Our Next Motorhome: the legal position in UK

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that we’ve outgrown our trusty Hymer motorhome, and have therefore been wondering what motorhome to buy next for a while now.

Or, perhaps more accurately following a lot of research, what motorhome to build next? Because it’s very apparent that there’s really nothing available on the market that meets our needs at present. We don’t need an off-road motorhome in the strictest sense of the phrase, but rather a motorhome that’s capable of keeping on going when the roads get bad, very bad; this big “overland campervan” (as I have heard it called elsewhere) will be headed way beyond the end of Europe, for months at a time, with our whole family on board.

There are some great 4×4 motorhomes with 4 fixed berths for sale on mobile.de but to be honest they’re either too old (30 years plus), too light duty to continuously withstand where we’ll be going (Sprinter 4×4 chassis), or (in the case of an otherwise stunning Woelcke MB 818D Vario Allrad) don’t have sufficient fixed berths. What we’re really looking for is something more like the very capable Unicat Terracross TC59 Family but (aside from being way too expensive) even that doesn’t have sufficient storage space for our long-term extended travel plans.

Photo of Unicat Terracross TC59 by river

A Unicat TC59 Family motorhome parked where other motorhomes fear to tread

The only solution then appears to be to design something ourselves, and then arrange for somebody to build it for us. Although in this case, given the numerous different skill-sets involved, “somebody” is likely to consist of multiple different companies. And therein lies quite a bit more research.

But the first thing is to choose a suitable base vehicle for it all to sit on, and as we want both left hand drive (LHD) and 4×4 it makes sense to look in EU rather than UK. The experts all tell me that either Mercedes Benz or MAN make the best 4×4 trucks if long-range travel is the plan, so the next thing is to look at 4×4 trucks up to 18 tonnes for sale on mobile.de and similar websites, before heading off out to Belgium/Germany/Poland/wherever to buy something.

Well, almost. That would in truth be jumping the gun a little because there’s little point buying something that I can’t legally drive…

The first thing in reality then is to go back to school, and get myself a suitable driving licence. Probably in common with most people reading this blog, my current license covers me to drive up to 7.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight (GVW), or maximum allowed mass (MAM) as it’s now called. That’s more than sufficient for pretty-much every EU-standard motorhome, and the majority of the US imports too, but this planned big beast motorhome of ours will likely weigh in about 10-12 tonnes when full of water and fuel (600 litres of each), gas (propane/butane/LPG), diesel generator, fridge, freezer, dish washer, washing machine, oven etc. So I’ll need a Category C driving licence, to let me drive heavy rigid goods vehicles (including a big motorhome), as DVLA’s website confirms. And if I want to tow a small car behind, so we can more easily pop out for the day, I’ll need Category C+E (the same as all the drivers of the articulated lorries, just so our big camper can tow a car one tenth its weight). There are numerous driver training schools locally offering this commercial driver training, but a good friend of mine did his truck driver training with Scania near Bristol and heavily recommends them, so the odds are high that I’ll find a campsite near Bristol and spend a pleasant week or two down there in our current motorhome, while I learn to drive again.

The bad news was that the road fund license (RFL – road tax) was going to be huge, and while the handy PDF comparison chart seems to have gone from DVLA’s website now, the replacement road fund licence calculator on DirectGov still shows it was destined to cost us a hefty £650/year for a vehicle plated at 18 tonnes, as our base vehicle may well be. The good news is that a phone call to DVLA revealed that there is a special tax class for Private HGVs (which are described as “over 3,500 kg revenue weight”), now also clearly visible on the new DirectGov website road fund licence calculator, which costs a far more reasonable £165/year.

Driving Standards Agency books & DVD

The 7 books & DVD, most of which I'll be reading and watching in my motorhome this summer holiday

My next task then is to buy copies of:

and spend many a happy hour reading up on their contents, before going to sit a theory test, after which I can start taking driving lessons again.

I’ve been a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) for many years, but it’s fast becoming apparent to me that the extra studying and training that I’m going to be undertaking for my Category C+E licence will make me a better driver still, and (regardless of a new vehicle necessitating it) I’m looking forward to it as that surely can’t be a bad thing for every day driving either…

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