When we started “planning” this adventure knowing that our starting point was going to be in Perth, we began trawling the net for used motorhomes. We realised we may not find one in Western Australia that fits our criteria of price, size, condition and required features, as the majority of the population lives on the other side of the Continent, thus more choice. We were prepared to head East to find our new home on wheels, as that is what it was going to be, so we had to get this right and not settle for something because that was the only one available at the time. We were looking for a motorhome in good condition that could comfortably house the 3 of us, probably a 4 berth, bucket loads of storage, set up for free camping; that is contain a shower and toilet, kitchen, preferably with solar panels so we didn’t need to be plugged in to live, but air-conditioning when we are plugged in. The pointy end – the vehicle needed to be in good condition, not too many kilometres on the clock and a good service history etc, how hard could it be?
Where do you start? Gumtree of course, it is probably the best window to see what is out there in a desired location, most private sellers list here (why wouldn’t you it is free) and so do the dealers, so it gives you a good snapshot of the market. We also joined various Facebook groups for selling Motorhomes.
What we soon began to realise when we started this venture, not only looking for Motorhomes for sale but researching this whole lifestyle, is that Australians have a love affair with caravans, and their reasonably new off-road cousin the camper trailer. They seem to have had a renaissance, from a vehicle for that stereotypical basic 1970s family summer holiday being towed by a Holden Kingswood or Ford Falcon, to this shiny massive dual wheeled, high wheel base apartment sized trailer with every feature of a small house and a price tag to match being, towed by the latest large 4WD (as they are now too heavy to be towed by anything that resembles a standard car).
So why not join the revolution and get a caravan? There is certainly a huge choice in the second hand market. The main reason is that we have never towed anything in our life, and with towing comes reversing, it is an art form when done well and hats off to all the caravan owners I now see on a daily basis backing their huge rig into a tight spot on their first attempt. All I can imagine is the opposite and picturing myself after 30 unsuccessful attempts in front of a growing crowd of seasoned caravanners. I am sure it is a skill that can be learnt and one day we may too get a caravan as I am quite jealous of some of the set ups I see. Price is another reason, there are families out there that are successfully travelling Australia who have paid less than us for the caravan and towing vehicle, but you can spend a descent chunk of our budget alone on the van, and then you need to buy a reliable “tug” that is up to the task of towing your desired van. Apart from the initial set up cost, there are 2 lots of registration and insurance, more tyres, and more service costs which needed to be taken into consideration too. In our case we arrived in Australia with 3 suit cases and planned to buy and kit out a motorhome from scratch, most families would plan this over a number of years and start to acquire the tools required bit by bit whilst still working so cost was a big factor for us. Lastly we enjoy travelling in motorhomes and campervans, we have hired them and travelled in both New Zealand and Australia and feel we can live for a long period of time in one whilst travelling.
When we arrived in Perth the number of motorhomes for sale on the internet had significantly decreased; back in Scotland we could look at what was available from afar but not do much, until we got to WA. We were considering anything as long as it seated at least 3 people and had our required features, and there is many examples of different forms a Motorhome can take, from the conventional 4 -6 berth you see for hire, to converted buses and smaller ones that are built on the back of utes. We also thought we would prefer to buy private as you would expect the price a bit cheaper and usually if some one has owned a motorhome for their own use instead of an ex hire vehicle they may have added some extra features such as better solar, extra storage etc. So all these options were available until we hit sunny Perth, just our luck.
We still hit the ground running, the day after we arrived we visited KB Campers in Wangara which wasn’t far from where we were staying, they specialise in reselling ex rental Motorhomes in all shapes and sizes. We were met by Greg who seemed very friendly and helpful – as all good Sales people should be, they too had recently sold a lot of their stock but had a few vans available, one well above our price range, one within but we thought was a bit tired and maybe too small, and then one “out the back” that had just come in; a 2010 Mercedes Lake 5 berth Motorhome. The price was at our upper limit but seemed a lot less than others we had seen as it was being sold on behalf of the previous owner, we liked the condition of the interior and all the features it had ticked all the boxes, the only problem it had done 310000 km which seemed too high for us, I realise diesel engines have a long lifespan if well looked after but we had set a limit of 200000km, no real science or mechanical theory there, just a figure we thought reasonable. Anyway that gave us an idea of what was out there and our searched continued.
