Buying a campervan
Dreaming of buying a campervan? With campervanning growing ever more popular, it’s no surprise you might be tempted to take the plunge, buy a campervan, and enjoy the freedom of the open road. The good news is that you don’t need to have tens of thousands in the bank to fund a campervan – there are many other ways to afford your dream leisure vehicle.
Peter Rosenthal, former editor of Campervan magazine and the technical editor of sister title MMM, takes a look at all the options and highlights some of the important questions to ask when buying a campervan.
Selecting a campervan
This is the first, and arguably most important, decision of all – establishing what campervan to buy. Today, buyers have a wide choice, from classic and iconic VW campervans that project an image of hipster cool to big budget campers that score high on luxury.
Don’t rush this part of the process. Research is important and takes time – however much you eventually spend on a campervan, it probably won’t be cheap. If you’re mulling over the question ‘what campervan should I buy?’ give some consideration to these factors:
Types of campervan: Pop-tops and High-tops
There are broadly two different types of campervan style. A pop-top campervan – sometimes also called a rising roof campervan – is smaller in size and feels more like a car to drive. The pop-top refers to the section of the ‘van which is pushed up, when parked, to make an extra bed – often where the kids will sleep.
A high-top campervan is bigger, based on vehicles such as a Fiat Ducato or Mercedes Sprinter. There’s more detail on these two styles here.
Choosing the vehicle’s layout is another important decision - it’s not all about what the campervan looks like from the outside! Perhaps the two key factors regarding what to look for when buying a campervan, in terms of layout, are the number of beds (berths) and the number of travel seats. If just two of you will be using the campervan, two beds and two travel seats are fine – but not a lot of use if you’re a family of four looking forward to holidays in the ‘van. Likewise, four berths isn’t that useful if the campervan only has two travel seats…
So, make sure the campervan layout you select fits your needs. Do you want a side kitchen, or an end kitchen layout, and how well equipped do you want your kitchen to be? Will you be happy with fairly basic cooking facilities, preferring to mainly eat out while you’re on your travels, or do you want oven, grill and hob, and the ability to prepare meals regularly?
Will you be content with a portable toilet – using shower facilities in campsites you stay at – or will you want a complete washroom? Do you want a permanent, fixed bed, or will be you be satisfied with adapting seats every evening to create the bed?
Write a list of must-haves and would-likes and you’ll begin to get a clearer picture of your ideal campervan.
Setting a budget for your campervan
Before you get too carried away, make sure you set yourself a budget. It is, after all, somewhat pointless focusing on campervans in the £60k price bracket if your budget is closer to £40k. Brand new, top-of-the-range campervans don’t come cheap, but there are plenty of great ‘vans out there to suit all budgets; our Buying Your First Motorhome guide lists some excellent examples from £20k and under upwards.
Where can I buy a campervan?
Now you know the type of campervan you want, and are happy with the budget you have to spend on it, the obvious next step is to go out and buy it. But, where do you start? Well, there are several options:
Buying a campervan from a dealer
Specialist campervan dealers can be a great introduction to buying a vehicle, and discovering more about particular models and layouts; it’s a good opportunity to ask any outstanding questions you may have. Any good dealer will take the time to answer your queries and allow you plenty of time to look around any vehicles that catch your interest.
You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy; even if the sales person has spent a lot of time with you, don’t feel obliged in any way – never forget this is a business deal and it’s your money.
Pretty much all reputable dealers have websites, showcasing available campervans and prices. If you need extra help in locating dealerships near you, our directory lists a range of dealers offering not just new but second hand ‘vans. You could also check out the Preferred Dealer Scheme from The Camping and Caravanning Club.
Buying a campervan at a show
The easiest place to see a lot of campervans in one place – making it a great starting point to conduct research - and to potentially secure a great deal is to buy a stock vehicle from a show. Dealers frequently offer great discounts at motorhome, caravan and campervan shows and the vehicle you’re looking for may be the very one on their stand. They tend to be dripping with tasty extras, too. Plus, as shows attract lots of first-time buyers, they provide ideal opportunities to run through all your questions to ask when buying a campervan.
There are motorhome shows running throughout the year. Click here to find the next one or the motorhome show nearest to you.
Buying a campervan from a private seller
For new vehicles, there are few options – you either buy from a dealer or get a bespoke vehicle built for you. However, if you’re thinking of a used vehicle, you can save money by buying one privately. But there's risk.
When it comes to buying privately, follow some golden rules:
- Always insist on seeing a V5C logbook. Only buy a vehicle from the address that is listed on the seller's V5C logbook – while it might be more convenient to meet sellers halfway, you can’t check that the person selling the vehicle is the person on the logbook.
