Now you’ve decided that you might be interested in buying a second hand caravan, you can rest assured that you have come to the right place. Whether you are looking for a touring caravan, static caravan or a motorhome or campervan, all the key things you need to consider are covered here in this complete guide to buying a used caravan.
The Complete Guide to Buying Used Caravans
Of course, everybody appreciates value for money and that is why looking for second hand caravans really is smart thinking indeed. Buying a used caravan gives you considerable savings when compared to buying a brand new model – which can be extremely expensive indeed. And, most importantly perhaps, buying a second hand caravan opens you and your friends and family up to a whole new holiday experience. It could really change your holidaying habits for ever, in fact.
With foreign holidays no longer as cheap as they used to be, more and more people are looking to camping and caravanning instead. Okay, so you’re not guaranteed sunny weather – but, other than that, the arguments against caravans are pretty slim. What’s more, with a mobile caravan, tourer, motorhome or caravan, there’s nothing to stop you heading for the continent anyway. On the flipside, a static caravan essentially gives you a semi-permanent holiday home.
So, that’s probably the first major question you need to ask yourself: What type of caravan do you want to buy?
Let’s look at touring caravans first.
Touring caravans give you more flexibility than the static alternative. You can travel all over the country in a touring caravan and are among the cheapest of all caravanning options, but there are several important things to consider.
Above all, the most important thing to think about is the weight of second hand caravans. This is vital. Before you buy any used caravan, you must know the weight of the caravan and your car.
This is obviously for safety and legal reasons. Your caravan needs to be well-matched to the weight of your car and its towing limit. What’s more, you should check your driving licence, as you might find that you are restricted to towing a car and caravan with a maximum weight of 3,500kg – depending on when you passed your test.
Recommended towing guidelines
The recommended guideline is that the weight of a touring caravan (when loaded) should not be greater than 85% of your car’s kerbweight – this is theactual weight of the car when it’s empty. However, it normally includes an allowance for fuel and engine fluids and the weight of the car’s driver. However, this 85% is very much the ‘upper figure’. Many car manufacturers will have a recommended towing limit which is lower
There is often a fair bit of debate around the 85% figure, as it is only a guideline. However, whilst more experienced caravan towers might feel comfortable towing a caravan up to 100% of the towing vehicle’s kerbweight, if you are not used to towing and are new to the world of caravanning it is sensible advice to adhere to the 85% guideline.
It is important that when driving the towing vehicle you feel totally in control and feel that you have a weight advantage over the caravan. Otherwise, a gust of wind or passing lorry will make things far more unstable. In the worst case scenario, a serious accident can occur.
Be mindful that car manufacturers sometimes inflate the weight that the vehicle can pull comfortably. There is a difference between having the potential power and getting the balance and dynamics of towing on the road right.
All manufacturers should give a maximum combined weight for vehicle and any trailer. Also, be mindful that some manufacturers actually set towing limits below the actual kerbweight of a vehicle.
As mentioned before, the date you passed your UK driving test is also important in terms of weight. If the test was passed after 1 January 1997 then the maximum combined weight of car and caravan is 3,500kg. However, it is possible to take an additional test to gain full towing entitlement.
Size of touring caravan
Size is another important consideration when buying second hand caravans. As well as the 3,500kg weight restriction, a caravan should be no longer than 7 metres (not including the hitch), or wider than 2.55mm. To be honest, anything of this size would probably exceed the weight limit – but if it didn’t a caravan of this size would need to be towed by a commercial vehicle.
The space you need is all important. Some prefer to tow compact caravans. Other people, want or need as much living space as they can find. Weight is obviously a crucial consideration. Generally speaking, the bigger the caravan, the more it will weigh.
The size of the caravan can affect the price you pay on ferries. The bigger the caravan, the more daunting the prospect of towing it on narrow country lanes will be. Plus there’s the small matter of storage. If you are planning to store the caravan at your home out of season, do you have enough space?
Layout of your caravan
For both static and touring caravans (not to mention campervans and motorhomes) there are a surprising amount of different layouts to choose from for the interior of caravans.
Most touring caravans have seating areas that can be converted into beds. Some people prefer having fixed beds. The advantage of having a fixed bed is that you don’t need to spend time making up the bed every evening and putting it away the next morning. The disadvantage is that a fixed bed will mean a compromise on the amount of living space you have. Not only that, there is now a wide choice of fixed beds to choose from: twin singles, doubles to transverse doubles, and more.
