Choosing and buying a camper van or motorhome

There are several things to consider when choosing and buying a camper van or motorhome. Below are the most important things to consider, and some advice for each.



As with most things in life your type, age and condition of the vehicle will be determined by your budget. But your budget should not determine your vehicle. With just £1,000 you still have a number of choices of vehicle.

Whatever vehicle you chose you should always reserve some funds to replace the things that will wear out such as tyres, brakes and the exhaust. You should also reserve some funds to replace other things that may break or wear out such as the clutch, propshaft and simple things such as door locks. Generally though, if you drive your vehicle well and look after it your should not have to replace or fix anything in thousands of miles or kilometers of driving.

Size of vehicle

You should choose a vehicle that is easy for you to drive, has enough storage space for all of the occupants possessions, enough seats for everyone to sit when driving. Larger vehicles use more fuel, cost more in parts, are more difficult to drive, are more difficult to park and cost more for ferries and tolls. Buying a large motorhome when a smaller camper van will do is not a good idea. Equally, 4 people cannot live conformable for months in a small camper van.

Vehicle selection guide

Here is a guide that may help you decide on a vehicle

No. of peopleSuggested vehiclesComments
2VW camper or transporter, small panel van, car derived vanVW campers are ready to go with everything you need. Older Type 2 and T25 models will probably have petrol engines which are more expensive than diesels to run.

Small panel vans offer more room, and most have power steering making then easier to drive. They will almost certainly have a diesel engine, making them more economical than petrol VW campers.

Car derived vans offer the least space, but are cheap to run and very easy to drive. They are great as a car/camper for every day use. Perhaps too small for a long trip though.

3Medium or long panel van, small motorhomeEasy to drive vehicles that offer a lot more space and storage. Most can be parked in car park bays. Large enough for 2 or 3 people to live in on long trips.
4Long panel van, motorhome Lots of living space. More difficult to park and drive.
5 or moreMotorhomeThe ultimate mobile living space. Expensive to buy and run. Difficult to park.


Number of passengers and beds (berths)

A camper van is a great size for a couple, or for 2 or sometimes 3 friends sharing, if one sleeps in a tent, or the van has a pop-top roof with a bed. Some camper vans have 4 berths, but these are often hammocks or pop-top roof beds. You should check and try them before buying the vehicle. For 4 adults or more a panel van or motorhome is required. Many motorhomes, even smaller ones, have 2 double beds. Some have 1 double and 2 single beds. Larger panel van conversions may have single or bunk beds.
Most countries in Europe will require that all adults in the vehicle be wearing a seat belt. Make sure your vehicle has enough seat belts for all passengers. It is not a good idea to travel seated sideways in a van. Side-on whiplash effects are considerable worse than head on.

Do not underestimate the amount of space required for many people to live together.  If the weather is good you can spend time outdoors.  But if the weather is bad or you are travelling then you will all be in the vehicle, and must have enough room to relax.  Also consider situations such as first thing in the morning.  If someone wakes up it is not nice not being able to get up, sit down, or out of the van until everyone is up.

For a couple a VW camper, car derived van or small panel van is a good option. Generally a large panel van or motorhome is a good option for 2 couples or 4 individuals.

Where will you be travelling?

If you intend to travel off the beaten track, especially on unsealed or poor quality roads, such as on a surfing trip, then you need to avoid large vehicles. Smaller and newer vehicles will cope with rough roads much better than a large or old vehicle. When looking for good surf in northern Spain A VW T4 will handle those rough roads much better than a VW T2 or a motorhome.

Service history and mileage

A vehicle with full service history (FSH) or even a mainly complete service history (SH) is normally a good buy. This shows that the vehicle has been inspected and maintained regularly. It shows that the owners have taken the time and money to care for the vehicle, which generally means the inside as well as the mechanics may have been looked after.

