Buying a new caravan in Australia can be an overwhelming and confusing task for those who are not familiar with the process. Especially in the current market, caravan sales are at an all-time high since 2020.
Since 2020 many Australians have chosen to ditch the dream of overseas travel, and instead, investing in a good tow rig and buy a dream van. Some to escape the 9-5 grind, live the dream and travel around Australia full-time. Others to escape on short weekend camping getaways or camping holidays.
It is important to learn as much about buying a caravan before signing a contract to avoid any unexpected costs or problems down the road. These top 10 Tips should help you make the best decision for buying your first or next caravan!
Tip 1. Buying A Caravan – The Best Caravans To Buy
The best van to buy is the right van for you and your family. What type of van would best suit your needs and lifestyle?
How many trips will you take? Are there plans to use your van full-time or for holidays? For example, a smaller caravan is probably not suitable for family trips. While a second-hand caravan that has a fair amount of use off-road may not be suitable either.
Buy a caravan that fits your lifestyle and has all of the features you want. If buying for a family, look for caravans with lots of space and storage room and around 22-23 feet. For a couple, a van between 15-20 feet would suit.
Tip 2. On-Road Caravan or Off-Road Caravan?
Full-size off-road brand new caravans for sale are built especially for travelling to the most remote parts of Australia. Off-road vans have a greater clearance and stronger suspension system. They are designed to cope with corrugation, dust, water and living life off-grid.
Most off-road brand new caravans will have a minimum of two solar panels and lithium batteries, a converter and solar monitoring system.
On-road vans are designed to travel smaller distances and to travel only on the blacktop. Owners generally plug into 240v power and typically stay in caravan parks and campgrounds. Power and water and other caravan park facilities are also important.
Caravans come in all different sizes and therefore different weights. Buying a caravan without considering towing weights are one of the most common mistakes buyers make.
Many buyers are caught out and when they order their van or worse upon delivery. They realise the vans tare weight is more than they allowed for their tow vehicle. So you need to know your recreational vehicle towing weight capacity (or GVM – Gross Vehicle Mass).
GVM – Gross Vehicle Mass
Although this post is about buying a caravan, we can’t talk about caravan weights without mentioning the GVM.
This weight is the maximum allowable towable mass of your tow rig. GVM is specified by the manufacturer and includes tare mass (base weight and mass of the recreational vehicle) plus the load. The load includes fuel, passengers, cargo any mods or accessories.
Tare weight is the base weight of a caravan at manufacture. It is the weight of the empty caravan, unhitched with no payload. Meaning no water, no filled gas bottles or any aftermarket caravan accessories.
ATM – Aggregate Trailer Mass
The ATM is the weight of the caravan fully loaded when it’s unhitched from your tow vehicle.
Payload weight includes everything that is added to your caravan. This includes water, clothes, caravan accessories, gas and any other additions inside or outside the caravan.
Payload is the ATM minus the Tare Weight.
Tow Ball Weight
Another weight you need to know is Tow Ball Weight. Tow Ball Weight is the tow ball mass or ball load. It is the load that is exerted on the tow ball of the tow vehicle in Australia. The ball weight is generally around 10% of the ATM – Aggregate Trailer Mass.
GTM – Gross Trailer Mass
The GTM is the weight of your caravan fully loaded when it is hitched to your tow vehicle.
GCM – Gross Combined Mass
The GCM is the weight of your towing vehicle and caravan hitched together, fully loaded.
Buying a lightweight caravan will make it easier for you to tow. You’ll require less fuel and overall have a better fuel economy.
Caravans usually weigh between 950- 3500 kgs, some even more! The heavier the caravan the stronger it will be and the more off-roading you can do. However, buying a caravan that is too heavy for your car to tow may cause all sorts of costly problems to both your tow rig and caravan.
Weight is a huge consideration when buying a new caravan or buying a second-hand caravan. Do your research and check, check, check your weights are correct!
Tip 3. Setting Your Budget
Knowing your budget when buying a caravan is really important because costs escalate quickly. The more you add to your build, the costlier the final contract will be.
You also don’t want to buy something too large or small for your lifestyle. At the same time, you don’t want to leave out buying something that has the features you would like to have either.
Set a budget before you start searching for your van and stick to it. Set the lowest and highest limit within your budget. Make a list of things to consider and the inclusions you want to have. Then go back and look at your budget.
