Top 20 motorhome questions
Everything you needed to know about buying and using motorhomes in the UK and overseas.
1) I would like to hire or try a motorhome before I buy one, can you help?
Yes, our Try Before You Buy service offers members and customers the opportunity to hire a motorhome to test out whether the lifestyle is for you. Many other hire options are available with vehicles of different types and ages to suit all needs and budgets.
2) How difficult is it to drive a motorhome? Do you have advice on how to drive a motorhome for beginners?
It’s really no harder to drive a motorhome than it is a car. Smaller campervans are very similar indeed. With larger motorhomes, you will need to get used to the size and rearwards visibility - you need to use the excellent door mirrors a bit more. If you want to build up your confidence quickly, we recommend booking a session on our motorhome manoeuvring course – these courses are ideal for beginners. It’s a one-day course and includes a one-to-one session on the road, driver exercises with instructor feedback, defensive driving and various manoeuvring exercises.
3) What type of motorhome should I buy?
There are many different types of motorhome on the market, so it’s wise to do your research before you buy to figure out what's the best motorhome for you.
Compact campervans or larger van conversions are usually adapted from small or larger panel vans. They’re versatile, easy to park or store and great for supporting active hobbies or for holidays and festivals. Coachbuilt motorhomes have a caravan-like body built onto a chassis cab. They tend to have more space and may have better insulation for all-year-round use. Top of the range A-class motorhomes have a fully coachbuilt body (no separate cab) and tend to be equipped to a high specification. They’re ideal for the longest trips when you really do want to travel in style.
It can be hard to know what’s going to be best for you, though. We'd suggest visiting a show, or a larger dealership, and seriously consider hiring before buying.
4) Do I need a special driving licence?
In general, the answer is no most drivers can drive most sizes of motorhome on a standard car driving licence. This includes motorhomes of up to 7500kg.
However, a limit of 3500kg applies to drivers aged over 70, or a driver licensed since 1 January 1997, unless a medical test or additional test respectively is passed. The vast majority of motorhomes are not over 3500kg, but double check if looking at larger models.
5) Can I use a motorhome ‘off grid’?
Most motorhomes can plug in to a mains hook-up on campsites to charge their battery, operate the lights, fridge and often the heating. You might want to spend time on a small farm site with no mains power, or at a festival, or even wild camping (where that’s legal - not generally in England and Wales) though. In those cases, most vehicles will run happily on a combination of 12V battery and gas cylinder for a few days. The battery can be topped by a solar panel (or charges when the vehicle’s driven around). Gas cylinders will run out faster if used to supply heating and fridge, however, so check the amount left before a trip.
6) What’s the best advice for keeping motorhome tyres in good condition?
There’s no specific age recommendation to replace motorhome tyres at. If the vehicle does significant annual mileage (i.e. it’s in regular use most of the year), it can be treated like a car - replace the tyres when the tread wears sufficiently. If it’s used as a seasonal vehicle - ie it spends lengthy periods in storage, then the advice we’d give for caravan tyres is a goog guideline: Preferably replace any tyre more than five years old, but never exceed seven. They will have significantly deteriorated by then, whatever the tread depth or amount of use.
7) Are there any special requirements when choosing a pitch?
Hardstanding pitches are more suitable for motorhomes, but if using grass then check the ground before you drive on to it, by digging in your heel. Be aware that some sites may have temporary or permanent restrictions on motorhomes, so it is best to check when you book that they will allow your vehicle on site. We do not set limits for length or weight of vehicle, but practicalities mean that not all pitches on all sites will be suitable for all vehicles in all weathers.
Hardstanding pitches are more suitable for motorhomes, but if using grass then check the ground before you drive on to it, by digging in your heel. We don’t set general limits for length or weight ofmotorhomes, but practicalities mean that not all pitches on all sites will be suitable for all vehicles in all weathers. If you have a particularly large or heavy vehicle, it’s best to check when you book that the site can accommodate you.
8) Can I tow a small car behind my motorhome?
In the UK, the law does not specifically state that you can do this, if using an a-frame which allows the car to be towed on its own wheels. The consensus is that it is permissible, however, as long as the towed car meets the technical requirements needed for a trailer i.e. effective brakes, handbrake, triangular rear reflectors etc. A-frames which meet the braking requirements are available, but won’t be the cheapest. In Europe however, the majority of countries specifically prohibit towing a car in this manner, and you run the risk of being stopped from doing so. Therefore, we recommend that it may be better to tow the car on a braked trailer instead, which takes all four wheels of the car off the ground.
9) What is the difference between butane and propane?
Butane and propane have slightly different properties, the most important to the motorhomer being the boiling point at atmospheric pressure - in other words, the temperature at which it changes from being a liquid to being a gas. Butane will only readily change to a gas above 0°C, so is generally suitable for the spring to autumn motor caravanner. Propane will become a gas down to -40°C and therefore can be used in winter, or all year round if desired. In the UK propane is generally sold in red or green cylinders, butane in blue.
10) What precautions should I take against the risk of fire?
Install a smoke detector made to the appropriate British Standard (BS 5446 pt 1). A portable fire extinguisher should also be carried. We recommend that Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) is the most effective for use in the confined space of a motorhome. Take extra care when cooking or smoking in the vehicle.
