Motorhome ownership is a privilege. It is something we dreamed of without really expecting our dreams to materialise. But in 2017, we decided to shut our eyes and jump. With a bank loan weighing heavily in our pockets we set off in search of our dream van.
Did we find it? We certainly found one – or it found us.
But like any relationship, there have been highs and lows.
The thrill of the open road
Anyone with a motorhome will have felt that exhilaration as they set off on a road trip, leaving worries and stresses behind them.
You know the bedding is clean and the meals well prepared. You are within your own mobile covid-free bubble!
No concerns about hating the destination because it can be changed at the turn of a key. No fears about hotels or B/Bs being not quite as described. Not even worries about the quality or expense of the food.
The call of the open road ringing in your ears – or is that another hole in the exhaust, a wheel bearing…?
Oh yeah! We’ve all been there, especially but not exclusively, those of us who opt for the vintage vehicles.
A motorhome fault or breakdown can strike at any time
It has happened to us recently.
We picked up our old motorhome mid-December after repairs. She finally had an exhaust with holes in the right places, the lights working and a refurbished wash room!
Having been without her for a couple of weeks, we had missed being able to go out for the day to write; cooking and lounging about like we own the world.
Sometimes that is how motorhome ownership feels!
Excitedly we had carried fairy lights and decorations on the train to the repair shop. We intended to decorate the old girl up for the Suffolk Bugrs’ Christmas Lights cruise that very evening.
She was going to look so special! Lumbering along like the dependable rear-guard behind the desirably trendy VW campers, much admired Beetles and a quirky beach buggy, all festooned with tinsel and lights in a charity run. Her ample rear lit up with red berry lights with colours twinkling along the sides.
Stopping en route for diesel we pulled into a busy…very busy…forecourt.
And there we stayed.
For several hours!!
The awful moment when you realise your motorhome engine is dead!
She wouldn’t start. A faint click was all we could raise.
We were right in front of pump 17 at Sainsbury’s, Stanway – some of you may even have seen us! Great lump of a vehicle, blocking the pump on a Friday tea-time and well into the evening.
To be honest, the patience we were granted and the help offered quite restored our mood. Christmas spirit at its best. Certainly the VW or Motorhome community spirit.
Several people stopped and suggested that our solenoid had failed. We tried bumping and banging it to no avail. They also said to give the starter motor a bit of a knock. That didn’t work. But on that cold and disappointing night, the sympathy and suggestions were warm soul food.
Bless every one of you! Ownership of a motorhome has put us in touch with some lovely people!
We couldn’t even make tea!
Apart from the worry of our very reliable engine dying on us, the worst thing was that one cannot light the gas hob to boil a kettle at a petrol station! Having a loo was most convenient, but no hot water meant we were getting chilly and had resorted to the blankets by the time we were recovered.
Getting that recovery vehicle onto the forecourt then winching our low-slung back end onto it was a feat that must take years of experience and training! The driver even thought to load her to the right to avoid hitting branches!
THAT is considerate care! Many thanks Linton from LJ Transportation and Green Flag, and to Dom, our amazing repair-guy who dropped by to see if he could help. Removing the back pipe of our brand new shiny exhaust before the van was put onto the recovery vehicle probably saved it being damaged before it had even had the chance to get warm!
We cheered ourselves up by comparing the recovery vehicle to Santa’s sleigh and enjoyed the ride in the cab as best one can.
Having got the beast to safety, we were sure that the starter motor was the issue. Not a huge job, no worries.
But we were wrong. The starter motor has been firing her up for thirty years so needed to retire, but the replacement wasn’t interested in working either.
How odd? No, how typical that this vehicle was not straight forward or ordinary!
But there was something that just kept popping into mind. Something that would have had mechanics sucking through their teeth and nodding their head – triggering that heart-sinking feeling…
Someone, in the dim and distant past, had fitted an immobiliser. The wiring was amateur and well – “different”. Looking back now, it was obvious that this kitchen table technology was going to play up at some point.
So, our repair guru “hot-wired” the engine to make sure that nothing else was amiss. Sounds funny, hot-wiring a T4 – it’s something you do to sportier models. But she responded like the old warhorse she is.
