The Ultimate Motorhome Buying Guide

It seems that us Aussies are adventurers at heart. This sense of adventure goes hand-in-hand with road-trips. Motorhomes and campers were popularised on our shores in the 1960s, and soon became the vehicle of choice for an iconic family holiday. There’s nothing like the sense of freedom and relaxation that cruising along in a motorhome can bring. If you’re yearning for the open road and spending nights in unique landscapes in your house-on-wheels, then this article is for you. 

However, for many, the purchase of a motorhome or camper is no small thing. The luxury comforts associated with motorhomes can bring luxury price tags. Buying a motorhome could be the second biggest (if not the biggest) purchase of your life. Therefore, it’s imperative to have the best information at your fingertips to pick the perfect motorhome for you. 

To help you on that journey, we’ve compiled the top 10 questions you should ask yourself in order to refine your RV wishlist. 

Note, the below assumes you have already established your budget and number of berths. 

 


 

Travel Style

1. What is my travel style and purpose?

 

Person sitting in motorhome RV car looking out window
 

Before you consider vehicle types, features or dimensions - ask yourself, what type of travel will you be embarking on? Know whether you intend to live in your vehicle or use it for weekend trips and short holidays. Determine if you expect to access remote and off-road locations on your travels, or whether highways and sealed roads will get you to where you desire. 

Knowing this will help you determine your needs for:

  • Storage size - water, plus food and luggage
  • Self-contained requirements - power, fuel type, solar, battery
  • Off-road capabilities - standard tourer motorhome, off-road or additional tow vehicle
  • Bathroom - combined versus shower/toilet (i.e. dry versus wet bathroom)
  • Kitchen arrangement - microwave only or full cooking appliances
  • Sleeping arrangement - retractable bed versus spacious island bed
  • Entertaining space - outdoor only versus indoor dinette

Now that you know your travel style, let’s learn more about your vehicle needs! 

 


 

Build Type

2. What type of motorised product am I looking for? 

 

Image created and owned by RV Boss

 

When most people hear the word ‘RV’ they think ‘large motorhome’. Interestingly, in Australia, ‘RV’ isn’t solely used to define a motorised product. Instead, ‘RV’ is the shortened version of ‘recreational vehicle’, and in fact encompasses all types of leisure products, including caravans. 

If you’ve somehow found yourself in this motorised article and are instead on the hunt for a caravan buying guide - don’t stress, we have one already prepared for you! Click here

There are many different categories of motorised RVs in Australia and it’s important to understand your preference to simplify your search. While there are several ‘classes’ of motorised products, simply understanding the difference between campervans and motorhomes is important. 

  • Motorhomes - Truck chassis using the original driver's cabin. The additional sleeping/living quarters are built separately onto the rear by an RV manufacturer.
  • Campervans - Truck/van chassis with the existing rear walls and space converted into sleeping/living quarters.

Within this guide, we will not be investigating slide-on campers. 

 


 

Chassis

3. Which vehicle chassis do I prefer? 

Motorhome chassis manufacturers produce the vehicle engine, driving capabilities, as well as the base structural frame which holds the home/body. Some of the leading chassis providers you will commonly find in new motorised RV builds in Australia are: 

  • IVECO
  • Mercedes
  • Fiat
  • Renault

Leaving aside a preference for brand or country of manufacture, the primary differences to analyse is front versus rear-wheel drive and engine power. Research this to learn the pros and cons of each and ask your salesperson for more information.

 


Manufacturer

4. Are they a trusted manufacturer?

Technical engineer drawing of motorhome camper
 

Motorhomes and campervans include thousands of complex components, travelling at speed across Australian roads. Therefore, you want a reputable manufacturer who can offer quality materials, appropriate manufacturing processes and a history of building quality RVs. Reputable manufacturers will have an expert team of designers and engineers whose job it is to ensure there is a seamless integration between the motorised element (car/chassis) and the home on which it is built. So too, is the importance of meticulously integrating kitchens and bathrooms into campervan conversions. 

A great initial step in determining a reputable manufacturer is reviewing their duration of manufacturing and warranty offering. Also, check that they are accredited with the Recreational Vehicle Manufacturing Accreditation Program (RVMAP). See the list of accredited manufacturers here

 


 

Weights

5. How much payload does it really have? 

aerial shot flat lay camper packing items guitar clothes surf board camping gear
Source @mooskicreative - shared with permission

 

As with caravans, weights are important. You need to know the difference between GVM, Kerb and Payload weights. For a motorised product, it can be particularly challenging to determine the actual payload - i.e. the amount of weight available for storage. The key here is to ask your dealer or manufacturer whether the weights listed include passengers, water and gas bottles. 

