A long-standing and much-debated issue, caravan or motorhome?
Russell and Geoff – better known to some of you as KontikiKid and Shipbroker – have given the topic some detailed thought.
Here you will find highly practical advice and answers to some key questions, posed by CaravanTalk users, weighing up the pros, cons and differences between caravans and motorhomes.
1) How do I know what size tow car is needed when considering buying a caravan?
Russell: There are certain rules and guidelines regarding the “perfect match” for a towing vehicle and caravan. The Caravan Club and the Camping & Caravanning Club are both able to offer advice on this through their technical departments. Your local dealer may also be able to assist you.
Geoff: 85% is the norm that the major Clubs use as weight of caravan to car……..it is assumed that more experienced motorists can manage higher percentage. It is illegal to tow above 100%.
2) Why should I buy a motorhome when for the price of an average MH I could get a top of the range caravan and luxury car to tow it?
Russell: A lot of your decision will be based on the type of touring you choose to do – so for example, if you want one night here, then move on for a night, then a couple of nights elsewhere, the motorhome may be more practical. If you want to pitch up for a fortnight, the caravan may be more suitable. Also, many people simply do not want to tow a caravan and some prefer the speed of setting up on site associated with a motorhome, no requirement to couple and uncouple and of course, the thought of reversing.
Geoff: Many motorhomers have not been caravaners and only come to the activity in later years.
3) Can I afford it?
We recently recieved this question on the forum –
“As a couple who have been looking at motorhomes after 30 years plus of caravanning, we would like an automatic gearbox but that pushes up the price and unlikely to be found on a dealers forecourt unless secondhand.”
Russell: Personal finances are a matter of personal situation. A motorhome with auto box will cost more when new but these do filter to the used market too. When looking at a motorhome, remember you can use the motorhome on it’s own, but (unless sited on a seasonal pitch) you cannot use the caravan without the tow car!
Geoff: Purchase of any motorhome is going to be expensive compared to a car.
4) What’s the depreciation of a motorhome like compared to a caravan? For the same money how much more space does the caravan have?
Russell: Depreciation varies from model to model and also the market conditions at the time, so this is a difficult thing to forecast.
I did buy my first motorhome brand new and sold it several months later, after three trips with a loss of £500! I really haggled when buying it though, so, as they say “you don’t make money when you sell a house, you make it when you buy”.
A search on dealers websites for used models and compare that to the list price for a new one may give you some perspective, but a glance on Ebay suggests many dealers are selling new motorhomes below list price anyway. Pound for pound on an interior square footage basis, the caravan probably wins hands down, but of course the caravan and the cost of the tow car should probably be added together to balance the equation.
Geoff: One still sees Motorhomes of around 15 to 20 years old which are still in excess of £20,000 so depreciation, after the initial purchase, appears to be pretty small.
5) How much might I pay for a family-sized twin axle caravan? How does this compare to a motorhome with similar sleeping berths etc?
Russell: A twin axle caravan maybe around £18,000 new through to about £25,000 for a higher spec model. A four-berth motorhome will range from about £30,000 to upwards of £70,000.
6) In the biggest ones can you get more people/sleep more people in a motorhome or caravan?
Russell: Some motorhomes are marketed as six berth and have six belted seats for travelling. American RV’s may offer a higher sleeping capacity, as would a 5th wheel type caravan.
Geoff: If you want numbers to sleep in comfort and safety I would go for a caravan myself.
8) Is there any difference in the availability of storage and fees charged if you can’t store at home?
Russell: I have used storage in the past at two locations and “pitches” were sold as standard or large. Large were for twin axle type caravans and longer motorhomes. There were no price differentials between the two types of unit stored, only a difference between standard and larger pitches. It is worth shopping around for storage costs, but in addition to the price, factor in location, ease of access, security, any discounts from your insurer etc.
Geoff: I was involved in storage over 20 years ago and charges were based on size of unit only. Personally, I always felt outside storage of a motorhome was less secure as a 3rd party vehicle was not needed for theft.
9) If my motorhome tows a small car so I can get around my destination but I need a family size car for general use, how do I afford to run three motorized vehicles?
Russell: This is about personal finance to a degree and also the owner’s requirements. I have friends who own a motorhome and a Smart car – the two are often paired up but can be used separately. They use the car for short trips only. An owner who has a long journey to and from work for example may prefer the larger car.
