What is the Cost of Owning a Motorhome?

I always wondered how costly a motorhome would be to own. Well, now we have one we are finding out that it can be quite costly. I will provide a breakdown of the costs we have incurred since we bought the motorhome.

I can only speak from my experience but so far we have spent more than 30% over the purchase price.
The costs have been;
Purchase price
Mechanical Repair
Upgrades to the living area
Repairs to the living area.
Insurance, Breakdown Cover and Tax

The Purchase Price

We paid just under £10000 for a 1990 Hymer B644. It came to us with a clean MOT. It has travelled about 120000 miles.

I am handy and can tackle most jobs so was confident that I could take care of our new purchase. Here is a list of jobs done to the interior in the first few months

The first four months (we purchased it in the winter – November) we spent getting the living area cleaned up. It had old bulbs, was poorly lit and a bit grubby. We cleaned it up, changed all the bulbs and lighting to led lights. We got all the gas appliances working and serviced. We sorted out the electrics to work more efficiently.

  • Bought a new starter battery.
  • Replaced a leisure battery
  • Fitted a reversing camera
  • Fixed the toilet (the cassette needed a new breather)
  • Fitted a new kitchen tap, the old one fell apart.
  • Sorted the drain on the sink
  • Fixed a split pipe in the bathroom
  • Took off a rear window and resealed
  • Resealed a locker door
  • Fixed connections to the three-way fridge that had totally corroded
  • Fixed the fan for the Truma heater so the hot air is spread around the motorhome.
  • Heater needed new sparker unit to light the fire.
  • Restuck vinyl above the bed.
  • Cleaned all the seat covers
  • Fitted a new sound system (I say new but was second hand from eBay)
  • Repaired the dashboard at the front of the motorhome
  • Fitted some fake grass and made a plants versus zombies theme as requested by my son.

This work cost us around £1000 to complete with me taking care of the labour.

Next came the mechanical work.


Mechanical Work

Engine of Fiat Hymer B644
The engine of Fiat Hymer 1990

We noticed that it was smoking a bit and there were a couple of oil leaks. I fixed the leaks and gave it a good service but could not get the smoking under control. Took it to a garage here in Glasgow and told us the tappets needed done and a few other things. Once they had a good look they found damage in the engine that had been badly repaired in the past. The engine also needed a new head gasket and new piston ring seals.

Once we got that done at a cost of £1800 as well as various other jobs like replacing most of the hoses, it’s practically a new engine and is running great. The next major repair (and there always seems to be one on the horizon) is the rear leaf springs which I will be replacing myself at the cost of £450.

When we bought it, we knew it had a few problems and were expecting to spend a few pounds but the engine rebuild was a bit of a surprise.

I still have a to-do list that is getting smaller but slowly

Why would you put yourself through this? Well, when you can just jump into your bus and drive away for the weekend, it’s amazing. You are so comfortable with running water, electricity, toilet, it’s pure luxury, as far as camping goes.

You get to stay in some of the most beautiful places. Here in Glasgow you can travel an hour in just about any direction and you will find a secluded spot of beauty. It makes the hard work and expense worth it. Though what I would say is we will have to have many many weekends away to make it worth it economically.

Engine bay 1990 Hymer B544
Engine bay 1990 Hymer B544

I would say to anyone considering purchasing a motorhome it doesn’t really matter what age of motorhome you buy, there will always be maintenance needing done. Don’t think that the purchase price is your only cost.

What I noticed is when I was thinking about buying a motorhome I would think about all the wonderful things I was going be doing in it. When I finally got one I am thinking about all the jobs that need doing to keep it moving. When we were doing a lot of repairs I sometimes forgot that it could actually move!

Garages and Garage Bills

What we found out was a lot of garages won’t touch these machines. Many don’t have ramps large enough to take the weight. So we couldn’t use our mechanic we use for the car. We had to hunt down mechanics.

The first place we found was good at building engines but that was about it. They are truly old school mechanics with engine parts everywhere, every surface covered in oil. It was really difficult to get a break down of the work carried out on the motorhome from them. In fact, the last time we used them I got a bill for nearly £500 and the owner couldn’t even tell me what I was getting charged for. It was bizarre, so moved on to another place and will see what happens now.

The problem is our motorhome has quite an old engine now and there are no electronics in there to plug in a diagnostic computer. We really need an old school mechanic to work on it. There are still some out there but seem to be few.

Our garage bills are sitting about £2300, 8 months into ownership which is quite a lot.

The springs still need to be done and I am sure there will be plenty of other things in the not too distant future. From now on I am sure I will be able to tackle most of the jobs that pop up.

On the list of mechanical jobs to do;

  • Rear leaf springs need to be replaced, old ones are done.
  • Replace the older tyres with new. A few of the tyres are a bit on the old side even though they look brand new.
  • Underside needs wire brushed, rust treated and sealed. Can’t wait to do this job. Painting above me while lying on my back, what could possibly go wrong?
  • Possibly some work on the clutch/gearbox
  • Steel wheels need to be restored, a bit messy and rusty looking.
  • Spray paint the front grill
  • A small bit of welding at the pull-out bumper.

It just seems to be a never-ending list. Let’s move on to the interior.

Interior Costs

Interior of Hymer B644 1990
Interior of Hymer B644 1990

As well as the engine and all the running gear there are the costs of the interior. I downplayed this in my head when I was buying which was not a wise move. Everything in the cabin is expensive or difficult to replace. Here is a quick list of things replaced so far.

