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Ultimate Guide to Buying a Used Caravan

Wednesday 28th August 2019
By Jessica Goode
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By Jessica Goode
Freedom Fact...
680,000 recreational vehicles were registered in 2018.
- The Caravan Industry Association of Australia


Welcome to #Vanlife

Fall in love with family holidays again, as the open road transforms your VanLife aspirations into everyday adventures. Australia is ripe for road-bound wandering, packed with exciting journeys to fill weekends, Easter getaways and school breaks. Leave airports, taxis and overpriced accommodation to others - you know the world just beyond your doorstep is worth digging into with your very own holiday home on wheels. You guessed it - we’re talking about a second-hand caravan. 

Hold-Up: Why Second-Hand?

Second-hand van charm
Photo by Eric Gilkes on Unsplash

Unfortunately, no holiday is 100% free, even lunch-time picnics have their hidden fees. Freedom doesn’t have to come laden with a hefty price attached, as budget-conscious adventurers are changing the way the road-tripping community thinks about second-hand caravans. 

Pre-loved caravans are long-term investments, unlike hotels or cruises; they’ve been tried, tested and put through their paces, so you know they can go any distance you’ve been researching. And while there’s more to it than showing up and buying the first one you see, the rewards far outweigh the red lights. 

Exploring Why: Mapping Your Motivations 


Once upon a time, caravans were little more than rolling sheds fitted with a sink, a bed and a small table for inside meals, family meetings and board games. While we’re sure rollicking games of Uno and Monopoly still happen under travelling roofs, caravans have come a long way in the last 20 years. You may know someone who knows someone with a caravan - they love it, they can’t stop talking about it, and now you’re curious about buying one of your own. 

Great! We’re 100% behind you, but before we go any further, we need to ask an important question - why? 

Yes, you’re curious and of course, you’d love anytime access to cheaper, Australia-based holidays, but whims aren’t a reason to buy anything. To ensure Vanlife suits your travel style and intentions, score yourself on the following:

How often will you use your new caravan?
A. Once or twice a year. Around Easter and Christmas. 
B. Occasionally. Major holidays and weekends away.
C. As much as possible. Every second weekend, every holiday, anytime you get a chance, really. 
D. You’re planning a trip around Australia.

How long will you camp? 
A. A couple of nights. Time poor and close to home. 
B. One week to a fortnight. Adventurous within annual leave limits.
C. One month. Why stop at one state? 
D. 2-6 months. See the nation from a different perspective. 

Your travel style is: 
A. Rough and ready. A caravan is just a place to rest if it’s raining. 
B. Functional. A caravan is somewhere to sleep, share a meal and maybe wash some dishes. 
C. Comfortable. You expect your caravan to have a toilet, a stovetop and room for everyone, including the family pet. 
D. Luxury. Toilet, shower, stove, couch, multiple beds, solar power and quality fittings, you want a home away from home. 

You would rather sleep: 
A. In a swag. There’s nothing like star-gazing without the lights of civilisation ruining the view. 
B. In a bed, any bed. Good, solid sleep is high on your list.
C. On an innerspring mattress. You like the finer things in life, even when you’re bush-bound or on the road. 
D. Home Away from Home. Long-term comfort is key. 


Mostly As… The Rustic Weekenders
You’ll happily take a single axle caravan kitted out with the simple things for further safety and security; you’re keen on being prepared if the weather turns, but you won’t be snoozing inside every night. Enjoy warm snuggles with your significant other (or best bud - snuggling optional) in a mini caravan. 
Words that Describe Your Needs: Basic, towable and hard-wearing. 


Jayco Swift
Available for hire in Newcastle NSW: Wallerby Jayco Swift

Mostly Bs… The Modern Family
Introduce your little ones to the beautiful landscapes and hidden treasures of Australia, savouring each day spent visiting beaches, rainforests, desert vistas, inland waterfalls and much more. You don’t want anything special, but it has to have a few things, like bunks, a small fridge, a table and a stovetop. You’re searching for somewhere to come back to as the sun sets and tales are shared over a delicious meal. 
Words that Describe Your Needs: Bunks, basic facilities, weather-ready, towable and adaptable. 


