When it comes to holidaying, a caravan offers the ultimate in freedom, allowing you to stop where you please without worrying about accommodation. It is a big ticket purchase though, so getting the right van for your needs is essential if you are to enjoy it for years to come. If you're in the market for a caravan, here are a few of the things you need to consider.
Matching caravan and car
Before you get carried away with glossy brochures and dreams of luxury vans, you absolutely must match the caravan to your existing car. There is a maximum weight that each car can tow, and by law it must not be more than 85 per cent of its own weight, so do establish what that maximum weight is before you start looking for a caravan, and consider extras that you'll be taking with you, like TVs and personal effects. That way you'll have a good idea of what kind of van you can go for, and know that you'll be safe when you head off on your hols.
Decide what you need
Once you've worked out what kind of caravan you're able to tow, you can begin to research what type you'd like to buy. Caravans come in a wide variety of sizes, from two-berth to four or five, though even a small caravan can be extended by way of an awning. It's also worth considering your confidence as a driver. For example, single-axle caravans are often easier to manoeuvre and more manageable for caravanning newcomers. Alternatively, you may decide to go for a camper van that is a home and vehicle all in one.
It's a good idea to talk to your local dealer, who should be able to offer advice on handling and servicing etc, while Practical Caravan magazine is a great resource if you're unsure what kind of van to go for. At their website you'll find awards for the best caravans on the market, in categories from large families right through to couples. Once you have a make and model in mind, it's worth getting a rough estimate of insurance and servicing costs.
Where to buy
Before you buy, check out a caravan show. Here you'll be able to view all kinds of different makes and models to give you a comparison of what's on offer. Then find a reputable dealer who will be able to offer advice, financing and warranties. When it comes to buying, look for the National Caravan Council (NCC) Approved badge, which indicates that the vehicle complies with all the relevant European and UK health and safety standards and regulations.
A secondhand caravan can be great value for money, but safety is of paramount importance so you should be extra careful when buying a used van. Just as you would when buying a second-hand car, you should ask to see all the available history and documentation, including warranty documents, service receipts and invoices, log book, and most importantly, that the caravan is registered with the NCC's Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme (CRiS), which allocates each caravan a 17-digit VIN number.
No matter whether you are buying from a dealer or private seller, it's wise to carry out an extensive inspection. Look for signs of dampness, both inside, in double glazing, and under the van, where a soft patch or rotting floor indicates a damp problem. Gas and electrics should be thoroughly checked as they can be expensive problems to fix if faulty, and take a look at all doors and windows to ensure that locks and hinges are secure and working well. If checking the van yourself sounds a little daunting, it might well be worth paying for a professional to carry out the checks. If nothing else, at least you'll have peace of mind when you buy.
Once you've found your perfect caravan and signed on the dotted line, particularly if you're a caravanning newbie, it's worth joining a club such as the Caravan Club or the Camping and Caravanning Club. These offer excellent advice from experts and fellow travellers on the best parks, technical and maintenance advice, and tips on caravan travel.
Are you a caravan fan? What advice would you give to others looking to buy a tourer? Leave your comments below...