Buying a new or second hand caravan is a big decision and there are pros and cons to buying either. Which will give you your best bang for your buck? This depends on many things, from where you want to travel to the budget you can afford.
There are a lot of makes, models and methods to buying caravans, from visiting dealerships to classifieds and caravan sales online, which can get quite confusing when trying to determine what is the best fit for you.
In essence, the perfect caravan should be one that reflects your personality, travel style and sense of comfort. A personal home on the road that it is easy to tow, set-up and store, and that provides a good level of relaxation, reliability and safety when you travel. This is what you should aim for. And it’s reasonable to expect this in a new or used caravan.
Before you start looking...
Before you start looking, take a minute to sit down and write a list of everything you want out of a caravan. This is an important first step as your answers will influence the type, size, layout and budget of your caravan. If you’re sharing it with a partner or the whole family involve them in the process, their viewpoints will also help shape your decision.
Key questions to ask, include:
- will you use it with a partner, family or friends?
- will it become your second home?
- will you travel for long or short distances?
- will you use it intermittently or regularly?
- will you travel mostly on highways, or take it off road?
- do you just want basic features, medium creature comforts or luxury mod cons?
- what are the ‘must haves’ you expect on a caravan?
- what can’t you live without when you travel?
- what kind of car do you have and can you tow it?
- do you want a warranty, guarantee and servicing options?
- do you want to customise and personalise inside and out?
- do you have a low, medium or high budget?
There are many things to consider and writing them down will help clarify what you’re looking for.
Buying a new caravan
Buying new gives you access to all the latest design improvements, safety features, technologies, custom layouts, warranties and guarantees. They are also generally sleeker, lighter, more agile, with better suspension, and are easier to tow than their older counterparts.
One of the great things about buying new is that you can customise. With customised caravans you can choose all the details and be part of the build process, or customise part of an existing model to suit your specific needs.
The options for customisation include things like changing the layout to suit your living style and adding luxury mod-cons and high quality fittings & furnishings to the fit-out. Most importantly you can be part of the entire customisation process, from design to layout and final touches.
If you live close enough to a manufacturer you may also be lucky enough to be able to visit and watch it being built from the ground up. While generally more expensive than buying a standard model, the end result will be a highly personal caravan perfectly matched to your needs.
GETTING THE BEST OUT OF NEW
To make sure you get the best out of buying a new caravan, it’s important you go through a licensed dealer. When searching for a dealer, you want to know:
- it’s an Australian licensed dealer
- its caravans come from reputable, well-recognised caravan manufacturers, that have a clear record of sound engineering, workmanship, construction, design and safety
- it has a long company history and offers a good returns policy
- its models meet all Australian standards and design rules
- it offers a warranty detailing workmanship, construction & materials
- it offers local servicing options for when you break down and regular services
Ways to find out about the reputation and reliability of a caravan brand, include:
- checking out customer reviews
- visiting online caravan forums
- talking to experienced caravans owners
- visiting local manufacturers and talking to the owners
Once you have found a licensed dealer that fits the bill, check their range online then visit the dealership and inspect your caravan in the flesh. Nothing beats this experience. Here you can walk through it, determine the quality of the build, fit-out, furnishings, appliances, layout and space, and if it meets, exceeds or disappoints your expectations. You can also discuss with the dealer alternative models or customising features to fit your specific needs.
CONS OF BUYING NEW
The main con is affordability, however, even here there are caravans built for almost every budget. While the starting price for any model is higher than buying a used caravan, they offer better value for what they offer and come with a warranty.
You also have the choice of custom-building when you buy new, adding or altering features to your caravan to perfectly match what you’re looking for, meaning you’re more likely to use it and making it a better investment.
The only other issue you might run into is knowing how to determine the good from the bad. If you don’t do your research and buy online without inspecting the caravan, this makes it harder to ensure it will meet your expectations and be compliant with all Australian workmanship, road and safety laws.
WHAT YOU CAN BUY FOR YOUR BUDGET
For $15,000–$50,000 you can you can find budget fold-down caravans and pop-tops with basic creature comforts and compact interior spaces.
For $30,000–$70,000 you’ll be able to buy a pop-top to a full size caravan with more creature comforts, from a kitchen to family dining area, lounge, ensuite, beds, TV, heating & air-con, off-road essentials and more.
