Buying a caravan

By: Cathy Anderson


The need to knows when purchasing a caravan at a show.

Caravan -exhibition

Buying a caravan can be both a thrilling and confusing journey. It’s exciting because you’re on the cusp of a lifetime of new adventures exploring our great country, meeting new people and creating amazing memories. Yet it can also be overwhelming because there are so many things to consider, and the market is literally brimming with tantalising options.

PASSENGERS

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Consider how many people will use the van. Are you a family with young kids or a young couple planning on growing your brood? Perhaps you are a retired couple who might occasionally welcome guests on your ‘Big Lap’. You need to know how many to sleep, where everyone will put their stuff, and how you will use the internal and external spaces. There are many varied and wonderful layouts available for all manner of uses, but at a minimum make sure your dinette can seat everyone, there’s ample storage and everyone can see the TV when seated. Some beds are aligned along the length of the RV (north-south), others run across the width of the vehicle (east-west). This can influence storage options as well as access to and manoeuvrability within the van.

Are there tall people in your crew? If so, pay close attention to the internal height, taking into account low points such as light fittings and air-conditioners, to be sure you can walk freely inside.

YOUR TOURING TYPE

What kind of touring do you think you’d like to do? If you and your family are new to the caravanning lifestyle and you like the comforts of home, you may be perfectly happy touring the country hopping from one caravan park to the next and enjoying the facilities and comforts on offer. Thus, you may want a full-sized fridge to keep your tribe fed and air-conditioning to beat the heat. Conversely, it may also mean you have no use for a large space-taking internal bathroom, which requires about 1m in length and adds up to 400kg, or heavy-duty independent trailing arm suspension since you’ll be cruising the highways.

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If you are looking for something light to tow, consider a camper trailer or pop-top.  They make a great start point for a life of caravanning.  If you are want to get off the beaten track, you’ll need something offroad complete with larger water tanks, undercarriage protection for rougher terrain, more solar panels and a battery management system that can take you off-grid for an extended time.

TOWING

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Obviously if your budget is wide open and you can afford a new tow vehicle, the sky’s the limit. But if you already have a tow-tug and don’t want to upgrade then you’ll need to find a van to suit.  Generally speaking (and assuming the vehicle and towbar ratings are acceptable) four-cylinder cars with 2L engines or more are generally suited for towing caravans around 1000kg to 1200kg. Some six-cylinder or V8 sedans and wagons can comfortably tow lighter single-axle caravans and campers up to 1600kg to 1700kg. The many medium to large 4WDs are generally suited for caravans up to 2500kg before they begin to feel the strain. There are fewer vehicles around for the heavyweights of around three tonnes and more – Ford F250s and LandCruisers come into their own here.

When matching a car’s towing capacity, make sure it exceeds the caravan’s Aggregate Trailer Massa, which for tandem models is usually around 400kg more than the unladen (Tare) weight of the van. More powerful 4WD models can pull 3500kg, which obviously gives you more options. Check your vehicle’s manual to be sure. The weight of the van alone is one thing, but you need to add on everything you’ll carry too. The vehicle manufacturer may also recommend using weight distribution hitches. This may influence your caravan choice because a prospective van with a heavy towball download may require one. And check the owner’s handbook for the rear axle load for your vehicle. If you have a heavy trailer and load up the cargo area of your vehicle with heavy items, you may overload the rear axle. This is illegal.

BUDGET

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This one’s a biggie. Not only do you need to know, and stick to a budget, but think about the other costs associated with owning your own caravan. As mentioned above, you may end up needing an entire tow vehicle and then there are those extra goodies to consider. Your budget should also take into consideration maintenance expenses. Also, the bigger the van and the more features it has, the heavier it is - and that costs more to tow.  Also consider your travel costs and the fees associated with staying in a caravan park.

FINANCES

The best thing to do before you go to a caravan show is to have pre-approval on your finance. This provides you with piece of mind, and it means you’ll get on the road much faster. Specialist caravan finance brokers can arrange quick approval with a wide range of lenders, and usually cheaper rates than personal loans. Brokers such as Credit One offer no-obligation pre-approval, calculating your budget based on all your living expenses, so you can negotiate with a private seller, knowing that you have a pre-approved limit and you’re more likely to stick to your price range. Make sure you compare all available options on loan term, interest rate, pre approval and any early termination fees. Caravan-specific loans can offer flexible repayment structures over two to seven years so you know upfront how long it will take to pay off.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

Read reviews in magazines such as Caravan World, and check out as many layouts as you can online. Research the manufacturer, there are both imported and Australian-made models available across the country, and there’s much online about a manufacturers quality, design and any industry awards they may have won or accreditations they hold. Also, ask other users for their feedback. There are multitude caravan clubs all across Australia and a plethora of Facebook groups that are bottomless pits of great, practical advice from the people who actually use the vans.  

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #569. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!