Phil Lord — 16 January 2012

AS FAR AS NEW Year’s resolutions go, I have a drastic one: I want to set up a vehicle-plus-caravan rig from scratch for under $10,000.

Who am I kidding?

Caravanning is expensive. A new family caravan costs about $45,000 and a new tow vehicle costs about the same. If you’re like me, with a young family and a mortgage, you’ll know how hard this cost is to justify, even if you managed to get the funds together.

So, if you can’t afford new, how much is "affordable"?


I’m not proposing to set up the cheapest rig possible for some hardship prize. Instead, I want a rig that my family would be happy to travel in, more than once.

With $1500, you can buy an old, registered clunker with a towbar, and a rough, flapping canvas pop-top for about the same. So, technically, you could go caravanning for $3000 if you wanted to. But would you?

I reckon $10,000 will do it. It isn’t beer money but it’s still a budget within reach for many families. This doesn’t include ongoing maintenance and registration costs, but does include everything that is needed to get set up. I figure the initial outlay will pay for itself – considering the low cost of caravanning, compared to package deals – within three years of annual holidays. I think the ease of getting on the road with a good rig will be enough encouragement to use it more than just once a year, too.


With $10,000 you’re clearly going to get something a little ‘shop worn’. It follows, then, that you’ll have to do your research. Consider the time and effort people spend buying a new rig – a similar effort for a used rig should find you something tidy, or at least something that could be tidy with a bit of handyman effort.

If I find a really good tow tug and a really good family van for $10,000 straight up, then don’t expect to hear from me for a while. I’ll be out touring. More than likely, though, I’ll have to get stuck in and fix a few things, and maybe farm out some work.


I reckon I’ll need $4000 for a sound 1990s-model tow vehicle and up to $2000 for a 20-25ft tandem caravan, of 1970s to 1980s vintage.

I think spending more to get a better tow vehicle will save time and money in the long run. After all, it’s more complicated and expensive to fix a tired tow vehicle than to fix a van. That said, even $4K won’t buy something perfect, so I’ll allow another $1000 to get the vehicle into shape.

The estimated $2000 caravan will require a sound chassis, frame and sheeting at the least to be a worthwhile proposition. But at that price, I’m betting it'll need an interior re-fit, given that it’ll probably smell like an old shoe. With $7000 already spent so far, I guess the remaining $3000 or so will cover the cost of sprucing up inside the van.

Ambitious? Probably, but let’s see. If you have average handyman skills and, even better, a mate to help you, setting up the combination shouldn’t be much harder than setting up flat-pack shelves.

Every unexpected cost will suck precious funds out of the very limited renovation pool. I know it’s a tall order, and I might fail. At least I have a comfy swag…

Check out Part 1: Choosing a tow vehicle

Written exclusively for Caravan World Online


Phil Lord budget secondhand rig $10 000


Phil Lord

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