A practical guide to buying your first touring caravan

Written by

Tara Covell

Thursday 11th March 2021

Caravans have sky rocked in popularity over the last few months with more Brits choosing to enjoy their holidays on home turf rather than abroad.

According to the National Caravan club, sales rose by nearly 71% in July 2020 with 37% of those purchased being made by those who have never owned one before. With restrictions set to ease from the 21st June this year, many of us are now considering making the investment.

If you're thinking of buying a touring caravan, it can be both an exciting and daunting experience, especially if it’s your first time. To help make sure you make the right choice, we’ve put together some handy tips.


What are the different types of touring caravans?

Touring caravans come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny teardrop trailers to huge fifth wheelers. We’ve listed some of the most popular ones below.

Single axle

Most caravans are single axle and measure between 3 and 6.5 metres in internally. Depending on how many people will be sleeping inside, you can choose between:

  • 2 berth caravan
  • 4 berth caravan
  • 6 berth caravan

The interior usually comprises for a washroom with toilet, basin and shower, a small kitchen with a sink, hob, work surfaces and storage plus multifunctional living/sleeping quarters.

Twin axle

Similar in layout to a single axle, these tend to be larger and heavier. The twin axle does make towing more stable, but some drivers do find it more difficult to manoeuvre when trying to pitch on a site or returning them to storage.

Teardrop trailers

Popular with drivers of classic cars, sports cars and even trikes, these compact trailers are super easy to tow using a small vehicle.

Even though living space can be limited to a basic double bed covering the entire floor with some models sporting simple cooking facilities and room to carry additional items, these make a great choice for the minimalist traveller.

Folding caravans

Watch in amazement as you see one of these unfold from a low trailer into a fully equipped full size caravan.

They are much easier to store and tow, but the downside is they need to be assembled on site every time you camp, which can be a little time consuming.

Currently there are now UK based companies that build brand new folding caravans, you’ll still be able to score a deal on a well refurbished and past supply models.

T@B

For those who don’t want the standard white box, the German designed T@B is very distinct in it’s looks and is suitable of those with an active lifestyle.

Inside is comprised of a huge double bed, a compact kitchen and seating area with just enough room left over for a tiny chemical toilet. At least it’s easy to tow right?

American Airstream

If you're a fan of the retro silver trailers used by American film stars, then you'll be pleased to know they're now available with a European specification in sizes making them more suitable for British roads.

These caravans offer all the mod cons in an elegant (but a little pricey) package. Plus you'll have a great conversation starter wherever you park up.

Fifth Wheel

Rather than having a normal caravan hitch, they can only be towed by a pickup truck with an articulated towing connection on the bed.

Some offer a huge amount of living space and some even have slide-out sections to give even more room.

Top tip – It’s worth doing plenty of research on your chosen model before you buy. Checking the cost of the insurance, common faults, if the layout fits your needs, etc. You can also find lots of caravan reviews online that'll help you to whittle down your choices.


Will my car be able to tow my chosen caravan?

It’s important to make sure that your car can tow your chosen caravan. Most cars having an upper weight limit determined by the manufacturer which means there could be restrictions on the maximum weight they can tow.

Always make sure to check this with the general rule being if a caravan is more than 2.3metres wide, it will need to be towed by a commercial vehicle.

A simple way to increase the size of your caravan, without adding weight, is to add an awning. This is ideal for eating in or a place for the kids to play.


Which caravans are easiest to tow?

Caravans come in all shapes and sizes with some being easier to tow and manoeuvre than others.

Twin axle caravans are more stable and easier to tow than single axle models but can be trickier to manoeuvre when pitching or returning to storage.

Teardrop trailers are popular with people who want to travel light and tow with a smaller vehicle such as a classic or sports car.

And enormous fifth wheelers can only be towed by a pickup truck meaning that if you don’t have one, this trailer isn't for you.

Tips for towing

If you're new to towing, remember:

  • Be confident when driving
  • Be respectful and mindful of other road users
  • Be careful when braking, accelerating and cornering
  • Allow for extra space around you
  • Allow more time for manoeuvres
  • Learn how to handle snaking and pitching
  • Understand the towing speed limits and stick to them

Important -it’s illegal and very dangerous for anyone to sit inside a caravan whilst in transit.


What documentation should I request before buying?

All caravans manufactured by NCC members since 1992 will be part of CRiS (Central Registration & Identification Scheme) and should have a unique 17 digit ‘VIN’. When a caravan is sold, the new owner’s details are sent to CRiS.

Always ask to see the caravan’s service history and CRiS registration document. This is also important so you can make sure the caravan doesn't have any outstanding finance.

If it hasn’t been paid off it could be reclaimed by the finance house or you could be liable to pay the remaining balance.


What pre-purchase checks should I do if buying second hand?

Always check the caravan over before purchasing and if you’re not buying from an official dealer, make sure to be thorough. Try to conduct your checks in daylight and if you’re not mechanically minded, bring along someone who is.

Damp

This can be a real problem in under maintained used caravans and if you're not careful, you could end up spending more than you bargained for.

Using a damp metre which costs around £15 from most DIY stores is an easy way to check for damp in places such as under beds, in cupboards, external sealing on windows and doors.

You also don't want the floor to feel spongy when you walk on it.

Doors and windows

Check doors and windows to make sure they are secure and watertight. Be careful of any cracking or internal condensation in double glazed units.

Replacing any of these parts can be expensive, especially if it's an older van where parts are not as easy to come by.

Corrosion

Look for corrosion on the chassis and signs of paint or underseal that might be hiding nasty problems underneath.

Check the hitch mechanism moves freely and the rubber gaiter isn’t split. Always make sure that the handbrake is effective too.

Gas and electrics

Finally, check the gas and electrical systems. Get a professional to have a look at them if you’re unsure as faulty systems can be lethal. Any DIY jobs that appear to have been carried out on these systems should be checked.



Is there anything I need to know when buying a caravan privately?

If you find your dream caravan online then make sure you research the seller.

Ask them how long they have owned the caravan, reasons for selling, how much it has been used and if they can provide a demonstration of the key components when you come to see it.

Confirm that the sellers address matches the caravan’s registration document and contact CRiS with the VIN, make and model and the owner’s details to check against their database.


Do I need any added extras?

Buying caravan accessories can end up being quite costly if you don't do your homework. Things like leisure batteries and chargers, gas bottles, electric hook-ups, hitch locks, TV equipment and awning will be invaluable to you once you start caravanning so shop around to get a good deal.


Do I need to service my caravan?

It's difficult to know how long any caravan will last, but a touring caravan will depreciate faster than a static due to how much it travels. However, if looked after and regularly serviced then it should last at least 10 years.

Make sure you give your caravan an annual check to make sure it is waterproof and free from damp. You should take it to a reputable caravan workshop for this check and any repairs.


The bottom line

Make sure you enjoy your caravan as it will become a place where lots of happy family memories will be made. If you are a savvy shopper, there’s no reason why you can’t get a great deal on your first touring trailer.


Low cost caravan loans from Hitachi Personal Finance

If you’re finally ready to go on your very first caravanning adventure, our caravan finance can help turn your dream into a reality. Our lost cost caravan loans start just a little as 3.2% APR Representative between £7,500 and £25,000.