What Should I Ask Before Hiring a Campervan for the First Time?

First time hiring a campervan or motorhome?

We’re always happy to welcome potential new members to the campervan clan and hiring a van is many people’s first step toward becoming a fully-fledged campervanner. If you’re planning to hire a campervan or motorhome, either for an alternative holiday or to try before you buy, there’s a few things you need to know before you jump in.

When you speak to the hire company, use the list of questions below to make sure you know what is and isn’t included in the service as well as any rules or regulations that apply to the vehicle you’re hiring.

What size van do I need?

The first thing you need to know is how many of you are planning to travel and sleep in the campervan? Each person travelling in the van will need 3-point seatbelt and must be strapped in when you are driving.

You then need to how many beds there are. Being realistic about the physical size of the people in your party is critical at this point.  If members of your party are big, say over 6ft (1.83m) and 16st (100kg) they may not fit in some campervan beds. Lots of smaller vans only have beds that go up to 6ft, limited by the width of the van.

Quite often vans with bunk beds have a weight restriction for the top bunk, usually around 70Kg. So, kids and lighter people will be OK, but the top bunk will be off limits for Dad. Some of the beds may be doubles but double in name only. Motorhome double beds, unless it’s a very big vehicle, are typically much smaller than the one in your bedroom at home. Again, if one or both of you is big, then treat the double bed as a single.

Underestimating the bed requirements is a classic rooky mistake. A good night’s rest is a major factor in making your trip enjoyable. We want you to enjoy your first trip and come back for more, so be realistic about sleeping arrangements.

If there are more passengers than you can comfortably sleep in the van, you can always bring a tent for some of the party to sleep in.

How long is your trip?

How long you plan to be away is another factor to consider. If you are planning a weekend getaway for a couple of nights, a smaller campervan might have enough room. If it’s a longer trip, you may want extra facilities (like a bathroom) that you won’t find in a smaller van so hiring a larger van or motorhome may be more suitable for a longer trip.

Think about how much kit you want to bring with you, and how much storage you’re going to need especially for large items like bikes, inflatable canoes or sun loungers for the less energetic.

Think about the route as well. You may want the comfort of a big motorhome but if you’re going to be up in the mountains and on single track roads a lot, driving could be somewhat stressful unless you’re very experienced. You just need to strike the right balance of payload Vs mobility.

What cooking facilities do you want?

The kind of cooking facilities you want, will also have an impact on the type of van you need to hire. Is a basic gas hob enough or do you need an oven? Will you just be preparing snacks, or are you planning cordon bleu standard meals?

Think about the kitchen layout you need. A van with low headroom means you will need to sit or kneel to cook. This may be ok for a night or two but for a longer trip or for more adventurous cooking, you will probably want to be able to stand and move around.

What Insurance is Included?

If you’ve ever hired a car online, you’ll know that it’s easy to think you’ve paid for everything but when you pick up the vehicle, the insurance, or more likely some aspect of it, wasn’t included and is going to cost you more. It’s the same with a campervan.

Check that all the insurance you need is included in the price, when you’re shopping around and make sure you know how much the excess is, so that you can make an accurate comparison between hire companies.

Another thing to be aware of is that, often, the hire company will charge your credit card for the excess amount up front and repay it when the vehicle is safely returned. This will have an impact on your credit limit for the rest of the trip so if you don’t have a large credit limit, it would be wise to put the excess on a different card if you can.

Are road tolls covered?

In the UK it’s unusual for road and bridge tolls to be included in the cost of hiring the campervan. If you are hiring a campervan outside the UK, hire companies sometimes equip their vehicles with an automated system so that your road tolls are paid electronically as you drive through the toll barrier.

Ask the hiring company about road tolls so you know whether you’re covered. You don’t want to find you’ve got a hefty fine for unpaid tolls waiting for you when you return the van at the end of the trip.

Do they provide 24-hour roadside assistance?

You’re cruising along the country highway, tunes on, excited for the adventures that lie ahead. Suddenly, the engines splutters and cuts out and you coast to a halt. You’re miles from civilisation and it’s getting dark.

Lucky for you, your campervan hire includes 24-hour roadside assistance. Or does it? For peace of mind, check before you set off that roadside assistance is included in the contract. Some hire services also include a replacement vehicle, so you can carry on your journey.

Are there restrictions on who can drive?

Sharing the driving is a great idea but some campervan rental companies charge an extra fee for every additional driver you put on the contract. Sometimes the rental terms allow up to a certain number of eligible drivers within the contract price. Check with your hire company to see how they work.

There will likely be age restrictions as well. Typically, drivers must not be under 25 or over 75 at any point during the hire period. Some companies also require you to have held a valid licence for 2 or more years.

Do I need a special driving license?

In the UK:

If you passed your test since 1 January 1997: The standard driving licence issued to a driver passing a test today covers categories B and B1. This allows you drive a vehicle up to 3,500kg and tow a trailer up to 750kg behind it.

If you are going to drive a larger motorhome (up to 7,500kg), you will need to pass an additional driving test to add the C1 category to your licence.

If you passed your test before 1 January 1997: You will already have the C1 category on your driving license.

Is there a weight limit?

Make sure the hire company gives you clear instructions about allowable payload for the vehicle you hire. Apart from affecting the road handling of the vehicle, overloading is also illegal.

Because of the driving license restrictions, many newer campervans and motorhomes are built with a Maximum Allowable Mass (MAM) of 3,500kg. When fully loaded your van should be under this weight.

What speed limits apply to your vehicle?

