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Guide to buying a Caravan

Do your research

Different types of layouts available

If you are looking for a 4 berth van with a rear living room research various varieties make sure you find the perfect one to suit your needs.

Price comparison within the market

Compare prices within the trade and private market as this can vary significantly. If you find a van at a particularly low price that seems too good to be true, it generally is! Investigate the catch or steer clear. What will it cost to insure the van.

Find out as much as possible about the van

Ownership and warranty documents, service receipts and invoices, log book, CRiS documentation all assess the vanís history. Generally a van carrying well maintained service documents is a van that has been well looked after.

Establish the maximum weight your car can tow

This will simplify your search as anything above this weight can be disregarded. By law no car is allowed tow a caravan that weights more than 85% of its own weight.

CRiS Registered

Check if the van has been CRiS registered. This will divulge information on its previous history - outstanding finance, insurance claims, damages and much more. It is well worth looking into.

Common Problems

Common problems within models that require checks - if certain brands or models are prone to faults become familiar with this and check the van thoroughly.

Check sellers details

Make sure they are who they say they are. Contact CRiS to get address details. If there are discrepancies, be wary.

Caravan Inspection Checklist

Interior Inspection

Check the van for dampness. This indicates a moist condition with no visible water at the surface causing the floor and walls to rot away. As a result the caravan is left with holes, a bad smell and a minefield of potential health hazards. Once dampness sets in the walls and floors will never be the same again. They can be repaired, however unless carried out by a professional the outcome can result in bulging or discoloration. Dampness can reside all over the van so check everywhere. While the smell is a major tell-tale, look out for bumps on panels, stains or mould. Springy floors, discolouration and foot mats around the door can be a giveaway. Damp testers are available from most camping retailers and minimize the risk of damp when buying a caravan.

*Causes of damp

One of the most common causes for dampness is not draining the water out of the boiler during storage. Varying temperatures in winter can result in pipes expanding and contracting. This causes materials to weaken resulting in burst pipes that allow water to leak out.

Exterior Inspection

Check for visible external damages including dents, scratches or broken surfaces. Assess the sealants; when is resealing required? Oil based sealants should last 5 years, Acrylic compounds, 10 years and Silicone based sealants, 20 years. A professional job can cost up to £250 so be aware of when your exterior needs resealing. Thoroughly check your external features - handles, windows, wheels, aerial roof, lights, door, hitch and electronics.

Also check the underside of your van. Assess for rotting floors and soft patches that can determine dampness. Check the age against the specified age. This can be determined by the CRiS documentation, plate registration or coded etchings that generally illustrate the year of manufacture.

Doors and windows

Check the main door to ensure the lock and hinges are secure. Check it has a watertight fit all the way around to avoid dampness. Assess the fit of any windows and roof vents. Keep an eye out for internal condensation in double glazed units. Replacing these parts can be costly and in some instances exact parts may not be manufactured anymore posing further concern.

Gas and electrics Check

Always check the gas and electrics thoroughly. Faulty systems can be lethal and expensive down the line. If in doubt get a professional to carry out checks.

Fitted Equipment Check

If buying through a dealer your vanís equipment should be tested as part of the pre-delivery inspection. If buying privately this does not apply so take a small gas cylinder and a 12 volt battery with you. The fire, fridge and water heater are generally reliable but if they do give trouble itís normally when operated on gas. Check the operation of the hob, grill and oven with the gas cylinder paying particular attention to any spark ignition systems. Check out additional sockets and lights by a qualified electrician, test battery leads and connectors for damage. If you can plug the van into a mains supply take along a test plug for the sockets to verify that they have been wired correctly. Ensure the water pump will deliver water to all the taps. Check the condition of any mastic seals in the washroom especially any surrounding the shower tray.

Mechanical leaks Check

Again this is an important thing that should be checked on the used vehicle. Always look for signs of leaks in the aspect of automatic transmission. It is recommended that you donít pursue a used caravan for sale with that leaky transmission. Similarly vehicles with leaking brake components or radiators are generally cause for alarm and can be costly to rectify.

