Motorhome FAQ for new owners

Is there any advice on driving a motorhome for beginners?

Small motorhomes and campervans are really no harder to drive than a car. You’ll just need to get used to a slightly different size and shape but on the road, they are very similar. Larger motorhomes aren’t ‘easy’ to drive at first but it becomes easier in time after you adjust to the size and rear visibility. Large motorhomes are built with excellent viewing door mirrors which really help. The best advice is to start slowly at first and plan your journey carefully to avoid any tight roads or busy town traffic until you gain more confidence.

What type of motorhome is best?

In recent decades the motorhome market has evolved to provide greater choice than ever. It is therefore wise to thoroughly research the market before making a final decision. A great way to get free help and advice is to speak to like-minded individuals through a club or an online forum. Friendly, family-run dealers like Davan are also a great source of knowledge and are more than happy to explain which motorhome would be best for your needs and budget.

There are a few main ‘types’ of motorhomes or campervans for you to consider.

“Panel Van Conversions” are typically white-van-man vehicles that are kitted out for camping. They are referred to as “campervans” and usually come with elevating roofs for extra headroom when you arrive at your destination.

“Coachbuilts” usually start life as a front cab with rear chassis to which a converter will add a caravan body. These vehicles have more interior space and ‘overcab’ models have space for a double bed over the front cab.

“A-class” are manufactured by placing a full caravan shell over the chassis and engine. These larger motorhomes optimise the interior space with innovative design features and on some models, even incorporate a full-size, drop-down double bed.

“RV’s” or Recreational Vehicles, are the biggest and usually priciest motorhomes on the market. They usually include features and facilities normally found in residential homes. Quality and luxury are words usually associated with these models.

With such a wide range of vehicles, it’s hard to know which will be best for you, so we'd recommend visiting a dealer with a large showground like Davan or visiting a show, to gain confidence in your decision.

Do you need a special license to drive a motorhome?

In most cases, a motorhome won’t exceed 3500Kg, so a standard driving licence will cover you, regardless of the date you passed your test. However, if you’ve passed your driving test since 1st January 1997, for much larger motorhomes up to 7,500Kg, you will need to pass an additional driving test to add a C1 category to your licence.

Can I use a motorhome off the beaten track?

The reason most buyers choose motorhomes over caravans is so they can discover and enjoy parts of the world where hotels or campsites simply don’t exist. It’s at these destinations where a motorhome truly comes into it’s own.

At these destinations your vehicle truly becomes your home from home and will happily run on a combination of 12V leisure battery and gas cylinder for a few days. Battery power can sometimes be topped using a solar panel (or re-charge when the vehicle is driven). Gas cylinders will run out quickly if they are used to supply heating and run a fridge, so always check the amount in a cylinder before a trip or take a spare.

Should motorhome tyres be treated differently to car tyres?

Not really. The only recommendation is that motorhomes will often stay on the vehicle for a lot longer because the mileage you do in a motorhome is often much less than your car. You should really replace any motorhome tyre once it reaches 5 years of age. After that, they will deteriorate regardless of their tread depth.

Do motorhomes need a different pitch to caravans?

Most campsites allow all shapes and sizes of motorhomes to use the same pitch as caravans. However, some can be a bit particular if you exceed 8.7 metres in length. Also, as motorhomes are heavier than caravans, hard-standing pitches are more suitable. Motorhomes can use grass pitches but it’s advisable to check the ground first before driving on to it, by digging the heel of your shoe into the soil.

It is also advisable, if you have a particularly large or heavy vehicle, to check that the site can accommodate you. 

how to tow a car behind a motorhome?

In the UK, depending on when you passed your driving test, different rules apply to your licence and it’s limitations regarding towed vehicles and combined outfit weights. You must also ensure that you’re within the manufacturer’s vehicle towing limits.

For a motorhome to tow a small car (the law doesn’t specifically say you can do this) you would need to use an a-frame, which allows the car to be towed on its own wheels without anyone sitting in it. According to the government, a towed vehicle using an a-frame essentially becomes a trailer and must conform to the same regulations i.e. brakes, handbrake, triangular rear reflectors etc. Vehicles will have a towing limit for unbraked trailers and another limit for braked trailers.

In Europe however, towing leisure vehicles is a very grey area. Some countries prohibit towing a car this way. Therefore, to ensure you comply with any legislation you may encounter travelling abroad, we’d recommend towing the car on a braked trailer instead, which raises all four wheels of the car off the ground.

What gas should I use in my motorhome, butane or propane?

There are differences in the efficiencies and properties of these two camping gases but in simple terms, butane burns at about 10% more efficiently than propane, so you’d use slightly less gas. Propane, on the other hand, and can be used in any climatic condition, even down to minus 42˚C. It’s also a bit lighter than butane which means you’ll be carrying less weight and it’s easier to lift.

Butane is much less toxic however and burns much cleaner. Another thing to note is that propane is stored at higher pressure, so is potentially more dangerous. It’s also illegal to store propane indoors.

What is the best type of aerial for my motorhome?

There are basically two types of motorhome aerial you can choose from; directional and omnidirectional. To decide which is best for you, you need to understand the difference between them.  

Omnidirectional aerials are really useful if you don’t know which direction your signal is coming from as they are able to pick up a signal from any direction. However, the downside is that they can also pick up interference from the many signals being transmitted in your location. This can sometimes mean poor quality TV and some channels just don’t get picked up at all.

