Buying a touring caravan: the Ultimate Guide
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Words by Will Hawkins
So, you've decided you like the idea of owning a caravan, attracted by the sense of freedom and the prospect of taking your family on grand adventures in the UK or abroad.
It's an exciting time, but buying a touring caravan is a big decision. After all, buying a caravan – whether that's new or used – is a major investment. If it can feel like a step into the unknown, and it's especially stressful if you're a first-time caravan buyer.
But, don't worry. Our Ultimate Guide to Buying a Touring Caravan will help you answer your questions. Here are our tips for buying a touring caravan.
Owning a caravan the easy way
Buying a touring caravan is much easier when you've done your research.
Knowing what to look for, what to ask and how much money it might cost you before you spend anything will make it easier – and, buying a caravan for the first time will be much easier.
Is towing a caravan difficult?
Towing a caravan puts many people off buying one.
To drive a car, you have to take a theory and practical test. Before the tests, you will have trained and studied for weeks or months. Only once you've passed can you drive on your own.
There's a lot to learn to drive safely and efficiently.
Hook a touring caravan onto the back of your car, and you will notice how different it feels. The car will be slower. Drive over a bump in the road with a caravan in tow, and you will feel the caravan affect your vehicle.
At first, it can unnerve you. The movements you feel change how you drive. Towing a tonne or more of caravan behind changes the physics and dynamics of your car.
But, you get used to towing the more you do it. You soon learn to drive in a different way when you pull a caravan. You become aware of your speed limitations, width and height limits.
Towing gets easier. Soon enough, you feel confident and in control.
But, you will still have questions about towing including these below.
What is the standard width of a caravan?
The UK law says the maximum trailer width for any towing vehicle is 2.55 metres. You'll find touring caravans on the market which are eight feet wide, under 2.55 metres.
But, most touring caravans are between 2.2 and 2.3 metres wide.
Why is it the width important?
Towing an eight-foot-wide caravan down a narrow country lane is a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you are a novice. Keep to standard width caravans until you are confident.
Caravan towing courses
To build your towing confidence, this is a good idea.
Take a towing course.
Learning how to tow from an experienced instructor will build your skills and confidence. You learn to tow in different situations and road conditions.
The Caravan & Motorhome Club and the Camping & Caravanning Club run excellent towing courses. It's worth spending a day with either them to learn towing basics.
You will learn how to tow safely, reverse your caravan with ease and how to load your caravan and car. All these skills are essential to towing a caravan well.
Read our towing guide for more help on this topic!
Your next question will probably be this...
Which caravans can I tow with my car?
To know which caravans you can tow, you need to understand three details:
When did you pass your driving test?
It sounds an odd question, but it's essential.
If you passed your driving test on or after 1st January 1997 beware of this fact. You will need to take a test to tow a caravan or trailer which has a maximum authorised mass (MAM) over 750 kg. Check the details here on the UK Government website.
"What licence do I need to tow a caravan in the UK?" you ask.
Given most touring caravans weigh more than 750 kg, you will need to take a car and trailer test, know as the 'B+E test'.
If you passed your driving test before 1st January 1997, you can, in general, 'drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250 kg MAM'. Check here for details.
These numbers will make sense in a moment.
The next question to which you need the answer is:
What's the kerbweight of my car?
The kerbweight of your car is the total mass of your vehicle without any people in it, but including all the fluids in it. These include fuel, air conditioning fluids and lubricants.
You find can find your car's kerbweight in your car's manual. Alternatively, on a plate attached to your vehicle (often by the driver's door) or on your V5 registration document.
What do you do with your kerbweight?
The next step is also essential. If you've done significant towing, then you can tow slightly heavier caravans than if you've never towed before.
The ratio is this:
- Experienced at towing: tow up to 100% of your car's kerbweight.
- Inexperienced at towing: tow up to 85% of your car's kerbweight
Example: If your car's kerbweight is 1200 kg and you are a novice, inexperienced in towing, multiply your 1200 kg kerbweight by 0.85 (85%), and you get 1020 kilograms.
That means your car can tow caravans with an MTPLM of 1020 kg.
