Buying/converting a LHD campervan

I would appreciate advice from anyone who has knowledge or experience of purchasing a small camper van on a small budget (around £20,000). We would prefer LHD, but second hand vehicles are relatively expensive in France. We have considered buying an unconverted van (VW T5 or similar) in France and then taking it back to the uk for the conversion. However, most vans seem to be diesel here and we would rather have petrol. If we went for RHD and purchased in the UK, would there be problems getting a certificate of conformity, as the sliding door would be likely to be on the wrong side for France. Also, would having a pop-top fitted complicate matters with the certificate of conformity?

Any advice would be most welcome. Thank you in advance :slightly_smiling_face:

Check how straightforward it would be dealing with a change of category on the CT. I’ve not got any personal experience but I’ve read plenty of posts by people who have converted vans themselves or had van conversions in the UK and they’ve never had happy endings. I don’t think that the position of the doors has ever been a problem though. Be careful before opting for petrol over diesel as well, I know that diesel is not PC at the moment but the torque produced by reasonably modern Diesel engine is well suited to vehicles with the weight and aerodynamics of a camper van. I do occasionally look at secondhand camping cars and I have seen a lot of good ones for less than €20,000 in the last couple of years.

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That sounds like quite a large budget to me!
If you get a UK firm to convert the van, make sure they check the French normes and conform to those because they are a lot more detailed and strict than in the UK, eg required distance between habitation elements, gas installation etc (or maybe the UK has come into line now but I know French gas regs used to be stricter back in the day, and often if you imported a UK camper the gas pipes had to be modified). The camping car layout normes are online if you google. You would almost certainly have to have a full DREAL inspection to get it registered here (although in fact I think DREAL is now something else?).

If you buy a newish campervan in the UK and it has certificate of conformity etc it shouldn’t be a major problem to register here, if it’s older you may have problems getting a CoC and as above end up having to have a DREAL inspection. The sliding door problem is a bit of an urban myth.

I would also query why petrol - diesel is still so much cheaper here and there is a lot of weight to pull.

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Thanks for these replies :slightly_smiling_face:. This gives me a lot of information to research.

To clarify the ‘small budget’ - it’s about half the amount of a new campervan and to us it’s actually a huge amount (the entire lump sum from one of our pensions) which is why we can’t afford to make costly mistakes. We currently drive a 14 year old car!

We prefer petrol just because I think diesels could become increasingly difficult to sell on. And petrol vehicles are likely to be less polluting than diesel. I would rather pay more for fuel and be kinder to the environment. (But I wouldn’t be a martyr to the cause! It’s just a preference.)

Thank you for the heads up on the sliding door thing. I kind of assumed it’s a problem because of caravans, but maybe that’s because caravan doors swing open, rather than sliding…?

I wonder if anyone has experience of driving a RHD camper in Europe? People advise us to buy LHD. I was kind of hoping that the extra height might in some way overcome some of the difficulties of RHD. It will be our only vehicle when we eventually get it.

Be careful that you don’t go for a petrol engine for the wrong reasons. Turbo Diesel engines do tend to be better suited to motorcaravans than petrol engines and it is not just a case of economy. Diesel engines are hardly likely to be a problem with selling on as nearly all motor caravans have Diesel engines for good reason. At the moment Diesel engines are only really a problem if you want to spend your time in large cities which impose restrictions, out in the countryside you can feel pleased that you are producing less CO2.
RHD or LHD tends to be a personal choice. One if my cars is RHD but I have owned it since new and brought it to France with me. I would never consider buying another RHD car as, in my opinion, LHD is sooooooo much better. Only yesterday I was talking to a friend about a trip we’d done at the weekend. They said (unprompted) that they were glad that we’d gone in my LHD car as they, as a passenger, feels vunerable sitting on the wrong side. Not something that I would have thought about. You are correct though, in a van you often get a better view ahead than you would in a lower vehicle but you would keep that advantage in a LHD vehicle. Driving RHD vans in Europe isn’t a great problem as tens of thousands of British tourists confirm every year.
As mentioned before the main consideration has to be your ability to get certificates (plural) of Conformity. Without those registration in France may be possible but it will not be straightforward. With your budget it will not be a problem to find a suitable vehicle.
Don’t worry about your 14 year old car, the average age of my cars is over 35 years but the newest is a mere youngster as it is just approaching it’s eleventh birthday.
PS Although I am recommending that you look seriously at Diesel power for a motorcaravan all my cars run on petrol. If I was to buy a motor caravan or large towcar I would definitely go for a Diesel. Horses for courses.