Campervans and motorhome weighing over 3.05 tonne unladen weight have different speed limits on single and dual carriageways. Make sure you know what speed limits apply to the vehicle you are hiring.

Built-up Area Single Carriageway Dual Carriageway Motorway
Campervans or Motorhome (not more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight) 30mph

48km/h

60 mph

96 km/h

70 mph

112 km/h

70 mph

112 km/h

Campervans or Motorhome (more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight) 30 mph

48 km/h

50 mph

80 km/h

60 mph

96 km/h

70 mph

112 km/h

Do you get unlimited mileage?

Most campervan hire companies give you unlimited mileage these days, but it’s worth checking. If you are abroad in a huge country like the USA or Australia the miles can rack up very quickly, so you don’t want to be caught out with an excess mileage charge after your trip.

What kind of fuel does it take?

Nearly all hired campervans and motorhomes have diesel engines but double check with your hire company. This information should be covered in the vehicle orientation when you collect it but ask, if it is not mentioned.

Does it have heating and aircon?

You can expect most modern vans to have some form of heating, which typically works off both mains electricity, and gas, for when you don’t have hook-up. If you are hiring a retro van, this might not be the case. If it’s summer, you probably won’t have a problem but beware of hiring old vehicles in the winter.

Vans don’t always have aircon as standard, so you need to check. If you’re planning to travel in a hot country in summer aircon goes from nice-to-have to essential. Being too hot all day and night will sap all the fun out of your trip so plan ahead and travel in comfort.

What kitchen equipment is included?

There’s nothing more frustrating than cooking in a new kitchen for the first time. Other than, of course, cooking in a van kitchen without all the equipment you need. Check with the hire company what kitchen equipment is provided before you start packing.

Some campervans and motorhomes come with very well-equipped kitchens including all the pots, pans, cutlery and cooking utensils you could hope for. If you have a special chef’s knife or essential kitchen widget that you can’t live without make sure you pack it. Always check there is a corkscrew and a bottle opener, at the very least.

What bathroom facilities does it have?

At FVL, we’re not big fans of washing so we’re happy to go away for a night or two in a smaller van with no bathroom and either use campsite facilities or just not bother. This approach has served us well at many festivals where getting a shower is often more hassle than it’s worth.

Most campsites have at least passable bathroom facilities these days so, if you’re more bothered about dirt and germs than we are, you should be fine.

For longer trips, particularly if you plan on wild camping or staying on ‘unofficial’ camp sites, you may want to go for a bigger vehicle with a bathroom. Some campervan-only parking areas, especially in Europe, only have bare minimum facilities and you may like to have access to your own shower and toilet.

If it’s summer and you’re in a warm country, there’s always the option or an ‘outside shower’ if you’re in a smaller van, without a bathroom. Just attach a shower hose to your hot water tap and pop it through the open window. Whether you go for the swimwear approach or the birthday suit option, is up to you . . . and local laws and sensibilities, obviously.

Are bedding and towels included?

Some van hire companies provide bedding and towels, and some don’t. You don’t want to end up spending the first night of your trip wearing all your clothes to keep warm and the second day shopping for sheets and pillows.

We know lots of you like your own creature comforts, especially at bedtime, so don’t be afraid to pack your own extra thick duvet and fluffy pillows. Think about where you’ll store them during the day, though. Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to having an enjoyable time and not to be underestimated.

Can you pick up and drop off at different locations?

If you are planning a big road trip adventure and you have a number of places you want to visit that don’t work well in a circular route, you may be able to do it as a one-way trip.

Pick a hire company that has locations where you would like to start and end your trip. There is usually a fee to do this but, depending on your budget, it may be better to pay the fee than allow the logistics of retuning the van dictate your route. Not all hire companies offer this facility.

Is there an awning or canopy?

If you are just going for a couple of nights, you may not need an awning or canopy but on a longer trip, the extra space can be very useful. It can provide a bit of shade when it’s sunny or somewhere to take off your coat and boots outside the van, if it’s raining. It just gives you a few more options.

It’s not usual for hire companies to provide awnings but some, particularly, the bigger motorhomes do come with a roll-out canopy. If you are planning a month-long trip, it would make a big difference to your comfort, so it’s worth doing some research.

Is a Satnav included?

These days many of us have forgotten how to use maps and in some countries, useful roadmaps are hard to find. Quite often, hire vehicles are basic models so don’t have built-in satnav. Sometimes satnav is an optional extra and can be expensively priced. The day-price can seem reasonable but if you’re away for a few weeks, it can mount up.

If the satnav option is too expensive, or your own satnav doesn’t cover the area you are visiting, you can hire satnavs for most countries, pretty inexpensively, on eBay.

How do I operate the equipment?

When you go to pick up the campervan, the hire company should give you an orientation tour of your vehicle to show you how to operate all the kitchen, heating, aircon, water and electrical systems as well as the driving controls. There should also be a manual/s covering all these items. Don’t leave without one, you will need it.

If you have any questions or didn’t fully understand any of the instruction, ask again. It can be very stressful after a long day on the road, when you’re tired and hungry, to try and work out how to get the taps working or put the heating on for the first time.

A good hire company will also provide a telephone support service to help you out if you’re struggling. Make sure you ask about this as well and put the number in your phone.

Happy travels

We sincerely hope you enjoy your first time in a campervan or motorhome and that the tips above help you pick the right vehicle and hire company for you. If you haven’t driven a bigger vehicle before you may want to check out https://festivalvanlife.com/tips-for-your-first-time-driving-a-campervan-or-motorhome/ and remember, keep smiling and always travel in style and comfort.

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