Campervan speed limits – why they are so confusing

  • How fast can you legally go in a campervan conversion?
  • Does the motor caravan body type matter on the V5C?
  • Is this one of the biggest speeding grey areas in the UK?

Here at Parkers Vans and Pickups, we’ve fielded a number of queries recently about the speed limits for campervans – especially campervan conversions. And while we’ve touched on it briefly in our main van and pickup speed limits article, this is one of the most confusing speeding issues on UK roads, so we’re going to go into a little more detail.

The major question we’re here to answer being: is a campervan conversion allowed to travel at the same speeds as a car or is it restricted to the lower speed limits of a regular van?

Brace yourself, though, as the end result is neither clear cut nor necessarily the good news you were hoping for.

What is a campervan conversion?

By campervan conversion we mean an ordinary van that has been changed for use as a camper rather than built that way by the original manufacturer.

Nissan NV300 campervan

This covers a wide range of vehicles, from professionally converted machinery from well-known brands to those with modifications made by owners at home.

There are a small number of factory-built campervans, the best known being the highly regarded Volkswagen California – which now has competition from the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo and the Ford Transit Custom Nugget.

These factory-built models face no such speed limit confusion as they were never registered as vans in the first place. Hence they are able to travel as fast as cars.

So what are the official speed limits for a campervan?

As far as speed limits are concerned, the official vehicle classification is not campervan but ‘motor caravan’ – and the speed limits for motor caravans are split into two categories.

Motor caravans with an unladen weight below 3,050kg (3.05 tonnes) are allowed to drive as fast as an ordinary car.

Motor caravans with an unladen weight above 3,050kg (3.05 tonnes) are restricted to same speed limits as vans – which are officially classified as light goods vehicles under the same rules.

This means that although they can do 70mph on a motorway, they can only do 60mph on a dual carriageway and 50mph on national limit single carriageways (except where the speed limit is marked as less than that).

Why are campervan speed limits so confusing?

Though nothing has changed in terms of the law, it does feel like the confusion has increased over the last 12 months or so, as it would seem the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency) has become more reluctant to change the body type classification of vans that have been turned into campervans on their official V5C registration documents.

In theory any converted van that meets the DVLA’s requirements can be reclassified as a motor caravan. It’s just that meeting those requirements – especially when it comes to makes the outside of the vehicle look different to the van it’s based on – seems to be more difficult at the moment.

As such, a lot of people who have applied for reclassification have had their applications rejected.

Renault Trafic campervan

This might seem straightforward – a rejection must surely mean that van speed limits continue to apply, even if that’s a bit upsetting for those hoping to be able to drive their vehicle faster – but it turns out there’s actually a rather large grey area here.

For according to the DVLA and the Department for Transport (we’ve checked with both), regardless of what the vehicle is described as on the V5C, as long as the owner believes it meets the government’s definition of a motor caravan it can still be operated as one.

So, if you are satisfied you’ve met the government’s requirements for converting a van into a campervan and it still weighs less than 3.05 tonnes, you can theoretically drive it as quickly as a car – even if the DVLA has rejected your application to change the body type on the V5C.

MS-RT Transit Custom campervan interior

This apparently makes a distinction between the exterior appearance (body type) and the interior equipment. While the V5C concentrates on what the vehicle looks like on the outside, the law suggests that as long as it meets the criteria for a motor caravan on the inside what it says on the V5C doesn’t matter.

Why is this a problem?

The problem is that if your converted camper doesn’t look like a campervan on the outside and isn’t classified as a motor caravan on its registration document, what happens if you get stopped by the police for speeding?

Neither the Department for Transport nor the DVLA was prepared to commit to an answer to this.

Fiat Ducato campervan driving on road

Our fear is that if a conversion isn’t enough to meet the DVLA’s body type rules, then surely the police could argue it remains restricted to van speed limits. And since the UK police force is divided into separate regional constabularies, we further suspect the exact response will vary in different areas of the country.

Proceed with caution, then?

That would be our advice, yes. And if you do get caught and prosecuted for speeding and decide to challenge the conviction, do let us know what happens…

Also read:

>> Van and pickup speed limits explained

>> Campervans at the 2019 Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show

>> Speed limits – official UK government info

>> Converting a vehicle into a motor caravan – official UK government info