Caravan or Motorhome – The Pros & Cons of Both

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Should I Buy a Motorhome or Caravan?

Are you ready to buy a leisure vehicle but unsure whether to go for a caravan or motorhome? It’s a common dilemma and in this guide, we’ll help you puzzle out the answer and buy what’s right for you!

We grew up holidaying in caravans and motorhomes, and for the last five years we have lived and travelled in a succession of motorhomes around the UK and Europe, so understand the positives and negatives of both choices.

Whether you’re a couple looking for a bit of a weekend escape or a family wanting to holiday in Europe, we’ll share the pros and cons of owning a caravan or motorhome, and help you make the right choice of leisure vehicle

caravan or motorhome

Key Differences Between Caravans and Motorhomes

Let’s just take a quick look at the main difference between the two leisure vehicles with these definitions;

Caravan

A caravan is a vehicle without an engine that can be pulled by a tow vehicle like a car or van. Caravans contain beds, cooking equipment and sometimes toilets and showers so that people can live or spend their holidays in them.

A camper trailer or tent trailer, demountable, fifth wheelers and other travel trailers may also be considered a caravan as they do not have an engine and require a motorised vehicle to tow them.

Touring caravans (which we are discussing in this post) are designed to be towed and moved regularly, whereas static caravans are holiday homes built on a prefabricated structure on a permanently attached chassis, usually housed in specialist caravan parks, and not designed to be moved.

Motorhome

A motorhome called a camping car in Europe and an RV in America, is a type of self-contained vehicle which offers living accommodation combined with a vehicle engine.

Legally, this type of motor vehicle is classed as a motor caravan on your V5C registration document and must include two or more windows on at least one side of the main body to provide a reasonable amount of daylight into the living accommodation; a separate door which provides access to the living accommodation of the vehicle; motor caravan-style graphics on both sides of the vehicle; an awning bar attached to either side of the vehicle; and a high-top roof.

Camper vans, vans, lorry conversions and recreational vehicles with a motor are also included in this category. They are fundamentally the same as a motorhome i.e. large vehicles with a living space and an engine, but all have differences in the way they are built, fitted out and styled.

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The Pros & Cons of Caravans

Caravans Pros

  • A touring caravan will always be cheaper to buy than a motorhome; there is no engine and therefore no associated item or build costs. A new, high-spec caravan will cost somewhere between £40-50k. For this money, you could buy a German made (generally the best quality) twelve year old A class motorhome with around 30,000k miles on the clock. Of course, this looks like less of a gap if you also have to buy the right towing vehicle for your caravan!
  • There is no legal requirement to insure your caravan, which means you wouldn’t be covered for theft or accidental damage. Caravan insurance is not expensive if you decide to take it out, with the average price being £150 per year.
  • There is no requirement to MOT or tax a caravan, meaning you’ll save on annual running costs, although you do need an MOT, tax and insurance for the car which will tow your caravan.
  • A seven metre caravan will always provide more habitation space than a seven metre motorhome, as the motorhome must include the engine and driver’s cab in the measurements and the cab is not all usable space.
  • You need a suitable vehicle to tow a caravan. You can’t tow a large caravan with a Mini! But this means you have a vehicle to go sightseeing and take day trips, once you’re un-hitched at your site.
  • If you passed your driving test before 1997, you don’t need a special driving licence to drive a motorhome or tow a caravan. If you passed your test after 1 January 1997, you are restricted to a combined maximum allowable mass (towing vehicle and caravan combined) of 3,500kg. For anything heavier, you need to take a category B+E driving test.

