Motorhome or Car – which is best for road trips?

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The pros and cons of travelling by motorhome versus car.

Almost everyone dreams of having a motorhome and setting out on the open road with everything including the kitchen sink, sleeping wherever the engine stops.

But a car is faster, easier to park, cheaper to run….!

So which would you choose – motorhome or car?

We are fortunate enough to have both, a 30-year-old Autotrail Cree and a 14-year-old Skoda Fabia estate.

So how do we choose which to take?

Fuel economy in a motorhome?

Both of our vehicles use diesel which is currently more expensive than petrol. The motorhome manages 25-28 mpg whereas the car can give us 50mpg. That’s double the distance, which tips the balance in favour of the car.

What we save in fuel can pay for a night…or two…in a bed and breakfast.

But if we use the motorhome, we don’t need a bed and breakfast!! So the saving depends on the costs of camping balanced against the distance travelled.

Naturally, these figures depend upon your available choices – motorhomes generally manage 25-35 mpg but larger cars are not much more economical. So if you’re driving one of those bigger cars, the fuel difference would not be as much.

Motorhome in Scotland. The cost of fuel can be offset by free camping!
Roadside camping saves money!

Our destination may be a deciding factor

It often depends on where we are going and what the agenda is.

A static city break favours the car as it can negotiate the streets and park without issues. We then use a B/B. Within large cities campsites are rare, although wild camping opportunities are more likely than one would think. There are cars and vans always parked up; who takes notice of the motorhome which looks like its owner is in a house nearby?

If we are heading for the countryside or coast – more likely in our case – or a longer trip around an area, the motorhome is the most convenient as we can park, eat, sleep and move on.

Mostly we use rural campsites and walk the surrounding countryside. If public transport is available, we may go further afield. Having a tow car would be a convenience, but the motorhome engine would not accommodate further weight at the back.

If your RV has the guts to pull a tow car then you will have a few more options.

We drove the motorhome round the beautiful reservoirs along the Elan Valley during a Welsh road trip. What a wonderful drive! Until we got to the end that is! There, in front, was a sharply curving uphill road. Had we have got her up the hill, the exit onto a T junction would have been one ask too many. Stopping then pulling out up a steep gradient – just no!

So we turned round and drove back, enjoying the sights again but from the other side.

However, months later, we returned in the car and stayed onsite in the Bed and Breakfast. The Skoda loved the route round, and we were able to park where we wished. And that T junction? No problem – we then drove almost all the way to Aberystwyth just for the scenery. In the car, we can enjoy “interesting” roads.

Elan Valley - the Skoda car loved the tiny roads and steep hills

Is parking a motorhome in a town or city easy?

Our own experience is that many urban car parks have height barriers or are simply not large enough for our fuller-figured motorhome. Of course, we don’t know whether there is a height barrier until we have got right to the car park entrance. We then have to make a three + -point-turn, annoying the queue behind.

We think that parking facilities with height restrictions should have a mark above the “P” on the signage.

And take a bow Suffolk Coastal Council who, like others, have a blanket ban on longer vehicles. This is noted in the small print as you buy your ticket. Do you ever read that? Or worse, on a website. We heard from one couple who had already purchased a ticket in Felixstowe before an attendant told them that they should have checked online before parking their motorhome. Seriously!

One trick is to use one of the motorhome parking or sleeping sites – park4night or searchforsites are good examples. They will often detail motorhome friendly parking within built up areas as well as in the countryside. This is not necessarily parking for stopping overnight but can save you driving round looking for a car park without barriers.

Are rural roads motorhome friendly?

We love to holiday in out-of-the-way places in our motorhome. But the roads through these delightful areas were not planned with such vehicles in mind.

In 2017, on holiday in The Peak District, we found ourselves travelling up Winnats Pass in the motorhome. Even the car drops to second gear in places going up there – try it in an old T4 in the rain! Actually, do NOT try it! It’s not a mistake we will make again.

A recent return visit to the area in the car showed us that the motorhome would struggle along several routes there.

Steep ascents, low bridges, narrow roads, single lane tracks, sharp bends, hump-back-bridges, hikers, cyclists and low hanging trees all make motorhome driving a challenge.

Any size of van would need to take care along the roads we used. Of course, our vintage motorhome is wider than the average panel van. If you have a modern motorhome, or a modified van, your home on wheels would have fewer issues than ours.

Our way round this is to park up where we can and walk the area. We have become fairly good at map reading and have learned not to trust sat-navs, though we will consider a truck one at some point. We were sent along a road which had a 6 foot wide weak bridge – not a forward route for our motorhome!

