Welcome to our comprehensive guide to buying a used caravan. Whether you’re a seasoned caravanner that’s already done a lap and are ready for another or a first-time buyer ready for that great combination of R&R and adventure, this guide will take you through everything you need to know about buying a used caravan.
As we buy and sell used caravans ourselves, we can help you make an informed decision by understanding how to assess the condition of the caravan and its roadworthiness and how to choose the right one for you. And if you’re still searching, you can view our used caravans here.
Table of Contents:
The real advantages of buying a used caravan
If you’re looking to buy a caravan, purchasing a used one is an excellent option. Not only can it be more affordable than buying brand new, but there are plenty of other advantages too.
- They’re more affordable: One of the big advantages of buying a used caravan is that it saves you money. You’re essentially getting the same thing - a new-to-you caravan - but at a significant discount (if it's in good condition). By opting for a used caravan, you may also get more features and amenities for your money than you would in a new caravan.
- Depreciation: Caravans, like any other vehicle, experience the most significant depreciation during the first few years. By purchasing a used caravan, you let the previous owner absorb the initial depreciation, allowing you to enjoy a more stable resale value if you decide to sell it in the future.
- Expanded range of options: Buying used opens up a broader range of caravan models, brands, and features to choose from. You can explore various levels, models and styles, finding the one that best suits your preferences and needs. You may come across more retro models that are no longer in production but offer unique characteristics or layouts that you want.
- Faster availability: When purchasing a new caravan, you often have to wait for it to be manufactured and delivered. With used caravans, you can find options readily available, allowing you to hit the road sooner. This is particularly advantageous if you have a specific travel timeframe you’re working with.
- Pre-loved character: Used caravans often carry a sense of character and nostalgia. They may have been cherished by previous owners and hold stories of past adventures. Choosing a used caravan can add a touch of charm and history to your travel experiences, creating a unique connection with your vehicle.
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Key factors to consider when buying a used caravan:
As with buying anything pre-loved, there are a few important things to look for and keep in mind when buying a pre-owned caravan. Here are some of the important ones:
- Condition: it’s important to inspect all areas of the caravan thoroughly before you purchase – from the shell and roof joints to the interior fittings. Look for any visible signs of damage or wear and ask questions about any potential issues that you have noticed during your inspection.
- Maintenance history: a caravan that’s been lovingly maintained is a real gem so look for caravans that have had owners who cared, maintained the caravan and have paperwork to show it. Not all will keep the paperwork but may be able to tell you its maintenance history.
- Ownership history: Understanding the ownership history is essential. Inquire about the number of previous owners, how long each owner had the caravan, and if it has been involved in any accidents. Additionally, check for any outstanding financial or legal obligations associated with the caravan.
- Weight: The size of the caravan is important and understanding how it drives with your vehicle. A test drive is highly recommended so you can get a feel for how the caravan drives and potentially, if it’s too heavy for your towing vehicle.
- Make & model: Are there any caravan styles or makes and models that you’re after? Ones you’ve been in before that really liked? Knowing what features you’d like or an idea of the layout that will work for you is a great place to start.
This article on what to look for when buying a used caravan also has a number of great questions to ask yourself before your start shopping so that you get the caravan that’s right for you.
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Assessing the condition of the caravan: what do look for
When buying a used caravan, assessing its condition is crucial to ensure you're making a worthwhile investment. A thorough evaluation will help you identify any potential issues or maintenance requirements. Let's explore the key areas to consider when assessing the condition of a used caravan.
Do an interior and exterior inspection:
Body Condition - look for:
- Any signs of damage
- Condition of the windows, doors, and roof for leaks, cracks, or damage
- Check that the exterior panels are secure and properly aligned
Paint and finish
Is there any fading, peeling, or discolouration? This can indicate poor maintenance or exposure to harsh weather conditions.
Seals and seams
Examine the seals and seams around windows, doors, and other openings. Look for signs of cracking, deterioration, or gaps. Well-maintained seals help prevent water from getting in.
