maximum Gross Vehicle Weight of 3.5 tons.

Where to StayWhere you choose to stay has a great impact on your holidays. A motorhome is an excellent tool as it allows you to get out in the wild, off the tourist routes. Suddenly you are not dependent on tour operators, train and bus timetables, or hotels, there is simply the freedom of the open road.

Campsites - There are over 30,000 European campsites to choose from, in other words there are enough campsites to sleep in a different one every night for the next 82 years! There are campsites to suit every budget and taste.

Campsites vary widely. Some are in the most amazing locations -- Camping Michael Angelo in Florence has one of the best views of the city, and in Hungary campsites can even have their own thermal spas. Large commercial campsites can have swimming pools, fitness centres, bars and restaurants with plenty of organised activities. At the opposite end of the scale there are thousands of small farm camping sites, very similar to CL's in the UK. Whether you want a beach holiday, mountain retreat, city break or even a spa holiday, there is a campsite to suit everyone.

Campsite guides vary widely too. Caravan Europe guides produced by the Caravan and Motorhome Club consist of entries submitted by its readers, whilst Alan Rogers produce a guide listing the largest campsites which are inspected by the Alan Rogers team of inspectors. ACSI produce two guides to European campsites which are annually inspected by the ACSI inspectors. One of the ACSI campsite guides is the very popular Camping Card ACSI, which details campsites which offer Camping Card holders a reduced rate in low season. There are even campsite guides based on specialist subjects, for example Sea View Camping Scotland, Sea View Camping The West Country and Sea View Camping Wales which just feature campsites with a sea view.

Spain is Europe's most popular winter destination for both caravanners and motorhomers. This is mainly due to it being the warmest place to spend the winter. There are plenty of campsites open all year, those in the north tend to be around Barcelona, but there are plenty in Southern Spain. These campsites cater well for the long stay winter visitor. If you want to been even warmer, Morocco has 100 campsites open all year, all detailed in Camping Morocco.

Motorhome Stopovers - There is no need to limit yourself to campsites as there are over 6,000 motorhome stopovers called  Aires de Service in France, Stellplatze in Germany, Aree de Sosta in Italy and Area para Autocaravanas in Spain and Portugal. All these terms refer to the same thing -- special places where motorhomes can stop for a few nights and dump and replenish water tanks, often for free. Motorhome Aires, as they are commonly called by British motorhomers, are a brilliant resource, often in fantastic locations, and only available to motorhomes and camper vans.

Motorhome Aires vary from parking areas in municipal car parks to gardens, farms, and sometimes even inside campsites. In France the scheme France Passion has over 2000 participating farms and vineyards offering motorhomers the opportunity to say overnight and some very enjoyable experiences can be had sampling local produce. A similar scheme also exists in Spain (Espana Discovery).

In the UK we predominantly use Calor Gas in our campervans. Wherever you are in the country you are never very far from a Calor Gas supplier, often the local petrol station, and they are also likely to have both large and small bottles. If you intend to take your motorhome across the channel, you need to be aware that exchanging or refilling Calor Gas bottles is not possible because every country has its own gas supplier and bottles. The only gas available Europe-wide is Campingaz, but unfortunately these bottles are so small they are only viable for the smallest campervans.

When choosing a motorhome you intend to use abroad, don't overlook the gas locker and bottle size. Consider how you will use your gas, especially if you intend to use the oven, heater and shower regularly and calculate how much you will need. From this calculation you can work out how much gas you will need to take with you and will ensure your foreign foray is remembered for all the right reasons.

Bon Voyage
This page has only scratched the surface on everything you need to know about motorhoming in Europe. For more detailed information the Go Motorhoming and Campervanning guidebook is invaluable. We hope you find the right campervan and have a fantasic journey!