Which Motorhome Chassis?

The motorhome chassis has more to do with our decision that we realise. And here’s why… Buying a motorhome means buying the place we want to live in for an extended number of years. Choosing the chassis means choosing the vehicle we will be driving for an extended number of years and is the part of the motorhome that must, under all circumstances, be kept running…

It must be comfortable to drive, carry the weight of the motorhome body, be robust enough to travel to distant lands and common enough to be serviced in those lands.

Everything, yes, everything, depends on the motorhome chassis

  • the weight you can carry
  • the type of license you will need to drive the vehicle
  • where you can go
  • how easily it can be maintained


Let’s take weight. Tare weight is the unladen weight of the vehicle. Gross weight is the maximum laden weight. The difference is payload. And payload includes such items as the motorhome itself; clothing; food; fresh, grey and black water. Imagine that you want to free-camp for up to 10 days, you’ll need about 400 litres of fresh water and 200 litres each of grey and black. Because one empties as the others fill, allow, say, 600 litres total. That’s 600kg that your motorhome chassis has to be licensed to carry and that you need to be licensed to drive. It is also 600 kg that you can’t use for something else.

And this is the critical point. All the clothes, books, papers, belongings, food, pots and pans, and water need to fit in the payload allowance of your motorhome chassis.

Which License?

A holder of a New Zealand Class 1 full licence can drive a vehicle that has a GLW (Gross Laden Weight) of not more than 6000kg. Say your tare weight is 3500kg and your motorhome body weighs another 1000kg, that leaves 1500kg for the rest. Of which 600kg is water. Not a lot left if you want to remain at 75-80% of the manufacturer’s recommended specified GLW and use only the Class 1 license.

A Class 2 license is required if you want to drive a motorhome that is a rigid vehicle with a GLW of more than 6000kg but not more than 18,000kg. While this may look like overkill, consider a stronger chassis of, say, 4500kg, a motorhome body of 1000-1300kg. That means that you can drive a vehicle with a manufacturer’s GLW of, say, 8000kg which will allow you to completely fit out your motorhome and still be in the 75-80% range of the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Our conclusion? Better to pass the license test and add the flexibility…

Left-Hand or Right-Hand Drive Motorhome Chassis

The other point about the chassis is left-hand-drive or right-hand-drive. Most countries in the world are left-hand-drive, meaning that they drive on the right-hand-side of the road. The major exceptions are: UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and most of South-East Asia. In total 76 countries, territories, and dependencies drive on the left-hand side of the road.

Against this, there are a total of 163 countries and territories in which traffic keeps right – i.e. left-hand drive vehicles. Looking at the accompanying map, it is clear that a world-traveller will need a motorhome chassis that is left-hand-drive, i.e. traffic keeping to the right unless the focus is on South-East Asia. Blue is “keep left”, Red is “keep right”.

(image courtesy, Wikipedia)

After this decision has been made, the next question is good road, poor-road or off-road.

Good Road, Off-Road or Poor-Road

Good road motorhomes are generally front-wheel drive but these suffer the risk of CV joints being severely overworked and also loss of traction in rougher conditions. The popular choice here is the Fiat Ducato.

Off-road motorhomes are dealt with at length in the section 4×4 motorhomes so we’ll be brief here and just mention that these are military-type vehicles that are not really what we want.

The middle ground is filled by the poor-road vehicles. These are usually rear-wheel drive and often a truck chassis such as a Mitsubishi Fuso or Isuzu. Considerations here are the worldwide warranty and service network – there is little point in driving a vehicle that cannot be serviced worldwide.

Common choices are Mercedes Benz Sprinter which can be driven on a car license or the Mitsubishi or Isuzu that each require an NZ Class 2 heavy goods vehicle license.

Length, Width, Height (and other miscellaneous considerations)

We have been influenced and inspired by this site: http://www.xor.org.uk/silkroute/equipment/choosevan.htm and have used many of his suggestions as a basis for this research.

  • Length: we’ll probably keep ourselves between 6.5 and 8 metres
  • Width: keep to less than 2.2 metres for shipping
  • Height: between 2.9 and 3.3 metres
  • Departure angle: 15 – 20 degrees


Choosing the right motorhome chassis has many implications, most of which we had never considered before embarking on this adventure.

The right chassis can make all the difference between owning a motorhome we want to live in and driving a motorhome we want to give back as soon as possible…

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