A similar amount of choice is available in terms of bathrooms. Many people who have touring caravans prefer to use the on-site shower facilities. Having the washroom/bathroom at one end of a caravan is popular and gives a good amount of privacy.
Other considerations are where the kitchen facilities are placed, and the seating arrangements. If you have young children, it is a good idea to be able to separate away from the main communal area.
There really are too many different permutations and possibilities to list them all in this guide. You may well have your own ‘red lines’ – things that you simply cannot go without or cannot accept in terms of the layout of a second hand caravan. However, unless you have your heart set on a particular make and model, it is often the case that you really won’t know whether you think a caravan will work for you, until you are actually standing in it.
With a static caravan, there are still the same type of layout questions to ask yourself when deciding what model to choose. However, in general, static caravans have standard layouts that will normally include a seating area – usually at one end of the caravan, a dining area, a kitchen area, bathroom and bedroom(s) – normally with fixed beds.
Static caravans can be a real home from home. They are spacious and provide most of the home comforts you might expect. A touring caravan is like a halfway house between a tent and a static – but a static caravan is essentially a second home.
That, of course, is particularly important. Once you have purchased your static caravan and chosen a site to place it on, you could theoretically spend all the summer there (indeed, some sites are now open all-year round). Certainly, most static caravans are comfortable enough for you to do that. And, with second hand caravans, you haven’t got the issues with weight and potential towing problems to consider.
However, there are other things that you need to think about.
Site fees and other costs
It is the ongoing running costs of a static caravan that really need to be considered extremely carefully.
As it is a static caravan, you should take your time finding a site that you like and will enjoy visiting time and time again, year and year. Being sensible, you probably don’t want to choose a site that is more than 2 hours’ drive away from home – a static you make the most of is one that you can go to at weekends, practically, as well as whole weeks away.
The site you choose will have a massive impact on the fees and ongoing costs you have to pay. At the top end of the range, there are sites which really are luxury: holiday parks with swimming pools, restaurants and bars and pretty much all the amenities you could think of. In fact, some are so well equipped that you need not venture from the site at all!
Of course, if a site has lots of amenities then site fees will be more expensive. There is a balance you need to achieve by weighing things up. For families, having all the amenities on site can be a real godsend to keep all the kids entertained. However, with the fees being expensive, you might prefer to opt for a site that offers more of a basic provision instead.
Here, is the lowdown on the essential costs you need to consider. The site fees are the rental you pay to the holiday park for pitching your caravan on the site and using the services. This is the single biggest annual cost. At the lower end of the market – on the most basic of sites – the site fees could be less than £1000. However, at the top end and at the most luxurious of holiday parks, site fees can be as high as £12,000! On average, they tend to be between £3000 and £6000. That’s a considerable annual outlay to consider, although there are various payment options and ways to offset these costs.
Other costs that you need to consider include local council rates. Parks will need to pay rates to the local council to cover the likes of water. Site tenants are expected to contribute. On top of this, there will be insurance, gas and electric to pay as well.
These costs might seem high but they should not put you off. There are a variety of payment options available and you can always let your caravan out when you are not using it. This is easy to do and is a great way of covering the site fees and other ongoing costs.
Ultimately, when it comes to making a purchase of static caravan, just remember that there are a lot of other things to consider besides the actual caravan itself. In many ways, buying the caravan is the easy part. But, once again, don’t be put off – a great second hand caravan on a site that really suits your needs is a fantastic investment that will serve you and your family for years as a wonderful holiday home.
Essential checks on any used caravan/campervan/motorhome
With any second hand purchase you can expect some signs of wear and tear. Beyond this, there are a few essential checks that you should carry out on second hand caravans.
Firstly, you should check that the caravan has not been stolen. The seller may be able to produce a receipt of purchase and/or servicing history. Look out for the tell-tale signs of theft, such as damaged locks, windows or hitch. Look also the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number).
It’s also worth checking the credentials of a caravan through the Caravan Registration & Identifications Scheme (CRiS). The registration details and history of caravans manufactured since 1992 can be found here – including details of any outstanding finance.