In addition, there are other ways to get out and about without taking a tow car with a motorhome. These may include the use of public transport, cycles or even a hire car. Interestingly the Caravan Club offers a 10% discount on Enterprise rent a car bookings and Enterprise will pick you up at the site!
Geoff: Like all leisure activities personal demands on finance are what calls the tune.
10) Purely due to size, how many residential homes have room to park a car but cannot accommodate a MH?
Russell: Each property is different in terms of amount of space available to store a motorhome or caravan. Note also there may be restrictive covenants in the deeds etc preventing the storage of a caravan or motorhome at home. The same question could of course be asked about storing a caravan at home.
Geoff: Agree, we bought our home with caravan storage space in mind, many can’t.
11) If a MH tows a runabout car what is the advantage over towing a caravan?
Russell: This is due to personal choice. From my own experience, a five tonne motorhome pulling a one tonne car was very stable to drive even in windy weather. As stated above, the motorhome can be used without the car, but the caravan does not have this flexibility.
Geoff: My wish is that every motorhomer had a runabout as it irks me on holiday rallies when you are asked to ‘give the motorhomers’ a lift to functions. Yes we do but some demand it as a right!
12) What is the difference in insurance costs between motorhome and caravan?
Russell: This is a very open ended question but I pay less than three hundred pounds for my insurance whilst others I know with the same type of motorhome pay more, some pay less. A quick call to a broker this morning has suggested the caravan insurance for me would be about £40 less per annum, based on a twin axle Conqueror model.
Geoff: Like House or Car Insurance impossible to predict as domain addresses/postcodes etc often are taken into account.
13) What are the annual maintenance costs for each – chassis service + habitation + MOT vs habitation only?
Russell: A full mechanical service at a main franchised agent is quoted at around £200. The habitation service is quoted at similar figures although for the latter I use a mobile agent and pay a lot less. The MOT on my last motorhome was £45 with no work required! To compare this, the hab service of a caravan, the annual service of the tow car and it’s MOT need to be factored in.
Geoff: Annual service on an average caravan between £100-£200 per annum.
14) How do security requirements compare – motorhome has immobiliser for example.
Russell: Motorhomes often are fitted with an engine immobiliser but an alarm or tracker may also be fitted. High security locks are available for cab or habitation doors.
Geoff: Large discounts are available for caravan owners who fit trackers, hitchlocks, wheelclamps and/or electric alarm systems. If I had all these on mine I could save 35%.
15) What sort of additional security is best for a motorhome and what for a caravan?
Russell: See point (14) above, but also speak to your dealer, local crime prevention officer and insurance company for guidance.
Geoff: as above.
16) Can you use any of the motorhome’s facilities on the move?
Russell: This may vary from model to model, but in my own motorhome, the hot water boiler, central heating and a 12v socket can be used on the move. Friends have a dome satellite dish that allows the TV to be watched whilst in motion. The 12v supply to the loo will not work with the engine running but in an emergency….!
*** Note – use of the gas boiler is dependant upon the type of regulator used***
17) Is the fuel consumption of a motorhome different to a car towing a van?
Russell: Motorhomes are not the most aerodynamic of vehicles and MPG will also depend upon driving style, tyre pressure, head or tail wind etc. However, the heavily loaded Kontiki, weighing in at 5000 kg returns about 25 – 27 mpg. How does this compare to a caravan/car outfit of the same sort of weight, so for example a Range Rover pulling a twin axle?
Geoff: In my own experience a loaded caravan reduces the fuel consumption by at least 10mpg.
18) What is the ‘normal’ lifespan of each?
Russell: Motorhomes generally do a low annual mileage when compared to a car, so well serviced and so on, the motorhome should return many years of pleasure. There are many classic models still on the road. Likewise, some caravans seem to last forever!
Geoff: For the reasons given above I would think there are more 15 year old motorhomes on the road than caravans.
19) If there is a problem in the living space which is the easier to get spares/ get fixed?
Russell: Many components are common to a motorhome or caravan – so for example the Thetford model cooker in my motorhome may also be found in your caravan. Thetford, Dometic, Stoves, Fiamma and others are parts/accessories used by many motorhome and caravan manufacturers.
20) The payload on the caravan is way too small, what is the work around for this?
Russell: We looked at buying a caravan but this item really put us off. We carry about 900kg in the motorhome so….. We are advised however that light weight items such as plastic crockery, lighter weight garden furniture and Calor Lite bottles will help. The tow car can however be packed, but ensuring not to exceed manufacturer’s safe loading figures etc.
