The Cost of Owning & Running a Campervan
Have you ever wondered how much it costs to run and own a campervan? Inside our guide, you'll learn about all the different costs and what to expect.
Being the owner of a campervan, whether it be classic or modern, authentically original or a panel van conversion, is a privilege.
It’s something that is not easily quantified and, for many, the delights of ownership outweigh any potential costs or pitfalls. If that were not the case, they would not have such a devout following and dedicated owners.
However, like all things its best to go in with your eyes open and a true appreciation for just what you are undertaking. We hope that this campervan owners guide will help you consider the wider implications and help you avoid some of the common pitfalls.
A campervan can be a labour of love, especially if you own a classic. Owners, enthusiasts, and collectors alike are familiar with the realities of running a campervan. This involves everything from routine restoration work in the winter to the summer months when accessories like awnings and camping accessories become more desirable.
For those thinking about investing in a campervan, there can be several costs to consider, including those unforeseen costs that are necessary to keep you on the road.
How much does the camper life cost?
When people invest in a campervan, they also benefit from a lifestyle that comes with its own tight-knit community too. However, ownership can have very real costs associated with it.
When considering a campervan purchase, the largest influence on your budget will be decided by the type or model of vehicle you invest in. You might, for example, be persuaded by the ultimate classic VW T2 Split, or prefer the nostalgic curves of the T2 Bay, you may wish to have the very latest, all-singing, all-dancing, T6 Ocean or a more basic panel van donor to fulfil your DIY conversion dreams. Either way, the model or type of campervan you invest in will influence the size of, and demand on, your budget.
How much does it cost to buy a campervan?
The largest cost in your budget will be from the upfront, initial expense of buying a campervan. Depending on your goals (or your bank account!), you can either buy a camper that requires minimal conversion or opt to build one according to your lifestyle.
When purchasing a classic van, like a VW T2 Bay, you are essentially joining a worldwide community of likeminded enthusiasts. Old VW campervans are ideal investments for first-time purchases precisely because their simple design lends itself to DIY jobs and maintenance. Mechanical parts and panels are plentiful in the market, and there’s a wealth of inspirational materials out there.
A poor decision made at the point of selecting your vehicle can be costly. Arm yourself with some knowledge prior to making a purchase. These vehicles can hide a multitude of sins. Try and enlist the help of a knowledgeable enthusiast, taking note of the old adage, “if it seems too good to be true it probably is” and download the relevant Buyers Guides below before you go to view.
Click on a VW Model below to download a pdf guide.
Do your research first. Be realistic about your overall budget (and allow for a contingency!). Consider how you intend to use it; occasional use day van, frequent road trip wonder or permanent vanlife home. Honestly consider DIY conversion skills versus your budget and ability to engage a specialist converter and internal space required (lone traveller or family). Head to some shows (when able) and have a look around at the different types before making any hard and fast decisions.
Budgeting for your campervan
The experience of owning a camper can be priceless. But, in another sense, failure to realistically budget for a campervan could be costly.
Whilst shaping up a budget should be both affordable and personal, there are some key things to consider that will affect your running costs.
• Anticipate travel
Start by understanding how frequently you intend on using your camper, and for what types of journeys – long trips or short stays? Planning smartly and doing your due diligence here can help estimate the kinds of costs you might run into during the year. For example, you can judge your annual mileage. And this could help you predict fuel costs and general wear-and-tear. You may also want to consider the potential for costs associated with longer adventures overseas that may include tolls and European breakdown.
This is a common oversight for those browsing both the new and used vehicle market. Broadly, if you buy a new camper, you can expect to feel your investment in a vehicle depreciate the quickest in the first three years of purchase. For a new camper, depreciation is especially accelerated (since the moment it’s driven away from the forecourt it loses value). The market value for a camper is based on rarity, condition and model/ make. If you’re purchasing a classic, depending on condition, the value of your camper may well improve with time.
Depreciation in newer models can also be mitigated, to an extent, with professional quality conversions and improvements. VW’s tend to be better at commanding higher valuations in general.
• Running costs
Depending on vehicle age much of your budget will be split into four categories: taxation, insurance, fuel, and servicing and maintenance. When building a budget for a campervan, plan to anticipate these costs by estimating how costs stack up.
Tax and MOT costs may be mitigated by buying a classic over 25 years old. This vehicle can then benefit from historic vehicle status and, even though it will still need to be registered each year with the DVLA, it will prevent costs associated with Road tax.
We would strongly recommend continued regular servicing and MOT’s regardless of an official need. Good service history will ensure your safety and make the vehicle more attractive to buyers should you wish to sell in the future.
