Motorhome buyers checklist – 47 things you MUST consider

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Looking to buy a new or new to you motorhome? No real idea of what you need. Not too sure of what questions to ask when you view a motorhome. Don’t get lost in all the excitement and impulse buy the wrong motorhome. Instead, read this motorhome buyers checklist and be sure you buy the right motorhome for you!

Having recently rushed into buying our first motorhome, I’ll admit we didn’t really know what on earth we were looking for and in some aspects we got lucky and in some we did not.

So, having lived with our motorhome for a little while, we now know what we wished we would have known before going out and viewing motorhomes.

Armed with what we now know, we have compiled our very own motorhome buyers checklist. Answer these 47 questions and you won’t go far wrong.

Motorhome buyers checklist/points to consider…

As when you’re buying anything that you are excited about its easy to let all that excitement cloud your judgement and end up dropping a lot of money on an impulse purchase.

Its all well and good heading to the dealership with a £2000 deposit in your pocket just waiting to be pledged on the first shiny tag axel you see. Only to get it home a week later to realise it doesn’t fit on your driveway.

The best course of action to avoid this is to understand EXACTLY what you are looking for! Answer these….. questions below and you’ll be armed with an accurate idea of which motorhome is right for you.

Cost

Obviously, cost is always going to be a major factor when looking to buy a motorhome. Motorhomes ain’t cheap and seem to hold their price very well.

In some cases people even make a profit from selling their motorhome years after they bought it. One thing is for sure if you buy wisely and look after it you shouldn’t loose too much money.

So money wise what is there to consider?

1. What’s your budget?

The first thing you need to do before going to look for your perfect motorhome is set a top line and stick to it!

As with everything it’s all so easy to think I’ll go up to a maximum of 10k “but then that one has parking sensors”. Think like this and soon enough your 10k top line will be nudging the 20k mark.  

As a very rough guide:

  • £5000 will get you something early 90’s in decent condition.
  • £10,000 will get you something early 2000’s, again in decent condition.
  • £20,000 and you’ll be pushing 2010 in decent condition. 

Obviously those figures depend on condition, how many owners, size, berth etc.

2. Trade or private sale?

Now this one is personal preference. Normally, if buying a car I would say private and save the cash but with a motorhome there is so many more expensive things to go wrong so maybe I’d edge towards a dealer.

With a dealer you’ll get at least 3 months warranty on anything that goes wrong. A little bit more piece of mind. ALWAYS READ THE SMALL PRINT!!!

On the other hand you’ll be looking to part with 25% more cash on the same motorhome if it was at the dealers. So that £10,000 motorhome at the dealers is only £7500 on a private sale.

Leaving you with £2500 to fix anything that may go wrong.

3. How old is it?

Rule of thumb is the older it is the cheaper it will be. To some extent that is true!

Two ways that you may not realise this isn’t always accurate is that some insurance and breakdown companies won’t insure a motorhome of over 25 years. Thus making your insurance and breakdown options a little more limited.

I found this out the hard way. 

4. How handy are you?

Being handy at fixing thing will certainly save you some money. When you go to view a motorhome, pick it to pieces and knock down the price.

You’ll never knock down the price enough to be able to buy it and take it to a coach builders for repair as the hourly rate they charge is extortionate. If you’re willing to learn and fix things yourself then you should be able to save some money here.

I’m a qualified electrician and also have carpentry qualifications. I bought a cheap, old motorhome and let’s just say I’ve needed both of these skills numerous times.

Size

As we all know size isn’t everything right… In this instance knowing the size you can have is. Motorhomes come as small as a Suzuki carry all the way up to a full on coach.

While they are all roughly the same dimensions in width (2-2.2m) the length can vary quite a bit from around 4.5m up to around 9m. Some campsites will only accept up to 7 meters in length.

5. How big are you comfortable driving?

Rushing out and buying a 8 meter tag axel if you’re used to driving a Nissan Micra may not be the best move you ever made.

Usually, the longer the motorhome the longer the overhang at the back. This can make narrow lanes more hazardous to navigate.

6. Where will you park/store it?

If you plan to park it up on your driveway and like most of us don’t live in a country manor then knowing the maximum dimensions you can accommodate before you head to the dealership is of upmost importance.