High mileage vehicles are not necessarily to be avoided. Especially if they have service history. Leisure vehicles such as camper vans and motorhomes generally have low mileage (less than 100,000 miles). However modern vehicles are designed to, and easily do, go for well over 200,000 miles. A VW T2 with 100,000 miles on the clock is not such a good idea though. These vehicles have much older technology.

Buying essentials

  1. Always have someone with a good understanding of mechanics with you when viewing or buying a vehicle. Their knowledge could save you from buying a vehicle with lots of trouble.
  2. Don’t rush into a purchase. Take your time. Try and see several different types of vehicle before buying one. Dealers are good to visit, even if outside of your price range (just don’t tell them), as you can see lots of vehicles easily.
  3. Never buy a vehicle without a V5 log book. Check the engine number and chassis number on the document match the vehicle.
  4. If unsure about a vehicle, document don’t but it. There are plenty more.
  5. Don’t buy a vehicle from a friend just because they are a friend. You can probably find better deals elsewhere.
  6. If you don’t like something about a vehicle don’t buy it. It is very hard to change or replace part of a camper van or motorhome.

Types and models of camper vans and motorhomes

There are many types or vehicle to choose from.  They type you choose should be carefully considered and reflect your needs.  Don’t just buy a VW camper just because they look cool.  Whilst a VW camper has advantages, it has many disadvantages, and another vehicle type may suit you better.

Types of vehicle available:

VW camper (Type2 split screen & bay window, T25 and T3)

VW T2 camper vanThe VW Type 2 is the classic camping vehicle that popularised the small size camper.  Great for 2 people, or more with tents. These older models are better for weekend breaks and not driving across Europe.  The engines are generally underpowered, petrol (so high fuel bills), and because of their age tend to rust a lot.  Buying a good one will costs a lot of money as they are very much in demand. Read more…
Good: Style, compact format, very cool
Bad: Rust, high cost of purchase, high cost of maintenance, slow performance, bad fuel economy, hard to find good examples

VW camper (T4 and T5)

WV T4 camper vanThe VW T4 and T5 are the newest versions of the classic VW van, and one of the best small vans money can buy.  Reliable and well built.  Great for 2 people, or more with tents. These can be considered for the longest of trips.  Buying a cheap T4 will cost less than and older T2 or T25! Read more…
Good: Compact format, reliable, good fuel economy, good performance
Bad: Used vehicle prices can be high, some poor quality conversions around

Panel van

Mercedes Sprinter, LWD redThe boom in road transport and logistics has driven down the price of panel vans and increased the numbers on the secondhand market.  They make excellent leisure vehicles as they have lots of space, are reliable and easy to drive.  A modern diesel engine model will be fast and give good fuel economy.  Mercedes have been a long time favourite, but other European manufactures such as Peugeot, Renault, Citroen and Fiat now make equally good vehicles.  Iveco make excellent larger vans.  Ford Transits are becoming less popular, and still rust much quicker than any other type.
Panel vans come in a massive range of sizes: from short to extra long, from low to extra high.  Read more…
Good: Range of sizes, lots of space, good fuel economy (diesel engine), easy to drive
Bad: Can be difficult to park, bodywork generally needs maintenance, lots of worn out examples around

Motorhome or motorcaravan

MotorhomeA motorhome or motorcaravan can offer the best in luxury.  Generally fitted with everything one needs, including a shower and toilet.  With a motorhome you are self sufficient and can do without campsites.  There are many to choose from, many are expensive, but there are some bargains also. Parts can be expensive, but most are built using the chassis of a panel van or pickup.  These vehicles are large and are normally difficult to park.  They can sleep up to 6 people, and offer a great option for large groups. Read more…
Good: Luxurious, sleep many people, lots of storage, self sufficient
Bad: Expensive to buy, can be expensive to maintain, difficult to park, target for thieves

Car derived van (converted)