• Contingency planning
Many find it helpful to reserve some of their budget for emergencies or unexpected parts replacement. Rust or unexpected parts failure can be expensive. So, planning as a contingency could save you money and stress.
1) Initial Purchase
Not every campervan was created equal. Some are stylish, others robust and durable. Picking the right options for you will depend on how you choose to use it.
How much does a second-hand campervan cost?
A standard second-hand campervan can cost anywhere between £9,000 up to £30,000+. Browsing the marketplace, you can regularly expect to find a great and varied selection. Prices will depend largely on the model and make (and subsequent market rarity), as well as size, parts, and condition of the vehicle.
How much does it cost to buy a new campervan?
New campervans can be incredibly costly. New vehicles lose investment quicker through depreciation, which can make it less economical in the short term. Volkswagen’s California Ocean and Coast ranges, for example, are on the market starting at £55k. However, if you have the budget and the desire it may well be the quickest and easiest route to your campervan dreams.
2) Conversions, Homegrown
DIY van conversions are one of the quickest routes to a personalised ride. Many choose to buy a standard panel van
, to do DIY conversions or renovations in the winter ready for spring and summertime adventures.
DIY conversions, depending on parts, could start from as low as £500-£1000, which is especially beneficial if you are working on a budget. On average, DIY campervan conversions can range between £2,000 and £5,000. This can be determined by the quality and condition of your “donor” van and your conversion requirements.
Bespoke conversions via a converter can run into tens of thousands depending on your specifications.
Conversions often allow you to buy a cheaper base vehicle and tailor the interior to your exact requirements and budget. You can spend as much or as little as you wish.
If you are working on a budget, build a priorities list of parts for your conversion. Think heat, sleep, eat and chill as a starting point! Often campervan conversions aren’t a quick project but can be a highly satisfying way to realise your ideal campervan.
3) Storage and Security
Campervan storage can be an oversight when it comes to costs. As a larger vehicle, campervan storage may be something you wish to consider. How easily can it be stored outside your home, or will you require an alternative? One option for those lacking space at home is rented vehicle storage and parking. Availability isn’t often competitive and rental prices are low. You can expect these costs from anywhere upward of £99 a month, depending on location and storage size. As a desirable vehicle, a camper's security should not be underestimated in terms of importance. Investment in good vehicle security is paramount and a highly recommended consideration.
4) How much does insurance cost on a camper?
It’s difficult to accurately estimate the cost of a campervan insurance policy precisely because every policy is uniquely detailed to the driver and their vehicle. The model and make of your camper can also influence the costs of insuring it on the road.
All campervans will benefit from a bespoke policy from a specialist provider. Although these policies are particularly suited to those with rare or unusual campers, or just wanting peace of mind. When you are building a policy, detail matters. The condition, any modifications, market value, rarity, model and make of your campervan will determine the cost of an overall policy. The driver’s history will affect premiums, too. There is nothing more valuable than an insurance policy that covers your vehicle comprehensively. This can give you extra confidence on and off the road.
Consider the following:
• Agreed value benefits
• Modification cover
• Contents cover
• Salvage retention
5) Fuel economy
Fuel economy, depending on how often you use your camper, can vary greatly. Age, size, weight and model can affect the fuel economy and subsequent costs. On average, a 2-6 berth campervan will use 1 litre of fuel per5 - 6.3 miles. This should give you an estimation of fuel economy, depending on the market value of fuel and your average mileage. Fuel efficiency is not normally associated with older campervans but can be a benefit of newer models. Having said that the slower pace necessitated by the classic air-cooled engine will likely offer better fuel efficiency than you might expect!
Alternatively, you can keep these costs lowered by limiting your vehicle to fewer journeys in a year.
6) Servicing and Maintenance
Arguably the most expensive (and important) element of campervan ownership is regular servicing and maintenance. Skimp here and you merely set yourself up for more costly future outlay. Whilst classics often lend themselves to a certain amount of home maintenance and repairs it is important to be honest about your limitations and expertise. It always pays to work with a specialist workshop or garage.
More modern campers are harder to work on for the home enthusiast and will likely require the skills of a specialist garage with diagnostic tools.
Despite all evidence offered to the contrary(!) owning a campervan may well be the best thing you will ever do. Yes, associated costs, left unchecked, can spiral. But the experiences and sheer delights of owning your dream camper can be nothing short of life-changing.
Many of the pitfalls would be the same with any type of vehicle – what is perhaps more important are the things that campervan ownership offers that other vehicles cannot.
Before committing to a campervan, discover more about the community around them with Just Kampers. Here you can find a thriving marketplace of parts, advice and tips for campers, either for first-time buyers, for those undertaking a restoration project, or anything else in-between.