Collecting a new (to you) caravan should be something to look forward to, whether it’s your first foray or you’re a seasoned buyer. Caravans are more than just tin tents – they become memories.

I often look at pictures of the caravans that we have owned over the years, and thoughts of fabulous holidays and short breaks come flooding back.

When Kay and I were in the fortunate position of having just purchased a new caravan, we collected it on a miserable wet day in December 2022, so it was certainly leak tested during our drive home!

Hopefully, by the time the day arrives when you are due to collect yours, you’ll have done your homework, especially in respect of dealerships.

A good way to get an idea of where the good dealers are is to browse the results of the Practical Caravan Owner Satisfaction Awards, where the standout dealers and makes of caravan are revealed. For instance, the make I opted for, Coachman, took the top spot at the 2024 Awards. However, there are a good number of smaller dealers who only handle used models or don’t receive enough feedback in the survey to get a mention. You’ll have to do your own digging to find them.

It’s also wise to have caravan insurance in place, so that should the worst happen on your way home, you won’t be left out of pocket – even though it’s not a legal requirement. But unless you’re trading in one caravan for a newer model (so you should already have done this), you need to contact your car insurer to make sure they’re aware you are going to be towing a caravan. I have heard of some companies who don’t allow towing (thankfully few and far between, but they are out there).

Don’t forget your towing mirrors (buy them from the dealer if you don’t already have some – our guide to the best towing mirrors will help you settle on a pair). You need them to comply with the law in 99.9% of cases when towing.

For many years, Kay and I have dealt with Couplands Caravans, in Lincolnshire. They are 60-odd miles from home, but they have always given us exemplary service in terms of the actual deal for the caravan, and more importantly, the aftercare.

Coupland Caravans
Nigel and Kay arrived at Couplands Caravans on a damp December day

We broke from that tradition previously and learned to regret it. That might go against some advice, but provided the distance is not too far for when you have to return the caravan for warranty work or servicing, to me, having a good dealer is more important than saving a few bob.

So what should you expect when you arrive to collect your new caravan?

First of all, a friendly welcome and a spotlessly clean and well-prepared van. I am pleased to report that is exactly what we received. We were greeted by Glenn, the grandson of company founders Peter and Fay Coupland (who I knew well), who is now pretty much at the helm, and then taken to view our new caravan.

It is their intention to have handover bays undercover in future, but for now, this is done outside and, in our case, between the rain showers.

Our first impressions were excellent. The caravan was spotlessly clean (inside and out) and had been connected to 230V so everything could be demonstrated.

We’d taken our ‘old’ van to Couplands a couple of weeks before, so they could swap the motor mover (see: our guide to the best caravan movers if you need one) and E&P levelling system to the new model. This had all been carried out by the time we received it.

Time to hand the caravan over

Glenn introduced us to Tim, who would be doing the handover. Apparently, he was a bit nervous because Glenn had cheekily told him I probably knew more than him!

That was simply not true, especially in Tim’s case. He is dealing with caravans day in and day out, so gets to see and use the latest equipment – before I’ve even heard of it in some cases.

We started on the outside, and Tim was very methodical in his approach. Beginning at the rear offside, he showed us where and how to sort out the toilet and flush, before moving forward to the waste-water outlets (and telling us there was some piping in one of the front lockers for draining the water into a waste container).

Tim and Nigel
Tim guided Nigel through the control panel above the door

He then opened up the battery locker cover to show us how to connect the 230V hook-up lead, and pointed out the caravan TV aerial and satellite connections in there, too.

Still moving forward, Tim showed us the caravan’s fresh-water connection and the external shower point.

Our Coachman Laser 575 Xtra has two front lockers. The one on the offside is for storage, while the one located on the nearside is for the gas bottles. Tim also showed us how to connect the gas supply.

On the nearside, there are a couple of external hatches, giving access to the area under the front settee and the main bed. Tim also pointed out the VIN plate behind the entrance door, which states the tyre pressures and wheel bolt torque settings.

While Tim was showing us around, I gave the external bodywork a good examination to check for any dents and so on, because once you get home, it’s hard to prove if blemishes were there before collection.

Moving inside the van, we started with the control panels above the door. One has the 12V master switch and various switches for lighting (interior and awning – see: the best caravan awnings if you need one) and the water pump, as well as a display for things such as time, battery condition and other settings. The second control panel is for the Alde caravan heating system.

