DriveThru Tours




Is it Worth Buying a Motorhome?

Grace and I have been seriously considering buying a motorhome (for the purpose of this article I am using the term motorhome to include campervans). Then we started thinking about the costs involved compared to other alternatives.

Let's consider the economics of owning and running a motorhome. For us, a second-hand motorhome would be the option of choice as new motorhomes are just not worth thinking about as the initial cost is so high – think of £45k as a starting figure. Even a fairly elderly second-hand motorhome is likely to cost a minimum of £20k to get anything worth buying - something reliable and in good condition. Some friends of ours have recently bought a three year old VW campervan. They said a new model was in excess of £100 000. I suggested they must have paid at least half that amount for theirs and this was confirmed. So, upwards of £50 000 for a depreciating asset. Seems rather a lot to me but we all have choices to make in life and they are happy with theirs so I hope they'll be happy with their new campervan.

Off on a bit of a tangent, but a former colleague of mine also bought a (new) VW campervan for use during his retirement. He kept it, unused, in his garage waiting for the big day to arrive. Sadly, the big day never arrived as he died from cancer before he could use it. How cruel life can be.

To work out if it is worth buying a motorhome consideration must be given to its lifespan as well as the cost of running it. Motorhomes don't last forever any more than any other vehicle.

Let's play with some figures:

Initial purchase cost:   £20k – for an elderly pre-owned motorhome
Lifespan:                     10 years – dependent on the age when purchased – may possibly be extended to 15 years.
Depreciation per year: £2000 over ten years (£1333 over fifteen years)

Annual running costs that include: repairs, maintenance / servicing and MOT tests, insurance, European roadside assistance and recovery costs.
Allow (per year):         £1300

This gives us a total of £3300 per year in depreciation and running costs (£2633 over 15 years)

I might add that I've not included what is usually a significant cost; site fees. It is true that most motorhomes can be parked off-site in many locations, however, there may be times when a site has to be used even just when requiring to get rid of waste water or to charge batteries etc. This, of course, will add to the running costs shown above. Large motorhomes are likely to use sites more frequently as parking elsewhere may be difficult to obtain. I have also not included the cost of storage fees as not everyone needs to store their motorhome away from their home. This usually costs in the order of £600 per year - a significant £6000 when used for ten years (£9000 over 15 years).

Another factor that people don't always consider is the cost of buying the next motorhome. When your old motorhome dies, where are you going to get the next lump sum to buy a replacement? Will you have, say, another £20k in your savings to buy another vehicle?

Now let's compare the cost of using a basic hotel:
I suggest that the cost per night of a basic hotel need not exceed £40. There are many special offers available - which can also be used to offset the cost of a hotel that may charge more than £40 / night.

For an average of £40 / night you can stay in a hotel for 82 nights per year (65 nights per year over 15 years) for the same cost as running your motorhome over ten (15) years. You'll also save money by using less fuel in your normal car than when driving a motorhome around all the time. Let's say this saving added to the 82 nights will give you a total of 90 nights away, per year, for the same cost as staying in your motorhome.

If you have to factor in the cost of both site fees and the use of a storage facility when your motorhome isn't being used, every extra £1000 in annual costs would give you an extra 25 nights per year in a hotel – not an insignificant amount.

Coincidentally, in simple terms, this 90 day period is the maximum time we are now allowed to spend travelling in the Schengen Area (including the EU) in any rolling 180 day period now the UK has left – refer to URL:

The big question that needs to be answered is "How many nights per year are you going to be staying in your motorhome – and can you maintain this level of usage over a ten (or fifteen) year period?"

Let's look at some examples of use:

A retired couple who live near us own a massive 6-wheel motorhome. Under normal circumstances it gets used for about three months per year when they travel to Portugal. This will now be limited to 90 days (per trip) exactly. Last year they went away for less time (as far as I can remember) because of the travel restrictions imposed by the Covid problem. In 2019, they departed on 1 April and came back about 3 months later.

This is a huge motorhome so the running costs will be considerably higher than those I've already mentioned. At the time of year they tend to travel they could get some really inexpensive hotel deals or even rent a flat or self-catering apartment for a reasonable cost if they were staying in one location. Travelling from north-west England via Calais, the return distance to southern Portugal would be about 3500 – 4000 miles so their fuel costs could easily exceed £1000 - less if they take the ferry to Spain, but the ferry cost to Spain would be very much higher. Whichever way you look at it, it is far more expensive than the cost of a cheap flight.

They store their vehicle at home which, although free, will increase their insurance premium.  Factor in any site fees and you can see the cost is very high when compared to staying in a hotel or a self-catering apartment for the same period of time.

They also don't have the 'lump sum' that they initially spent on purchasing their motorhome. If, as many people do, they borrowed money to pay for their motorhome, the annual payments need to be factored into the running costs too.

