5 Tips For Buying a New Van

Max Taylor — 2 September 2016


Above all else, it’s important to determine if the caravan you’ve fallen in love with will do what you need it to do. Where will you be travelling? Let’s pretend that you prefer to stay at caravan parks. Therefore, do you need an onboard bathroom, extensive 12V battery system, and 200L of water storage capacity? Remember: there’s a price to be paid for every additional kilogram of length and weight over and above what you absolutely need. And not just in terms of the initial cost of the van; the heavier the van, the harder your tow vehicle’s engine will have to work to haul it and the more fuel it will use.


You might be fit and healthy now, no lower back pain or mobility issues to speak of. But think about the future. It can be awkward to lift the roof of some pop-tops, for example, and if they have an air-conditioner up to, it can be quite heavy too. Will this be a problem in 10 years? Think about the time it takes to set-up your RV once you’ve arrived on site. Generally speaking, a traditional (hard-roofed) caravan should require very little campsite fettling. Unhook, unroll the awning, plug in, and you’re basically done. If your prospective van requires an involved setting-up procedure, consider the benefits. Remember: everything you set-up must be packed away, which could become tedious, particularly when it’s just a quick trip.


So you want to head offroad. Perhaps you have your sights set on the Gunbarrel Highway or the Great Central Road. That sounds like an amazing adventure, but those outback roads can take a toll on the van, from the suspension to the frame to the internal furniture. If there is a problem, will the manufacturer take responsibility? Yes, the van might be designated ‘offroad’ by the company that built it, but how does the company define ‘offroad’ for warranty purposes? Ask lots of questions about the van’s warranty and ensure that the limitations of the warranty are in writing.


This is one of the biggest considerations but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. First, understand exactly how much your vehicle can tow. This should be in the owner’s manual or it might be printed on a placard on the towbar (if the towbar was fitted by the vehicle manufacturer at the factory). The overall towing capacity is stipulated by the vehicle’s manufacturer and absolutely cannot be exceeded. The other important factor is the vehicle’s maximum towball mass, i.e., how much weight the manufacturer stipulates can be imposed on the towbar by the caravan’s coupling – the so-called towball download. This, too, must not be exceeded. It can get more complicated, especially when you start to take into account the vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Mass and the Gross Combined Mass (the total allowable weight of the tow vehicle and trailer combined). For example, the Ford Ranger PX ute is promoted as being able to tow 3500kg, but its GVM is 3200kg and GCM is 6000kg. If your caravan weighs the maximum allowable 3500kg, the Ranger’s GVM will drop to 2500kg (3500+2500=6000) which is a problem, considering its kerb weight is about 2200kg. That leaves 300kg to account for the ball weight, luggage, passengers, etc. Use the towing capacity and maximum towball mass as a starting point for further investigation. But remember: complying with the towing limitations of your vehicle is your responsibility.


Does your prospective caravan comply with all relevant Australian Standards and Design Rules? The sad truth is that, just because the RV can be registered for our roads doesn’t automatically mean it measures up on the compliance front. No doubt, the vast majority of Australian manufacturers do the right thing but there have been some fly-by-nighters who’d leave up a certain creek without a paddle after taking your money. A good starting point is to look for the RVMap Accreditation Key. This is a badge on the side of the caravan that is intended to show the manufacturer’s commitment to upholding the Australian Standards and Design Rules. It is a voluntary program and shouldn’t be seen as a guarantee or warranty, though the industry conducts random, independent audits of participating manufacturers. Don’t assume, however, that a van is non-compliant if it doesn’t have the RVmap Accreditation Key. It’s worth doing your own research on this.

For more information on finance options, check out Credit One.


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Caravan Staff