I tell you what, it was good to hear her old heart ticking over again.
Does a motorhome break down often?
No! Ours has been recovered twice but that was due to poor human intervention during her past – a shoddy gearbox repair which subsequently failed and a DIY immobiliser. Both of which were ticking time bombs. Our T4 engine was built to run and run, not quickly, but steadily.
She is thirty years old after all!
Most of the issues we have had have been in the habitation end. And of those, many were due to a collision when someone did not remember how tall and wide she is. The owner did not realise quite how much damage the driver had done – a tiny hole in an outer seal will cause water seepage over time.
Having surgically removed the rogue immobiliser which had triggered for some reason, the motorhome engine is now running like a sewing machine.
OK, not quite a sewing machine – unless Massey Ferguson have gone into haute couture. But you know what I mean.
Fact is, that engine will be chugging its merry way back to the repair shop for more work on the habitation end in mid-January.
You see, ownership of a motorhome, especially an older motorhome, can be an expensive hobby. There is a page on our website outlining some of the pitfalls and costs you may encounter, particularly if you purchase an elder of the tribe. Read it here.
Sure, we’ve not spent £80,000 on a new one. We paid less than 10% of that, but the bills can mount up.
In five years, our motorhome has had many repairs
Over the almost five years that we have had her, our Cree has had extensive damp repairs, a new side window, a new floor, a gear box rebuild right before we wanted her to be our Gretna Green wedding vehicle, a drive shaft repair, half the wash room refitted, some of the water system replaced, a new leisure battery, a custom-built exhaust after the previous one was outweighed by the gun gum holding it together, new suspension (which has failed so we’re getting that redone soon) a new CV joint and various small running repairs and re-builds. Filling, welding, painting, polishing – all familiar words now.
But, as I said earlier, much of that could have been avoided had due care and attention been taken. We tend to fuss over her like mother hens; a stitch in time saves nine – and a whole lot of money!
Have we considered selling the motorhome?
Have we considered giving up? Yes. Maybe, during the dark nights when the worries bite and we question what we are doing. Is it all worth it? Are we throwing our money away?
But the light of day brings new faith – we love the lifestyle the old girl affords us. So, we will do our best to afford her!
Motorhome ownership to us is worth every darned penny!
Consider the savings we make on holidays and days out where a van-cooked meal can be ££s cheaper than the restaurant equivalent. Not that either of us are chefs but even a bowl of soup can be in excess of £8. Imagine pan seared cod with freshly picked samphire, a van-kitchen favourite, served with a view of the sea from every window – what would that set you back? A pot of tea and cakes can be £10+. And a bed and breakfast room costs far more than a small camp site or wild camp.
We have visited places that we would not have found holidaying from a B/B or hotel. Often due to being lost!! We would have chosen a place we liked and stayed there for several days instead of getting up and turning the engine on without really knowing where we would sleep that night.
We would have missed eating breakfast amidst soul stirring sunrises, or getting back to the van after sitting watching the sunset lighting the sea with pink and gold. That rainbow marking where Snowdon would have been showing had it not been for the mist.
Owning a motorhome means making memories
So many memories which will keep us warm during the winter of our lives.
And there is the excitement of seeing the “Mystery Machine” rolling up on the driveway for two of the smaller family members. Priceless! We get a free camp for the night in exchange for breakfast the next morning. They love “Mystery Machine Toast”. After the restrictions of the pandemic, these moments are so precious.
The motorhome is now “what we do”. Ownership of the motorhome has changed our lives. We have made compromises and given up a few things, but we would not go back.
So, that was December for us. Christmas was lovely, especially the much missed family gatherings. But there was this background feeling of concern. Was this “IT”? Had our engine actually died? Would we have to scrap her? Even the grown up “children” were asking about it and what our next move could be.
We were able to relax once we heard that old engine again on the 29th December. As one tiny boy related back to his daddy –
The Mystery Machine is not broken any more!
And long may that continue! We hope that 2022 is a year to remember for all the right reasons.
How about you? Do feel that your van is worth the expense? Scroll down to the comments section below and let us know…
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