Buying a Motorhome

Motorhomes combine living accommodations and travel in the one package and the options are endless. The amount to learn can be quite overwhelming to the newbie. There are different motorhome class types, motorhome terminologies and abbreviations, motorhome extra features, safety features, luxuries, the list goes on. The advancements in motorhome technologies and manufacturing has made these travelling vehicle homes a very enjoyable lifestyle. From young families to seniors, what a better way to take the time to travel around and discover the many pockets of this vast country.
Article By: ExplorOz Team
Created: June 2008
Revised: June 2007
Latest Feedback: November 2015

Motorhome Developments

Undoubtedly some of the most interesting recent developments in the Recreational Vehicle industry have come from the campervan and motorhome sector. New models from existing manufacturers, new manufacturers and a greatly expanded base vehicle range, particularly from Europe has lead to a much greater range of both campervans and motorhomes. Whilst some campervan and motorhome manufacturers have sourced some of their design ideas from the US of A, others have turned their eyes to Europe.

Motorhome Research and Planning

What this means for any prospective buyer of a campervan or motorhome is that there is plenty of choice around, both from a budget point of view and in terms of layout design. For beginners that can be confusing and if you are considering a purchase, then it's worth devising some sort of purchasing plan.


Preliminary research is quite easily done by going no further than the local newsagent and sitting at your computer. There are two national caravan and motorhome magazines (sadly no dedicated motorhome magazine yet) and a couple of trader magazines. These all give a very good idea of what is available in the market place. Quite a few manufacturers have good websites with pictures and layout designs.

Buying a Motorhome

Although they are powered vehicles, buying a campervan or motorhome is very different from buying a car. Don't be worried about spending six months or more searching for your dream motorhome. Dealers expect this and know that few buyers will sign on the dotted line after the first visit. Be prepared to travel too because campervan and motorhome dealers and manufacturers (in many cases, you buy "direct") are not that prolific, especially when compared to car dealers and are often far apart.

Hiring a Motorhome

If you have never motorhomed before and are considering investing in anything from an upmarket campervan up, then it's recommended to hire before you buy - the hire cost will be a very small percentage of the final purchase price. There are plenty of rental campervan and motorhome companies around. Whilst none may have exactly what you are intending to buy, it's not a bad idea to get a feel for the motorhome lifestyle and decide on your likes and dislikes and what to look for in "your" campervan or motorhome.

Joining Motorhome Clubs

Another way to be informed about your prospective campervan or motorhome purchase, especially if you are a newcomer, is to join a club like the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA). To be a full member of the CMCA does require owning a campervan or motorhome but it's also possible to be an associate member, still get to meet club members and receive the club magazine. One benefit of being a club member is access to cheaper insurance for your future purchase! Campervans and motorhomes come in a variety of shapes and sizes but usually fit into one of about half a dozen categories.

Types of Motorhomes


The smallest and cheapest are campervans and typical examples are Toyota Hiace or VW based and come as either high roofs or pop-tops. The Hiace is often the vehicle of choice for a campervan but it does suffer the disadvantage (when compared to a VW) of not having a "walk through" from the driver's cab and not being able to swivel the driver and passenger seats around for extra seating. Campervans are certainly the easiest to drive in terms of external size and parking space but suffer from a small amount of internal space. In most the bed has to be set up each night. However, even with the latter, there are degrees of difficulty - some manufacturers have a seat that simply folds out with the flick of one lever, in others it's a case of removing tables, fitting the base and lifting and fitting cushions together. Give things like this good thought - if you are planning some serious long term travel, a campervan might be the cheapest way to do it but making the bed up every night, might become a very irritating chore. Somewhat larger in size are units built on Ford Transits, Mercedes Benz Sprinters, Fiat Ducatos or Ivecos. With these larger vans, mostly high roofs, the definition of campervan or motorhome becomes more blurry.

One definition that makes some sense, is if it has a shower and toilet cubicle, then it's a motorhome! Whatever they are called though, many people like these size vehicles because they are large enough to be comfortable and small enough to be easy to drive. In some designs, the bed has to be set up every night, but in others (usually with front swivelling seats), it can be left made up In some of the campervans and smaller motorhomes, there's sometimes a choice of motor - either petrol or turbo diesel. In larger rigs its turbo diesel or nothing. When there's a choice though, and you are planning on putting a few miles on the clock, then turbo diesel is probably the preferred option.

