Motorhome doors - onside or offside?

 

There are few topics that get motorhomers more animated than the question of whether owning a motorhome with an offside habitation door is a good idea or not. When European motorhomes were first imported into New Zealand around 2010, many motorhomers were concerned that having the habitation door on the offside was an accident waiting to happen. More than ten years later, these motorhomes are now mainstream and the safety concerns seem to have lessened.

In this article, we take a look at why motorhomes with offside doors are imported, address the safety and legality issues and weigh up the pros and cons of an offside entry door.

Why do some motorhomes have an offside entry door?

The offside (rather than kerbside) entry door is an issue for motorhomes manufactured in Europe which are imported into New Zealand. Many have their habitation entry door on the offside when driven in NZ because European manufacturers build motorhomes with kerbside entry doors for their own market. While some build motorhomes for export to countries that drive on the left side i.e. New Zealand and the UK, their biggest market is the countries that drive on the right.

 

Exterior wide shot Burstner IT728 parked grass habitation door open optimised

Just a third of countries drive on the left. Most European manufacturers go at least some way to meet the needs of this market by building motorhomes on a right hand drive chassis so the driving position is on the right. But changing the placement of the habitation door adds a much greater level of complication. Since the UK and New Zealand markets form such a small part of their customer base, most European manufacturers have chosen to avoid the considerable cost of producing motorhomes with habitation doors on the left hand side. 

A review of imported motorhome brands available in New Zealand (see table below) shows that more than half of the 26 brands have offside habitation doors. Those with onside habitation doors include the Australian and UK brands which manufacture motorhomes solely for the right hand drive market plus those manufactured in Italy, Slovenia and Spain which cater for the right hand drive market. The German motorhomes imported into NZ only come with the habitation door  on the offside.

Habitation Door Orientation on Imported Motorhome Brands

Motorhome brand

Country of manufacture

Door orientation

Adria

Slovenia

Onside

Auto-trail

UK

Onside

Avida

Australia

Onside

Bailey

UK

Onside

Benimar

Spain

Onside

Bürstner

Germany

Offside

Carado

Germany

Offside

Carthago

Germany

Offside

Ci

Italy

Offside

Dethleffs

Germany

Offside

Elddis

UK

Onside

Frankia

Germany

Offside

HYMER

Germany

Offside

Jayco

Australia

Onside

Malibu

Germany

Offside

McLouis (Fusion)

Italy

Onside

Mobilvetta

Italy

Onside

Morelo

Germany

Offside

Niesmann + Bischoff

Germany

Offside

Pilote

France

Offside

Roller Team

Italy

Onside

Sunlight

Germany

Offside

Sunliner

Australia

Onside

Swift

UK

Onside

Tribute

UK*

Onside

VW

Germany

Offside

*Manufacturing moved from Italy in 2017

Europe is the largest motorhome market in the world with 63% of all motorhomes sales worldwide in 2019. Within Europe, the biggest market is Germany. In 2019, sales in Germany accounted for over 40% of all motorhome sales in Europe. So it’s no surprise that German manufacturers dominate the international market. 

John Managh, CEO of Wilderness said “designing and building motorhomes with the habitation door on the opposite side of the motorhome is an expensive process. It’s not a matter of simply creating a mirror image of the floor plan as there are multiple complexities to be resolved.” According to John, “German manufacturers produce between 20 and 100 different floor plans. The cost to convert even a portion of their models to a right hand side habitation door is substantial. The European motorhome market is fiercely competitive so manufacturers are reluctant to add the significant costs required to address the needs of what is a very small portion of their market.”

SmartRV Auckland office base

Are motorhomes with an offside entry door safe?

So is an offside habitation door really an issue? The most common concern about offside habitation doors is the potential danger of stepping out into traffic when exiting the motorhome. The same hazard exists in cars so motorists are used to managing this especially when driving with children. However, motorhomes are about half a metre wider than cars so stopping or parking on the roadside or shoulder and then exiting from the habitation door isn’t safe. In our experience, larger motorhomes rarely stop on the roadside or shoulder due to their width. If you do need to stop to park on the roadside, exiting from the motorhomes’ passenger side cab door is the safest option.

