Tips for buying a motorhome

By Robyn Dallimore

If you get your research right there's never been a better time to own a mobile home, writes Robyn Dallimore

Consider how much space you'll need for your family  and friends, and how often  you'll use the vehicle.  Photo / Getty Images
Consider how much space you'll need for your family and friends, and how often you'll use the vehicle. Photo / Getty Images

With the high New Zealand dollar and a fleet of vehicles roaring into the country, there's never been a better time to own your own mobile home.

Today's trends encompass the classic caravans towed behind equally classic cars, caravans in the backyard as bedrooms, campervans and motorhomes. In recent years there has been an increase of imports from the UK. Luxury motorhomes from Europe are appearing on our shores, and RVs from the United States include fifth-wheel caravan models, Toy Haulers and buses.

With the global economic crash, our high-dollar value buys a lot. One of the biggest decisions is deciding what suits your lifestyle. Are you confident towing a caravan or fifth-wheeler? Do you want the independence of a car to drive around in, leaving the RV at a holiday park? Do you need a self-contained RV, with independent battery power, cooking, freshwater tanks and greywater tanks to hold waste, a self-contained toilet and shower system? You essentially arrive on site and are completely independent - no rubbish or waste will leave your vehicle, no plugs or connections are required.

There's a special joy in being able to pull over on the desert road, have a cup of tea and a bit of a walk around, and maybe a little sleep.

So, how do you choose? First, write a buyer's brief unique to you. Do a points schedule that reflects your priorities: you might think a decent cooking oven is worth 10 points, a microwave two points, outdoor storage 10 points, roof-rack four points. Look at lounge layouts and how beds are made up - will you have visitors to stay, and do you want a fixed bed and en suite? Plan for the now, not the "in 10 years" scenario.

How often will you use the vehicle - every weekend, once a month, a few weeks a year or more? It can mean a lot of money sitting in the driveway if you don't use the asset. Try hiring different-sized vehicles to see what really suits you. A six-berth has plenty of options with space and beds, but a long wheelbase two-berth can fulfil most needs for weekend trips.

What fits your budget? A 1970s caravan starts at $4000, a brand new Traillite is about $320,000 - this is a top-of-the-line luxury apartment on wheels, with fixtures and fittings you would die for in your own home. An average four-berth ex-rental motorhome, circa 2006, will start at $55,000. You may spend a little more grunting up the batteries, putting in an inverter to charge phones and laptops, boost up the solar panels, and install independent gas or diesel heating to give you real flexibility, but the world - or at least New Zealand - will open up to you.

Be aware that with imported vehicles the choice is varied, but the quality can be variable. The "beware" with imports is ensuring you understand the gas and electrical compliance requirements. Check out and look for "Electrical and Gas Safety Obligations for Caravan, Motorhome and Boating". All imported vehicles need to display current compliance certificates. The appliances installed also need to be suitable for our propane supplies; this is a little-understood problem and the website offers links to research approved brands and models suitable to our supply.

Warranties also need to be fully checked out with new imported products. Private importers invalidate the manufacturer's warranty the moment the vehicle leaves the country of origin. The local Fiat dealer will not back up the warranty on the new UK motorhome you imported or brought off Trade Me, nor will the local domestic supplier fix that problem fridge.

Authorised distributors will explain the style of warranty offered by them, as this varies from company and manufacturer - buyer beware.

•Robyn Dallimore is editor of RV Magazine.

- NZ Herald

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