Hiring a Campervan

Dreaming of driving a Volkswagen Campervan into the wilds but not sure if you are ready for the responsibility of full time ownership?

If this is the case, then Volkswagen California Hire may be just your ticket to a whole new world of adventure. But, before you race out to rent the first available van, we suggest you take some time to read the following points and consider the important things you may need to be aware of.

Remember that cheapest is not always the best or most suitable option, which means you should find out everything the company offers so you don’t come unstuck should you later discover the comforts you require aren’t included in the deal.

1. What’s included in your van?

The best companies will include everything you will want for your adventure, such as all the crockery, cookware and cutlery you’ll need. Also, level ups, electric hook up cable, socket adapter, comfort mattress topper, roll out sun canopy, TV/DVD player and satellite navigation – some may even provide tea and coffee for extra comfort.

Many will charge extra for the privilege of a fully stocked up van, so make sure you’re not caught short when wanting that roadside brew.

Some companies also provide a wide selection of other extras, such as drive-away awnings (some easier to use then others), bike carriers, tow bars, roof bars and boxes, barbecues, hammocks, additional chairs, chemical toilets, child seats, snow tyres and chains, hot climate packs, cold weather packs and more. Even if you don’t think you need these items, it’s always good to have them as an option.

2. Why the Volkswagen California?

Not all vehicles will come with the top of the range engine or vehicle specifications. find out the power of the engine and fuel economy, and on older vehicles look for ABS, airbags, rear seat belts and other safety features.

Some newer vehicles may have privacy glass, double glazing, air conditioning, heated seats, stop/start technology (Bluemotion), parking assistance and other state of the art features not present in older vehicles – such as the integrated satellite navigation system and handsfree calling present only in the top level Californias.

While there is a certain charm about the classic Volkswagens, it’s important to note that this often fades when you discover how slow they can be, how uneconomical they are on fuel, and how “hit and miss” the handling is.

We know that not everyone is concerned with technological features, but a great driving experience makes a massive difference to being refreshed enough to enjoy the sights along your journey. As well as a fantastic time camping at your chosen destinations, for many people it’s just as important to enjoy the ride.

3. Insurance, breakdown and security

Along with standard comprehensive insurance, find out whether they offer the option of a collision damage waiver which will save you from paying a hefty excess in the unlikely event of an accident.

Also, be informed that (as with all travel) you may wish to take out additional  insurance for personal items, including anything attached to bike racks and roof bars. A good company will advise you of any potential issues that you may need to cover for beyond the vehicle itself.

All good campervan rental companies will publish their terms and conditions of hire, so we recommend you take time to read these thoroughly to acquaint yourself with both your rights and responsibilities as a hirer and anything that may be excluded from your cover.

Please note that not every hire company will use vans that are still under warranty, and while most vehicles have some kind of breakdown cover, only the Volkswagen California is purpose built by the manufacturer.

This means that, if your hire vehicle is still fairly new, then everything from the engine to the tap washer will be covered and can be dealt with by your nearest Volkswagen dealer. Anything other than a California and you could find your broken equipment on backorder indefinitely.

Some companies will also use tracking devices to protect the vehicle from theft and unauthorised use. This means the vehicle speed has been monitored and you can be assured it has been driven carefully and well looked after. It also means the company can inform you of any incurred charges and tolls that you may otherwise forget and be fined for.

Finally, ask the fleet size so you can avoid missing out should you need a replacement vehicle – while the vans themselves are extremely reliable, it doesn’t mean that things never go wrong.

3. European Cover and equipment

It is a legal requirement that all UK motor insurance policies have third party cover for the European Union – but it’s very unlikely your hire company will allow overseas travel without comprehensive cover. Therefore it is a good idea to enquire with the company to make sure they offer this should you decide to leave the UK.

A reputable hire company will provide you with all the necessary equipment you will need abroad, and this also varies from country to country.

Depending on where you plan to visit, the required extras could include warning triangles (two for Spain) alcohol sensors, high visibility vests (one for each occupant), bike rack warning signs, headlight beam converters, EU cables, winter tyres, and of course, the appropriate paperwork to prove you have permission to take the vehicle to the country you are visiting.

4. Are they British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association approved?

BVRLA LogoIf the hire company is accredited by The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association then you have the ultimate in protection in the unlikely event that anything goes wrong.

