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Buying a caravan for the first time? I’ve had so many questions from people over the past few years; asking for tips on what to look for when buying a second hand caravan.
I thought I’d put down some of the things that we’ve looked for, when we’ve bought our vans.
I’m not an expert by any means; but — as we’re on our third, used touring caravan — I thought it might be useful to share our checklist.
1. It’s What’s Inside (And Outside) That Counts
The first rule of thumb when buying a preloved caravan is to make sure it’s structurally sound; and not suffering from the dreaded damp.
Here’s a few things to look for when you’re checking over a van for the first time.
Is The Van Watertight?
Have a really good look to make sure the caravan is watertight.
Don’t feel rushed by the seller — take your time to check over everything. It’s imperative to make sure your purchase is not suffering from damp issues.
Open cupboards, lift up cushions and mattresses.
You can buy a damp meter from Amazon for less than 20 quid.
This is a great way of checking over your van as, sometimes, a van might be showing signs of historical damp — in the back of cupboards for example — but the cause has been fixed and it’s no longer letting in water.
We had this with both Dolly 1 and 2; there were some really ominous looking watermarks in the back of some of the cupboards.
Thankfully the problems had been fixed and both vans were dry and sound.
Areas that are spongy — or mouldy — are a definite red flag! If it smells mouldy, chances are, it probably is!
Whilst we’ve never checked if any of our vans are roadworthy at the first viewing — as it’s just not practical — we’ve checked everything else!
Open windows, cupboards and doors to see if all the catches, hinges and locks work properly.
If the floor inside the van feels spongy to walk on, the chances are it’s delaminated.
This isn’t a deal-breaker but worth noting. Caravan floors can delaminate due to water ingress. Although, as I’ve mentioned before, the cause of the problem may have been fixed. It’s definitely worth pursuing if you like the van.
Check underneath the caravan for rust.
Check the tyres; the treads may seem fine but do the tyres look old? Check for cracks in the grooves, as well as sidewalls (these generally fail before the treads are worn).
If the tyres look to be in good condition, ask the seller when they were fitted.
They may seem fine but if they’re older than 5 years, they’ll need to be replaced. 5 years is the maximum safe life, whatever the mileage.
Finally, check out the hitch and handbrake. Do they look clean and well maintained?
The hitch is the part that keeps the caravan coupled to your car; it’s really important that it’s in good, working condition.
Try wiggling the hitch head around. A little movement is fine but if it rattles around quite a lot, it may be pointing to other issues.
If you push the hitch towards the back of the van, you should feel some resistance. This indicates that the damper unit within the hitch is working properly. If there’s very little or no resistance, the damper may be faulty and need replacing.
For more information on what to look for when buying a used caravan, check out this useful guide by The Caravan Club.
2. Which Layout?
Caravan layout wasn’t something that we really took into consideration when buying our first van. As it was just the two of us, we just went for the first, clean and tidy 2 berth van we came across!
Luckily she had a great layout for a couple; a HUGE bed, an end bathroom and loads of storage space.
Dolly 2 was a bit of a spur of the moment purchase. I saw her for sale on a local Facebook village page. As she was the same make as Dolly 1 — but a 4 berth version — we decided to go ahead and buy her.
Take Your Time
The purchase of Dolly 3 was a little more considered.
We wanted fixed end bunks for the twins (that span the width of the van). Plus a separate dining area when our bed is made up.
I also wanted a door towards the back end of the van — like Dolly 1. Rather than the door at the front (like Dolly 2).
Caravan Finder has a really useful little tool. You can type in which berth you’d like, and it will show you all the layout configurations; for the different makes and models.
Once I’d made a note of the layout and make/model I liked, I went on a mission to find our perfect caravan!
3. Where to Buy?
As well as sites like Caravan Finder, you can buy secondhand caravans from reputable caravan dealers, like Venture in Northamptonshire; but expect to pay a premium.
For the real bargains check out newspapers, Gumtree, Facebook and eBay — but just be very, very cautious!
If a van looks too good to be true, there’s a good chance that it is.
When we were looking for our third used caravan, we looked at quite a few vans on eBay. Initially they seemed like real bargains, until we went to view them. Then it became clear that they were being sold by members of the Traveller Community.
They may have been totally fine and above board. But I spoke to a police officer friend — who told me quite a few horror stories; we just weren’t prepared to take the risk.
She told me about caravans that had been stolen — then sold on for rockbottom prices. But when the vans were tracked down by the police, they were returned to their original owners; leaving the unsuspecting buyers with no caravan — and out of pocket!
And — worse — vans that were fitted with a tracker!! Unwitting buyers woke up to discover that the caravan they’d bought in good faith had been stolen, by the same people they’d bought it from.
