Buying a caravan is likely to represent one of the largest investments that you’ll ever make, so it’s really important to get it right. But what exactly does that mean? And how do you choose the right caravan?

If you’ve owned tourers before and have a little experience of them, you’ll no doubt have refined your ideas by now, but if you have never owned one, where do you start when you want to choose the best caravan? We’re here to answer that question – before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to collecting a caravan that’s right for you.

What are your needs?

One thing to keep in mind at all times is that everybody lives slightly differently. We all have different needs and use our tourers in various ways. What suits one individual or couple isn’t necessarily going to make a good family caravan, for instance.

So there really is no such thing as one perfect layout, because we all prioritise the habitation space differently and there is no one-size-fits-all caravan that excels in every area. The trick is to think about the different types of caravan layouts and pick a model offering the correct balance of features that will suit you best.

Making up a bed
Think about whether you want to be making up the beds every night

Certain things are common to all of us, though. Having a comfortable bed that is easy to make up is essential, as is having good seating and lounge space to shelter from the British summer.

Park the fixed ideas

Before you even begin the search, try to park any fixed ideas you might have, such as “It must be an end-kitchen layout” or “It has to have a microwave”.

These just limit your options too early on, before you’ve had a chance to see what is actually available on the market. If you remain more open-minded about brands and spec, you might find a caravan that suits you much better – and sometimes for a lower price than you expected.

Cooking in a caravan kitchen
Will the kitchen be suitable for keen caravan cooks

Many people establish a set view of what they want before they start to shop around, but this rather blinkered approach can limit your choices, leading to disappointment.

However, don’t forget to double-check that your tow car can safely and legally pull the caravan you are thinking about buying. We would always recommend following
the 85% guideline: you should familiarise yourself with the caravan weights and measures you need to be aware of.

Plus, if you’re set on one, you can always buy a caravan microwave down the line!

Visit a show

Rather than schlepping about all over the UK searching out individual caravans at various dealers, it’s far better to head to a show – there are many outdoor events across the country, as well as two major shows in Birmingham, the February NEC Show and the October NEC Show.

Shows are always well worth a visit, as you’ll get to see a lot of types of caravans in one place. The key thing is to not be dazzled by the glitzy lights and fancy features.

Really focus on the basics: is the bed comfortable and easy to make up? Is the lounge roomy? Do I fit in the washroom? Does the kitchen have all I need?

Bear in mind that the sheer volume of caravans at any show can be overwhelming, which can add more confusion. In addition, the sales reps are very good at their job, so it’s really important to take your time and pause for thought before making any big decisions. We’d always suggest spending a couple of days at a show, as an overnight break can really help to refocus your ideas and allow you to pinpoint a layout that might best suit your needs.

Caravans at a show
Visiting the industry shows allows you to see many brands in one place

Spending a lot of time in your potential purchase is also key. Fold out all of the beds and lie down on them. Are they easy to make up? Sit in every lounge seat – with and without the dining table in place. Are they comfortable? Can you stretch out? Is the fridge nearby when you want to grab a cold drink?

Imagine you’re pitched in the tourer at one of the best caravan sites. Is there enough room for the dog? Would you be happy with the placement of external features, such as the electric hook-up, if you had also set up your awning?

Dogs looking out window as owner looks on
If you tour with pets, you’ll need to add that to your checklist of requirements

Visit a local dealer

Once you’ve refined your ideas, it might be time to visit a local dealer. It’s always best to buy local if possible – they can then look after the caravan for you and are not far to travel to in the case of warranty issues.

We have heard of cases of short-sighted dealers who won’t service any caravan that they didn’t originally sell.

Warranty claims also become far harder if you try to sort them out at a dealership that isn’t where you purchased the van. Be aware that some warranties on used vehicles tie you to the supplying dealer.

Tourers at a dealership
At your local dealership, you can spend time in your potential purchase

If your local dealer does stock the layout you’re looking at, it’s wise to go and test it out. Spend as much time as you can in the van and ask lots of questions. Some might even let you stay in the caravan overnight on their premises, and many outlets will have a campsite nearby.