If you're confident with towing trailers or caravans, you can tow a caravan with an MTPLM which matches the kerbweight of your car.
For more tips on towing, read our special guide: Towing a Caravan: 8 things to make it safe and easy
The third question you need to answer.
What is the MTPLM of a caravan?
The MTPLM is the Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass of your caravan.
Don't worry about knowing the technicalities of this acronym. Just look for the plate attached to a caravan (if you are at a dealership). Or search online to find the MTPLM of any caravans which interest you.
Manufacturers will have the MTPLMs of their latest models on their websites. Or, check our 'Reviews' section to look through older models too.
All this detail is probably beginning to make your head hurt.
There is a much easier way to find which caravans you can tow with your car in just a few clicks. See the link below to our Towmatch service.
Visit TowMatch here: www.outandaboutlive.co.uk/caravans/towmatch
Simply enter which car make and model you have (or would like to use as your towcar). Then, enter whether you are experienced or inexperienced with towing. Finally, choose a caravan make and model to see if you can tow them.
Try out some variations of makes and models you can tow with your car. And, try out different vehicles to see what you can tow with a bigger or smaller car.
There's a good reason for not towing a caravan heavier than your car. Firstly, it's illegal, and you could invalidate your insurance.
Also, it's down to physics.
If your caravan weights more than your car and you brake suddenly, in effect, your caravan will want to overtake you.
What happens is this: your caravan can sway from side to side behind you. The swaying can become so bad that you can jackknife and, potentially, flip your car and caravan over.
That's not only dangerous; it's frightening. That's why you should not tow a caravan which weighs more than your car, especially you're new to towing.
The lower the weight of your caravan is in proportion to your towcar, the better. You need your towcar's engine to be powerful enough to pull it. Imagine a situation when you're trying to overtake another vehicle while towing. You need enough power from your engine to pass other cars easily.
It's not fun trying to tow a caravan with an underpowered car.
Now you know what you can tow. But, you might have one more question about the topic, namely:
What length caravan can I tow?
You can tow a trailer up to 7 metres long using a vehicle weighing up to 3,500 kg.
The maximum length is 7 metres for a trailer towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3,500 kilograms. The length does not include the 'A' frame, the structure on the front of your caravan used to hitch up to your car.
Before you decide on the weight and length of caravan you can tow, you need to think carefully about the following:
Choosing the right caravan layout
When you look around houses to buy how it feels is important. That includes its design. You wouldn't buy a house if you didn't like its layout. But, with a house, you can make alterations, like knocking a wall down here or adding an extension there.
You can't make significant alternations with a caravan as you can with a house.
That's why choosing the right caravan layout is so important. The design needs to work for you.
If you have a young family, you will need a different layout compared to a couple. If you want to leave a caravan on one site all year, you will look at different designs too. Caravans you can move from site-to-site on tour can have different layouts.
Therefore, to choose the right caravan layout for you, answer this question:
How many berths do you need?
When you know how many berths (or sleeping spaces) you need it will help you find the right caravan layout.
When you know how many berths you need, read this page, our Ultimate Guide to Caravan Layouts.
Let's assume you've now chosen the perfect caravan make, model and layout. What's next?
What can I put in my caravan?
It's easy to think that you don't need to think all the weights and measures to do with your caravan. Hold on: there's more.
What you put into your caravan when you're towing it is crucial. After you buy your caravan, you might become a little obsessed with what's called 'payload'!
Your caravan's payload is the weight of all the extra items you put into the caravan. The manufacturer provides your 'caravan payload' as a number measured in kilograms. For example, your payload might be 180 kg.
What type of items make up your caravan payload? Here is a table of the items you might load into your caravan:
|Item||Weight in KG|
|1 x LPG Gas cylinder (full)||15|
|Chairs and table for awning||8|
|Kitchen pots and pans||2|
|Cutlery, plates and bowls||1|
|Aquaroll (empty) & handle||2|
|Spare wheel & tyre||15|
|Electric hook-up cable||4|
|Steady winding handle||1|
|Jack & handle||3|
All the items above weigh 121.5 kg. And, that's a basic list of items caravanners put into their caravans. If you add other gadgets onto your caravan, like a motor mover (they can weigh 30 kg +), they take a chunk out of your payload.
