How does a motorhome actually differ from a caravan?

Technical specification, flexibility, driving licence, costs and materials are all factors when considering a motorhome or caravan. The article summarises the most important facts of the key factors for you.

Reading time: ca. 11:00 min.

What is the difference between motorhome and caravan?

Differences at a glance

Category 1: Technical differences

Let’s start with the first category: the technical details of the two types of vehicle. You want to experience something, especially on holiday: motorhomes are perfectly equipped for this, because most have a useful all-wheel drive, which is perfect for rough terrain, hill climbs or even sand. What’s more, the goal of a motorhome is very clear: to be permanently mobile. Many motorhome features facilitate exactly that. In addition to the fresh water and wastewater tanks integrated into the vehicle, motorhome drivers are glad to have a 12 V power supply for normal household appliances as standard. This is usually connected to the motorhome battery. Modern motorhomes also offer the option of retrofitting a power supply of up to 230 V. 
In comparison, the motorhome wins over the caravan. A caravan needs an external power source because it does not have access to the car’s battery. To enjoy a coffee in the morning or a delicious potato soup in the afternoon, a gas cooker is required. 

Category 2: Flexibility

Freedom while on holiday – in terms of technical features, the motorhome wins by a country mile due to its high level of independence from external energy sources and better mobility. But this doesn't mean that the caravan has nothing to offer. As far as flexibility is concerned, the caravan has the lead. After all, day trips to city centres, national parks or beaches are no problem with a caravan, as you can simply uncouple it and get on your way. In the evening, however, you will need a parking space. Due to the length of the vehicle, campsites often do not allow cars with trailers, meaning that a longer search than with a motorhome is often necessary, for example. 

However, there is a clear winner in this category: Campervans. This type of motorhome is clearly impressive when it comes to excursions and parking spaces. Due to their size, they are allowed in all camping and parking spaces, but can also be used for city exploration or a small excursion without any problems. We have summarised the differences and advantages of this variant for you in an exciting article. 

Category 3: Driving licence

Before deciding on a holiday vehicle, you have to ask yourself another important question: Do I need a specific driving licence or is my driving licence sufficient? In Germany, this is clearly answered: According to the Federal Motor Transport Authority,, a class B driving licence is sufficient for motor vehicles with a permissible gross weight of 3500 kg, with a maximum of eight seats and a driver’s seat. Vehicles with trailers can also be driven with this driving licence class, provided that the combined weight of car and trailer does not exceed the permissible 3,500 kg. This means that only a class B driving licence is required for a motorhome with a permissible gross weight of up to 3,500 kg. The same applies to cars with a coupled caravan. However, if the total weight exceeds this 3,500 kg, special trailer regulations come into force and another driving licence must be obtained. Vehicle and trailer combinations with a permissible gross weight of 4,250 kg can be driven with the B96 category of driving licence. 
In the case of rentals, however, it is usually ensured that the permissible gross weight is not exceeded and that holidaymakers simply manage with a class B driving licence. If you are planning to purchase a motorhome or caravan, you should of course pay attention to its weight.

Category 4: Speed/driving style/parking regulations

Let us consider the next category: the speed of the vehicles. We have already learned that car/caravan combinations weighing 3500 kg or more require an enhanced driving licence. This is because many people find handling a trailer more difficult, and when learning to drive, it is particularly important to learn to park, reverse and drive around tight corners. Caravans take a lot of getting used to in their driving style compared to motorhomes. If you look at the speed limits, there is usually no restriction for motorhomes weighing up to 3,500 kg. There are certain restrictions for vehicles with trailers depending on the country. In many countries, a speed limit of 70 to 100 km/h is set here.

Interesting fact: In Germany, both vehicles are permitted to park and stay at the roadside or public parking spaces for up to 10 hours for the driver to restore their fitness to drive.

Category 5: Cost

A key question when deciding whether to buy a motorhome or a caravan is, of course, the price. In this respect, caravans are generally cheaper, as they only need to be coupled to a vehicle and do not have an engine, gearbox, etc. The motorhome is a completely different beast with a cockpit and all the necessary equipment to drive: engine, transmission, steering wheel, etc. This makes motorhomes significantly more expensive. 
The maintenance costs for caravans are also noticeably lower. Parts can fail, such as an indicator lamp, but there can be no engine or battery failure, like in a motorhome. 
Let us consider the interior panelling of the vehicles: For example, side walls and interior panelling made of glass fibre- reinforced plastic (GRP) are significantly lighter, and in the event of damage, can be repaired more cost-effectively than side walls made of aluminium. 

