Buying Second Hand Caravans

If you’ve never considered buying a caravan before or if you have previously owned a tent, trailer tent or motor caravan and you’re now contemplating the purchase of a tourer then we’ve put together some good advice to help you in your search.

Check out your local caravan dealers but don’t expect a dealership to have row upon row of immaculately presented caravans. In most cases displays are outdoors and it’s not until the sold sticker has been put in the window that service work on the caravan starts.

You can spot a ’vans faults before making any commitment to buy – and ensure they’re rectified before taking the ’van away. A dealership should represent more than just a place to buy a caravan from. Look at it in terms of a caravan and after-sales package. You could pay less initially for a caravan bought privately, but once the deal is complete and the payment has been made there is no comeback should anything subsequently go wrong.

You will need to answer some questions before you start looking for a secondhand ’van. What type of layout do you want? What equipment is essential? How much money do you have to spend? It’s also worth taking time to consider locker storage, bed size and ease of make-up, and potential ease of use for eating, cooking and sleeping. There’s plenty of choice on the secondhand market for family caravans offering four or more berths but they are often the ones in high demand.

Why not buy new?

There are some key advantages to buying a previously owned unit especially nearly-new. Most teething troubles will have been sorted by the previous owners and extra equipment may have been fitted over the normal specification. Like a car, depreciation in the price of a caravan is highest when it is newest. Give careful consideration to what your car is capable of towing. Older caravans tend to weigh less than modern ones — despite recent developments in weight reduction during the manufacturing process, they’re usually less well-equipped.

Where to buy

Caravan dealers can be helpful if you know the right questions to ask. Do some background research before visiting them. Magazines and brochures will give an idea of layouts. Private sales are more risky – it really is buyer beware – but you could bag a real bargain if you know what you’re looking for and don’t mind the risk of not having a warranty as back-up. Do-it-yourself experts may be looking for a caravan to renovate but remember that when dealing with gas and electric systems such work should be checked by an independent qualified technician. There are also occasional auctions featuring caravans. Here again, you need to know exactly what you are looking for and be aware of the risks involved. Wherever you buy why not take an experienced caravanner with you? Go during daylight hours – although you may want to check the lighting, curtain efficiency etc after dusk.

How old is it?

Dating a caravan is harder than you think. Don’t just take the seller’s word for it. If in doubt, check with the manufacturer via the chassis number, although on older models the chassis number may be worn away and unreadable. Some indicators of
age are:

  • Fluorescent lighting was introduced in the late 1960s, although gas lighting didn’t disappear until the mid-1970s.
  • Gas lockers mounted on the drawbar arrived in the 1970s.
  • Most caravans pre- 1978 used single- glazed glass windows with aluminium frames. After a law change, manufacturers switched to acrylic double-glazed units.
  • After October 1979 all caravans had to have a rear fog lamp. This coincided with the introduction of twin socket car-to- caravan electrical fittings.

What about an imported caravan?

A caravan of foreign origin might be a bargain. Prices may be lower than similar aged British ’vans but you need to check as the specification is unlikely to be as high as a British-built equivalent. Check if the make of ’van is still imported. Many disappear from the British market over the years. Is there a dealer or registered importer near you? How good are current UK-based agents at sourcing replacement parts? A foreign ’van may have the door on the opposite side to British ’vans. This is not illegal but may be inconvenient. Gas and electrical systems could also be different to those found in UK ’vans

The cheap banger?

An advert in a local paper seemed worth a follow-up. “Caravan for sale. Reasonable condition. £250 ono”. When we rang for more details we were told there were two caravans for sale. They had been bought by a signwriting company and used for a year. The man we spoke to didn’t know the make, model or age of either ’van although he said we were welcome to look at them at any time. Our verdict? They may have been worth investigating but the chances are they had suffered plenty of abuse in their recent working lives. Unless you were particularly knowledgeable about either model and happy to go with your bargain-spotting instincts, such a buy is probably a false economy.

Just what is CRiS?

The Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme (CRiS) was introduced for 1992 models by the National Caravan Council (NCC), which represents all leading UK caravan manufacturers. Since the 1992 model year every caravan built by a NCC member is given a unique 17-digit code – you should see it stamped on the chassis and etched on the windows.

For 1998 model year onwards, CRiS-registered UK caravans came with an electronic transponder that can be read by a scanner. Avoid all post-1992 CRiS-registered UK caravans without etched windows. Similarly, all CRiS caravans will come with documentation to prove ownership – ask to see them before you buy.