You mustn't overload your caravan with extra weight and exceed your payload when towing it.
An effect of the payload in your caravan and the weight of your caravan is lowering the back of your car when towing. The weight (also known as the maximum vertical load) transferred to your towbar from your caravan is known as the 'noseweight'.
The age of your car and the softness of its rear suspension makes a difference. They affect how far the rear of your vehicle dips when you attach your caravan to it. Some older cars have soft rear suspension springs. More modern vehicles usually have harder springs so your car won't dip as much.
Another impact of your car dipping at the back when towing is the level of your headlights. You might need to lower your lights to avoid blinding oncoming drivers.
How do you measure your caravan's noseweight?
You can buy a special gauge to measure your caravan's noseweight. This noseweight gauge is under £15 on Amazon.
Your noseweight shouldn't be more than 7% of your caravan's 'laden weight' (the MTPLM plus the payload). You can find out your car's recommended noseweight on the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number Plate) plate of your car. Or, find the details on your towbar's nameplate.
Why you become obsessed with your payload is probably making sense now!
Right, that's the essential details covered. Let's move on to another important topic of buying a touring caravan — the cost of a touring caravan.
How much is it to buy a caravan?
Working out if you can afford a touring caravan is often people's first concern. And, the cost of a caravan depends on many factors, including its age, quality, condition, size and specification.
Here are our tips on buying a touring caravan.
Let's break the cost of buying a touring caravan into some price ranges. You'll see what you can expect to get for the money:
Basic — £7,500 to £9,999
There aren't many new caravans available in this price range. If so, they will be basic, lightweight models with few accessories or extras.
You will, however, find many used caravans in this price bracket.
Let's look at the next level up.
Better — £10,000 to £13,499
The choice of new touring caravans available in the price range is wider. But not by much.
Again, buying a touring caravan for less than £13,500 means it will be a small, lightweight model. There are some popular brands that make good, leak-free, well-equipped caravans.
Take a look at the Freedom Caravans range, as mentioned. They have lightweight caravans, including the Jetstream Twin Sport for just over £13,000.
The two-berth Go-Pod caravans are small, lightweight caravans with a monocoque construction, which means they are in one piece, with no joints between panels. With no joints, bar windows, vents and doors they don't leak. The Go-Pod standard is around £11,000.
What if you need more space and berths?
Budget — £13,500 to £14,999
Families need more space. If your budget is a little bigger, you can get a lot more for your money.
Take the Xplore 304. It's a four-berth caravan which works well for a couple too. At £15,000, it's a good step up for a young family that wants more space and comfort than available in lower price ranges. But it's good value for money.
Better again — £15,000 to £19,999
Push your budget a little more, and the variety of touring caravans available opens up.
At the specialist end, for just under £17,000 is the Swift Basecamp. It's a two-berth caravan suitable for people who love outdoor activities like surfing, hiking or cycling.
For just under £17,000 is the Adria Altea 472, a five-berth caravan, or the Bailey Phoenix range which has a price range between £16,699 and £19,999. Swift has several ranges and models in this bracket, including its Sprite range.
Best — £20,000+
If you can afford to buy a new touring caravan over £20,000, you will have much more choice.
For just over £21,000 Coachman Caravans has its Vision 545 model. It's a four-berth caravan from a manufacturer with a reputation for quality.
For under £24,000 is the Adria Adora Sava, our Caravan of the Year 2019. The Sava is a five-berth caravan with an MTPLM of 1,900 kg, so check if you can tow it with your car!
By now, you should have a better idea of the cost of new caravans. But, you probably have more questions about buying a touring caravan.
Do you buy a new or used caravan?
Deciding whether to buy a new or used caravan can feel like a difficult decision. If you're buying your first touring caravan, you're likely to have questions before you commit your hard-earned money into buying one.
Whether you buy a new or a used van, there are pros and cons.
A used caravan is likely to have all its 'snagging issues' fixed when it becomes available on the market. The previous owner(s) should have made use of the warranty on it to correct any defects.
