Important tips for purchasing a used caravan

Blonde woman in cream hat leans out of caravan door to touch nose of man in white t shirt on a sunny day.

Pick the right van for you with the help of these top tips.

It’s hardly a profound statement: Caravans can be expensive to buy.

But it does demonstrate why many people opt to purchase a used caravan instead of a brand new model.

However, it can be catastrophic if your bargain second-hand purchase turns out to be a ‘lemon’ and your savings end up in the caravan repairer’s pocket. Or worse, your new toy is unsafe.

To avoid this scenario, it’s important to know what to look for when buying a second-hand caravan. And this handy and comprehensive checklist will help point you in the right direction.

Most of us could quickly put this van firmly in the lemon category but it's not always so obvious.

Where do I start?

Some points to consider before buying any caravan – new or used – include:

  • Where do you wish to travel to?
  • For how long? Short stays or long adventures?
  • Are you going to head off road or stick to highway travel?

Top tip: Hire a caravan and make a short trip to get a gauge of what might suit.

Having even a vague idea of your travel plans could influence the type of caravan that will suit your needs.

Got it. So I've found a used van for sale. Is there anything I should bring along to the viewing?

Definitely – being prepared is essential when buying a second-hand caravan. A few items to consider taking to your inspection include:

  • A notepad and pen to jot down the pros and cons of your potential purchase.
  • A tape measure to check the caravan’s specifications.
  • A camera or smartphone to take photographs for later referral (afterwards, it’s funny what you remember and don’t remember about specific details).
  • A torch to check those hard-to-reach spots, especially underneath the van.
  • A damp meter to measure the van’s moisture levels.

Do your due diligence now, relax later.

What essential information do I require?

Some of this advice is applicable to whatever pre-loved vehicle you’re looking to purchase and is akin to a mother asking her teenage daughter about her new boyfriend:

  • What is the van’s age?
  • Where has it been in the past?
  • Where does it ‘live’ (i.e. undercover or outside)?

These questions might alter your decision to buy, as sometimes looks can be deceiving. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially if you have concerns about the caravan.

It’s also best to enquire about documentation regarding the van’s service and ownership history and whether the seller has a current weighbridge, gas, and electrical certificate.

Pre-check with relevant authorities in your state/territory as to whether any of these documents are legally required when owning a caravan.

Another major factor is your tow vehicle and the weight it can tow, so the size of the caravan is important.

White caravan with annexed picnic area and bikes surrounding it with green leafy backdrop on a sunny day.

Awareness of a used van's history might influence your decision to buy.

What are the main things to look for on the outside of the caravan?

There are various factors to keep in mind when taking a peek at the van’s exterior. As you would with any vehicle inspection – such as when buying a used car – note the following:

  • Is there any rust (including underneath the van)?
  • Are there any dents, scratches, or other marks (including on the roof)?
  • What is the condition of the tyres?
  • Do the windows and doors open and close properly?
  • Are there any obvious paint jobs that could be disguising bigger issues?

On top of this there are various caravan-specific checks to consider:

  • Are there any cracks in the chassis?
  • Is the axle in good condition?
  • Does everything look as it should underneath the van: wiring, piping, etc?
  • Is the van’s handbrake effective?
  • Does the tow hitch move freely?
  • Does the jockey wheel wind up and down with ease?
  • Does the awning open and close as it should?
  • Are the gas and electrical components in good condition?
Rusty caravan with missing window on gravel road on a sunny day.

There is plenty to check re: the caravan's exterior. It's safe to say this van wouldn't receive many ticks in the positive column!

What are the main things to look for inside the caravan?

There are many interior considerations when buying a second-hand caravan. The checklist includes:

  • Are there any signs of dampness? This is where your damp meter comes in handy. Conduct a thorough inspection that includes corners and cupboards.
  • Is the caravan’s floor in good condition?
  • Is the van fitted with a smoke detector and a fire extinguisher?
  • Do all appliances work, such as the stove, microwave, and fridge?
  • Are all drawers and cupboards in good condition?
  • Do the water sources operate properly (shower, sink, etc)?
  • Do the lights work?
  • Does the main door lock properly?
  • Are the gas and electrical components in good condition?
Pale timber interior of caravan with microwave, benches, cupboards and bed with two pillows.

