Living the American dream (machine)
Could you see yourself behind the wheel – or stretching out in a slide-out – of an American motorhome? The dream might be closer than you think. Nick Harding has a wake-up call
They’re not called motorhomes, they’re RVs. That’s Recreational Vehicles, although the term also encompasses towed vehicles (caravans, fifth-wheelers, folding campers) as well as full motorhomes and campervans.
But, it’s fair to say they’ve not had an easy time of it in recent years here in the UK. However, is that all about to change?
The recession that started in 2008 certainly had its effect on the whole motorhome market, but sales of RVs, in particular, suffered a severe setback. Today, too, it’s a different picture here in the UK, with just a sprinkling of specialists selling and servicing these specialist vehicles.
Ironically, then, just as a significant amount of European-built motorhome offerings are getting bigger and grander than ever, the theme from the USA is that it’s trending towards smaller, lighter vehicles that are more fuel-efficient and at lower price points. It’s all relative, of course.
But, if you want to know your pushers from your toy trailers, start right here.
Where can you go and see American motorhomes?
There really are only a handful of American motorhome retailers now, and only a few that actually buy new products direct from the factory in the US. Included in these are:
*Oakwell Motorhomes of Barnsley (www.oakwellmotorhomes.com), specialises in new models from Gulf Stream Coach and Forest River’s Coachmen series.
*Signature Motorhomes, based near Wolverhampton (www.signaturemotorhomes.com), represents Thor Motor coach, Fleetwood and Forest River. The company, formerly known as Westcroft, has been specialising in American motorhomes for over a quarter of a century now.
*Stingray RV in Daventry (www.stingrayrv.com) is Winnebago’s representative for all of Europe. It works in conjunction with a number of partners throughout the continent.
Each of the above also has a stock of pre-owned RVs of all makes and sizes. Others, such as Just RV’s (www.justrvs.co.uk), specialise in pre-owned vehicles, but also offer a full after-sales package in terms of servicing and repair services etc.
What price an RV?
The price spectrum is even wider than you might expect, but here’s a surprise: a brand new Thor Vegas can be as little as £89,995, on-the-road and, of course, fully homologated for UK use. Even here, standard equipment extends to a slide-out section, cab and roof air conditioning, on-board generator, LED lighting, 32in TV, electric awning, twin leisure batteries and more.
Alternatively, at the top of the scale, how about an American Coach Revolution, for around £300,000? Built on a top-spec’ Spartan chassis Cummins diesel engine allied to an Allison six-speed automatic gearbox, the latest 42W model does nearly everything in threes – with a triple-slide-out a trio of double beds and three TVs, all as standard.
That’s for new vehicles. On the secondhand market, there are plenty of bargains to be had – especially as vehicles sold in the relative boom years for new sales between the late 1990s and 2007 are now coming back onto the market. Definitive prices are all but impossible to give – these vehicles are both highly specialist and still very niche, as well as varying hugely in terms of size and specification. Arguably, anything from £50,000 upwards will get you a very nice pre-owned unit, but some prices can go as low as £20,000. Whatever you pay, you’ll reap the rewards of buying from a specialist.
What about Winnebago?
Arguably the best-known RV name of them all, certainly in the UK, Winnebago’s latest Via and View class-A motorhomes are built on European-specification Mercedes Sprinter chassis. Pricing is competitive with home-grown European models, too, with three-litre engines and automatic gearbox etc. Overall length is more Euro-friendly, too, at just over 7.5m. Interiors offer twin singles or French double bed layouts, rounded cabinet work, double-glazed plastic windows (single-glazed glass is the norm in most RVs), as well as the usual domestic-quality appliances.
Differences between RVs and European motorhomes?
There’s a clue on that last sentence above. Perhaps it’s as expected, but an American motorhome will offer everything a European does, only more so. Hence, the sizes of fittings like fridge/freezers, sinks and drainers, shower cubicles and more will be more like we’d expect in our homes. Add in other specification such as air conditioning for the living quarters, more powerful heating systems, a generator, marine toilet with proper holding tank etc et, and you start to see why it all adds up for American vehicles. It also explains why folk who are considering living long-term in their motorhomes often prefer to go the American way.
Don’t forget, also, the underpinnings of a motorhome from the US will be very different to that of Europe. Many have motorhome-specific chassis with larger, more powerful engines that can be far more relaxing to pilot over long distances. They will remain left-hand drive, of course.
All about the economy?
In reality, and considering their overall size and weight with all that equipment on board, RVs are no less economical on fuel than any other large motorhome.
They also tend to run on petrol rather than diesel. For folk considering regularly driving longer distances, converting a petrol engine to run on autogas (lpg) – at around half the price of normal fuel – can be viable.
As American RVs have different specifications to UK motorhomes, owners will need to buy insurance specific to their vehicle. There are a few specialist motorhome and caravan insurance companies in the UK that will offer cover for American RVs
What’s the future for American vehicles in the UK?
There are certainly some signs of a resurgence of interest in American motorhomes over here, especially as prices are now competitive again.
Here’s Tom Durkin from Signature Motorhomes: “It’s a very, very bright future! We at Signature are extremely proud to have a very long and successful relationship with Thor Motor Coach (dating back to 1994). And this is a company which never stands still, always introducing new ideas and constantly turning heads. They were the first to introduce a quad slide-out floorplan, the first to design a Bunkhouse floorplan in a Class A, first to build a Toy Hauler, the list goes on!”
Arguably, the majority of RVs sold here in the UK fit under the 7,500kg limit, after which you will need an HGV licence.
However, for anything up to that cut-off, and if you passed your UK driving test before 1997, your driving licence will list a C1 entitlement to drive vehicles up to 7.5 tonnes limit. If you passed after 1997, you will need to a separate assessment to drive vehicles over 3,500kg, loaded. Ask any specialist American motorhome dealer here in the UK for further advice.
The American way
They’re getting smaller. And lighter. But, the definitions remain the same, starting with three specific types of American motorhome – A, B and C.
Type A, or class-A, are the ones we think of as typical Americans: like European A-class’s, built from the chassis up and utilising a full coachbuilt body, from bumper to bumper. Type B are what we think of as campervans, ie panel van conversions., while C-class equate to our normal coachbuilt motorhomes featuring a caravan body built on the back of a chassis-cab.
Here are some other terms that apply to American motorhomes:
*Pusher. An RV with the engine at the back, but driving the front wheels.
*Slide-out. A section of bodywork that literally does slide-out, electrically, to increase living and/or bedroom space when you’re parked up. Some top American models have as can have as many as four slide-out sections.
*Toy trailer. Literally, a unit designed to carry “boy’s toys”, ie anything from bikes to motorbikes to quads – thanks to a large ramp and storage area at the back of the vehicle.
Find out more
As well as the UK specialists listed above, you can also find out more about American RVs at www.GoRVing.com and www.usrvia.org. The latter is the website of the American RV trade organisation, akin to the UK’s National Caravan Council.