You may benefit from extras previous owners have added, including air conditioning, satellite dishes or microwave ovens.
There will be a significant choice of makes and models so you can find a model to fit what you need.
A significant benefit of buying a used caravan is availability. You can visit the private seller or dealer, and look around the van which interests you. Then, buy it and pick it up soon after you've agreed on a deal.
With new models, you often have to wait for months before your caravan rolls off the production line.
Buying a new model has its advantages too.
Firstly, you can choose what you want. Get the specification you want, with any upgrades or options. Some people like the fact that nobody else has used their caravan.
You benefit from the latest features too. Manufacturers constantly upgrade and improve their models, including materials, furnishings, appliances and accessories.
Importantly, you will benefit from the warranties which come with a new caravan. You can take it back to your dealer for them or manufacturer to fix any teething problems.
Caravan dealers often add extras to sweeten the deal on a new caravan. The sweetener might include a motor mover or an awning, both of which can cost hundreds, if not thousands, depending on the model.
Depending on the defects, however, you can often wait weeks before your caravan is available to you. You rely on how quickly the administration takes to deal with your warranty work.
To make it easier here are answers to frequently asked questions about buying a touring caravan:
How long do touring caravans last?
You'll see plenty of old caravans on the road or campsites, as well as new models. If you maintain your caravan well and have it serviced regularly, a caravan can last for years.
It's common to meet caravanners who've had their current model for 10 or more years. They usually change them for a different model only when their needs change.
For example, that might be when their children grow up and leave home. People change to models made for couples rather than families.
Are caravans a good investment?
It depends on what you mean by a good investment.
People enjoy caravanning for the sense of freedom they get compared to staying in a hotel or a Bed & Breakfast. They get to stay in beautiful places with great views, or near to events which they wouldn't experience if they weren't staying in a caravan.
Caravanners often say their happiest holidays were with their families when staying in a touring caravan.
Perhaps a better question is this:
Do caravans lose value?
It's rare to make money when you sell your caravan. New caravans depreciate quicker than older caravans.
But, if you maintain your caravan, and you've bought a popular caravan make and model you can benefit. You can often reduce the amount of money you lose when you sell it.
Later, you'll read about the cost of owning a caravan.
Next, you'll learn the art of timing.
When to buy a touring caravan
Timing is essential when you buy a touring caravan. Firstly, you need to understand the cycle of caravan manufacturing.
When manufacturers release most new touring caravan models
UK caravan manufacturers bring out new models yearly. They show them to the public in around October at shows.
Customers order their caravans then and get them in March, April or May the following year.
Dealers need to sell last year's models in December, January and February making this the best time to pick up a deal on a new caravan.
When most used caravans come onto the market
Caravanners who've bought a new caravan in October trade in their old van as part of their deal.
That means the dealers will want to sell these 'trade-in' caravans after the peak delivery time, namely in late May, June and July.
Get your timing right, and you can buy a brand-new caravan (albeit it last year's model) at a great price. You need to understand how the industry works.
Now you know when to buy, how about where to buy your caravan?
Where to buy a touring caravan
Many people purchase caravans from private sellers. That's fine when you know what to look for in a new or used caravan.
NCC Approved dealer
But, if it's your first caravan, it's wise to buy from a dealer. And, make sure you visit an NCC Approved Dealer. Why?
Because you'll benefit from:
- Being able to look at various caravans
- Warranties and guarantees they offer
- Finance deals to help you pay for it
- Deals on accessories, like awnings, outdoor furniture or TVs
- Help with after-sales servicing and maintenance
Buying at the NEC Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Show
In October yearly, the National Caravan Council runs the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show at the NEC, Birmingham. It's the most prominent UK 'selling' show.
You'll find show deals and offers on all the stands.
Buying a touring caravan like a Pro
Now that you know the basic of what, why, where and when to buy a touring caravan you need to understand the how.
Before you go to a dealer at their showroom or a show, prepare yourself with a list of what you want and your budget.
Meeting a dealer is easier when you are clear about what you want. There'll be less pressure on you, and you can negotiate better when you have a plan.