Damp is the enemy of all caravans. Water ingress can be a real problem and can be very expensive to deal with. Of course, remaining totally watertight over the years is a challenge for any caravan. They stand out in the most extreme of temperatures, from hot sunshine to freezing cold frosts.
It is the area around windows, corners and TV aerials that are most vulnerable to water ingress.
It makes sense to use a damp meter or invest in a professional service to get full peace of mind that the second hand caravan you are considering buying.
It is not common for caravan tyres to cover a really high mileage, so it is unlikely that there will be issues with treads. However, even if the treads look fine it may not tell the whole story. Being in the sun for years and the weight of having a caravan on top of a tyre can cause cracks in the side wall. This can result in a blowout when on the road. For this reason, regardless of the state of the tread, caravan tyres should be changed every 5 or so years.
It is recommended that any caravan is serviced annually. If the caravan is still under warranty, it will be a requirement that you have an annual service for that warranty to remain valid.
An annual service is a good way to check for the early signs of damp, as well as testing the gas, electric, pipes, water, wheels, tyre and hitch.
Campervans and Motorhomes
If you have your heart set on a static caravan, you are unlikely to want the experience that a second hand campervan or motorhome will offer you. However, if you are into the idea of a tourer – or have experience of using a touring caravan - investing in a campervan or motorhome might be a very appealing idea.
A motorhome essentially offers you a similar sort of comfort that you might get from a typical touring caravan – but with the added benefit of just being able to drive off at will and take it anywhere.
Campervans offer you the flexibility and mobility that you have with a tourer – more so, even.
The general tips for buying a campervan or motorhome are quite similar to those that would be given for buying second hand touring caravans. Consider the layout you want and any ‘must-haves’ you consider to be vital – but bear in mind that you probably need to be prepared to compromise.
However, there is something else that you need to investigate very carefully – the engine.
Engines can be complicated and quite difficult to look at – but they are even more expensive to repair when things go badly wrong. Obviously, with a campervan or motorhome, the condition of the engine is paramount. After all, the massive advantage that you have with a campervan over a touring caravan, and certainly a static caravan, is the mobility and freedom it gives you.
However, you have none of that if the engine isn’t working!
Carry out the following basic checks when looking at an engine. Oil leaks tend to be signs of something more sinister. Look underneath the vehicle for any signs of leaks. Similarly, check for unusual and unhealthy sounding noises when the engine is running.
The radiator needs to be intact and check for any steam or smoke from the exhaust. The oil level should be checked too.
Possibly the most important thing to investigate is the cam belt. Campervans and motorhomes clock up high mileage over time, and most engines will need the timing belt (commonly known as the timing belt) every 50,000-60,000 miles. If the cam belt breaks it can cause considerable damage and be highly destructive. Not only that, it can be very expensive to repair the damage.
Another thing that you should check is the head gasket. Again, this can be very expensive to repair if the head gasket blows. You can check it by taking the oil cap off and looking inside the engine head. If you can see some white residue then this is a sign of a blown head gasket. Similarly, by taking the oil dipstick out you can look for signs of residue.
If you test drive and notice that the water level in the radiator tank drops, this is a sign that there is a blown head gasket. Another clear sign that the head gasket might be blown is steam coming out of the exhaust.
Buying second hand caravans can save you a considerable amount of money. This frees up more money for you to spend on any accessories that you might need to add, such as an awning, barbecue, chairs and tables, TV aerial, and so on.
By far the most important thing to decide straight off is which type of second hand caravan is right for you. Make the decision whether you want a touring caravan or static caravan first of all and then begin from there.
If you follow the guidance given in this Buyer's Guide you will be well on the way to finding the bestsecond hand caravan for your needs. Remember to do your research beforehand so that you know exactly what type of caravan, trailer or motorhome/campervan to look for. Doing research homework before you start and reading reviews will help you to narrow down your search. It will also give you an idea of market prices.
Use this Buyer’s Guide as a reference guide when you are considering buying a second hand caravan. All the general tips and advice you need to point you in the right direction are here.
If you want more specific information about the types of caravans that are available, you can take a look at the guides on the other pages of the website. Similarly, if you know particular manufacturers that you particularly want to look at and find out more about, check out the brand pages on the site. These descriptions will give you details about what to expect from a manufacturer, and key features you can look forward to enjoying.
We wish you all the best in your search for the perfect second hand caravan!