Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thinking about a Motorhome

We have been thinking about Motorhome or Caravan or some similar vehicle ownership for some time.  And so here is a post to help other people who might also be considering this move too.

Usage Cases

It's difficult.  But I'd say that if you only intend to use this motorhome for say 2, week long holidays per year then you are wasting your time!

The hassle in ownership factors mean that you need to use this home from home many times per year to justify everything.

Our usage case  is initially to use a Motorhome for trips to the Swiss mountains where we can use it to sleep in the night before a mountain race or hike, or a cycling competition.

And when time allows we will start to use it for 3 day to week to month long vacations.  Watch this space!

Type of Motorhome
I would simplify the European experience into 3 types:

01 VW Camper

e.g VW California

+ Super compact length (< 5m)
+ Super Compact height (< 2 m) 
- Only liveable in for short periods or days not weeks 
+ Need to raise pop top to stand inside
- Kitchen facilities meagre 
- No toilet or shower
- We would not recommend using this for more than 2 people!
+ DSG and 4WDrive are available
-- Really expensive compared with coachbuild motorhomes.

02 Van Conversion

Normally this means taking a Fiat Ducato van and turning it into a Motorhome.  Other van bases e.g. Ford and Citroen are available but rare.

e.g. Westfalia Columbus 601 D

+ Compact width, 2.0 metres
- Height is usually about 2.6 m

- Again best use case for 2 people
+ Usually combined shower and toilet bathroom space
+ May be possible to include a bicycle in rear store (Westfalia Columbus) or certainly hanging outside on a rear bicycle rack
+ More manoeuvrable than any Coachbuild

03A Coachbuild 

This is a Fiat Ducato chassis base (usually) onto which a plastic "coachbuilt" bodyshell is placed.

Example: Dethleffs T8

We made a lot of searching and found for us that the T8 the best of all because of the features like:

+ Length at 6.7 metres 
+ Includes a separate shower and toilet
+ Height is an astonishing 2.62 metres low
+ Garage to store 2 bicycles and some gubbins
+ Based on Fiat Ducato so good dealer network in Europe
+ Upto 180 BHP engines available.
+ Winterisation Possible
+ Available with Truma 6 gas and electric heating
+ 100 litre freshwater tank, cassette toilet

03B Integrated Coachbuild

Example: Dethleffs I8

+ All the features of a Coachbuilt
- But normally a lot more expensive  (I8 is over 10K CHF on top of the T8 identical chassis vehicle)
+ Still built on the Ducato but the cab too is replaced and so only the Ducato base frame and engine are utilised.
+ You get another double bed (drop down at front) that many people dont want!
+ Superior passenger comfort and front visibility to a regular Coachbuild

Coachbuild rules
A regular or Integrated Coachbuild motorhome will have a larger and more comfortable living space than a Van or VW camper.

Also, VW/  Van conversions usually smaller Gas cylinder capacity and smaller fresh water and waste water tanks.

Combine this with the smaller or non existent shower and toilets; and your realise that the VW Camper is certainly a highly manoeuvrable vehicle but targetting the user with a requirement for predominantly short breaks.

The Panel Van conversion is better for longer trips with an integrated toilet and shower area.  However the Coachbuild is really on a different level.  

So think about your main use case and this may enable you to find the best category of vehicle for your needs.

And also ....

Parking at Home
You ideally need this because it will make loading up and unloading much more convenient and also faster.  Plus if you have forgotten anything you don't have to head home to pick it up.  So if not at home you should find a parking spot that is less than 30 minutes drive away.

Parking at home is also complicated by the fact that unless you have a VW camper your vehicle is going to be at least 2.6m tall and will not fit in underground carparks or in the majority of household garages.

Depending on your territory this could be expensive. Check before-hand.

In Switzerland we are lucky because you can insure multiple vehicles for the cost of the most expensive plus a small administration fee on each, so long as you promise to only drive one at any time  (you only get one set of plates).

Contents Insurance is more troubling
- Your household insurance may not cover home contents in a motor home, or have ludicrous low restrictions on single items e.g. computer or camera 500GBP .

Combine this with the fact that mickey mouse can get into most motorhomes, either via the garage or via a roof opening and you have some issues.  Check your motor insurance and house insurance policies.

