What to Look for When Buying a Used Caravan

October 26, 2016
What to Look for When Buying a Used Caravan

Shopping for a used caravan online can be exciting and confusing all at once. The sheer number of pre-owned caravan listings online is amazing, but it can also feel pretty overwhelming. How do you even begin to search for a van that is suitable for you, your family, and the adventures you hope to have one day?

In this simple buyer's guide, we’re going to help you unravel the complexities of researching, inspecting and buying a pre-loved caravan. You’ll get advice from industry experts, we’ll help you with pre-purchase considerations, and provide you with a list of checks to make when viewing the van in person all in an effort give you the tools and knowledge you need to start your search, and hopefully find a van that ticks all the right boxes.

Things to consider before buying a used van

It’s true, you’ll probably save a lot of money choosing a pre-owned caravan over a brand new caravan model, but it’s still a huge investment to make. Whether you are able to spend ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty thousand dollars or more, we can’t stress enough how important it is that you formulate a budget and stick to it.

While calculating your budget you should be asking yourself a few questions.

  • What is the maximum towing capacity of our vehicle? Do we need to upgrade our towing vehicle first?

  • How many times a year do we plan on using our caravan? How much money do we need to save for the trips themselves?

  • What size van do we need? How many people does it need to sleep?

  • What are the features that our caravan must have, and what features would be nice, but aren’t essential?

Answering these questions should help you put a limit on your spending. Then it’s time to take a look at all of the used caravans available out there online.

Expert Advice: A blowout on budget could mean you can’t afford to use your new investment as regularly as you’d like – Chris Hooper, Jayco Regional Sales Manager

will this caravan be big enough for your family

Is this van going to be big enough?

Searching for a used caravan online

The beauty of an online marketplace like Outdoria is that you can view listings from dealerships and private sellers all in one place online. It’s the perfect platform for comparing models of different configurations that fit your search criteria.

You can customise your search in a number of different ways, combining search options to focus your efforts on one factor or a number of areas. You can search by condition, location, price, length – even the types of facilities you would like your caravan to have. And of course, you can shop for second-hand caravans by brand. You’ll find well known Australian and international caravan brands such as Jayco, Jurgens, Windsor, Avan, and Coromal available from registered dealers and private sellers around Australia.

Expert Advice: Know and understand the towing weights listed on the towbar or owner’s manual of your vehicle. You can then shop for a van within the weight range of your vehicle, within your budget, and to suit your lifestyle…Research is key, make sure you are fully aware of what’s available on the marketplace that fits your budget – Chris Hooper, Jayco Regional Sales Manager

Visiting your future caravan in person

When you’ve found a few listings that you like it’s time to organise a viewing!

Important: And yes, if you are buying a used van you definitely need to organise a viewing! The internet is an amazing tool and can save you a lot of time searching for a van, but you must not rely on photos, or video, or someone’s word alone – that is unless you are buying from a well-known registered dealer. Unfortunately, there are some bad people out there on the internet that post fake listings as a way to try and steal your money. Robert Lilly from Geelong Caravans stresses the importance of questioning the seller before viewing it in person...

Expert Advice: You must get the seller to prove the van actually exists! There are two key questions you need to ask the seller before arranging a viewing: is it still for sale? And where can I view the van? If they can’t answer these questions, keep looking – Robert Lilley, Geelong Caravans

But don’t let this freak you out. We are simply drawing attention the importance of using technology up to a point, and then relying on physical checks and common sense.

So you’ve found a caravan that has all the bells and whistles you need for adventure and that fits nicely within your budget. You’ve arranged a time to meet the seller and check out the van, but what next? It is vital that you ask the seller the right questions and perform the right vehicle checks before you make your final decision.

Questions to ask the seller

Whether you are talking to a sales person at a registered dealership or a private seller, there are a few questions that you should make sure to ask before running through your checks.

  • How old is the van?

  • Do you have a record of the vans history and maintenance?

  • When was the last service?

  • What trips has the caravan been on?

  • Are there any major problems that need to be fixed?

It’s important to bear in mind that a private seller may not always be 100% transparent when answering these questions: everyone wants to get the best price. If purchasing from a dealership, keep in mind that it is likely the caravan has been serviced and carries a warranty. But it doesn’t hurt to investigate more…

Expert Advice: Because warranty is not mandatory, it’s important to ask dealerships that offer a warranty what types of things are covered by the warranty? A van should have been serviced before sale, so the question to ask is not, 'has the van been serviced?' The question is, 'do you sell them serviced?' – Robert Lilley, Geelong Caravans

Used caravan buyer's checklist

You’re going to want to perform a thorough inspection of the caravan. Don’t stress, even the least auto-savvy buyers can perform these checks – it’s all about knowing what to look for, and using all of your senses to detect problem areas. Be patient and take your time. If the seller is not willing to let you make checks yourself this could be an indication that there is a problem with the van they are not telling you about.

Let’s start with the exterior.

Exterior checks for used caravans

  • VIN number – check that the van's VIN number matches the registration papers.

  • Chassis – make sure to not only visually check the chassis for cracks and rust, but use your ears too. If you gently rock the caravan, does it make any unusual noises aside from the usual sound of the suspension?