It is easy to get caught up in buying the most expensive caravan possible especially if you have a pushy salesperson. Knowing your budget and doing your research before you go shopping for the best price will ensure you buy within your means.
When you are ready to buy and own a caravan look for vans at the lower end of your budget as you will always want to either change or add to the standard new van or pre-loved van.
Tip 4. Buying Second-hand Caravan vs Buying New Caravan
Buying a new caravan
Size of the Caravan
Caravans come in different sizes and shapes with varying materials that can be used to manufacture them depending on the price range.
The standard size of a caravan varies between 5 meters to 9 meters. This includes the space of the cabin, bathroom, and kitchen.
Funnily enough, although our measuring system is in metric the measurement or sizes of caravans are mainly referred to in feet. In feet, the average caravan in Australia is 16 feet to 22.6 feet.
The caravans are built with different materials. There are caravans on the market made of the lightweight construction material aluminium and fibreglass, and timber frames and fibreglass.
The most common material used is aluminium which makes for a lightweight option. However, they can be very expensive compared to buying a caravan made of fibreglass or timber.
Axles, are an essential component of the caravan chassis, connect your van’s wheels to its axles and are required for its safe operation on the road. While the majority of caravans have a single axle, larger and heavier carvans are more likely to have twin or dual axles. Four wheels can better handle the weight of a large carravan.
Dual axles are definitely necessary if you are considering getting off the blacktop and venturing off-road.
Is your tow rig capable of towing a big twin-axle caravan? Once again, you’ll need to verify your car’s official towing capacity. This will be covered in the owner’s manual, however, you will also get all of the information you need by a quick Google.
Furthermore, there are a number of additional elements to consider when towing a twin axle caravan that is long and heavy. Other factors to consider include the tow car’s torque/power output, its MPG, and the drive system’s traction.
The caravan suspension system keeps you safe by maintaining a safe distance between your caravan and the road. Caravan suspension also makes your ride comfortable.
Suspension systems are designed to absorb road shocks and noise while also being sturdy enough to keep your caravan properly fastened behind your vehicle.
The spring and dampener, or shock absorber, are the two main components of the suspension.
The suspension system’s spring is elastic, and it may be used for compression when a wheel hits a pothole in the road or for an extension when a wheel encounters a bump in the road.
Dampers serve the purpose of converting the shock they take into thermal energy. They need to be able to handle enormous quantities of heat, especially if you plan on travelling for a long stretch of time.
There are several types of suspension systems for a caravan with the two most common being the live axle and independent suspension.
A live axle suspension system is a single axle with one wheel on each end that is typically known as a solid or beam axle. Leaf springs are often paired with spring bars, which are ideal for on-road caravans. Make regular inspections because they do droop and flatten out.
An independent suspension system has two shorter axles that are not linked together, unlike the live axle suspension design. This can be a beneficial method since whatever affects one wheel does not have as much of an impact on the other.
The independent suspension system has the better ground clearance and assists in toe and camber alignment changes, among other things. When the wheel is out of proportion with the trailer, toe occurs; when the wheel leans inwards somewhat, it’s known as camber.
Because they can offer many advantages, off-road caravans are typically independent systems. This technology coupled with coils and airbags is excellent for off-road caravans as they provide improved shock absorption.
Things to Consider Before You Buy A Second Hand Caravan
If you are considering buying a second-hand caravan then take the new caravan information above into account too.
If you buy an older van, it may not be worth what you paid for it when you decide to sell. That said, currently, the price of second-hand caravans are often selling for more than the current new prices.
This is due to waiting times for newly built caravans. Personally, we were given a 12 months wait time when ordering our van. However, we’ve been told that the manufacturer is 8 weeks behind schedule due to lockdowns. Plus, some caravan essentials, such as fridges are periodically out of stock.
Buying a used caravan can save you a great deal of money buying at the right price. A used van may present fewer problems if it has low km’s and hasn’t been used off-road.
It’s always a good idea to check the service records for the service history if they are available.
Initially, when we started looking into buying a caravan we thought we’d buy a second-hand van. As the market heated with a great demand for caravans the second-hand van market was non-existent!
When there was a pre-loved van available it often had a higher price than new. So we ordered a new van to suit our needs instead.
Dealership vs Private Seller?
