Tips & GuidesGuide to Purchasing a Caravan

Guide to Purchasing a Caravan

March 14, 2022

A caravan is a great way to spend your holiday. You get to go out in nature and get away from the noise of big cities and bring a lot of comforts with you. However, while caravan holidays are a lot of fun, buying the caravan itself is a very large commitment, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

If you’re not sure whether or not “caravanning” is actually for you, then we’d suggest just renting one out for a weekend and seeing how it suits you. However, if you know for certain that you want to buy a caravan, then we can tell you everything you need to know. We’ll cover every aspect of buying a caravan—from the equipment it should have to the car loans for 4WDs, caravans, and motorhomes that you might need to take out.

Different Types of Caravans

Many people consider motorhomes as part of the caravan family, but for this list, we’ll go ahead and define a caravan as a living space on wheels that needs to be towed by a car. This is because motorhomes and towable caravans are a bit too different to be included in the same article without making it twice the size to cover all of the necessary information.

With that out of the way, we’ve listed all the different types of caravans that you can buy as well as their individual strengths and weaknesses.

Standard Caravan

A standard caravan is any towable living space with four solid walls. It’s the most middle-of-the-road choice out of all of the options that are available, but while it doesn’t have any notable strengths, it doesn’t have any particular weaknesses either.

These models are the standard choice for any camper, and they can provide you with beds to sleep on, a bathroom, and a kitchen, which is honestly all you need when going on a holiday.

Extendable Caravans

An extendable caravan is any standard caravan that has a pop-top, an extendable side, or even just an awning that you can put up. They’re meant to allow you to spread out your living area a bit so that you can have a little more room to move and be a bit more comfortable when camping.

These models are an improvement over the standard caravans, even though they cost the exact same amount of money most of the time. If you can, we’d recommend getting a caravan with an extendable feature over a standard model every time.

Camper Trailer

These caravans are also called tent trailers, and that’s because they’re essentially a very thin fabric pitched over a standard-sized towing trailer. They don’t come with any equipment, the beds are usually just cots, there’s barely any room for two people even if they don’t move around, and they don’t provide too much protection against the elements.

On the other hand, they’re extremely light so they can be towed by any size of car, they cost half as much as a standard caravan or less, they can be parked virtually anywhere, and the lack of space doesn’t really matter if you’re the type of camper that spends most of their time outside.

Fifth Wheelers

Fifth wheelers are large caravans that are essentially apartments on wheels. Their large size gives you a lot of room to move around in and a lot of equipment and furniture that you can use to camp in luxury. However, they do have their downsides as well.

These caravans are much more expensive than the standard models, they’re twice as heavy, so you’ll need a specialized vehicle in order to tow them, and you’ll have a hard time moving them through traffic and parking them.

These luxury vehicles have so many gadgets that they defeat the point of camping, and if you have enough money to rent or buy one of these caravans, then we’d advise you to just spend the money on staying in a five-star hotel instead, but that’s just our opinion.

Features to Consider

There are several important aspects of purchasing a caravan that you should pay attention to, so we’ve gone ahead and outlined what we consider to be the most important ones. While this information might not make you an authority on caravans, we’re confident that we’ll be able to teach you the basics and give you the ability to avoid bad purchases.

Weight

The weight of your caravan is probably the most important feature that you need to consider because if it goes beyond a certain point, then your car won’t even be able to budge it, let alone drive around with it. Each vehicle has a maximum towing capacity, and while this will vary depending on the car that you have, there are a few general weight limits that you can follow. 

Your standard family car that has four cylinders will be able to carry anything that’s up to around 1,200 kilograms, while a more hefty four-wheel-drive model might be able to go up to 2,500. A dependable jeep or off-roader with decent pulling power can carry around 3,500 kilograms. As we said, each car is different, and the only way to find out your carry limit is to consult the specifications laid out by the manufacturer.

The way to determine the weight that your car will need to carry is by looking up the Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) for your caravan that the manufacturer has outlined and adding the overall weight of any additional equipment that you might have on it in order to get the Gross Trailer Mass (GTM). Alternatively, you can add all of the additional equipment you need and simply go to a local truck scale to get the GTM that way.

The laws state that the GTM cannot exceed the towing limit of your car for safety reasons. However, if the caravan or trailer isn’t fitted with brakes, then the weight must not exceed 750 kilograms. Additionally, no one may ride in the caravan while it’s moving due to the danger involved.

Aside from that, standard road laws and speed limits apply, and as long as you obey them, you should be just fine.

Second-Hand Caravans

Here are the main things that you’ll want to know if you’re looking to buy a second-hand caravan:

The age of the caravan;

  • The mileage;
  • Its previous owners;
  • The service history;
  • Major repairs or modifications
  • How the caravan has been used;
  • Where it’s been kept.

 

When it comes to the first three points, the newer the caravan, the fewer owners it’s been through, and the fewer miles it has on the speedometer, the better. There are no numbers that we can give you when it comes to any of these factors, but just like when buying other second-hand vehicles, we’d suggest looking at several caravans and picking the one with the lowest numbers in all of these categories.

In general, the mileage and the age don’t matter all too much if the caravan was properly looked after, but having several owners might be a problem because not all of them might have been the responsible type.

The service history will tell you how often parts have needed to be replaced and their overall price, which tells you what your experience will probably be like as well. Make sure that the modifications haven’t affected the handling or the body of the caravan and check to see if the major repairs have been properly implemented or if it was a rush job.

