Buying a Caravan for the First Time

Buying your first caravan is an exciting process but it can sometimes be a little daunting with so many options out there. How do you know which caravan is right for you? What layout and which specifications should you be looking for? What can you afford with your budget? Should you go new or used? Should you buy privately or from a dealer? 

This guide breaks it all down and helps make the process a little easier. You’ll be out on the road with your dream caravan in no time.

What sort of caravan is suitable for your car?

The first thing you’ll need to do is find out whether your car is able to tow a caravan and how heavy a caravan you’ll be limited to. If you’ve never towed a caravan before, you’ll probably want to keep this weight as low as possible when compared to your car’s weight.

We’ve written an in-depth guide on matching your car and caravan to help you work this out. Ideally, your caravan should weigh no more than 85% of your car’s weight. You’ll also need to check your driving licence to see if you’ll need to take an additional test due to the weight of the caravan you want to buy. You’ll find more details on this in the matching your car and caravan guide.

Finding out how big a caravan your car is capable of towing will also help you work out whether you’re going to be looking at single axle or twin axle caravans. Many caravans are light enough to have a single axle, which is great for maneuverability around a campsite. Other caravans will require an extra axle, providing an extra bit of stability on the road and are usually only suitable for larger cars. 

What’s your budget?

There’s a huge range of caravans currently available from basic models to enormous luxury and bespoke caravans. Decide on a budget early on in the process and this will help narrow down your options. There are some different payment options available whether you’d prefer to save up, get a loan or find a dealer that will offer you a suitable finance option. 

Your budget will probably determine whether you buy a new or used caravan. There are some fantastic deals to be had if you go for a used caravan, so don’t worry if your budget ends up being smaller than you initially thought. 

If you’re lucky enough to be on the hunt for a brand new caravan, bear in mind that its value will depreciate quickly over the first few years and then start evening out. So it’s worth hanging onto for a while before you upgrade and keeping it in tip-top condition both for your own comfort and to keep the value up.

Get online and do some research on dealers' websites. Look at both new and used options to give you an idea of what you can get for your budget. 

Where will you store your caravan?

When thinking about what size caravan you are looking for and how much you want to spend, it’s also important to think about where you will store the vehicle when not in use. Do you have a large space at home, preferably under cover, where you could store a caravan over the winter? Or will you need to invest in secure storage for your caravan when not in use. If so, take a look at the options in your local area and consider this additional cost when coming up with your budget.

Make a list of your desired specifications

Write down a comprehensive list of all the things you want your caravan to include. Start with what is essential for you on the road. 

Some things to think about: 

  • How many berths do you need?

  • Are you happy with a basic washroom as you’ll be making use of facilities at campsites or do you want a separate shower cubicle for adventures further off the beaten track?

  • How much storage space do you need for all of your holiday gear?

  • Do you want a fixed double bed, twin beds, bunk beds or are you happy with pull out or convertible beds?

  • What time of year will you be travelling and to which kinds of destinations? Does this mean you’ll need a good heating system or excellent air conditioning? Or both?

  • Will you be doing most of your cooking yourself when you’re away? If so, what equipment do you need in the kitchen?

Top Tip: This may well be your first caravanning experience, so you might be struggling with this point. If this is the case, consider renting one for a holiday so you can discover first hand which features you like, what you could live without and which features you feel were missing from your trip.

Once you’re happy you’ve covered everything, divide your list into the ‘must-haves’ and the ‘nice-to-haves’. You now have a starting point where you can start matching up caravans that fall into your price range and their features. By dividing up your specifications into those things that you can’t live without on the road and those that would be nice extras, you know where you can and can’t compromise. 

Do your research 

The world of caravanning comes with its own dictionary of technical terms. A good dealer will be able to help you navigate the language, however, it’s always best to do your research first so you don’t feel like you’re on the back foot. Make sure you know your MTPLMs from your MROs, your payloads from your noseweights and your island beds from your pull-out beds before you head off to look at a caravan. 

If you’re buying a new caravan…

Even if it’s a new caravan, you’ll probably want to go and see it before you buy. Have a good look around and think about how the caravan feels to you. Don’t be afraid to try things out. Lie on the beds to make sure they will be supportive enough for you. If they’re pull-out beds, ask for a demonstration as to how they work and have a go yourself. Check out the storage options for the bedding during the day. Go through the motions of using the kitchen appliances and get a good feel for how much space there is in the bathroom. 

If you’re buying a used caravan...

When you’re buying a used caravan, there are a few things you should look out for before parting with any money. First of all, you’ll want to check the caravan’s CRiS number, which is similar to checking the VIN when you buy a used car. This will help prevent you from buying a stolen caravan and make sure there’s no outstanding finance. 

As with a new caravan, you’ll want to have a good look around to make sure the caravan feels right for you and that it suits your needs. However, it’s much more important to check that everything is in good working order. Don’t be afraid to try opening windows, rooflights and locker doors to make sure they function properly. 

The big thing to look out for when buying a used caravan is any sign of water damage. If the caravan hasn’t been looked after or stored properly, there’s a chance that damp might have compromised the structural integrity of the caravan. Take a good look around, especially in the kitchen and bathroom for any cracks or damage to sealant and have a look at the seals around the windows too. 

You should be able to tell if a caravan has been well looked after. Take a good look at the bodywork and see if you can spot any evidence of some hasty DIY where the previous owner has tried to cover up any issues. 

If you want some extra peace of mind when buying your first used caravan, consider going to a dealership as they will have the above points well in hand. Look out for the Approved Workshop symbol on a dealer’s website so you know that they meet the nationally recognised standard for caravan servicing. To be part of the scheme, the workshop must pass an annual inspection so you can be sure that things are done correctly, by the right people and to a high standard. 

Buying your first caravan should be an exciting process not a stressful one. Follow the steps above and answer each of the questions at each stage to make sure you choose the caravan that’s right for you and your needs. If in doubt, head to a trusted dealership that specialises in leisure vehicles and they will be able to point you in the right direction and may even have the perfect caravan for you waiting in their showroom.