There is a huge range of second hand caravans on the market so you can afford to shop around to find the right one for you. You're also less likely to have to wait as long for delivery of a second hand caravan vs. buying brand new.
By all means take a look at some brand new models. Even if they're out of your price range, looking at what's out there can help you refine your taste and get a better idea of what to look for in a caravan.
Where is it best to buy from?
Dealers - Dealers are a trustworthy source for buying a second hand caravan. You're more likely to be offered extra perks such as a warranty and the law offers you greater protection when purchasing from a dealer rather than a private individual.
Private sale - You may very well find that private sellers offer a better price for a caravan. However, don't let that be the only thing you look for. Make sure you thoroughly check over a caravan for potential faults and ensure the seller has all the important documents such as service records, handbook and CRiS documents (Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme). If you find a few faults or that the caravan doesn't have an up to date service history, you may find that repairing or servicing the caravan negates the savings made by choosing to buy private and not from a dealer. For more information on what to look out for, take a look at the 'What Should I Check For' section below.
Manufacturers - Keep an eye out for refurbished high end caravans direct from the manufacturers. Just occasionally a great opportunity to make a saving comes up. So whilst this may not be your primary search option, check back now and again to make sure you're not missing out.
Auction - Again, an auction house may not be your first port of call for a second hand bargain but check in with your local auction house to see if any of their upcoming lots are caravans. Larger auction houses such as BCA also have some specialist sales so be sure to explore them as an option.
Choosing a make and model
There are a huge range of brands to choose from and an even bigger range of shapes and sizes to choose from. Mostly it's down to personal preference and requirements. It would be wise however, to consider servicing costs and spare parts availability as well as your budget.
If you buy a mid-range caravan from a well known manufacturer the likelihood is that spare parts will be easier to find and there is more choice available. You may also find that a popular make and model of caravan will hold a better resale value. Going for a more up-market model will evidently appeal to those with a larger budget. It can be money well spent though as you're likely to get a caravan with all mod-cons. Be ready to travel and act quickly to pick up one of these caravans as the demand for them is often very high.
When inspecting the specification of a caravan be sure to check if the original spec included all the features of the current caravan. If it looks like the current owner has done some DIY and installed a few extras, make sure you inspect these closely to make sure they have done a good and safe job.
The size of the caravan is likely to be an important factor. This is normally a simple decision based upon the number of people likely to be staying in the caravan at any one time. Be sure to consider where you're going to store your caravan. The last thing you want is to get your new purchase home only to find you have nowhere to put it!
Age is also a key factor. Most caravans will last roughly 14 years if they're well maintained. We would recommend that you aim for well within this age range but be aware that the younger the caravan, the higher the price. Once again, it's important to check for the availability of spare parts as some older caravans may not be made any more and may be in short supply of spares. For more information on finding out the age of your caravan, check out the 'What Should I Check For' section below.
What should I check for?
The number one rule of buying a second hand caravan is, do your research! It may seem as if there's a lot of work to be done however, sites such as practicalcaravan.com and caravantimes.co.uk can help by offering clear and useful advice and information. But remember there's no substitute for seeing with your own eyes. When you go to look at a caravan don't be too worried about being picky and making a thorough assessment of the goods. Take a look in the boxes below for more information.
Legals, documents and your rights as a buyer
Your rights as a buyer - Firstly, you should get to know how you're protected by the law. All caravans should be fit for purpose, of a satisfactory quality and should match any description given of them. If upon inspection a caravan is not of a satisfactory level, you as a consumer can ask for a repair or replacement of any unsatisfactory aspect of the caravan. Check through the caravan thoroughly for these defects as soon as you can. The law does protect you for faults found up to six months after the sale however, you must provide proof that those faults existed at the time of the sale and have not happened since.
Does it meet legal requirements? - This is particularly important to check if you're importing a caravan from abroad. Not only should you check the roadworthiness of the caravan, (including: chassis, brakes, suspension and hitch) you should also check the interior for compliance with fire safety regulations. Although not legally required, it's worth checking which side the door is on to prevent any nasty surprises when stopped by the side of the road!
Documents - Just like buying a car, it's important that you ask to see all the relevant registration documents. Remember to ask for service records, receipts, handbooks and CRiS documentation. This will provide you with evidence that the caravan has been well kept, that it is not stolen and will allow you to compare the original spec of the caravan with the current set up to see if any DIY improvements have been made.
How can I tell if it's stolen? - Sadly, we live in a world where these things are necessary to check. You don't need to be Columbo to establish if there is something fishy going on. There are a few give-away such as signs of forced entry on the door and damage around the wheel arches or wheel rims where a wheel clamp may have been removed.
Documents will also be a give-away - if the seller is reluctant to show receipts or the chassis number plate has been removed, you would be right to be suspicious and walk away from the offer.
Check the CRiS number. This can be found on the chassis of the caravan and should have documentation to match. Make a note of the 17 digit vehicle ID and check in with the CRiS hotline (01722 411430). CRiS will be able to tell you the back ground of the caravan and whether the seller is the legitimate owner.
What condition is the caravan in?
Specification - As with anything, you get what you pay for. As you're looking around a caravan, ask yourself, am I getting a high enough spec for my money. Also be sure to check the user manual for the original spec of the caravan to establish which items have been added by previous owners. If items have been added, be sure to check how well they have been installed. You don't want to have to put right someone else's shoddy workmanship.
Are spare parts and servicing readily available? - If you're buying an older model of caravan you'll want to check that spare parts are still stocked by repairers. Older caravans are more likely to develop faults and could be tricky to fix especially if the manufacturer no longer makes that model. Even simple items such as hinges and catches on cupboards can be a major inconvenience to replace if they fail.
Does everything work? - High end caravans are likely to have a large amount of mod cons. It's best to check that everything works before you take the caravan off the hands of the seller. Remember, you must prove that any faults you find after purchasing your caravan were there before you took it away. If you cannot prove this or if you have missed the six month window, you will have to repair these faults yourself and the seller will not be legally obligated to fix them free of charge. Similarly, if the seller brings a fault to your attention and you decide to buy any way, the seller will not be obligated to fix these faults. As previously mentioned, also make sure you check any DIY jobs to ensure the workmanship is of a satisfactory quality.
Is it easy to live with? - Buying a caravan can be a big investment. You therefore want your caravan to be with you for a long time. In keeping with this idea, you should always check how easy your caravan is to live with. For example, how easy is it to make up the bed? Are the water and waste connections easy to get to? Are there enough work surfaces in the kitchen? Don't be afraid to ask the seller to demonstrate any of these things to enable you to get a clear idea of what you're going to be dealing with.
The awning - This can be an essential part of your caravan. Ask the seller how easy it is to erect and how many it sleeps. Also be sure to check all the relevant components are present. Missing a pole or guy rope can be very frustrating!
Is it watertight? - This may sound like an obvious question but some older caravans may be prone to dampness and the occasional leak. The most accurate way to measure this would be using a moisture meter. One of these can be purchased from any good DIY shop for around £20. Check around any water tight appliances such as the sink to make sure the seals are not rotten and that there is no moisture in the surrounding areas. Also check inside surrounding cupboards and bed lockers to see if any of the wood is swollen or soft through moisture/rot.
Some 25,000 new caravans come on to the UK market year on year. But if you look hard enough you can find a peach without the inflated price of buying brand new. On the flip side, make sure you do your research to make sure you don't end up with a horror show!
Also be sure to check if your touring caravan insurance covers you for the caravan's "market value". If you're caravan is second hand and a little older, insuring at market value means you may save yourself some money as you won't be insuring at the higher "as new" value.