Used caravan

Tips for buying used motorhomes and tow vehicles

You don’t need a brand-new vehicle for reliable long-distance touring but if you choose an older vehicle, it helps to pick one that not only has relatively simple mechanicals and has been maintained well, but is also healthy in areas crucial to good towing performance. 

At this point it is worth suggesting a basic mechanical knowledge course if you’re unsure of your mechanical skills. You might not want to know much about the workings of your vehicle, but it will help avoid the inconvenience and expense of being broken down in the middle of nowhere. Even being able to describe generally to the motoring breakdown service what has gone wrong will help them to get you going sooner. 

Either way, you need to look at the four key areas of cooling system, brakes, suspension and tyres. There are the four main areas to assess given their likelihood of causing trouble on the road.



The cooling system is one major area that will be challenged by the loads of towing or the weight of a camper conversion. The engine has to work that much harder to pull the extra weight, so it uses more fuel and increases the amount of heat generated. The function of the cooling system is of course to make sure that the components of the engine do not exceed operational parameters, beyond which engine damage will occur.

From the day it is put together, a car’s cooling system is in slow decline. It can take years, but rubber coolant hoses will eventually perish, sludge will form in the radiator cooling fins and gaskets and seals will eventually leak or fail.

With the engine off, if you can collapse the rubber coolant hoses easily – if they have lost their springiness – it’s likely they need replacing. When replacing rubber hoses, also replace the retaining collars.

Check the cooling system joints for any sign of weeping coolant. If you notice a crust forming at joints (usually either rust colour or the colour of the coolant), that is also a sign of a loose joint. Any coolant weeping from the water pump suggests replacement is urgently required.

Buying used checklist

  • Drive belts should not be cracked, or they too could break and lead to rapid overheating.
  • Coolant overflow bottles are made of plastic, and these can and do perish and require replacement.
  • Get your radiator flow tested and if there is any blockage, consider getting it cleaned or replaced.
  • Coolant (or oil) weeping from the head gasket area can be a failing head gasket, so if you notice this, get a mechanic to check this well before you consider towing.



Even with a well set-up trailer brake system, your vehicle’s brakes will be under extra strain. Make sure that the brake fluid is fresh, that any rubber hose fitted to the vacuum booster has not perished, and that rubber brake lines are still in good condition. Beyond these items, consider pad replacement if they are approaching the end of their service life, and check the discs for warping and wear.

Buying used checklist

  • Brake fluid is fresh
  • Check rubber hose fitted to vacuum booster
  • Check condition of rubber brake lines
  • Check brake discs



A worn suspension can make towing a van or driving a motorhome feel very unstable so you may need to replace these items, even though they feel acceptable when driving solo. Suspension components that most often wear out are the shock absorbers – or dampers, to use their correct term – and you may choose to upgrade these to heavy-duty items for towing or taking on the additional load of a motorhome conversion. Springs can also sag and require replacement, and rubber bushings should be inspected and replaced if they are allowing too much movement or appear perished.

Buying used checklist

  • Check shock absorbers for wear
  • Check suspension springs
  • Check rubber bushings



Tyres are an often forgotten component, as most people think they simply require replacement when they wear out. This can be a dangerous assumption, because when towing, even with a well sorted-out load-levelling setup, the tyres will be carrying additional load. Make sure you know how to check the date stamp on the tyre sidewall (including the spare – this is the most likely culprit for an unusable, perished tyre if it is not used in rotation). It is also worth checking that the tyres’ load rating and speed rating are correct for your vehicle (check the tyre placard on the vehicle or in the owner’s manual). You wouldn’t be the first to buy a vehicle with the incorrect tyres fitted, and you don’t want to discover this when they blow out on a highway. 

Buying used checklist

  • Check date stamp on tyre sidewall
  • Check date stamp on the spare tyre
  • Check tyres' load rating and speed rating


Focusing on these four areas specific to heavy-duty load carrying does not mean you can afford to ignore the state of other components, but these are the most likely culprits to cause trouble on the road.

Buying used RVs?

Check out: TradeRVs to buy used caravans, motorhomes and tow vehicles.

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