Choosing the right RV

By: Jill Malcolm, Photography by: Jill Malcolm

Choosing the best RV is not a decision that can be rushed. Get it wrong and it can be an expensive mistake to come back from. NZMCD talks to three couples who got it right.

Buying an RV is a complex and demanding exercise. There are so many decisions to be made starting with the choice between a motorhome or a caravan. Having been the owner of both, I can say with certainty that the pros and cons are pretty much even.

But that’s only the beginning. To take all considerations into account and end up with something you are happy with takes persistent research, an understanding of what you want, and a lot of hard thinking.

Buying your first motorhome

Lily -and -John -Mc Cleod ---happy -with -a -home -on -wheels

When Lily Mcleod announced to her husband that they should buy a motorhome, he was incredulous.

"Why, what for? We have a holiday home. We go overseas all the time. We work. We have a boat. When would we ever find time for a motorhome?"

"I still want one," said Lily.

"We’ll never use it."

"Even so..."

Lily started researching, looking at dozens of layouts, brands, and sizes and bit by bit narrowing the options, as much from the angle of what she didn’t want as what she did.

She didn’t want a bed against the wall or a breakdown bed. She didn’t want a Luton or a combination shower in the bathroom, and she wasn’t too concerned about the size of the kitchen because on holiday they barbecue a lot.

A caravan was not an option because of the towing, although John, if they bought anything at all, would have preferred a caravan. He liked the idea of having a car to move around in once they’d parked.

Lily’s opinion prevailed and after months of research, she now also knew what she did want—a comfortable, queen-sized, island bed, a reasonable amount of storage and a good-sized fridge. She needed an easy-to-handle vehicle and had researched so thoroughly she even knew the engine size she wanted—three-litre with 180hp.

There are many models that fitted Lily’s criteria but she narrowed it down to a German-built Dethleffs, the low profile, sporty-looking, Magic 4 model on a Fiat Ducato. The final decision came down to the luxurious detailing and the quality.

Lily -and -John 's -Dethleffs -magic -wih -add -ons

"Dethleffs had an edge to them that appealed to me," she said. She recounts how positive and reassuring her encounter with Zion, who imports Dethleffs, was. "Owner, Jonas Ng, was marvellous," Lily said. "He took us through the aspects of every model and throughout the process of buying was endlessly patient with our questions and our changes of heart, and whatever he said he was going to do, he did.

"Although what you buy is obviously important, I think who you buy from makes a big difference. We discovered that Jonas does not shirk long-term responsibility and we knew then, and still know, that we can ring him any time if things go wrong or if we need advice. The only thing I’d change is the walled awning, which we bought separately. Next time I’d have it fitted for the motorhome."

John had been right about one thing—finding the time to get away. I met John and Lily on their first serious expedition. It had taken them about 18 months to take a holiday in their new acquisition. Their daughter had been the first member of the family to use the Dethleffs Magic extensively.

One good thing is that John has become a convert: "I’ve embraced the whole idea," he said. "The home on wheels aspect is very appealing." I suspect we will see the couple on the road a lot more from now on.

Living in an RV

One -deciding -factor -was -the -large -picture -window -in -the -dining -area .-The -settee -seating -was -made -a -little -wider .-wider

Tina Parkin and her partner Steve Ryder made the big decision to leave jobs, home, and all that was familiar to embark on a two-year caravan trip around New Zealand.

"Life is short," said Tina. "And I’ve always been a bit of a gypsy. I’ve done a lot of camping and caravanning, starting with the VW Kombi that took me around New Zealand in 1975." Tina had lost her home in the Christchurch earthquake and didn’t want to start again.

"I wanted to be stress-free and see different faces and places," she said. The couple’s two basic priorities in a caravan were comfort and space, and for this reason, they were first taken with the American-built Rockwood range from Forest River.

"They’re lovely," said Tina, "but the two things that made us look elsewhere were the Rockwood’s weight and the dark interiors. I decided I wanted New Zealand-built so that I could be part of the process, and, if anything went wrong, I’d have a Johny-on-the-spot."

The -nine -metre -Leisureline -Platinum -caravan -is -towed -by -a -Ford -Ranger

At Leisureline in Hamilton, a Platinum nine-metre caravan looked likely. "For a start, I liked its clean lines, the space, and the natural light that came in through the large windows and skylights. There’s a long kitchen bench, a good-sized lounge area with a picture window, a large bathroom and shower, and masses of storage space. The finish of the interior is classy and well-appointed but not fussy. It also seemed sturdy and reliable. 

