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Buying A Used Caravan: What To Look For

Chris Hopkins
Sep 23, 2021 9:20:28 AM

With so much of the world closed for business, travel options are extremely limited right now. That is unless you have a caravan. However, while caravans afford you immense freedom to go where you want when you want, they’re not all that easy to shop for. Particularly if you’re in the market for a second-hand caravan, the process can be daunting.

When you’re buying a second-hand caravan, there are countless options available to you. This can be exciting and overwhelming all at once. So, to help you shop for second-hand caravans, check out our used caravan buying guide. In this guide, we cover exactly what to look for when buying a second-hand caravan. Here’s what we’ll look at:

Why choose a second-hand caravan?
Things to think about before you buy.
The best time to buy a used caravan.
Where to buy used caravans.
Arranging a viewing for a second-hand caravan.
Buying a used caravan checklist.
What paperwork do you need to see?
Negotiating with the seller.
How to pay for a second-hand caravan.
Second-hand caravan insurance.

Used caravans are great for holidaymakers on a budget. While new caravans will inevitably cost tens of thousands of dollars, many second-hand caravans are very reasonably priced. If that wasn’t enough, they also hold their value better than new ones. This means wear and tear will matter far less. Plus, you may be able to sell yours for a similar price later on.

There are also many different makes and models out there. So, finding the perfect caravan for your needs shouldn’t be a problem. And, given that most caravanners take great care of their vehicles, you’ll usually find that they’re sold in top condition.

Things to think about before you buy a used caravan


Before you start browsing second-hand caravans for sale, you’ll need to ask yourself some important questions. They will help you to narrow down your search faster and make the buying process less stressful.

What caravan can you afford?

The price of your new caravan will depend on several factors. These include the make, model, and specifications and the mileage, age, and markup. So, set a budget. You can find cheap second-hand caravans for sale if you want something basic. However, you may have to raise your limits for, say, used off-road caravans with en-suite bathrooms.

Caravan layout

The layout of your new caravan will be crucial. At the end of the day, this is going to be your holiday home. So, it has to be comfortable for everybody. Ask yourself how many people will need to sleep in the caravan and start looking for models with the right number of beds. Keep in mind that the designated bed spaces in a caravan are called “berths.”

The amenities will be similarly important. You may, for example, need to look for secondhand caravans with toilet and shower facilities. But, if you’re planning on heading exclusively to campsites, inbuilt facilities might not be necessary.

Towing vehicle


Your car has to be able to safely tow your caravan. Therefore, knowing its towing capacity will be essential. This just means the maximum weight the car can tow according to the manufacturer. You should be able to find it in your car’s handbook.

As a general rule, you should not attempt to tow any fully laden caravan that is more than 85% of the car’s curb weight. This is especially true for inexperienced caravanners. If the car you have is too small, you may need to upgrade that first. Remember that you won’t be able to drive your new caravan away without an appropriate towing vehicle.

Other considerations

Other important considerations include how often you’d like to use the caravan. If you plan on taking it out often and for long trips, your requirements are likely to be different. For example, you might want more space and a better bathroom, kitchen, and dining facilities if you use your caravan all the time.

How the caravan looks is similarly significant. However, don’t let a shoddy interior put you off. You can decorate a secondhand caravan cheaply and effectively. So, if you find one that looks dated but has everything you need, you should still consider investing. 

The best time to buy a used caravan

If you go through a dealer, the best time of year to buy a used caravan is around Christmastime. This is when foot traffic through dealerships is at its lowest as caravanners wait for the latest models to be released. So, sellers tend to be more willing to cut a good deal.

With private sellers, however, you might be better off shopping in the winter months. Most people are more likely to retire their old caravans in the colder weather. So, there are sure to be plenty on offer.


Where to buy used caravans


You can find used caravans for sale online, at dealerships, and through manufacturers. If you’re unsure where to start looking, check out the pros and cons of each.

Private sellers

You can find secondhand caravans for sale on Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, and more. All you have to do is filter your search based on your requirements and browse the wide selection available. This is how most buyers find the best deals.

And, because private online sellers don’t work on commission, you’ll have more wiggle room when it comes to negotiating. Not to mention the fact that the seller might be happy to throw in some extras to sweeten the deal. If, for example, they’re giving up caravanning for good, you could end up driving away with an awning and some camping chairs, too.

However, you will have to do extra research to ensure the seller is legitimate and the caravan is as described. There are also extra charges you may have to cover if you buy through a private seller, such as servicing. So, while the lower overall cost is likely to be worth it, you’ll have to do more to make sure the sale goes smoothly.

Caravan dealers

Another option is to browse and buy through registered dealers. The downside of doing so is that you will almost definitely pay more than if you were buying a used caravan privately. But, on the other hand, you are better protected from a legal standpoint.

For starters, any caravan purchased through a dealer must have been serviced and will carry a warranty. Further, dealers are legally obligated to tell you whether or not your caravan is in a roadworthy condition. So, you can be sure of the quality of your caravan before you take it home. Then, once it’s yours, you have recourse if something goes wrong.