If you’re not familiar with all this, any dealer worth their salt won’t mind you recording things on your phone while they’re doing the handover, and certainly won’t mind explaining things again. After all, you’re spending a lot of money with them, so take all the time you need.

Looking underneat sofa
Tim pointed out what would be found underneath the seating

Most of the information is also in the handbook, so if you can’t remember or don’t manage to record what’s being shown, it should be in there.

Moving on from the door, Tim removed the front settee cushions to show us the area underneath. The nearside space is devoid of equipment, but contains the new step, 230V mains cable and a number of other bits and pieces. On the offside, there’s the Alde boiler, the mains consumer unit, the motor mover control unit and the emergency button to retract the corner steadies (E&P levelling system).

He also pointed out the control unit for the solar panel and the drain taps for the caravan’s water system.

Looking at under bed storage
A good handover will include seeing all of the storage areas

Following on from that was the kitchen, the washroom and underneath the fixed bed, which contains the drain and pressure switch for the onboard water tank.

Looking back, I can’t think of a thing that was missed on the handover.

Once we were happy with the van, it was into Glenn’s office to do the really tough bit – prising my wallet out of my pocket and sorting out the paperwork!

Homeward bound

With all that done, it was time for hitching up the caravan and setting off on the drive home (not forgetting those towing mirrors!). Again, the dealer will help you with this, and why not record the procedure? If connected in the right sequence, unhitching at the other end will simply be a question of doing things in the reverse order.

If this is your first tow, try to avoid what we did and instead, drive in daylight. Above all, take your time to get used to how the outfit feels, because it is strange at first.

When you consider the hundreds, perhaps thousands of components that go to make up a caravan, and the fact they are built by humans, it’s inevitable that there are likely to be snags that require resolving through the warranty. The battering our vehicles can take on the road sometimes makes me wonder how the things hold together!

Hopefully any issues will be small, so they can either wait until the next service, or you can sort them out yourself.

When we left Couplands, Glenn’s parting words were, “If there are any problems, let me know.” Two days later, Kay and I went to York for a week, so the new caravan was given a thorough workout.

Hitched up caravan
All hitched up, ready to head for home

We checked everything worked. We came across a couple of minor things, which can wait, but – here’s a useful tip – I used my phone to photograph them and sent the pictures to Couplands. That way, they can order replacement parts, if necessary, but more importantly, they can see the problem and perhaps offer advice on rectification.

If you do this immediately, especially if it’s a bit of damage, they are aware of it there and then. Leave it until the next service (which could be a year away) and it could be quite reasonable for them to think you caused it, so you might have trouble getting it fixed under warranty.

Over the years, I have built up a good relationship with our dealer, and they have been happy to work like this, with parts waiting for me. Other dealers might insist on seeing the fault first.

Above all, enjoy your caravan and try to build up a good rapport with your dealer. I remember Peter Coupland once saying to me, “Any idiot can sell a caravan, but the trick is selling you a second or a third.” We’re now on number eight!

All dealers worth their salt will be on your side and will want to help you with any difficulties. If you do have a problem, keep your cool. It’s no good ranting from the off, because human nature means that you’ll probably get nowhere.

Tim and Nigel doing paperwork
Glenn and Nigel complete the paperwork, and the ‘tough’ task of handing over the money!

You can always up the ante if necessary, but hopefully, things will never reach that stage. They certainly haven’t for us. I’ve had grumbles about a van, but never had to go toe to toe with any dealer.

As I said at the beginning, try to choose your dealership carefully, because they can make a huge difference to your experience, both when you’re buying and in the longer term. I am confident that, in my opinion, if there are any problems with our caravan, they will be resolved without fuss by our dealer.

While touring in your new van, if you find that you don’t understand what’s in the handbook (some of them aren’t great) or you can’t see how to do something, don’t be afraid to ask one of your campsite neighbours, because caravanners are a friendly lot.

Alternatively, give your dealer a call and ask them to explain. Most will be more than happy to do so. Now you can go and make those fabulous memories!

Wondering what you should do to get your tourer ready for the new season? Take a look at our guide to the 9 pre-tour checks every caravanner should do.

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