Which Motor Caravan - Coachbuilt or Campervan Conversion?
I’m buying a motor caravan, but should I look for a coachbuilt motorhome, or a campervan; a tin top, a hi-top or a pop-top campervan for sale? To answer this frequently asked question, here’s our video guide by author and campervan expert Daniel Lopez-Ferreiro.
You’ve made an exciting decision - you’re buying a motor caravan! But what should you search for when you’re looking for campervans for sale?
There’s a fair bit of jargon that you might come across - so we’ll start by looking at the pros and cons of the main types of motor caravans, to help you decide which you prefer. Here’s your guide to coachbuilt motorhomes, tin-top campervans, hi-top campervans and pop-top campervans - with friendly video advice from campervan designer-maker and expert Daniel Lopez-Ferreiro, who wrote the book Camper Van Life with his wife Rebekah, to celebrate the fun and freedom of this outdoor lifestyle.
A coachbuilt motorhome is essentially a van chassis, with a big square structure built on top. It’s usually constructed as a framework made of plywood, with plastic panels attached to that, held together with aluminium strips. I call it a ‘block of flats on wheels’. You see them driving around, they’re very big and angular; they give you lots of accommodation inside, but the down-side is that it’s not something you could drive every day. They drink a lot of fuel, too. We’ve owned one or two large coachbuilt motorhomes and for 49 weeks of the year it is parked up on the drive, gathering moss, while the batteries and tyres go flat. The market for those coachbuilt motorhomes is shrinking rapidly - indeed we got rid of ours - and I think a lot of other people have followed suit.
Certainly a lot of folk have come to us at Sussex Campervans and said, “We’re just not getting the use out of it, it’s sitting there burning road tax and depreciating, so we want to swap it for a campervan that we can drive every day.” We often do take cars and campers in part-exchange for one of our campers, so we’ve been happy to help them make the swap.
Panel van conversion
Having considered the pros and cons of a ‘block of flats on wheels’ type of motorhome, how about getting a panel van conversion? What kind of campervan is best for you? There are three main types of campervans for sale - let’s look at each one in turn.
If you buy a hi-top campervan, with a high roof that allows you to stand up inside, one of the advantages is that there is no roof to unfasten and put up when you stop somewhere for a picnic or for the night. There’s no roof to bring down and fasten securely before you drive away, either. Inside a hi-top campervan, you usually have cupboards all the way up the wall, like the one in Daniel’s video, so you do get extra storage compared to a pop-top camper. The whole interior in a hi-top camper feels pretty spacious and airy, offering you plenty of headroom when you stand up.
So what’s the down-side of a hi-top campervan? The only disadvantage is that these hi-tops tend to be 2.4 or 2.5 metres high, so they won’t fit under the majority of car park barriers with height restrictions. They also have less ventilation than a pop-top camper, which might be a problem for anyone sleeping up in the roof space.
You may also find tin-top campervans for sale - but these are essentially panel vans, complete with the original factory-fitted roof.
It hasn’t been modified at all, so you can’t actually stand up in it. It’s a bit like a people carrier with full campervan facilities. So you still have cooking and sleeping facilities, but you just can’t stand up inside, whatever you do to it. So that’s a cheaper option than a pop-top camper, but it’s quite limiting for some people and it might just give you a bad back from so much stooping. It’s probably best used as a day van or a surf van. Quite often people who buy an old panel van and convert it themselves end up with one of these, because they either run out of money or haven’t got the skills to remove the original roof and insert a pop-top roof in..
Pop-top campervans are the most popular type of campervan for sale in Britain today - here’s why. A pop-top camper is only a fraction higher than a plain, unconverted panel van, or a tin-top camper when the roof is closed. The fuel economy is pretty much the same, too.
With a pop-top campervan you can get under most height barriers at the entrances to car parks. The pop-top campervans that we make at Sussex Campervans are around 2.04 metres tall, while our Nissan NV200 CamperCar is less than that - at about 1.95 metres tall with the roof closed for travel. This means that you can get under the 2.1 metre (7 foot) height barriers, and into the car park with all the cars. Then once you’re in the car park you can open up the pop-top roof. It gives you lots of light and air and plenty of headroom when you are standing up to cook, change or move around inside.
In the video we show you how easy it is to put the roof up whenever you like - even just for a picnic stop on a day out - or to break up a longer journey into a set of short, relaxed driving stages. When you unfasten the pop-top roof, you can then push it up at the front and the gas struts quickly take over and lift it the rest of the way. Now you have plenty of headroom and you can also have an extra double bed in the pop-top roof area at night. We provide the pop-top double bed, either by making you a set of upholstered and padded bed boards that you only need to take on trips when you need four berths, or by building a permanently fixed elevating roof bed.
All our pop-top tents have zip-covered windows. Unzip the showerproof cover to let plenty of light and air in through the gauze windows in the pop-top roof tent. Of course you can bring the roof down again and secure it in seconds, ready for you to drive off again and carry on with your adventure.
The other advantage of pop-top campervans is that they are nice and low and aerodynamic.
Campervan life is all about taking the slow and scenic roads, and enjoying the journey, in an easy-to-manoeuvre campervan. But it’s also about having a vehicle that you can use as a second car, as a day van, as a base at sports events, and as a spare room when visitors come to stay with you!
So there you have it - hi-top, pop-top or tin-top campervans - the choice is yours!
Sussex Campervans is a bespoke camper van converter, based in West Sussex between Gatwick airport and Horsham. We look forward to welcoming you at Sussex Campervans soon.
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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.