Guide to Buying Your First Caravan
Caravan holidays have seen a big boost in popularity over the last few years as the pandemic has highlighted many of the benefits of this kind of travel. If you’ve been tempted to give it a go, you might be wondering where to start when it comes to buying your first caravan. We’ve put together this guide to get you on the right track and help you find your perfect caravan.
1. What size caravan is suitable for you and your tow car
One of the first things you need to look at when thinking about buying a caravan is making sure that you’re looking at models that are suitable for your tow car and your driving licence. The rules have changed recently, so it’s worth double checking you know what the law is. There is information on the government website. To summarise:
- If you passed your driving test from 1 Jan 1997, you’re allowed to tow trailers up to 3,500kg MAM (Maximum Authorised Mass). You don’t need to do anything, the DVLA will update your licence automatically.
- If you passed your driving test before 1 Jan 1997, the change won’t affect you. You will still be able to drive a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 8,250kg MAM.
You’ll still need to check your car’s handbook to find out how much your vehicle can tow as it might not be the maximum your driving licence allows you to tow.
2. Do you want to buy a new or used caravan?
Once you’ve worked out which caravans you are able to tow, you’ll want to think about whether you want to buy new or used. Make sure you have a clear idea of what your budget is, as this is the main factor as to whether you’ll go for a new caravan or not.
Used caravans are popular with first time buyers for a number of reasons. Firstly, just like a car, a new caravan will start depreciating in value as soon as you’ve purchased it. And, just like a car, the rate at which the value depreciates slows down as time goes on. This means that you can often get really great deals on caravans that are only a couple of years old but heavily discounted on their original price.
Used caravans are also a great option for those with young children or pets so you don’t worry too much about a bit of wear and tear. It can also take a little while to get used to towing a caravan, so trying it out with a used vehicle can sometimes be a good idea.
However, if you’ve got the budget for a new caravan, there’s no reason why first time buyers shouldn’t go for it. You are likely to have a wider range of options and you’ll have all the latest features to enjoy as well.
3. What are your ‘must have’ features?
Make sure you do your research and find out what your options are before you set your heart on a caravan. Have a good look through different models online and see what features they have. Start making a list of those features you think are essential and those that would be nice to have.
For example, how many beds do you need and do they need to be fixed beds? Is the caravan primarily for you? You and your partner? Or the whole family? Will you be taking guests with you occasionally? Will you be going on long trips or mostly long weekends? Asking these sorts of questions will help you work out what configuration is best for you.
It might help to split out the caravan by area, such as ‘kitchen’, ‘washroom’, ‘living room’ and ‘bedroom’ to help you identify those must-have features more easily.
The best way to work out what features you’re going to need in your first caravan is to give it a go. If possible, get yourself off for a short trip in a borrowed or hired caravan before you buy your first vehicle.
Once you’ve got this list together, you can start thinking about layouts. Do you need a big washroom? If so, you might want to look at models with washrooms at the rear that stretch the full width of the caravan. Do you need a separate bedroom and living room? Or will a space that can do both be fine for you?
4. Learn the language
It’s really important to do as much research as you can before you commit to anything as you’ll quickly find there’s a whole lot more to a caravan than you might realise. You might also find that you’re a bit baffled by all the terms and acronyms that experienced caravanners use regularly. Make sure you know your MAM from your kerb weight and your island beds from your French beds. Becoming familiar with all the jargon will make you much more comfortable when looking through specification lists and trying to work out which model is for you.
5. Go and see some caravans in person
You might have already been on some caravan holidays, however, it’s always worth going to a dealer and having a good look around several different models and getting the expert advice of the team there. You’ll be able to get a good feel for what you do and don’t like, what sorts of layouts seem right to you and, you never know, the salesperson might well be able to point you in the direction of your dream caravan.
6. Buying privately or from a dealership
If you’ve decided to buy a used caravan, you’ll have the option of buying a vehicle from a dealership or from a private seller. Many first time buyers opt to go through a dealership as they offer that extra peace of mind, especially if you’re not completely sure what to look out for.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider buying from a private seller if you’ve found the caravan you’re looking for at a good price. If this is the case, we’ve put together a list of some of the things you’ll want to check out before parting with any money.
7. What to look out for if you’re buying a used caravan privately
- First things first, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Approach any deals that seem a bit over the top with caution.
- Always arrange to meet the seller at their home. This means you can check the documents against their address, making sure that everything adds up and that they are who they say they are.
- Make sure you check all the paperwork is in order. Check the CRiS (Central Registration & Identification Scheme) documents and ask for any records of servicing that has been carried out on the vehicle.
- The big thing you need to be on the lookout for is damp. When you first step inside the caravan, see if you can detect a musty or damp smell. If you can, you’ll certainly need to get a proper damp test carried out to see if there’s damage. Have a good look around and pay particular attention to places where there might be water damage, such as around windows, doors and seals. Many people like to do a damp test, whether it smells musty or not.
- Inspect the bodywork. Make sure there’s no damage or oddly placed stickers or decals trying to hide dents or scratches. Take a look at the tyres too. Are they going to need replacing soon?
- Try all of the equipment. Ask the owner for a demonstration if you’re not sure how things work or ask if any of the instruction manuals are still around.
- Try out the beds. Lie down on the fixed beds and see if they suit you or whether the mattresses might need replacing. Make up any other beds and see how easy it is to do and test these ones out too. If things are going to need replacing, make sure you factor this in when thinking about price.
One of the advantages of buying from a dealership is that all of the above will be taken care of for you and the caravan should have been thoroughly checked and tested before being put up for sale. All of the paperwork will be sorted for you as well. Many first time buyers opt to buy from a dealership until they’re a bit more experienced and know exactly what they’re looking for.
Buying your first caravan should be exciting and as stress-free as possible. It can be a big investment and one that we’re sure you’ll treasure for years to come. This means you’ll want to do everything you can to get it right. Follow the tips above and you’ll be well on your way to getting on the road with your perfect caravan.