New Age Gecko
Available for hire in Melbourne: Spotted Gecko

Mostly Cs...The Tour Tasters 
You’re keen to see more than ever before...but you can’t say farewell to a daily (private) shower, nor can you leave your family behind. Both are important to you. You’re dreaming of a top to tail trip of the Eastern Seaboard, from Port Moresby to the Great Australian Bite, made easier by a fuel-efficient caravan fitted out with dual batteries, shower water tanks, roof racks, comfortable bedding and the basics of home, including a functional stove! An all-inclusive holiday without campsite fees or shower blocks!
Words that Describe Your Needs: Family-centric, spacious, functional facilities, fuel efficiency, easy to drive. 


Family Jayco Expanda
Available for hire in Brisbane: Jayco Expanda

Mostly Ds...The Long Termers
You’re tripping around Australia. It’s happening. You’ve been planning this journey for years and now it’s time to make good on your promise. The great Aussie jaunt is an ageless conquest, appealing to everybody from Uni graduates to young families, thirty to forty-somethings and retirees. You’ll need a fuel-efficient van packed with cost-saving features like solar panels, shower water tanks, extra batteries, a decent fridge,   and a healthy emergency fund in case your engine goes kaput 200km from nowhere. 
Words that Describe Your Needs: Reliable, fully-equipped, comfortable, adaptable and resource-efficient.


Lightweight family van
Available for hire Central Coast: Lightweight Quattro Sprite


The Rise of the Vanpreneur 


Maybe you’re not interested in travel at all. Not for yourself, at least. Instead, you’re waiting to jump on the share-economy train, investing in a caravan or two to hire out on Camplify. Caravanning is re-emerging as a viable and beloved holiday option, granting change-seekers a chance to tour on their own terms. We understand because that’s part of our mission too. Do you want an edge over your competition? Follow these three fast tips for heightened market success: 

Don’t Buy What You Like: Wait, what? Before you close the window, hear us out. Go into your purchase with a target market in mind, including what they need, who they are, their travel style and the inclusions they’d care about. If you’re a single or coupled investor hoping to appeal to families, your priorities may be a little different, so it’s always important to forget what you’d want and place yourself in the shoes of your customer. 

Buy a Hire-Friendly Caravan: Camplify data indicates five nights is the booking sweet-spot, as holiday-makers usually chase week-long adventures. Use our hire pricing calculator to get an idea of your general return on each option and find the right combination of your financial wants and their Vanlife needs. Hire friendly: bunks, shower/toilet, aircon & (ideally) less than 2.5 tonnes (ATM). 

Talk to the Experts: At Camplify, we’re always available to answer those more specific questions, really deep-diving into demand areas, seasonal patterns and the best vans to invest in. 


Vanlife 101: Finding the Right Caravan


Ready to roll? Before diving into the new versus the used market and disappearing down a rabbit hole of confusion, let’s lay out your caravanning options in honest detail. In this section, we’ll cover new, used, renovation projects and try before you by… you read those words right, it is possible to see if the vehicle you love is the right match before parting with your money. 

New 
Anything new will always be the most expensive option hands-down. But new doesn’t always mean better, and the price you pay won’t always cover the features you want, so hold onto your pennies until we’ve covered all of the bases in our bracket breakdown: 

$40,000 - $55,000
The price of a large SUV will buy you a single-axle caravan, suited to couples or young families who don’t mind being a little snug whilst away in the van. Camplify tip: if you’re willing to compromise on an island bed and some of the luxury fittings, you can easily find some triple bunk family vans for under the 60k mark. 

$55,000 - $75,000
Welcome to the average bracket. Travellers keen on a new van commonly settle on a selection from this range, loaded with an ensuite and a twin axle. Ideal for Mum, Dad and two to four kids, entries from the 50 to 75k price range often measure between 18 to 20 feet long, leaving enough room for comfortable co-living and potential off-road abilities. 