Take a look at our tips on fire safety for more information.
11) Why do I need a leisure battery as well as a car battery in my motorhome?
An automotive battery is designed to supply a high current for a short time in order to start the engine. For the remaining time it is either at rest or being charged by the vehicle alternator. It is not designed to supply a few amperes over several hours, which is the kind of output the habitation area of a motorhome requires. It’s also not designed to be repeatedly discharged to nearly flat then recharged.
Leisure batteries are designed to supply currents of a few amps for longer periods and to be discharged and recharged many times; they are generally to be preferred in a motorhome. Battery life is enhanced if it has little work to do, so the use of a suitable charger is advisable if a mains hook-up is available.
Most motorhomes are fitted with both types of battery, other than the very smallest ones perhaps.
12) How can I run my refrigerator on ferry journeys?
The short answer is you can’t! For short crossings of a few hours, the contents should remain adequately cool until you are able to re-connect, provided the refrigerator was pre-cooled sufficiently beforehand. For longer journeys it is best to purchase fresh produce on arrival at your holiday destination. You can help the fridge stay cool by making sure the fridge is full as possible, by using ice packs (as used for cool boxes), and of course by not opening it while the power is off.
13) What does The Club recommend for winter storage?
An indoor and preferably secure location is recommended for winter storage - under cover is ideal. Turbo diesels are liable to waste gate corrosion over long periods of non usage. Run the engine periodically if possible, and move the vehicle from time to time to help the tyres stay flexible. Brake disc corrosion is also a possibility where the motor caravan is not being used over a long period. There are covers which can be purchased from car manufacturers to fit over the discs while the van is in storage to stop moisture coming into contact with the discs.
14) Do motorhomes require seat belts for their rear seats?
Seat belts must be fitted and worn in the front seats of motorhomes. Most motorhome manufacturers also fit restraints to forward-facing seats – designated travelling seats – in the rear. If fitted, seat belts to these seats must be worn. Seat belts fitted to seats that are not properly designated passenger seats (eg sideways facing seats) do not meet the necessary standards. However, it should be stressed that, although not illegal, travelling in these seats is not recommended.
You should also be aware of the following regulations governing the use of child car seats when travelling with children:
- Rear-facing baby seats must not be used in a seat protected by a frontal air-bag unless the air-bag has been deactivated manually or automatically.
- From May 2008 all child restraints must comply with the UN ECE 44.03 standard (or subsequent versions).
- Children under three years must use the child restraint (i.e. child seat or booster) appropriate for their weight in any vehicle (including vans and other goods vehicles).
- In vehicles where seat belts are fitted, children three years to 135cm in height (approx 4ft 5in) MUST use the appropriate child restraint.
- There are exceptions which allow these children to travel in the rear and use an adult belt, such as:
- For an occasional journey over a short distance, if the right child restraint is not available. The Government defines this kind of journey as being for unforeseen circumstances only, not for regular or planned journeys such as the school run;
- Where two occupied child seats in the rear prevent the fitment of a third child seat.
15) How can I protect my motorhome from theft?
The majority of motorhomes are stolen from insecure storage compounds, closely followed by the home address. Good secure storage can be hard to find but is well worthwhile. A combination of good quality mechanical security products (wheel clamp, steering wheel lock etc) and electronic products (alarm and perhaps a tracking device) is most effective. We suggest choosing products tested and approved by a reputable independent test agency, e.g. Sold Secure, SCM or Thatcham.
16) Will my television function abroad?
As in the UK, TV in much of Europe has converted to digital. The UK’s transmission technology is one of the more advanced in Europe, meaning that digital televisions intended only for use in the UK might not be able to receive terrestrial signals in some other countries. A multi-standard TV (which most sold for motorhoming use are) will help, but in some countries a satellite system may be preferable, especially if you wish to receive English-language broadcasts.
17) What is the best type of aerial for my motorhome?
As a general rule a directional aerial is preferable to an omni-directional, but will need pointing correctly on each site. Note that many campsites are in rural locations, where there may only be a weak TV signal.
18) Do I have to have a type-approved towing bracket for my motorhome?
If your motorhome is type-approved (i.e. it meets a set of legal regulations for its design and safety), then any towing bracket fitted to it must also be type-approved. If it is not type-approved, any towing bracket fitted doesn’t have to be type-approved, but still must be specifically designed to fit the vehicle. Type approval was phased in for motorhomes between 2009 and 2012.
19) How do I know what appliances I can use on a mains hook-up?
A useful calculation is amps equals watts divided by volts. Therefore, if you have a 1000W kettle, and a 230V supply, you must allow for 4.3A to be drawn when the kettle is in use.
Take a look at our advice on hooking up to the mains for more information on the kind of appliances appropriate for mains hook-up.
20) Does it matter what type of chemical fluid I use in my portable toilet?
Our policy is that all chemical fluids should be bio-degradable to assist the biological treatment of sewage. It used to be common for toilet fluid to contain formaldehyde but this is rarely the case these days. Fluids vary in composition and effectiveness at breaking down sewage waste in holding tanks, however. Some contain more effective active ingredients, while others mainly mask odours. Formaldehyde-free fluids should all be acceptable for use on Club sites.