For $70,000–$150,000 you can start looking at fully-customised caravans and 5th wheelers. Here, you can expect premium engineering & design, spacious rooms, high quality fittings, luxury kitchens, premium furnishings & finishes, fully integrated entertainment systems, high-end security systems and more.
Buying a second hand caravan
Buying a used caravan will give you greater flexibility and affordability to find something with more mod-cons for a better price. However, with this comes a whole raft of things you need to watch out for, from registration to body condition, that could cost you more money to fix later on and therefore making it not such a good deal in the end.
WHAT YOU CAN GET FOR YOUR BUDGET
Ideally, aim to spend upwards of $10,000. Anything below this price range is unlikely to offer up-to-date registration, a full maintenance history or essential features.
From this point upwards, pricing is more of a grey area, given the difference you will find in age, make, model, condition, wear and tear, safety features, collectors models, and so on.
Compared to cars, caravans will also hold their value for a lot longer. This is because they are usually kept for longer, used less often, and suffer less wear and tear as a consequence.
Prices can still range from $10k-100k depending on the type of caravan you are buying and how many luxury features they are offering.
GETTING THE BEST OUT OF SECOND HAND
To avoid the common pitfall that comes with buying a second hand caravan there are several key things you should look out for:
CHECK THE SELLER & MAINTENANCE HISTORY
To get the best deal when buying a second hand caravan buy from a licensed dealer. Dealers do thorough background checks on caravans ensuring they’re not stolen and are roadworthy. If you are buying through a private sale, you need to do your own background work and ensure you check its maintenance history, registration details, and take it for a roadworthy test before you purchase it. Stolen, written-off, or money owed on caravans can be also found by checking the Australian Financial Security Authority. It’s also a good idea to check your caravan is roadworthy.
Inspect the caravan, check its details and look out for:
- compliance plate: fitted with VIN number that corresponds with registration papers
- body condition: are there any scrapes, dents, bumps or other things such as rust affecting the caravan's body and how much would sections take to replace?
- chassis condition: check for cracks, rust, corrosion
- rooftop condition: check for hail damage, creases in front and rear roof section, tears in canvas pop-tops, leaky roofs, deteriorated or non-standard joint sealant
- wheel bearings: check for looseness, which can indicate a damaged wheel bearing
- wheel size: check they correspond with the caravan model
- tyre condition: check there is still tread on the tyres and they have correct inflation
- interior condition: check for surface damage on benchtops and wet areas, wear on fabrics & finishes
- safety features: choose models with IRS axle system, stabiliser coupling sets for towing safety
- brakes & suspension: electric brakes, electronic stability control, roller-rocker suspension
- electric & gas fittings: check for leaks and see if gas cylinders have been inspected in the past and have a certificate of compliance
- doors & windows: check they are water-tight and fully sealed
- plumbing: check its sound, taps work, toilet flushes
- cupboards and hinges are sturdy
- door keys match locks to doors etc.
- spare wheel is same size as all other wheels
- load rating on the ball coupling is satisfactory
- caravan is the legal road weight
CONS OF BUYING A USED CARAVAN
While a second hand caravan may contain more features you’re looking for for a lower price, the trade off is that over time you may have to pay more for its repair, maintenance and upkeep to keep it a safe and viable option on the road.
Older caravans offer less mod-cons than newer models with more outdated interiors, fit-outs, accessories and technologies. They also will show more wear and tear on both the exterior and interior, which can become an issue and affect their resale value down the track.
Used caravans also often do not come with a warranty and may have hidden issues that you are not aware of. Knowing what to look for when you buy used is essential to avoid common pitfalls, as detailed above, that can appear after the purchase.
If you are looking to invest in lifestyle and want a caravan with the latest design improvements, safety features, technologies, custom layouts, warranties and guarantees, then buying new is your best choice. For your money, buying a new caravan is also a better investment in the long term. You can be assured of its service history, the quality of its build (after you’ve done research) and with no hidden nasties to hurt your wallet after your initial purchase.
Used caravans still have their place and for to travellers on a tight budget looking to do a one off trip or irregular travel then buying used is a good option. Just be sure to check the service history and condition of any used caravan before you buy so it won’t cause any issues in your travels or for its resale value.
The main thing is that you buy a caravan that suits your travel needs, is easy to insure, doesn't break the bank, and will hold you in good stead as you head off on your next or first big caravan adventure.
Still can't decide whether new or used is right for you? Download our free guide to buying the ultimate caravan in 2016 and make your dream of caravan ownership a reality.