When measuring your storage space always add 10% onto what you’ll think you need. You’ll be grateful for a little extra wiggle room.

7. 3.5T or 7.5T?

If like me you passed your driving test after January 1997 then you will only be entitled to drive vehicles with a gross weight of up to 3.5 tons. Anyone who passed before that date can drive any vehicle up to a maximum of 7.5 tons.

There is one execption point. If you are over 70 you MUST fill out an extra form and have a medical to be entitled to keep your 7.5 ton allowance.

Having a motorhome over 3.5 tons (normally around 4) usually means a larger motorhome with more payload. Another plus is that it would be classed as a PHGV (private heavy goods vehicle) so cheaper road tax.

On the downside, worse mpg because of the weight and lower speed restrictions, 60mph on the motorway etc.

 

Condition

I think it goes without saying that if you’re going to spend thousands of pounds on anything then you want it to be in good condition.

Going to look at a £15,000 motorhome and think “oh that’s shiny” and then part with thousands of pounds just isn’t going to cut it. so what should you look out for?

8. Has it had a recent habitation check?

A recent habitation check should put your mind at ease. It should let you know that all the appliances are working, the gas system is safe, there is no damp and just a general going over has been done.

If there is a recent habitation certificate then you shouldn’t receive any nasty surprises down the line.

9. What millage is too much?

For me, millage doesn’t matter too much. Well unless its a choice between 20,000 and 180,000 miles. It all depends on how it has been driven and on what kind of roads.

25,000 miles on smooth motorways is better than 10,000 on cobbled streets etc.

Our motorhome is 28 years old, has over 200,000kms on the clock and has passed its MOT and starts first time, every time….. Touch wood! 

10. Does it need to be reupholstered?

If you’re looking at older motorhomes (pre 2000) the odds are the interior décor and upholstery will be a little tired to say the least.

Maybe you’re good with a sewing machine? If that’s the case then throw £200 in material and countless hours at it and you could have a fresh upholstered interior. If that’s not the case (like us) then getting your motorhome reupholstered can run as much as £3000.

Food for thought!

11. When was the last service?

Now I’m not really one for servicing. In the 15 years since I’ve had my license I’ve had numerous cars, campervans etc. Not once have I ever had a single one serviced, nor have I ever had any engine problems other than wear and tear.

For some people a fully stamped service book is worth its weight in gold. Don’t get me wrong if there were two identical motorhomes, one which had been serviced every six months and one that had not then I know which one I would pick.

12. How long is left on the MOT?

A fresh MOT is always worth a few quid. Especially these days where you can go on the government website and check the MOT history.

If it just had an MOT and the history checker says its got loads advisories then maybe walk away. At the very least use it as a bargaining chip.

Just don’t get hung up on it if it had a worn CV joint 10 years ago.

13. Is there excessive rust?

Rust on any vehicle is always bad but in some cases rust on a motorhome can be a lot worse. The only way to stop rust properly is to cut it out and weld in a new panel.

Not so easy if the rust disappears beyond the beginning of the coachbuilt habitation part of the motorhome. With your average mechanics/welders hourly rate being between £40-50 per hour and a coachbuilders being a lot more, it gets expensive fast.

A few rust bubbles on the bonnet is nothing much to worry about.

14. When was the cambelt last changed?

This is something that you have to know! If the cambelt snaps the pistons are probably going to smash through the engine valves like they are made out of matchsticks.

There’s no universal set millage or timeframe for a cambelt change. It varies from engine to engine but as a rule of thumb its normally between 40,000-60,000 miles and 4-6 years.

Just don’t take anyone’s word for it, no paperwork proof then you have to consider it needs changing. Another bargaining chip to me. 

15. Is there any damp?

DAMP! The biggest fear of any motorhomer or caravaner. A £10,000 damp riddled motorhome can be rendered worthless/uneconomical to fix.

If you smell or find damp you should probably walk away. Well unless you’re a carpenter with a big enough workshop and a couple of hundred man hours to commit to putting it right.

If you buy from a trusted dealer then finding damp while its still under warranty shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Take it back and demand it’s put right.

Personally, if I had bought from a dealer then I would have taken it home and inspected every inch with a decent damp meter. If all was well then I would reseal everything. That way you know you’re covered for a few years.