The amount of payload you require is subjective. Conservatively, 300 kilograms for a weekender or holiday RV should be sufficient. For a full-time house on wheels, this may need to be much higher. Reviewing the weights and knowing exactly what payload you require could save you picking the wrong motorhome. 

 


Features

6. Are these features standard or extra? 

 

Caravan Motorhome internal kitchen features setup
Source @tripinavan - shared with permission

Travellers generally opt for a motorhome or campervan for ease, comfort and safety. Know your list of must-have features during the research phase. Make sure to ask your salesperson whether your features are standard or whether they’re paid extras. This could save you a lot of hassle when whittling down your wishlist. 

Our ideal features in motorhomes include - 

  • Shower & toilet
  • Awning
  • Cooktop, grill and oven
  • Fridge
  • Microwave
  • Large water and grey water storage
  • Battery
  • Solar panels
  • Storage compartments
  • Air Conditioning
  • Air vents
  • Bike racks
  • Television
  • Gas bottles
  • Reversing camera
  • USB outlets

 


 

License

7. Can I drive it? 

 

Man driver standing in front of motorhome RV

 

Simply put, if a motorhome’s total weight (Gross Vehicle Mass - GVM) is over 4.5 tonne you will need to upgrade your driver licence. 

Motorhome driving licence guide:

  • Standard car licence (STD) = Up to 4.5 tonne GVM 
  • Light Rigid Licence (LR) = 4.5 to 8 tonne GVM 
  • Medium Rigid Licence (MR) = 8 to 12 tonne GVM

A huge number of Australian motorhomes fall within the standard car licence range. So if you’re worried about having to upgrade, there really isn’t any need to purchase a motorhome in a higher category. 

However, obtaining an LR or MR licence isn’t overly difficult. So, if you want a larger motorhome and have the budget to match, the options and sizes are plentiful! 

 


Towing

8. Do I need to tow a vehicle as well?

Manufacturers hear this question all the time. First-time motorhome buyers often don’t want to give up the perceived “freedom” of the additional car. As motorhomes can be large and difficult to manoeuvre for quick trips or city parking, the option for a small vehicle to tow is a valid consideration. 

The benefits of a tow vehicle are the freedom to drive for quick trips to the shops while keeping the camp set-up, and easier parking options. However, on the flip side, there are additional costs of the vehicle and towing systems. Namely, tow vehicles mean significantly increased fuel consumption and difficult towing. 

So, ask yourself the hard question - do you really need to tow another car? 

If ‘yes’ is the answer, check whether your motorhome can tow a vehicle and what the total tow weight is. You will most likely be flat towing - where the towed vehicle is towed on all four wheels. This minimises sway and improves tow efficiencies behind the motorhome. Common flat tow vehicles include the Suzuki Grand Vitara, Hyundai Excel and Toyota RAV4. 

If you’re not up for the hassle, consider tow vehicle alternatives such as bikes or e-bikes. 

 


 

Sleeping

9. How do I want to sleep? 

Regarding the main bed, there are some seriously cool sleeping arrangements available for RVs. If you’re intending to use it for short trips, the bed may be less important than storage or cooking facilities. However, if you’re living in the vehicle, the place you count sheep might be of the utmost importance. Expect to choose between: 

  • Style -  island, dinette-conversion, french, Dropdown, Retractable
  • Size - double, single, bunks
  • Position - north/south or east/west

 

Internal interior motorhome bed sleeping area

 

For ultimate comfort, a north/south facing island bed gives you the luxury of home. However, this reduces the space allowed for walkways. 

Dinette conversions allow you to convert a dinette into a bed at night; usually using components from the dinette table and cushions. However, this option can be less comfortable and requires you to set up the bed each evening. 

For something unique and practical, check out drop-down or retractable beds. These are more convenient than a dinette conversion (as the bed remains intact), while still providing extra entertaining or storage space underneath. 

 


 

Testing

10. Try before you buy!

 

Motorhome campervan wide shot sunset

 

This is not so much a question, as it is a statement. However, there should be nothing stopping you giving a motorhome a spin. Most dealerships will offer test-drives, however, if you ask the right questions some places will even offer a ‘Try before you buy’ option, to spend a night in a motorhome! 

 


 

After you have considered the top attributes to look for in a motorhome, there are universal points you should consider before you pick your manufacturer and dealer. No matter whether you’re buying a camper trailer, caravan or motorhome - Read this before you buy!

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