This allows you to refine your must-have ideas and drill down into the aspects that are most important to you. Many buyers discover that the essential ‘must have’ feature isn’t actually so important after an overnight stay, and other aspects are more important.

Watch out for online scams

Unfortunately, with the increased demand for leisure vehicles comes a corresponding increase in fraud, and there are many clever scams out there in Internet World. Popular platforms will take down as many fake listings as they can, but be aware that thousands still get through.

The key thing to bear in mind here is that the scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated and are being operated by experienced criminals, who do this for a living. They’re good at it and are no fools. So an extremely cheap, half-price tourer isn’t really the way they do things now. That’s far too obvious.

Instead, they’ll list a van that is slightly too cheap, in a desirable spec. But not suspiciously cheap, just a bit of a ‘bargain’. It is usually an actual van that belongs to someone – just not the ‘seller’.

They will usually list multiple vehicles (so always check their other listings) with lots of details about the van – often just cut and pasted from a genuine listing.

There’s rarely a number to ring and they like to deal with you via online messages. They often come up with an excuse why you can’t ring (‘in a meeting’ is a common one) and will initially be really helpful.

The caravan will sound amazing, a real bargain not to miss. The golden rule is, never, ever send money without standing in front of the tourer at the buyer’s address. Never send money via PayPal Friends and Family – scammers often try to get you to do so, because you can’t recall the money.

Anybody who wants money up front to hold a caravan is also to be avoided.

Buying a caravan privately

If you are buying privately, always call and speak to the seller – don’t communicate via online messages, because this doesn’t give you an impression of the seller.

The purpose of phoning isn’t really to ask details about the caravan – you’ll see it all when you visit – but to try to find out the character of the seller as best you can. Proper people sell proper caravans. Always arrange to meet at their house, never at some half-way point, or anywhere else.

Avoid sellers who put time pressure on you: “I’ve got a guy coming to visit later today but if you want it and can get here sooner, I can hold it for you.” This is a standard sales technique. Don’t fall for it.

When buying privately, you also need to check that the caravan actually belongs to the seller. Ask to see proof of their ownership, such as a CRiS Registration Document (see below). Finally, ask to see photos of the caravan being used on holiday, on the owner’s phone. All genuine sellers will have plenty of these, while scammers are highly unlikely to do so. This tip comes from the police stolen vehicle recovery unit.

Other essential checks

When you’re considering buying a caravan, you should have a CRiS check done on the tourer. This compares its VIN number with a national database listing stolen, damaged and written-off vehicles.

The 17-digit CRiS number is displayed on at least seven of the windows, and stamped onto the chassis. Thieves will often try to remove this number, usually by grinding or scratching it off. Walk away from any caravan with CRiS damage.

You should also carefully inspect the van’s service documentation. Has it been regularly and properly serviced? Was servicing carried out by a reputable technician? Ask who has done the servicing when you call the seller, then check them out online.

Finally, are you buying a used caravan? Then you’ll also want to make a full habitation inspection.

Be willing to compromise

No caravan is going to be 100% perfect for you and the limited interior space always has to offer a balance of features. The key is to try to get as many of these as possible, to suit your needs.

While going up in terms of size gives you more interior options, it also comes with other issues. Larger, 8ft-wide caravans offer more living space, but they can potentially limit where you tow, and are likely to be trickier to pitch up. Smaller roads can become inaccessible and stopping at fuel stations can be more difficult.

Even if your first caravan choice turns out to be unsatisfactory, it’s not the end of the world. Few buyers nail it first time, and the experience will give you a better idea of what you want from your next van.

Equally, people’s circumstances change with time – more family members, new hobbies, different budgets – so it’s always something of a moving target.

It doesn’t really matter which van you have when you’re exploring an amazing part of the world. So long as you have the basics – a comfortable bed and lounge – you’ll find you can put up with many other less-than-perfect aspects of your caravan!

After buying your tourer, you could consider joining a caravan owners’ club, where you’ll be able to meet like-minded people too.

Lead image: Alamy Stock Photo

Take a look at what our writers have to say about water ingress in a caravan.

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