Once you have a clear idea of what you want, the easiest way to see what’s available is to go online. Visit sites like www.tradingpost.com.au and http://www.caravancampingsales.com.au/ and spend some time browsing.
The Caravan Camping Sales website has a search function that allows you to plug in your specific needs. Refine your search so you’re looking at vans that (a) are within your chosen budget, and (b) have your ‘must have’ features. For example, you can choose caravans, then narrow it down to pop-tops, and then type in keywords (such as ‘island bed’ or ‘large fridge’ or ‘ensuite’.) You can decide whether you want to look in all states or just one, and whether to view only vans for private sale or to include those at a dealer.
When you see a van that looks promising, click on the listing to view the details. If you like what you see, you will find several options in the “Toolbox” on the left: from ‘save this item’ (which puts it in “My List”); saving to PDF, sending it to a friend or even posting to Facebook. Later, you can go back and have another look at everything you’ve saved to your list. If you’ve saved all your favourites as PDFs, you can print them out and compare features.
It’s also worth picking up a copy of any magazines that advertise used caravans and RVs, such as Motorhome and Caravan Trader and Trading Post.
If you spend time comparison shopping in this way, you will very soon get a good sense of what constitutes a fair price for caravans of different ages. You’ll also know a bargain when you see it!
Bookmark or save details about caravans that interest you. If you want to do even more research, try visiting caravanning forums and browse through various posts about buying a caravan. You can also post a question asking for tips on what you should look for and what to avoid. Lots of seasoned caravanners will chime in with advice. Do keep in mind, though, that everyone has different ideas about what constitutes the perfect van. Your own preferences are really the most important factor.
While you can get really great buys in used vans, the unwary purchaser can be caught out, too. It’s not that easy to tell whether a van has been in an accident, but you can be alert for one very common fault – water damage!
Check carefully throughout the van for any stains that indicate that water has been able to enter. Quite often the owners will have fixed the leak, but the evidence may still there in the form of a stain. As the water dries, the interior cladding can contract and crack. Since you won’t really be able to tell if the problem has been fixed until you’re caught in a storm, it’s probably best to bypass a van with visible signs of water damage.
TIP: If there are any pictures or posters left on the walls inside a used van, take a peek behind them just in case they’re covering up something.
Don’t forget to look inside all hatches and the boot area for water stains, too. Put your head inside and shine a torch around. It’s a good idea to check under mattresses for tell-tale water stains on the wooden supports.
Scan the corners of the van, the roof, and the angle where the ceiling meets the walls for mould stains. Look for stains or tears on the upholstery, and check under mattresses for damage, too, such as broken framework or torn mattresses.
Finally, ask about the warranty of the van. Some appliances have a 12-month warranty; others are a bit longer. The framework of the van should have a longer warranty. Try to obtain all relevant paperwork.
Visit the Caravan and Try it Out
If you’re comparing caravans online, it’s best to buy a van that’s housed close to you unless you are prepared to drive/fly some distance to check it out. Anyone can make a caravan look good in photos. It’s only by visiting in person that you’ll be able to check for damage or wear and tear as well as assess the general comfort of the van. If you’re new to caravanning, consider taking someone with you who has a bit more experience with life on the road.
What should you be looking for? Here are some ideas:
- Sit on the seats to test them for comfort, and to get some idea of whether there is enough back support for watching TV or sitting at a table for long periods.
- Note the position of the TV and the microwave. If the TV is on a swivel stand, will it get in the way of movement around the caravan when it’s extended? Can you still get in and out of the door without banging your head on the TV? Can you lift things in and out of the microwave comfortably, or is it too high?
- If there is a washing machine, is it easy to load and empty? Is it easy to get at or remove for servicing?
- Can you reach comfortably into all the cupboards? Is there enough storage? Is there enough bench space?
- Can the tallest person in the family walk around the caravan comfortably without having to duck under the air conditioning unit?
- Will the fridge be big enough for your storage needs for long-term travel? (Often, one of the things people say they like most about a bigger van is the bigger fridge!)
- Lift up the island beds to see if the struts are still working properly, and to check storage. Also lift up mattresses on single beds to see how easy it is to get at storage. (Is there an external hatch to make it easier to access under-bed storage?)
- Do you like the colour scheme? If you don’t, can it easily be changed? (I can hear all the men waving this away: ‘Who cares about the colour scheme?’ Well, if the woman of the house has to live with it for the next decade, SHE probably does.) Is the seat fabric clean and free from permanent stains?
- Are the wheels and tyres in good condition?
- Is there any evidence of damage underneath the van? (Chassis, pipes, plumbing, water tanks)
- Are there any areas of excessive rust?
- Are there any DIY ‘improvements’ or repairs that might need to be checked out for safety? (E.g. installation of fans or electric/gas systems).
Shopping for a used caravan will be made a lot easier – and a lot more likely to yield a good result – if you do your research first, and then carefully inspect any potential vans before completing the sale. Before you know it, you’ll be one of the happy band of travellers seeing Australia in your new purchase.
See you at a Happy Hour somewhere!