Myself on the other hand found some damp in the motorhome I bought but didn’t walk away. Instead, I inspected it well and formed a plan to fix it.

The damp was under the leaky water tank and had completely ruined the floor underneath. It was just brown mush.

Knowing that materials to fix motorhomes are cheap, I showed the private seller the damaged floor. Of course he denied all knowledge. I managed to knock off £1250 for the damage which I later cut out and repaired in about 4-5 hours.

The materials and a new water tank set me back around £120. So yeah, it all depends on how you look at it.

Cracked tyre from age
This was my spare….

16. How old are the tyres?

It is recommended that the tyre should be replaced once they get to 6 years old. Tyres on cars rarely last this long before the tread is worn out but motorhomes tend to do a lot less miles each year.

Combine less miles each year with long stints parked up without moving and you get cracked sidewalls, and cracks between the tread.

Add to those cracks a 3500kgs motorhome and you’re going to have a blow out. I recently checked the spare on my motorhome and found it to be over 15 years old, brittle and riddled with cracks.

At somewhere around £100 a pop, not to be ignored.

Layout

Layout, definitely up there with the most important things to consider. In fact the layout was the deciding factor on the motorhome we bought. we were all for spending a fair bit more than we did but this one just had the layout we though would work the best.

So here’s a few layout considerations:

Not the biggest bedroom in the world….

17. Does it have an over-cab bed?

Living in our motorhome for months at a time meant having some sort of permanent bed was of top priority. Yes fair enough it’s not the most comfortable bed in the world, nor is it easy to get in and out of but we’re so glad we have it.

Although you can’t sit up in it and it means if the person at the front needs the toilet in the middle of the night then the other person is getting climbed over. It also means that it can stay made up and we don’t have to pack the bed away every morning so we can use the table and chairs.

Definitely the biggest space saver.

18. Does it have a fixed bed?

If you want a permanent bed but don’t fancy struggling with the over cab bed then there is the option to have an island type bed. It saves making the bed everyday and probably saves on fuel if you get one without the overhead bed as well.

On the down side, if you get an island bed layout it normally means that you’re lounge/kitchen area suffers. Well, unless you buy a 9 metre monster.

19. Do you need a garage?

I wish we had a garage on our motorhome. Much easier than a bike rack, accessible from both sides getting the table and chairs out would be a breeze.

On the downside, you normally need to have the island type bed arrangement to get a garage as the storage space is normally under the bed.

20. Is a separate shower important?

Is having a separate shower cubicle and toilet important? If we ever buy another motorhome then yes it will have a separate shower cubicle.

One reason is that having a shower while trying to not fall over the toilet and nock everything off from around the sink is not that easy. The other reason is once one of you has had a shower the floor stays wet for a couple of hours, wet sock if you need the toilet.

21. How many berth do you need?

Well how many people do you want to take on your adventure? Motorhomes start at 2 berth and the biggest I’ve seen is a 6 berth.

Normally the double over cab, the dining area transforms into a double and then 2 bunk beds in the back that are only really suitable for kids. 

Practicality

Buying a motorhome is about being able to explore in relative comfort without struggling every single day. To buy something that is not practical for your needs would be a disaster so once again here’s a few things to consider: 

22. Does it come with leisure batteries?

Pretty much all motorhomes come with leisure batteries that are charged up from either the engine, solar panel, generator or electric hook up.

The vast majority of motorhomes are sold including the leisure batteries. There’s no real way to test if they are any good when you go for a viewing. The seller could have a receipt that says they are only two months old but that means nothing.

Leisure batteries hate to be discharged below 50%. The seller could have replaced them two month ago but then wired up a 3000w inverter and then plugged his standard household kettle in. 10 boils later they are ruined.

Because of this its best to take it as they’re ruined and hope they aren’t. Most motorhomes come with 2 leisure batteries and they need replacing budget £200 for the pair.

23. Does it come with a refillable gas system?

There’s two main brands of refillable gas system on the market, Gasit and Gaslow. Either one of these being already installed is a big bonus, especially if it comes with the refill kit installed.

