Which motor caravan - coachbuilt or van conversion?
I’m buying a motor caravan, but should I look for a coachbuilt motorhome or a campervan?
To answer this frequently asked question, here’s our video guide by author and campervan expert Daniel Lopez-Ferreiro.
Which is a better investment - a coachbuilt motorhome or a panel van campervan? Now there’s a popular question. A coachbuilt motorhome is the big white straight-sided thing you often see zooming down the motorway, off on holiday or escaping for a bank holiday weekend. They’re pretty big, they’re generally 5.5 or 6m long, they can be much much longer than that, and they’re packed with facilities. You’ve often got a separate washroom, several berths, lots of cooking facilities, they’re really nice and they look really impressive.
A panel van conversion often has an elevated roof, so you can still stand up and you can have a bed in the roof, you’ve got a range of furniture and cooking facilities and often a fold-down bed of some sort, such as the rock and roll bed like this one I’m sitting on (fully described in some of my other videos), or a different type of folding bed arrangement.
So why do they cost a similar amount? Surely the bigger thing is better?
Well the coachbuilt motorhome is built from the inside out, so they put all the parts on a chassis floor and then they put up the plywood and GRP (glass reinforced plastic) panel sides with aluminium trims round - that’s the traditional construction - or in some timberless ones the entire bodywork is made of a GRP sandwich, whereas the panel van conversion comes out of the vehicle factory already complete as a van, and then it’s cut and the elevated roof is fitted, it’s lined and insulated, and everything is fitted within the inside bodywork which of course is a much more involved and refined process, that takes a lot longer.
But which is the better choice? Which should you have? Well, in terms of depreciation, the coachbuilt product does depreciate quite a bit more, we find. So that would be a win for the panel van conversion.
In terms of facilities, there’s lots inside a coachbuilt motorhome and if you’re going to go off and live in it in Spain for six months, or 12 months, or even full-time, maybe you do need that kind of space.
Manoeuvrability-wise, the panel van conversion really scores, because you can drive it pretty much anywhere, you can get under many car park height barriers, and you can squeeze into an ordinary car parking space, generally speaking. So that’s a big win for the panel van conversion.
As a family, we’ve owned several coachbuilt motorhomes ourselves and what we’ve found is that they sit on the drive, you really enjoy them for two or three weeks every year, and the rest of the time the battery goes flat, the tyres get flat spots, and you end up declaring it off-road (SORN) and not paying any road tax, because you’re just not using it. Whereas with a campervan, what we’ve found is people drive them a lot. They’re out in it every week, maybe they’re driving it every day, and it’s not just for weeks away or weekends away, it’s even just days out down at the seaside, it’s afternoons away when you weren’t expecting it, it’s making your own cups of tea and snacks in a National Trust place, it’s relaxing beside the beach with your pint of beer and a newspaper in your own lounge - and that’s where a panel van conversion really scores over a coachbuilt motorhome.
So they’ve both got their advantages and I guess it’s a case of what’s right for you.
Read more - Camper Van Life, by Daniel and Rebekah Lopez-Ferreiro is a celebration of the lifestyle we love. We hope you’ll enjoy our campervan stories and those kindly shared by Sussex Campervan owners, who reveal the many ways they use their campers to improve their everyday lives as well as their leisure time.
Camper Van Life is on Amazon Kindle, £1.99, and is also available as a full-colour paperback book, £14.99, on sale exclusively in the Sussex Campervans shop.