Chassis and running gear Check

Always check the condition of the chassis, the hitch and the suspension as repairs can be costly. Check for corrosion on the chassis and look out for signs of new paint or under seal that might be hiding something underneath. Check the hitch mechanism moves freely and the rubber gaiter is not split. Check the jockey wheel winds up and down easily and rotates freely. Check the handbrake is effective and ensure the mechanism moves freely. Look to see if grease nipples appear to have been neglected.

Check the history

Find out as much as you can about the history of the van. Check receipts and invoices for previous service history. Research how often the van was used, distances and conditions travelled in. Generally an owner with the original handbook has probably looked after the van. Get a HPI check to check the official history of the van. The check can tell you if the van has previously been stolen, written off, outstanding finance, mileage discrepancies, realistic valuation and much more. Another approved check is the DEKRA Expert Vehicle Inspection. This ensures your vehicle is in sound condition.

Tips on buying caravan security device

There are hundreds of security devices on the market and some are better than others. None will make your caravan totally thief-proof, but they will make most thieves think twice about stealing your van. Buy the best security you can afford and make sure the thief knows the device is fitted. Stickers are usually supplied with security items Ė so use them!

Hitch locks

Hitch locks provide a reasonable degree of protection from the opportunist thief. Get one that is manufactured from heavy steel to cover the tow socket fixing bolts and has a good lock.

Some hitch locks can lock the caravan to the car but make sure it is unlocked when you are actually towing - use them only on site or if you leave the caravan unattended. They donít generally offer sufficient security for when the caravan is in storage, but they will make things much harder for a thief.

Wheel Clamps

There are many different kinds of wheel clamps on the market, but remember, generally speaking the easier they are to put on the easier they are for a thief to take off.

Buy a good clamp and check that it correctly fits your caravanís wheel Ė if they donít fit correctly, a thief can remove the wheel and the clamp with it.

Wheel Stands

If you think that wheel stands are the only way to keep hold of your Ďvan, think again. A determined thief will come prepared with a set of wheels. But wheel stands can be a deterrent; if you make sure they are locked in place.

Check your handbook as some chassis manufacturers recommend axle stands for winter storage. Make sure you check with your insurers that they are happy to let you keep your caravan on wheel stands, as some insurance policies call for the van to be fitted with a wheel clamp at all times.

Security Posts

Security Posts are particularly useful for those who keep their caravan on the drive at home. They are cemented into the drive and physically block movement of the caravan. Some can be fitted with a tow bar on top of the post so that the caravan can be fixed with a hitch lock. Others are detachable or can fold down so that the caravan can be maneuvered into position.

Make Crime Pay

If you have any information concerning caravan theft or disposal of stolen caravans contact the confidential free phone Crimestoppers Line on 0800 555111. You can stay anonymous and you may be entitled to a reward.

Leaving your caravan

Storage sites are particularly popular with thieves - there are lots of caravans to choose from and often plenty of undisturbed time in which to work. Thieves don't care if you are on holiday - they'll steal caravans from lay-bys, motorway service stations and picnic sites. Even if you're just stopping for a cup of tea or to stretch your legs, make sure your caravan is secured. Parking in your driveway or garden is no guarantee against theft either, so stay alert.

Selling

If you are selling a caravan, never part with your caravan until the cheque has cleared. This includes building society cheques and bank drafts Ė they could be stolen or forged, leaving you without a caravan or money.

Buying

When you are buying a caravan, always meet at the sellerís house. If they insist on meeting at another location, such as a car park or your house, be suspicious. Make sure that the house they claim to live in is actually theirs - sellers have been known to use the driveway of an empty house. You can do this by checking details on CRiS.

If the caravan is CRIS registered, call CRIS as they will have records of the owner as well as records of scrapping, theft or if it is subject to outstanding finance.Check the caravanís chassis number for signs of tampering. If it has been removed or altered, contact the police.

If the seller asks you to ring only at certain times, be wary. They may be using a public call box to cover their tracks Ė dial 100 and ask the operator to check for you

Matching your tow car to your caravan

There is an art to safely and effectively matching your tow car to your caravan. Firstly you need to establish how heavy your caravan is, get this by finding out its MTPLM.

Trailer weight

By law the loaded weight of any caravan should not exceed 85% of the weight of your car. Divide the caravanís MTPLM by 0.85 to find the kerb weight of your car. Your caravan must not exceed the carís maximum towing weight. It is also advised to be familiar with the carís gross train weight, this is the maximum load the car can tow when itís fully laden.