Directional aerials are simpler products but they must be rotated to point directly at a transmission tower in order to get the best signal and then adjusted for best-quality reception. A problem with these aerials is that reception can often be worsened due to hills, buildings or trees being in the way. Siting an aerial on a tall pole can sometimes help with this problem. It’s also worth noting that campsites exist mainly in rural locations where TV signals are often weaker.

Leisure battery as well as a car battery in my motorhome?

A car or motorhome engine battery is designed to provide a surge of power for a short burst of time in order to start an engine. After that, it is not doing anything more than re-charging itself by way of the alternator.

Your leisure battery, on the other hand, does an entirely different job by providing a low power output over a prolonged period of time, so you can operate the electrical appliances within the habitation area of your motorhome throughout the day.

Leisure batteries are also constructed to be discharged and re-charged many times and their lifespan and efficiency is enhanced if not often overloaded and as such will keep everything running smoothly for about a week without a re-charge.

Can I run my motorhome’s refrigerator on cross channel ferry journeys?

No you can’t! In truth, you shouldn’t need to for short crossings of just a few hours. If the refrigerator is pre-cooled beforehand, the contents should remain adequately cool until you are able to re-connect the other side. You can also help the fridge stay cool by filling it as full as possible with ice packs (same ones used in cool boxes) and by not opening it with the power off.

How should I store my motorhome for Winter?

If you’re laying-up your motorhome for the Winter, where to store it along with measures to stop it deteriorating during cold, wet months need to be considered.

If you’re considering paying for secured storage, try to obtain a hard-standing area so you don’t struggle with soft, wet ground traction when you return. Make sure your vehicle isn’t sat under trees where paint damage can be caused by falling leaves and bird droppings. A covered area is therefore much better.

Frost damage in Winter is enemy number one, so make sure you drain down the water supply system including heaters and taps. Moisture and condensation are also real problems and can create an environment for mould and fungus growth if ventilation is limited. So, try to ensure as much ventilation as possible without leaving windows ajar for vermin or even thieves to get in.

Running the engine periodically along with any airflow systems will help and moving the vehicle occasionally will help the tyres stay flexible. Covers are also a good idea to help prevent brake disc corrosion by preventing moisture coming into contact with the discs.

Do I need seat belts for the rear seats in my motorhome?

All modern motorhomes now have seat belts fitted to all designated travelling seats. Any seat which is designed to be used only when static, does not need a seat belt but should also not be used for travelling passengers. Travelling seats are forward-facing and static-use (non-travelling) seats are generally side-facing. Where seat belts are provided they must be worn.

Seat belts in older motorhomes might only be fitted to the cab seats, which raise questions about carrying passengers in the habitation area. In these instances, you should only carry the number of passengers as there are berths. Always check with your insurer if you intend to carry passengers with insufficient seat belts available.

How can I protect my motorhome from theft?

The popularity of motorhomes also make them popular targets for thieves. Apart from the obvious precautions such as door and window lock security, you might also consider installing an alarm, immobilizer or tracking device. There are also some sound mechanical devices to consider, such as wheel clamps and steering wheel locks, which will provide a deterrent and reduce the risk of theft.

Many motorhomes are stolen from storage compounds that provide little or no security. Secure storage can be hard to find and may cost more but is very worthwhile.

Will my motorhome TV still work abroad?

Watching TV in the UK has changed dramatically in recent years as it has in much of Europe. A multi-standard TV (used in most motorhomes today) will help, but if you want to watch UK TV channels when in Europe, a satellite system and receiver is the only real option.

With a satellite dish and receiver, you can receive whatever TV channel signals your dish is configured to receive. To receive UK Satellite TV abroad, the simple rule of thumb applies that biggest is best. An 85cm dish is much more capable of receiving a signal than a 40cm dish. There are also TVs with built-in Freesat receivers, removing the need for a subscription service.

Can I use normal household appliances?

Well yes, you can but there are limitations you need to take into account. Any campsite electricity hook-up will provide you with electrical power in much the same way as your home does. This is normally a 230V supply, which you can use directly with 230V electrical equipment or indirectly through a leisure battery that converts to a normal 12V DC.

Most campsite electricity hook-ups incorporate a safety device that prevents overloading and consequently limits the number of appliances you can use at the same time. Most sites will provide a 16 amp supply, which is slightly less than a normal household supply of 20 amps. To prevent the safety devices from cutting your electrical supply, you must ensure the total wattage of appliances used at the same time does not exceed the power supply provided.

 To work this out simply divide the wattage of your appliances by the supply voltage to determine how many amps (power supply) they will require. i.e. a household 1000 watt toaster using a 230-volt power supply will require 4.3 amps of electricity when in use. That’s easily within a power supply of 16 amps. However, if you increase the load to four 1000 watt appliances at the same time, they would draw over 17 amps and overload your supply.

Which toilet chemical fluid I use?

Toilet chemicals have two very basic functions, to break down human waste and kill smells. A very toxic chemical called formaldehyde was commonly used but not so much these days as it isn’t kind to the environment. Some campsites may also insist that you only use environmentally-friendly chemicals.

These days you’ll discover lots of formaldehyde-free chemicals on the market, which are usually coloured green as opposed to the blue colour of formaldehyde.