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I still think you may be restricting your choice if you don’t look at diesels. The fact is that most modern motorhomes are diesel.
If there are always going to be 2 of you, RHD shouldn’t be a major problem. Driving a LHD motorhome in the UK with no passenger has had some hairy moments due to arriving at a junction or roundabout where I ended up totally “blind” to approaching traffic - you have to anticipate blind junctions well in advance and plan your road positioning accordingly, stradding 2 lanes if necessary which annoys the traffic because they don’t understand why you’re doing it, and now and again a blind junction catches you unawares. Extra height doesn’t help if the angle is wrong and you have no line of sight from the driver’s seat.

Don’t rush to get rid of the car, unless you’re getting a small camper. The novelty of using a large camper as an only vehicle, if you need to regularly drive in towns and park, soon wears off.

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As someone who drives a LHD drive panel van in France on a daily basis I would urge you to not consider RHD for a camping car.

Although sightlines are theoretically better in a camping car than a panel van there is the possibility of these being blocked by a load in the back, or passengers, when approaching roundabouts & right fork junctions (& you even get a better view with a LHD with a straight forward T-junction). Overtaking is also a lot safer & easier in LHD - you don’t always have a better view through being higher than a car. My average day involves passing slow tractors, trailers, & the inevitable “sans permis” (though less of a sightline problem there!).

There’s also the advantage of blending in a bit more if you follow the local normes.

Hmmm…diesel or petrol? No contest - electric!

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I’ve only just realised who I’m writing to (unless someone else has your name)! Are you back soon?

We are back, Jonathan! Is it quiet chez vous…? I think we may we’ll end up just buying something here, but I think we will get a lot less for our money :slightly_frowning_face:. In itself this isn’t really a problem, but you know how rubbish we are with anything practical, and we were hoping for something newish and low mileage.

I take on board the points about diesel and agree that LHD is a much better option.

It’s just a small van we are after. VW T5 size, no bigger. Partly because it will be our only vehicle, partly because of the cost of frequent trips across the channel.

We cannot keep our current car as it’s a uk registered grey import and far too complicated and expensive to re-register here, given the actual value of the vehicle (lovely though it is!)

‘No contest - electric.’ If only. I spent yesterday looking at the reality of buying a Renault Zoe. Very cheap to buy secondhand, rented power packs at an affordable price but… The range is still too limited. I regularly do trips out of between 400-500km and that is still not possible in anything other than theory. Hopefully for my main car the future will be electric but that remains something that needs to be put off until the technology catches up with the requirement.

I have always felt vulnerable as a passenger in a rhd in France, as many years ago a family friend died in the passenger seat when a sleeping French driver ploughed across the road into their rhd car. Maybe it would not have been a fatal crash had the driver had better visibility.

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The Zoe is almost there for you already. The 2017 41kWh battery gives a real world range of 300km (not the headline NEDC claim of 400km). So by leaving home with a full charge you only need one fast charge stop at some point in 200-300km. I’d certainly be stopping for a stretch/rest/coffee after that distance, so it’s not an imposition.

Renault will upgrade pre-2017 models to the 41kWh pack, but there is a charge I think.

At the moment with the French government subsidy & having an elligible diesel to scrap we’d get 10K€ off a new electric car. Food for thought.

Lots of interesting EV stuff here.

Apologies for thread hijack…

As I said, close but not quite. Hopefully before long the gap will be bridged.

Why not consider buying in Holland or Germany where you get more for your money and LHD.

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Indeed. Belgium is reputedly cheap for cars, dunno about campers.

I have suggested this to my husband. The only concern there is the distance should anything go wrong whilst under guarantee. I do remember years ago that Belgium, in particular, was much cheaper than the uk for new car sales. Thank you for the idea :slightly_smiling_face:

Not wishing to throw cold water on the suggestion of Belgium/Holland/Germany…

but I am sure someone mentioned the cost of the Pollution tax (depends on the emissions and size of engine I believe)…due on imported cars, which can (in some instances) wipe out any savings made on the purchase.

Someone will no doubt chime in and put the details properly…but the nub of it stuck quite strongly in my mind…

something to check on anyway… before committing to a purchase :wink:

It’s a very good point, especially if the motorcaravan is less than 7-8 years old. Over 10 and there’s no problem. I’d be surprised if Holland would be a good place to look for second hand motorhomes as vehicle prices there tend to be significantly higher than in Germany. Another advantage of Germany is that you register your new toy on export plates which allow you to drive it back to France and use it legally while getting it registered.

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Thank you, very helpful. I will do some research into this.

It’s something, an extra cost… that was increased severely at the beginning of 2017
you’ll find details on the site…