Class A

Further up the length and cost scale are 'A' class motorhomes - often engineered on a purpose built motorhome or a truck chassis, they are more coach like in their looks and very comfortable and roomy inside. 'A' class motorhomes are certainly the most flexible in terms of design layout and almost all have a flat floor design, with swivelling driver and passenger seats forming an integral part of the front lounge area. Luxury is the word and the most common layout is a front lounge, mid-station kitchen and rear bedroom. The bathroom (not cubicle) is usually right at the rear or at the front end of the bedroom. Coaches and buses too are often used for motorhome conversions. All the seats are taken out and a total rebuild takes place. From that brief look it can be seen that there is something for every budget and taste in the motorhome world.

Class B

These motorhomes, also commonly known as van conversions, are the smallest fully enclosed motorhomes. They have a more streamlined look at the front and are usually constructed on a van chassis with elevated roof lines but no modifications to the length or width of the original chassis. Class B motorhomes generally weigh 2,700 kilos to 4,500 kilos and are around 5.2 to 6.4 metres in length. Light models might be on a Mercedes Benz Sprinter or Ford Transit chassis but heavier models with "island beds" are seen on Isuzu NPR 300, Ford Traders and similar. Although living space is limited, Class B motorhomes receive high marks for economy, versatility, and handling.

Class C

This type of motorhome is usually manufactured on a conventional truck cab and chassis such as the: Isuzu NPR, Mazda T4000 models and the Mitsubishi Canter. They are also built on commercial vehicles such as the: Ford Falcon, Holden Commodore, Toyota Hilux cab chassis and the Holden Rodeo. They range in weight from 4,500 to 5,400 kilograms and stretch from 6.2 to 9.6 metres in length.

The ‘C’ class motorhome has a section over the top of the cabin - termed a cab-over, which is commonly used for a double bed or converted to an entertainment unit. These motorhomes usually contain cooking facilities, a refrigerator, heating, air conditioning, a self-contained toilet, water, sinks, LPG gas supply and an 240v electrical system. 'C' class motorhomes often have a day/night lounge in addition to the cab-over bed. Location of the shower/cubicle varies too - can either be in the rear or along one side.


In a category of their own and certainly similar in size to campervans are slide-ons. These are designed to fit on the back of utes and tray top trucks. They do have the advantage of being able to be lifted off (demountable or detachable) should the truck be wanted for something else, but because of their design, they can be slightly top heavy and there is no walk-through to the cabin. They are however, great for ute and truck owners who like the off road scene but still want to be able to live in comfort!

Bus Conversions

In a little class of their own are small bus conversions. Toyota Coaster or Nissan Civilians are a popular and often economical choice because they mostly had a former life before being converted into a mid-sized motorhome. Conversion from a passenger bus or coach is a big job. The coaches have much more underfloor storage in the bins than the buses. Some small buses are 20 - 24 ft, but their width is 8 ft - considerably wider than the Coaster/Mazda type. Big rigs are 36 - 40 ft and generally tow a car trailer. There are many in between sizes from 28 - 35 ft.


Fifth-wheel trailers are similar to larger travel trailers, however, they have an extension on the front that extends over the tow vehicle and a horizontal plate that looks like a wheel (hence the name "fifth wheel") that rests on the tow vehicle for support. Typically, full-size pickup trucks serve as tow vehicles for fifth wheels and are outfitted with a fifth-wheel hitch (also known as a gooseneck hitch). The hitch arrangement makes towing easier by placing the trailer load in the centre of the tow vehicle instead of behind it. The extension on the front of the box also serves as a bedroom in most fifth wheels.

Motorhome Terminologies

Below are some common terminologies regarding motorhomes that you may encounter during conversations with other motorhome owners, service technicians and motorhome salespeople.
  • Black Water - Waste held in toilet tanks, which are also known as black water tanks

  • Grey Water - Waste water from sinks and showers, usually held in grey water tanks

  • Cassette Toilet - A type of toilet built into the motorhome with a removable 20 litre tank which is accessed through a small opening. When full, the tank can be carried, like a suitcase to a toilet or dump point

  • Porta-Pottie - A free standing toilet where the waste is held in its built in removable tanks

  • Pump Out Toilet - A common type of toilet usually fitted to very large Motorhomes. They have an in-built tank for flushing water and hold around 300 to 500 litres of treated black water. This can be then "pumped" into the sewerage system at dump points

  • Dump Point - A handy disposal place for motorhome, caravan and boat owners to empty toilet waste

  • LPG - Liquid Petroleum Gas, which is a gas stored in bottles to power gas stoves and water heaters and fridges, etc

  • LWB - Long Wheel Base

  • RV - Recreational Vehicle is an American abbreviation which is gaining more acceptance for motorhomes in Australia