You can check online at CRiS- registered caravans or by contacting :
CRiS, Dolphin House, New Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP1 2TB    Tel: 01722 411430

Ten ways to spot a good ’un

  1. A full service history – much of the advice for the successful purchase of a car applies to caravans too.
  2. A full set of documentation, eg owner’s handbook, manuals for major items of equipment.
  3. Cleanliness. An all-over nooks-and- crannies check is vital.
  4. The seller is a keen caravanner. This applies more so in a private sale but you’ll also be surprised how many dealers use the products and can comment with knowledge on their assets.
  5. By recommendation – be discerning in your gathering of information but friends, Club members etc may recommend a particular make or even a specific model.
  6. Favourable press reviews – these can be useful but bear in mind that most magazines test ’vans when brand new or even at the prototype stage – and then only for short periods.
  7. Everything works. Try out as much of the equipment as possible, from door locks and handles to major items of equipment.
  8. Used, but not abused. A vehicle that has been obviously well used but not misused should make a good buy. Previous owners may have added sensible extra equipment such as additional lighting.
  9. First impressions count for a lot when you buy a caravan. The chances are that if you like a ’van when you first enter it then it could be the right for you. Trust your instincts.
  10. That club sticker in the window could be a sign of previous owners who cared about their caravanning.

Ten ways to spot a lemon

  1. Interior smells. If you smell damp when you first step inside the ’van, be wary, especially if the weather has been dry for some time. Don’t confuse this with any smells coming from waste pipes – thesecan often be cured using products such as Milton Sterilising Fluid.
  2. No warranty – ask why.
  3. Exterior blemishes. Cracked plastic and glass fibre mouldings, deep dents in the aluminium walls, and broken light clusters all indicate clumsy use. Look for damage to the awning rail if you plan to use an awning. Repair work can be costly, especially if it involves buying replacement parts. Do the roof vents work? The corner steadies and jockey wheel should work smoothly and not show any signs of bending or knocks.
  4. Interior. Look for the usual signs of wear on the upholstery, locker door hinges and handles, furniture edges etc.
  5. No documentation. Not as damning as it sounds, because many owners’ manuals are poor but these, along with operating instructions from the suppliers of original equipment, should be of use when you are getting to know your new ’van.
  6. An unbelievably low price. Yes, it may be a genuine bargain, but if the asking price seems exceptionally low – especially if no particular reason is given for selling – ask why.
  7. Do-it-yourself work. The addition of extra shelving or a magazine rack may not bother you particularly, but any DIY work that involves the gas or electric systems needs to be checked thoroughly. If in any doubt, ask for written guarantees.
  8. Chassis. Twisted chassis are not unknown on caravans. Check first that it’s sitting straight when on level ground. Look underneath for damage. Modern chassis are galvanised, but any additional drill holes could be a starting point for rust.
  9. A very pushy salesperson. The best dealers recognise that it takes time to make a sale.
  10. Manufacturer no longer in business. Not necessarily a bad sign but there are implications regarding spare parts availability etc.


Many dealers now offer extensive warranties with their secondhand caravans. These are worth it, although they vary from dealer to dealer. About three months is the minimum if such a warranty is offered. You are likely to be offered the chance to extend that warranty. If you’re expecting to use the caravan extensively soon after purchase a standard warranty should suffice.

Think about towing

The Camping and Caravanning Club offers Caravan Manoeuvring Courses throughout the country – not just aimed at newcomers but also for those who want to polish their techniques. Acquaint yourselves with the 85 per cent guideline, which suggests your laden caravan should weigh, at most, around 85 per cent of the kerbweight of your car. You should also know the car manufacturer’s towing limit for your vehicle – remember, it is not advisable to exceed this limit. You must also not exceed the vehicle’s trainweight (the combined maximum gross weight of car and caravan).

If you’re buying a car, be prepared to ask searching questions about the car’s towing abilities and limits. Tell the car dealer exactly what you intend to use it for.


Damp words of warning

Damp in a caravan is equivalent to rust in a car and at worse it can fatally weaken structural woodwork. Check for signs of water ingress on exterior joins and around window frames. Look along the sides of the caravan for any ripples. Make a close check inside the overhead and floor lockers. Borrow or buy a damp meter – they cost from £15 at local hardware shops – but use it on a dry day. A floor that feels spongy underfoot is probably a sign of delamination – the coming apart of previously bonded panels – this can be expensive to repair.


Prices and guides

The trade uses a publication called Glass’s Guide to check on secondhand prices, although officially this is not available to the general public. If you are close to making a purchase, however, there is one way to check you’re not paying over the odds – when you call a specialist caravan insurance company for a quote they should be able to offer a guide evaluation. Otherwise, do your own research, scanning dealers’ price lists, to compare prices.

How will you pay for it?

Cash or loan? These are the two obvious ways of buying a caravan. You’re bound to be offered the opportunity of a finance package from a dealer if you need a loan to complete your purchase but you’ll need to check this carefully to see how it compares with other loan deals.

Ten questions to ask the person with a caravan to sell

  1. Why are you selling this? – if a private seller.
  2. What can you tell us about the previous owners? – if at a dealer’s. You may want to avoid earlier use by heavy smokers, pet owners etc.
  3. When was this caravan last used? A caravan that has been sitting around for a long time is not a good thing.
  4. When was this caravan last serviced?
  5. Have you any details of repair work? Ask to see any receipts or documentation.
  6. What has this caravan got that is over and above the standard specification?
  7. Are spare parts easy to get?
  8. Can you show this is a suitable match for our towcar?
  9. By how much is this likely to depreciate in value?
  10. What is included in the price? Warranty details, pre-delivery work, even items such as an awning, step etc.

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