Buying second-hand caravans or campers

Laura Gray — 25 August 2017

Can’t afford a brand new caravan but still want to get out and enjoy the caravanning lifestyle? Never fear – there is another way!

If you do your research, know what to look for and what to avoid, you could save yourself thousands by buying pre-loved or second-hand.


While nothing beats a good, old-fashioned sticky-beak, asking the right questions of the seller will give you even more valuable information about the van you’re looking at. You’re sure to have priorities of your own, and there’s always the obvious things to ask (price, age, materials, etc.) but consider adding these to your list:

  • How has the van been stored?
  • Have you made any additions or modifications to the van?
  • Has it had any damage repaired?
  • Is the van legal?
  • Has it been weighed?
  • Is it under warranty?
  • Have any parts or features been removed?
  • Can you help me set it up?
  • Has the van been in any accidents?
  • Has it been taken offroad?
  • Can I tow it/have my mechanic look it over it?


Until recently, the vast majority of caravans were built in a ‘traditional’ way, with a steel chassis, timber framing and aluminium cladding. While strong and proven, this method leaves an older, or unmaintained, caravan susceptible to things like rust and rotting.

Always have a good look under the van for any signs of rust on the chassis, suspension or any components.

Water damage or rot can be harder to see as it may be hidden between the frame and the cladding, however, signs to look for include hairline cracks in the cladding, spongy ply, internal water damage and leaks (particularly around joins) and any excess silicone or sealant, which may indicate a botched fix.

But before you hand over your hard-earned cash, hitch the RV up to the owner’s vehicle (or your own, if allowed) and run through the electrical system. Check all the lights and indicators function as necessary, the electrical outlets have power running to them, and that trailer-mounted batteries are receiving a charge.


Registration requirements are different in each state, so make sure you check on these before you buy a pre-loved RV, whether within your state or from interstate. This includes checking things like brake controllers, tyres, gas fittings, fire extinguishers and smoke alarms.

You’ll also want to check out the van’s weights, as the compliance plate will only give you the information that was correct as it came out of the factory. If the previous owners have made any additions or modifications, this will likely affect the Tare and ATM. The best way to do this is to ask the seller for a current weighbridge certificate.


Will the RV you’re inspecting fit in your driveway or carport? This is an issue that affects all buyers, not just second-hand. If you plan to store the RV in a carport or garage, make sure it will fit under the roof!

Does the RV fit under your tow vehicle’s towing capacity? Again, this issue is not unique to second-hand buyers but it’s an important consideration nonetheless. Make sure you’re aware of the towing capacity, towbar rating, and GCM of your vehicle, and ensure the van you buy will suit it.


There’s a good chance this purchase will be one of the largest you ever make in your life. So approach it like you would any other major purchase: don’t fall in love with a van at first sight. Get acquainted, by all means. But be prepared to walk away from any deal that doesn’t live up to your expectations. It’s noble to overlook faults and foibles, but it’s sometimes better to play the field.

It’s all too easy to become swept up in the excitement of the occasion and listen to the sales pitch over your better judgement. But when you finally pay your deposit, you want it to be a confident decision backed by research.


This is something that’s easy to overlook when you’re faced with a huge, shiny caravan offering to make all your travel dreams come true. Sure, it’s got a roof, a floor, four walls and four wheels – but does it have everything else it should? 

The exterior of a van or camper is where things are most likely to go missing from. Look around for any empty bolt holes or marks where something might have been fitted in the past. An enterprising seller may have removed the spare wheel, the jerry can holders, gas bottle holders, or even the water tank to fit in a new build or to sell separately. If they’re important to you, make sure they’re there when the RV changes hands.


If there’s one thing that’s certain about caravans and camper trailers, it’s that they’re all different! One awning will roll out differently to the next; the pole configuration in a camper can be confusing; and God knows where all the light switches are!

If you’re interested in the van or camper, it’s worth getting the owner to set it up with you. This will give you the chance to ensure all the components are there, and you know how to use them. 


Price is a difficult area. One man’s treasure can be another’s junk so try to be objective. Caravans and camper trailers have traditionally held their value very well, especially those with a better brand name and reputation. 

The steady growth of selling features such as suspensions, kitchen fittings, heaters (space and water), fridges, solar, and electrical systems has resulted in older and slightly less well-endowed models often reselling second-hand for prices as high as brand new models.

Take a look at online at to see what similar caravans or campers are selling for and try to make an objective assessment of what you can expect to pay for what you want.

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #566. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!


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