Members of the BVRLA have to follow a stringent set of rules that offer customers total security, including a mediation service should disputes ever arise. For example, they offer guidelines on what constitutes “fair wear and tear” and issues with windscreen cover and insurance excesses; all potentially contentious situations when dealing with the return of security deposits etc.

If the company does not have BRVLA quality assurance you may not receive the level or service you deserve, and as such we strongly advise you to tread exceptionally carefully.

5. Does their reputation check out?

Look at Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites to see how many followers they have and how easy they are to engage with. Also, search Google for reviews, news articles and any other information you can find.

There is no better way of checking a company than by looking for recommendations from previous users, but there are also news articles, accreditations, affiliations and awards they may have gained through their years in business, and most companies are usually happy to share this information on their website.

Speak to the company themselves; gauge email correspondence, or better still telephone or visit to see how helpful they are.  Are they happy to speak with you about your requirements, are they considering your overall experience, or are they just trying to sell you add-ons you may not need?

The more established companies will advise on extras based on the type of holiday you are looking for, and their staff should have extensive collective experience of everything you should want and expect from your adventure.

A good company will be happy to discuss their favourite campsites, offer travelling tips and explain any part of the vehicle you need help with. They should also explain the hire agreement in a way you can understand and be available to answer other questions or concerns you may have.

6. Insist on a professional handover

An experienced hire company specialising in Volkswagen Californias should be able to offer you a thorough handover, usually lasting 45 minutes depending on your previous experience.

During this time they will explain all the fixtures and fittings, how to change gas bottles, operate the roof, turn on the water and adjust the heating and air conditioning. They will also be able to demonstrate any additional extras, like bike racks, roof bars and awnings.

You should then be able to walk around the vehicle with the person handing over the van to inspect the bodywork, tyres, pop-up roof and interior. The vehicle should be clean and tidy, with enough fuel, gas and water to see you on your journey. Only when you are satisfied should you sign and drive away.

7. Hiring privately owned vehicles

Some campervan owners privately hire out their vehicles as a means of generating extra income. Sometimes they do this as individuals, but often they work through an agency or online “booking engine” who arrange hire on their behalf.

No matter how genuine these people may seem, and most of them are incredibly well intended, our advice is to proceed with caution. Always be vigilant when dealing with such vehicles or agencies, and read the previous six points carefully in advance of agreeing to hire.

A privately owned hire is likely to be much a more personal experience, especially if the vehicle is the only one in ownership, and as such it will likely be a part of the family. Your return experience could be much more uncomfortable if there is any damage or if anything goes wrong, or even if it fails to live up to your expectations.

Occasionally we are told of worst-case scenarios of double-bookings and other situations where the van became unavailable at the last minute due to personal circumstance, and also tales of deposits not being returned and suggestions of damage where the handover wasn’t carried out thoroughly.

Worst of all we have seen people part with money, only to later discover there was never a van to begin because the booking agent had listed a bogus advert. Festival goers seem to be most vulnerable to this type of scam – so please be especially careful if this potentially applies to you.

Thankfully nightmare experiences are very rare, and most private hirers are authentic, but it is wise to consider all possibilities when dealing with anyone who isn’t well established and cannot provide shining credentials.

As always, we advise you to do your homework, explore everything and do not be afraid to ask questions.

In conclusion

A holiday is supposed to be the chance to break away from the stresses and strains of modern living. So, while there are plenty of choices available for hiring a campervan, whether for a short weekend away or a longer adventure into more remote parts, it’s never a bad idea to consider exactly what your requirements are and do some homework before making that investment.

Things are better when we don’t cut corners, and therefore we always recommend using an established, experienced and trustworthy Volkswagen California hire company above anyone else, because a carefully planned adventure will make the world of difference!

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A quick note to hire companies…
If you own or manage a reputable hire company, then you may wish to consider being added to our new recommended hirers map.

Winter Travel in a VW California

Before setting off on a trip abroad there are a few things you must research to ensure that you are adhering to the particular laws of that country.

If touring then there might be several different countries that you plan to drive through and each country may have different rules and regulations for different seasons so it is important to know what is required. A great place to start your research is the AA website, the link below will take you to the page where you can select the country/ies you wish to visit and download a Pdf fact sheet for that country.

http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/general_advice.html

From seatbelt requirement to badge requirements and speed limits, we think the AA has it pretty much covered but if you think that there is a better site out there to point members to please let us all know.

snow van

WINTER TYRES AND SNOW CHAINS

Our advice is to fit winter/snow tyres from November through to February at least, even in if you are in the UK and especially if you are in a remote rural area.