Geoff: That is something you look at before you buy the caravan.
21) How complicated is it to reverse a caravan? The motorhome is easy!
Russell: I have never tried it but observed some who make it look easy and others who seem to struggle. I would hazard a guess practice makes perfect. There are training courses available though.
Geoff: Practice with one type of car makes it easy, my current vehicle which has a wide turning circle is poor to reverse, previous four cars just the opposite.
22) We have snow chains on our motorhome for when we travel to ski resorts etc. What’s the procedure with a caravan in these conditions?
Russell: I have only actually seen motorhomes out and about in these conditions.
Geoff: I won’t take a caravan out in snow as the snow would get into the floor lockers via the vent holes…and that is where your bedding is!
23) How easy it is to level the motorhome? Or caravan?
Russell: Motorhome levelling is slightly tricky as you have a wheel at each corner! There are purpose made levelling ramps for this purpose although we use home made ramps salvaged from wood from skips and building sites.
The caravan is easier to level front to back with the help of the jockey wheel. Again ramps are available for “side to side” levelling.
Geoff: Generally agree, however, have had some sites where 7 blocks on one corner and a hole dug on the opposite was the case!……
24) Do m/h’s have/need corner steadies?
Russell: Some motorhomes are fitted with these are standard equipment, whilst on other models these are an optional extra. I had a set on my 2008 Kontiki but chose to remove them…..
25) How do you keep your pitch when you leave site for a day out in the m/h?
Russell: There are pitch markers available with for example the wording “motorhome using this pitch”, or your name or registration number. Some vanners use a fire bucket with their registration plate on. Note – I have seen some motorhomers unplug their van from the electric cable and then leave the cable attached to the hook up post – not a good idea, leaving a live electrical lead on the ground, ready for the heavens to open.
26) Why, on a dead flat pitch, do M.Hs have to drive their front wheels up a ramp?
Russell: Some models of motorhome are slightly “nose down” at the front – my Fiat based Kon-tiki is guilty of this!
27) How easy is it to de-pitch a motorhome compared to a caravan?
Russell: With a motorhome, it is probably a case of unplug and drive off, ensure all goods inside are safely stowed. Equally arrival on site can be as quick – pitch up and kettle on. If the weather is horrendous, you don’t even need to “hook up” – wait until it has stopped raining. This assumes the fresh water tank on board is full etc.
28) M/H’s : Do you have to pack up and drive to the nearest tap when you run out of water or can you fill up from an Aquaroll ?
Russell: This is something that varies from owner to owner. Motorhomes have fresh water tanks on board and these can be filled at home, the storage yard or on arrival on site at dedicated “motorhome service point”.
We use a long hosepipe to connect to the nearest tap at a “quiet time of day” if needed but sometimes use a jerrican to top up. Many motorhomes are fitted with an outside 12v socket so an external pump may be connected to an Aquaroll or similar.
29) M/H’s : Can you use a Wastemaster or do you have to drive to the nearest grey water emptying point when the grey water tank is full ?
Russell: Motorhomes have onboard waste water tanks which can “store” the waste water until leaving the site. The water can then be disposed of at the motorhome service point. However, some will use a Wastemaster, whilst we make use of a large bucket! We also have a 20 litre Fiamma waste tank as we like the squarer shape of this compared to other brands.
30) M/H’s : Is there enough room to store an Aquaroll and Wastemaster ?
Russell: Most motorhomes have an “outside” locker/hatch cover to access under seat areas where these items may be stores. Other models have a garage which offers enough space to carry a moped, so in these models, space for other accessories is plentiful.
31) Is it easier to find a pitch with a motorhome and is there a difference in the charges? Can you wild camp with either?
Russell: Some sites do charge a different price for a motorhome compared to a caravan. This will be clearly displayed on the site tariff, although I have only encountered a few sites with a different charging band.
In terms of “easier” to find a pitch, then I guess it depends when and where you are looking. If you start calling a site on a Good Friday for a three night break…. However, motorhomes can wild camp due to having fresh and waste water on board.
I have arrived at a site in the past without a booking but was happy to pitch on the site car park with a hook up thrown through the reception window due to no other pitches being available. We have even pitched on a coach park before on a large campsite in Italy. Also, we have used our motorhome at weddings etc and stayed overnight at the function, such as the hotel car park.