Fiat ScudoCar derived vans, such as the Renault Traffic and Fiat Scudo can make great camper vans.  There are not a lot smaller than a VW camper inside, yet are cheaper to buy and run.  Newer diesel versions achieve 50mpg!  Finding one with a camper layout inside is difficult as few are in production, but making your own is a good option if you have the skills.
Good: Easy to drive, easy to park, the best fuel economy (up to 50mpg)
Bad: Less space, hard to find conversions


You don’t need to have a camper van or motorhome to enjoy camping around Europe.  With a car and tent you can enjoy much of the same experience, but with a lot less cost, and much easier driving.  You do not have the luxury of a permanent home in the back of your vehicle though.
Also consider staying in campsite static caravans or chalets, hotels, budget hotels (pensions) and youth hostels.  Also don’t forget the caravan option!
Good: cheap to buy, cheap to upgrade a car, cheap and easy to put a tent in the boot of your existing car
Bad: need to setup the tent each time, less storage space, fewer luxuries

Car derived van (not converted)

Fiat ScudoUsing a car derived van without any sort of interior conversion is also an option.  If you are staying in warm climates it is possible to use it as a large car with a tent, or buy some items to make a comfortable experience.  By purchasing a cool box, gas stove, blow up bed you can have some of the comforts of a camper van with much less cost and purchasing and maintenance hassles.
Good: Easy to drive, easy to park, the best fuel economy (up to 50mpg), no permanent fixtures, anyone can do it
Bad: Less space than a camper van, less luxurious


Touring by motorcycle has been a popular option for many years.  I have mentioned it here, but there are many other websites that cover this well.
Good: Easy to ride, very quick to reach destinations, easy to park
Bad: can carry very little, only nice in good weather

Pop-top models

Pop-up models address the problem of high vehicles. It is great to be able to stand in the vehicle when stationary. If you are spending more than a few weeks travelling in your vehicle being able to stand up is essential, as you will suffer from a bad back otherwise. However high sided vehicles us more fuel and are often prevented from entering car parks and other areas due to height restrictions. Pop-tops address this allowing the roof to be raised when stationary, and dropped when travelling. If buying a vehicle with a pop-top check it very thoroughly. It should operate smoothly and firmly. When up it should be solid. Try and imagine it in high winds. If it is damaged or worn in anyway anticipate an expensive bill to have it fixed.

People of up to 6ft (1.83 meters) can normally stand fairly comfortably in a semi-high top van. Although not able to stand upright, only a small stoop is required.

Useful resources

  • – Autotrader is the biggest magazine and online advertiser of private and dealer sales of vans, camper vans and motorhome
  • – Motorhome magazine website with useful information
  • – TNT magazine in London has lots of ads of people selling vans
  • – eBay has lots of vehicles and parts for sale.
  1. What do you think about CI International? I am planning a three-four month trip around Europe with my husband and two small childen. We just found a 1991 CI International that seems to be in good condition for almost 6,000 euro. Any thoughts? Also, any suggestions about adding seatbelts in the back to secure child seats. There aren’t any in the back of this vehicle…
    Thank you!!!!!


    1. They are typically good vehicles.
      1991 is quite old, and so I would get a full inspection before you start your trip. Expect to have to replace some parts, to avoid problems on the trip.
      Speak to your local motorhome specialist or garage and ask them to fit seat belts. You will need them.
      Also worth discussing with your insurance company to ensure they are happy with this.


  2. Re bying
    Be my first on a budget only looking for kitchen are and sleeping area but comfortable for two adults and dogs also cause be a long time plan costing for tuning vehicle to what recommend


  3. Buying a motorhome
    Hello, would you be able to advise me a bit?. I’ve been left £20,000 and have always wanted to live in a motorhome/camper van. I’ve no idea were to start all I know is it has to sleep at least four people and economically drive a long time is Europe and beyond. If you can help in advising per se, then I would be so grateful. Xx


  4. Insurance
    I am looking at buying my first campervan T2, very excited. But don’t want my heart to rule my head over the decision. I want to know about insurance for campervans, who’s the best insurer? And how much I’m I looking at roughly paying? I know it goes on owners details as well as vehicle, but I just need an average. Thanks


  5. what a thoroughly helpful site. thanjs
    Thank you Darren for informative and friendly site. Ive stopped searching google for any others now I found this.