Awnings and attachments:
If the caravan has awnings, check their condition, functionality, and ease of use. Be sure to open and close them all by yourself to be sure you can.
Check any additional attachments or accessories like bike racks or propane boxes, for their integrity and usability.
What is the general condition of the inside of the caravan? Look for stains, odours, or signs of neglect. A well-maintained and clean interior is a good indication that the caravan has been well looked after.
While you will likely want to get a professional to help you in this area, this is an idea of what you would look for mechanically in a used caravan:
- Chassis and suspension: Inspect the chassis for signs of damage, corrosion, or structural issues. Check the suspension system for wear, including springs, shock absorbers, and bushings.
- Tyres and brakes: Check the condition of the tyres, including tread depth and wear. Look for any sidewall damage or cracks. Check the braking system for responsiveness and inquire about the age and service history of the brake pads and discs.
- Hitch and towing mechanism: Ensure that the hitch and towing mechanism is in good condition. Verify that the coupling engages and disengages smoothly and securely. Check for any signs of wear or damage on the tow ball and coupling mechanism.
Appliances and amenities:
The inside of the caravan comes with its own set of things to look at and check. They include:
- Test the functionality of the stove, oven, microwave, fridge, freezer and any other kitchen appliances
- Do all control knobs and buttons work correctly?
- Does the fridge cool and keep its temperature?
- Does the freezer freeze things?
- Do all sinks, showers and toilets work?
- Are there any leaks, blockages, or signs of damage?
- Do the water supply and drainage systems work properly?
- Do all faucets, taps and valves operate smoothly?
Heating and cooling systems:
The caravan may have air conditioning or heating units installed and if so, check that they work properly.
Ventilation fans will likely be installed and so check that all work well.
Another great job for professionals, especially if you want to inspect solar panels, batteries or wiring, but it’s important to test the electrical system.
What you can test yourself is that lights, switches and electrical outlets work. And be sure that the caravan works off of both battery power and mains connection (assuming both are available).
Test all electrical and entertainment equipment like TVs, radios, DVD players, etc, to be sure they work.
Where to look for signs of water damage:
- Roof and ceiling: Look for any water stains, discolouration, or sagging in the roof or ceiling. These can indicate water leaks or roof sealant issues.
- Walls and floors: Inspect the walls and floors for soft spots, bulges, or discolouration. Pay attention to any signs of delamination (where materials or layers are separating), which may suggest water damage.
- Window seals: Check around windows for signs of water entry, such as water stains, mould, or dampness.
- Bathroom and plumbing: Examine the bathroom area for any signs of water damage, including water stains, soft spots, or peeling wallpaper. Check underneath sinks and around plumbing connections for leaks or moisture.
It's important to note that if you're unsure about assessing the condition of a used caravan yourself, consider hiring a professional caravan inspector. They have the expertise to conduct a comprehensive evaluation and provide detailed insights into the condition of the vehicle.
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Safety and Roadworthiness
One of the most important things you need to check on a used caravan is its roadworthiness. A used caravan should have been registered but if it’s not, there will be a few extra steps for you to go through.
This is the QLD Dept of Transport's guide to what's required for registering a caravan.
And this article from Car Sales will give you more information regarding caravan registration state by state.
In terms of a safe and enjoyable travel experience, it’s important to check the following in regard to safety:
- Towing compatibility: Confirm that the used caravan is compatible with your towing vehicle. Check the weight specifications and towing capacity of your vehicle to ensure it can safely tow the caravan. Consider factors such as the Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM), Gross Combination Mass (GCM), and the compatibility of the towing hitch and coupling system.
- Safety inspections and certifications: Inquire about any safety inspections or certifications the caravan has undergone. Look for documents such as roadworthy certificates or gas compliance certificates, which indicate that the caravan meets the required safety standards. These inspections ensure that the caravan's essential components are in good working condition.