$75 - $100,000+
Rough and tumble getaways are possible, provided you’re willing to part with a fair chunk of cash. The inclusions in this upper end can be luxurious, orientated towards bigger families or custom fittings, meaning you can design your own caravan interior (to a point). Think appliances, plush surfaces, bigger beds and more space!

Is the Expense of a New Caravan Worth it? 

Freedom Fact... 
New research indicates Aussies want to try before they buy, with 74% of soon-to-be Vanlifers hiring an RV through Camplify. Will you join them?

Some people prefer to buy new, enjoying that shiny, never-used (or tested) vibe, and while we get it, landing at least 40k on something you’re not sure you’ll use to its full potential is risky and potentially budget-breaking. 
Not many families have the spare funds to dive into a brand new moving holiday home, even if you intend to use it more than a few times a year and rent it out through Camplify. Why pay more when you can pay less and get everything you need, and maybe a few things you want to boot?


Everything you need to know about Used Caravans


Finding the right used caravan can be a brain-bending experience. A quick look at the second-hand market reveals an abundance of types, values and ages, catering to every sort of traveller, from the solo adventurer to large families with four kids. Not only is it worth the short-term stress, but we’re here to make it easy for you. 

You Want a Ready-to-Ride Caravan… 

The majority of used caravans for sale are positioned as drive-away ready. Some are parked in driveways, others live year-round in backyards; some are housed in garages and a few have seen every driveable road Australia has to offer. 

A good used caravan should be free of rust, dents, scratches and other serious blemishes; the tyres should have plenty of tread, with a solid spare or two to keep you on the road; the windows need to work smoothly and service history shouldn’t be a dirty term. Everything should be functional and free-moving, from the awning to the handbrake. Don’t be concerned about taking too much time to decide - a used caravan may not cost as much as a new caravan, but it’s still your money. 

You’re Searching for a Renovation Project…

Caravanning has been part of the Australian travel psyche since the 1950s when family holidays to the beach were simple, resorts were fewer and caravans hadn’t evolved much past the very basic bed, sink, roof and floor. Most second-hand caravan renovation projects come from the 70s, 80s and 90s - the features and design will differ, but you need to make sure your fixer-upper isn’t going to drain your account for little return. Warning signals aside, provided you have the time and money, a caravan renovation is an opportunity to create something truly unique for your family to enjoy. After the project is done and dusted, there will be no other caravan quite like yours!

You Think You’ve Found the One Already (but You’re Not Sure if it’s the One for Everyone)

Research? You’ve done it. Tireless hours on Google have taught you the in’s and out’s of VanLife, from buying to driving and seeing this gorgeous country. You’re almost certain the ad you’ve been stalking for a while is the van for you’ve been wishing for - the littles are going to love holiday life on Australia’s endless roads. But you need to get buy-in from the other half first. 

Tricky. Or it would be if Camplify wasn’t at the forefront of Australia’s holiday share economy. Get your family involved in the decision-making process by searching our diverse database of caravans for hire, finding one that matches your desired haven on wheels. 

What if I Haven’t Found the One? Should I Try Camplify Before Buying a Caravan?

Yes! 
Convincing your family that VanLife is the future of Christmas and Easter holidays begins with us. What better way to convince your partner and/or hesitant children that hey, caravans can be cooler than hotels! Trying before you buy with Camplify will help secure your family’s enthusiasm before the big purchase, not to mention gauging if VanLife is really for you without spending tens of thousands first! 

How Much Should You Spend?**


You’re sold on the idea, but you’re not quite sure how much you should plan to spend. Like all things on wheels, caravans cost dollars to buy, maintain and upgrade. Depending on your ambitions, how much you spend should be reflected by how much you can afford - it sounds simple, but affordability means different things to different people. 

Your Buying Caravan Budget Made Easy:

Talk to Someone:
When it comes to money matters, there’s no better person to objectively measure what you can afford than a financial planner. Whether you plan to save or explore loan options, a finance professional can point you in the right direction, giving you a budgeted figure for your new van.    