Use our guide to buying a caravan at the show, if you're planning to make the best of a 'show deal'. It will help you create a plan to compare models and bargain with dealers like a pro.
Checks before you commit
Whether you are buying a new or used caravan, you must make some basic checks before you commit.
It's a fact that the older, the caravan the more weathering it will have experienced. Seals fail, pipes fray and joints loosen. After all, when you tow a caravan, it moves about as it travels over different road surfaces.
Check these items before you hand over your deposit:
- Damp check — dampness is probably the biggest complaint you'll hear about caravans. When seals fail rainwater and spray seeps into the caravan. Buy a damp meter and check places including mattresses and sinks. Look for signs of water damage around windows and the outside walls.
- Gas — Gas leaks are a nightmare. You won't know if there's a leak until you attach a cylinder to the caravan, so take one (or borrow one) and ask to test it.
- Electrics — You need to know the caravan's electrics are safe, so ask for the most up to date inspection certificate. Look for how often has an engineer signed it?
- Look underneath — the underside of any caravan takes a beating from salt and water thrown up from the roads. That can lead to corrosion. If the caravan's chassis looks in bad shape, be careful. Check the caravan's suspension too. Does it seem rusty? Does anything look loose? If so, beware. Check the tyres also. How old are they? How much tread is on them? Do they look cracked or damaged?
- Take it for a run out — Ask if you can take the van for a test tow to see what it feels. If it's the first time you've towed, it will feel strange, anyway. But, when you tow a caravan make a mental note of anything that does not handle right about it. That might be how it moves when you're towing. Does it sway easily, for example? Does it feel balanced?
- Is it level? — Walk around the van to see if it looks level. It could reveal broken suspension.
- Ready steadies — at each corner you'll find the 'steadies' under the caravan. You lower them when you get to your pitch. Check if they move up and down easily. You'll need a crank handle to move them up and down. Are they bent or corroded?
- Brake working? — Caravans have a hand-operated brake on the A-frame at the front. Check if it's working or not.
Photo: Check underneath the caravan to check the chassis's condition
That's your caravan buying procedure complete. What next?
Which other caravan accessories do I need?
To live comfortably in a caravan, you need a set of accessories. Here are the essentials:
- Tow bar — you can't tow a caravan without a towbar. Have one fitted by a specialist, including Witter or Halfords. They will install the electrics you need too.
- Electric hook up cable — Unless you plan to go off-grid, you'll need a cable to connect to the mains on a campsite.
- Gas cylinder — To cook, you need gas and a bottle. Propane works better in lower temperatures than butane. You buy the cylinder and the gas. Once you have a cylinder, you pay only for the gas when you take it back to a dealer. Buy gas from many outlets including garages, garden centres, and building merchants.
- Water — Most, if not all, caravanners own a 40-litre Aquaroll (or two) which they fill up at a nearby tap. You'll also need a pump which attaches to your caravan and put in the Aquaroll. Truma and Whale make pumps. Check whether your caravan comes with one and which make.
- Awning — If you need more space outside your caravan without being exposed to the elements, an awning is a good idea. Check which one fits your model.
- Levelling — Sleeping on a slope is uncomfortable. Levelling your caravan is simple, but you need some small levelling ramps or a special kit like the Lock'nLevel to do it.
- Leisure battery — When you're off-grid, you need a leisure battery to run appliances including your lights, sockets, pumps and devices. Life in a caravan is tricky without one. Check it has one and it works.
To make getting away on caravan tours quicker and easier, think about getting extra bedding, cleaning materials, lightweight crockery, cutlery, pots and pans. You can store them securely in the cupboards and under beds when you're towing.
Now you have the basic accessories listed, let's talk about the realities of caravanning costs.
Touring caravan running costs
Although it's cheaper per night to stay on a campsite than in a hotel or B&B, there are other costs to note.
It's a good idea to jot down the monthly running costs of owning a caravan. On top of your finance costs (if you've bought the van on finance) there are other costs. You will need to pay for insurance, servicing and, perhaps, storage.
It's better to be aware of the full costs of owning a touring caravan before you commit. Here are some frequently asked questions and points about the costs of owning a touring caravan.
