Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Caravan
For thousands of Australians, caravanning is not just a hobby or a mode of transport, it’s a way of life. For decades now, people throughout Australia have been hitching up their vans and packing up the family to get away for weekends, months, or even years on the road, and it’s easy to understand why. With such an enormous and varied country right on our doorstep, a caravan is a perfect way to see everything Australia has to offer on your own terms and with total freedom.
If you’re considering jumping into the world of caravanning then the first thing we have to say is congratulations!
More than being a home away from home, a caravan is a way to make friends and form memories that will last a lifetime. But before you jump in there is a lot to learn, and it can initially seem overwhelming to newcomers. Pop top caravans, camper trailers, slide-outs, hybrids, family vans – there are a seemingly endless number of terms to learn and it can be hard to know where to start.
Don’t worry, though; at Fantasy Caravans we’re committed to helping everyone, new or old, to understand and enjoy the amazing world of caravans. So, before you make your first purchase, use our caravan buying guide to help you navigate through some of the most important things you need to know and offer a few caravan buying tips.
What’s Your Budget?
As with any vehicle, caravans can range in price depending on what you are buying. It is possible to find smaller, second-hand caravans for as low as ten or fifteen thousand dollars, just as it is possible to spend well north of $100,000 for a state-of-the-art home-on-wheels. Your final budget will change depending on what exactly you’re looking for in a caravan but it is good to go into your search with a rough estimate in mind to help guide you and narrow down exactly what’s important to you.
Where Are You Going To Store It?
This is a question that a surprising number of prospective owners overlook during their search for a caravan. Remember, unless you’re planning to live on the road full-time, your caravan is going to be sitting unused for the majority of the year. Do you have space at your home to store it? Is your garage or driveway big enough to fit a caravan? If not, does your local council allow you to park large vehicles on the street?
If you answered no to these questions, then you will likely need to pay to keep your caravan at a storage yard when it’s not being used. If this is the case, make sure to factor the cost of storage into your budget or monthly expenses.
Choosing A Caravan Size
The very first decision you need to make when it comes to buying a caravan is deciding what size you want. Most caravans today range from 11 to 23 feet in length, with smaller caravans being better suited to solo travellers and couples, while larger caravans are capable of sleeping entire families and supporting them through a full-time life on the road.
As a rule, larger caravans have more features and amenities than smaller ones, with large (20ft+) models often containing full-sized kitchens, dining/living areas and ensuite bathrooms with separate showers and toilets. However, with these added features comes an added cost, and it is not uncommon for top-end luxury models to cost $100,000 or more.
When it comes to choosing what size caravan you want, the best thing to do is to figure out how many people will be using it and what you will be using it for. If you only plan on using your caravan for short weekend trips then you probably don’t need a large model with all of the bells and whistles. However, if you’re travelling with children or want to take extended trips (e.g. more than a week) away then it makes sense to go for something a little bigger and more comfortable.
One thing to keep in mind is that larger caravans are of course heavier and tow less easily than their smaller counterparts, which brings us to the next consideration.
What’s Your Towing Capacity?
Every caravan needs a tow vehicle to actually get out on the road, and it is important to match your caravan to the vehicle you plan on using or vice versa. Many Australians own a ute or a 4WD that they can use as a towing vehicle and shouldn’t have any issues with most caravan sizes. However, if you are thinking about purchasing a large, double-axle caravan, you need to be sure your vehicle is powerful enough to tow it.
Consult your current vehicle owner’s manual or an authorised dealer to double-check the towing weights and limits of your vehicle and compare them against any caravans you are considering. There are several different towing terms with caravans but the main ones to be aware of are aggregate trailer mass (ATM), gross vehicle mass (GVM), tare weight, and tow ball weight. Be sure to check our towing guide too.
Knowing what you can legally tow is essential not just for avoiding fines but also as a matter of safety. Additionally, overloading your tow vehicle can potentially void your insurance or warranty if you have an accident or run into any problems.
Wooden Or Aluminium Frame?
One of the major changes that caravans have undergone in recent years has been the move away from traditional timber frames to aluminium frames and more lightweight construction material. The main argument for aluminium frames is that they are stronger and lighter than timber frames and aren’t vulnerable to rotting if they get wet.
While most caravan manufacturers are transitioning towards aluminium frames, there are still some that stick with timber construction. As a general rule, you can expect to find timber frames in older models and designs of caravans and aluminium frames in most, but not all vans built within the last 5 years.