Factor in Hidden Costs: Squirrel away enough spare change to cover comprehensive insurance, roadside assistance (just in case something goes wrong), servicing costs, camping equipment and interest repayments, if you decide to go down the finance route. It wouldn’t hurt to maintain a repairs fund in a high-interest savings account - no vehicle is perfect after all. 

Join the Share Economy: Pump up your savings and increase your emergency buffer by joining the owner side of Camplify, hiring out your van when you’re too busy to take it out yourself. Just because you’ve spent money doesn’t mean you can’t get some of it back! Check your earning potential here and imagine the money you’ll make helping others discover the open road. 

**We’ll come right out and say we can’t highlight a specific price point as the universal sweet spot. Your personal and financial circumstances are unique, impacted by a range of factors not considered by this article. Before purchasing a caravan, speak to your financial planner or ensure your purchasing plan won’t leave you short. 


Considerations


1. What does your family need?
The number of beds, size of the fridge, freezer, separate shower/toilet, outdoor kitchen etc. 

2. What is your towing capacity?
Often one of the most overlooked factors, your car’s towing capacity is a major element that influences the type of caravan you ultimately purchase. The key numbers to think about are Ball Weight, Tare Weight and ATM. 
  • The ATM is the total weight of the caravan when all the tanks are full and there is luggage on board. If your car’s towing capacity is not comfortably over this number then you either need to get a lighter caravan (maybe think about a camper trailer) or borrow a bigger car. 
  • The Ball Weight is the amount of weight the caravan places on the tow ball of the towing vehicle. If this is higher than the permitted ball weight of the towing vehicle, the rear of the vehicle is then pushed down, lifting the pressure on the front wheels and reduces the ability to steer.

Your Mission: Buy Used Caravan 


How do you know the difference between a lemon choice and a legend bargain? Used caravans run a gamut from rarely utilised to broken down (but bursting with possibilities). It’s the in-betweeners that can escape undetected until it’s too late, and there’s nothing worse paying thousands for something that doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. We have you covered. 

Inspecting the Van
New to caravans? Unsure about the technical and mechanical elements of your potential home on wheels? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The best thing you can do is research. Read far beyond this article, as the moving parts you see and don’t see can directly affect your budget if something unexpected rears its holiday-killing head. 

Remember…

Inspect a Second Hand Caravan More Than Once
Ideally, you’ll see your potential van at least twice before handing over your hard-earned cash. On the first visit, take a mechanically minded friend with you if they’re available - they may spot things you don’t or ask questions you can’t quite articulate. The second time around should be with a professional mechanic - think of it like a pre-purchase safety inspection, similar to what you’d order when buying a second-hand car. If your caravan crush passes muster both times, you’re ready to buy! 

Lemon-Proof Your Purchase
Do not fall victim to buying a caravan for its fittings or features - if it can’t get you from A to B, C, D and back to A without any issues, it’s not worth the plush bed or the neat three-seater couch you’re being sold on. Begin with these must inspect quality indicators and only move on to prettier stuff if the operational essentials check out. 

Must Inspect Quality Indicators 

  • Tyres
Nobody likes bald rubber! Make sure your soon-to-be van isn’t sporting two or four sorry-looking tyres - they should be in good condition with plenty of tread.
Remember: Ask the current owner when they replaced all five tyres last. Yes, don’t forget the spare!

  • Glass
Small chips can turn into big problems over time, so make sure each pane of glass is blemish-free. You don’t want to replace the windows six months down the track.
Remember: Take pictures of every window - it can be difficult to recall little details after an inspection. 

  • Lights
Turn on every light, test the blinkers, try the internal lights and make sure the brake lights are in perfect working order. 

  • Aircon
Travelling Aussie without aircon isn’t an ideal scenario; in fact, you’ll struggle in some places without it. If the van has an aircon, hook it up to power and try out the heating and cooling - if it sputters or struggles to function, make a note and consider your options. 
Remember: Deficiencies can lead to a reduction in price, but a complete replacement will set you back hundreds more. 

