The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Caravan for the First Time

purchasing a caravan for the first time

Purchasing a new caravan can be the beginning of a wonderful life of touring freely with your friends and family. Before buying a caravan for the first time, it is essential to understand your needs so that you purchase the correct vehicle.

There is a wide range of manufacturers and caravan models to choose from, providing you with options for couples, families as well as luxury use. Choosing the correct model will directly affect your experience so think carefully.

Caravan manufacturers provide fantastic ranges for people planning to make their way into the camping world. When you are buying a caravan for the first time, you will need to put into consideration certain factors before heading off to your dealer.

They are available in a wide range which can be both overwhelming and confusing, especially when you are purchasing your first caravan. Fear not, we have done most the work for you and we will let you know what you need to consider.

Also, it can be challenging to know if you are making an informed and practical decision. However, you should not allow the decision-making process to detract your overall experience. The entire process of purchasing a new caravan should be an enjoyable, fun, exciting and rewarding process.

For you to ease the hassle and stress as well as make the right, confident and informed decision, here are some of the things you need to know when you are planning to purchase a new caravan.

Your budget

Your initial research will give you a clearer guide to budget. A reasonable budget will give a starting point for your caravan purchase. A quick search will guide you to what is feasible on that budget. Remember that this is the advertised price, as with car sales there is an expectation that there is haggle room. Be prepared to haggle…or at least have someone with you who is.

A good starting point is focusing on the higher range models and then working your way down to the mid-range market depending on affordability.

Mid-range models are currently in higher demand, which means that more are manufactured every year, and it will be simple and easier to get the spare parts. This potentially makes the mid-range caravan models cheaper to maintain and fix. As a result of this, your caravan could be in the position to hold its value for a long time.

I fully understand that you ideally want to look at the premium end of the market but I can honestly say that the mid-range market is also very good. Especially if this is your first caravan.

Define your affordability

What you want and what you can afford are two separate things. It is important that you define affordability early on to focus your attention and stop you wasting your time. Obviously if you are a cash buyer, this is quite straightforward.

It becomes more complicated if you are looking to finance your caravan. Suddenly you are faced with a number of options which sometimes is a little complex. Whatever medium of finance you choose…through the dealer, finance company or bank, ensure you are comparing the overall cost including any administration charges.

At this point you may also want to look at the depreciation values of similar models to judge what they will be worth at the end of the finance period.

Where to buy your caravan

The first question you will ask yourself is whether you want to buy a new caravan or a used one. This may well be influenced by budget but for some, you may well feel there is more value to be gained in the second hand caravan market.

The next question is whether you look to the commercial caravan trade sellers or a private seller. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Much like when buying your car, it is a case of ‘buyer beware’ in the private seller market. You obviously get more legal protection through a commercial trade retailer, but not all offer the same commitment to service so read feedback online to form an opinion.

Advantages of buying from a caravan dealer

  • They can advise you better on needs
  • Often better insider knowledge
  • Checks made for outstanding finance and theft
  • Potential bargains with trade in’s they don’t want
  • Come with a gas safety certificate
  • Accurate pricing with market value

Advantages of buying from a private caravan seller

  • Potential for a bargain
  • You can judge what type of owner they are
  • They may well reveal the faults with some clever questioning
  • It might be the only place where you find the model you want

Buying a caravan is very much like buying a car. The principle and procedure is the same. If you do have a knowledgeable friend that is free when you arrange a viewing, take them along. Their help may be invaluable and they may help you negotiate a better deal.

Consider if your vehicle can tow a caravan

If you are a first time caravan owner, you will need to check if your current car is capable of towing a caravan. Also, you will need to know if you’re limited to specific weights because of the vehicle you drive. Your VIN or Vehicle Identification Number will help you know the exact weight of your current car.

If you are purchasing a new caravan, its weight shouldn’t exceed the recommended 85 per cent of its total weight. Also, you should note down the maximum combined weight before getting your new caravan. After compiling the list of the caravans, you should match your car against it using the available tools.

While most dealers may encourage you to purchase some of the biggest caravans available, your mechanic may well have a different view. Experts understand that both the weight and size of your caravan are essential considerations before purchasing. Safety is a key concern and the well-being of your friends and family members is paramount.