Basically if you have one of these kits then you can fill your gas bottle for cooker, heater and water heater from the LPG pump at petrol station. It can be up to 4 times cheaper than using exchangeable Calor gas bottles.

Also, if you plan to head into Europe then Calor doesn’t exist there and you’ll have to buy local bottles and adaptors for every country you visit. Nightmare! Whereas these refillable kits are universal.

The Gasit 6kg kit costs around £200 pounds and I plan to fit one before I head to Europe this winter. 

24. Does it have a proper oven?

Not all motorhomes come with an oven, ours didn’t! Bit of a pain but we solved the problem by buying a miniature electric oven that only takes around 1000w so its no problem on hook up.

Most ovens in motorhomes are gas powered, in other words costing you money even when you’re on a campsite. Mines free to use on a campsite but can’t use it if wild camping.

Swings and roundabouts… 

25. What Euro emissions standard do you need?

These days, some the big European cities are trying to crack down on poor air quality and have introduced low emission zones. Meaning if you want to go into London in an old diesel burner like ours then expect a hefty fine.

The newer the motorhome the higher the “euro number” of the vehicle. The higher the euro number your vehicle has the more places you can go without being fined.

The RAC have published an excellent article explaining all you need to know here.  

26. Petrol or diesel?

Although there’s not many petrol motorhomes around some of the older ones do run on petrol. I used to have a petrol campervan in Australia it was a lot smaller than a motorhome and it was worse than useless!!

A petrol motorhome will be terrible on fuel and lack the torque to pull you up the hills that a turbo diesel has. We have a none turbo 2.5 diesel, while its certainly no speed machine its in a different league to the old 2.0 petrol of the campervan.

27. Automatic or manual gearbox?

I, myself prefer a manual, every automatic vehicle that I have driven never knows what gear it wants to be in. You put your foot down to overtake and nothing happens.

As well as this, automatics are 10-20% worse on fuel, have more technical problems and if they go wrong cost a lot more to replace.  

28. How many seatbelts does it have to have?

Just because its a 5 berth motorhome doesn’t mean it will have 5 seatbelts. Stupid I know but that’s the way it is.

In some cases it is possible to add seatbelts to forward facing seats but gets a little more complicated on side and rear facing seats.

29. What kind of heating system does it have?

If you plan on just using your motorhome in summer then this won’t matter too much but if you’re going to be exploring in winter or heading off to the northern most limits of Europe then a good economical heater matters.

The best/most economical heater for a motorhome at the moment is the diesel heater. You can buy one for around £150-200 and you can fit it yourself.

They either run off the vehicle diesel tank or come with their own 10L tank. Most of them use between 0.1-0.4L per hour or 13-52 pence per hour compared to the standard propane blown air heating that costs between 40p and £2 per hour.

Diesel heaters also require a little bit of 12v electricity from the leisure batteries. 

30. What is the payload?

After much research, I keep reading about people buying these new fancy, all singing, all dancing motorhomes but then when they look into it the payload is an absolute joke.

Some people find that once they have a tank of diesel, water and with themselves in the motorhome that their remaining payload is around 100kg. That’s without the wife, kids, food, clothes or camping chairs etc.

However most of the time you can get a motorhome “up-plated” meaning with a little paperwork and sometimes better tyres etc you can gain an extra 200 or so kg.

A company called SV tech specialise in this.

So when you go to view a motorhome you want to know what the vehicle in running order weighs and what the maximum permissible or gross weight is.  

31. Do you need power steering?

Our van doesn’t have power steering and yes it is a bit of a bitch when I’m trying to park it up but on the open road it’s not a problem.

Most newer motorhomes will have power steering and some of the older ones it’s possible to retro fit but it isn’t cheap.

It all depends on how strong you feel! 

32. Should it have a gas and electric water heater?

Our van has the old Truma B10 gas only water heater. A lot of newer motorhomes will have a water heater that works on gas if you are off grid and off electric when you are plugged in.

The latter will save you money on gas when you are on a campsite. Also you can just leave it on all day so you have a constant supply of hot water.

33. Do you want a left hand drive or right hand drive?

Our van is a left hand drive. Admittedly, it is a little annoying here in the UK. Especially at roundabouts when its hard to see to give way to your right but apart from that its fine.