- Tyre, brake, and suspension evaluation: Assess the condition of the caravan's tyres, brakes, and suspension system. Check the tire tread depth and examine the sidewalls for any signs of damage or cracks. Inspect the brake system for responsiveness and inquire about the age and maintenance history of the brake pads and discs. Evaluate the suspension system, including springs, shock absorbers, and bushings, to ensure they are in good working order.
- Safety features and equipment: Verify the presence and functionality of crucial safety features and equipment in the caravan.
Consider the following when checking safety equipment:
- Fire safety equipment: Check if the caravan is equipped with a fire extinguisher, smoke detectors, and a carbon monoxide alarm to ensure early detection and prevention of potential hazards.
- Safety chains and breakaway system: Ensure that the caravan has safety chains that properly attach to the towing vehicle and a functional breakaway system. The breakaway system activates the brakes on the caravan if it becomes detached from the towing vehicle.
- Stabilizers and anti-sway devices: Look for stabilizers or anti-sway devices that enhance the stability and control of the caravan during towing, minimizing the risk of accidents or loss of control.
- Reflectors and lighting: Inspect the reflectors and lighting system to ensure they are in good working condition. This includes indicators, brake lights, reversing lights, and hazard lights. Adequate visibility on the road is essential for safe towing.
If you have any doubts about the safety or roadworthiness of a used caravan, it's recommended to engage a professional caravan inspector or seek guidance from an experienced caravan dealer like us. We can provide expert advice and help ensure your chosen caravan meets the necessary safety standards.
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Features and amenities: what to look for in a used caravan
When buying a used caravan, the inside is really important. You want to be comfortable as you travel, be able to access things easily, sleep well and have places to put things. Here are some ideas of what to look for.
Sleeping and seating capacity:
How many people will you be travelling with and how many beds with you need?
Look for the following:
- Bed configurations: Check if the caravan has fixed beds, fold-out beds, or bunk beds. Are the sizes fine and are they comfortable enough?
- Seating options: Does everyone have somewhere to sit while travelling, eating and hanging out? Can any seating be converted into an extra bed?
- Storage space: Is there enough storage? Look for overhead compartments, under-seat storage, and wardrobes to put things away and keep the living area clutter-free.
The kitchen is the heart of your caravan and you’ll really want this space to work well for you. Pay attention to the following aspects:
- Cooking appliances: Check if the caravan has the appliances that you’d like to use or that they could be installed. These could include a gas stove, oven, microwave, or barbeque. Ensure they are in good working condition.
- Refrigeration: Is the fridge big enough? Is a freezer included? Do you need a freezer? Check if it operates on gas, electricity, or both.
- Sink and water supply: Assess the sink's size and functionality. Is a freshwater tank and a wastewater tank. Are any filters in place for drinking water?
- Food preparation space: Counterspace will be in short supply but is there enough for you?
Having a functional and comfortable bathroom is essential for a pleasant travel experience. Consider the following:
- Toilet facilities: Check if the caravan has a fixed toilet, composting toilet or a cassette toilet. Do you want to handle emptying a black water tank or not? What about a cassette? Can you replace what’s there if you don’t like it?
- Shower: Assess the shower area for size, water pressure, and temperature control. Determine if it meets your needs and preferences.
- Storage and ventilation: Look for storage options for toiletries and towels. Are there vents or windows that will help air out the area?
Heating and cooling systems:
Depending on where you’re travelling, you may want some heating or cooling options. Check what’s already installed and if you’ll need to add anything extra. Also, check that the power system can handle any additional modifications you’d like to make.
Electrical setup and entertainment options:
The age of the caravan may impact what electrical options are available to you, so keep that in mind, but here are a few things to think through:
- Are there enough outlets?
- What can you run off of batteries only?
- How long can you camp using only batteries?
- Can you charge USBs?
- Is there anything additional you’ll require power for?
These should give you a great starting point when buying a used caravan. You can see our used caravan listings. Many of these checks, we’ve already taken care of and it’s basically left to you to choose the one you love the most. Reach out if you have any questions or see something you like.
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