Caravan manufacturers

Some manufacturers sell refurbished, secondhand caravans to the public. They’re unlikely to be advertised as widely as newer models, though. As such, you may have to sign up to manufacturer mailing lists to find out when and how to buy. Just bear in mind that the used models' manufacturers sell tend to be higher-end and more up-market. Therefore, they are generally fairly expensive.

Arranging a viewing for a secondhand caravan

When you find a used caravan you love, you should arrange a viewing. This is particularly important for people who buy from a private seller. Viewing the vehicle is the only surefire way to ensure that it looks and performs as it’s supposed to. Some sellers even post fake listings, so arranging a viewing will help you steer clear of scammers.

Similarly, some people sell stolen caravans. So, before you make an appointment, it’s worth carrying out a background check. You don’t want to fall in love with a caravan that wasn’t acquired by legitimate means. You could end up losing both it and your money if you’re not careful.

Once your viewing has been arranged, it’s time to do some research. If you show up unprepared, it’s all too easy to forget to ask important questions or inspect key areas. So, make a list of questions. These could include but are not limited to the following:

● How long ago was the caravan serviced?
● How many times has the caravan been used?
● What sorts of trips has the caravan been on?
● How old is the caravan?
● Does the caravan require any major maintenance work?

You should also take a notebook, a pen, and a camera. That way, you can make note of any issues you find and jot down new questions that come to mind.


Buying a used caravan checklist

buying a used caravan checklist

Going to view a caravan can be really exciting. Still, it’s important to keep a cool head. Until you’ve carried out some thorough checks, there’s no telling whether it will be right for you. And don’t worry, you won’t need much technical know-how. As long as you know what red flags to look for, your inspection should go smoothly. A handy checklist could be invaluable here.

It’s worth noting that, if the owner refuses to let you check the caravan, that could be a sign there’s something wrong with it. Most sellers, however, won’t have a problem with you taking a good look around. To help you carry out an effective inspection, here’s what to check when buying a used caravan.

Is the caravan watertight?

Damp can be disastrous for caravanners. If water makes its way in, it will cause damage to the walls, floor, roof, and structure. So, check to make sure the secondhand vehicle you’re viewing is watertight. The best way to do so is with a damp metre, which you can purchase from your local DIY shop. Or the seller might have one that you can use.

The areas where you’re most likely to find damp in a caravan are by the roof light, the windows, and the door. Check inside cupboards, too, especially if they have a corresponding outside seal. Around these and other areas, inspect the wallpaper for signs of discoloration and press any areas you’re suspicious of. If they’re stained and soft, that’s a telltale sign of water damage.

Does the caravan have rust?

Rust is another big problem for caravan owners. Some older caravans are more susceptible because many were built before rust-proofing materials became mainstream. If you accidentally invest in a used caravan with rust problems, you could end up spending a fortune on repairs.

The key places to look for rust are on the galvanized frame and the steadies underneath the caravan. It can also commonly be found in window and door sills, under floor mats, and on exhaust pipes. Bubbles on the external paintwork are another key indicator that you should check for.

Is the caravan secure?

Security is crucial in a caravan. So, during the viewing, check the catches and hinges. They must be able to move freely and lock effectively. Also, keep an eye out for cracks in the windows. Any damage could compromise the caravan’s safety and be expensive to fix.


Checking the exterior


Damage to a caravan’s exterior can be unsightly and expensive to repair. Remember that just because you’re buying used doesn’t mean you have to settle for poor quality. So, here’s what to look for when buying a secondhand caravan, starting with the exterior.


Check to see whether the walls are scratched, warped, or dented. Keep an eye out for bubbling paint, which can be a sign of a rust problem. Finally, ensure the seals around the windows are tight and have no gaps.


Look out for leaks and make sure all roof accessories have been installed correctly and kept in good condition.


The tread on the caravan’s tyres needs to be 1.5mm at a minimum and the wear should be even across all four wheels. If not, they will be considered unroadworthy. You should also check for punctures and signs of cracking or bulging. Look at the date stamp, too, to be certain the tyres aren’t too old to drive on.

Towing equipment

Have a look at the hitch. If it’s damaged, that could be a sign that the caravan was obtained by illegal means. It’s also important to ascertain whether the hitch will be compatible with your towing vehicle. Next, test the jockey wheel to make sure it moves with ease.

Cables and connectors

Inspect the electrical cables for signs of fraying. You should also check the connectors for the caravan’s gas bottle. Then, make sure both electric and gas work as expected.


Checking the Interior


Now for the interior checks that you’ll need to carry out when viewing a secondhand caravan.


You must first find out whether there’s a working smoke detector and a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Check all the appliances and find out whether they work properly. Then, have a look at their electrical tags to ensure they are test and tag compliant. Finally, inspect all cupboards for signs of disrepair


Turn on the taps and shower to test the running water. You should also check to see if the hot water works as, it should. Take some time to look at the plumbing and look out for leaks.


