TechnomadicsVagabonding Europe

Some research on buying a campervan in Europe.

Note: This post is a work in progress# General notes

  • Latest fuel figures: Petrol prices (around $US6/gallon), vs Diesel prices (around $US5/gallon)
    • Diesel is generally cheaper to run, as one tends to get further on the same volume
  • EU laws: Can’t register a vehicle in your name unless you are a resident of the country of purchase. England is lenient; Holland & Germany – difficult to buy from a private seller.
    • Buy from dealer, keep rig in dealer’s name – insurance & buy-back easier.
    • Get official proof of ownership
    • “But it’s no longer possible for a non-EU citizen to register a motor vehicle in Germany. You can apply for export plates, which saves you the VAT and road tax, but the vehicle must then be sold outside the country or re-imported for buy-back or resale. Some dealers may be willing to handle the paperwork for this, but may charge a fee. “
  • Traditionally, campervans have been cheaper in Amsterdam & Germany. However, with the pound in its current state, there’s little difference. Thus, given the prior point, it may be easiest to just buy in the UK (e.g. Southdowns)
  • Buy-back easy, usually 50-70% return if vehicle brought back within a year in same general condition. (Year – too limiting for us)
  • AA for insurance, and can help with registration
  • Must have a bill of sale – describe vehicle, show VIN and license number and purchase price, signed by seller and dated
  • Vehicle registration document from seller
  • Find out where you can get base vehicle servicing done
  • Spend at least an hour inside the van, checking the layout, make the beds and check for comfort
  • Buying privately: Never pay cash
  • Avoid ‘Leyland Daf’



  • Bathroom facilities for independence (including built-in toilet, preferably with waste access hatch accessible from outside)
  • Diesel
  • Built-in two-burner (at least) stove with detachable propane tank
  • Fridge (gas)
  • Sink with water supply, pump, drain
  • Under 3.5 tons
  • Left hand drive
  • Everything on 12V
  • Heating system that doesn’t require the engine to run
  • Bike rack, or adequate facilities to install a bike rack later


  • A safe (welded in)
  • Oven + microwave
  • Alarm system + engine immobiliser
  • Sound system compatible with iPods, etc
  • Two distinct workspaces (e.g. two tables/benches)
  • Inverter

Dealer notes

BW Campers (Amsterdam)

BW Campers in Amsterdam were recommended in a number places, including this article (‘Dependable camper sales with buy-back and support while traveling‘ – unclear how independent this is), and the book Europe by Van and Motorhome, so they sounded like a safe option. However, a quick Google revealed that some customers have had very bad experiences with them that reveal some extraordinary dishonest practices. I have also been contacted personally by someone who’s been through hell with them (Sounds like we’ve dodged a bullet there). Avoid them.

Southdown Motorhomes (UK)

Rutenkolk (Frankfurt, Germany)

Mentioned by an Aussie who spent six months travelling. Spent a long time exploring ways to purchase a motorhome, after 30-40 people contacted, settled on Rutenkolk. Were very helpful – e.g. offered their premises for storage at no charge. No buy-back, but can sell through their yard. “Experience with this company has been first class”. Responded quickly to requests and even called to Australia; perfect English. Operated over 25 years, “very customer focused”. Owner’s mother drive them to a department store to buy supplies, then washed newly bought bedding/towels for them!

Second hand motorhomes not their primary business.

Rutenkolk registered and insured the vehicle in their own name – a way to sidestep issues of registration/insurance for non-EU citizens. Probably involves a leaseback arrangement (they lease the motorhome, and sublease it back, so that they can demonstrate custody?)

Guy’s name is Gotz (pronounced ‘Gerts’)

One customer reports dishonesty about a vehicle’s age, and alleges deposit fraud

Durrwang GmbH + co (Dortmund, Germany)

  • Vouch by Trevor, a family member: “Very good”, “dealt with them personally”

Campirama (Kortrick, Belgium)

  • Vouch by Trevor, a family member: “Very good”

Spinney (UK)

  • Vouch by Trevor, a family member: “honest and would not shaft you”, a friend works there