  • We had to put in a new dashboard which had rotted away to almost nothing. No wonder the engine was so loud. Once replaced we could have a conversation without getting hoarse.
  • One of the taps needed to be replaced which was £70 and that’s a cheap one.
  • The sparker for the gas fire £80, just to light the fire.
  • Two new batteries at £100 each.
  • You can see how it mounts up and we haven’t even made any changes to make it ours so to speak, like the furnishings and decor.
  • The lighting was dismal, very 1990. So upgraded to led lights and put in a lot extra and now we can see when it’s dark. I may have gone over the top with the lighting as it is quite bright now, could possibly use the motorhome as a mobile lighthouse.
  • The flooring needs replaced. We cleaned the carpet about 20 times and muck still coming out with the carpet cleaner so that’s on the list.
  • Upgraded the sound system (essential, done before the engine).
  • Fitted a reversing camera. No camera fitted to this motorhome was crazy. When driving the rear of the motorhome is almost 20 feet away from you. A reversing camera is great even just for seeing people. Since starting to drive one of these monsters I have noticed that people love to run behind you when you are reversing it’s weird. But now at least I can see them.
  • I used a wireless camera so the camera communicates with the screen and there is no need to run a cable from one end of the motorhome to the other. It works well and does what I wanted it for
  • I fitted the camera low down to avoid putting another hole in the outer skin but it would definitely be better higher up like modern motorhomes looking down. As I say though it does the job and lets me see if someone has thrown themselves in front of a reversing motorhome.
  • New shower head holder. The old one was brittle and broke.
  • Fitted grass on the dashboard. Most people have carpet, we have grass. Not just grass though, grass with some plants and some zombies.
  • Replaced the vents for the fire, the old ones had melted. Three in total at £8 each.
  • Replaced the cover for the gas fridge flue. The old one was brittle and mostly broken.

As well as all the work that has been done there is also a pile of work waiting to be done and, of course, a wish list – the work I would like to do one day. The wish list grows by the day.

On the list for the interior

  • A couple of windows are cracked
  • Main hatch needs replaced
  • Toilet needs a maintenance kit
  • Front seats need to be reupholstered
  • New flooring
  • Some decor needs sorting
  • Inside of front door needs cleaned up
  • New battery charger required
  • Some work on the battery system
  • Fix some peeling wallpaper in the rear

On the wish list;

  • Small vent hatches replaced with clear ones
  • New blinds and fly screens
  • New upholstery on all seats
  • Fridge facia repaired
  • New shower curtain

And on and on…..

As you can see. Once you get right into it there is a lot to think about and deal with. You have to be quite determined.

Insurance, Recovery and Tax

Insurance Cost

This was a bit of a surprise to me. I was expecting the cost of insuring a motorhome to be horrendous but I was actually pleasantly surprised. It was one of the few things that were cheaper than expected.
There were a few problems we had to overcome first and that was to actually find a company who would insure such an old vehicle. Most would do up to 20 years old but beyond the number of insurers dwindled. I managed to get a company to insure the Hymer for under £250. This was for 3000 miles. If you do more miles then the insurance cost will go up. 3000 miles was perfect for us this year as we only plan to be within an hour or two from Glasgow. Once we get organised we may plan longer trips and will need more miles. As I understand it you can add miles if you think you will go over the mileage limit you set for yourself.

Breakdown Cover Cost

This proved more difficult than the insurance to find. Most don’t want to know a vehicle if it’s over 15 years old. After some searching through forums and all sorts of obscure website comments, I managed to find a few companies who would give us cover.

Breakdown cover is essential for an old bus like ours. It just gives you that extra peace of mind. After a bit of searching, I managed to get breakdown cover for £140 which was good. Breakdown cover is one of those things that’s nice to have but you never want to use it. We have used ours already when a fuel line burst so it’s paid for itself. I am glad I managed to find a company to cover us.

Road Tax Cost

Another area I was pleasantly surprised. In the UK vehicles are taxed on their CO2 emissions so the more emissions your engine has the higher the tax bracket (simply put). Our Hymer is ancient so they are no way near as efficient as a new vehicle so it was a bit of a worry. Once we looked into it though, the Road Tax was £255 for the year. As motorhomes are built on commercial vehicles they seem to be in the same bracket as a commercial vehicle so the tax is quite reasonable as well.

Fuel Cost

Fuel is as you would expect. It uses lots. We get about 500km per £80 of fuel (at around £1.30 per litre) so about 8km per litre which for us in the UK is about 23 miles per gallon (if my calculations are correct). That would be a mix of city and motorway driving. For an old bus like this carrying the weight that it does, I don’t suppose that it’s too bad.

How to save money owning an old motorhome

Not really possible but you can cut down the amount of money you spend. The best way to spend less money on a motorhome is to choose it wisely. Take your time. View it a few times and decide if you want to take on the faults you have found. Make an offer and sit back. You will have things to fix, there will be repairs. All you are trying to do is minimise the cost for yourself.

I have put together another blog post with a checklist list for buying an old Hymer. I have never bought another type of motorhome but I am sure there will be relevant points within the post for other vehicles.

I hope this blog doesn’t put anyone off. I have tried to bring a bit of reality into this blog to give you a feel if you are thinking of buying. It’s difficult to see past the vision of parking anywhere and having amazing adventures in the wilds. The freedom to go anywhere whenever you like. It does have a cost not only financial but a time cost as well.

So if you love the outdoors and a bit of luxury, if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, dealing with garages, if you don’t mind having a budget and see it getting blown out of the water and you love making never-ending maintenance lists then a motorhome is for you.

Still love it!