European Motorhome Hunting - First Steps
Since the end of last year we have been in online research mode, looking for a new home on wheels that could take us on the next chapter of our traveling adventure. We have spent, to be honest, an unhealthy number of hours devouring YouTube videos from manufacturers and reviewers in an attempt to narrow down our choices. In the end there is no substitute for getting in the real thing. Sure enough, there were many features that we thought we wanted from our research that we changed our minds about once we finally got to see the rigs in person.
There are so many choices to be made: How long a van do we need, what layout do we want, what features are essential, do we want an Integrated (aka A-class in the UK) or a Semi-Integrated (aka low profile in the UK) version? Which brands have a good build quality, do we want right or left hand drive? We have gone back and forth on all of these and are still open-minded on some.
Left hand versus right hand drive. This was an easy thing to knock off the list. We know we want a left-hand drive motorhome. In every European country except the UK and Ireland, they drive on the right. Given that we are planning to spend the vast majority of our time outside of the UK and Ireland this seems like a no-brainer. We have been warned by some that LHD can affect resale value but we are not worried about that. It's more important to us that the home we have suits our needs. We have to register the vehicle in the UK since that is where we hold valid driving licenses and must use the same address for vehicle registration. Finding LHD vehicles for sale in the UK severely limits the available inventory, nevertheless we plan to stay firm on this requirement. So our options are we get lucky and find a used LHD for sale in the UK, have a UK dealer factory order one for us or import from a dealer elsewhere in Europe.
Layout options. Another decision we made early on was that we wanted a rear garage to carry bikes or maybe even a scooter securely. We also want a separate shower. We don't fancy a wet room for full time living. The next decision is bed-style - fixed or non-fixed. A few innovative models have great ways of keeping the bed made up but putting it out of the way during the day - The Burstner Ixeo TL 680 G was very tempting but ultimately a little small for full-time living. From the videos we watched we were skeptical about the front lounges in European motorhomes. We thought they looked small and not very comfortable. This led us to look at a few rear lounge options like the Hymer Duomobil, or the Frankia I 740 Plus. But we were pleasantly surprised once we got inside the front lounge models and think that they will do us just fine. This gives us a lot more choice and flexibility of models.
With a front lounge, the next decision is whether to go for an island bed or twin beds. The rear twin beds in most models have an infill which make a gigantic area that sits high above a rear garage. Again from videos, and our experience in the Airstream, we thought an island bed would suit us. But once we got inside the models we realized that an island bed layout can mean sacrificing a lot of storage space compared to the twin beds. Also the island beds are not always truly walk around if you also have a decent sized rear garage. So now we are open to the twin / huge rear bed too.
Integrated or semi-integrated: Another feature we changed our mind about once we got inside the models was the style of motorhome we want. We had thought that we would prefer an integrated (A-Class) style. The benefits are that the cab is roomier and the motorhome is the same width along the whole length. But the vast majority of these models have a second bed above the cab which, for us, reduces these advantages significantly. We have no need for another bed and they can block outside light and take up head space. We found the low profile models, which instead have a large skylight and/or cupboards above the cab more airy - so now they are back on the list too.
Double floor: Many of the continental European (not the British) models have double floors. This has the huge advantage that all the tanks and plumbing are contained inside a heated compartment. This allows travel to colder climates without the worry of having to drain tanks in freezing temperatures. Even though we are not snow bunnies and don't plan to travel to freezing areas we would like to cover all eventualities. A side benefit is your bare feet touch a toasty floor first thing in the morning when you get up.
Brand: Because we wanted a double floor, that ruled out any British manufacturers. Also their reputation for build quality is not as good as the continental companies and British built LHD models are even rarer. We looked at the majority of continental brands, including the major German ones like Hymer, Carthago, Burstner, and Knaus, as well as some French ones such as Chausson and Pilote, and the Slovenian brand Adria. All seem good quality. The decor style varies greatly ranging from old fashioned and sturdy to ultra modern, almost like a hospital room. In the end we found that we were quite agnostic about brand and that layout and other specifications were far more important.
Specifications: Layout and decor aside, more practical thoughts ultimately will play a large part in our decision. We are lucky to be old enough to have a full C1 entitlement on our UK driving licenses. This means we can drive a vehicle up to 7,500 kgs. The law changed in 1997 to make driving anything above 3,500 kgs more restrictive without special training. While there are some disadvantages to a heavier or longer motorhome we think the benefits outweigh these for us at this point. Being able to drive a heavier vehicle means we can go slightly longer. We are thinking around 7.5 meters (about 25 feet) will give us the layout we want. We can also get a vehicle which gives us a nice, healthy payload meaning we can carry a scooter or electric bikes without worrying about being close to the chassis weight limit. In addition to the overall payload it's important to look at the rear garage payload. Some models we originally considered have a rear garage weight limit of 150 kgs, which if you add a scooter (100 kgs+), a few chairs (8 kgs) and a spare wheel (25 kgs) is severely limiting. Other important specs for us include automatic transmission - we want it, and the horsepower of the engine. After our previous experience of owning an under powered Winnebago View we know we would prefer an engine powerful enough to get us up and down mountains with ease.
Final practicalities: Other things we want are just nice to haves since these can easily be added after market. Things like an awning, an oven, an inverter, extra batteries and solar panels are all features we would like but are not as important when selecting the vehicle we want.
Given all of these considerations we are narrowing in on a few models. Now we have that done, our next step is to actually find motorhomes for sale that meet our needs. We'll update on that in our next post.