  • Brakes
There’s nothing more important than the safety of your family. Ask the owner for proof the brakes have been replaced lately, or if not, when they’re due for replacement. Caravans are quite a bit heavier than your run-of-the-mill residential car, leading to faster wear and tear on the brake system. 
Remember: A new brake kit can cost $1000 plus depending on the make, model and year. 

  • Suspension 
Good suspension can mean the difference between navigating the occasional bad road and beating up the caravan under-carriage, During your test drive, find a few speed humps and listen for any odd clunks. 

  • Bodywork
Rust is a real problem with anything second-hand. Be on the lookout for cover-ups, including paint or filling, and be sure to look for stone chips on the undercarriage that have been left unattended. If you’re buying in a seaside suburb, be wary of vans with saltwater damage. 
Remember: Check places like window seals, door seals, under the floor, on the roof, handles, kitchen fittings and the undercarriage for signs of rust. The best van to buy is one that has been garaged away from the elements. 

  • History, logbook and warranty
Every vehicle has a history. Learn about where it has been, any problems and upcoming part replacements - ask to see the logbook. See if appliances are still covered by warranty; even if the van is older, appliances may be new and still covered. 
Remember: You want a caravan that has been serviced regularly and well-cared for, with clear statements of mechanical replacements.

  • Plumbing 
Most caravans have plumbing of some sort, from kitchen sink pipes to toilets and showers; ensure you’re not inheriting any backup issues by testing every faucet and flush, paying attention to drainage. Check pipes, fittings and identify any leaks. 
Remember: Learn what water damage looks like before you go by Googling pictures and keeping them front of mind during your inspection. 

  • Kitchen Appliances
Fancy making nightly dinners, just like you would at home? Cooking elements should be fast to heat (if electric) or quick to flame (if gas-powered); microwaves should be in a clean, working condition and any outlets wear and tear-free. 

  • Electrical Work
Are the lights dimming on their own? Do they flicker? Does every power-point work? Lights should be bright, clear and uninterrupted. 
Remember: Outside outlets are important too; test every outlet you can see and make
sure any cabling is in mint condition - no paying if you spot fraying!

Freedom Fact
The average Australian RV owner is 33 years old. 
- The Caravan Industry Association of Australia 

The Buying Process 


You’re in love. You’ve found it, you’re sure this time, and the inspection met your high expectations. What do you do now? The buying process depends on a few things, including where and who you buy from, online purchasing and the potential for negotiation. 

Be Informed
Although we’ve already stressed the importance of doing your research, it doesn’t hurt to mention it again. Once you’ve settled on your free-wheeling holiday home, jump online and see how their asking price measures up against the same and similar ads. Collect a few numbers and determine your negotiating power - there may be some wriggle room.

How to Negotiate 

Develop a Positive Rapport
Think of your offer like the price you'd pay if the second-hand caravan doesn't need an inch of work. For every issue, from dripping taps to window chips, deduct the repair value from your purchase price. At the same time, make sure you don't open with a low-ball offer, particularly when dealing with a private seller - it creates a negative vibe between parties. While it's important you trust the seller enough to make a purchase, a seller must like you enough for any negotiation strategy to work. 

Take Maintenance into Account
How many kilometres has the caravan travelled? Has it been maintained or barely cared for? Has an experienced mechanic noted the date and actions of each service? Has the current owner kept receipts, documenting changes, additions and problems as they arose? A lack of maintenance or communication can help you drive down the price, but be mindful private sellers are not bound by law to sell any van in a roadworthy condition. Do your due diligence and order a roadworthy check before buying. 

Bargaining Can Mean More than Money 
Are they firm on price? That’s okay, there could be other costs they can take care of to sweeten the deal. Our suggestion? Request they pay to obtain a roadworthy and deliver the van with the approved certificate. Are you buying through a dealer? Ask what’s included. There may be extras you could take home without paying more - think accessories and camping gear. 

Wear a Poker Face
Decide on a maximum spend and make sure it includes those hidden extras we were talking about before (insurance etc). Be confident in your offer and try to moderate your response to their counter-offer - if you act too excited, they may notice and baulk at lowering the price as they think they've got the deal sealed up. 

