What To Look Out For When Buying A Used Caravan

There are many benefits to buying a caravan second-hand, not just the attractive price of these vehicles. You might be new to the world of caravanning and going for a used caravan makes sense for you. You might have pets or children and don’t want to be so concerned about wear and tear to the interior. You might have your eye on a model that’s no longer being produced by the manufacturer. 

Whatever the reason, you can often find a great deal on a used caravan. However, many people are a little nervous when making such a big purchase for a second-hand vehicle. What checks need to be carried out? What paperwork needs to be completed? How do you make sure you’re not purchasing a stolen vehicle? We’ve put together this simple guide to answer these questions and help you decide whether a used caravan is right for you. 

Should I Buy From A Dealer Or Privately?

Before we go into our list of recommended checks that should be carried out before purchasing a used caravan, we should address one of the most common questions that comes up when buyers are looking at second-hand models. Is it better to buy from a dealer or should you look for a deal privately?

When you’re buying from a dealer, you get greater protection from the law as an individual purchaser. The dealer will need to tell you about any issues with the vehicle and it will often be accompanied by a warranty. The dealer should also have given the caravan a thorough inspection before selling it to you to ensure that it’s fit for purpose. The added peace of mind that buying from a dealership offers is often a big bonus for those purchasing their first caravan or those who aren’t confident carrying out checks on the vehicle themselves.

That’s not to say that buying a caravan privately doesn’t have its own advantages. This is primarily in the price and there are some real bargains to be found. However, you should be extra cautious when buying privately as deals that seem too good to be true often are. You will need to do a lot more research and carry out more thorough checks on any vehicle you’re considering buying. 

1. Check the caravan isn’t stolen

The first thing you should do when you’ve got your eye on a used caravan that you think you might want to purchase is to check that it hasn’t been reported as stolen. The easiest way to do this is to do a CRiS check. The Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme can identify whether or not the caravan was stolen and whether there are any outstanding finance payments on the vehicle. This only applies to vehicles built after 1992 so the seller will have to provide you with enough evidence that they are the legal owner if the caravan is older than this. 

When you’re carrying out your checks on the caravan, signs of damage around the hitch or on the wheels might also indicate that the vehicle has been stolen. 

2. Make sure the caravan is suitable for your tow car

Before you go any further, you’ll want to make sure that the caravan is the correct size and weight for your tow car. We’ve previously written an article on matching your tow car and caravan, so give this a read if you’re not sure where to start with this.

3. Check the bodywork

Check the exterior of the caravan for any signs of damage. Do the side panels run straight? Are there any signs of cracking on plastic panels or are the seams drying out? See if you can get a look at the roof too. If there has been any damage to the roof, this could result in water not draining away properly, potentially meaning big issues later on. 

4. Check the tyres

Have a good look at the tyres. If they’re more than five years old you’ll need to get them replaced so you’ll want to factor this in with the overall cost of the caravan. If they’re newer than this, you’ll still want to look out for signs of damage or flat spots where the weight of the caravan has put pressure on the same place for an extended period. 

5. Check for signs of water damage

Water damage can cause all kinds of problems for a caravan’s structural integrity and can be very expensive to fix. When you’re considering a second-hand caravan this should be at the top of your list of checks. Ideally, take a damp meter with you to indicate whether or not there are any issues. 

Even with a damp meter, have a good look around for any signs of water ingress. When you first step inside the caravan, see if you can detect a damp smell, this will immediately tell you that there are issues. Check for signs of damage near the water pump and under the sinks. Look inside cupboards and lockers and have a good look at seat cushions and mattresses too. 

The areas where water ingress problems occur most commonly are around windows, roof lights and doors, so pay particular attention to these.

6. Check the water system

While you’re checking for signs of water damage, don’t forget to try the taps in the sinks and the shower and make sure there aren’t any leaks and that the drains are working properly. Note the water pressure as this will give you an idea as to the condition of the pump. 

7. Check the gas system

You’ll also want to check the gas system. If you’re buying privately, you might want to consider getting an expert in to check the gas system professionally before use. However, it’s always a good idea to check the system yourself before moving onto the next step, checking the appliances. The hoses should have their expiry dates indicated and if any show signs of perishing these will also need to be replaced. Take a look at the pipes too and see if there are any signs of damage.

8. Make sure everything works 

While you might not be able to go around the caravan testing every single little thing, you should try and test as many of the features as possible. Test the appliances and ask for a demonstration or the instruction manuals for these. You’ll also want to check things like cupboard and locker doors. If these are broken, it can be quite an annoyance when you’re on the road. Test the beds and make any up that are converted from living areas. 

9. Ask to see all of the relevant paperwork

In an ideal world, you’ll be presented with the handbook, the instruction manuals for all the appliances, CRiS details, the full service history and purchase details. This indicates that the owners are conscientious and have looked after the caravan. If there are things missing, like gaps in the service history, ask the owner or the dealer why and be cautious if you’re not given a straightforward answer.

10. Go for a trip as soon as possible

When you’re happy with all the checks and you’ve completed your purchase of the caravan, give it a go as soon as you can. Go for a trip, even if it’s just a weekend away, and any issues with the vehicle will soon emerge. This will give you a chance to get things sorted within the warranty, if you’ve purchased the caravan from a dealer. 

If you’re at all unsure of anything, you should be able to ask the dealer for further details or evidence that the necessary checks have been carried out. If you’re buying privately, you might want to get an expert in to carry out some of the checks for you. This will be an additional expense, however, will reassure you that you’re parting with your money for a vehicle that’s up to scratch.

Buying a used caravan is a great way to get into caravanning and camping and experienced caravanners will sometimes go for a used vehicle due to the fact that they retain their value better than new caravans. As long as you are thorough with your checks and don’t jump into any purchases that seem too good to be true, going for a second-hand model might mean you can afford your dream caravan. For an idea of how much a used caravan might cost, take a look at our preowned stock for some excellent examples.