Negotiating small spaces is better in the car

Manoeuvrability, important in confined streets and car parks, is not the motorhome’s best attribute.

Once into a car park, it could be a challenge to get the motorhome out. And we have issues negotiating streets built for horses and carts which have parked cars along their length.

Having said that, modern cars are getting larger and will soon rival the newer motorhomes for width. It’s going to get tight folks! The skoda is relatively slim and we rarely have issues.

Speed of travel in a motorhome

The car will happily travel at the speed limits on English roads. We can get onto a motorway and eat the miles. (Usually anyway – being stuck on the M6 for 90 minutes recently made us reconsider taking the “fast” roads!! But we either risk motorway hold ups or town traffic)

Taking the motorhome restricts us to 65mph at most. She will go faster but we are mindful of her age and weight. Of course, on many roads that is more than the limit allows so she is fast enough on those.

But speed is not always what we are seeking

Travelling in the motorhome just feels different. Our road trips are not just about arriving, the journey is the adventure. There is this laid-back “holiday” attitude we adopt whenever we use her – even when just out for the day. The rest of the world can whizz by and we simply watch. It is akin to meditation – observing the thoughts passing and letting them go without judgement.

We know we will arrive at our destination eventually, but we appreciate the journey more.

The motorhome is the most “convenient”

Our recent M6 hold up was in the car. Had we have had the motorhome, we could have used our onboard facilities and chilled out whilst we waited. As it was, we had to not think about needing the loo – or do what the guys were doing and pee on the motorway! Gav did. I retained my ladylike status and did not. But it was a close call!

Travelling with toilet and kettle, plus a sofa to recline upon is perfect for motorway blockages. We could have sold tea and coffee! The motorhome is also wonderful for laybys and parking areas. We have often prepared a decent meal in a quiet layby. Even when the old devil broke down on a busy garage forecourt, meaning we couldn’t use the gas for the kettle, we still had blankets to cosy-up in.

The motorhome is family friendly

The motorhome sounds wonderful for a family doesn’t it! Even a motorway blockage can be dealt with – snacks and games on tap. You can stock favourite foods for the fussy – so long as someone doesn’t mind cooking and clearing up! There’s room for a few toys and creative activities. Family friendly with room to spare!

But no, our motorhome cannot accommodate child safety seats so youngsters need to be beyond the baby seat age. Yours may have better thought out seating!

Motorhome travel has a sense of adventure

There you are, out in your very own home on wheels. The open road stretches ahead, and you wonder where you will wake up in the morning. Overlooking a river or the sea? Maybe gazing at mountains or a rain-washed valley?

Living the dream!

Except that those idyllic coves and mountain trails are very often inaccessible to anything less than a 4X4.

Actually, it was in the car in March 2022 that we gleefully drove down Winnats Pass, then up again just for the fun. Then down a narrow road which curved and dipped into Edale. We would not have risked taking the motorhome down there – and we would have been right. She would have made it but meeting other vehicles or passing the cyclists would have been “interesting.”  And she certainly would not have climbed up again.

Driving a motorhome in the mountains

So – which is best, motorhome or car?

Reading through this, it is obvious that the car trumps the motorhome in almost everything. Faster, cheaper, easier to steer and park – no-brainer isn’t it!

But the brain is not in charge here! That responsive, eager little car beats her cumbersome cousin in so many ways and yet it is the latter that we usually choose for holiday driving.

Why?

It is that relaxing feeling of plodding along whilst the rest of the world stresses and strains its way from A to B without enjoying the journey. That becomes a habit – life becomes that journey and before you know it, you’re at the destination without having stopped and smelled the roses. There’ll just be the lingering fragrance of an over-heated engine.

Wherever we go in the motorhome, the journey is part of the trip from the turn of the key onwards. In fact, sometimes, it is the part we enjoy most of all.

If this blog post has inspired you to consider a road trip in a motorhome, how about renting one? Try before you buy! Read our report on renting versus buying.

If you are ready to jump in and purchase your own dream motorhome, we have written an ebook which will guide you through every step of the journey towards motorhome ownership. Packed with tips and advice, this is the book we wish we had had when we were looking!

There are printable checklists which you can take with you to remind you of the more important questions. You can also use the notes you write on them to compare the different vehicles you test drive.

This book could save you hundreds – maybe even thousands – of pounds! And the heartbreak of buying a “wrongun”!

If you want to keep up with the latest news and stories about van life, subscribe to our newsletter! Stay ahead of the rest of the pack. We scour the internet so you don’t have to and send it all to your email inbox every month!

Which do you choose – motorhome or car? Why?

Drop a comment below!

Let the adventures commence!

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