From December 2010 it is has been compulsory in Germany to drive on winter tyres regardless of vehicle nationality so be beware and prepare if you’re heading in that direction. We keep winter tyre sets on sets of steel rims and swap the wheels over in November/December. Investing in winter tyres does not have to be an excessively expensive investment and is one you should seriously consider if you plan to drive your pride and joy in bad weather let alone to the Alps.

Ask any tyre dealer and they’ll tell you that you don’t need premium tyres to feel the benefit, the sidewall of a winter tyre will be marked with a symbol showing a snowflake or snow-topped mountains, that is what the German police will be looking for!

 

WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT WINTER TYRES?

Winter tyres use a tread rubber compound (high silica content) and tread pattern specifically designed to retain flexibility in low temperatures (below +7C) and give good braking/traction performance on snow/ice as well as on wet roads in cold conditions .

If you don’t fit winter tyres then you’ll need to ensure you have all weather tyres fitted and a decent amount of tread remaining for the countries you are travelling in, laws in countries can differ on tread depth! At least 3mm is required in Switzerland and some other countries. Check the AA or RAC websites for further information.

http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/snow-chains-winter-tyres.html

Don’t forget to check your tyre pressures and if you pack a set of Snow chains practice putting them on. The alloy wheels and tyre sizes on a Volkswagen California can make getting the right fit sometimes difficult (17″ wheels and above), get in touch if you need advice, we now stock Snow Chains and Snow Socks; we’ve also some for hire if you need them as well as other gear on our rental – optional extras page.

 

SNOW CHAINS

Snow chains offer excellent grip but are a bit awkward to fit when you are knee deep in snow and slush, and wrapping them around the wheels can be frustrating when you are cold. You can also get pretty cold and dirty removing them.

That is why we choose the best chains we can find and now stock the best self-tensioning chain for SUV, Crossover, Commercial vehicles and Motorhomes. Our top tip is not to leave it too long before fitting the chains, it is common to think it is not that bad and you’ll manage only to then get stuck. Those vehicles you see passing you without snow chains will be using snow tyres, so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll get away with it, it could be a costly and even fatal mistake!

snow chain

BREATHALYSERS FOR FRANCE

FROM JULY 2012 if you are travelling through France then you are legally required to carry two NF accredited Breathalysers.

These are not expensive and can be purchased in a twin pack by AlcoSense, these are as used by the French Police. The breathalyser must be compliant with French law and are designed to to alert you at the lower French Drink Drive limit of 0.5% BAC.

 

SPEED CAMERA ALERTS IN FRANCE

For those intending to travel through France you should be aware that from the 3rd January 2012 a new law in France made it illegal to be warned by Sat Nav & other devices about the location of speed cameras. However most manufactures like TomTom are introducing a 100% compliant Danger Zones service available in a free download for compatible products. If you don’t switch off your speed camera warnings or upgrade your product to the new Danger Zones then you risk a fine of up to €1,500

 

SCREEN WASH

Get yourself a decent screen wash that will protect down to -20C, beware and check the label as some places sell screen wash that really is next to useless in sub zero conditions.

 

CLEANING

Make sure that you get your campervan cleaned especially if you return from your winter trip and leave it parked for a time. The road salt used to clear snow and ice can begin to corrode things on your campervan especially your nice shining brake disks! This could result in pitted disks resulting in brake noise and possible disk replacement.

 

FROST PROTECTION

If you are living in the campervan you can leave the fresh water in the tank as long as you maintain the temperature above 0C.

However it is better to drain the water tank when leaving the campervan uninhabited for periods – you also need to drain the waste tank and the residue of water from the sink tap, otherwise the tap can freeze off!

If you leave any food, drinks or water bottles in particularly cold weather then expect everything to be frozen inside! If you are parked for a long period then it is also recommended to chock the wheels and release the handbrake to prevent the brake pads from freezing to the brake disks.

For driving advice in winter from the Institute of Advanced Motorists see the bottom of this post and don’t forget to let us know your experiences and tips.

