When buying a used caravan, you can either end up with the buy of the century or a purchase that will end in disappointment. It’s best not to rush the decision; give yourself time to do plenty of research before you outlay any cash. By browsing through magazines advertising used caravans spending a few hours online comparing used RVs, you can get a good sense of what is out there and how much you should be paying.
One of the biggest advantages of buying a used caravan is that you can get a whole lot of ‘extras’ thrown in that could cost thousands when added to a new caravan purchase. When you are comparing vans, make sure that you take this into consideration. (For example, we recently ordered a new annexe for our caravan. We were more than pleased with the result, but it did cost us several thousand dollars. Often, someone selling a van will throw in the annexe as part of the deal.)
A Plan of Attack for Buying a Used Caravan
While it might be tempting to rush out and buy something the day after you decide that it’s a wonderful idea to start travelling (probably after watching a road trip on TV while sinking a drink or two) – DON’T. Your Number One Rule should be: HAVE A SYSTEM.
I know, I know – it sounds boring. But later, when you’ve snagged a really good buy, you’ll be glad you went about it systematically. There are all kinds of things you forget about when you make an impulse buy (like TV placement and storage space, to mention just two.) That van you spotted online may look fantastic, but photos can be staged to hide defects. It’s important to actually go and see the van.
Step by Step: Buying a Used Caravan
While you don’t have to stick to this list, and you don’t have to go through the process in this order, it is a good system for assessing your needs before you buy a used van. One thing that trips up many people (and can cost them a whole lot more than they intended) is choosing the wrong van for their existing car – which means buying a different tow vehicle.
- Decide on a budget for a van (taking into account whether you also need to buy a different tow vehicle).
- Look at current needs vs. future needs
- Establish a wish list (must-haves vs. nice-to-haves)
- Cost of extras if not included in van purchase
- Do some comparison shopping
- Make a short list and take a first-hand look
- ‘Buyer Beware’ – what to look out for
1. Your Tow Vehicle
Why put this first? Quite simply, the van you buy will depend on the weight and power of your tow vehicle. If you do not want to replace your current car, then your choice will be constrained by the vehicle you have. Obviously, a six-cylinder station wagon or a light SUV will not be suitable for towing larger, heavier vans.
Keep in mind that a lot of the ‘Euro-style’ caravans are lighter in weight than some of the well-known Australian brands. In addition, a caravan constructed with a wooden frame is usually heavier than a caravan with an aluminium frame.
If you are prepared to buy a new tow vehicle if necessary, then you may also be open to tow rigs being sold as a complete unit: car and van together. Often these can be a very good buy, and they are already configured to work together.
2. Your Budget
Determine whether your budget needs to include a caravan and a tow vehicle, or just a caravan. How much are you prepared to spend on each one?
When you know your budget, start whittling down your options.
Your Current Needs vs. Future Needs
If you have never tried the RV lifestyle, then it’s probably not a good idea to spend a lot of money initially. (That could well be why you are contemplating a used caravan – to see whether you like the lifestyle. Good thinking!) You should base your choice more on your current needs than what you might do in the future. If you have another 10 years to go until retirement, and you’ll be just snatching weekend getaways plus maybe 3-4 weeks annual leave, then it doesn’t make sense to spend too much money. You won’t be in the caravan all that often.
If, however, you are buying a caravan with the idea of travelling around Australia for an extended period, you may want a van with a higher level of comfort and more mod cons. If you can swing it, the best option is obviously to buy a caravan that will suit you now and in the future: be warned, the RV lifestyle is addictive!
If you are going to be sharing a caravan with others in the family, then you might need a larger family van with bunk beds for the kids.
3. Your Wish List
If you want an inexpensive caravan with a basic bed, storage and small fridge, you won’t have to spend a lot of money. (You can buy an older van and renovate it, but you might find that in the end you’ll spend just as much as you would have buying a better-equipped van in the first place – and you’ll have to spend hours doing the work!)
If you want a caravan that has a bathroom or a combined shower/toilet, then that immediately rules out a lot of older caravans. You may also want a caravan with a washing machine and a satellite dish. Make up your wish list before you start shopping. Create a chart based on your list, with side-by-side columns to check off features of different caravans you’re looking at. Print this out and fill it in as you look. This will make comparisons easier.
Used Caravan Checklist (Right-click to download to your computer).