Should we convert from being a caravan user to a motorhome user?
For some time, I've been considering the purchase of a camper-van or motorhome – or even buying a van and converting it to something liveable myself. For the purpose of this article, I'll use the word motorhome instead of having to write both expressions: camper-van or motorhome – they serve the same purpose.
As I've mentioned previously in my blog pages, there are both advantages and disadvantages of each mode of accommodation.
The main advantage of having a motorhome is the greater freedom one has in being able to park it almost anywhere for the night instead of being limited to caravan sites, or equivalent places where one can park overnight without problems with the law. Of course, being able to park on the seafront or by the lakeside is also an attraction which most caravan sites don't possess.
The dilemma we face is that we already have a large luxury caravan and a suitable vehicle for towing it. Is it worth spending maybe say, £15k to £20k or so on a second-hand additional home on wheels?
Of course, the answer is never simple, however, considering what to most people's mind is the most important factor; cost, one can easily come to a fairly sensible answer to this dilemma. Of course, it would be far too complicated and time consuming to consider every aspect of caravanning or motor-homing to obtain a precise answer but a ball-park assessment will suffice for most people, I'm sure.
The big factor of touring with a caravan instead of a motorhome is the cost of site fees against the freedom to pitch almost anywhere free of charge.
The cost of site fees varies widely, even in the same country at the same time of year. Some of you who have read about our tour of France and Switzerland in 2019 will remember we paid something like £59/night at one site, then moved to another site a few miles away and paid less than half that fee per night – and we actually preferred the second site and its location. The answer then is to shop around when it comes to finding a site for the night. We stayed free of charge in a supermarket car park one night! The period of time I'm referring to was during the main summer holiday where the fees charged are almost always much higher than during 'off-peak' periods. So how do we set a standard charge for site fees when there are so many variables? I might add that site fees in Eastern European countries are also likely to be lower than in Western Europe.
I've set a standard fee which is on the high side of what can be achieved so as to cover most peoples' requirements and to be as realistic as possible – if you can get that average cost lower then that's a bonus worth having.
Let's set that standard (average) site fee at £20 per night for a small family with a caravan. At peak times this may well average around £25 per night.
In simple terms, which I'm encouraging here, to get one's purchase cost of a motorhome back, one would need to spend 1000 nights at £20 / night on a site to recover the £20k initial outlay, or 750 nights for a £15k outlay. Of course, one can always sell the camper-van after a few years and get something back to offset this cost, but let's say that your initial cost of £15k to £20k is now only worth £10k after some years of use. You've lost between £5k and £10k on the deal, so far. That would be enough for 250 to 500 nights on a site in the caravan you already own. That is enough for 8.33 to 16.67 months of overnight stays. Are you really going to use your motorhome for that many nights' accommodation during the time you keep it? If you keep using your motorhome for a period of several years the cost may well be worthwhile, particularly if, for example, you spend the winter months away in the sunshine for a few months every year – how about living on a beach in the Algarve or Morocco, for example? Living cheap with hardly any heating bills – wonderful. Let's go!
From this, one can work out if these basic costs make it worthwhile changing from a caravan you already own to a motorhome. Just work out how many overnight stays you're going to make in your home on wheels for every year you're likely to keep it and see the total. Factor in the cost of running a motorhome against that of your existing caravan and just see what the economics really are.
Of course, if you're going to live in your motorhome for an extended period – some years - then the cost is well worthwhile, but how many people tour continuously? Only the lucky few. Many people only tour for a few weeks a year and never recover the costs of the purchase of their motorhome – isn't that sad? There is a couple not too far from where we live who have a massive 6-wheeled motorhome which must have cost a fortune. They use it for three months or so per year, out of peak season – say 13 weeks. It's so big that they almost certainly need to pitch it on a site for much of the time. Is this cost effective? I'm sure you can work out the answer as well as I can.
I realise that other costs are involved but many of them, such as maintenance and repairs / insurance / extra fuel used for towing / ferry costs balance out whether you use a caravan or a large motorhome so the 'big-picture' look at costing is sufficient for an overall strategic look at whether or not to keep your caravan or change to a motorhome.
Let's say you decide to spend the winter away in the sunshine. The site fees will certainly drop to below £20 / night and may go to lower than £10 /night depending on the location and duration of stay. Take an average cost therefore of £15 / night for about 6 months – say 180 overnight stays.
Total site fees are therefore 180 x 15 = £2700 when staying in your caravan for about 6 months / year.
If the difference in the purchase price and selling price of your motorhome is £10k you will get your money back in less than 4 years (3.7 actually), although you may have to stay on a site sometimes just to get rid of your sanitary waste and rubbish and get a good charge put in your leisure battery from a mains electricity connection. In fact, if you spent this time away every year for four years, you'd be unlikely to lose as much value as £10k on your £20k motorhome (if you kept it well maintained and in good condition) if you sold it at that time so you'd actually be in pocket. It's always good to get a sensible depreciation figure for your motorhome so you can be more precise in your calculations.
So, there we have it. In solely economic terms. the broad answer to our dilemma is that unless you're going to be touring for a few months a year for several years, it is probably not worthwhile to change your caravan for a motorhome. If you are going to be on the road for more than a few months a year for some years then it will almost certainly be worthwhile making the change.
Only you can factor in all the variables for your situation hence me making rather a broad-based assessment, however, I hope this gives you some idea of the basic costs involved when it comes to making such a change to your home on wheels.
Of course, there are many other factors to be considered apart from cost, many of which have been considered in other writings on this blog.
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