    Ps. Im not a spy! I assume Darren is owner from reading the comments. Lol.


  6. Thank’s for this post
    For top protection, keep your baby in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible – usually until about 2 years of age. You can find the exact height and weight limit on the side or back of infant car seat reviews. Kids who ride in rear-facing seats possess the maximum protection for the head, neck and spine. It is especially important for rear-facing children to ride in a back seat from the airbag.


  7. Looking for a 1-person (+ large dog!) small new campervan
    Come into some dosh so gonna treat myself! But would prefer a type where the bed is high up so the dog can’t hog it! Must be smaller type and easy to park too. And reliable – not mechanically minded. Any ideas please? cheers


    1. Check out mine for an
      Check out mine for an example. Its got an overhead area that extends for a sleeping area if needed plus the couch/ bed down below


  8. What to go for?
    You don’t mention the Mazda Bongo Friendee, is it a good buy – fuel consumpton and reliability? I’m not mechanically or technically minded. I am thinking about buying a campervan which is easy to do in every way as it will be just me and my dog. I want something economical and easy to drive for weekends away. I can’t afford more than £3000.


    1. They are nice vehicles. Well
      They are nice vehicles. Well made. They have nice fittings. The seats are good, the pop-top roof is good, and the electric blinds on the windows are good.
      They do about 27mpg, so not great. They are also not fast.
      Most are made about 1995, so quite old, and they cost at least £3,000, and for a 1995 vehicle that is a lot.
      Also they are not campers, they are MPV. To make to a camper you need to strip out the interior. So not necessarily the best vehicle for a conversion, as they are old and expensive.
      However, if you get one in good condition with a pop-top it’s not a bad base for a conversion.
      Most have 4WD, but 2WD is better for most. Most are also automatic gearboxes, which will reduce mpg by 2 or 3 to 24mpg.


  9. 2 person motorhome
    I’m looking to head off around Europe for 8 – 10 months, so i’m looking for advice on a motorhome/camper van.

    The main issue is knowing what is a good buy and the price to go with it, as they tend to vary in price so much…
    Also, what are reliable brands as we would be driving for a long time.

    It will be for 2 people, and i’d be looking for a motorhome/campervan with a toilet and shower, and generally comfy and reliable to drive.


    1. Hi Andrew
      Prices do vary a

      Hi Andrew

      Prices do vary a lot. Prices are based on the market value, i.e. what people are willing to pay. Some sellers charge too much.
      Vehicles such as VW are always expensive as they are desirable. Mercedes are more expensive as they are very reliable.
      The best thing to do is to start building a list of the vehicles you like, what they include, their age, and how much they cost. You’ll then start to know what vehicles of certain ages cost. When you see a new vehicle you can compare it against your list and see if it’s good value.
      VW and Mercedes are probably the most reliable, but Fiat are becoming very popular, but any vehicle that is well maintained (look for Full Service History FSH) can be just as reliable.


  10. Camper Advice
    I could do with some Camper Advice. My wife is desperate to buy a campervan to travel around France in the summer. I am coming round to the idea but struggling to find what price I should be paying for different vans. We have seen a 1993 Nissan Vanette Mambo in good condition that had only done 30000 miles that we liked but had no idea what was a fair price. Does anyone know roughly what we should be paying for such a van? I can only find one other on the internet : . Any Help at all would be great.




    1. Hi JAz
      It’s hard to advise in

      Hi JAz

      It’s hard to advise in this case. It’s an unusually van to convert. It has very very low miles for the year, so check they are genuine.
      Is it a professional conversion or a DIY one? Because of the age I would guess about £1,000 – £2,000 for this vehicle, assuming it’s a properly converted campervan.