 

TIPS FOR SKIERS

Storage can be a real issue when packing winter gear, Bulky clothing, skis, snowboards and boots all need their place. We have used a variety of equipment and sleeping options that we hope will give you some inspiration to make your winter trip a success. What we ahve really liked are the Ski and Snowboard soft bags from Thule, that can attach to your roof bars and yet be removed folded and stored if necessary.

Also,Think about hiring your ski gear here in the UK we found it very expensive in some European Locations.

 

SLEEPING

It is warmer in the lower part of the campervan so here is a tip if you have small children. Put the campervan in first gear and chock the wheels and you can then drop the handbrake put the front seats facing together to make a bed for a toddler.

You can also get a hammock across the front cab for older children. The roof bed can be cold at night in winter so we use the Brandrup front screens and Iso Top roof liner (the Iso Top deflects the heat away from the top air vents and also acts as a wind breaker). Other options include the Vanorak or similar.

Thermal external or internal screens are also recommended which in conjunction with the insulation hoods all need to be fitted and then removed after closing the roof, the advantage of the Iso Top Gore lining is that it can be left fitted when lowering the roof but offers much less cold weather protection.

snow van

HEATING AND INSULATION

The lower bed area is really toasty – the heating system is amazing and we have used it in temps around -18C, it can be left on through the night and without hook-up, you can get few nights or more if you’re careful with the energy and turn off the fridge etc to conserve power. Igniting the heater is a problem when power is low so turning the on engine also charges and can give the batteries a boost, check your heating in advance and charge your batteries using the hook up as the journey alone may not be enough! Whilst we feel the heating is more than sufficient and the most practical way to heat the campervan we have been asked if it is possible to run a small electric heater when on hook up, that answer is yes. However some campsites only offer a 6amp hook up and most heaters are 13amp so you’ll need to check the current rating of your appliance, a 6amp supply will be good for a 1kw heater or you could look for one that can be set on half power for when you do have a 13amps. If in doubt seek advice from the campsite and for safety sake always keep electric heaters clear from obstructions such as clothing and bags etc.

COOKING

We’ve never had any problems using the gas cooker however gas can freeze below 0C, so if you find the gas is not flowing try to heat the campervan up first and see if that does the job. The water tank in a California does offer some protection for the gas bottle however you could consider insulating it as well.

Always be sure to have good ventilation when cooking!

 

LOW TEMPERATURE DIESEL

Subject to when you travel there is also low temperature diesel available in the Alps which might be preferable in sub zero temperatures. In very cold conditions wax crystals can form in diesel, block the fuel filter and prevent fuel flow. The European quality standard for diesel fuel includes winter requirements specific to each country which ensure that fuel is suited to the local climate. Fuel capable of operation down to at least -20C is normal in the popular winter resort destinations.

 

FINALLY – DRIVE SAFELY

This is what the Institute of Advanced Motorists recommends…

  • When driving in snow, get your speed right – not too fast so that you risk losing control, but not so slow that you risk losing momentum when you need it – and brake, steer and accelerate as smoothly as possible.
  • Start gently from stationary, avoiding high revs. If you get yourself into a skid the main thing to remember is to take your foot off the pedals and steer.”
  • Only use the brake if you cannot steer out of trouble.
  • Double or even triple your normal stopping distance from the vehicle in front. Drive so that you do not rely on your brakes to be able to stop – on an icy surface they simply may not do that for you!
  • If your vehicle has ABS in very slippery conditions it will not give you the same control it would in others. Do not rely on it.

Top tips for driving in snow and ice

  • Plan your journey around busier roads as they are more likely to have been gritted. Avoid using shortcuts on minor roads – they are less likely to be cleared or treated with salt, especially country lanes.
  • On motorways stay in the clearest lane where possible, away from slush and ice. Keep within the clear tyre tracks if you can.
  • Stay in a higher gear for better control, and if it is slippery, in a manual car move off in a higher gear, rather than just using first.
  • On a downhill slope get your speed low before you start the descent, and do not let it build up – it is much easier to keep it low than to try to slow down once things get slippery
  • In falling snow use dipped headlights or foglights to make yourself visible to others (especially pedestrians) – but as conditions improve make sure your foglights are only on if necessary as they can dazzle other drivers
  • If you are following another vehicle at night, using their lights to see ahead can cause you to drive dangerously close – keep well back from other traffic.