- Before you inspect the vehicle, check the logbook VIN number against the chassis plate on the vehicle – if they don’t match, or are missing or damaged, walk away.
- If you’re not mechanically minded, either take along a friend who is, or pay for an inspection on the vehicle (for example, the AA will conduct vehicle inspections on motorhomes, for non-members as well as members, for fee)
- Never buy a vehicle privately without getting it HPI checked. Never skip this step. No matter how charming the seller is, always get your own HPI check carried out. Never accept a piece of paper saying that the seller has checked it – it could be fake.
- Above all else, bear the oldest adage in mind – that if something looks too good to be true, then it probably is. If the price seems way too low compared to other similar models you have researched, or the private seller seems to quick to apply a hefty discount, be extremely wary. Trust your instincts.
Even if you do all of the above, there’s still no guarantee or warranty that applies to a private sale. So long as the vehicle is ‘as described’ (which is a very loose term) if you drive it 500 yards away from the seller’s house and the engine goes bang, tough luck: the cost of repair will be down to you.
For this reason, unless you’re very mechanically savvy, we'd recommend going via a recognised dealer. Yes, you’ll pay a bit more, but you have far more buyer protection and peace of mind if things go wrong.
Have a new conversion on a used van
Many firms will build you a brand-new conversion on a used van and so long as you don’t mind a few thousand miles on the clock, you can save thousands compared with buying new. For example, campervan manufacturer Leisuredrive can sell you a brand new VW campervan for around £45,000, but if you take along a used vehicle, they can convert it to one of their Lifestyle models for as little as £10,990, complete with a one-year warranty.
Build a campervan yourself
If you don’t want to have any credit and don’t want to invest thousands in a campervan, the budget option is to convert one yourself, or to buy a cheap ready-converted one. If you can afford to run a car on a daily basis, you can probably afford a campervan.
The easiest thing is to buy a used ready-converted campervan and a good budget van is something like a Bongo. A basic people carrier with a mattress lobbed inside and a cool box can suffice, but remember to contact your insurance company first before you make any permanent alterations. Partially converted vans are far more expensive to insure than vehicles re-registered as campervans.
Hiring a campervan
There is another option to buying a campervan. If you’re teetering on the verge of buying one but there’s still a doubt in your mind, or the timing isn’t quite right, you can hire one instead. This will provide you with the lifestyle of a campervan without the investment, and you can see how you get on with it during a weekend away – or a longer holiday.
If you love the experience, you’ve been bitten by the bug and can approach buying a campervan with confidence and enthusiasm. A top tip for campervan hire though – pick an off-peak time. Avoid popular festivals or summer holiday dates. Every man and his dog wants to hire a campervan for a bank holiday weekend or Glastonbury, so don’t expect any bargains!
Getting the best deal when buying a campervan
So – you’ve decided what campervan to buy, been to see it (let’s assume at a dealership, for the sake of an example), inspected it inside and out, and made the decision to buy it. What next?
It’s time to do the deal. You could just agree on the asking price, but where’s the fun in that? And, besides, there are usually savings to be had, or extras to be gained if you’re prepared to play the game and haggle a little.
If you don’t ask….
No matter how friendly and welcoming the campervan sales person is, never be embarrassed to ask for a discount. Sales consultants are highly trained in this and generally regard it as a bit of a game. You need to approach it with a similar mindset.
Unlike car salesmen, not all campervan salesmen are working on commission. So they may not be desperate for every sale. However, they are often incentivised by dealer or manufacturer bonuses – so hitting a monthly or yearly target may be key in topping up their pay packet. For this reason, it’s always best to visit dealerships towards the end of a month, or when they’re at a show and may have a separate target for that.
Haggling on the price of a campervan
Haggling, when buying a campervan – or any vehicle, really – is a skill but effective tactics are easy to learn. As we said earlier in this guide, don’t be embarrassed; unless your manner oversteps the mark you won’t offend.
You don’t have to play hardball with any negotiations – just act with confidence and try some of these tips:
- Do your research thoroughly beforehand – compare prices of similar models online so you know what a fair price is.
- Never lose sight of not just your budget, but what you’re prepared to pay.
- Don’t disclose your budget to the dealer – if they know how much you can spend they won’t want to go below that figure.
- Be prepared to leave without doing the deal if you don’t get the price you’re looking for.
- If you’re quoted a figure that’s too high, say so - and little else. Let the sales person do the talking and see how they react.
Haggling for campervan accessories and extras
When you’ve agreed on the price of the campervan itself, the buying journey may not be over. The subject of accessories, extended warranties, paint treatments and other attractive – but often costly – extras may be raised. The key point is that all these extras carry a profit.