Geoff: Apart from parts of Scotland, Wild Camping, on common ground, is illegal with either form. In Europe things are getting tighter as well largely because of misuse of facilities by motorhomers. In Almeria the local Government have just banned wild camping totally as so many units have taken over land for ‘warm winters’. It must be recognised that many motorhomers do their trans-Europe tours on ‘the cheap’ and whilst specific aires are available, especially in France, many chose to use public or supermarket carparks for overnights and long periods, rather than commercial sites.
32) Is it more difficult to get off grass with a motorhome so do I need a hardstanding?
Russell: This may be affected by the time of year and weather conditions but it is fair to say, motorhomes do get stuck. The motorhomer may have onboard grippers or snow chains that may assist. Due to the weight of the Kon-tiki, we prefer to pitch only on hard stand or well drained grassy areas. I have been pulled out of a rally field by a tractor before now! That said, we have seen cars and caravans in the same boat too, but on a lesser scale.
Geoff: I have pulled many a Motorhome off and on pitches with my 4×4 but never been pulled onto one by a Motorhome!
33) How do you fill water, empty waste/ toilet on a non serviced pitch?
Russell: On arrival at the campsite, proceed to the motorhome service point (if provided) where fresh water may be obtained and grey/black water disposed. Many motorhomers travel with a full tank of fresh water and indeed this can be good advice. Imagine arriving on site and there is no water due to engineering work/burst mains etc. We have had this twice but had supplies on board. Some years ago, we were stuck in severe weather in Switzerland and so made tea and coffee for other motorists – at two Swiss francs per mug!
Fresh water may also be obtained in a water barrel, jerrican or long hosepipe whilst waste grey water may be bucketed out/Waste master etc.
Chemical/loo waste can be carried to the chemical disposal point.
34) How much is it on a ferry with a motorhome? What about the tunnel?
Russell: Shop around with this! Some ferry operators charge extra for motorhomes over a certain length. The channel tunnel classes a motorhome as a motorhome, irrespective of whether it is a one berth van conversion or a 40 foot RV.
Also, applicable to motorhomers and caravanners, check the ferry route. For example if you are travelling to Belgium or Luxembourg, a crossing into Dunkirk vice Calais will see you “twenty miles further up the road towards your destination”.
To give some figures, we have seen prices as little as £19 one way by sea for a motorhome, albeit off peak and on an evening crossing. There are often deals available on off peak crossing and so this may help with the holiday planning/budget.
Geoff: Shop around and if you are going to any of the Leisure Industry Shows there are often deals on the Cross-Channel routes…rarely on the Irish Sea.
35) How do you get out sight-seeing with a motorhome? What about packing everything away?
Russell: For safety, things should be packed away but you will develop a knack for this. We can be ready to roll in minutes.
It is also possible to pitch up and leave the motorhome on site – many sites are close to bus stops, walking routes and even boats! Cycling, walking and even a hire car might be possible.
Geoff: See my comments in (11).
36) If traveling overnight can somebody sleep in the bed?
Russell: Motorhomes have dedicated travelling seats.
37) Can you use a caravan on an aire in France or a sosta in Italy?
Russell: Aires and sostas are areas provided by the local council for motorhomers to park, take on fresh water, dump grey water and so on. These are often located close to town and city centres.
Overnight parking is often possible and many aires are free of charge. Some even come with electric hook up. Generally speaking, caravans are not allowed to use these aires, but we have seen one in Italy, at Orvieto, that clearly welcomes both types of touring unit.
38) Is it better to buy a Motorhome and tow a small car so that you can get around when camped, or is it better to buy a good car and good caravan and be able to use the good car all the time?
Russell: Personal choice, and it will depend on what else the car will be used for. If you are a high mileage driver, then a “good car” might suit you better than a tow car. The tow car is also known as a “toad” because it is…..”towed”! Also covered a few questions back…
Geoff: Only know from a caravan perspective, but, whatever, it is a financial coin to spin.
39) How much water can you carry in the tanks of each and does it add much weight and affect fuel consumption?
Russell: This will vary according to motorhome type. We have 135 litres of fresh water on board and do not find this affects mpg. If it does, it is ever so slight. A litre of water weighs one kilogram.
40) Can you empty waste water anywhere other than a recognised caravan site?
Russell: Awaiting an email from “Yorkshire Water”
41) Differential in toll costs?