From the other side, when we get across the channel into Europe where we will do most miles in a year I will be living the dream.

Depends on where you think you’ll do most mile…

Extras

This part of the motorhome buyers checklist is centred around some little extra bits that you may like to have but can be fitted to almost any motorhome you may buy.

Obviously cheaper and better if its already fitted!

34. Should it have an outside gas point?

Useful if you love to fire up the gas BBQ every chance you get. Saves you carrying an extra propane bottle around with you.

Our van has an external gas connection but we don’t believe in a gas BBQ so we never use it. I guess it would be able to retro fit it to most motorhomes.

35. Do you need an external water point?

Handy if you have a dog that loves to go stomping through every muddy ditch you find on a spring time camping trip. Just get a shower head attachment and you have your own dog/muddy boots wash.

36. Does it have a roll out awning?

Most motorhomes either leave the factory with a roll out awning attached or someone along the line has had one fitted. Very useful for creating a little outside shade. Also useful if you want to have a drive away awning as most drive away awnings will attach to the roll out awning.

If the motorhome you’re looking at doesn’t have a roll out awning and you think you’d like one then budget around £300 for one plus fitting.

37. Do you need a solar panel?

Planning to get off the beaten track and do a little wild camping then a solar panel is a must have. When it comes to solar panels, bigger is always better so a motorhome with a lot of empty space on the roof is good.

I have a 275w panel that is roughly 100cm wide by 160cm long. I paid around £350 for the whole kit, including panel, mppt charge controller, cable, brackets and handy little charge monitor that lets you see how much electricity you are producing.

So if it doesn’t have solar panels and you would like them budget between £200 and £400 (depending on size you want) plus fitting if you don’t feel up to it yourself.

38. Will you be taking bikes?

A bike rack is easy enough to retro fit as long as the habitation door is not on the back of the motorhome. Pretty rare but something to keep in mind.

A bike rack for a motorhome starts at roughly £200 and go right up to £7-800. Plus an extra £30-40 for the bike cover to stop them going rusty.

39. Does it have a tow bar?

Our motorhome has a tow bar. I still can’t believe that someone has towed something with this motorhome. It struggles to pull itself up a slight incline, never mind with a trailer attached. 

Tow bars can be useful in many different ways, not just to pull a trailer. They can be used to pull a small car on an A frame, you can get storage boxes and bike racks that attach directly to the tow ball.

So in some ways having a tow bar already fitted is a good thing but in other ways it can be a bad thing. For example, if a motorhome has a tow bar fitted and the previous owner used it to tow a small car that weighs roughly 1000kg then that is all extra wear and tear on the motorhome.

Brakes, gearbox, clutch and engine all have to work harder the more weight you’re trying to move around.

40. Does it have an inverter?

If you want use some of your usual household electronics then you’ll most definitely need an inverter. An inverter converts the 12v DC electricity from your leisure batteries into 240v AC electricity that you would get in your house.

A decent 600w pure sine wave inverter can be had for around £100.

41. Will you need aircon?

Some of the newer more expensive motorhomes have aircon units fitted into the roof. Nice to have especially if you want to tour the continent in summer.

Aircon units use a lot of electricity so would only be functional while on electric hook up.

To get a good quality roof mounted aircon unit retro fitted you’ll be looking at thousands. Some people opt for the cheaper version of a portable unit with window exhaust. these cheaper portable units are supposed to be pretty good and can be found for as little as £200. 

42. Does it come with gas bottles?

Some people sell their motorhome with the propane tanks included some people take them to fit in their new motorhome.

Ideally you’ll have two propane tanks. One that you are using and one spare. For a single 6kg propane bottle deposit you’re looking at £50. So £100 for the pair.

43. Does it have air assisted suspension?

Many motorhomes, especially ones of the older variety like ours have something that is known as saggy back end syndrome. What I mean by this is that body roll when cornering at any kind of speed is terrible.

Adding air assistors can help this massively. Also, adding air assistors is one of the things that can help to get you a bigger payload limit. 

Once again, they can be retro fitted to most motorhomes for around £300-400.

44. Will you need a TV aerial?

Motorhome TV aerials come in all different shapes and sizes, from small digital freeview receivers to full on automatic satellite dishes that automatically move around to face the right direction.

