Make an appointment with your chosen dealer in advance. Few dealers will be able to make a specific test vehicle available at short notice. It is best to allow plenty of time to cover every detail, so ask the sales person about planning a route and make any other specific requests, such as loading and additional passengers. If you’re test driving a demonstrator model, check whether it has the same engine and specification as the model you want to buy.
If it’s an older motorhome you want to try, ask if you can start it yourself. If the engine is warm when you arrive, it may have been pre-warmed to disguise any starting difficulties. If the clutch bites at the top of the pedal’s travel, it’s probably worn, so ask about a replacement. If the steering pulls to one side, the tracking needs to be adjusted. If there’s a lot of play in the steering wheel, the steering gear may be worn and that is fairly serious.
Test drive using the maximum number of passengers you are likely to be carrying on a normal trip. Check if their feet can touch the floor. Is there enough room for a child booster seat? Will the heater or air-conditioning be up to the job in extreme conditions? If possible, simulate a full load – if it’s a garage model, ask the sales person if you can load your bikes or scooter to see how the motorhome copes with the weight distribution. If you like to drive with a full water tank, ask to fill it. Ideally, visit a weighbridge to check the motorhome’s weight, either unladen or, better still, with your kit in it. (Remember, many weighbridges need to be booked in advance.)
Plan your route to sample all possible driving conditions and make it long enough so that you can get a genuine feel for the comfort levels of the travel seats. Include a steep hill, a section of motorway or dual carriageway and some urban driving. Try a hill start, to see how the clutch feels. Consider long-trip factors: for example, will the stereo provide enough volume for all passengers to easily listen to audio books or music on long journeys?
Does the motorhome fit in your driveway? If the dealer is local and your drive is difficult to get into, it’s worth checking to see how easily you can park. Consider whether it will be more difficult to negotiate at night and assess the security of where you intend to park. Check how easy it would be to empty the waste outlet on a campsite with no dedicated service point. Can you fit an extension to empty the waste water into an ordinary drain?
Try parking the motorhome as you would on tour – if you prefer smaller motorhomes and like to park in town centres, see how this works. If it’s an older motorhome, will anyone else likely to drive the motorhome be able to cope without power steering? If you sometimes drive alone, try parking on your own. If the motorhome is an A-class (which may have only one cab door), or an import with an offside habitation door, where will each passenger get out?
Do any retro-fitted accessories, such as reversing sensors, work as they should? Consider which accessories you need to fit and how these might affect visibility. An obvious one is a rear cycle carrier, which lengthens the vehicle and restricts your rearward view.
Cover all the angles. Simulate any difficult visibility conditions you may face, particularly if driving abroad, such as driving on the right-hand side of the road and turning left down a hill, with poor visibility of oncoming traffic. Can your passenger see enough to tell you when it’s safe to pull out and will rear passengers obscure the view?
Complete a noise test. Drive the motorhome over an uneven road surface to see whether its squeaks and rattles or sets your teeth on edge. But, before you set out, make sure you’ve done everything sensible to stop noise, such as removing grill pans and baking trays from the cooker. Check the cupboard locks before you drive away, and that everything else is secure.
Maintenance and Repair
Identify the best service agent for the base vehicle in terms of quality of service, size of workshop (availability of short-term servicing) and cost. Ideally, this will be the supplying dealer or one of their sub-contractors. Consider spare parts costs and servicing cost over the vehicle’s life span.
These are just a few steps to get you in the right frame of mind when viewing a motorhome for the first time. Motorhomes are big and so you should spend a lot more time examining one than you would for buying a car. If something doesn’t feel right, ask the owner or dealer and make sure you are happy with the reply before moving on. If there are any doubts it is far better to walk away giving yourself time to reconsider, rather than buying the motorhome and having the rest of your life to reconsider.
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