Noseweight

This is the weight that you put on the tow ball of your vehicle and is typically between 50 and 100kg. For stability, the noseweight should not exceed this limit. Try to load your caravan so that it comes close to, but does not exceed this figure.

Payload

Payload is the weight of the items that you are allowed to carry in your caravan - you will find this in the handbook. Check the loading of your caravan periodically to make sure you aren't exceeding the total weight allowed. Manufacturers call this the gross weight

Choose the right engine

Diesel cars often make better tow cars than its petrol counterpart because they have more low-down torque (pulling power at low revs) than petrol cars. Theyíre also more efficient, they emit less carbon dioxide and some have particulate filters to trap sooty emissions, too.

Towing your caravan on the road

Vehicle Length

Towing a caravan is no more difficult than driving solo - providing that you are aware of the additional length. There is no reason why your trailer should not dutifully follow your car but you will need to allow more time and space to stop safely, overtake and corner. When youíre towing, youíll need to give yourself more time and space for everything. Itís best to brake earlier than normal and youíll probably accelerate more slowly with a caravan on the back.

Corners

When turning, you will need to turn later and harder than you usually would as the trailer will not follow the exact path of your car. The extra length of your outfit means you will need to take corners more widely than normal so the back of the caravan doesnít clip the kerb or cut the corner.

Braking

Braking distances whilst towing a caravan may increase by 20 percent, depending on the road conditions. Remember never to slam on your brakes, as this can cause the trailer to jack-knife, so keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front. When youíre towing, youíll need to give yourself more time and space for everything. Itís best to brake earlier than normal and youíll probably accelerate more slowly with a caravan on the back.

Instability

Snaking is the most common form of instability and is often due to bad loading or excessive speed. However, even well matched units can snake due to air from passing trucks or coaches. Vertical instability is called pitching and can occur if you hit a pothole.

In either case don't apply your brakes hard - slow down gradually by easing off the accelerator. A stabilizer will help to avoid snaking and pitching but it must not be a replacement for a good car and caravan combination or weight distribution.

Speed

Remember the legal speed limits are often lower when youíre towing. Donít exceed 50mph on single carriageways or 60mph on dual carriageways.

View

You may not tow in the furthest right (Ďoutsideí) lane of a three-or-more lane motorway unless instructed to do so Always make sure you have a good view to the rear of your unit, which will probably mean using extension mirrors. And donít forget to take them off when youíre not towing Ė itís illegal to drive with them on if you donít need them. Your number plate must show your carís registration number, conform to the relevant British Standard and be illuminated at night. This means no felt-pen on cardboard!

Motion

Never carry passengers in the caravan when youíre towing it. Itís theoretically legal to transport animals inside a caravan, but itís definitely not recommended. Your rear light panel must always be working. Remember to check before driving off and keep an eye out for anything that changes during your journey. Your car must show that the indicators are working while you are driving. This might be done positively (by a special light flashing or buzzer sounding when the indicators are on) or negatively (by giving a warning if a bulb fails). If you find traffic is building up behind you, pull over at a layby or other suitable place and let the other vehicles pass.

Marking your caravan

If your caravan is stolen the chances of getting it back can be dramatically improved by taking action now

Photographs

Take photographs of your caravan, particularly any distinctive features. This can help identification should your caravan be stolen and subsequently recovered.

Roof Marking

Many police forces recommend that you mark your postcode on the roof of your caravan which can be seen by police aircraft and helicopters. Commercial kits are available, or you can paint your own.

Tracking

If you have a desirable caravan, it may be worth investing in a tracking system. These use global positioning satellite technology to pinpoint your caravan to a few metres in the event that it is stolen.

They are not cheap to buy and there is usually a monthly line rental, but this can be outweighed by possible insurance discounts.

Etching

Etch your caravan chassis number or postcode on all windows and in several hidden places inside the van. You can use an ultra violet pen for this but a simple spirit based felt tipped pen inside a cupboard or under beds is almost impossible to remove.

Microchip

A number of companies can embed a small microchip into your caravan structure, which can be found by a scanner. As of mid-2004, over 60,000 caravans have been tagged, making it harder for thieves to dispose of stolen ''vans and increasing the likelihood of stolen caravans being returned to their rightful owners.

