How to buy a new caravan
Buying a caravan can be daunting, so we followed a couple of grey nomads for a first-hand insight into the search for the dream rig.
BUYING A CARAVAN IS not like buying a house, or even a car. A house and a car are necessities, items people need for their everyday lives. Caravans, on the other hand, are luxury items people buy in order to spend time away from those same everyday lives.
This means that when potential RVers are looking at a new van they usually take a different approach to their purchase – they can allow a bit more time and be even more vigilant.
"Most people come to the yard a few times before they buy," McKenzie Caravans’ general manager Tony McLaughlin said. "They like to take their time and consider their options."
As RV sales continue their strong form, we decided to go with an RVing couple and take a first-hand look at the caravan buying experience for a genuine insight into what customers are looking for and asking about, not to mention what they should be looking for and asking about.
Steve Musgrove and June Delia, of Ocean Grove, Vic, have spent the past 10 years travelling up and down the east coast in a 1985 Viscount – their first van – and were in the market for an upgrade. And they knew just what they were looking for.
"We have a detailed checklist that we take with us every time we look at a van," Steve said. "The list includes everything we are looking for, down to the smallest details. We’ve done our homework."
The van Steve and June were looking for had to be a pop-top of about 17ft (5.2m) with a battery pack and the ability to handle some rougher dirt tracks. After owning their own business for many years the couple were looking to retire and wanted to really get out there and see more of Australia.
Steve and June knew they would be upgrading their van after visiting last year’s Melbourne Leisurefest and had been seriously shopping around for about eight months.
"We must have been to every caravan dealer around Geelong and Bendigo, and that’s in addition to Leisurefest and the Bendigo show," Steve said. "We also came up to Melbourne and looked at a few dealers."
A recent motorhome trip around New Zealand opened the couple’s eyes to the wonders and convenience of self-sufficiency, which made the battery pack a must. Unlike many modern caravanners, however, a shower and toilet were not a must.
"It’s a question of weights," Steve said. "We really wanted to stay as light as possible. And we have a porta-potti and a solar shower, so we’ll be fine."
Steve and June said they also (very smartly) took a digital camera every time they looked at a new van. This idea really helped when they got home and discussed the vans they had looked over. But, Steve said, you also had to be organised and remember which photos went with which rig: the vans can all start to look very similar very quickly.
WORLD OF CARAVANS
With their checklist in hand, Steve and June travelled to the Melbourne suburb of Bayswater and hit the dealerships. The first stop was Regency Caravans, where the couple was particularly taken with a Coronet Prince pop-top.
After looking over the van for a while, the couple’s very clear idea of what they wanted came in handy. They were able to go through their requirements with salesman Keith Trotter and immediately get a clear idea of what was and wasn’t suitable.
"It really helps when customers know what they are looking for," Keith said.
Steve and June came away impressed with the Coronet, but would’ve liked to have seen more of their pre-requisite features already on the van.
The sales staff at the next dealership, Galaxy dealer McKenzie Caravans (in the nearby complex World of Caravans), were put even more thoroughly through their paces, with Steve listing off his seemingly endless checklist items before he and June had even looked at a single van. But this forthright approach proved a successful plan of attack and the McKenzie team were able to lead the couple straight to a specific van.
"It was as though he had seen a Galaxy’s specs and was listing them off one by one," Tony McLaughlin said.
Indeed, the Galaxy Odyssey ticked a lot of the items on the couple’s list and Steve and June spent a long time talking with Tony about all kinds of specifications, as well as all interior and exterior features.
"It also pays to keep an eye on delivery times when you’re talking to the dealers," Steve recommended. "With Leisurefest and Christmas coming up, we had to get in pretty soon or we’d be waiting until next year. And we definitely wanted to be in a new van before then."
After being told a Galaxy van would be available before Christmas, our next stop was Canterbury Caravans (also in the World of Caravans complex), where sales manager Ian Sadler took Steve and June through a range of pop-tops and a few full vans. Again, the detailed checklist and clear idea of what they wanted were especially useful. And while none of Canterbury’s vans fitted the couple’s detailed ideas, our grey nomads were still impressed with what they saw.
"If we were looking for a full van with a shower and toilet, these are the guys we’d be going with," Steve said.
