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Buying a caravan for the first time? I’ve had so many questions from people over the past few years. Many asking for tips on what to look for when buying a second hand caravan. So I thought I’d put down some of the things that we look for, when we buy 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.
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1. What to Look For When Buying a Used Caravan
The first rule of thumb when buying a used caravan is to make sure it’s structurally sound. And not suffering from the dreaded damp.
When looking for signs of damp in caravans, there a few red flags to look for for. Bear them in mind when you’re checking over a van for the first time.
Signs Of Damp In Caravans
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.
A damp meter is a great way of checking over a van. Sometimes, it could 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!
Thoroughly Check The Interior
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.
Things Check on a Used Caravan Exterior
- 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 five years, they’ll need to be replaced. Five 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 Caravan Layout Is Best?
Choosing the right 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 two-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 four-berth version — we decided to go ahead and buy her.
Choosing The Right Caravan Layout For You
The purchase of Dolly 3 was a little more considered. We looked at a lot of articles on choosing the best caravan layout for families. Plus I’d made a list of things of things to look for.
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 what 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 a Used Touring Caravan?
As well as sites like Caravan Finder, you can buy secondhand caravans from reputable caravan dealers. Our nearest is 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.
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 genuine owners. Both vans also had their original chassis plates.
Other Places You’ll Find Used Touring Caravans For Sale
Dolly 3 was a slightly different kettle of fish. She’s a slightly more modern van than 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. I’ve written another post about CRiS registrations and why it’s important to check..
When to Use Caution When Buying a Used Touring Caravan
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 members of the Travelling Community were selling them.
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. And, because of this, 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 police tracked down the vans, 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 members of the Travelling Community. But — 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.
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 Let an Ugly Caravan Interior Put You Off!
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 You can change all of these things.
Try to look past that when you’re buying a second hand caravan.
The best kind of second-hand caravan is one that’s been owned by someone who has 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!
Have a look at some before and after pictures from our caravan renovation.
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!
Don’t forget though, even though you’ve done these initial checks, when buying a second-hand caravan, you still need to carry out annual checks on your caravan every spring.
Caro Davies is a former art-director turned writer and content-creator, and editor behind UK lifestyle blog The Listed Home. She writes about home-related topics, from interiors and DIY to food and craft. The Listed Home has been featured in various publications, including Ideal Home, Grazia, and Homes & Antiques magazines.