This means that costs can also be saved in the repair. A further advantage for caravans is vehicle tax, as a caravan incurs much less tax than a motorhome. However, toll charges on toll roads are usually higher for vehicles with trailers.
As stated previously, pitches for caravans are much more difficult to find, and if a campsite offers them, they are noticeably more expensive than pitches for motorhomes. 

Here’s the summary: All of these costs must be considered in your decision-making process:

  • Acquisition costs
  • Taxes
  • Maintenance costs
  • Repairs 
  • Parking facilities.

Category 6: Materials

In the previous category, we briefly outlined how money can be saved in repairs by using the right materials. But what does this actually mean? And what is this GRP, which is so much cheaper to repair than comparable aluminium? 

Let’s start at the beginning: To put it simply, glass fibre-reinforced plastic is a composite material made of glass fibres and a plastic matrix. This combination of the two materials makes GRP a very robust but lightweight material and is therefore used in many areas of application as a face sheet of sandwich elements or as panelling in the motorhome industry. GRP is used in the roof, side walls, floor or even the interior cladding of caravans and motorhomes. But why do manufacturers like to use GRP for this application? Hail, weather, sunshine – a motorhome or even a car towing a caravan is exposed to all kinds of weather conditions. And this is precisely the main argument for GRP use in this industry, as the composite material GRP is resistant to corrosion, weathering influences such as UV radiation and hail. 

GRP also protects against impacts in motorhomes and caravans: For example, if a cyclist's handlebars scrape along the side wall, it has little or no effect on the GRP. And if there is any damage, GRP can be repaired much more easily and cost-effectively. For the repair of the different materials used in vehicle construction, we have written a report that clearly compares the materials. 

GRP has a high mechanical strength at a very low weight. This means that fuel cost savings can be made, as vehicles with GRP are much lighter than the equivalent vehicle with aluminium or other metals. In addition, insurance premiums can also be considered if the roof of the caravan or motorhome is made of GRP. So you can see that choosing the right material can also be an important point as regards cost. 

How do you repair damage to GRP panels?

Glass-fibre reinforced plastics are very resistant, but damage cannot be excluded in the event of excessive stress or in the case of an accident. If there is no evidence of destruction of the sandwich structure yet, GRP can be repaired easily. Learn how in this white paper!

  • What are GRP sheets?
  • What are the advantages of GRP sheets?
  • How do you repair GRP sheets?

Overview of advantages and disadvantages of caravans

But what actually speaks for and what is against the caravan option? Perhaps the most obvious argument for a caravan is that you are essentially buying a trailer, and it is therefore significantly cheaper in terms of acquisition costs. Due to the fact that a caravan does not have its own technology, which can cause high repair costs for other motor vehicles, the maintenance costs of a caravan are also significantly lower than those of a motorhome. In addition, a caravan can be easily uncoupled at the holiday destination. This has the advantage that you do not need to rent a car for excursions or shopping trips. Flexibility and independence with a caravan are therefore very high. And an enhanced driving licence is not usually necessary if the overall combination (car + trailer) weighs no more than 3,500kg. 

What goes against a caravan? The disadvantages of a caravan are also very clear: For beginners and inexperienced drivers, driving with a trailer is significantly more difficult than driving a motorhome. In addition, if the combination of car and caravan is heavier than 3,500 kg, special trailer regulations must be observed and an additional driving licence must be obtained.

Another drawback of a caravan, depending on the country, may be stricter speed limits than for motorhomes. In some cases, you may be restricted to 70 km/h. The biggest counter-argument for a caravan: The search for a pitch, because many campsites don't like to see the long, unwieldy vehicles on their premises. And if the vehicle combinations are permitted, it is usually costly. 

Overview of advantages and disadvantages of motorhomes

And where does the motorhome score above the caravan? And why shouldn't you buy a motorhome? A motorhome clearly scores highly because it is an integrated solution, i.e. a vehicle and living space combined. The simpler driving style in comparison to driving with a trailer obviously speaks in favour of a motorhome. In addition, in most countries you are not tied to speed limits and can enjoy your vacation without restrictions. If you opt for a motorhome, you can enjoy a high level of living comfort and passengers can stay in the living room while you are on the road. Toll costs are also significantly lower. 
However, to purchase the integrated solution of a motorhome is considerably more expensive. A motorhome is also significantly more expensive to maintain and tax. Its lack of flexibility compared to that of a caravan also speaks against it, as excursions and shopping trips would require use of a rental car or public transport. As with the caravan solution, an additional licence is also required if the permissible gross weight exceeds 3,500 kg. 

Conclusion: Motorhome or caravan?