  • Suspension – while you are there, inspect the shock absorbers. Are they rusted or brittle? Do they creak audibly when you rock the van?

  • Undercarriage – does the underside of the van look like it has spent a lot of time off-road? How does the bottom of the water tank look? Is there a lot of stone damage, chips and dents?

  • Brakes & bearings – check the brake pads and bearings to make sure they aren’t completely worn out.

  • Tyres – check tyre tread, a good indication of the van’s use. Make sure to feel the tyres as well.

Expert Advice: The tread might be okay, but all tyres have a lifespan, the van could have been sitting unused for a long time. Make sure to check for hairline cracks indicating the tyres are dry and unsafe – Jason, Amazing Caravans & RVs

  • Roof – if you can do so safely, get up on the roof and check for damage, leaks, and rust. If you spot signs of a leak inside the van later this will help you determine the source. If the van has a TV aerial, check for damage while you’re there.

  • Step ladder – does the step ladder fold up and down easily? Does it feel strong and secure? Does it make a lot of noise when you step on it?

  • Walls – visually check for stone damage, rust, deformation on the exterior walls. Run your hand along the wall to feel for damage and inspect the seals around windows for cracking and signs of leaks.

  • Electrical connections – check that the electrical connections are all working and that the cables are in good condition. How does the plastic on the electrical cables look and feel?

  • Gas bottles and connections – does the gas work? Are the fittings in good condition?

  • Towing connection & jockey wheel – make sure that all are in good working order. Does the jockey wheel raise and lower smoothly? Test the bearings in the wheel itself.

timber walled caravans need to be check for rot

You'll want to check this one for rot, and potentially look elsewhere unless you are going to keep it in a museum...

Expert Advice: Use your nose. Can you detect the distinct smell of mould or cigarette smoke? Has the caravan been heavily perfumed to mask those smells? – Jason, Amazing Caravans & RVs

Interior checks

Moving through the interior of the van, you’ll start to connect the dots, determining potential problem areas based on anything you found outside. Use all your senses, and take your time: it's better to find a problem now – that way you might be able to negotiate repairs in the purchase price.

  • Pop tops and camper trailers – the first thing you’ll want to do is verify that the roof and tent extensions raise and lower easily and smoothly. Look for wear and tear on canvas extensions and check seals and zips for signs of leaks.

  • Timber frames – be mindful of rot. Knock the walls checking for hollow spots.

  • Tea stains – look for water staining on the interior walls and around the windows. If you spot evidence of a leak, make sure to find out if it has been fixed or if it’s an ongoing problem.

  • Insects – are there any signs of insect infestation. Check for ants in the kitchen and hollow spots if it’s a timber frame.

  • Silicon & rubber seals – visually check and feel the seals used at wall joints, windows, in the kitchen and bathroom, and where the furniture is connected to the walls.

  • Appliances – do all appliances work? Is there any sign of rust in the oven or in the fridge?

  • Furniture – is it securely fastened to the walls? How does it feel and smell?

  • Bathroom – are there signs of leaking? Is there mould or mildew? Does the shower work, and is there hot water?

  • Lights and electrical components – do all the lights work? Do the TV and radio work? If it has one, does resource monitor function correctly?

  • Kitchenette – look inside all cupboards and check for cleanliness, and see if there are any gaps at the joints. Check for fire extinguishers, and make sure they are charged and serviced. Are there smoke alarms and are they functioning correctly.

  • Windows – make sure all windows open and fasten properly and run your hands along the seals feeling for cracks and dryness.

Expert Advice: If you spot a leak in the roof, you really need to check those areas where water tends to collect as well, like the area around the step ladder and in the four bottom corners of the van – Jason, Amazing Caravans & RVs

Tow Test

If you can it’s a great idea to take the caravan out for a test drive to get an idea how it performs on the road.

  • Hitching & unhitching – how easy is it to hitch and unhitch? Are all parts working smoothly and safely?

  • Taking off – get a feel for the weight of the van behind your vehicle.

  • Cornering – get an idea of how it feels going around a bend.

  • Listen – does it make a lot of noise? This could indicate problems with the suspension, brakes, and chassis.

  • Brakes – test the brakes on a clear road for stopping power.

take the caravan out for a test drive

Take it for a spin!

Final thoughts before making your decision

You’ve gone through all the necessary checks. Maybe you found a couple of minor issues that needed fixing. You can always negotiate repairs with the seller, but keep in mind the age of the caravan you are looking at buying. If it’s twenty years old, the cost of repair might outweigh the benefit. If you are interested in buying an old van, expecting the seller to make extensive repairs before selling at the initial agreed-upon price might be unreasonable. You might need to adjust your budget to include the cost of potential repairs if buying an old or vintage caravan.

And don't forget, you can find a huge selection of new and used caravan and RV parts and acessories right here at Outdoria.

Once you’ve agreed upon the price, any repairs, and warranty details, you’re done! It’s time to shake hands and start refining that plan for your first adventure in your new caravan.

We hope this guide helps you in the search for the perfect used caravan. Knowledge empowers you to make good decisions: our editorial section has the information you need to explore a world of outdoors.

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