The best rule to follow when buying a new caravan is relating the weight ratios between your car and the trailer. In most cases, lower percentage ratios are the best way forward as having 85 per cent means you have power to climb hills and overtake with relative ease.

Related to this, it is important to consider whether your driving licence allows you have a larger weight caravan. The year 1997 is a key year as this is when the rules change. New drivers who got their licence in 1997 or after have a ‘B’ licence. If you passed your test before then, you have a ‘B + E’ licence.

Read the following post for more detailed information.

Do your research

Purchasing used caravans needs research as it is important you avoid a minefield of future problems. As much as you may wish the process to be simple, you will need to know what to look for when buying a caravan and do thorough research before making an informed decision. For you to carry out successful research, it is essential to understand simple things such as the primary reasons why you are purchasing the caravan and its use. Consider if it will be for your family use or your personal use and how needs will differ.

You will have an idea if you will be using it throughout the year or just a few times. These things should guide you when doing your research. You will probably already know that small caravans aren’t ideal for family trips while those with more miles under their belt may not be suitable for more rugged adventures.

Understanding your requirements will allow you to make better decisions. Better decisions may well save you time and money so it is important that you do your research. Setting clear goals and parameters to what you deem acceptable will help you. Once you are at this stage, you can then start to look at specific models and consider where the value is as well as what functionality is important to you.

There is no shortage of caravan sellers, so it is vital to take your time and browse through them.  Eliminating options that definitely will not suit your unique needs and requirements is a helpful starting point.

Define features and important things you want

You can carry out as much research as you want, but you will not know if the caravan you are planning to purchase is the right one for you until you take your time to inspect it in person.

The camera angles in pictures can be deceptive, and it is possible that what a dealer describes as normal wear and tear, may well mean a barely roadworthy caravan. On viewing a new vehicle, it is important to keep an open mind and don’t go to the viewing thinking you have already bought it. You need to be objective. This is not a time for emotional decision making.

You should take some time to consider an inspection process so that you are covering off your checklist. Whether this is the mechanics, upholstery or even for dampness…they are all important issues that need your attention.

Remember preparation is essential so if you want your inspection process to be smooth; here are some of the items you need to bring with you to make the inspection straight forward;

  • A printed checklist so that you can be clear in your inspection goals. You may even want to consider predefined questions to help your decision making
  • A pen and notepad to make notes about facts and thoughts, this will be invaluable when you consider a few caravans and remembering which was which can be difficult
  • A decent camera to take pictures, this helps when you have a choice of caravans you are interested in
  • A tape measure to confirm the specifications are as listed
  • A damp meter to ensure you are not missing future problem areas
  • A torch or even a good mobile phone light to inspect darker or more obscure areas

Before making your decision, understand that caravans have various features that you will need to consider. These features include separate washroom and shower, maximum and minimum berth requirements, pull out or bunk beds, air cons and alarm as well as awning and heating. These features will impact the selling price so it is important to compare like with like when making a decision.

Since you are buying a caravan for the first time, you will not necessarily know what is available, so you will need to make a list of the items you cannot live without while travelling. It is therefore helpful to look over some forums and read as much as you can. Remember, people will already have been in the position you are in and documented their experience.

Most dealers provide their customers with a basic starter pack that include vital items like fresh water carriers, gas bottle, wastewater, towing mirrors, mains lead, a hitch lock and a wheel clamp among others. If they do not mention this ask them. It may also be worth asking them the discount if you do not accept them, it may well be that you can source them yourself at a cheaper price. Often, these things are used to confuse the price to I always recommend that you establish the core price and then consider what they will do for you to close the deal.

The layout

You might have a clear idea of what kind of layout you need. For some it is quite obvious but for some, they may not have considered it in much detail.

To understand the best layout, you first need to understand how you will live in the caravan. This may seem like a bizarre thing to say and consider but stay with me.

For some people, they only travel to places with full facilities. This means they have no need for a shower or washing machines. This saves them plenty of room. For other, these are essentials that cannot be sacrificed.

You have to also consider how many people will be on board…how many berths. Potentially you may also take guests along. All these factors will impact on the layout of your caravan. Things like this will impact storage options, cooking facilities and sizes of appliances.