Spending the night free in a quiet country lane is often a pipe dream, it depends on your environment

- Unassuming Van conversions and VW campers are more tolerated than large white Integrated or Coachbuilt motorhomes
- France is a country with a nationwide setup of free of low cost (<10 euro) aires.  So you don't need to boondock.
- Many countries have strict rules forbidding parking overnight in any city area or in country areas, backed up with signs and penalties.  Check your country first!

A Garage
As paranoid androids we wanted a home with integrated bicycle storage.  In other words we did not fancy hanging our bicycles on the back of the motorhome because

- they are exposed to the elements 
- they lengthen the van
- Our road bicycles are expensive and custom made (difficult to replace) so we don't want them visible and advertising to be stolen

For us then this ruled out a VW Camper and the only Van conversion that came anywhere close was a Westfalia Columbus, but even that has room for 1 bicycle without front wheel inside and maybe just maybe 2.

The Width
In Europe more critical than length is Motorhome width.  A Van conversion will be 2 metres wide, but a traditional Coachbuilt motorhome is 2.3 or even 2.35 m wide.

By comparison a Ford Focus is 1.82m wide.

We previously hired both a van and a 2.35m coachbuild.  Up mountain passes or in town centres the Van was easy to drive.  

Driving a coachbuild around town, and on country roads, especially with on roads with a hard stone wall on the passenger side there are few more fearful driving experience than meeting another vehicle coming in the opposite direction at speed.  Imagine if it is another motorhome or Lorry.   You will not fit and reversing is going to be involved.

The Height
It is probably about the second time in our lives  (the first being Aircraft seats) when being small is an advantage.  So we can say /after a lifetime of disadvantage and discrimination/ ... at least we gain an advantage in a Motorhome.

Moaning aside, the higher the Motorhome the less stable it is, round any corner, or in a crosswind.   Basically you need to choose a vehicle which you can stand up inside.

- VW camper, with the roof up obviously, check it out!
- For Van Conversions or Coachbuilds motorhome heights start at about 2.6 metres and go to about 3.0 metres. 
- Make sure your motorhome enables you to stand up comfortably inside 

Case:  We made detailed research and found that as short people the Dethleffs T8 was an ideal low size for us.  But if we had been 2 metres tall then this would definitely too small.

Size / Manoeverability

Apart from driving on narrow roads ...

If the length of the body extends a long way past the rear axle you need to watch as the end will swing out to the road or pavement sides as you turn.

Also the mirrors on a Motorhome stick out by at least 20cm on each side and can hit pedestrians or other cars unless you are careful.

Coachbuilds are not available in anything but white, or white plus some small areas in another colour.

As such Coachbuilt motorhomes stand out and this means that they are result of /please get lost/ comments.  One example, we parked our white hired Coachbuilt at the Race to the Stones 100Km+ race.  Neighbours at least 50 metres away complained!  Race organisers asked us to move.

If your vehicle is inconspicuous, and this means non white coloured and therefore a van or VW camper, you will not be subject to anything like this prejudice.

Hiring or Buying
We would certainly recommend a hire or at least 1 week or even 2 before you buy.  Hire if possible a vehicle as close to your ideally researched.  Note the key factors like width, height, drivability, ease (or otherwise) or parking.  How easy was it to load up, to unpack.  To discharge fluids etc.

In your location the chances are that there will not be a Motorhome hire company locally so hiring is normally just a step to ownership.

Bloody Kids
Integrated Coachbuild motorhomes with a double bed upfront and another or two singles in the rear can comfortably sleep 4 people.  All the rest and it is a bit of a struggle.  So if you intend to holiday with (say) 2 kids then I'd go Integrated and then you just need to decide on the size of the Integrated to determine your comfort level.

Are you Old?
There is an increasingly disturbing trend of Motorhomes to offer two twin beds for a  2 Bedroom motorhome.

Now on the principle that you like each other and fancy a cuddle, especially whilst you are out on holiday with each other I can't think of anything worse then separate sleeping quarters.

Still, each to their own

Give Me some Brands

- Dethleffs
- Hymer
- Burster
- Wingamm
- Westfalia

Give me some Magazines
MMM magazine

Who would you recommend in Switzerland?
Around us the 3 most helpful stores are

- Treyvaud in Avenches
- CareVasion
- B&W Bantam Camping

Contact Us
If you live in Switzerland then feel free to contact us for further advice and tips.   Find us on Google Plus

VW California T6 german
Westfalia Columbus
Dethleffs Uk

Motorhome learning points 2014
Dusseldorf Motorhome show 2014
NEC Motorhome show 2014