When you buy a new caravan from a dealer or caravan manufacturer, you want to ensure your purchase is well made, safe, durable, comes with a solid warranty, has reasonable terms & conditions, and offers servicing options that are accessible and affordable. These 10 questions will help you determine this, from finding a good, reputable dealer to knowing what to ask as you inspect their caravan range.
1. Is the caravan dealer licensed?
Before you even step into a dealership, do a little research and find out if the caravan dealers you plan to visit are licensed. You can usually find this on their website or on the caravan manufacturer’s website. Caravan manufacturers, such as Roma, only choose a select group of licensed dealers to sell their caravans and will list these on a dealership page.
Buying from a licensed caravan dealer means your caravan must be legally compliant under all Australian road and safety laws. Compliance covers things like engineering & design rules, safety standards, warranties, guarantees, legal terms & conditions, and consumer law protections. Ticking all these boxes means you caravan can be lawfully driven on the road and ensures you won’t run into problems when trying to insure your caravan or enforce its warranty.
In effect, buying from a licensed dealer is the only way to go. If you suspect the dealer you’re buying from is not licensed then run for the hills. Without this protection you have no background on quality, safety, warranty obligations and the reputation of who you’re buying from.
2. What’s the dealer’s background?
A good reputation goes a long, long way. When you’re visiting your dealership, it’s worthwhile digging a bit deeper into the history of both the caravan manufacturer and dealership you’re buying from.
What you want to know is that the dealer is licensed, has a direct and strong relationship with the manufacturer of the caravan, and has a long and proud history of selling caravans to customers who can vouch for their trustworthiness.
As you tour the dealership, questions you can ask, include:
- How long has the dealership been in business for?
- Is the dealership linked to a caravan manufacturer or are they purely a retailer?
- Does the dealership have a background in caravans or are they new to the industry?
- What’s the longevity of the business so far?
- Will a guarantee or warranty will be honoured - and what does it cover?
- Can any caravan groups vouch for them?
From these conversations, you’ll get a sense of their history, reputation, how passionate they are about their caravans, and how committed they are to their customers. You want to make sure any caravan dealers you talk to have an established reputation with customers and consumer groups that can vouch for their quality and customer service. You also want to ensure that the dealership will stick around to honour their own terms and conditions on guarantees, warranties and servicing arrangements.
3. Does the price seem realistic?
You pay for what you get could never be more true than when buying a new caravan. Good deals are great, but don’t get too excited and make an impulsive purchase that could be too good to be true.
For example, if you’re looking at 19” caravans and the majority are between $68-73K, if you see one priced in the $50Ks you have to ask - where is the cost being cut from?
What to look for when buying a caravan and evaluating the price, include whether it has...
- solid engineering?
- robust chassis and components?
- new tyres and suspension?
- high quality finishes & furnishings?
- hardwood benches?
- good storage?
- great kitchen layout?
- energy efficient appliances?
- high quality mattresses?
- latest TV and tech features?
- aircon and heating?
- sturdy doors and latches?
- premium security?
- off-road features?
- good towing set-up?
- a solid warranty that meets Australian standards?
- easy servicing arrangements?
Similarly, if you’re investing a considerable amount in a luxury caravan, these are the kind of features you should expect to find. It’s important to keep an eagle eye out for these details, as the loss of one or many of these things can affect the longevity, safety and resale value of your caravan.
4. Where is it made?
At Roma, we're proud to say that our caravans have been designed and manufactured in Australia since 1928. Is the caravan you're looking at made in Australia or overseas? What’s the difference and does it really matter? In our opinion it matters a great deal.
Caravans made in Australia must follow Australian Design Rules and safety standards to the letter, and are built with Australian conditions in mind. They also undergo rigorous safety testing to ensure they can be safely used and towed when on the road. Caravan manufacturers must also meet strict safety and workplace obligations to build each caravan.
Commercial importers legally resell caravans and also have a legal obligation to ensure they meets Australian design rules, particularly relating to electricity and gas. They also have a legal obligation to modify caravan features that do not comply with Australian standards. The process of building them, however, is less clear and requires more research to verify the reputation of the manufacturer and the integrity of the build.