      1. It looks identical to the one
        It looks identical to the one in this link : and is in very good condition. I didn’t realise that it was a conversion when I saw it but I take it the ‘mambo’ bit refers to the camper bit they have stuck on the back? The seller is looking for £6K for it which from what you say now seems like a lot.




        1. Ah, that’s a professional
          Ah, that’s a professional conversion, which are always more. It looks likes a very good one, which is why it is more expensive. If it’s in very good condition it looks like a good vehicle to have. It is fairly old though. You could probably find something newer for the same money. It’s a little unusual, and as it’s an import it will cost more to buy, get parts for and insure.

          It’s a conversion as Nissan didn’t make it this way. Nissan made the van or the chassis, then another company converted it into a camper. Mambo might have been the conversion company.

          Very few vehicle manufactures actually make campers. Almost all campers start life as empty vans, and are then converted into campers. Even VW never made campers, until recently. VW made vans and then companies like Westphalia and Devon converted them into campers. VW have just started making their own though.

          It’s a fair price for the vehicle. Have a look on eBay and you can see what else £6,000 buys you.


  11. First time buyer – advice on budget?
    Hello, wondering if anyone can give me some advice on a budget for buying a camper. We are looking to buy a 2 or 4 berth van-type (ie standup, not a motorhome), for a 1-2 month trip in Europe. I say 2-4 berth as it will mostly be myself and my partner but we’ll have friends joining us for parts of the journey.
    I realise there’s a huge range or types and prices, but I would appreciate any advice on what we should realistically expect to pay for something that is not flash, but decent and not a ‘hunk of junk’? i.e., £2k? £5k?
    Thanks in advance!


    1. If you take your time and
      If you take your time and look around £2,000 will buy you something reliable, but probably something someone has converted themselves. Expect to put in a little TLC.
      £3,000 – £5,000 buys you something better, maybe a professional conversion.

      If you are confident with mechanical work go for a lower price range, and do a full service before you go. If not spend more on the vehicle in the first place.


  12. a nifty little van
    I have seen a couple of very small camper vans …. citroen make…about as big as ford fiesta van I think. Do you know where I can get info on these ??


    1. Maybe you mean car derived
      Maybe you mean car derived vans?


    2. Citroen Campervans
      I have a Romahome Duo which is very much like driving a car. It is based on a Berlingo and has a cooker, fridge, toilet 2 single beds or 1 double. It does 40mpg/50mpg and I can recommend it for comfort too.
      Email me if you want more information.



      1. romahome duo
        I have long toyed with the idea of getting one of these (for myself and 2 lurchers). What are the downsides of thos camper van pls?


  13. Your terrific article.
    Darren – Thank you for a terrific article for beginners. I have never owned a camper, and came to the internet quite concerned that I was just going to be confused and put off. Imagine my astonishment to read your clear, helpful article aimed at exactly my predicament! I am now armed with enough information to a)talk sensibly about what I want and b) go out and look at a few vehicles to see what equipment they have and how they ‘feel’. You have saved me a lot of time and heart ache. Bless you!


    1. which campervan to choose
      I agree. A well thought out and detailed article that sheds a lot of light on buying a campervan. One of the good features of buying a campervan over a long term hire is being bale to resell it at the end of your trip and recouping at least half of your costs.


  14. 6 foot high
    You say: “People of up to 6ft (2 meters) can normally stand fairly comfortably in a semi-high top van.” 6 feet is 1 metre and 83 centimetres – normal size by my standards 🙂

    2 metres is a giant size. 6 feet 6 inches and 7/10th.

    Apart from that, thanks for your tips.



    1. Thanks Olivier
      You are right.

      Thanks Olivier

      You are right. When I wrote that I was using the rough rule that 3ft = 1m. But of course that is too rough when considering something so important. Thanks for the tip, I have corrected the information.


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