Buying a used caravan can be considerably cheaper than forking out for a new one, but only if you don’t face hefty repairs further down the road. Here are some things to look out for before handing over any cash.
How old is the caravan?
Most experts agree that the practical lifespan of a caravan is around 14 years, and that’s for one that’s been properly maintained. The quickest way to find out the unit’s age is by checking the serial number on the chassis, or by looking at the caravan handbook, provided it’s the original one that came with the caravan. Buying a ‘newer’ second hand caravan will cost more but means you’re likely to get one with a better spec and plenty of mod-cons. If you are tempted by an older or obscure model, try and check for availability of spares first, or find out if there’s an owner’s club that can help with advice.
Is the caravan legit?
Caravans are targeted by thieves so be wary of who you’re buying from, especially if it’s a private sale. Check for scratches or damage around the caravan hitch and the wheel rims as this could indicate safety devices have been forcibly removed. If the seller insists on meeting away from his home, this should set off alarm bells. The National Caravan Council has a Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme (CRiS), which you can call to check if the caravan is reported stolen, and has any outstanding HP payments. There is a charge for this service and you’ll need the chassis number. The Caravan Club has a large database of registered caravans in the UK and can also help check if the vehicle is reported stolen.
Is the caravan watertight?
Making sure the caravan is watertight is important because water ingress can cause a lot of damage and is costly to put right. The key areas to check include all windows, the roof, any aerials or flues, and the roof light surrounds. Take your time and be thorough, checking also the body corners, road lights, external locker, and awning rail. Inside the caravan, open all cupboards and lockers and look for any obvious signs of dampness. Check under the sink, feel all cushions and mattresses, and press the walls for softness that could indicate water has got in. Look for signs of where the veneer or paper has been repaired, and remember to use your nose – if the inside smells mouldy, be wary! A hand-held damp meter can also be useful for checking moisture levels, and is widely available at DIY stores.
Check that everything works
Look under the caravan for signs of corrosion, as well as rust on the bodywork. Are the tyres in good condition? Check the tread and for any cracks in the sidewalls. If the tyres are older than five years, they’ll need to be replaced so factor the cost of this in if you’re making the seller an offer. Try the corner steadies to make sure everything works smoothly, and make sure the hitch is intact and operates easily. Check all doors, door locks, windows, window locks, taps, and the water pump – in short, every last detail.
Ask to take the caravan for a test run to see how it performs under normal towing conditions. Try out the overrun brakes to make sure they are smooth and effective when you apply the car brakes, and generally get a feel for how your car and the caravan handle together. Finally, if you’re new to caravanning, try and take along a friend with more experience, who will know what to look out for. It’s good advice to take someone else with you anyway, because when it comes to buying a caravan, two pairs of eyes are always better than one.