It’s important to note that there are a very small number of fully integrated or A class motorhomes on New Zealand roads that don’t have any cab doors. The only entry and exit is through the habitation door. In this case, the only safe way to exit is to stop in a layby or larger parking area away from traffic.

When European motorhomes were first imported into New Zealand at scale from around 2010, the market received them with a degree of scepticism. New Zealanders, used to onside habitation doors, were concerned that offside doors would be less safe. Accidents resulting from people exiting the habitation door on the offside and stepping into traffic were predicted to increase. As European motorhomes have grown in popularity in New Zealand, so have the number of motorhomes with offside habitation doors. There are now several thousand motorhomes with offside habitation doors in New Zealand - both in private ownership and in rental fleets. Time has shown that measures to mitigate the risk do seem to work. The initial fears have been unfounded and the safety concerns have reduced. 

Nevertheless, most motorhomers would agree that if you could have everything you want in a motorhome at a price point that you’re comfortable with, you’d probably choose to have an onside habitation door. A habitation door that exits to the curbside just removes a potential hazard.

rear-entry-door-with-integrated-central-locking


Are motorhomes with an offside entry door legal in New Zealand and Australia?


The regulations covering the requirements for registering a new motorhome for use on New Zealand roads cover seatbelts, driver licencing, maximum speed, stability control, Warrant of Fitness (WoF) or Certificate of Fitness (CoF) inspections, towing and road user charges. The regulations do not stipulate what side motorhome entry doors must be on, only that the safe maintenance of the motorhome entry doors are confirmed during a Warrant of Fitness (WoF) or Certificate of Fitness (CoF) inspection.

Australian regulations are more specific. Federal rules covered in the Road Vehicle Standards (RVS) state that “at least one door shall be located on left hand side or rear…”. This means that as long as a motorhome can be exited by the passenger door in the cab and not only by the right hand side habitation, it is legal to use in Australia.

However, several states have their own regulations that differ from federal regulations. In New South Wales, the Vehicle Standards regulations specifically exclude the use of cab doors to access the habitation area. The applicable regulations in Queensland state that “the door must provide a space through which an average sized person can easily pass through…”. Whether a swivelling passenger seat in the motorhome cab leaves enough space for the ‘average sized person’ to exit via the passenger door is open to interpretation.

Weighing up the pros and cons of an offside entry door


The side that the habitation door is placed on is just one of the features motorhome buyers need to consider when choosing a motorhome. In an ideal situation, you would choose a motorhome with an onside habitation door. However, deciding which motorhome to buy isn’t straightforward and requires careful consideration of the features that are most important to you and those which you are willing to trade-off. 

German motorhome manufacturers, just like German car manufacturers, have built a reputation for their innovation and market leadership. They lead the world in developments which improve the comfort, functionality, performance, durability and aesthetic appeal of motorhomes while maintaining the highest level of quality. They use the most advanced materials and manufacturing methods to create best in class products. They have a wide product range and numerous options and add-ons to cater for the diverse needs of its market. But… the habitation door will be on the offside for the New Zealand market.

If you decide that an offside habitation door is a trade-off you are willing to make, the most important safety measure is to avoid stopping on a roadside close to the traffic. If a roadside stop is required, then an exit through the cab door on the passenger side is the safest option.

"As might be guessed, any doubts about owning a motorhome with the door on the "wrong" side had been well and truly dispelled. We have never had a problem living in any of our motorhomes nor selling them to new owners."

Read more about Bürstner motorhome owners Bruce and Tina Higgs' experience with offside habitation doors.


All drivers, whether their motorhome has an onside or offside habitation door, are responsible for the safety of their passengers.

Buyers Guide