  • CP - Caravan Park

  • Mains Power - 240v electricity supplied to a motorhome through a 15 amp lead connected to a power point

  • Deep Cycle Battery - A heavy duty battery built to withstand frequent charging and discharging. Usually connected to solar panels, generators, a battery charger connected to an external 240v source or the motorhome's alternator

  • Two-way Fridge - A fridge that operates on 240v electricity and LPG gas

  • Three-way Fridge - A fridge that operates on 240v electricity, 12v electricity while the motorhome is travelling or on LPG when 240v is unavailable

  • 12v or 24v Fridges - A fridge powered by solar panels. It can also be powered by 240v electricity from the mains or generator via an inverter

  • Fully Self-Contained Vehicle - A motorhome that has just about everything you need to live comfortably. It will generally have: a toilet, shower, holding tanks for both grey and black water, clean water storage, food storage, deep cycle batteries, hot water facilities, sleeping and eating quarters. Some also have: solar panels, wind generators, washing machines, dryers and dishwashers

Motorhome Layout Preferences

When looking through campervans and motorhomes, have a think about how you are going to live in it on your travels. Go through all the motions of living - cooking, eating, making up the bed and keeping clean (if there is an onboard shower).
  • Is the kitchen fitted out to the cook's satisfaction?

  • Is the bed in the Luton Peak easy enough to climb into?

  • Are there enough lights for evening activities?

  • Is that funny shaped cupboard going to annoy you?

  • Where will all your precious belongings be stored?

  • Are there enough storage compartments?

  • Will everything that is required regularly be easy enough to get at?
Most campervans are unlikely to have a shower or toilet cubicle on board, unless they are one of the Sprinter/Fiat Ducato sized units and they are likely to be quite compact. However, that will not be a problem if you mostly use the amenities blocks in caravan parks and just want to use the on board facilities occasionally.


It's often items like the main bed which settle the decision on design. In most campervans, the bed has to be made up every night. In 'C' class motorhomes the only double bed is often over the driver's cab - out of the way but a clamber up every night and in some designs there is not much headroom. Curiously small vehicles based on a Toyota Hilux often have a good roof height above the bed, which is often easy to climb into. If the double bed is in the main part of the motorhome, it is much easier to get into but does take up more space!


A feature that has become much more common with the advent of Euro trucks, given their "flat floor" design, is the "walk through" from driver's cab to the rear of the motorhome. It's a very convenient feature to have and many people like the security aspect of it. Some designs will have the driver and passenger seats swivel around, so that they double as lounge chairs and that is a very effective use of space. Slide-outs, often only 300mm wide, make a big difference to the internal space of a motorhome but have generally only been available on some larger 'A' class units. In recent times, though, a couple of manufacturers have installed slide-outs in 'C' and 'B' class units.

Driving Licences

Whilst all campervans and many motorhomes can be driven on a normal 'C' class licence, anything with a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of more than 4.5 tonnes requires a Light Rigid (LR) truck licence. Some people get a bit fazed by this and restrict their motorhome size because of that. However, the reality is that getting a LR licence is not that difficult at all, especially if the Heavy Vehicle Competency Based Assessment (HVCBA) is undertaken. That might sound a mouthful but HVCBA is a log book system where an RTA accredited driving instructor can assess your driving ability as you learn and there is no stressful test at the end of it! A LR licence is good for any vehicle up to 9 tonnes GVM, after that a Medium Rigid Licence (MR) is required and that covers everything except some coach conversions which have a third axle.

Driving Motorhomes

Getting behind the wheel of for a test drive of your prospective campervan or motorhome is most important. For many years, motorhomes, particularly the 'B' and 'C' class were very truck-like to drive, with most of the base vehicles coming from Japan. With the more recent import of Euro trucks like the Mercedes Sprinter and Fiat Ducato, driver cabs have become much more car-like, both in the ease-of-driving and comfort departments. When driving along, it's probably important to realise that motorhomes, by their very nature, will have a few rattles and squeaks. Naturally any related to manufacturing problems should not be there but old hands know that others can be eliminated by the appropriate placement of a rolled up towel or cushion when travelling.

Final Motorhome Thoughts

Buying the campervan or motorhome of your dreams can be a very enjoyable experience. It is certainly one that should not be rushed and like so many things in life, one that should be done in a very informed manner. From the above, it can be seen that there are quite a few things to consider but if done in a logical manner, you'll soon be sitting back at some scenic spot and sipping the chardonnay, just like all those other campervanners and motorhomers who are doing that right now!

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