The Camper Van Dream – What to Keep in Mind

Nov 29, 2023 Safety on the road

Camper vans are trending. Used vehicles especially, for cost reasons. What should prospective buyers consider and what should they be on the lookout for before making a purchase?

To have your own small hotel room on wheels with you always and everywhere – this is the promise of motorhomes. Camper vans – the smallest category of vacation homes on four wheels – are the ideal way to get started with this type of travel. They are based on vans or panel vans such as the Citroen Jumper, Fiat Ducato, VW “Bulli”, or Mercedes Sprinter. These basic vehicles are equipped with the interior fittings typical of motorhomes by relevant manufacturers such as Pössl, Globecar, Karmann, Forster, and many others: Beds, seating areas, mini-kitchens, and, if necessary, toilets and washing facilities all the way to mobile showers. However, even in this category, new vehicles can quickly reach prices of 65,000 euros or more. That is why used vehicles are very popular, especially for people just starting out in motorhoming. And although the demand is high, there are good offers to be had – not least because some people bought one during the coronavirus pandemic and now realize that motorhome vacations are not so appealing to them after all.
Advantages and restrictions in the camper van class
Compared to larger (and even more expensive) motorhomes, the van class offers a number of advantages. This starts with the comparatively low price and continues with the fact that a class B driving license is sufficient for driving with a permissible weight of up to 3.5 tons total. Larger models not only require an advanced driving license category, such as the B96 supplement or categories C1/C1E (depending on when and in which country the respective drivers obtained their license), but they are also subject to further restrictions on the road, such as lower maximum speeds or bans for overtaking trucks. In addition, most vans are limited to a maximum vehicle length of six meters, which not only makes handling easier, but can also have a budget-saving effect when it comes to tolls or ferry fees – including the avoidance of special heavy load charges that can be incurred by larger and heavier motorhomes.
However, prospective customers also have to make compromises in the compact motorhome class. This starts with the interior design: If more than two berths are required, vans are often cramped, and a wet room is by no means a given in many of the models where it might even be possible. The maximum payload is also often surprisingly limited in camper vans: It is typically in the region of 400 kilograms, which includes the weight of the passengers as well as the fresh water supplies and waste water. All of this needs to be kept in mind when selecting a suitable vehicle – and the factors to be considered are largely determined by the number of passengers, their requirements, and expectations.
Carefully check specific aspects of motorhomes
If the search for a suitable model leads to a match, lay people are faced with the challenge of assessing the used vehicle’s technical quality and reliability. This includes criteria that are relevant for every used vehicle – such as whether the vehicle is accident-free, compliance with inspection intervals, completeness and correctness of vehicle documents, as well as the functionality and condition of the engine, transmission, electrics, bodywork, and so on.
A test drive before buying a camper van should go without saying, the same as when buying a used car. You should also double check whether you have the required driving license for the vehicle. This is obviously relevant in order to be able to legally drive the vehicle.
There are many other aspects specific to motorhomes, in particular:
  • Sealing and functionality of windows, doors, flaps, and roof hatches, and their locks
  • Functionality and condition of furniture, kitchen equipment, swivel chairs, fold-down beds, etc.
  • Condition of upholstery and mattresses
  • Functionality of the entire electrical system such as sockets, lighting, additional leisure batteries (if available), air conditioning, heating, etc.
  • Sealing and cleanliness of fresh water tanks, gray water tanks, toilet cassettes, and wet rooms, including checking water pressure and drains
  • Any damage to the undercarriage, in particular the waste water tank. An inspection on a lifting platform is a must!
  • Any hail, water, or other weather damage
  • Functionality and condition of attachments such as pop-up roofs, solar panels, satellite systems
  • Valid gas test
Inspection by an expert is advisable
Relevant platforms offer checklists online that can be used to work through and check these and other factors when viewing a used motorhome. Nevertheless, it remains difficult for lay people to keep track of and recognize all possible problem areas. To be on the safe side, it is never a mistake to call in expert advice. Even if this comes at a cost, a used vehicle check is worthwhile in order to avoid expensive mistakes, especially for motorhomes and camper vans.
And even if everything works, a thorough inspection by a professional is also helpful for the upcoming price negotiations. As a rule, the inspection does not provide a specific price estimate – that remains a matter of negotiation between buyer and seller. However, any necessary repairs will definitely be made clear by the expert and can then be taken into account in the pricing.
DEKRA’s caravan and motorhome services
The experts at DEKRA offer a comprehensive portfolio of services for your mobile four walls. Whether it’s a 100 km/h sticker, gas system testing, or the correct load: DEKRA’s experts provide detailed and competent advice. You can find contacts and offers here or internationally here​.