Imported caravans may also built with other overseas markets in mind, such as the US, and not designed for Australian conditions. This will show in things like basic suspension, poor or no shock absorbers and towing hitches that preclude sideways rocking. The reason for this is that some overseas markets will be more geared towards flat road/highway conditions and not for off-road travel. The trickle down effect of this is that travelling with a caravan in Australia in a harsher climate and over more uneven surfaces might do more damage to the hitch mounting, tow vehicle and tyres.
Other problems that can arise from import differences, include:
- caravan is too wide, long, high or has too much rear overhang
- tare weight more than stated on vehicle’s plate
- insufficient braking systems
- tow balls mass is too light
- inadequate safety chains
- not enough clearance between axles
- not enough ground clearance
- no left hand side entrance, exit door
- non-compliant electrical & gas installation.
Also keep in mind, compliance applies to when a caravan was built and so you also need to be careful that if you’re buying a ‘new’ caravan but it is still a few years old it meets the current safety standards set in Australia.
For more information, visit: The Caravan Council of Australia – Compliance
5. What’s it made out of?
Caravan frames are generally made from wood, aluminium or steel. Wood and aluminium are lighter and, therefore, used in most modern caravan frames. Wood in particular is renowned for its flexibility, strength, lightness and durability and, therefore, still used by many major caravan manufacturers.
Things that you want to see in a caravan, include:
- strong timber or aluminium frame
- if timber frame, CNC cut profiles for strength
- injection moulded resin reinforced front & rear
- fibreglass 2mm (minimum) roof
- 12mm thick flooring
- waterproofing of floor
- insulation in walls and roof.
Fibreglass components are also ideal to have on the caravan's shell, particularly for the front, rear and roof due to its strength, flexibility, heat efficiency, insulative & sound-proof qualities, and cheapness to repair.
6. Will it suit the tow vehicle I have?
Make sure you check the the tare weight of your caravan and towing capacity of your vehicle before making a purchase.
The tare weight of your caravan, also referred to as kerb weight, is the weight of your caravan without any additional items, occupants, extra water etc. the day it leaves the manufacturers. Tare weight can be found on the caravan’s compliance plate and also in the caravan manufacturer’s handbook. If you have concerns, you can also take it to a weighbridge to be officially weighed.
Your vehicle’s towing capacity can usually be found in your car manufacturer’s handbook. The Caravan Council of Australia recommends that a laden-tow vehicle should weigh 30% more than a laden caravan. Anything wider than 2.3m, may also require a commercial license to tow.
To determine your vehicle’s towing capacity, check:
- vehicle’s payload: the maximum capacity your vehicle has for transport with occupants, cargo, tow bars etc.
- vehicle’s Gross Vehicular Mass (GVM): the maximum weight your vehicle can operate under, anything exceeding this is illegal. GVM = kerb weight + payload and can be found on the vehicle’s compliance plate.
- ball weight/tongue weight: maximum weight that can be placed on the tow ball. It should be minimum 10% the weight of a fully-laden caravan.
From this, a recommended towing capacity and tow speed limit can be applied to your vehicle. Some vehicles may also need to be reinforced with suspension and load distribution devices to safely tow a caravan, including:
- fit load levelling devices
- electrical connections to caravan brake lights
- brake controllers and connection
- additional mirrors for visibility
- extra-transmission oil cooler for automatic transmission vehicles (if not already fitted).
7. What warranty does it offer?
As you get closer to choosing your ideal caravan, make sure you check it has a warranty. Things you can ask include:
- What is the dealer’s and manufacturer’s warranty system?
- How long is the warranty for and how does it work?
- Is it conditional or unconditional?
- What would void the warranty?
- Who do you contact when the product fails?
- Will the company repair, replace or refund money on a purchase?
- What parts and repairs are covered in the warranty?
- Are labour costs included in the warranty?
It’s important to check these points now to avoid confusion over whose responsibility it is to fix or repair any faulty parts or other issues that may occur.
Most manufacturers should provide at least a 12 month warranty on the purchase of a new caravan. Make sure you check the start and finish date of the warranty and set a reminder when the warranty is about to expire.
