Buying a custom-built TrailLite

By: Jill Malcolm , Photography by: Jill Malcolm


In this monthly column, NZMCD interviews the owners of a newly purchased RV to learn how they made their decisions

Aucklanders, Peter and Beth Chapman, had been boating for 25 years with their three children in tow, often squeezing in friends as well. 

They were, therefore, well-accustomed to living in confined living spaces. Then in 2010, they turned their backs on the sea and bought a 25-year-old, converted, seven-metre bus.

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Beth and Peter are looking forward to exploring New Zealand in their state-of-the-art, custom-built TrailLite motorhome 

Not having to battle the weather was a strong catalyst for the change. Eight years on, they have just taken possession of a custom-built, 8.3-metre, TrailLite motorhome built on an Iveco chassis.

Tell us about your motorhoming experience

We had an awesome time in the bus, mostly at weekends and in summer holidays. The kilometres added up, especially when we toured the South Island.

We were definitely into motorhoming for the long haul and although our wide-bodied bus had been converted to a high standard, there were two annoying features: we had to climb over each other to get out of the east-west bed and the bathroom and shower were combined and everything got soaked when we used it. In addition, the bus was manual and we needed HT licences to drive it, which was not ideal as we age.

How did you go about researching what you wanted?

We spent a lot of time thinking about what we would like as our first, and probably last, modern motorhome. We intend to knock-off work one day and wanted something that would be comfortable and practical for long periods on the road.

We went to many motorhome shows, looked at every conceivable layout and configuration, and spoke to lots of other owners. We also read many articles (like this one) and spent hours discussing what we wanted.

We bought a beach property with the idea of building a garage and utility block as a base for our bus and future motorhome. And then, because of circumstances, we didn’t own a motorhome at all for three years. The yearning to get back on the road, however, never left us.

What was the biggest challenge when it came to choosing the right RV?

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In the TrailLite factory, general manager Shaun Newman explains aspects of the layout to Beth and Peter

It was coming up with something that ticked all boxes. This was difficult. There were always compromises. Most new motorhomes we looked at were imported and came as a package.

We decided we needed to choose a brand that allowed us the flexibility to specify the features we wanted.

What features were the deciding factors?

We had to be able to drive the vehicle on a normal car licence. This also means our children could use the motorhome (if they ever get a chance) and it will also make re-selling easier if that comes to pass.

Our want list was: either a permanent, double-island bed or single beds (we ended up with single beds); a high-capacity, 12-volt power supply and plenty of solar power; a separate shower box and bathroom; a large capacity fresh water tank; separate black and grey holding tanks; a spacious fridge freezer, a lounge room/living area that was comfortable and roomy, and a good-sized boot space.

We also wanted it built on a reliable, modern base-truck with a powerful engine and to deal with a New Zealand-owned company that had an established reputation for reliable aftersales service.

So basically, we wanted a reliable, robust, and comfortable motorhome in which we could go off-grid and that had good creature comforts, and we would be happy to stay in long term.

How was the process and the handover?

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The kitchen has a stunning and convenient layout

This was more involved and time-consuming than we ever imagined. It was hard to ‑find something that fulfilled all those needs. It appeared that the only alternatives available were imported motorhomes, until we literally stumbled on TrailLite.

We were at the Covi Motorhome Show and we’d made a decision on an imported motorhome that came close to meeting our needs. On the way to sign up, my wife encouraged me to have a quick look at the TrailLite stand. I wasn’t keen. We’d heard that you needed an HT licence to drive a TrailLite.

But a chat with TrailLite sales manager, Mandy Davies, soon changed that misconception. We began to think that we had found the way to get the flexibility we wanted.

We spent a lot of time with TrailLite’s product specialist, Greg Campbell, who helped us sort out what model would suit and how we could fit it with our specifications. And then misfortune struck. We had to cancel our build order because Beth became ill. We have to say TrailLite were simply awesome over this tricky time when everything was up in the air.

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The stylish bedroom 

But one plus for us was that we had even more time to thoroughly think about the process.
The end result was we ended up with an even bigger TrailLite (8.3 metres in length) built on an Iveco Daily three-litre twin turbo 150kW and with more sophisticated features in the living area. When we finally took possession last month, we had been working on and off the project for 17 months.

The handover process was like everything TrailLite do, highly professional and thorough, taking the best part of a day. First, a representative from Iveco went over the features and operation of the base truck. Learning all the aspects of the motorhome features was reasonably straightforward because of our past boat and motorhome experience.

But we still needed to absorb the awesome features in our TrailLite such as the Finscan central control and monitoring system—a touchscreen that controls the electrics—power, solar charge, water tank storage, and other operational systems.

Did you buy what you imagined owning?

We have ended up with a motorhome that is far better than we ever imagined. It ticks all the boxes in terms of features, comfort, and performance.

What are the favourite features of your RV?

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One hour of possession and already at home on the road

We love the slide-out lounge, the roomy separate shower box, and the high-quality, robust finish of everything. Because we chose the specifications, colours, and furnishings, the motorhome feels uniquely ours. And we really like the fact that our motorhome was designed and built in New Zealand by a well-established, family-owned company.

What advice would you offer others?

Give yourself plenty of time to go through the process. Even when you think you have exhausted all your choices and sorted out what you want, keep working it over as the ground shifts as you work through the exercise.

What would you do differently?

Nothing, and if we had ended up in the first model TrailLite we ordered, I am sure we would be just as happy.

Is there anything about your new RV you’d change or improve?

On the first smaller model TrailLite, we chose to have on an all-wheel-drive base vehicle, which we felt offered greater driving/parking flexibility.

However, we couldn’t get an all-wheel-drive model in Iveco, the base truck we needed to handle the bigger payload. So losing the all-wheel-drive was the compromise for getting a bigger, better-specified TrailLite.

What travel plans do you have?

We are going to explore every corner of New Zealand over the next 15 to 20 years and stay in some of the stunning, out-of-the-way places our amazing country has to offer.

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