If you love the great outdoors, but don’t want to be stuck in a tent due to the changeable British weather, then why not invest in a caravan? You can have all your home comforts AND get to see other parts of the world. There are so many different caravans to choose from so we've created a list of our top tips to help you make the right choice.
1. Match the caravan to the car
Check the car you will be towing the caravan with is suitable and then you will know the practicalities of what you can/can’t tow before you buy.
2. What size will you need?
Larger caravans will offer more space and a sense of luxury that you can’t really get in a smaller van. Larger berths, spacious washing and kitchen facilities all add to the comfort of your trip and allow you the freedom to entertain guests without being cramped.
Remember that a bigger van will require a much more powerful car to tow it and you should think about manoeuvrability on the roads and the camp site as this will also be more challenging. Check the maximum towing weight specified by your vehicle manufacturer (general rule of thumb is that 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 as a place for the kids to play.
3. Do your research
Before you even consider buying you should read up on the type of caravan you are interested in – how much will insurance be? Are there common faults with this type of van? What does the layout comprise of? This is all information that should be available on the internet so makes things a lot easier. You will also find a lot of caravan reviews that will help you to whittle down your choices.
4. Ask questions
Where possible, stick to an official dealer, however, if you find your dream caravan online then make sure you research the seller. Ask them how long they have had the caravan for, reasons for selling, how much it has been used, the distances it has covered and if they can provide a demonstration of the key components of the caravan when you come to see it. Be careful of vans that have been unused for long periods of time.
Make sure that the sellers address matches the caravan’s registration document. Contact CRiS (Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme) with a description of the make and model of the tourer and the owner’s details to check against the CRiS database.
5. Request all documentation
All caravans manufactured by NCC members since 1992 will be part of CRiS and should have a unique 17 digit ‘VIN’ number. 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 really important so you can make sure the caravan has not been bought on finance with any outstanding fees left to pay. If it hasn’t been paid off it could be reclaimed by the finance house. See CRiS: www.cris.co.uk or telephone 0203 282 1000 for more information.
6. Give it a once-over
Check the caravan over in daylight. If you aren’t mechanically minded then bring along a friend who is, especially if you aren’t buying from an official dealer.
A big thing to check for in second hand caravans is damp. It is really expensive to repair damp and may end up costing you more than the price of the van if you’re not careful. A damp metre costs around £15 and can be picked up from most DIY stores. Check under beds and in cupboards. Also check external sealing on windows and doors and make sure that the van isn’t spongy underfoot.
Check doors and windows to make sure they are secure and watertight all around. Be careful of any cracking or internal condensation in double glazed units. Replacing any of these parts can be expensive, especially if it is an older van where parts are not very easy to get hold of.
Make sure there is no corrosion on the chassis and look for signs of paint or underseal that may 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.
Finally, check the gas and electrical systems. Get a professional to have a look at them if you’re not sure as faulty systems can be lethal. Any DIY jobs that appear to have been carried out on these systems should be checked.
7. Ask about added extras
Buying accessories and other essentials for your caravan can end up being quite costly so buying a van with these items included is worth considering. Paying a little extra now will definitely pay off in the end. Check for leisure batteries, battery chargers, gas bottles, electric hook-ups, hitch locks, TV equipment and awning. These will be invaluable to you once you start caravanning.
8. Home comforts
Stock up on non-perishable foods such as tins, teabags etc. as well as cleaning products, toiletries and clothes. This means that your caravan is ready to go whenever you fancy taking a break. All you need to remember is your duvet and pillows, but if you invest in a set for the van then you will be totally prepared. New combination roll-out duvet sleeping bags are popular with caravanners so are worth considering. This all prevents hassle and will encourage you to get away in it as much as possible.
9. Be a good buyer
Turn up on time for your viewing and try to make a prompt decision (obviously once you have done all of the afore-mentioned checks). If you need a loan, make sure it is in place before you buy a caravan, as this may slow down the process. Check the seller’s preferred method of payment and try to negotiate a discount for taking the caravan away quickly.
10. Take care of your caravan
It is 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.
Finally, make sure you enjoy your caravan. It will become a place where lots of happy family memories will be made and will save you large amounts of money on holidays in the long run. As long as you are a savvy shopper, there’s no reason why you can’t get a great deal and become a caravan pro in no time.
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