Motorhome Service Areas In Europe
Although the words on the sign may vary, this symbol is fairly universal throughout Western Europe – it means motorhome service facilities are available
One of the great things about motorhoming in Europe is the wide availability of motorhome service areas – places where you can empty your toilet cassette, dispose of waste water and fill up with fresh water, all in one place. They are normally located together, with space to drive your motorhome right up to the facility while you service it.
Where Can I Find Them?
Motorhome service points are often at aires (designated overnight parking facilities for motorhomes), but are sometimes at other locations, such as motorway service areas, supermarket car parks, town car parks and so on.
Sometimes they are free, sometimes one or more of the services (usually fresh water) requires a small payment, such as €1. The best way to find them is with guides like these or their digital equivalents.
In the UK, they are pretty much non-existent – even some campsites don’t have such convenient, ‘all in one place’ facilities.
There are a number of things that it’s useful to remember if you are planning on using service points regularly while travelling.
- A supply of €1 and €2 coins is often useful for fresh water, which is often the only part you have to pay for (e.g. €1 or €2 for 100 litres).
- Some purpose-built units require tokens instead of coins – these are usually available nearby but I’ve rarely had to use them.
- If you want to be able to connect a hosepipe up to fill your fresh water tank, you’ll need a selection of hose fittings as taps vary widely.
- Consider using a Dettol wipe on the fresh water tap before filling up your water – the problem is that someone may previously have used it to rinse their toilet cassette…
Grey Waste (Waste Water Tank)
Grey waste is the contents of your waste water tank – washing up water and water that you’ve washed/showered with.
Most purpose-built motorhomes have a drain pipe with a stop cock on it that’s used to empty the van’s waste water tank. This requires you to drive over a drain and position yourself so that the water flows into the drain.
Motorhome service points normally have a drain that is positioned so that it is easy to drive over and empty your waste into it. Sometimes you will need to lift up a grate or cover to allow the waste water to flow freely into the drain.
Please do not empty toilet waste into a grey water drain. The area’s sewage system probably won’t be able to handle it and it isn’t nice – especially when ‘deposits’ are left stuck on top of the drain grill.
Emptying Your Toilet Cassette (Black Waste)
Black waste is the name given to the contents of your toilet cassette. Unless you have an RV or a large motorhome with a fixed toilet tank, you will have to empty your cassette every few days (if not more often) by carrying it to an emptying point and emptying it into a sewer.
This is not such a bad job as people think, and you soon get used to it. Here are a few tips:
- Never forget to press the air vent button when emptying the cassette – this enables the waste to flow out smoothly, rather than ‘glugging’ and splashing everywhere…
- When emptying your toilet cassette, only ever rinse it with the designated rinsing tap (if there is one) – try to avoid using the fresh water tap.
- Sometimes a ‘solid deposit’ or clump of toilet paper will get stuck in a corner of the cassette when emptying – a good rinse and shake (with the cap on) will free these up and keep your toilet cassette reasonably clean and sweet smelling!
- Use the cassette rinse tap to charge the cassette with water again before adding your toilet chemical (if you use one). A couple of litres of water is usually enough.
- Finally, never put anything other than human waste and toilet tissue into a cassette.
Can I Empty My Toilet Cassette Into A Toilet?
This is a common question, as there are times when toilets are readily available but a cassette emptying point is not. Here are a few things to consider:
- If the toilets are on a mains sewer, then there shouldn’t be any problem with emptying toilet cassettes into them. I do it at home when we come back from a trip.
- Done with care, there is almost no mess and any small splashes on the rim of the bowl can easily be wiped afterwards.
- A little more care needs to be taken if the toilet you are using drains into a septic tank. Some toilet fluids will interfere with the biological processes that break down waste in the septic tank.
- I use Elsan’s organic toilet fluid in our cassette. This is marked as safe for use in septic tanks. Some non-organic toilet fluids may not be – check when you buy.
- I also prefer Elsan fluid as it seems better than Thetford fluid at preventing smells.
In some very rural areas you may find signs in public toilets asking you not to empty toilet cassettes into their toilets. Please respect these signs – there is probably a reason for it. I have seen a few of these in the Scottish Highlands and northern isles, but they were the exception, not the rule, and usually suggested alternative (toilet) locations where you could empty your cassette.
Examples of European Motorhome Service Areas
For anyone who hasn’t travelled much by motorhome in Europe and isn’t familiar with the wonderous level of convenience that motorhome service areas provide, I thought I would illustrate a few of the examples I’ve come across in my travels. As you’ll see, despite the fact they all do the same thing, they vary greatly in configuration.
This custom facility in La Rochelle has an unusual toilet emptying point – you put the spout of your toilet cassette into the drainpipe that comes out of the wall on the left. The other facilities are fairly standard – a waste water drain you can drive over and multiple fresh water taps.
Purpose-made service points like this Euro Relais design are common in France and, increasingly, in Spain and Portugal. They’re easy to use but may charge for water and electricity (if provided).
Custom-built facilities vary widely – this one at the large Capbreton aire in France was functional, if a little ‘rustic’. The tap on the right is above the sewage drain and is for rinsing your toilet cassette after emptying – the one on the left should be used for fresh water.
This German facility was in a car park and charged €2 for 60l of water. Waste water and toilet emptying were free (the hatch in front of the machine was for toilet waste).
Another example of a German toilet emptying facility, complete with dedicated rinsing tap – another tap was provided, a few metres away, for fresh water.
This Rhine-side Stellplatz had a custom service area that was excellent and even included a crate for bottle recycling! Fresh water on the left, toilet emptying and rinsing on the right, drive over the drain in the ground to empty grey waste water.
Sometimes you’ll need to lift a manhole to empty your toilet cassette – they are usually marked and often have a piece of rope attached for easier lifting.