Lifestyle Guides

A beginner’s guide to buying a campervan

From where to buy to what checks to make, here’s all you need to know about buying a campervan.

Campervan parked by lake

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in interest in campervans, with many motorists planning on ‘staycationing’ more in the near future, or driving rather than flying abroad. 

A campervan can be a wonderful investment, giving you the opportunity of fun-packed beach days, last-minute mini-breaks or longer trips away. But with so many factors to consider before you can hit the open road, it can be difficult to know where to start. 

Thankfully, our guide looks at everything from where to buy and what checks to make, to which campervan essentials to fill it with and additional costs to consider, such as campervan insurance.

Which campervan should I buy?

If you’re new to campervanning, start by answering these questions to help you narrow down your search and find the best campervan for your needs.

How do you plan on using your campervan?

Do you plan to use your campervan for day trips to the seaside, carting surf boards, deck chairs and sun brollies for the family in the back? Or, maybe you and your partner want to take it for weekends away? Perhaps you plan on longer solo trips, and even taking it abroad? 

One of the most important things to consider here is the level of comfort you’re after – people tend to want a little extra luxury if they’re using it regularly or planning on longer trips away. 

Who’s going to be using your campervan?

You’ll want to make sure the campervan has enough beds and travel seats for the number of people you intend on using it.

However, it’s worth remembering that not everyone may want to sleep in the same space. If you plan on taking older children away with you, for example, you might want to look at buying a separate tent for them to sleep in instead. 

What’s your budget?

Having asked yourself about how you’ll use your campervan, and who’s it for, the next thing to look at is your budget. Once you’ve narrowed down a few options, remember to include any repairs or alterations that may need to be made, as the cost of these can soon add up.

If you’re having trouble getting something in your budget range, don’t worry, you still have a few options. For example, if you’re looking at new campervans, maybe a second-hand model is available instead? Or perhaps a campervan that holds its value might be a wise choice, meaning if you’re forced to sell you shouldn’t be left out of pocket. 

Finally, there’s the option of renting a camper for trips away. This can help you decide if van life is for you, while giving you longer to save for the vehicle you desire.

The best way to buy a campervan

Three common choices for buying a campervan are either via a dealer, buying privately from the classified ads, or from friends and family. Each way has its pros and cons. 

Buying a campervan from a dealer

Pros

  • Warranty – Many new and used vehicles come with a warranty backed by the manufacturer, giving you peace of mind if anything goes wrong
  • Added consumer protection - If you pay for part or all of the van by credit card, you’ll be covered by section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 will also apply, which says goods must be ‘of a satisfactory quality’, ‘fit for purpose, and ‘as described
  • MOT and vehicle history vetting - A dealer will likely vet the vehicle’s history, including mileage, service record and registration. Almost all approved used vans are sold with a new MOT too. 

Cons

  • Could be more costly - Things such as warranties, extra services, and any dealer’s commissions can bump up the price

When selecting a dealer, be sure to check the company out before you buy. Visit the website to see what kind of vans they sell and read any customer reviews.

You can also check if they’re accredited by motoring organisations, such as the SMMT, British Independent Motor Traders Association or Scottish Motor Traders Association. 

Reputable dealers should be more than happy to let you test drive the vehicle too, something that’s definitely recommended before you part with your cash.

Buying a campervan privately 

Pros

  • Lower prices - The main benefit of buying a campervan from a private seller is the cost, as you may get a better price than you would through a dealer
  • Potentially less pressured environment than at a dealership - Some people don’t enjoy the experience of buying via a dealer, as they may feel pressured into buying by a pushy salesperson

Cons

  • Need to be wary of scams - The obvious downside to buying from a private seller is avoiding potential scams, and secondly getting a vehicle of the quality you expect for your money. Watch out for deals that look to good to be true, as they probably are
  • Less consumer protection if something goes wrong

When looking through classified ads, and the likes of eBay, it’s worth comparing a number of similar vehicles to get a feel for the price of your chosen campervan. Things such as the van’s age, model and general condition will all affect the price you should expect to pay.

If you’re meeting a private seller, it can be a good idea to take someone with you, especially if you’re carrying a large amount of cash. And examine all documents, including things such as its service history and MOT certificate.

Below you’ll find some checks to make before buying a campervan. These are especially recommended when buying via a private seller. If you don’t feel confident doing these yourself, you can always find a professional to help.

