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Vanlife: How to buy a used campervan

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Buying a used campervan is a great way to jump-start your vanlife. But it can be a little daunting because there’s so much to consider and watch out for.

Here’s our top tips to help you find the perfect camper to fuel your next vanlife adventure.

Start by making two lists – a ‘want’ and a ‘need’ list

Your campervan is going to be your new home, so give some serious thought to all the features you’d like to have and divide them into two categories - wants and needs.

  • Do you need a toilet and shower? Or will you be staying on campsites and would rather the extra room?
  • How important are mosquito nets to you?
  • Are you going to be freedom camping (or free camping) a lot so will need a second leisure battery? Or will you normally be hooked up to power overnight?

Once you have a clear idea of what will make you happiest and most comfortable on the road, it’s then much easier to narrow down what type of motorhome to buy.

Think: What campervan layout will work for me?

As you’re making your ‘want’ and ‘need’ lists also ask yourself some questions about what layout will suit you best:

  • How much of a kitchen is there? Do you need a proper hob inside or can you get away with a camping stove? Also think about the weather where you’ll be using it most. If it rains often, an indoor stove might be a better option!
  • How are the beds? Is the mattress in good nick or is it going to need to be replaced? Is the bed the right size for your needs?
  • Will making up your bed every night ruin your vanlife so need a fixed bed?

Size and Weight

Make sure you consider the size of the motorhome you’ll be driving. You need to feel confident driving it, so don’t go too big.

You also might want to consider that there are often higher fees with larger campervans. If your vanlife includes a lot of ferry rides then you probably don’t want a van any more than 6m long, because the fees go up after that.

Decide on a budget

Once you’ve worked out what your dream vanlife camper is, give yourself a budget. You should start by looking at some ads to get an idea of how much you’ll need to spend, but then decide on what you max price is.

There’s no point getting your dream campervan if it’s out of your price range, because the debt will just follow you no matter where your vanlife adventure takes you.

When you are making your budget, don’t forget to include the cost of insurance as well! In the UK this is usually about £100 a month.


Check the condition of the campervan - or get a professional to

Get in there and really inspect everything. Get your hands on the body work and feel if there are any loose panels or signs of damp or rust.

Check the tires. They might look ok, but if they are over 4 years old then they might need replacing, even if the tread is still quite thick.

Ask to see the details of the last service. If it was more than a year ago, you might be advised to steer clear. When you are out and about enjoying your vanlife you need to know everything is in good working order, so yearly servicing is an absolute must.

Unless you're a certified mechanic, you should really get your potential new vanlife campervan checked by a mechanic.

In the UK, one of the easiest ways to do this is to take it for an MOT. You can book these anywhere and they usually cost about £40. These tests will raise any potential issues and make sure you're buying something which is road legal

And in the US, we found nearly all auto service facilities and repairs stores offer some sort of pre-purchase inspection. For usually around $100.

Top tip: make sure you call ahead and make sure the mechanic is able to accommodate your large vehicle!

Take it for a test drive

Make sure that you take it for a longer test drive that includes driving down the kinds of roads that you will be heading out on during your vanlife adventutres.

You don’t want a van that is great on the forecourt but rattles your brain in your skull the moment you hit a country road.

If you follow all of these tips, you should be in a good position to buy your vanlife camper and avoid any nasty surprises!

 

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