On-Road, Off-Road or Hybrid
In the caravanning world, vans are roughly divided into three categories: on-road, semi-off-road and off-road. On-road (or touring) vans are, as the name suggests, designed for sticking to the blacktop and are intended to take you from your front door to the caravan park. They will have lower ground clearance to allow for easier towing and less wind resistance on the open road and usually have fixed suspension similar to your car.
Semi-off-road caravans are more rugged than on-road caravans and are for when you want to get off the beaten track and go into the outback, either on rougher roads or none at all. They are built to endure the conditions you will find throughout rural Australia and feature higher ground clearance and robust independent suspension to absorb the bumps in the road, and usually feature some sort of protection underneath the chassis to protect any water tanks or important components.
Off-road caravans are what you want when you’re truly committed to getting away from it all. With an off-road caravan, you can reach the most remote corners of Australia and take on nearly anything the land will throw at you: deserts, rivers, mountains and beaches. In an off-road caravan, everything is designed and built with durability and performance by reinforcing the frame and structure for off-road use.
Single or Double Axle
This is a question that prospective owners often get hung up on, when in fact it is mostly out of their control. A single axle caravan has only one axle, whereas a double axle has two axles and four wheels. Whether a caravan has single or double axles is determined by its size and weight, as past a certain point it is legally required to have two axles in order to handle the additional weight and length.
Single axles offer a tighter turning circle than double axles, however, double axles are generally more stable to tow and are safer in the event that you blow a tire while you’re on the road.
New Or Used Caravan?
Once you’ve worked your way through the essential questions about what kind of caravan you want, you’ll eventually come to one of the most difficult. Do you buy it new, or second-hand? Depending on what caravan you’ve decided on, the answer to that question can make a massive difference.
On the one hand, buying a second-hand or used caravan can save you some money when compared to buying the same model from a dealer, and there are some seemingly good bargains floating out there on the second-hand market. However, as with anything pre-owned, you never know exactly what you’re getting. You can look over every inch of the shell, open up every cupboard and storage bin and pay a professional to crawl underneath and have a poke around, but there’s no way to ever be sure just how the caravan has been looked after and what kind of issues it can have. While most caravan owners are incredibly careful with their vans, there are some out there who will, as with anything, try and sell you a lemon.
Although buying a new caravan is almost always more expensive than buying one second-hand, you can think of it as paying for peace of mind. Every aspect of it will have undergone a thorough inspection and certification, first by the manufacturer and again by the dealer. In addition, buying new means you will be entitled to a warranty and considerable after-sales support should you encounter any problems, which is not the case when you buy a second-hand van.
If budget is a major concern for you then it is perfectly acceptable to opt for a second-hand caravan but be mindful that you potentially open yourself up to a number of problems that could end up costing you more in the long run.
Making A Checklist
Once you’ve worked through the major questions, it’s time to prepare a checklist of what your ideal caravan looks like. The best way to do this is to break your list down into two categories, needs and wants.
The ‘needs’ are the absolute essentials a caravan must have to actually work for your lifestyle and they will become clear once you decide what you’ll be using the van for. If you’re going to be spending weeks or months at a time on the road, then you’ll need to have cooking facilities as well as a proper toilet and shower. Similarly, if you’re going to be spending a lot of time off-road then you’ll need a caravan with durable suspension that can handle a few knocks and bumps.
The ‘wants’ are the additional extras that, while not necessary, would make your caravanning experience that much more enjoyable. Maybe you want an island bed that you don’t need to crawl into, a TV that you can relax in front of, or a separate shower and toilet instead of a combination ensuite. Once you have your needs firmly settled you can start to think about your wants and what would make your caravan a truly special place.
Choose A Trusted Manufacturer
Whatever your ideal first caravan looks like, the most important thing is to make sure you purchase from a trusted and reputable manufacturer. Prioritising the absolute bottom dollar can be tempting but buying a caravan from an unknown manufacturer is a great way to cause yourself a lot of stress and could put you in financial strife.
Make sure your manufacturer has an established dealer network and investing their warranty.
At Fantasy, we build affordable caravans. we back them up with an impressive 5-year structural warranty and 1-year manufacturer and appliances warranty, so you know your investment is protected.
Also check out what current owners are saying. Facebook groups can be a great place to research a brand and talk to current owners. Make sure you check the Fantasy Caravan owners’ group.
So, are you ready to jump into looking at caravans?
One of the first things many buyers do is collect brochures of the brands and models they are interested in. You can download the latest Fantasy brochures here.
If you have any questions or still need some help getting started, get in touch with us or one of our dealers today!