Campervans vs Motorhomes: Which Is Best & What’s The Difference?


Hi, I’m Chris, I run Horton Common along with my father Robert.

We have guests visit us here at Horton Common in campervans and motorhomes. Though as we have no on-site toilet and shower facilities, its mainly motorhomes. Hence, I’ve already given you a clue as to what my personal distinction is between campervans and motorhomes. However, the problem is there is no official definition of either type of leisure vehicle. Therefore, some dealers and manufacturers just refer to all their products as motorhomes. However, personally I think whether the leisure vehicle has its own on-board toilet and shower facilities is a pretty significant difference between the two. Now, whether you want/need a leisure vehicle with its own onboard facilities will depend on how and where you intend to use the vehicle. Furthermore, I believe there are other features which can be used to distinguish between campervans vs motorhomes which will dictate which is the best option for you and your own personal needs.

Campervans vs Motorhomes, which is Best?
What’s the difference between a campervan and a motorhome?: Original Images – carbuyer.co.uk and practicalmotorhome.com

In my previous posts such as motorhome classes and panel van conversions, I’ve briefly referenced the debate which exists about what is a campervan and what is a motorhome. Above, I stated that some dealers/manufactures just refer to all their products as motorhomes. However, it goes both ways. I’ve seen some media outlets/dealer/manufactures and our guests even describe large motorhomes as campervans. Also as stated above, there is no official definition between the two. So below is just my own personal ramblings. However, I will use logic to justify my stance on the difference between a campervan and motorhome. Furthermore, there is no outright ‘best choice’ between the two. Its ‘horses for courses’, depending on where you want to go and the activities you want to do.

Disclaimer: Hey! By the way… any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon or Caravan Guard are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase, with no additional cost to you.

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What is a Campervan? (My Opinion)

So to really answer this question I think its important to go back to the roots of the campervan. For the mass market, the VW Bus/Kombi is where the concept of the campervan started in the 1950’s. There may have been some niche campervan conversion before this point. However, the VW Bus is generally recognised as the first widely known and widely available campervan.

The VW Campervan Buyers Guide by Richard Copping: Image – Amazon.co.uk

The spirit of the original VW Campervan lives on to this day, in its modern iteration the sixth generation (T6) VW California. However, the VW California is still based on an internal combustion engine. I’m into electric cars, as you can probably tell if you read my post on electric tow cars. Well, in the coming years VW is set the launch the ID Buzz. This electric vehicle as you can see below has been designed very much with the original VW Bus in mind. As the ID Buzz is still a few years away, there is no official word yet on the camper version, but it will obviously be available at some point.

A preview of the VW I.D Buzz which will be a future electric campervan.

However, its not as if the only campervans available are manufactured by VW. There is now a wide range of campervans from the likes of Ford, Nissan, Peugeot, Citron, Hyundai and others. For me personally, a campervan has two distinct features a low vehicle height and a non-dedicated toilet and shower area.

Campervan Criteria 1: Low Vehicle Height

For me, when I think of a campervan I think of the most mobile of leisure vehicles. With a campervan, you should be able to go anywhere a normal car should be able to go. For instance, this topic is discussed in my campervans vs caravans post. Hence, a big part of that equation is the height of the vehicle, hence can the campervan fit under a car park barrier? Now, this is not to say I think that every campervan should be able to fit under every car parking barrier.

Car Park Height Barrier
I believe a campervan should be able to get under most (not all) car park height barriers: Image – barriersdirect.co.uk

The height restrictions on car parks vary across the UK and Europe. Some carparks will have entry heights as low as 1.82cm where others go up to 2.45cm. The height of the current VW T6 California campervan is 1.9cm, so it wouldn’t fit below a 1.82cm car park height restriction. However, a 2020 Range Rover at 1.97cm also wouldn’t fit. My general point is, I believe a campervan should be able to get into ‘most’ car parks under height restriction barriers.

Campervan Pop Up Roofs

In several instances, you will find that a campervan has a pop-up roof to provide additional sleeping space. You will often find campervans described as four-berth leisure vehicles. Two people will sleep on the converted bed inside the campervan while another two people can sleep in the pop-up roof. While pop up roofs on campervans are very common and enable the definition of my first criteria of a ‘low-vehicle height’, I’m not using a pop-up roof as a campervan definition criterion. Simply for the reason that not all campervans actually have them, though many do.

Never Presume the Height of a Campervan

While I’m discussing the height of campervans and car park height restrictions I just want to remind anyone who is thinking of purchasing a campervan to never to presume its height. Therefore, its a good idea to measure the dimensions of the campervan and have a label on the dashboard. A guest to Horton Common who owned a campervan once told me a story about driving into a carpark.

Campervan awnings provide extra living space. However, be aware of the additional vehicle height: Image – Amazon.co.uk

They knew the height of their campervan from the manufacturer’s spec sheet. They approached a car park height restriction barrier and heard a loud bang. Confused, they got out to see that the top of the awning fitted to the side of their campervan was just a couple of inches above the height of the vehicle. Hence, it was the awning that fouled the parking barrier. Luckily in that instance, there was minimal damage to the awning. But the point being, don’t take the height of the vehicle from a spec sheet. Actually get a tape measure and measure the height of the vehicle your self.

