Conversion or coachbuilt? Finding the campervan to suit your needs

Manufacturers go about creating a motorhome in one of two ways. On the one hand, there’s the conversion route — the manufacturer takes a van such as the Ford Transit or VW T6, leaves the exterior largely untouched, but refits the inside to deliver a home-away-from-home experience. Alternatively, there are coachbuilt motorhomes, where the manufacturer starts with the chassis and cab from, say, a Fiat Ducato, and then designs and builds an entirely new body to the rear.

So which type of motorhome is best for you? A lot depends on the type of motorhoming experience you are aiming for; not least, who’s going to be using it, where you’ll be going, and what you’ll be doing when you get there. Practical, stylish, modern motorhomes are plentiful across both of these build categories. Here, we’ll outline the key characteristics of both types of motorhome, to guide you in your decisions as you explore everything the market has to offer.

Side by side: conversions and coachbuilts

The VW California illustrates what conversions can offer in 2016. On the outside, it looks like a standard transporter shuttle based on the T6 van. Yet, on the inside, it’s packed with motorhome features. A pop-up aluminium roof allows for an upper bed, while a folding bench provides two further berths, making this a viable option for a couple with two small children. Other features include a kitchen unit with a two-burner stove, cupboard space and cold food storage, and a folding table.

The California is Volkswagen’s official, factory-fitted camper conversion. But alongside this, you’ll find that many other manufacturers have gone their own route in converting the T6. For instance, Auto Sleepers offers two, as opposed to four, berths in its Topaz VW model, but finds room for a toilet and shower. This type of layout might be especially attractive to a couple looking for more in the way of home comforts.

Based on vans from VW, Ford, Mercedes Benz, Peugeot, and Fiat, you’ll find a whole host of manufacturers offering conversion options. Often, the emphasis is on prioritising a certain area — whether it’s sleeping capacity, cooking or washing facilities, or storage — so it’s often a matter of working out your own priorities and homing in on those conversions that best meet them.

In contrast to a conversion style, a coachbuilt model is instantly recognisable as a motorhome. A fibreglass body sits around and over the cab and chassis, so it’s usually taller, wider, and often longer than a conversion for a roomier feel. Step inside and you’ll usually find a seating area that converts into a double bed at the rear, a washroom and shower, wardrobe space, enclosed WC, and galley kitchen in the centre, and a table and chair set-up at the front. Coachbuilt models are ideal for families or couples who want the comfort, living space, and self-sufficiency of a touring caravan — but without having to tow it.

For both types of motorhome, it’s often possible to choose what you want from a menu of possible features when buying new. These are specialist vehicles, so when it comes to insuring them, it’s worth seeking cover from a specialist who understands the market. That way, you can ensure that you are covered for the true value of the van, including any enhancements you have chosen to add.

To help you decide whether a coachbuilt or a conversion might suit you best, here’s how both types can meet differing needs and preferences.

Family holidays and larger groups

Bailey’s Approach Advance 665 shows you how a coachbuilt caravan can accommodate a larger family in comfort. The manufacturers have been able to incorporate an automatically-operated double bed over the cab. Slide-out bed boxes for the front table and at the rear seating area mean that the unit can sleep six in total.

Although smaller in terms of accommodation, a conversion van has its own benefits for families. For one thing, there’s scope for putting it to good use not just on holiday, but also in everyday life — such as on the school run or for your weekly supermarket shop. If you use an awning with your converted van, there’s the potential to instantly boost the living space available to you on holiday, providing a handy ‘breakfast room’, a covered changing area — and even extra sleeping space.

Couples and longer-distance trippers

You’ll find plenty of two-berth options available in both the conversion and coachbuilt classes — so it’s a matter of considering your usage requirements to identify an option that matches them.

If a European road trip is on the cards for you and your partner, opting for a relatively nifty panel van conversion can make things easier when negotiating city streets and unfamiliar country lanes. But also bear in mind where you’ll be staying; for a basic site where facilities are rudimentary, mod-cons such as your own shower within a spacious coachbuilt can be especially welcome. Particularly for longer holidays, the relatively generous galley storage available in a coachbuilt can also be very useful for storing provisions.

Exploring your options

As you start your search, there’s no need to automatically rule out a particular build class. Instead, once you are clear on how many sleeping berths you require, you could explore all coachbuilt and conversion models that meet this basic requirement. It’s then a case of opting for whichever model fits the bill in terms of layout, overall size, and features.

For more information on our insurance options, take a look at our insurance section.