Buying a campervan from friends and family

It can be tempting to buy from a friend or family member, but the same rules apply as buying from any other private seller.

Pros

  • Could grab a bargain (but check out similar vehicles to be sure you’re getting a fair price)
  • May already know the vehicle 
  • Personal relationship to the seller

Cons

  • Family relationships could sour if something goes wrong

Important checks to make before you buy a campervan

Whether you’re buying from a dealer, a private seller or family, it pays to do a few checks before you buy a campervan. 

Take it for a test drive

You may want to take a few vehicles for a drive before you decide which one to buy. As well as getting a feeling for things such as steering and braking, it gives you an opportunity to listen to the engine and any noise from the suspension - knocking or rattling is not a good thing here. 

You’ll also be able to check the headlights, wipers, dashboard warning lights and see if all the windows and locks work too. If the campervan has a stereo, make sure this works and is included with the van.

Check the service history

Ask to see a record of any work that has been done on the van. Regular servicing is a good thing, while a campervan that has been underserviced might not necessarily be in a bad condition, but you should expect to pay a bit less due to this.

Pop the roof

If the van has a roof, then it’s a good idea to raise it a couple of times, watching from both inside and outside the vehicle if you can. One of the most important things to check is that the pop-up roof locks securely, as you don’t want it popping open while you’re on the road.

Check the safety equipment

Many campervans have basic safety equipment, such as a fire extinguisher and fire blanket. It’s a good idea to check these and the seatbelts too, looking for any fraying or other type of damage.

Ensure the electrics are working

Finding out your campervan has poor wiring isn’t just annoying, it could lead to a fire. So, it’s worth getting this looked at properly. If you’re not confident in this area, it might be worth having the electrical system checked by a professional electrician before you buy, especially if the campervan has additional features added like stereos, televisions, fridges or electric cookers. 

Check the bodywork and tyres

One of the simpler checks to make is to the bodywork of the campervan. You should not only look for any knocks or dents, but rust too. If the campervan is on the older side, rust is most commonly found under the bottom of the doors, around the headlights, around the wheel arches and under any carpets inside of the van. It’s not necessarily a major problem, it just pays to be aware of it. This will help ensure you pay a fair price for the condition of the van. When checking the tyres, you’re primarily looking for uneven wear, which can occur because of incorrect alignment or suspension issues. 

Get a professional inspection

Finally, if you’re not confident on making these checks yourself, or you’d simply value a reliable opinion, then you can always get the campervan professionally looked over. While there will be a small cost involved, this will provide invaluable peace of mind and could stop you making an even costlier mistake.

Campervan essentials

Choosing the vehicle is just the start – to help you make the most of your time on the road, here’s a list of 17 essential campervan accessories worth considering.

  1. Campervan awning – For added protection against the elements
  2. Portable lighting – Both interior and exterior lighting is available 
  3. Cooking essentials – These include a kettle, travel stove, saucepans, cutlery, mugs and cups, and portable barbeque
  4. Blankets – From picnic blankets to fleece ‘snuggly’ blankets to keep you cosy on cold nights
  5. Bedding – Duvet or sleeping bag and pillows
  6. Toiletries – Toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel and shampoo 
  7. Windscreen and window blinds – For solar protection, insulation or privacy 
  8. First aid kit 
  9. Clothes and clothes line – Pack everyday wear and specialist kit for activities such as running, hiking, biking or swimming
  10. Games and cards 
  11. GB sticker if you’re driving in Europe
  12. Campervan safe, alarm and/or immobiliser 
  13. Portable campervan shower 
  14. Storage boxes – Useful when space is tight
  15. Groundsheet, tent and tent pegs – For any additional campers
  16. A hammock – Can be attached to the van exterior, giving you a place to snooze 
  17. Gadgets and tech – Handy items include WIFI booster or pocket WIFI, a Bluetooth speaker, charges and cables for phones, and a torch

Campervan insurance 

Finally, one of the main things to consider when you buy a campervan is insurance. Find out about the different levels of cover on our campervan insurance page.

Can I drive a campervan on my car insurance?

Insurers typically identify a vehicle based on its registration number. From this they’ll determine whether your camper is in fact classed as a car or a van. If your campervan is classed as a ‘van’ for insurance purposes, and you own a car too, you could insure both vehicles and your home on one MultiCover policy

The easy way to manage your policy on the go