Ask Why
Why are they selling their caravan? What didn't work out? Are they upgrading, if so, why? Have they observed any problems lately? Have they taken long trips? Short trips? Little details like these can help you leverage their opening price and further your own ideas. 


Dealers Vs. Private Sales Vs. Online Purchases 


Before you start bargaining with a dealer like they're a private seller, or approaching an individual like they're an established resale company, take the time to understand the differences, pros and cons of each vendor. 

The Second Hand Caravan Dealership 

Perks: 
  • Diversity - You'll be spoiled for choice without driving from house to house. 
  • Warranty - Instant confidence in case something goes wrong on the road or off it. 
  • Finance - Dealers can access a range of competitive loan rates and deals.
  • Reputation Focused - Dealers are invested in the happiness of their customer base; one dud can be a reputation killer. 

Pitfalls: 
  • More Expensive - Diversity, warranty and reputation come at a monetary cost to the customer. 
  • Master Negotiators - Caravan salespeople sell vans for a living; they know how to negotiate to their advantage. 
  • Mystery History - Because you're purchasing through a dealer, you don't get to meet the old owner or hear the stories of your soon-to-be caravan. 
  • Targets and Pitches - Those expert negotiation skills come in handy when salespeople need to meet targets and profit margins. Be discerning and don't get swept up in their excitement - they're trying to get you invested. 

The Private Seller

Perks: 
  • A Detailed History - Chart your van's story from its first trip to its latest, collecting logbook information, receipts, service details and owner anecdotes.  
  • Bargaining Power - You'll be on an even playing field when it comes to negotiation. 
  • Considered Purchasing - Private sellers are less pushy in their sales approach.

Pitfalls: 
  • DIY Finance - You're responsible for your finance options with no help from an industry intermediary. 
  • He Said/She Said - Some sellers are very close-lipped about their vehicles, offering little in the way of logbooks, roadworthy and essential details. It can be hard to know when to walk away. 

Online Purchases 
The digital age has transformed the way we engage with browsing, buying and selling. Gumtrees, Carsales, Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Caravan and Camping Sales connect well-travelled enthusiasts with would-be buyers in a way that challenges face-to-face purchasing. While the convenience of online communication will make early contact easier, Camplify can't stress enough nothing beats seeing, touching and inspecting your investment in person. 

If you're keen to explore online avenues, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to protect your interests and our money. Let's take a closer look at what makes a solid online caravan ad and tips to guide your purchase. 

A good ad has: 
  • Lots of pictures. Photography is your best friend online, taking the place of your eyes and supporting senses. 
  • A detailed description. While it's not immediately possible to order a comprehensive report on your desired caravan, a good seller will answer obvious questions before the first contact is established. 
  • A test drive caveat. This will not apply on eBay, but Facebook, Gumtree and other mediums may allow buyers to be more discerning. 
  • A secure payment gateway like PayPal. Protect yourself against scammers. 

Points to Remember: 
  • Never buy sight unseen, too many issues and operational problems aren't immediately apparent in pictures. Pushed for time? Send somebody you trust with a long list of questions.   
  • eBay bidding is just that... an online auction. Don't bid until you've seen, touched and inspected a vehicle, otherwise, you may end up owning a caravan full of problems. Avoid bidding wars, online sellers are waiting for you to make an impulsive choice - you have your budget, stick to it. 
  • Save the ad. False advertising is against the law, so keep proof in case you need to make a claim. 


Your Complete Second Hand Caravan Buying Checklist

We've compiled all of the above information into a simple checklist that you can download and print.

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Used Caravan Checklist


Download the checklist.



So what is Camplify?

We are Australia’s largest caravan hire and RV sharing community, helping connect thousands of holidaymakers with RV owners. 

What does that mean?

Essentially, we provide a unique sharing service where owners of caravans, camper trailers, motorhomes, and campervans list their RV for hire while not in use. 

As a holidaymaker, Camplify helps you find an RV that is perfect for you so that you can experience the joys of caravanning - without having to own one yourself. 

Interested? Learn more about Camplify for hirers here


Feature Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

To find out how Camplify can work with you and your RV, register today here.

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