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 £15k to get anything worth buying and I suggest £20k would be more realistic to get something reliable and in good condition.
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
Annual running costs that include: repairs, maintenance / servicing and MOT tests, insurance, European roadside assistance and recovery costs.
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:
For an average of £40 / night you can stay in a hotel for 82 nights (65 nights 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 (if we are ever permitted to travel internationally again) to spend travelling in the EU in any rolling 180 day period now the UK has left – refer to URL: http://drivethrutours.com/Getting_Out.pdf
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.
One motorhome user has recorded more details about his travelling and the cost of running his motorhome. You can read this at URL: RS Endeavour Report (wheelgotravelling.info). During the six years he's been using his motorhome he has worked out that fuel consumption on his particular motorhome averaged 19.6 mpg. The cost of ownership after the first 6 years and and nearly 37,000 miles of use is working out at £56 per night away or £1 per mile. This would indicate that he has spent 660 nights away, averaging 110 nights away per year. Probably cheaper to stay in hotels (he makes no mention of site fees or other expenses).
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.
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