If you’re new to caravanning and really sold on the idea of buying your first caravan you are quite likely to be bowled over by the interior, upholstery, gizmos and gadgets on the first caravan you see. Try to remain objective. There’s a huge amount of choice out there and factors like the caravan layout and all-up weight are much more important than the mocha edging of the scatter cushions.
Familiarise yourself with the main caravan layouts and the market prices for the makes and models which you are interested in. The major caravan manufacturers tend to copy one another’s successful layouts, so you’ll get used to the most common variations, but you may come across the odd unusual layout on the used market that’s ideal for your specific needs.
It’s vital to work out which layout will suit your specific needs and stick to your guns. Look at lots of different layouts among dealers’ selections. Take the kids with you. Sit in the caravans as a family and imagine what they would be like in use. After a while, you’ll instinctively know what you need. Also consider how you can increase that space with a caravan awning.
Caravan shows are a great way of weighing up the market, but going to a show with an open chequebook is not a good idea. After looking at a couple of dozen layouts, at least half-a-dozen salesmen will be competing for your business and you run the risk of handing over a deposit to secure a ‘never to be repeated’ deal on something that, on reflection, may not be quite right for you.
Establish exactly which layout you want and what you’re prepared to pay for competing makes and models, then play hardball to get the best deal.
It’s tempting to look at eBay, but we’d suggest the following precautions: DON’T bid without seeing the van; DO know what you’re bidding on – establish the exact make, model and year before making any sort of bid; DO check the vendor’s feedback (you’ll find it in the top right hand corner of the page); DON’T get into a competitive bidding war; DO check that the vendor will accept your preferred method of payment. Pay on collection.
Take all the usual precautions, and make all the necessary checks (documents, CRiS etc) to reasssure yourself that the sale is valid and legal. That said, a seller with 100+ positive feedbacks is unlikely to deliberately mess you around.
When inspecting used caravans for sale, your sense of smell offers the best indication of the caravan’s condition. If it smells mouldy, check for signs of damp. Odd stains, discoloured areas, mould or soft wall-board – especially inside the roof locker areas – are the tell-tail signs. Water ingress usually indicates an issue with the bodyshell, so not only will the affected area need to be replaced, the defect that caused it will need fixing.
Check the caravan over carefully for dents, broken or missing trim and bulging side panels. Have a good look at the hitch and tyres for signs of excessive wear. Look out for signs that the caravan has been re-sealed or repaired in some way – such as areas of poor paint-matching or evidence of filler or excess sealant.
Occasionally, we stumble across the odd hidden gem of a used caravan that has been stored in a clean, dry barn and taken out only once a year for the last decade. It may have garish outdated fabrics and rather dated design, but if it has been properly looked after and regularly serviced, it could well be a better buy than a newer caravan.
Before finally signing on the bottom line, verify what sort of warranty you are getting from the dealer (if any), its duration and what’s covered. If the dealer has agreed to carry out any repairs as a condition of the sale, make sure you both understand exactly what this constitutes – and try to get it in writing together with a timescale for the repairs to be effected.
Also make sure the CRiS (Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme) documentation is all in order and if it isn’t, suggest the dealer pays the £14.95 for a search to establish that the caravan hasn’t previously been stolen, written off or is subject to outstanding finance payments.
Ensure all the manuals for the gas, electrical and water systems are intact – together with the original owner’s manual. If there’s a service history, make sure this is all up to date.
Finally, some dealers have campsites nearby, where you can stay for a couple of nights. If something goes wrong, you’re close to the dealer to have it fixed.