Your technical guide to choosing an rv

By: Lisa Jansen, Photography by: Lisa Jansen/iStock


Lisa Jansen explores some of the often-overlooked finer points that can make or break the enjoyment of a mobile home

When it comes to selecting an RV, the focus tends to be on big, obvious aspects such as size, age, motorhome vs caravan, layout and number of beds. But having recently swapped my 1999 Ford Transit for a similar 2004 Transit, I realise how much difference the little stuff can make.

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Every traveller has different ideas about what makes a dream motorhome

And I’m not the only one who has found the devil is often in the detail. When I talked with other motorhome and caravan owners, as well as dealers, they highlighted little things that can have a significant impact on enjoyment. While some can be changed later, others are hard to modify down the line, so should be considered carefully when purchasing.

Sleeping arrangements

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The right bed makes a big difference

Probably not surprisingly, the right bed(s) can have a considerable impact. In my new van, the bed is about 10cm longer and, being about 180cm tall, those 10cm are a life-changer. Other owners agree that the size of beds is important.

However, what makes a bed suitable seems to be different for everyone. Tall people care mostly about length. Couples, especially older ones and those spending a lot of time in their RV, say having an island bed that’s accessible from both sides is a bonus.

While many agree that over-the-cab beds are great for saving space, getting up there can be a challenge when you are older or have an injury, in which case, a sleeping option on the ground floor can be preferable.

Loading capacity & weight

Size is important, but consideration should also be given to loading weight. As Toni Farrell, from Coastal Motorhomes & Caravans in Whakatāne, says, "Many of our customers want a motorhome that only requires a Warrant of Fitness and not a Certificate of Fitness, as the former tends to be cheaper. That is all well and good, but what they often don’t consider is that it reduces the overall loading capacity and can result in problems when being weighed at truck stops."

Similarly, loading weight can be an issue for caravan owners, who must ensure their car and towbar can handle the full load weight - not just the empty weight of the caravan. Toni recommends thinking carefully about what will be loaded into your motorhome or caravan and to consider that when buying.

Buy for you – not your family

It’s tempting to consider family and friends who might travel with you. But don’t overlook your own needs. "We regularly have customers who want to buy an RV with a layout that suits their extended family," says Toni."For example, they might want one with beds for the kids and grandchildren. While that is a nice sentiment, many of them return saying the family doesn’t use the RV and the layout doesn’t suit them as a couple."

Bernice and Roy Vannini (meet them on page 92), who have been living in their 10-metre bus for almost nine years, agree. Although they have the space for extra beds, they designed the layout with just the two of them in mind. "Ninety-nine per cent of the time it’s just us, so we wanted to make it perfect for us. There is always the option to add tents if the family wants to come along."

The little rooms

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A detachable showerhead comes in handy

RV toilets and bathrooms range from a portable toilet in a cupboard to small wet-cells and full-sized en-suite bathrooms with separate showers. Once you’ve picked an option, you’re stuck with it. My first van had a tiny wet-cell with a fixed shower.

That was fine, but I value the slightly larger room and detachable shower in my new van. However, it’s still a wet-cell, meaning that showering floods the entire space, which can be annoying. "We had an all-in-one room in our former motorhome," says RVer Yvonne Hewitt. "Our new one now has a separate shower and toilet, and that’s so much easier. No more wet toilet. However, it does take up more space and adds weight." 

Cooking and kitchen space

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When closed, this hob cover creates valuable extra bench space

I envy people who have an oven, but I’ve met many who have one and don’t use it, saying they would rather have more storage space. One thing upon which almost everyone seems to agree is that bench space is essential, with several owners, especially those with smaller vans, saying they wish they had more room to prepare food and stack dishes. Many, especially those who rarely connect to power, agree that microwaves are not a necessity.

Future thinking

There are also a few details that can be added or changed later on - which is not to say you shouldn’t consider them when purchasing. These include making sure you have enough power for your intended use, large enough water tanks, heating (especially if you plan to travel during winter), and enough storage space, including storage for wet and dirty gear.

Everyone is different

Another detail that can make a big difference is tinted windows. They are one of the reasons I chose my new van. I love the privacy. However, it’s worth noting that they make the inside darker. And then there are wardrobes. I initially thought the one in my new van was wasted space and that I would turn it into shelves. But, I now find it handy to have a place to hang clothes - no more crinkled shirts.

While the perfect mobile home and set-up are different for everyone, it’s worth considering these details before buying. My advice is to talk to other owners, do your research and maybe even hire a motorhome once or twice to get some real-world experience of what it’s like before investing hard-earned money. 

We wouldn’t be without

RVers on their motorhome and caravan must-haves:

"Motor-movers. We weren’t worried about them, but our van had them, so we thought ‘bonus’. We’re in our 30s, and my husband is a fantastic backer, but these are amazing. They mean you can have the caravan however you want it on your site."

— Jennifer van Dijk

"I love that our shower head can be used outside the shower window to rinse off sandy feet."

— Kylee Maree Nairn

"Seats that swivel. At first, I thought them a pain because I’m short-legged and the apparatus that enables the seat to swivel adds height to the seat. But now we wouldn’t be without them."

— Tracey Waterreus

"I wish our slide-out was on the footpath side so when you stop you can slide it out anywhere. You can’t do that when it slides out onto the road." — Treve Wade "I love that my drawers have magnetic closures. No more drawers flying open while driving because I forgot to push in the closure button."

— Sharla May

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