There are also implied laws you need to be aware of that may differ from state to state. Implied warranties include things like a caravan does what the seller tells you it will do, or the product you purchase suits it’s recommended purpose. Every state is different and it’s important you find out these differences from your dealer before buying. In Victoria, for example, any component of a caravan sold by a manufacturer as a complete unit needs to be honoured, provided the item was sourced by the manufacturer. The dealer needs act on behalf of the consumer, and should be the first point of contact.
Also find out if your purchase comes with a service contract. These provide repairs and maintenance for a specific period of time set out in the contract. Things to look out for include:
- what are your servicing options if you break down?
- what support does the dealer provide?
- does the warranty already cover the areas covered in a service contract?
- what is the duration of the service contact?
- can you trust the reputation of the dealer offering the service contract?
- are there any conditions to the service contract?
8. Is it compliant? In all states or just the state of purchase?
In Australia, all caravans need the following certificates to travel legally on the road:
- weigh-bridge (stating Tare Mass and empty Ball-loading)
- ADR 62 / VSB-1 compliance (coupling & A-frame strength)
- electrical approval
- gas approval.
There are also other compliance laws caravans may require depending on the weight. For caravan’s over 4.5 tonne, they require a compliance plate, issued by the federal Motor Vehicle Standards fitted to it. This means it fully complies with Australian design rules.
For caravans under 4.5 tonne, self-certification is only required. Here the manufacturer or importer provides a plate with a declaration that the caravan complies with the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989. It should include:
- manufacturer’s/importer’s name:
- trailer model
- 17 digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
- manufacturing date
- Aggregate Trailer Mass Rating
- a certification statement.
Tyres will also have a placard that tells you:
- manufacturer’s recommended tyre size
- tyre load rating
- speed rating.
There are also state compliance laws your caravan will need to follow. In NSW, for example, number plates need to be at a different height than in Victoria. To understand the differences, check with your vehicle registration authorities:
9. Are they part of any peak industry associations?
Another good sign that your caravan dealer is reputable is if they’re a member of a national or state peak industry body. Here they must comply with a strict code of ethics and guarantee a reputable service to consumers.
Recreational Vehicle Manufacturing Accreditation (RVMAP)
- RVMAPis an accreditation program issued by the Caravan Industry Association of Australia. Accredited members must comply with:
- Australian Design Rules
- applicable Australian Standards & Safety Regulations
- design caravans to meet Australia’s harsher road conditions and climate.
At a state level, there are also several peak bodies that manufacturers and dealers can join to give customers assurance they are meeting the highest Australian standards. These include:
- VIC: The Caravan Trades & Industries Association of Victoria (CIA Vic)
- NSW: The Caravan and Camping Industries Association (CCia NSW)
- QLD: Caravan Trade & Industries Association of Queensland (CIA QLD)
- SA: The Caravan and Camping Industries Association (CCia) SA
- WA: The Caravan Industry Association (CIAWA)
- TAS: Caravanning TAS
10. Can I make changes? What are my options?
The great thing about buying a new caravan is you have the option to customise it to suit your specific travel needs. Check with your dealer to see what options they can offer.
Some caravan manufacturers, such as Roma Caravans, will offer a full customisation of your caravan from scratch, while others may only be able to customise specific features of a given caravan model. if your manufacturer is Australian you also have the opportunity to visit the factory floor and watch your caravan being built from the ground up. This is a great experience and gives you a chance to see the full design quality and workmanship of your caravan.
Keep in mind that customisation will potentially add costs to your purchases, however, the investment is well worth it if it means you can travel in style and comfort!
The perfect buy
The perfect buy is one with ‘eyes wide open’ and no nasty suprises in store. Always trust your gut instinct and if something doesn’t feel quite right follow up on it. Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions. This approach will help you determine the type of dealership you’re buying from, the quality of caravan you’re purchasing, and the kind of relationship you’ll have with you dealer and your caravan after making your purchase. ‘Trustworthy’, ‘helpful’ and ‘long-lasting’, these are the words you want jumping out at you when you choose your ultimate caravan.
Want to find out more about buying a new caravan? Download our free guide to buying the ultimate caravan in 2016 and know what to look out for when visiting the next dealership.