Another tip she gave me is to steer well clear of Hobby caravans. Apparently these are highly sought after by Travellers and — as a result — are not welcome at a number of camping and caravan sites throughout the UK.
Sobering stuff! And definitely something to bear in mind, when buying a second hand caravan.
Dolly 1 was bought from Gumtree — Dolly 2 from a local Facebook ad.
Both were being sold by families and we went to their homes to view the vans.
They had all the relevant documentation — service receipts and manuals — and made us feel confident that they were the genuine owners. Both vans also had their original chassis plates.
Dolly 3 was a slightly different kettle of fish. She’s a slightly more modern van the the other two; still 15 years old but really tidy with a neutral interior. She’s a larger van and we’d been told to be cautious of large (or twin-axled ) caravans being sold cheaply; these are favourites with caravan thieves.
We bought her from a small dealer who listed his vans on eBay.
We went to his yard to view the van. As well as eBay, he was also listing the van on his own website.
Initially, we felt a little apprehensive but he made us feel very comfortable. It turned out that he bought caravans from larger dealerships, that were being part exchanged for newer models. He was essentially buying up really well maintained vehicles, with all of the relevant paperwork etc, then could sell them on relatively cheaply, whilst still making a modest profit.
He had all the paperwork for Dolly 3 and we even did a CRiS check whilst we were there.
What is a CRiS check?
A CRiS check can not only identify a stolen caravan but also whether there are any outstanding HP payments.
It’s always worth checking that the details of the CRiS registration document match when buying a used caravan.
It’s worth being suspicious of a post 1992 UK caravan, without an obvious CRiS identification. Unfortunately a full CRiS check isn’t possible for caravans pre-dating 199. Be sure that the seller can provide you with enough evidence that they are the legitimate owner; particularly if the caravan has no chassis plate.
4. Licences and Tow Weights
Another thing to mention, before jumping in and making a purchase; does my driving licence allow me to tow a caravan?
If you passed your driving test before 1 January 1997. You’re usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer; with a combined maximum authorised mass — MAM) up to 8250kg.
If you passed your test after 1 January 1997; and have an ordinary category B (car) licence. You’re allowed to drive a vehicle (up to 3.5 tonnes or 3500kg MAM); whilst towing a caravan up to 750kg MAM.
Or tow one over 750kg MAM; as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle isn’t greater than 3500kg.
If there’s any confusion, check the government guidelines.
Is My Car Able To Tow This Caravan?
When it comes to towing, the experts recommend a caravan’s fully laden weight is not heavier than 85 per cent of your car’s kerb weight.
This is called the 85% rule. It’s not the law — but it is a good guide to follow.
If the mass of the caravan is 85% or less of the kerb-weight of your car, then it will be easily able to tow the vehicle.
The legal towing capacity of your car should be in the manual. But it can also be calculated by the VIN number plate on the door sill; or on the V5 registration document.
You’ll generally find the caravan’s weight listed in it’s handbook; as well as being listed on a plate near the door frame. But I’ve found that a Google search is generally very helpful too!
5. Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover
If we’ve learned anything over the past 10 years — it’s that ugly caravans can be made beautiful with a little bit of imagination and TLC!
An old caravan may have awful carpets and cushions; or be a sea of orangey-brown wood. But all of these things can be changed.
Try to look past that when you’re buying a second hand caravan.
Treat It Like a Home
The best kind of second-hand caravan is one that’s been owned by someone who’s genuinely loved (and looked after it). Be it an older, retired couple — or a family; I really think you can get a feel of whether a van has been taken care of. Even if it’s ugly, if it’s solid and damp free, it’s definitely worth a look.
Basically, don’t pass over a great little van because it’s ugly!
Go For It!
So there we have it; all my tips and nuggets for buying a second hand caravan. I hope it helps you in your search for buying a used caravan.
One last thing I will say is — just GO for it!! If you’re asking ‘should I buy a caravan?’, I can say that buying a touring caravan has been one of the best things we’ve ever done. They give you such freedom and can be the catalyst for amazing memories.
I can’t recommend it enough!
Print ‘5 Tips for Buying a Second Hand Caravan’ For Later
1 Check the inside — and outside — really carefully.
Make sure it's structurally sound and watertight. Check for damp, rust and damage. Finally, check the tyres and hitch.
2 Which Layout?
Fixed bunks? End bathroom? Have a think about the kind of layout that would suit your needs best. Caravan Finder has a really useful little tool, where you can type in which berth you'd like, and it will show you all the layout configurations for the different makes and models.
3 Where To Buy?
Caravan dealers, classified ads — even eBay. There are lots of places to buy second hand caravans. Just make sure you look out for any red flags!
4. Licences and Tow Weights
Will your driving licence actually allow you to tow a caravan? Is your car able to tow the caravan? Make sure you're fully genned up with this knowledge before you make a purchase.