45. Would a reversing camera be handy?

I have one of these, its called Agne looking through the back window screaming at me when I’m about to stick the tow bar through some ones rear bumper.

One day I’ll stop being a tight arse and buy a proper one. You can get a wireless kit for around £100.

Security

Obviously, when you’re looking to spend potentially tens of thousands of pounds on a motorhome, security is something that you need to think about. Especially as Motorhome theft over the last 5 or so years has been rife.

46. Is it a ford?

I say this kind of jokingly because there is a running joke in the motorhome world that Fords are easy to steal. To some extent that is true, Ford based motorhomes have had some security let downs over the last few years but believe it or not Ford based motorhomes are not the most stolen motorhomes.

According to Comfort insurance, there has been a massive spike in Fiat based motorhomes believed to be because of software available online that means thieves can bypass all security and drive your motorhome away without the keys.

Comfort insurance also said that anyone with a Ford motorhome who wished to take out an insurance policy with them would need to have either a Meta Trak VTS or Thatcham Approved Category 5 or 6 tracking device.

47. So what can you do to make your motorhome more secure?

Many people say that fitting a tracker is the way to go but that doesn’t stop thieves stealing your motorhome and also thieves are crafty and some have developed ways to block the tracker signal altogether.

Other people say to add a second inline fuse to the diesel pump. Hide this in a good place and it would be incredibly hard for any thief to get the engine started.

One of the more common ways is to spend  £100-200 on visual deterrents like wheel clamps, steering wheel locks and a clutch claw.

Fair enough, thieves can get through these measures if they really want but are they going to bother when there is another motorhome around the corner without all these device.

Plus if you have added a second diesel pump fuse/installed a good immobiliser by the time the thief realises they can’t steal your motorhome they probably have already caused quite a bit of damage getting that far.

I think that’s everything….

To be honest that turned out a lot longer than expected! Well done if you’re still reading. 

I hope my motorhome buyers checklist has not bored you to death. If you can think of anything I’ve missed and you would like to share with everyone else who is reading this, put it in the comments box and help a fellow motorhomer out 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Motorhome buyers checklist – 47 things you MUST consider

  • August 13, 2019 at 5:27 pm
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    I have always wanted a motorhome. There seems to be so much freedom in owning one and being able to travel that way while still enjoying some comforts.

    This is a great list of things to consider. I would not have known whether to choose Petrol or Diesel but because of your tip I know the better way to go now. Lots of great ideas here.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • August 13, 2019 at 6:50 pm
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      Hi Nate.

      Yes, owning a motorhome can give you so much freedom! Leave it on your driveway stocked with a little food, some spare clothes and £20 in diesel and you can off on an impromptu road trip/adventure at a moments notice.

      Just make sure you think through all of the pointers above to ensure you buy exactly what will suit you best. Nobody wants to spend £££’s on a motorhome to realise its missing something vital.

      Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • August 27, 2019 at 12:05 am
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    What a comprehensive list for buying a motorhome!
    I have lived in a couple motorhomes briefly and there is definitely a sense of freedom that is hard to match.
    Buying a motorhome at a private sale could end up saving you some money up front but if you aren’t handy at fixing problems then you could be risking spending more money down the road.
    This really is a ton of great information about all the big and small details that go into buying a new motorhome.
    Thanks for the excellent information!

    Reply
    • September 1, 2019 at 1:39 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Jesse,
      Yep you are quite right, the sense of utter freedom is hard to beat. Being able to go anywhere there is a tarmac road and taking your home with you is the way to go for me.
      It certainly is a balancing act between paying stupid money at a dealership and having peace of mind or paying a lot less and being prepared to put in a little elbow grease and fix things as needed. I have more time than money lol.

      Reply
  • September 23, 2019 at 7:28 pm
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    I’ve wanted the old style VW camper van for years and finally can afford one, so I’ve been looking into it and your blog is great, there are so many things I hadn’t even thought of.

    Reply
    • September 26, 2019 at 9:44 pm
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      Hi Alun, yes the oldskool Vdubs are amazing. That old air-cooled unit is what you need on a road trip. One thing to watch out for with them is excessive rust as they are well know to be a bit of a money pit. If I had the money though….

      Reply

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