Why a motorhome is better than a van on your V5

What’s in a name? Well, if you’ve landed on this article, you want to know whether it makes a difference if your UK campervan is registered with the DVLA as a motorhome or a van. Or you’re wondering how easy is it to re-register your converted van to a motorhome. Or you just like Googling about vanlife as you get ready for your next big adventure.

There are two ways a campervan can be registered on your vehicle registration document (the V5): It can either be a van or a motorhome. You might think there’s no difference, but actually, whether you’re registered as a van or a motorhome makes a huge difference, especially when it comes to insurance.

Benefits of re-registering as a motorhome

If your campervan is registered as a van, you have to buy van insurance. This is offered by a much wider range of companies, and online quotes are easier to get, but you will pay two or three times the price of motorhome insurance.

As an example, my Volkswagen T5 was registered as a van even though it had a complete campervan conversion. The old owners never changed the registration, which is a fairly common situation, as you’ll know if you’re buying a campervan online.

It’s effort, isn’t it, to get the DVLA to change your registration from van to motorhome? I can understand why people don’t do it if their vehicle doesn’t quite fit the DVLA’s rules on motorhome campervan conversions.

But if your van meets the criteria, would you pay £400 to avoid filling out some forms and taking some pics of your van then sending them to the DVLA? How about £400 a year? Because that was the price difference for my van insurance. I paid £667 with Admiral for 1 year of van insurance on a 2007 T5.

For reference, I’m in my early 30s, female, and have now been driving for almost 10 years (I didn’t learn to drive until I was 23 because I was too broke), all of which affect insurance prices. Conversely, I had zero no-claims-bonus on a car or van because I’d been living in China for the past 2 years where I didn’t drive.

If I’d gone with a specialist camper insurance company such as Adrian Flux, they quoted me £263 for 12 months on the same van. The only problem was, I would need my van to be re-registered as a motorhome and at that point, I was 7 months pregnant, living alone in my VW T5 van full-time (having come back from 2 years in China with nowhere to live), and really had no time or brain space to sort this out when I hadn’t even got a midwife or a hospital booked for the birth yet! So re-registering the van was very low on my list, but would have made a LOT of financial sense.

What you need to re-register your campervan as a motorhome

So what do you need to do to register a campervan conversion as a motorhome instead of a van in the UK? The paperwork itself is not that complicated, you just need to make sure your van meets the DVLA’s requirements. Then you tell them this, sending in photos as evidence. They then re-register your vehicle, send your shiny new V5 certificate (log book) to your home address and your van is officially a motorhome.

What does the DVLA define as a motorhome? The most up-to-date info is on the Gov.uk website on this page. They are now saying on that page that the body type (whether it’s a van or motorhome on the V5) doesn’t affect the speed limit you’re allowed to drive at or the insurance category of the vehicle.

However, in the real world, most specialist motorhome insurers won’t insure vehicles registered as vans, and so you do end up paying more. And as far as speed limits, I’d love to see the proof from the DVLA about the speed limit. This implies that, if a van full of bricks was stopped and it had a sleeping bag in the back, and the owner claimed it was a campervan, that they’d get away with driving at 70 instead of 60 and crashing on an icy bend because they’re laden with bricks, which is obviously ridiculous.

So if the Plod stopped you and you were going at 70 in a high-sided large wheelbase van like a VW Crafter, even if it was fully converted inside, I highly doubt your average rozzer is going to take that into account when the insurance certificate and V5 paperwork says you’re driving a van. They’re not known for thinking for themselves or applying common sense. It seems to me that the DVLA are a little out of touch with how the rules they produce actually get enforced.

In fact, they have seriously tightened up their rules on what counts as a motorhome in the past 12 months and now the external features requirements mean many campervan conversions would have to stay as vans (you apparently now need two windows on one side of the vehicle, which would exclude most VW T5 conversions which were previously successfully re-registered because you used to only need one window on one side).

They also now want a high roof (not a pop top) and they expect “motor caravan style graphics on both sides of the body” because THAT affects whether something is a campervan or not. It’s hard to look at the current exterior rules without thinking they just want to allow retiree motorhome vehicles to be re-registered but not the vanlife type conversions, which are the province of younger people (under 65). Like we need another way to be charged money on vanlife (end rant haha… you can’t fight the DVLA).

Internally, you need seats and a table, sleeping accommodation (which can be converted from the seats), storage and cooking facilities. I did view one van that wasn’t registered as a motorhome, despite the owner’s application, because the table leg wasn’t fixable into a “permanent hole in the floor”.

If you can navigate the pitfalls of re-registering, it’s a fairly straightforward process providing your vehicle has been converted into a “standard” style that meets the very specific criteria set out by the DVLA. If not, you’re probably stuck paying for van insurance, like me.

If I’d had my van for 5 years, that £400 a year I paid in extra insurance would have been £2000 I could have spent on a nicer van or some custom upgrades like a pop top (which would actually cost more than £2000) or switching the rock-n-roll bed for a seatbelted rock-n-roll bed to add extra seats for the baby and our rabbit. So if you don’t already own a campervan, buying a van already converted and registered as a motorhome will save you money from day 1, and might be worth paying a bit extra for in the long run, depending on what sort of conversion you’re planning to do.

Author: MsAdventure

I am a thirtysomething lifestyle blogger in Northern Ireland. As a writer, I have written articles that are published in Offbeat Bride and on Buzzfeed, and as a photographer, I have taken photographs that are published in local and national news outlets in the UK. I have a blog at www.mamaadventure.com

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