Striking up a casual conversation with the owner about where they go on vacation will tell you if the caravan was driven off-road and whether you should check the suspension and the wheel alignment. Finally, if the caravan was kept in a garage or under a tarp, then the odds are that the owner actually cared enough to maintain it properly.

Living Space

The average length of a caravan is somewhere around 6 metres. This is just a rough estimate, and some might be closer to 5 metres, while the smaller models might even be closer to 4. In our opinion, you should try to find a caravan that will give you at least 6 metres for you to move around in.

It’s true that longer caravans aren’t really good for off-road, but there aren’t many people that associate a caravan holiday with off-roading anyway, so you shouldn’t have a single problem if you stick to clear fields, popular camping spots, and paved roads.

Additionally, you’ll want to check and ensure that your caravan has enough storage space. Even if you’re conservative when it comes to packing for trips and only pack the bare essentials, a lack of drawers and cupboards will make you store your clothes and other essentials on the furniture or table, further infringing on the already limited living space.

You don’t need anything fancy, and you should be just fine as long as you have a small wardrobe where you can hang up your clothes, three or four drawers under the bed, and maybe a bit of storage space on top. You’ll also want some room under the sink as well since you’ll need to bring along some cookware with you.

Equipment and Furniture

We’ll give you a few recommendations on what sort of equipment you should be looking for in a caravan and what items you can or should skip entirely. However, before we jump into this, please keep in mind that it’ll be nearly impossible to find a caravan that matches all of the equipment recommendations that we make.

Luckily, most caravans are equipped well enough, so even if they’re missing certain items, then you can still make do with what they have available. You also have the option of making modifications to your caravan, so if you like some of our suggestions, but the caravan you want to buy is missing a few components, you can simply add them after you purchase it.

Bathroom Area

A bathroom usually has a toilet, a sink, and a shower. There are a lot of caravan models that have all three, while others either only have a toilet and a sink, or just a toilet. The main reason why so many caravans only have a toilet in their bathroom is space limitation.

If you can’t or don’t want to use an outdoor shower, then we’d definitely recommend finding a caravan with a built-in shower. This might mean having a bit less space to move around in, but it’s definitely worth it if you want to feel comfortable while taking a shower on your holiday.

However, if you’re fine with cutting out the shower, then we’d recommend getting a bathroom that’s just a toilet. You can use the sink in the kitchen to wash your hands, brush your teeth, and do anything else you need to do; this way, you’ll have more space in the caravan dedicated to the kitchen and bedroom areas.

Kitchen Area

The stove, the sink, and the fridge are the main components of the kitchen area, and all you really need to be concerned about here is whether they work properly. Check for any leakage under the sink or signs of water damage, and check if all the burners on the stove actually work.

All of these items can be replaced, but finding new appliances that exactly fit in the predetermined space is always a pain. So, we’d suggest just making sure that the equipment works properly in order to save yourself a bit of money and a lot of headaches.

There aren’t many other changes that you can make to your kitchen area aside from replacing the already existing equipment, however you can also consider buying additional accessories such as a portable fridge or a portable barbeque.

Bedroom Area

We can’t stress enough how important it is that the beds in your caravan are comfortable to sleep on. There are too many caravan models that just come with a paper-thin mattress with wooden borders so close together that even a child would be uncomfortable.

If the mattress itself isn’t good, then you should buy a new one. If the bed frame is too short, you can remove the bottom frame and extend the base so that it can fit a bigger mattress. These are small modifications, but they can save you a lot of back pain. The only issue would be if the bed is in such a location in the caravan that the size can’t be adjusted.

We’d also recommend not getting a small caravan with just a couch. While it might sound convenient since you can sit on it during the day and sleep on it during the night, we promise you that you’ll regret not having a proper bed.

Price

A standard caravan can cost anything between 30,000 and 100,000 AUD, with the smaller models coming in at around 10,000 – 20,000 AUD, while the fifth wheelers can cost anything up to 200,000 if it’s fully loaded with all of the additional equipment that you can put in it.

It’s hard to gauge the price point of a second-hand caravan because it will depend on too many variables like the age of the caravan, the initial price that it was sold for, how well it was maintained, and so on. If it’s well preserved and in good condition, then it might be 75% of the original price, whereas you might be looking at a few issues if the owner is selling it for less than half of the price that they got it for.

Always keep your budget in mind when looking at caravans, and try to have a few thousand left over after the purchase because you might need to make a few potential repairs to a second-hand model, or you might want to change the on-board equipment.

Paying for Your Caravan

It’s not easy to put together the sort of money that you need in order to buy a caravan, so most people have to either save their money for a few years or pay for it via multiple installments. However, if neither of those options appeals to you, then you can always engage a service that provides car loans for 4WDs, caravans, and motorhomes.

These loans are a great option for people that can’t pay the full asking price of a caravan upfront, and they come with a lot of incentives as well. Most car loans for 4WDs, caravans, and motorhomes come with fixed interest rates, no monthly fees, and they allow you to schedule your repayment so that it can suit your schedule. Before going down this route though you’ll want to carefully consider how much you should borrow.

As we mentioned before, there are additional expenses that you need to consider aside from the price of the caravan itself, so it’s always a good idea to take these possible additional expenses into account when you’re planning out the loan amount that you need to take out.

Author

  • Roland is the founder of Credit World Pty Ltd and a leading financial expert in Australia. He has extensive knowledge on car loans in Australia. Known as a car loan expert, Roland has been featured on TV and in various publications. He started in finance comparison in 2005. Now a 17 year industry veteran.