If it suits your lifestyle, a caravan can be a fantastic investment. You can spend quality family time in the comfort of your own home away from home. However, where do you start looking and what do you need to be aware of when searching for that ideal caravan?
Kay and I have been through the process many times over the years, and the first thing to say is that every caravan is a compromise. After all, there’s only so much that can be done in such a small area, but it is amazing what manufacturers do. We recently changed our caravan, and possibly the compromise is that the lounge seats are a little short to make comfortable single beds, but as we have a fixed-bed and there’s only the two of us, that’s not a problem for us.
So, where do you start. My advice would be to visit as many dealerships and caravan shows as you can so that you can get a good idea of what there is. Most importantly, don’t rush into a hasty buy because it will come back to bite you! Try to find a layout that will suit YOUR purposes. For example, although advertised as multi-berth models, many fixed-bed layouts are really only suitable for couples. Our own caravan is officially a four-berth, and whilst the lounge seats would be suitable for young children, bear in mind that when they go to bed you will have nowhere to sit. Of course, there are some caravans with fixed bunk beds which are suitable for families. Also, don’t be tempted into buying a two-berth model with the thought that children can sleep in an awning. Unless you only intend using the caravan in the height of summer an awning isn’t the warmest place to stay, and the thought of putting one up when the rain is blowing sideways on a dark night isn’t that appealing.
When you’ve found a layout, set a budget, and don’t forget to allow extra for things like a leisure battery, water containers, gas bottles and other paraphernalia (crockery etc.). If you’re not new to the game, you will already have most of those, but if starting out it’s an extra consideration. Many dealers in the UK will offer a ‘Starter Pack’ which will include most of the above.
Next, but possibly most importantly, you need to know your tow car’s capabilities and weights. Manufacturers set towing limits, but these are not what is necessarily safe or recommended. They are determined by a number of tests by the manufacturer to test the structural and transmission durability of the vehicle, things like repeated hill starts to test the drivetrain. Some towing limits are quite low, especially hybrid or fully electric vehicles, and under no circumstances are these to be exceeded.
In the UK, for beginners it is recommended not to exceed 85% of the tow car’s kerbweight (Defined by EU Directive 95/48/E, which is the car’s weight with a 90% full fuel tank, all necessary fluids, 68kg for the driver and 7kg of luggage), but experienced towers are ok up to 100% (but not to exceed that even though it might be legal to do so according to the manufacturer’s towing limit). The reason for these recommendations is so that the car is always in control, and so you have the dog wagging the tail, not the other way around. As a judge at the UK’s annual Tow Car Awards event (held by the Camping and Caravanning Club together with What Car? magazine – www.thetowcarawards.com) I can say that when matched to a caravan properly, most cars these days are pretty good, but there are a few that are outstanding and others that are totally the opposite. Do your research!
So, with all that digested, and ideas of layout/budget fixed, it’s time to start looking in earnest. If tempted to buy at a show, try to choose a dealership that isn’t too far from your home. Unlike the car industry where you can take your new car to any dealership for any work to be carried out, whilst in theory with caravans you can, most are so busy with their own customers they will refuse to take on any caravan not bought from them, and that is their prerogative. They do not have any obligation. Bearing that in mind, any saving that you might make from buying from a dealer a long way from home will be offset by the extra cost of taking the caravan back for maintenance or warranty work. That said, try to find out as much as possible about potential dealers. Over the years, Kay and I have dealt with a dealership that is 60 miles (100km) from home. They have always given superb service. Our previous caravan was bought from a dealership only half that distance away, but the service was diabolical, so for our latest purchase we have returned to our favoured dealer even though they are further away.
Whatever you do, don’t rush into buying. All new caravans look lovely (especially at shows where they’re often lit artificially with extra lighting and are “dressed” to look very appealing), so do your homework on both the manufacturer and any dealership. There are a number of websites and forums which will help you. If you can, go with an experienced friend or family member who won’t be looking through rose tinted glasses and might be able to point out things that you miss.
Once you’ve made the order, look forward to the delivery date and those super holidays that you will have in the caravan. These days, most caravans are suitable for all-year touring, especially those with Alde heating! Our first trip away with the new caravan was in December when here in the UK the temperatures rarely got above 0 °C, and we’ve just come home from a few days away with similar temperatures, and yet the caravan was so cosy.
Nigel Hutson, a lifelong caravanner from Chesterfield, Derbyshire in England. Purchased his first caravan in 1984 and has since then toured the UK and Continent on a regular basis, alongside his wife Kay. In addition to being a husband, he is also a father and grandfather.
Since retiring from the police in 2011 Nigel has become a regular contributor to various caravan and motorhome publications, as “someone who enthusiastically writes about their hobby rather than a journalist”. Nigel is also a keen musician, enjoys travelling and has a great interest in all forms of transport… and he is a Manchester City fan.