Things to consider in a campervan

  • Preferably doesn’t look too much like a touring motor home full of expensive equipment as we don’t want to draw too much attention to thieves.
  • Good diesel engine for reliability and long engine life.
  • Less than 10 years old for the purpose of insurance and breakdown cover.
  • For travelling in very cold regions:
    • Well insulated with no internal metal bodywork showing in living quarters and double glazed windows. We need the van to be as snug as possible.
    • All water tanks and pipes need to be internal where possible otherwise they would just freeze.
    • Diesel or gas powered blow heating to heat the van up; gas blow heating has less components, so less chance of going wrong; Diesel heating can run off van’s fuel
  • For the ability to ‘freecamp’: Shower, toilet, sink and cooking facilities
  • A permanent double bed
  • Internal storage for clothing and other personal belongings.
  • Three types of motorhomes: B-Class (panel van fitted out, also called day vans and camper vans); A-Class (coach form factor) and C-Class (chassis cab conversion with purpose built ‘caravan’ body attached)
  • See if there’s a ‘try before you buy’ service – hire out for the weekend, etc.
  • Insurance: Sureterm Direct?
  • Windows are a good clue to quality manufacture. Simple, sliding windows are cheap–that’s that. Jalousie windows are better–that’s that (they can be partially opened when raining and they deter burglars). An exception, now, are the dual-pane windows, with jalousie portions at side and/or bottom, that greatly improve insulating characteristics.
  • Size (does this apply to smaller campervans, or just class A’s?)
    • ‘Payload’
    • Mass In Running Order (MIRO)
    • Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM)
    • Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)
    • Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)
    • Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR)
    • Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR)
    • (some info here)

Things to check in a second-hand motorhome

  • Overall condition: Chassis/underneath, engine, milage; “if dents, rust spots, broken lights, etc., have gone unrepaired, ask why”
  • Seals and trims on outside – check for cracks, sun damage, knocks, scrapes
  • Carpets, cupboards, handles and upholstery, be aware of any personalisation
  • Check for damp (can be a problem for older motorhomes, can normally be cured; have distinctive smell; mildew in cupboards is a sign, but may be worth getting a ‘damp metre’ (what is this?)
  • Floors can ‘delaminate’, giving a bouncy feeling, can be fixed
  • Wear and tear should be in line with age
  • Test that all gas/elecrical parts work
  • Full-service history is good
  • More modern vehicles even with a high milage are okay – designed to go well over 200,000 miles (VW T2 with 100,000 miles isn’t such a good idea though, for exmple – much older technology)
  • Never buy a vehicle without a V5 log book; check the engine number and chassis number on the document match the vehicle
  • Don’t take owner’s word that things work
  • Check underside carefully, make sure water and fuel tanks are not leaking
  • Check outer shell carefully, be sure any repairs are good
  • Check inside shell carefully; any discolouration suggests a leak – make sure leak is fixed properly
  • Check all fixtures and fittings; if there’s no gas bottle, get one and try cooking facilities and fridge
  • Drive thoroughly – take up to cruising speed (60mph/100kph), take it down lanes, ot a supermarket, park it somewhere difficult, ensure you can drive it
    • “Look for smoothness, solidity and easy of control; should idle calmly and quietly, and not threaten to die every time you stop at a traffic light. It should start up without stumbling”
  • Get a qualified third party to take a look (AA/RAC members?)
  • Spend a few hours making sure it’s right – make beds, set up tables, move chairs around, etc
  • Ask dealer to demonstrate everything
  • Contact CRiS and report VIN number to find out about it
  • You cannot check a refrigerator/freezer unless it’s been running at least 12 hours (24 is better).
  • If the propane detector with auto stop isn’t working (few do), you won’t be able to get anything burning.
  • Run the air conditioner at least 15 minutes.

Notes on models

(Taken straight from Camper Van Life; Not well researched yet)

Mercedes Sprinter

  • Reliability, last a long time
  • Reduced long term operating costs
  • Hold price well
  • Used throughout Europe, parts are common
  • Slightly narrower than other panel vans
  • Full engine access via bonnet
  • CDi versions have improved engines, more electronics, dashboard gear shift (Pre-CDi have no electronics)
  • Merc TL is mini-bus version of the Sprinter, good for panel van conversions
  • Sprinter has 4 and 6 cylinder diesel and petrol engines, and electric hybrid
  • AKA VW LT post-’96

VW T4 and T5

  • ‘Best small vans money can buy’
  • Reliable, well-built
  • Good fuel economy & performance

Fiat Ducato

  • Reliable, well made, parts easily available

Ford Transit

  • Reliable, mechanically excellent (basic on earlier versions)
  • Known for rusting
  • Mark 7 Transit got International Van Of The Year 2007


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5 Responses to Campervan purchasing notes

  1. Gerard kent says:

    Excellent read confirmed a few things I had already found out

  2. michael edmeades says:

    Great work Michael. Any possibility that you can update, or is your info still all current? Many thanks

  3. Andrew Woburn says:

    Thank you for this comprehensive summary.

    As an update, Wopdrn on Thorntree has reported that Rutenkolk (Frankfurt, Germany) has changed hands. In the changeover his campervan was totally ransacked and no one will take reponsibility.