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Campervan or motorhome?

by Dabs Banner
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Campervans come in all shapes and sizes but when does a campervan become a motorhome?

Some may think there is really no difference and both terms mean the same thing but that is not really the case.

The notion that they are equivalent is compounded by many foreign terms for camping-style vehicles.

Camping-style vehicles were once called carvanettes in the UK. In the US they are often called Winnebagos while Australians refer to them as Kombos. Other terms such as land cruisers only complicate the issue even more.

The confusion arises because campervans and motorhomes provide the same basic service and fulfil pretty much the same function.

Both are designed to take your home on holiday, to allow you to park up, cook, eat, sleep and get back on the road again whenever you please.

Which to choose – campervan or motorhome will depend a great deal on what you intend to use it for, how many will use it and where you intend to take it.

There are quite a few types of vehicle that claim to be mobile holiday homes, if you are in the market for a custom motorhome or a campervan conversion it's worth knowing what the differences are.

What is a campervan? +

A campervan usually refers to the much-loved VW Camper that was popular in the 1960s and 70s, built on a van or small vehicle base and fitted out to give the owner some basic accommodation.

The amenities offered were usually minimal and consisted of a bed with washing and cooking facilities.

Campervans have come a long way since then and modern vehicles can also include a microwave, mini-refrigerator, water tank, TV, dining table, night heaters, canvas awning, bike rack and more.

However, as a rule, you don't enjoy shower or toilet facilities in a campervan.

Like motorhomes, they are self-contained travelling vehicle but they are normally smaller and typically have no division between the driving area and the living quarters.

They are perfect for 'pick up and go' holidays and the vehicle of choice for younger people who have outdoor lifestyles and enjoy striking out on their own.

Many prefer a custom-built campervan that can be tailored to individual needs and fitted out with a range of space-saving accessories. They can come with pop-up roofs, solar panels, extra seats and a host of other accessories.

Many modern-day custom-built campervans derive from the original VW campervan. Newer VW versions such as the T5 and T6 Transporter vans make ideal choices for a customised upgrade. Other fans opt for a customised VW Crafter.

Campervans are upgraded versions of standard transit vans and, being smaller, are easier to drive and park. They are also more economical on fuel and owners don't pay the higher fees demanded on toll roads and ferries for larger vehicles.

What is a motorhome? +

Motorhomes are more than just large versions of campervans. Although still aimed at the recreational travel market, a motorhome is normally built on a lorry or coach chassis.

It is usually distinguished from a campervan by being larger in size and having self-contained living quarters that are separate from the driving cab.

The living quarters are built behind the driver's cab and normally contain a sleeping area as well as washing and kitchen facilities.

Motorhomes go back further than you may think. The first ones appeared in the 1920s but they didn't really become popular until the 1950s.

Generally much larger than campervans, they are designed for comfort on the move. Many have separate compartments, say for dining and sleeping. Some will even have a distinct bathroom or shower cubicle.

Motorhomes come in several classes or categories. Conventional low profile coach built motorhomes will sleep two or more and often have a washroom with shower and toilet.

The next step up are motorhomes with some extra storage room built over the driver's cab, often used to house a double bed. These are sometimes referred to as Alcove or Luton motorhomes as they were originally built on the old Bedford van chassis which were first manufactured in Luton.

Even bigger are the Class A motorhomes. These are built entirely on commercial coach bodies and don't have a separate driving cab. Front seats can often be reversed to create a dining or lounge area and there is room inside for many home-from-home luxury accessories. Extra-large Class A motorhomes may even have an extra set of rear wheels known as a tag axle.

Advantages and disadvantages of both +

The iconic image of a campervan is the classic VW van with a pop-up roof. But the definition of a campervan today is rather different. There are so many types of van conversions that the old idea is very much a thing of the past.

A campervan is still smaller than a motorhome but it comes with some advantages that a larger recreation vehicle can't match. Even with a pop-up roof, a campervan will fit under most car park height barriers and, at about 5m long, they can fit into a regular car park space.

Campervans are compact enough to be used as an everyday vehicle for commuting or shopping while doubling up as a holiday motor home. You won't need any special licence to drive one and they are much cheaper to buy and run than a motorhome.

You have to accept that a campervan will have much more limited living and storage space. Modern vehicles can pack a lot in but people mostly use a campervan for sleeping and a little basic cooking. Awning attachments can create more living space and a pop-up roof allows some standing room inside.

Motorhomes have much more room for things like showers and washroom cubicles. Cooking facilities can be much more sophisticated than in a campervan and there can be room for dining tables, bed boxes, overhead lockers and other home living accessories.

These extras cost money to buy and running costs can be high when you take into account parking fees, fuel costs and toll pay-outs for larger vehicles.

Many modern-day campervans offer a host of features so it's worth taking a look before making a purchasing decision. Your choice will ultimately depend on what use you intend to make of it, how often you will need it, how many are going to live in it and for how long. Whether it's a campervan or motorhome that rings your bell you can look forward to the freedom to explore and the outdoor lifestyle that goes with it.


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