Cons of Caravans

  • Whilst there is nothing to stop you from wild camping in a caravan, it’s not always easy. Size and manoeuvrability can be an issue; the extra space you gain in living quarters is lost when trying to park in a tight wild camping spot. A car and caravan combination can easily be twice the size of a seven metre motorhome, making it challenging to get into that tight spot with the perfect view, if you’re allowed to park there at all.
  • If you need to move on quickly (always a consideration when parking off grid), it is much harder with a separate vehicle – jumping out of bed naked to run to your car is not a good look!
  • Caravan garage and external storage space is generally small scale and only a very few have a garage large enough for bikes, probably because it usually means placing extra weight right where you don’t want it, behind the axle. This means having your bikes on your car and visible.  
  • Many aires and car parks in Europe have by-laws which don’t allow caravans to park in a designated motorhome parking space. This limits your options for short stays if you want to move around regularly or avoid the extra cost of campsites.
  • Caravans generally do not have waste water tanks. This means using a portable tank that you must take to the service point yourself and empty once there, a task which needs doing daily.
  • It can take an age once you arrive at your caravan site to get un-hitched, parked, level and sorted and then the same in reverse when you’re moving on.  
  • There are over 4,000 accidents a year in the UK involving trailers and caravans. Towing a caravan requires experience, focus and ability; much more so than driving a car and it is the reason many people don’t buy caravans.
  • Caravans don’t have a great reputation amongst other road users. They are known as ‘wobble boxes’ for obvious reasons, are generally slow-moving and can be considered a bit naff. Just saying….
old caravan with wooden steps and a parasol at dusk

The Pros & Cons of Campervans & Motorhomes

Pros of Motorhomes

  • Motorhome wild camping is easy and safe, and for those that prefer being off grid it’s the main reason to choose a motorhome over a caravan. In Europe particularly, wild camping is easy because of the number of service points available to motorhomers who are not on campsites. Often garages and supermarkets will have a dump station and water available for a few euros. Wild camping in France for motorhomes is the best and when you add remote French aires into the equation, it’s easy to stop anywhere for very little money.
  • If your motorhome is fitted with solar panels and good leisure batteries, you can stay in your perfect place without EHU for a week, but it’s a good idea to be frugal with water!
  • Some motorhome garages are large enough for a scooter and even a portable twin tub, as well as chairs, tables and tools. To get a motorhome with a large garage, you generally need raised fixed single beds at the back which effectively sit on top of the garage. If your heart is set on a rear lounge or a double bed, then you won’t achieve this amount of garage space.
  • Most motorhomes have large fresh water and grey water tanks, around 100 litres is average. To dump your waste, you simply drive over the designated grate and open the tank. Grey tanks can get a bit smelly sometimes and need a good clean out every couple of months. Not the nicest job! 
  • The licence you need to drive a motorhome depends on your age and the vehicle’s maximum authorised mass (MAM). This is the vehicle’s weight plus the maximum load it can carry. To drive a motorhome with a MAM of between 3,500 and 7,500kg, you need a category C1 licence. If you passed your car driving test on or after January 1, 1997, you are limited to driving a vehicle of no more than 3,500kg MAM. If you passed your test before that date you can drive a vehicle that weighs up to 7,500kg. To drive a larger vehicle with a MAM of over 7,500kg, you need a category C licence.
  • A large motorhome can be challenging to drive at first, but once you get used to the dimensions and feel of the vehicle, it’s a very similar driving experience to a car. A tag axle (third axle at the rear) makes for better stability for larger motorhomes, particularly at speed on motorways.
  • Arriving and moving on is a fairly quick process, we can be ready to move in around 15 minutes if we’re hooked up, a lot less if we’re wild camping.
  • If you look after your motorhome, it will depreciate very little. In fact, desirable models, especially German brands, with low mileage can often achieve similar prices to a new model after VAT is deducted.

Cons of Motorhomes

  • Using a motorhome to get around the surrounding area is not ideal. It means packing up to travel every time you want to go off for the day, finding parking spaces large enough for your vehicle and then doing the whole thing in reverse when you get back, or using public transport, which is not always convenient. Some motorhomes have bikes or a tow car, which means you need to have a bike rack or tow bar fitted and ensure that your motorhome has the capacity and weight allowance for this.
  • When you start looking at motorhomes for sale, you’ll find that new motorhomes are expensive beasts, particularly if you want an aerodynamic A class, with all the toys. A new top of the range motorhome can set you back anywhere between £120-200k. Even a budget model from a middle-of-the-road motorhome manufacturer will cost upwards of £60k. Don’t expect a campervan to be cheaper, some of them are way more expensive than even a small motorhome.
  • Motorhome and camper van insurance is expensive, particularly if your van is worth more than £65k. If you’re looking at vans in this price range, it may be worth getting a quote or two to get an idea of the motorhome insurance costs before you commit, especially if you’re planning on full-timing.
  • Living in a motorhome means you need full-time van insurance which pushes the cost of your motor home insurance up even more. You also need to pay vehicle tax and MOT your motorhome, making the annual running costs in the hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds.
  • Space in smaller motorhomes or camper vans is at a premium and you may have to compromise between fixed beds and living space if you are on a budget.
  • Don’t buy a motorhome thinking you’ll become a cool van life dude. You won’t. Van life is a different concept altogether and owning a motorhome or campervan is definitely not cool. Just felt I needed to mention that….
motorhome on mountain road amongst trees

