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Important tips for purchasing a used caravan

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.

An 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?

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?
    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.

    Small problems shouldn't detract from the happiness of having a caravan.

    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.

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

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