All things considered, there is no way that it is economical for them to own and run their motorhome.

Some years ago, a friend of mine bought an old motorhome for less than the £15k figure I mentioned previously, but these vehicles have gone up in price since those days. He spent a few years travelling around Europe and Morocco (winters in the sunshine!) living in his motorhome for long periods – many months at a time. In those days the UK was part of the EU so there were no travel restrictions and he could go where he wanted to, when he wanted to, as long as he stayed in one country no longer than the time permitted.

In this case, living in his motorhome was far less expensive than living in hotels for the same length of time. This is the only way to justify, economically, having a motorhome – if you buy one, USE IT! Live in it if at all possible.

Of course, there are other factors than mere money that make people choose to buy these wonderful homes on wheels. The main consideration is having the freedom of the road to choose where you go and where you stay the night - which is becoming more and more restricted nowadays. Maybe there won't be any freedom left soon. For the level of freedom to travel that we have formerly had they are unbeatable and I, for one, would love to have such a vehicle. It's just the economics that frighten me - as well as the travel restrictions that are being imposed on us.

If it were possible, I would gladly buy a motorhome and live in it permanently and spend the rest of my life touring, taking photographs and videos, writing about my travels and enjoying my retirement. This is what I have always dreamed of. Sadly, it's unlikely to happen.

Another Option

If you're still keen to own a motorhome, there is another option. There are many people now who are converting vans into campervans in order to spend less money than buying an already converted vehicle. Two of the major costs involved in doing this are fitting windows and lining and insulating the interior. I understand from one person who has done this that these two costs run into several thousand pounds if done professionally. Doing it yourself will save money but can you do a really good job?

One big way of saving money on this is to buy a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV).

These vehicles have normally had these two jobs carried out professioanlly as part of the conversion. Some are also fitted with a diesel fuelled heating system and they usually have a good electrical system that you can use for your campervan equipment.

There are two main types of 'wheelchair' conversion. The most common is to have a ramp and a sloping floor which isn't ideal for a campervan conversion in some ways. The sloping floor of the interior ramp has to be boarded over to make a flat floor. The loading ramp mechanism also means that you can't fit a towbar to these vehicles should you need one.

The other 'wheelchair' conversion utilises a tail-lift to lift the wheelchair and its occupant into the vehicle which means there is no ramp or sloping floor to deal with. Removing the tail-lift is straightforward and once this has been carried out a towbar can be fitted. These are usually fitted to bigger vans than the more common 'ramp-fitted' vans which make them ideal for use as campervans.

There are other advantages of buying a wheelchair accessible vehicle. Usually, they've been driven carefully so as not to throw the wheelchair occupant around. They have frequently been driven for fewer miles too when compared to a normal van which may well have been really 'hammered' by a variety of drivers who don't in the least care for the vehicle. Usually, a WAV will have a full service history and have only been driven by very few, often only one, driver(s). Another very significant factor from a financial point of view is that there is no VAT charged on a WAV, which is a very considerable saving as long as the dealer isn't greedy for more profit. This means that even though the van has been converted to have windows and is fully lined, it should be very much cheaper than a conventional van of the same age and mileage.

I'm considering buying one of these vehicles myself and NOT fully converting it into a campervan. I'll just throw a mattress and my camping gear inside and use it as a campervan, but still retain the option of using it as a van too. I'll probably get an inflatable awning for it too which will give me more accommodation space if I'm on a site. Otherwise, I'll just park where I can and camp for free.

Whilst I agree that this too is a costly project in the same way as buying a campervan, it may well be a considerably less expensive option but the criteria remains the same. Are you going to use it enough to justify the expense?

What price freedom?

Maybe better to buy a bicycle and a tent. It's also the best way to see a place too. Travelling slowly really does have advantages - as well as being cheaper.

Watch this space for futher news on this project.


In July 2022, we bought a Peugeot Boxer WAV. We did as I mentioned above; throw a mattress and camping gear inside (including a portable 'loo'), and off we went for a trial weekend away. We found a place to sleep adjacent to some moorland in the middle of nowhere. This was fine and when the farmer came along the next morning demanding his £5 fee we were quite happy to pay-up. There were some problems as it wasn't really big enough although it might have been more practical had it been fitted out as a camper. Also, there wasn't quite enough headroom to be comfortable.

However, our one big problem was our poor dog, Kanga, who was terrified of travelling in it. It may have been partially caused by the rattling tail lift (which we hadn't removed), but, whatever it was, Grace had to sit on the spare seat in the back and calm her down. The outward trip hadn't been too bad, but the homeward trip was a disaster for her. We sold the vehicle back to the dealer after 10 days. Sadly, our dear Kanga passed away very unexpectedly and suddenly in the middle of October 2022. As yet, we have no plans to buy another vehicle but will stick with using our 23 year old caravan for the time being.


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