Caravan v. Motorhome Conclusions

Flexibility

Probably the best thing about a caravan is that you have complete flexibility once you’re at your location. You can un-hitch and use the car to explore and go sightseeing in the local area. Caravans are not ideal for wild camping due to the size of the caravan and car together and having to remain hitched in case of a quick getaway.  

If you are holidaying with kids or remaining in one place long term, then a caravan is the perfect option for family camping.

A motorhome is not the ideal sightseeing vehicle; you have to pack away each time you want to move and get going. Getting on and off a site can often be tricky and finding a suitable and motorhome-friendly car park at your destination may not be easy.

You could carry a scooter if you opt for a large garage or have a rack fitted. Some people tow a small car, but this is all extra expense. However, If you spend your time moseying from place to place, touring and wild camping, then a motorhome is definitely your best choice. 

Space

As a general rule, metre for metre, a caravan will have more living space and you can also use your car for storing stuff. You may struggle to find a garage large enough for bikes and lots of paraphernalia but if you’re going to be on a site, security will be of less importance, and you can carry extra stuff in a car roof box.

You can also have a caravan awning room to provide more space if needed; lots of people set these up as their kitchen and dining space, with outside tables and chairs that can easily be moved into the sunshine. They are also great places for the kids to sleep, especially in hot weather or if they want a mini camping adventure!

The cab space in a motorhome is non-negotiable! Some spaces are more useable than others though. In an A class or low profile, the passenger’s and driver’s seat will likely swivel, making this part of your living area. In some motorhomes, there are curtains you can draw between the cab and living area, but this reduces the useable space considerably.

All motorhomes can have a pull-out awning fitted and you can get sides for these to make a full room, although this is a faff if you move often and is one of the few motorhome downsides. If you will be staying mainly on sites, then consider a drive-away awning, which can be left in place when you move your motorhome.  

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Motorhome vs Caravan Costs

A new caravan will always be cheaper than a new motorhome. But, if you need a suitable towing vehicle as well, then the costs would not be that dissimilar. Of course, this applies to new vehicles and there will be deals to be had with used motorhomes and cars.

Caravans generally depreciate faster than motorhomes, at around 15% annually, versus motorhomes which depreciate at around 5% a year if you keep your mileage down. 

The running costs of a motorhome alone are higher than that of a caravan, which has virtually no running costs at all. However, your caravan is useless without a car to tow it, which requires car insurance, tax and an MOT – but for many caravan owners, this is the family car which they would be running anyway.

Miles to the gallon average around the same for a car towing a 3,500kg caravan and a 3,500kg motorhome; somewhere between 20-30mpg depending on makes and models and whether the van is fully laden.

White motorhome parked in mountainsous area with a man sitting in a fold up camping chair outside
Beginners Resources

Touring Europe – Caravan or Motorhome?

Finally, If you’re thinking specifically about whether to buy a caravan or motorhome for Europe, you will find that most European countries are incredibly welcoming to motorhomes, more so than the UK where it can be challenging to find services off-site.

Europe and France in particular, have really embraced motorhome travel and made it so easy. Caravans tend to be less welcomed and often there will be signage specifically stating that caravans cannot park or stay overnight, whereas motorhomes can.  

silver motorhome parked by a beach and the sea

Outcome

Which is the best option? There is no winner!

Whether you become a caravan owner or buy a motorhome will depend very much on how you intend to use it. Ask yourself these twelve questions designed to help you choose a motorhome, but they will also focus your thinking on whether a motorhome or caravan is right for you.

If you remain undecided, then motorhome hire might be the best way to help the process. Check out our step-by-step motorhome hire guide and rent a motorhome for a week to test out whether you enjoy life on the road – it might just answer your questions!  

Happy and safe travelling, whatever you decide!

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