Often if you’ve struck a really tight deal on the sale of the vehicle, this is the sales person’s way of trying and claw some profit back into the deal. So make sure you ask for a discount on everything offered to you – from awning fitments to solar panel installation, or an extended warranty package.
It’s very simple: anything that is sold in a dealership – and we do mean anything – that carries a price tag also carries a profit. And you want as much of that profit margin in your pocket as possible.
Once you’ve haggled over everything and are happy with the price, don’t say it. If you do, the haggle is over. Instead try saying this line: “okay, we’re nearly there, but not quite. If you can do it for <insert suitable number> I’ll sign up today.” Nine times out of ten this line will work and get you a tiny bit more discount.
Funding your campervan purchase
Once you’ve negotiated the price for your dream campervan, it’s then time to think about the best way of paying for it.
Cash isn’t always king
If you’ve got savings and cash, the obvious assumption to make is that you simply use your savings to fund the campervan. The expression, ‘cash is king’ is often bandied about. But cash isn’t always the cheapest way of doing it. And contrary to popular belief, going armed with wads of cash won’t have salesmen falling at your feet: cash is a pain to a dealer. It takes an age to count and has to be manually driven to a bank deposit box at the end of the working day. They’d much rather you had finance.
Before you visit a dealership, price up the cost of a loan with your bank. Apply for a personal loan before you visit the dealership – it’ll highlight any credit issues you may have and also give you a marker for the sort of interest rate you can get. Check your credit report before you visit the dealer – it’ll save potential embarrassment – and sort out any issues or errors in this before you visit them.
Dealer hire purchase
This is the most traditional form of vehicle finance and works quite simply. A third party firm working for the dealer lends you the money, with the rate being dependent on your credit rating (and those haggling skills!). Pay the deposit, pay regular monthly payments and at a certain point (not always the end of the finance agreement) the vehicle will be yours.
While this form of finance can offer competitive rates, the monthly payments can be quite hefty, while the duration of loan often lasts for several years. The advantage is that you own the vehicle outright at the end of the term.
Some 80 per cent of new cars are bought on a Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) scheme and this finance method is now available on many campervans, with Black Horse being one of the most popular providers. The advantage of PCPs is that the monthly payments and initial deposits tend to be low.
The thing to be aware of with a PCP is that there is usually a pre-agreed mileage limit (often 8,000 miles per annum) and the vehicle is not yours until the final payment has been made (also called the GFV – Guaranteed Future Value). In practice, few people ever pay the final payment as they usually trade in the campervan for a newer model when the final payment is due to be paid.
It’s very difficult to resist another new campervan when the salesman says: ‘do you want to keep your old campervan and give me £19,000, or would you rather have a shiny new one for an extra £20 a month?’
If you like to change campervans every three or so years and want to keep your monthly outgoings as low as possible, then a PCP may work well for you.
Zero per cent deals
The first myth to crack is that zero per cent deals are always funded by someone. Here’s how dealers can offer it. Most dealerships have stock that is funded by a finance house and have to pay interest on that balance. While they might offer ‘zero per cent deals’, in reality they’re absorbing the cost of finance into their profit margin.
So with dealer zero per cent deals, you either get zero per cent finance deal, or a discount. If they offer both it’s usually because the screen price is inflated (check out their prices relative to other sellers). Occasionally a manufacturer will need to shift stock and may offer a zero per cent deal, but it's not common.
But there is a way to have your cake and eat it that’s available all-year round. Many credit card companies offer zero per cent deals on balance transfers, and it generally pays to be disloyal and swap cards frequently (much as it does with insurance companies!).
If you’re organised with money, it can be a good way to spread the cost of buying a vehicle without paying any interest. But the key thing here is how disciplined you are. Only buy on a credit card if you can definitely afford to repay the lot within the allotted time frame.
Once the zero per cent deal ends, the interest rate will be high – and bear in mind that credit card interest is charged daily - so you either need to switch it onto another zero per cent deal, or make sure you can afford to pay it off in one hit. Dealers used to charge customers a small premium for using a credit card, but from 13 January 2018 the law changed and they can no longer do this.
Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act
This is a crucial bit of information if you’re buying from a dealership. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act offers credit card buyers protection against breach of contract and misrepresentation - or if the seller goes bust.
However, there are exceptions to be aware of. Firstly, the maximum value of any item purchased has to be between £100 and £30,000. So, for example, your fully optioned-out brand-new £70,000 VW California won’t be covered by the Act, but a used one under £30,000 will be. If the vehicle you’re buying is over £30,000, pay for any accessories separately on a credit card – at least they will be covered by the Act. Even if you only pay £1 on a credit card, you will be protected for the full price of the item.
Note also that Section 75 only applies to credit cards, not debit cards.
There’s further information on finance when buying a campervan in our article here.