- Touring caravan insurance — Make sure you insure your caravan. You'd be upset if someone stole it or you had an accident when towing which might write it off. Caravan insurance varies in cost depending on the model, where you store it and more factors.
- Do I need insurance for a touring caravan? — It's not compulsory, but it'd be foolish to skimp on this cost. Your car insurance covers third-party liability of your caravan. But, it does not cover damage or theft.
- How much is a service on a caravan? — To service, a single-axle caravan can cost around £200. A twin-axle caravan costs around £230. But, check with an Approved Workshop Scheme company for a precise quote.
- Does a touring caravan need an MOT? — No. A caravan doesn't need an MOT, but you do need to keep it in a 'roadworthy condition'. Your caravan has moving parts and will be shaken about on the road. It's not only wise; it's essential to service it regularly, so you and other road users are safe.
- Where should I store my caravan? — It's possible to store a caravan on your drive. But, that depends on whether your local authority allows you to store it on your property. Also, your insurance premiums might be higher than storing it in a particular caravan storage site.
All the above are extra costs you should build into your budget.
When you eventually sell your caravan, it will have lost some of its value, but not all of it.
If you've noted down the running costs while owning the caravan, you'll see how much it costs per year.
That's a useful number to know and compare to the cost of other types of holiday you would have taken.
Top caravanning tips
To help you keep caravanning costs down, these tips will help you save money. And, the suggestions will help you get the most out of your investment in a touring caravan.
- Travel light — Get into the habit of storing as little as possible in your caravan when you're towing it. Make sure that anything you store in your van is as light as possible. For example, store plastic crockery in your cupboards and not products made from clay (they won't chip either). Everything you put in your caravan adds to your payload. The less weight you have to tow the more efficient you'll be on fuel.
- Put it overhead — If your payload is modest, consider buying a roof box for your car. You can store items in when you're towing and transfer them into the caravan when you pitch up.
- Watch the MTPLM — Much as owning a big, spacious caravan is attractive, the heavier your caravan, the more you need a big car with a big engine to tow. It's wise to start with a light caravan with a modest MTPLM which you can tow with a car you already own (assuming your current car has a suitable kerbweight).
- Ditch the gas guzzler — Is the car you plan to use to tow with efficient? Towing a caravan can increase your fuel consumption by about 40%. That's why having a fuel efficient towcar which has enough power to tow a caravan is essential. Do this, and the saving on fuel can add up.
- Be a smooth operator — When you tow a caravan you need to adopt a different driving style. That style needs to be calm and efficient. Take it slower, give yourself time to think and plan for when you're on the road. Caravan towing speed limits dictate you mustn't drive faster than 30 mph in a built-up area, 50 mph on single carriageways, and 60 mph on dual carriageways and motorways.
- Check it in for regular care — Taking care of your caravan is worthwhile. Like most products, if you look after it, you will keep on top of any breaks, leaks, bashes or bumps to it. Keep it clean on the outside and inside too. When you sell it, a well-kept caravan with a service is more attractive to buyers or dealers, so you should get a better price for it.
- Keep it secure — Storing your caravan costs money, but it can bring down your insurance costs. Do your sums and work out what you can save on insurance depending on where you can store your caravan securely.
- Insure it like a pro — Before you commit to your caravan shop around for the best insurance quotes. Ask the providers what they need to give you the best insurance policy at an affordable price.
- Join a club — There are two caravanning clubs, namely the Camping and Caravanning Club and the Caravan and Motorhome Club. For a small annual fee, you get many benefits, aside from being able to pitch up at their sites. You can save money on insurance, ferry costs, accessory costs and more. The savings will pay for the membership in no time.
When you started reading, you probably felt overwhelmed by the thought of buying a touring caravan. But, with these tips, you should feel more confident about buying the best touring caravan for you.
The sense of freedom you will experience when on a touring caravan holiday means a lot to caravanners. It's a wonderful experience whether you're with your family, friends or go as a couple.
If you found some caravans you can tow with your car, check our Caravans for Sale section. And get ready to make many happy memories!