Sitting in front of a VW campervan

Things to think about when buying a campervan

There are so many different things to think about when buying a campervan. Obviously it’s a pretty serious investment, so you need to be sure you are making the right choice.

We spent a lot of time researching different options before settling on our California VW T5.1 and a number of things led us to that decision. Of course, this won’t be the right vehicle for everyone, but we are really happy with the choice we made. So if you are considering making the leap too, here are some things to think about when buying a campervan:

Is it better to go for a conversion or factory-built campervan?

When you’re looking for a van you can opt for a factory-built campervan or a conversion. Both have their pros and cons. 

With a factory-built campervan, you know exactly what you’re getting. They are built to the manufacturer’s specifications and use the small space inside to its maximum potential. The interiors are usually pretty neutral and things like heating, air-conditioning, a fridge and a stove come as standard. However these vans do tend to be more expensive and parts generally cost more when things go wrong. For some people they also lack the individuality that they’re looking for from a campervan.

With conversions you have the option of buying a van that has either been converted by a specialist company or by an individual. The ones converted by companies are usually high-spec and can be more personalised by their owners. For example, you might find useful additional features that factory-built campervans don’t offer. One of the quirks we found when looking was that converted vans usually had brighter, more colourful interiors, as that’s something that can really personalise a van. Depending on what spec you are looking for, we didn’t find specially-converted vans to be that much cheaper than factory-built ones. 

The other option is a van that has been converted by an individual. These generally do tend to be cheaper and can be very unique. There are some beautifully-styled self-built campervans out there, which have innovative and unique storage solutions. However, they do also tend to vary massively in terms of workmanship and features. So it’s really worth knowing what you are looking at in terms of the mechanics and inner workings. 

With both converted options it’s worth having a checklist of things you definitely want. We found some of the ones we looked at were quite strange in what they were lacking – one had no heating and another had no stove, both of which were must-haves for us.   

Of course, there’s also the option to convert a van yourself if you feel like taking on a challenge!

Consider what your comfort levels are 

We’re quite used to camping, so for us a step-up to a campervan felt very luxurious! However, despite being used to a fairly basic setup, there were some things we really didn’t want to do without. Heating being one of them! We also wanted the seats and beds to be comfortable as in the future we’re planning some longer roadtrips. 

In addition, we felt the California VW gave us a decent amount of indoor space to use in bad weather. Obviously, unlike a motorhome, campervans do not come with a toilet or shower. However, we know that for now we’ll mostly be staying on campsites with facilities, so this isn’t a problem.

Think about your personal set up when buying a campervan

Something Mr A and I quickly realised when researching campervans is that the kind of van we wanted to buy now we have two children was very different to the one we would have bought if it was just the two of us. Gone were my dreams of a vintage, quirky, VW. Now I’m all about the practical! Travelling with children always comes with different challenges to travelling alone and that’s no different in a campervan. 

VW campervan

One of the main features we quickly decided we wanted, which helped to narrow down the search, was a sliding rail to enable the back seats to be moved forward when driving. This probably isn’t a feature you’d need with older children, but with two little ones we realised that journeys would be so much easier if they were within reaching distance of us. That was one of the big selling points of the California VW for us and every time we’re in it and I lean behind me to retrieve a dropped toy, it reinforces our decision.

Obviously everyone will have a different set up. But whether you’re single, a couple, or have children, think about what your priorities will be when you travel.

Be prepared to compromise if buying a secondhand campervan

Unless you’re buying a van brand new – in which case you can pick and choose the spec – whether you opt for a conversion or a factory-built van, it’s likely that you may have to make a few compromises when buying secondhand. Think of it like buying or renting a home, sometimes you’ll wander round and a few things may seem a bit weird or not exactly what you’d choose, but you could still live with them or change them in the future. However there will be other things that are definite no-nos. 

For us, we decided the interior colours weren’t too important and we were willing to be flexible on the paint colour of the van too – although I drew the line at white, as our white car doesn’t get cleaned enough as it is! Luckily, when the right van did come up it was blue, which is a colour we would have chosen, and the interior is very neutral too.

Don’t rush into it

This summer is turning out to be a strange one holiday wise. “Staycations” are booming and holiday homes around the UK are being let for ridiculous prices. Campervans are also selling like hotcakes. (We actually bought ours the day after it was advertised. BUT only because we had done the research so we knew exactly what we wanted.)

However, if it is something you are considering, remember that a campervan is a big investment. As well the initial outlay, there are ongoing costs such as insurance and MOT, as well as any future repairs. If you do buy a campervan you want it to be something you enjoy having, not something that becomes a constant source of stress. 

Also, make sure that whichever van you choose will work for you. We viewed a campervan that someone had bought in a rush only a few months previously. He then regretted because it was far bigger than he actually needed. If you’re not sure about what you want from a van, or even whether van life is right for you, it’s definitely worth renting a campervan for a week or so, to make sure you’d enjoy it.  

I hope you’ve found these tips about things to think about when buying a campervan helpful. As always, if you have any specific questions about the campervan buying process then please feel free to get in touch.

To read more about campervan life, check out this post about why we decided to buy a campervan. You can also read about taking a baby in a campervan here.

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