Buying our dream caravan was immensely exciting and completely overwhelming all at the same time. Having now navigated the process, we thought we would share what we learnt from our caravan buying experience. These are our top tips on how to approach the buying process and how to safely negotiate the big wide world of caravan manufacturers and choices. Oh so many choices!
UNDERSTAND THE PARAMETERS OF YOUR TRIP OR HOW YOU PLAN TO USE YOUR VAN Having a really thorough understanding of what type of trip you wish to undertake, or how you plan to use your caravan for the MAJORITY of the time will in theory allow you to narrow your search making it that little bit less overwhelming. There is no point having a 22ft full-size van if your desire is to head off the beaten track to find those little campsites tucked away from the hustle and bustle; maybe a van with an ensuite is not high on your priority list because you plan to spend most of your time away in caravan parks. Knowing something like this would, for example, allow you to get a shorter, lighter van saving you money on fuel, making it easier to tow and increasing your tow vehicle options. The more you know about how you want to use your van and what are your absolute 'must have' features, the easier it will be to filter all your choices and make it easier to rule in or rule out the various types and categories of campers, RVs and caravans.
WHERE WILL YOU BE STORING YOUR VAN? If you are anything like us, your new (or new to you) caravan will be your pride and joy. Finding that van to call yours is one thing, but you also need somewhere safe and secure to store it. You will need to know where you are going to store it and the height, space restrictions on this before researching your van. Again, there is no point finding your dream full-height caravan if you plan to store it in your garage where the height of the garage door would prevent you from being able to get your shiny new van in. Knowing these parameters will help narrow your search and make the process of finding your dream van that much simpler.
KNOW THE LIMITATIONS OF YOUR TOW VEHICLE Take the time to research caravan towing capacity and understand it as it applies to your tow vehicle. There is no point researching or buying a van that cannot be legally and safely towed by your vehicle. If you are buying your caravan before you purchase your tow vehicle you will still need to understand what cars on the market can legally tow the van you intend to purchase. Don’t get caught buying your dream caravan only to discover you can’t afford the vehicle required to tow it.
KNOW YOUR BUDGET Your budget will include the cost of the van, but don’t forget that you will also need to pay for insurance, registration (if not covered by dealer when buying a new van), installation of wiring on your vehicle to connect your van as well as purchase of and installation of electronic brake controller if you are buying a larger van. You may also need to upgrade your vehicle’s suspension, upgrade tyres, consider a weight distribution hitch… trust us, it all adds up quickly!
RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH There is so much information out there and it can be overwhelming, but the more you look, the more you find, the more you learn. What was meaningless and overwhelming caravanning jargon at the start of your research will soon become part of your vernacular and you will be able to process all information you are taking in and compare vans more easily as time goes on and your knowledge grows.
GIVE YOURSELF TIME There is a lot to consider when buying a new or used caravan. Ensure you are confident in your final choice by giving yourself time to do your due diligence and research. Consider some mechanical inspections or advice if buying a used caravan.
BE PREPARED TO TRAVEL The reality is that for most people, no matter where you live, there is most likely only a handful of caravan manufacturers/dealerships for you to visit in your local area. If you were to limit yourself to these options I think you would be doing yourself a disservice. Look up the upcoming caravan/camping/outdoor shows and chances are there is one you would be able to attend coming up soon. Even if it means travelling 3 hours and making a weekend away out of it (as we did in our caravan search). It is all part of the fun in the end and the benefit of being able to see so many different caravans in one place will outweigh any costs incurred. Likewise, if you are in the market for a second-hand caravan you will need to be prepared to travel to inspect and or pick up your dream caravan. You might get lucky and find your dream caravan locally, but chances are this won’t be the case.
JOIN AN OWNERS FORUM There are many forum/Facebook groups dedicated to owners/prospective owners of basically every make of caravan on the Australian market. Spend some time on these forums to get some great insight into your dream caravan’s manufacturer. You will quickly get a feel for whether there is a lot of love for your dream van amongst existing owners, or whether there are ongoing issues and shortcomings with your chosen manufacturer (NB: Beware of serial whingers - the internet is full of them and caravanning sites and pages are not immune! Use your judgement to work out what is a genuine concern or complaint and what is just whinging for the sake of making some noise). ONCE YOU HAVE ZEROED IN ON YOUR DREAM VAN…
GET A ‘SHOW PRICE’ From our experience getting a ‘Show Price’ from a caravanning show was essential in helping us negotiate our final deal when buying our van and gave us peace of mind that we had indeed achieved a good and fair price. We recommend you go to one or more shows and wheel and deal hard, be prepared for the ‘used car salesman’ routine (but don’t let it sway you), take your ‘Show Price’ to a dealer and negotiate from there.
KNOW WHAT EXTRAS YOU WANT TO ADD Adding extras (eg. generator box, jerry can holder, solar etc) after you have signed your contract on your new van will likely see you paying full price for these items as your bargaining power is diminished once that contract of sale is signed! Including ALL your extras when negotiating your sale price will certainly result in you getting the best overall deal. It is easy to think that you will add some of these extras once you get the van (possibly more cost effective, especially if you are handy on the tools), but remember that adding extras such as tool boxes, generator boxes, solar panels and so on at the at the build phase will mean these items will form part of the tare weight of the van (as measured as the van leaves the factory). If you were to add these once you take delivery of the van, the weight of these items would be considered as part of your payload and depending upon what you choose to add, this weight can accumulate quickly.
PLAN YOUR ‘SHAKEDOWN’ TRIP AND BE PREPARED FOR SOME ISSUES As disheartening as it will be there will be a few (hopefully minor) issues that will arise once you take delivery of your van. Be prepared for a couple of faults to be corrected under warranty. At the end of the day you are buying a mini-house on wheels which you plan to drag and bump around the countryside - some minor issues are to be expected.
GO WITH YOUR GUT Try as you might, when it comes to the crunch, buying a caravan (new or used) is as much an emotional decision as it is a practical decision. It is amazing what minor deficiencies can be overlooked when you simply love the van! Do your research, spend time getting to know all you can about caravanning, and then in the end trust your gut. It should (as with most things) lead you to the perfect van for you and your family.
Remember, there are many right choices out there for you, and only a few choices that may fall in the 'wrong' category. Finding your dream caravan is all part of the fun of becoming a caravanner and we wish you all the best on your journey to your dream caravan!
Our dream van: a 21ft New Age Caravans Big Red (Bunk Series II)