If buying a used caravan would you consider buying from a private party or dealer? When buying a used van, buying from a private party can be more cost-effective. Dealer pricing tends to be higher and offers generally less leeway when negotiating due to the salesmen’s own commission rates.
Some private sellers will provide you with more negotiation space depending on their circumstances. However, in ahot market, negotiations might not be as generous from the seller.
Dealerships provide a guarantee of quality and are easily reachable if there are warranty issues.
It is recommended that you go to various dealerships to shop for your new or used caravan in person. Sight unseen buying typically results in buying a caravan from the wrong dealer or buying one that does not meet your needs and expectations.
That said I’ve read where a few people have bought a new caravan sight unseen and have bought purely on recommendations and online reviews.
Tip 5. Brand Research
It is also important to research different types of caravans before buying as each has its own unique features.
We looked at several brands before we made a final decision.
We based our decision on;
- Value for money
- Quality of the build
- Range of off-road vans
- Price in comparison to the well-known brands
- The flexibility of the build, e.g. additions and changes
- The extras and differences in the brand we ordered
We had two brands competing for our business and finally, we chose the first, lesser-known brand of van (at the time). The brand was only the second van we walked through at the caravan and camping show on the Gold Coast.
Although we had no intention of ordering at the time. All the research we’d done paid off and we ordered at the following caravan and camping show seven months later.
Tip 6. Features Inside and Outside A Caravan
Know which features you want before buying a new caravan. Are you interested in outdoor kitchen slide-outs, gas hot water, air conditioning, etc.? Make a list of the key features that are most important to you.
Things to check when buying a caravan
- do you need an inverter?
- is there enough storage?
- do you want a washing machine?
- is airbag suspension a must for you?
- how much sleeping space do you need?
- will you carry bikes and need a bike rack?
- club lounge, recliners or dinette seating?
- are there enough water tanks on board?
- what length will you be comfortable towing?
- does it have enough solar panels on the roof?
- how heavy is the van will all the additions and inclusions?
- does the van have any form of heating and will you need it?
Tip 7. Caravan Warranty
Another consideration when buying a caravan is the warranty.
How many years of warranty does the van have? Is the warranty transferable? What warranty issues do current owners have with their vans? Join the brand’s owners Facebook groups and read what problems and issues owners face.
All manufacturers have warranty claims and issues, however, it’s the way they approach the claims and the after-care and customer service that matters.
This ensures you are buying something that has been made well and can last for many years to come
Tip 8. Caravan Resale Value
It is also helpful to buy a caravan with a high resale value. Buying a van from a reputable brand and dealership will ensure you are buying a caravan that will last retain a good resale value.
Currently, (at the time of writing) and as previously mentioned above, the caravan market in Australia is a hot market. Nobody really knows what the outcome will be when it’s time to sell your van.
Some owners think that when overseas travel opens up there will be a flood of second-hand vans on the market. If this happens the re-sale value will plunge.
We aren’t too sure about this and we certainly don’t have a crystal ball. However, if you look at the market pre-2020, there was an upward trend for caravans and re-sale values were strong.
Tip 9. Visit Caravan and Camping Shows
Visit them often but don’t buy on your first visit!
We were given this advice and we are happy we waited to buy it after attending the first show. This enabled us to have a good look at brands and decide what we wanted.
Before you go to a show, have a few brands in mind you’d like to see. Walkthrough the different layouts and get a feel for the van and brand. Can you see yourself travelling Australia or holidaying in the caravan?
Talk to salespeople about the brand, vans and prices. Don’t be swayed though by “show deals” “good deals” and “show prices.”
Will the price rise from the time you look to the time you buy? Probably. However it’s likely it will be (if it does) only a few thousand. That could be, spend a few extra thousand later, than a costly mistake now that could cost you more.
Tip 10. Have A Caravan Buying Plan
Organise your buying plan. Decide when you need the new caravan, where it will be housed and make a schedule to put some time aside before buying.
Do not rush into buying a new caravan. You will be living in your van for a few weeks or months. Or if you are like us full time with no end date. Choose carefully and buy a caravan that fits your lifestyle and needs for the next few years or decades.
Remember, don’t buy on a whim! A neighbour of my parents once went down the street to buy a loaf of bread and also bought a caravan! True story!
We hope our top 10 tips for buying a caravan has helped you formulate a good plan for researching and buying your own caravan. Good luck on becoming a caravan owner and we’ll see you on the road!