Buying a used caravan


Buying a used caravan can be an exciting prospect. You’ve made the decision to channel some funds into a caravan purchase and have an idea of what you want to buy and on what budget. Now comes the difficult part: buying a good van for a good price.

Generally speaking, used caravans tend to hold their value well. Indeed, it may come as a surprise to see 1970s caravans sold for higher prices than a tow tug of a similar condition and vintage.



Don't be afraid to take a used caravan on the weighbridge to ensure it meets legal load requirements.

Used caravans in prime condition under $5000 tend to be thin on the ground. Sure, the occasional bargain finds its way to the classifieds, but you need to know what you’re looking at to know it’s a bargain. Sometimes all is not what it seems with second hand caravans, and for under $5000 you’ll struggle to get a good combination of registration, condition and features. Yet if the basics are sound and you’re prepared to spend some money down the track, a $5000 caravan may be all you need. Most will be of 1970s or early 1980s vintage.

If you up your spending limit to $10,000 or more, you will have much better quality stock to choose from. You will generally pick up a private-sale van from the 1980s or 1990s in clean condition.

For a $10,000 van you can expect some indication of maintenance history. At $5000 or less, the van’s history might be a bit of a stretch, although some fastidious owners may have documents.



So you’re ready to check out some vans. The first thing to look for is body condition – how many scrapes and dents are there? Are they high up on the sides, where if they’re aluminium the sheets will be relatively easy to replace? Or down low on the sides, where the dent is all but impossible to get to from behind the panel?

When looking at a van it’s easy to forget to check up on top. Creases on front and rear roof sections are common, and hail damage can be restricted to the roof – which can easily be missed. While looking at the roof, check for deteriorated joint sealant, which will suggest leaks are, or will be, occurring. Also look for the use of clear silastic, which is not the recommended sealant for caravan roofing, but a common one for the home handyman to use in place of the more expensive sealing agents, which tend to be off-white and less flexible than the rubbery, clear silastic.

Now to check the wheel bearings – jacking wheels off the ground is preferable but not often possible. Grip the road wheel and rock it forwards and back (as you face the wheel). Listen and feel for any knocking or looseness, which can suggest a damaged and/or loose wheel bearing.


Hail damage might not be obvious if it's on the top of the caravan.Check that all the keys fit where they're meant to go.


While you're down at the wheels, check underneath, looking for cracks in the chassis, plywood flooring damage or wood frame damage. Surface corrosion is not unusual, but it suggests the caravan may have been used in a moist environment. Also check the state of the electrical, gas, brake and water lines, and the water tank – ensure they are secure, dry and complete.

At the front of the van look at the gas cylinder and certificate of compliance to see if it is still in date. Gas cylinders must be inspected within 10 years of the previous check.

The handbrake must tension the brake lines – don’t attempt to test the strength of the handbrake as caravan handbrakes don’t tend to be very strong – this is best left to an expert.

Check the load rating on the ball coupling and ensure it exceeds the van’s weight. If manufactured from the late 1980s, the caravan should have a compliance plate fitted, typically to the front boot or A-frame. Check that the VIN number corresponds with registration papers, and that the wheel and tyre sizes correspond with what’s fitted to the van.

Make sure that all boot, door and other locks have matching keys and that all cupboard latches, window locks and window winders operate. See if any water stains are obvious on roof or wall linings; even if they’re dry you’ll want to verify if the leaks have been repaired. Also check the cupboards for ply or laminate disintegration and that all electrical and gas fittings work.

A good trick is to ask the seller if the fridge can be connected; then, just before leaving see that at least the freezer section has become cold, and the fridge cabinet has cooled. Remember that gas/electric fridges need to be used on a level surface or they won’t cool properly.


Broken locks are a common problem when buying used.The dreaded water damage. Be sure to find out if (and how) the leak was fixed.

This guide is not comprehensive, but it will give you an indication of what you need to look for before getting more serious about a van. Remember that deal breakers include a damaged chassis, doubts over ownership or extremely poor condition – unless you are looking for a restoration project, walk away. You’ll find better.

For more information on finance options, check out Credit One.