Things to Look for When Buying a Second-hand Caravan or Camper Trailer


Buying a caravan or camper trailer is an exciting time. However, you don’t always have to look at the new options. There are plenty of good quality second-hand caravans and camper trailers on the market.

Buying a second-hand caravan or camper trailer has many benefits. For starters it can save you thousands of dollars. There are also other benefits such as getting a van straight away, rather than waiting weeks or even months for it to be ready, as well as already having little extra additions from the previous owner.

When buying a second-hand camper, it’s important to know that what you are buying is safe, suitable for your usage, mechanically working and is not going to end up costing you more in the long run. Here are a few things to think about and look for when you are buying a second-hand caravan or camper trailer.

What to think about before buying a second-hand camper or caravan

There are two ways you can buy a used caravan or camper trailer. You can go to a dealer, as most will have a second-hand section or you can buy one from a private seller. Whichever way you go, there are some things to think about before you go searching.

Make sure it’s fit for purpose

The beauty of buying a new van is that you can generally customise it and make sure it is exactly how you want it. You can add or take out features to make sure it is suitable to what you want and how you’re going to use it. With a second-hand van you can’t do that, so it is important to work out what features you need and look for caravans or camper trailers that have those features. There is no point saving money by buying second-hand if you’re going to have to spend thousands adding features because what you purchased didn’t have them.

Pick a van that suits your needs. Work out where you want to go, do you need to be able to go off grid and are you going off road? All these things will determine what type of van you choose so it is important to sit down and work out how you’re going to use your camper what features you need. Some things to look at are:

What is your budget?

The budget you have may determine what sort of camper trailer or caravan you can purchase. Work out how much you are able or willing to spend on your van. You might find that you have an amount that you would ideally like to spend but also have a maximum amount that you are not going to go over. This will limit your search to those campers you can afford and will stop you from searching thorough endless vans that are out of your price range.

Don’t forget about the extra costs that you need to factor in. Things like insurance, servicing costs and extra camping equipment you need to buy.

Do your research

Once you’ve figured out your budget, start doing some research on what sort of camper and features your budget will get. There are so many different types, sizes and brands that you will need to research and work out what you can get for your money. Make a list of must have features and nice to have features then start looking at the types and ages of van that have all of your must have features. If that is under your budget, then start looking at ones that have a few nice to have features and get a feel for what sort of second-hand campers you could get.

There are many classified ad sites that will give you a good starting point for your research. Check out sites like Caravan Camping Sales, Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace.

Check your cars ability

A big factor in determining what caravan or camper trailer you can get, and it doesn’t matter if you are buying new or second hand, is the ability for your car to tow it. All cars will have a maximum towing limit and it is a good idea to check what this is before looking at any potential purchases. Not only do you need to tow within your cars limits for safety reasons, it is also illegal to go over these limits and you will not be covered by your insurance in the event of an accident if you are overweight. If you’d like more information about car and caravan weights and limits then look at What is a GVM, GCM and ATM.

Where are you going to store it?

When your camper is not in use, where are you going to store it? Check your measurements so that you know what size camper or caravan will fit in the area. There’s nothing worse then picking up your dream camper to find it’s too long for the garage, or won’t fit through the gate.

what to look for when buying second hand

Things to look at when purchasing a second-hand caravan or camper trailer

Once you’ve found a trailer you’d like to purchase, it is a good idea to organise and inspection before you buy. Just like buying a car, there are certain things you should look for so that you are making sure what you purchase is what you want and not riddled with problems.

If you’re looking at multiple campers, take a pen and notebook to jot down things you want to remember about each one, as well as a camera (or your phone) to take photos. Also consider taking a tape measure to check measurements, and a torch to check underneath the van or in dark spots such as cupboards.

What to check on the exterior of the van

  • Dents and scratches. Look on the outside of the van for any dents, scratches or scrapes. If you find any, try to determine if they’re just superficial or deep enough to cause any issues.
  • Sealant. Look at any areas where there is sealant to see if any of it is deteriorating. Pay particular attention to the join areas on the roof as deteriorated (or badly done) sealant can be a cause for water leaks.
  • Open, close, lock and unlock all doors, windows, cupboards and boxes. Check everything that opens and shuts and make sure it is doing it correctly. Also make sure that the owner has all the keys needed for any locks.
  • Is there any rust? Look around and underneath the van or camper.
  • Check the condition of the tyres.
  • Look for any obvious paint jobs that may hide bigger issues.
  • Make sure the axle is in good condition and there are no cracks in the chassis.
  • Does the handbrake work?
  • Is the hitch in good condition?
  • Check the jockey wheel mores up and down easily.
  • Does everything look like it should underneath (no exposed wiring, cracks in piping etc)?
  • Does the awning (if fitted) open and close smoothly and as it should?
  • Are the gas and electrical components in good working order? And make sure any gas work has been done by an authorised gas fitter.
  • Check any fly screen for holes or rips.
  • If you are looking at a camper trailer check the canvas. Is there any holes or rips? Can you see any mould? Check to make sure any seams are in good condition.
  • Do any zips open and close easily?
  • Check for any damage to the beds and mattresses.
  • Look for the trailer plate. Make sure the information on the trailer plate matches the registration paperwork.

Buying a used van you need to expect some wear and tear so if you find issues with any of the above, it may not be a deal breaker but remember to factor in any additional cost for repairs. Things such as dampness and rust especially can be expensive or time consuming to fix.

What to check in the interior of the van

  • Do all of the appliances work? Check the microwave, oven, stove etc.
  • Are there any signs of dampness? Make sure to check for mould or damp patches in all the cupboards as well as the walls, floors and benches.
  • Is it fitted with a smoke detector and fire extinguisher?
  • Do the drawers and cupboards open and close easily and are they in good condition.
  • Do the lights work?
  • Does the door open and close easily and is the lock in good working order.
  • Is the floor in good condition?
  • Do all power points work?
  • Does the water work properly. Check sinks and showers etc.
  • Look for any obvious paint jobs that may hide bigger issues.

Questions to ask the current owners

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the camper you are wanting to buy. You don’t have a lot of recourse buying privately and looks can sometimes be deceiving.

  • What is the vans age?
  • How many owners has it had?
  • Where has it been stored? (outdoor, indoor, with a cover etc)
  • Where has it been taken? (on road, off road, caravan parks, 4WD tracks etc)
  • Have any modifications been done by a professional or DIY?
  • Is there a documented service history on the van?
  • Is the camper’s registration up to date and when does it expire?
  • Was the van ever financed? It’s important to make sure that the camper hasn’t been used as security for a loan that isn’t fully repaid yet.
  • Do they have the instruction manuals for everything?

Do a Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) check. It only costs $2 and will tell you if there is any security interests registered against the camper. It will also be able to tell you if it has been recorded as written off or stolen.

It’s also a good idea to take it for a tow test. How does it feel when cornering and at higher speeds?

Once you’ve gone through all your checks and decided that you’ve found ‘the one’, then think about what you are willing to pay for it. Do some research on the same make and model with other sellers to see if what they are asking for is fair. You may want to offer lower than the asking price if you’ve found things you need to fix. Private sellers tend to offer more negotiating room than dealers, however going through a dealer offers other perks such as warranties and a place to go back to if something goes wrong.

And finally, don’t forget about the other costs when buying a caravan or camper trailer. Make sure you get a quote for insurance once you know what camper you are buying, and look to see when the registration will be due and how much it is per year.

Happy camping.

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