The biggest consideration is always the bed. Should you opt for a fixed bed or one that you need to make up every night. Fixed beds obviously take up more room but pull out beds allow that space to be used as alternative spaces…basically giving you more flexibility.

The inspection process

The inspection process is the most important aspect of understanding the value offered and whether it meets your needs. During the inspection process, you should have clear goals and purpose in your mind. Start your inspection with the caravan’s exterior.

Exterior checks on your caravan;

  • Start with a simple visual inspection…any marks, dents and scratches? Are the body panels aligned? If not, it may well have had some kind of accident
  • Check the condition of the tyre. They are simple and relatively cheap to replace but they give an indication of the overall condition of the caravan
  • Use your torch, get under the caravan and inspect the undercarriage. Any signs of damage or rust? Chassis damage is expensive to fix and potentially very dangerous.
  • Look at the suspension…is it in good condition? Any signs of damage? Is the caravan sitting properly?
  • Also take a look at the brakes…everything in order? Are the brake pads in good condition? Again, a good indicator of how well traveled it may have been
  • Move onto the body…do the doors and windows close properly? Are the seals in good condition with no evidence of any kind of leaks?
  • Make sure all the electrics work…lights, brake lights and battery.

If you are happy with the exterior or even, you can negotiate with some faults, it is time to move onto the interior inspection.

Interior checks on your caravan;

Looks and style are subjective so make sure you are comfortable with the way it looks inside. Remember, potentially you may be spending a lot of time in there…you need to like it or at the very least, find it acceptable.

With the interior inspection…consider the following;

  • Does it smell badly? Odours are very hard to remove and the source of them can be very hard to pinpoint.
  • Are there any signs of damp? This is a big issue and your damp meter can help you with the unseen…a visual inspection will not establish impending disasters behind a panel
  • Any sign of rodents or any kind of infestation? Again, this could have caused damage in areas you cannot see
  • Look for any visual damage such as dents to panels and the overall condition of the upholstery. This will indicate how the caravan has been treated by previous owners.
  • What is the condition of the flooring, furniture and fittings? Potentially this may give you some leeway to negotiate later
  • Make a thorough check on the electrics. They can be expensive to fix so this is important. The lights should all be in working order and power is available throughout
  • Look at the water sources and pipes…any obvious issues or any signs of previous leaks? Are they clean?
  • Are the appliances in good working condition? Are any new or recently bought that still have the manufacturer’s warranty?

Summary on purchasing a caravan for the first time

Once you are satisfied with the exterior and interior inspection, you then need to consider wider aspects of the life and history of the caravan. Consider some of the following aspects;

  • The age of the caravan and the user reviews posted online
  • The number of previous owners
  • Where has it spent the majority of its time?
  • Where was it stored when not in use…or did the previous occupants live in it full time?
  • Is the caravans service history and logbook available?
  • Availability of spare parts and are they expensive in comparison to other models?

Other factors to consider when buying a caravan for the first time include the layout, storage options, safety certificates, type of axle, durability and shape.

Caravans are a financial investment, which means that it is vital to consider what you want. Take your time to consider the above factors before making your decision. As they say…act in haste, repent at leisure.

Finally, there are websites dedicated to caravan reviews and user reviews. See what they have to say. Chances are that they will reveal details you didn’t consider and what you thought was a good caravan, might actually be a disaster waiting to happen.

Let me know your thoughts on the buying process. Is there something that should be added or something that needs to be expanded upon? All feedback is important so please leave a comment. Remember, we are a community so it’s important that we share our knowledge…especially to those who want to join the caravanning lifestyle.

buying a caravan for the first time
Buying a caravan for the first time

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You may be interested in reading the following;

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The Pros and Cons of Buying a Static Caravan

Parking a Caravan in a Residential Area – Can I Park It on the Street?

Packing a Caravan Checklist

Is Living in a Caravan Viable…what’s the UK Law Says

How the Water System Works on a Caravan

Do I Need Planning Permission to Put a Static Caravan on My Land?

Can I Tow a Caravan on My Licence?

Are Passengers Allowed to Ride in a Caravan That is Being Towed?

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