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The first steps to buying a used van

Purchasing a caravan involves a significant outlay, even when you are buying pre-owned, so it pays to do some careful research before you part with your cash, says David Motton

A caravan is a substantial purchase, and even a secondhand van is likely to cost you several thousand pounds – hardly small change – so it’s well worth taking your time, researching your purchase carefully and only handing over your hard-earned cash when you are sure you have the right van.

1 Why buy used?

There are many reasons to purchase a pre-owned leisure vehicle, rather than a new one. The most obvious is price. As soon as a caravan is towed away from the forecourt, it starts to lose value.

This steady loss in value is known as depreciation. While it has a negative effect on the first owner, it will benefit the second or third owner – you get exactly the same vehicle, with the same layout, features and performance, but at a much reduced cost.

A row of caravans in storage

So just how much could you save by buying used? Well, the rate at which a used caravan depreciates will vary, depending on the make, model and condition.

There’s also another upside to buying used that you might not expect: owners of pre-owned caravans and motorhomes tend to be happier with their purchase.

In the Practical Caravan and Practical Motorhome Owner Satisfaction Surveys, owners of used vehicles generally reported fewer faults. We suspect this is due to the first owner identifying niggling problems and having them fixed under warranty.

However, talking of warranties, that’s one of the disadvantages of buying used.

A new tourer is very likely to come with a manufacturer’s warranty lasting around three years, and a separate warranty for the bodyshell lasting six years or more.

Choose a used vehicle that is outside the warranty period, and repairs will be down to you. Unless, that is, the dealer you are buying from offers a warranty. Warranties lasting for at
least three months are quite common, unless the caravan in question is particularly old and tatty.

Alternatively, you could arrange to have your own aftermarket warranty cover.

If you’re looking for some inspiration for the pre-owned tourer for you, be sure to take a look at our guide to the best used caravans, where we’ve taken a look through our caravan reviews section to pick out our top recommendations.

2 Choose the right layout to suit you

The best way to get to grips with the variety of tourers that you’ll find available is to go to one of the big shows, or visit your nearest large dealership.

There, you will be able to take a good look around at a variety of vehicles at your leisure, and get a much better feel for what would suit you best.

Fundamentally, there are two matters to consider. First, you are going to need enough berths for the number of people you plan to holiday with. Then, take some time to think about how you will actually be using the tourer.

A caravan dealership
Finding your perfect caravan involves planning your strategy first

The more hours you expect to spend inside the vehicle during the day, the more important the lounge area will be. Likewise, if you are going to eat most of your meals in there, a practical and well-equipped kitchen is going to be absolutely vital.

Think about the size of the model, as well as the caravan’s layout. A large tourer might look ideal on the forecourt, but does it make a safe and sensible match for your car?

3 Make and model

Caravanners can be very loyal to a brand, but take a look at a variety of makes to be sure your loyalty isn’t misplaced. Our guide to the best caravan manufacturers can help here.

A caravan show with numerous models on display
It’s a good idea to spend time at one of the big shows, where you can see plenty of layouts

It’s also worthwhile perusing our Owner Satisfaction Surveys, to find out more about the most reliable vans and the best places to buy them from.

4 Where to buy

Dealerships will have a wider choice of models for you to browse, and the facility to service the vehicle before you purchase it. They are also likely to offer a warranty.

Private sellers are typically cheaper than a dealer, but they won’t be in a position to offer you a warranty. This means that you’ll need to be very sure about the condition of the van before you commit to buying it.

Another source of used leisure vehicles that you’ll come across is the online auction. These sales sites can be extremely tempting, particularly when the bidding is well below the true market value. But we would advise against buying any caravan unseen, however tempting the price tag might appear to be.

5 Paying on finance

Financing your purchase is often easier than paying one lump sum, but be careful not to spend more than you mean to.

Think about your monthly income and outgoings. How much is left to pay for the caravan? Don’t forget to budget for annual servicing, insurance and storage if needed.

Financing might be worth investigating
Financing might be worth investigating

Dealers will offer finance packages, but compare the interest rates with a personal loan. A few minutes online will give you a clear idea of how much you’d have to pay each month if borrowing from a bank rather than arranging finance through a dealer.

Carefully consider the size of the deposit and the whole cost of the loan, not just the monthly payments.

6 Your rights

If your tourer develops a fault, where do you stand? You’ll be in a much better position if you buy from a dealership.

First, the chances are that it will have a warranty. Second, your legal rights are stronger. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, any goods (in this case, your caravan) should be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and as described.

The term ‘satisfactory quality’ is the key here. What is and isn’t satisfactory will vary, depending on the age and condition of the vehicle you’re buying. A 10-year-old tourer can’t reasonably be expected to be of the same quality as a new one.

7 Conclusion

Buying pre-owned can be the perfect route to an affordable, high-quality van. Just carry out your research before you make your final decision about the purchase, and then go into it with your eyes open.

Are you looking for some more buying advice to help you choose the van for you? Then be sure to head to our Back to Basics: Buying a van category!

Our guide to the best used tow cars could help you find the ideal pre-owned towing vehicle to suit your needs.

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