Campervan Criteria 2: Non-Dedicated Toilet/Shower

Now, my personal definition of a campervan as being a vehicle without a dedicated toilet or shower area does not mean its not possible to have such facilities with a campervan. There are several very compact portable toilets (Porta Porti) offerings via brands such as Thetford who produce similar chemical cassette toilets for caravans and motorhomes. Such a compact chemical toilet could be used within the campervan or an attached/driveway awning.

A compact cassette toilet such as this Thetford Qube 145 could be used in a campervan where a dedicated toilet/shower area does not exist: Image – Amazon.co.uk

My point is though when you look at campervans which resemble the physical size and layout of the original VW Camper and current VW California there is no dedicated area within those vehicles to create an enclosed toilet and shower. This is also not to say a campervan should have such facilities. Creating a dedicated toilet/shower area will increase the height of the vehicle. Hence, making the campervan less mobile as it cannot go to certain places due to height restrictions, see above.

If you are considering a campervan the video below from Andrew Ditton provides some first-timer/beginner campervan owner tips etc. Though following my own criteria above, the Adria Sun Living vehicle Andrew is driving I would personally regard as a motorhome, due to the dedicated washroom. However, Andrew also meets up with a couple who have a VW California, obviously a vehicle I personally do regard as a true campervan.

If you are considering a campervan this video provides some good beginners hints and tips.

What is a Motorhome? (My Opinion)

So within this section of the post, I could just be really brief and state a motorhome is any independently powered leisure vehicle that doesn’t have a low vehicle height and does have a dedicated washroom. That is essentially true, however, I want to elaborate a bit more on my thoughts about the definition of a motorhome.

For me, part of that definition of a motorhome comes from the name its self, it actually contains the word ‘home’. In other words, could that living space be reasonably regarded as an independent everyday living space in its own right? While there are some people who live full time in a campervan such as VW California, I think even they would agree that’s a ‘challenge’. Where on the other hand, I think most people would agree, that a larger living space, with full head height, were you can stand up with a dedicated toilet and shower area could be used full time as a ‘home’. While yes, there is obviously still challenges and issues to address such as washing clothes and having the empty a toilet cassette. A true motorhome should be a living space that by most peoples standard would feel more ‘homely’ than a campervan.

Panel Van Conversions – Campervans or Motorhomes?

Under my own criteria, panel van conversions fall into a grey area. I believe depending on the specific vehicle a panel van conversion can either by a campervan or a motorhome. Many campervans are based on MPVs (Multi-Purpose Vehicles), also sometimes referred to as Mini Vans. However, there are also small commercial vehicles which have a low height and are converted into campervans. There are also large commercial vehicles such as Mercedes Sprinter which are used for panel van conversions. For instance, one of my favourite panel van conversions is the Lunar Landstar RL based on the Mercedes Sprinter van which has been around since 2014.

This is a review of the Lunar Landstar RL back in 2014. For me, this vehicle is definitely not a campervan, its a true motorhome.

The reason I like the Lunar Landstar RL is its one of the few panel van conversions where its been possible to accommodate not only a washroom but a separate toilet and shower. Therefore, I not only consider this panel van conversion a true motorhome, I think it has a better washroom than many coachbuilt motorhomes. Furthermore, as the Landstar Star RL still has the external dimensions of the base Mercedes Sprinter van, with no increase in width or height it is more mobile/practical than many coach built motorhomes.

Storage Considerations for Campervans vs Motorhomes

The last topic I want to discuss in this post is the different storage options you have to consider between a campervan and a motorhome. Based on my own criteria above, besides the circumstances with regards to the washroom, the physical size of the leisure vehicle is a distinguishing factor. As a campervan has the general physical dimensions of many large cars/MPVs in most cases it could be kept on a driveway at home. However, with anything larger (hence a motorhome) that may not be the case. Therefore, you would have to potentially investigate storage yard options near to you. Therefore, with a motorhome, there is not only the additional higher purchase cost over a campervan to consider. Its also likely to cost you more to insure the vehicle and store it.

Conclusions on Campervans vs Motorhomes

In terms of which is better, a campervan or a motorhome there is no ‘one size fits’ all. For anyone who doesnt want to consider a caravan as their leisure vehicle, then both campervans and motorhomes should be on the table. First off you need to write down a list of all the types of places you would like to visit. Then for each of those locations/activities do a pros and cons list for a campervan and motorhome.

At the initial stages, you don’t need to pick specific vehicles. You could just base the pros and cons on the general concept of what a campervan or motorhome is, potentially based on my criteria above. Then once you have done the pros and cons list to identify if a campervan or motorhome would suit your needs better you can then look at specific vehicles. Then again you could do a pros and cons list for specific leisure vehicles to identify which one is going to best suit your budget and your requirements. Finally, you may be interested in my post on the best teardrop caravans for towing behind a campervan/motorhome.

Thanks for reading, I hope you found my thoughts on the campervan vs motorhome debate interesting/useful. I also hope in the near future you consider coming to visit us here at Horton Common to experience our amazing views and fully serviced pitches. 🙂

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Chris - Site Manager

Hi, I’m Chris, along with my father Robert we operate and maintain Horton Common Caravan Site. Located in the Staffordshire Moorlands Horton Common benefits from expansive views over the Peak District National Park. Horton Common features five hard standing fully serviced pitches for caravans and motorhomes.

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