Despite them not being taken with any of his vans, Ian was happy to help Steve and June in their search.
"Customers should buy what they want, not what I want them to have," he said. "We always appreciate repeat business, but I don’t want customers bringing back a van because they have found they don’t like it. I want them coming back because they are happy with us and with the van, and they are looking to upgrade."
After much talking with the dealers, and each other, Steve and June had made their choice. They decided to go with the Galaxy Odyssey – the pop-top that ticked the highest number of items on their checklist and suited their budget.
"It’s one of the vans we have had our eye on for a while," Steve said. "It has nearly everything we are after and really suits us in terms of size and weight."
As for their caravan buying experience, both Steve and June agree it was an enjoyable, if fairly long, process.
"We have spoken with so many dealers since the end of last year and we haven’t had a bad one yet," June said. "Everyone has been so helpful and never tried to steer us wrong. All of the people we’ve dealt with have been great."
"This van ticked all the boxes and answered every question we had."
As Steve and June told McKenzie’s Tony McLaughlin each of their checklist specifications he just nodded his head and told them he had exactly what they were looking for: the 17ft (5.2m) Galaxy Odyssey pop-top (left). And he was right on the money.
"We really did our homework on these rigs, talking to lots of past and present Galaxy owners," Steve said. "This van is really the perfect size for a couple and the weight will not be an issue for our Land Rover Discovery. Comfort also played a big part in our decision, and the finish inside and outside is exceptional."
In addition to what the van itself can offer, Steve and June were impressed with Tony and the rest of his crew at McKenzie’s.
"We really appreciated the idea of their strong aftersales support. That was definitely a contributing factor," Steve said.
"All up, we looked for a long time and this van was the best value. Dollar for dollar, it stacked up better than most others in the market."
"The Prince is a blank canvas on the inside, and there is nothing wrong with that, but we preferred to see the options installed."
This Coronet pop-top (right) met many of Steve and June’s requirements, and those that weren’t standard on the van – battery pack, air-conditioning – could easily be added. But the fact they weren’t standard was something of a problem for the couple.
"People like to see where and how all of their desired items will look and fit when they are installed, without any guesswork," Steve said.
This is not to say the couple didn’t like the Prince, or Coronets in general; rather, they just didn’t want to rely on their imagination too much when it came to looking inside their dream rig.
"One suggestion we have for them would be to have a few vans with the options on display," Steve said. "That said, we still really liked the Prince and June and I would recommend anyone in the market to have a look at a Coronet."
WHAT THE DEALERS SAID
When we asked each of the dealers what potential caravan buyers should be asking when they spoke to a sales person, they each answered with the same word: weights.
They said it’s vital people know their van and tow vehicle weights before making any commitments, especially if they are buying the whole rig at once. All three told tales of customers buying a van only to realise their proposed tow vehicle couldn’t haul it.
KEITH TROTTER – Regency Caravans
"It is important customers know not only caravan weights, but also tow vehicle capabilities. They need to know they can legally tow their caravan. Knowing all the right weights means more van and tow vehicle choices."
TONY MCLAUGHLIN – McKenzie’s Caravans
"With weights, a lot of people choose to buy their van first, especially if it has a shower and toilet. This way they know exactly what they have to tow and they aren’t limited when they choose a car. Getting the tow vehicle first can really limit what van they can buy."
IAN SADLER – Canterbury Caravans
Ian agreed that weights should be at the top of a customer’s list and buying a van before a tow vehicle (if possible) was the way to go. But he also recommended a few extra things customers should be aware of:
1. Consider the sort of travelling you will be doing; whether you will be only on bitumen and in caravan parks, or on dirt tracks, too.
2. Also consider storage, both inside the van and of the van itself. Measure your garage and make sure the van will fit inside.
3. Overall, do your homework before committing to a van. Visit plenty of dealers and even some shows. "There are a lot of late model second-hand rigs in Qld because people tow them up there, discover what they hate about them, and trade them in for something else before coming home," he said.
Special thanks to Regency Caravans (03 9761 5388), McKenzie’s Caravans (03 9761 4435) and Canterbury Caravans (03 9729 8188) for their help and cooperation in preparing this article.
WORDS Paul Hayes PICS Stuart Grant
Source: Caravan World Oct 2011
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