Russell: As an example, Calais to Paris for a car and caravan comes in at 32 Euro, the same as an average motorhome. Motorhomes over a certain size may however be charged a higher tariff, more so for the six wheeler version, based on information from the Autoroutes website.
Geoff: If you plan your route using the Via Michelin site the current costs of tolls is shown.
42) Differential in ferry costs?
Russell: The difficulty is comparing like for like, and so it is worth shopping around, looking for deals and also keeping an eye out for promotions.
43) Differential in height? re Height restrictions.
Russell: Motorhomes are about 3 metres high as a rule and as such, road signs should be obeyed!
Geoff: Supermarket car parks and Ferrys.
44) Can I get a motorhome into a Public Car park when it has a height barrier fitted?
Russell: Usually not possible but some places will open the barrier to let you in – Shrewsbury Oxon park and ride and York park and ride spring to mind.
Geoff: In France many remain fixed to keep out ‘travellers’ and that means that Motorhomes can’t get in either.
45) How much noise is there when traveling on bumpy roads?
Russell: There is an element of road noise in a motorhome when travelling. Careful packing of items such as glassware, crockery and the grill pan will minimise this. The A8 motorway in Belgium is a good place to test this!
46) Can a motor home be parked in a supermarket car park?
Russell: I have never seen signs stating “no” but the issue may arise due to motorhome size. We generally park and straddle four spaces, although park in a quiet area of the car park. We have also used the delivery loading bay before! Check the car park for any restrictions etc.
Geoff: See (44) above.
47) I like to go fishing early morning when on holiday, would a motorhome go down country lanes the same as the car does……..would it wake SWMBO? If it woke her would she still text me when breakfast was ready?
Russell: Not sure waking up SWMBO too early in the morning is a good idea but the real answer depends on the local geography and terrain. Look out for warning/road signs etc.
48) Can you keep a motorhome as nice and toasty in the winter as a caravan?
Russell: Yes, without a doubt. Winter 2010-2011 had temperatures of -17 degrees C, but we maintained a comfortable temperature within the motorhome. Note also as the water tank is likely to be inboard, you are less likely to have a problem with a frozen water supply when compared to a water butt etc. Motorhomes can be fitted with silver coloured external windscreen covers to help with heat retention.
49) Why do motorhomers insist on having TESCO shop & drop deliveries on site. We go away for a quiet weekend and lorries, lorries, lorries all over the park.
Russell: Usually, it’s a date with the driver, or to get the warden’s tea delivered, plus the Clubcard points! Some sites will allow supermarket deliveries, others not so. Check with the site wardens beforehand if you intend to make use of such a service.
Geoff: Many people when on commercial sites do not leave them, that includes some caravanners.
50) Can you insure a car and caravan for full timing around Europe?
Russell: I have looked into this albeit briefly but cannot find a policy. I suggest a chat to a broker for more information. Fulltiming insurance is available for motorhomers.
Geoff: More important, do you have a home in UK and would it be insured? Most only for first 31 days.
51) Can you travel with water in the fresh water tank on a motorhome or caravan?
Russell: Motorhome – yes. This makes comfort and meal stops easier – tap on, kettle on!
Geoff: I don’t have an onboard so never thought about it.
52) Do motorhomes have awnings?
Russell: Many motorhomes have a wind out sun canopy as standard equipment or these can be ordered as an extra. Sides and a front may also be added.
53) Can you transport bikes on a caravan (as opposed to a bike rack on the tow car)?
Russell: This depends on the model of the caravan and it’s construction. Speak to your local dealer for model specific information.
Geoff: Many do push them inside the ‘van along with their spare tables etc.
54) How much can you carry in a motorhome? Is it like a van?
Russell: A motorhome will have a payload, just like a caravan, although invariably the figure is higher. Consult manufacturer’s data for specific information.
55) How efficient is a single fire for Winter Touring ? If I had an Air Blown System can you have it running whilst traveling??
Russell: We had a single fire type heater in our Compass motorhome – if anything it was too hot in the winter! The blown air type can be used whilst the motorhome is in motion providing certain criteria are met – such as the fitting of the “Secumotion” regulator. We have this fitted as standard equipment to our Kontiki. You should consult a dealer for guidance on a particular motorhome model as not all gas systems can be run in this manner. If in doubt – check!
56) How long does it take to put up a caravan awning and what is the price?
Geoff: From £250 to £3000…….and anything from 30 minutes to three hours depending on personal skills and number of people available.
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