What is it like renovating a motorhome?

Shaun Newman

Written by Shaun Newman

While buying a new motorhome or caravan is a great option for a lot of people, buying pre-owned can be a better alternative for many others. That could be due to a multitude of factors including budget, availability or simply coming across the right motorhome on the pre-owned market.

But like a house, many motorhomes or caravans can be renovated, upgraded and tweaked to suit your lifestyle and personality. While your options to upgrade on many mass-produced imported products may be limited to new upholstery and adding a few options such as a tow bar or additional solar panel, something like a hand crafted TrailLite can be extensively modified and improved.

When it came time to upgrade our own motorhome we were lucky enough to find a 2011 Oakura 958X Landmark with low mileage that ticked a lot of boxes for us. However, as a family of five we had specific requirements that weren’t met by the motorhome we had purchased.

We started by getting clear on our requirements and non-negotiables. We wanted lap and diagonal seatbelts for six as well as permanent bedding for four people and the ability to make up bedding for two others quickly and easily. On the entertainment side of things we wanted a 32” TV and had to have a Bluetooth capable stereo. New house batteries and an updated charging system were important to us as we wanted to guarantee trouble free travels with spare power to run a coffee machine and smoothie maker!

While the décor we inherited was nice enough, we wanted something that better suited our lifestyle and stage of life. We wanted something fresh and light, with lots of colour. Finally, we wanted some of the signs of age on the outside of the vehicle tidied up.

If you are thinking about buying somehthing to rennovate make sure you download our guide: Download the buyers guide

Once we had worked through our requirements, we met with the team at the TrailLite service centre to start planning the work. Adding new seatbelts and reconfiguring the floorplan required a lot of work. We even needed a certifying engineer to plan and certify the new seat and belt locations. Andy Irvine, the TrailLite service centre manager is a coachbuilder by trade, has more decade’s experience than he’d care to admit and has worked at TrailLite for over ten years. He really knows his stuff and is a perfectionist. He put a lot of thought into the order of the work and the most efficient manner to complete it.

Working at TrailLite makes you very particular. It was important to me that all of the new work looked factory fresh. We didn’t want anything to look like an add-on that had been done later. The TrailLite service centre team were on the same page and quickly gave me confidence in the way they were going to approach each job.

We then met with Michelle Bevin, TrailLite’s interior designer to come up with a new interior colour scheme for the motorhome. Michelle understood our vision immediately and suggested some colourful but hardwearing fabrics for the upholstery. Looking at the technical specifications of the fabric and considering how they will be applied is an important consideration in her process. She added some fun and more colour by choosing a tropical print for the blinds while we repainted the kitchen furniture white to brighten the interior up a bit. New carpet helped to give the interior a modern look and an as-new feel.

We’re extremely happy with the result. The team did an amazing job on the motorhome and it now suits our family perfectly. The total amount of work we completed was quite large, ran over several weeks and the cost was not insignificant. However, this was factored into the purchase price of the motorhome and was part of our original budget. We’re also confident the changes have added a lot of value to the vehicle and have brought it up to the standard of a much newer motorhome. While buying new might suit many people, in our case, with knowledge of the great work the TrailLite service centre can complete, a pre-owned motorhome ended up being a much better option for us and we couldn’t be happier.

 

A few top tips when purchasing something you want to renovate:

  • Be aware of weight. We often see motorhomes come in second hand that have added so many upgrades and changes they drastically increase the tare weight leaving no room for any personal items like food and water. 
  • Don't over capitalise on your upgrades/renovations just because you have $30k worth of upgrades or changes doesn't instantly mean that your motorhome will increase the same in value. Get some advise.
  • To do renovations to a motorhome you are purchasing make sure you've spoken to a "motorhome builder" or service centre before making the purchase. You want to make sure that someone who can do the work also shares your vision. 
  • The bones still need to be good. The engine, walls, floors, ceiling should all be things that are solid and robust. Rust free and structurally sound are good things to check off. 

 

  • Check in about the impact any renovations might have on warranty - you'll need to do this directly with the original manufacturer of the motorhome. Also consider whether the renovator or service centre, warranties their workmanship. 
  • You want something that is saleable even if you do plan on keeping the motorhome for a number of years so make sure any renovations are done with quality in mind. If things need to be certified make sure you do it. 

A few photos from our travels: 

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Shaun Newman

Written by Shaun Newman

Shaun is the General Manager at TrailLite and a passionate motor-homer. When he’s not at work or chasing kids around their many weekly activities you can find him travelling. Overseas when time and budget allow, otherwise exploring this beautiful country in a motorhome built for 5.