It's important to give the caravan's interior a thorough check.

As I’m purchasing a used caravan, surely everything won't be in tiptop condition? Can I compromise on anything?

Obviously, you have to expect that a used caravan will have some wear and tear, and so a few scratches, fading, or other superficial negatives are to be expected. However, any of the above that compromises your safety should be a non-negotiable.

Also, such things as dampness and rust can be expensive to fix, so think about whether the van’s asking price adequately takes this into account.

Two small boys smiling with arms around each other holding stuffed toys on top of bunk beds in small room with cupboard.

Caravanning: It can be a good life.

I’m satisfied with my purchase and I am now a caravan owner. Where to from here?

Congratulations! Now it’s time to hit the road. But before you do, take a peek at these handy tips for your first caravanning adventure. Happy travels.

If you have any suggestions for people looking at purchasing a used caravan, please leave a comment below.

Isn't it time you hit the road? Book your next BIG4 adventure now.

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9 comments on “Important tips for purchasing a used caravan”

  1. Pancho Cham

    18 May 2016 at 12:53 am

    Recently, I have been looking into buying a caravan to take on vacations. I’ll make sure that when I buy my caravan that it doesn’t have any rust and that its electricity and gas lines work fine. That way I can be sure I get a good buy and not a piece of junk.

  2. emily bennette

    27 May 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Compromise is expected when you are looking to buy a used caravan. I liked that you talked about how you shouldn’t compromise on things that could put you in danger like rust or mold. It seems like it would be smart to know that when you are looking for a new caravan.

  3. Rachnmal

    31 January 2017 at 11:50 am

    Hi there wanted to know if anyone knows anything about an old Telstar 1989 van it’s in top Nic I wanted to purchase but before I do just want to know what I need to be sure of most of all. The body looks good the appliances look good doors Windows pop up looks in tact just not sure about the bottom part of the van and hitch etc??! Who could I ask to inspect stuff like rust chassis mould etc??? Please help my first purchase!

  4. BIG4 Holiday Parks

    1 February 2017 at 10:07 am

    Hi Rachnmal, it would definitely be best for you to consult an expert in regards to buying a caravan, as they will be able to steer you in the right direction for you. Good luck with your purchase and we hope to see you driving into a BIG4 Holiday Park soon!

  5. Zequek Estrada

    14 March 2017 at 4:37 am

    My husband has been talking about buying this motor home he keeps seeing on his way home. I’m glad he hasn’t purchased it yet, so he can check for rust or dampness. Even if it is in good condition, I feel like it might be helpful to have it checked out by a professional.

  6. Max

    24 June 2017 at 4:57 am

    I really like that you talked about being careful buying a used caravan, and not spending all your money on repairs. We’ve been looking for a caravan, and we would love to find some insurance on it that can help us with any future repairs. I don’t want to spend all that money trying to keep our caravan running with constant repairs, so I think that insurance would be a great option for us! Thanks for the info!

  7. Cassie

    15 September 2017 at 4:30 pm

    Hi all!! I have been thinking about purchasing a small caravan to make my camping trips a little bit less of a hassle. I was wondering whether I would need any license changes to tow a caravan (VIC) and whether it would be viable/worth putting a tow bar on my 2010 Nissan micra (small car) or whether it’d be worth getting another vehicle at that point? (I do so miss having a ute over a pink bubble car!)
    Thanks in advance for any advice you might be able to give a young lass who is keen as a bean to get into the world of caravanning!

  8. Llewellyn Stephens

    5 May 2018 at 3:46 pm

    There is no legal requirement to have a handbrake on a caravan. We use X chocks on our Cell dual axle van. One thing you missed was the weight - I wouldn’t buy a van or rv unless i weighed it first to ensure it complies with the compliance plate. I would also ask for any service history.

  9. Alax

    21 February 2019 at 7:04 am

    What a brilliant read. Thanks for sharing. And now the journey begins. Be sure to let us know when you’re around Melbourne, it would be great to hear how the trip is going and join you for a cruise. I’ll pack a tow rope, just in case.

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