Those first 2 weeks we had booked an Airbnb and hired a car and was part Motorhome shopping and part holiday, we couldn’t be spending hours driving criss crossing Perth everyday, we had a 18month old to entertain as well. We did go to some other dealers, none specialised in just Motorhomes like KB Campers, most were Caravan dealers that had the odd one, and when we told the eager Salesman that we were here to look at Motorhomes you could instantly see the enthusiasm drain away, and we would never see them again. What we did learn or was told in those weeks was that lower kilometres means a lot more dollars, Mercedes are more expensive than Fords, don’t but Fiats, buying privately doesn’t mean you will pay less and people selling stuff on Gumtree don’t always seem that keen to reply to your questions. We did look at only one private sale that our Airbnb Host Nicole put us on too, it was a small truck style motorhome, over 30 years old but had everything you would need including a generator, it was a good price but a vehicle of that age really needs an owner with a bit more mechanical nous than we have.
With almost 2 weeks up and nothing much happening we decided to go back to KB Campers to have another look at the Mercedes, our heart sunk when we couldn’t see it in the yard as we pulled up. All was OK, It was away at the panel shop getting a bit of bumper damage put right but was still up for sale. We had to wait a few days before we could have good look at it and take it for a test drive. We were still impressed, it drove well too and our next step was to get an independent inspection done, we used Phil at AAC Inspections. I spoke to Phil and others at length about the mileage on the clock, and everyone felt that wasn’t really an issue with these engines if well maintained. Being Ex-hire the first thing most people say is that they have been thrashed by people who don’t care as its not theirs, have you ever followed a rental motorhome (not including Wicked Campers) on the road? Usually driven by a cautious mature European tourists and once you drive one of this size with everything rattling in the back, I’m not sure how you can “thrash” it. Australia is a big country with lots of open road so the majority of those kms are “easy” coasting along without strain at around 100 km/h, besides Hire companies want to keep them on the road so they are well maintained and monitored.
The Inspection came back mostly favourable, the main issues were a broken shock absorber, a muffler in need of repair, a possible oil leak and a split gas pipe. KB Campers were happy to fix everything that was highlighted in the report which was good service, they also offered a 3 month warranty on all parts of the vehicle, and a Year Warranty on the Engine and Transmission. We were happy to go ahead with the sale and within about a week we should have our new home on wheels. This couldn’t come quick enough for us as we had been in Australia for about a month now, and when you are staying in an apartment in the city you feel and spend like tourists so we were looking forward to living a more frugal lifestyle and get into a routine as much as you can when you are moving about the country in a Motorhome.
What we had bought was a 2010 Mercedes Sprinter 2.2 Litre Turbo Diesel, Auto Lake (ex Maui Hire) Motorhome. Its main features included, 5 berth, 5 seats, Air conditioning (when plugged in), 80W solar panel (not big enough for our needs but will update) Shower and toilet, 4 gas burner and grill, Microwave, TV, 12V USB connections, Gas hot water. 82 Litre fresh water (could be bigger) and grey water tanks, with heaps of storage.
The day came to pick up our new home, all the issues had been supposedly fixed, I handed over a rather large bank cheque and Greg talked me through all the features. Having hired a similar Motorhome a year ago I was sort of familiar with a lot of this, however Greg was on his own with customers queuing up and this part of the process was very rushed and the one area where we felt KB Campers let them selves down. This later became evident when the first time I tried to take the awning down, it took several hours and many google searches and Youtube videos before I cracked it; perhaps if he had gone over things a lot more slowly more would have sunk in.
Amongst the stress of driving a large vehicle on city streets and wondering where we were going to stay for our first night, should have come the excitement that our dream had come true, the start of an adventure, the start of a new lifestyle; what was on our mind however was it is Friday afternoon we have a motorhome but no bedding, no cutlery, cups, plates, cooking utensils, no food etc etc, we need to kit his thing out, where’s the nearest Kmart?