All caravans built since 1997 have a Radio Frequency Tagging chip (RFID) fitted at manufacture. This technology has improved on shortfalls in CRIS technology (see below), as RFID chips are easier for the authorities to locate.

Records

Keep a note of your caravan chassis number and other important information. Keep these records safe and away from the caravan.

CRIS

CRIS stands for Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme. Since 1992 almost all new caravans carry a 17-digit number that is stamped onto the A-frame and etched into at least three windows.

If you are buying a CRIS registered caravan you can phone CRIS who will be able to confirm if it listed as stolen, scrapped or listed as having outstanding finance.

Safe on the road

Before taking to the road you should ensure that your car and trailer combination is correctly matched and equipped. In order to continue safely, regular servicing is essential - some checks need carrying out every trip and a caravan certainly needs a main service once a year.

Some checks are simple enough, but others may require a bit of mechanical knowledge. If in doubt, leave it to the experts.

Tow Bar

A correctly fitted and maintained towbar is vital for safety, as it is the only connection between car and trailer. Make sure that all the bolts are tightened to the recommended torque figure and that there is no cracking or rusting around the mounting points.

Brakes

Brake maintenance is best left to properly trained engineers, but it's worth keeping an eye on your brake mechanism and cables. If you have any doubts get them checked straight away.

Make sure the metal breakaway cable is in good condition. This cable is designed to pull on the caravan's brakes, snap and allow the car to run free of the braking caravan in the event that the caravan comes off the towbar. Always connect this to a separate mounting point and not the tow ball.

Suspension

Check the condition of the suspension for both the car and trailer, as it is important for safety as well as comfort. When your caravan is attached to your vehicle it should tow level or slightly nose down but never nose up. If you find that the car rear sags you may need some form of suspension aid. Get specialist advice on the type required for your car from your car dealer.

Tyres

Never mix cross ply tyres with radials on the same axle. Make sure you check the pressures and condition of the tyres before every trip - you will find correct pressures detailed in your handbook. Before setting out, check that the caravan wheel nuts are tight, ensure wheel trims are replaced securely and always carry a spare wheel.

Electrics

The road lights on your trailer are operated from the tow car through a 12N-type socket and plug. Check the caravan's indicators and lights are working in unison with the car each time you set off. A dashboard display or warning bleeper must be fitted inside the tow vehicle to show that the trailer's lights are working.

Mirrors

It is vital to have a good view of the road behind you and along the sides of your caravan. This will usually mean attaching additional towing mirrors to your vehicle's wing mirrors - make sure these are securely fixed and adjusted correctly.

Final checks

CRiS Registration

Any caravan manufactured after 1992 will have its VIN registered on the Caravan Registration Identification Scheme (CRiS). This 17 digit VIN number (usually starting with an SG) is stamped on to the chassis and on later models etched into the windows. This check will confirm the true identity of the van as well as report if it has outstanding finance, reported stolen, or has previously been recorded as an insurance write off.

Experian Vehicle Check

Carry out an Experian Vehicle check to check the official history of the van. The check can tell you if the van has previously been stolen, written off, outstanding finance, mileage discrepancies, realistic valuation and much more.

Tyre Check

One of the most important checks you can carry out it is to have safe and legal tyreís. Each year hundreds of caravans are destroyed resulting in serious injuries. The reason why caravan tyreís are prone to blow outs is due to infrequent usage. Tyre walls are over-looked and the infrequent usage increases the presence of cracks in the tyreís walls. When heated the tyre becomes prone to blow outs.

How to read a caravan tyreís

Most tyreís have digits along the wall of the tyreís for example (photo top right ) 195/60 R15 88H.195 is the tyreís width in millimeters, 60 is the sidewall height, expressed as a percentage of the width. R indicates a radial type construction.15 is the wheel diameter in inches. 88 is the Load Index.H is the speed rating (See guide right).

NCC Approved

The NCC Approved badge is the sign that when the tourer was built, it complied with all relevant European and UK health and safety standards, industry Codes of Practice and UK regulations. Some of these are not required in countries outside the UK, so you need to be sure that your tourer is safe Ė look for the badge.