Ask yourself whether the beds are comfortable enough for you and your family and if they’re easy enough to use. The amount of space you have in each berth may also be a consideration.

Living Area

It’s important that you enjoy the furniture, so try out the sofas and chairs. As you do, take note of whether they’re damaged or smelly.


Try all the light switches and make sure there are enough power boards for your needs. If possible, you could also test out a charging wire or something similar. And don’t forget to check if the appliances, television, and radio all work, too.

Taking the caravan for a test drive


If the seller allows it, hitch the caravan to your towing vehicle and take it for a test drive. While some owners might be hesitant, it is crucial that you check everything works as it should when in transit. Test driving a used caravan will give you an invaluable insight into how it performs on the road. It’s also a great opportunity to practice setting up with the previous owner there to talk you through the process.

Be mindful of how sturdy the caravan feels as you tow it, particularly during braking and around corners. Take it onto the freeway to check how it works at top speed, too. You could even test it out off-road if you’re in the market for second-hand off-road caravans. Doing so is the only way to be sure that the vehicle is safe to tow.

Remember to give yourself more space and time to brake, reverse, and accelerate during the drive, especially if it’s your first time. Also, don’t forget to adhere to the lower speed limit when you’re towing. For example, in Western Australia, the maximum legal speed limit is 100km/h for any vehicle towing a caravan.

What paperwork do you need to see?

So, you enjoyed the test drive and think this might be the caravan for you. Before you jump into negotiating, you need to check that the documentation is correct. As such, you should ask to see:

● The caravan’s handbook.
● Records of service history.
● Valid warranties.
● Certificates for gas and electricity.
● The registration papers.
● Instruction manuals.

Look through and check that what the owner has told you is consistent with what you find in the documents. If, say, the caravan’s last service wasn’t as recently as promised, ask the seller why. Or, if the vehicle identification number (VIN) you find on the caravan isn’t the same as the one listed in the registration papers, you have your reasons to be suspicious. To help you we've put together a list of 12 hot tips to ensure you don't make a caravan buying mistake. 

Negotiating with the Seller


As long as everything is as it should be, you can start to think about paying for your used caravan. But, before you put any money down, try negotiating. This will be easier if you’re buying through a private seller. They are far more likely to be open to doing a deal below the asking price. Plus, if you found any faults during your checks, you can use this as leverage.

However, don’t set your price too low or too high, and don’t attempt to play hardball. If you’re respectful and fair, chances are you’ll end up with a better deal. The same can be said for negotiating with dealers. A big difference here, though, is that you’ll probably struggle to get a better price out of a dealer.

Instead, try negotiating on things like warranties, guarantees, and servicing. Or ask for extra accessories to be thrown into the mix to make the deal more worth your while. At the end of the day, if you don’t ask, you won’t get what you want.

How to pay for a secondhand caravan

There are a couple of different options available to you when it comes to buying a secondhand caravan. Generally speaking, though, you’ll need to take out a loan to pay. While you might get a great deal, used caravans are still expensive, especially if they’re nearly new or well looked after.

When buying through a dealer, you’ll usually be offered a loan through their in-house finance agencies. This is often the most convenient route, although you’re unlikely to get the best rates. That's where Ausloans can help. We are experts in caravan finance and have access to multiple lenders to help you find the best finance deal. 

Our advice is to organise your finance before you start shopping around for your dream caravan. The second-hand caravan market can be a fickle place. So, if you don’t secure a loan quickly, the seller may move on to the next best offer.

Finding the best caravan finance rates online

To find competitive personal loans fast, apply through an established finance group with an extensive panel of lenders. As a prime example, here at Ausloans, we can offer the best caravan finance rates in Australia. All you need to do is complete the paperless application form, which shouldn’t take more than two minutes. Then, from a panel of over 40 lenders, you will be matched with quotes that make sense for your circumstances.

With Ausloans, you could get your secondhand caravan loan approved within minutes of starting an application. All you have to do then is set up a payment plan before driving away with your used caravan.

Secondhand caravan insurance

Don’t forget to insure your secondhand caravan. There are a few options available to you, although it is recommended that you opt for comprehensive insurance cover. If, however, you choose third-party fire and theft insurance or third-party property insurance, you will only be covered under a small number of circumstances.

With comprehensive used caravan insurance, you’ll have a safety net if disaster strikes. This could include accidental damage, fire damage, theft, and more. The exact protections you can expect, though, will depend on the insurance provider and policy you choose.

Buying a used Caravan

There’s a lot to think about when you buy a used caravan. From the start of your search to applying for a personal loan, you have to be on the ball. But, as long as you know what you’re doing, the process doesn’t have to be all that overwhelming. With a good understanding of what you’re looking for, a realistic approach to what you need, and good planning, you shouldn’t have a problem finding your dream secondhand caravan.

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