"I’ve had so many vans, motorhomes, and caravans in my time I had an exact idea of what I wanted. And I had them custom-build bits of the interior, such as putting in an eye-level pantry with doors, widening the seats on the settees, changing the queen-size bed to a king-size and buying my own mattress, and installing a pullout rubbish bin just below the bench, small things but meaningful.

Summing -it -up -in -a -picture

"The people at Leisureline were great, patient, and accommodating and didn’t once wince when I wanted things changed. The only thing I would have liked from them is a more comprehensive manual as to how things worked.

"My advice to other buyers is to work out what you are going to use the RV for, then what you must have, what you would prefer and what you could do without. There will always be comprises.

"So far I am very happy with what I have and the compromises are few."

Upgrading a motorhome

Jim -and -Ingrid -Wheeler ---happy -with -the -changes

Jim and Ingrid Wheeler had bought their new motorhome a few months before I met them but had not yet been away in it. Nonetheless, they were confident that it was exactly what they wanted.

The couple were not strangers to the life on the road and had liked the previous vehicle they owned, but when their circumstances changed, so did their motorhome needs.

"Jim has developed some health issues," said Ingrid, "and that means I have to be confident that I can drive, not all the time but in any situation that might arise. Our previous motorhome had an A class (bus type) windscreen, which made me feel too ‘out there’ and unsafe. The Rapido 666F that we now have is on a Fiat with a five-speed auto gearbox and has a smaller windscreen. It’s rather like driving a car and I am much more confident."

The -twin -beds -in -the -Rapido -were -exactly -what -Jim -and -Ingrid -needed

It’s not hard to see why, when they first looked at the European-style Rapido, they fell in love with it.

"We looked at a lot of others but kept coming back to this," said Ingrid. "It’s a bit shorter than our previous vehicle but had everything we wanted: generously-sized single beds, a fantastic bathroom with a skylight and separate shower, a sliding door separating the bedroom from the living area, and lots of natural light throughout."

I pointed out that the kitchen bench area was not exactly expansive. "That won’t worry me at all, said Ingrid. "I’ll prepare meals on the dinette. I’m a tidy cook and don’t need a lot of space."

Jim is happy with the roomy seating in the cab. "As you can see, I’m not a small man but I fit in easily. I’m very comfortable. And I must show you the outside locker. It’s terrific. Masses of space, opens both sides and has even a hand-held shower for washing your feet before you get in the home."

Like the two other owners I talked to, the Wheelers were thrilled with the process of buying. "Owners Paul and Rochelle Cook and the whole staff at RnRV in Silverdale were amazing," Jim said.

All -in -all ,-the -Rapido -is -everything -the -couple -wanted

"Pleasant and helpful the whole way through. They not only set us up in the new motorhome but sold our old one and the whole deal was seamless, not a worry. There were a few things that weren’t quite what we wanted and Paul’s attitude was: ‘OK lets sort this out and get you what you want’. Nothing was too much trouble and in the end going into their yard was like visiting family; a great experience all round."

Tips for buying a motorhome

  1. Consider the add-ons when calculating what your choice of RV is going to cost. Factor in insurance, certifications, extras you may need or want, maintenance, repairs, and the various running costs. 
  2. Where are you going to park it or store it while not in use? Does it fit your available space?
  3. What you need is more important than what you want. 
  4. If you are towing, check the tow weights carefully. Can your existing vehicle tow your caravan or will you need to upgrade your vehicle?
  5. Detailed research is the key to satisfaction when you finally buy.
  6. The aesthetics are important but should not overwhelm other considerations. 
  7. When you have narrowed down the choice, spent time in the ‘home’, and imagined all the activities you’ll be doing regularly, you’ll soon see how workable the space is. 
  8. Sit on the toilet, the lounge seating, the driver’s and passenger’s seats and lie on the bed.
  9. If there is a TV, where do you have to sit to see it comfortably? 
  10. Go through the storage areas and work out where you are going to put items and if those you need regularly are going to be easily accessible. Check the height of the wardrobe, for instance. Can you hang a shirt in it without bunching up the bottom?

Read more such guides and tips on Motorhome, Caravans & Destinations

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