Caravan Buying Guide (Part I)
According to ThisisOurAustralia.com, there were 10 million caravanners in Australia in 2013, with half of that number between 30 and 54 years old and another quarter 54 years old and above. We Aussies certainly love our camping holidays! And that’s why we made a caravan buying guide.
If you are among those who favour camping holidays and bringing along your “home away from home” rather than staying in a hotel, then you are probably thinking about purchasing a caravan. With the multitude of choices available in the caravan market, it can be overwhelming to figure out just what you need when buying a caravan and what types of caravans you should be looking at to purchase.
Well, we want to help! With all there is to cover on buying a caravan, we’ve divided this caravan buying guide up into two parts: this part will cover what to focus on when to look for when buying a caravan for a family vs a couple, what are the needs vs wants and more. The second part, coming in December, will discuss the different makes and models available in Australia and which ones works for what purposes.
If you’re looking for your family or if you want a camper for you and your partner or friends to go camping, you should ask yourself the following, so you know what to look for when buying a caravan:
- How do you plan to use it?
- What size caravan fits my needs?
- How are you going to tow the caravan?
- What internal features am I going to want?
- Could I use a trailer or pop-top instead?
- Are you buying new or used?
Answering these questions and making a list of the answers will serve you well when you head into a caravan retail outlet. (What makes and models to check out? See our Caravan Buying Guide Part II for a discussion.)
How do you plan to use it?
Don’t think just about the next year; think long term when you answer this question. Is it something you and your family will enjoy just for long weekends or perhaps a few longer road trips once or twice a year? If you happen to have a young family, then you might even consider if there will be more kiddos added to the family in the future, so you have the proper set up when the family is complete.
Alternatively, are you a couple who just needs a small caravan to take fun weekend excursions? Maybe you plan to travel around the country for an extended period of time and require more out of your caravan. Are you part of a retired couple who want to use this caravan to take long holidays around the country? Or maybe you’re just looking for a small camper to allow you and your mates to camp out over long weekends?
Whatever the needs are for now and into the future you’ll want to keep those in mind as you decide which kind of caravan to pursue from a full luxury version to a small pop-top make.
What size caravan fits my needs?
Along the same lines of thinking about how you use it, you need to consider how many people will sleep in the caravan and the towing capacity of your vehicle. And, of course, there’s the factor of how much you can afford!
Generally, the most popular size of caravans runs between 3.3 metres (11 feet) and 7.3 metres (24 feet). It basically comes down to whether you’re hoping to travel lightly and willing to share campsite facilities or if you’re able to pay for the luxury of having a separate bedroom, running hot and cold water, a toilet, full kitchen—the works.
One of the consistently most popular caravans is the 4.5-4.8 metres (15-16 foot) version with a pop-top, front kitchen with the L shape dinette and a small lounge seat across from it. If you like this size and layout, it won’t be hard to find since it is available at most caravan dealers.
How are you going to tow it?
One of the most important caravan buying tips we can offer is to check the maximum towing capacity of your current vehicle. It wouldn’t be any fun to get your heart set on a certain make and model only to find out your car can’t tow it!
This is where you might consider a pop-top trailer or a camping trailer with slide-out ends, either of which will make for easier towing (and obviously makes for a cheaper purchase). These trailers feature lower centres of gravity plus smaller size (less wind resistance), making towing easier on your family car.
Do I need an off-road caravan?
The answer to this question really depends on where you plan to take your camping holidays. Are you truly going to be places where the “off road” feature will be necessary? Most of Australia today provides well-maintained asphalt roads in most areas and those that aren’t sealed are typically still navigable by most normal cars and caravans.
However, if you do plan to take the caravan in rough conditions, then you certainly may want to check out the off-road versions. These caravans will have such elements as heavy-duty suspension systems, increased clearance and steel frameworks. When looking for this type of caravan, be sure to deal with the few manufacturers who warrant their caravans for off-road use.
What internal features will I want?
While you will be limited on the size of caravan you can tow, no matter what size you look at, there will be loads of options.
A few questions that everyone should ask themselves as they review makes and models:
- How many beds are necessary and what arrangement will work (end double bed, island bed, single beds, bunk beds)?
- How do I like to cook? Can I make use of the microwave mostly? Do I want a conventional oven?
- Do I want to have our own private shower and toilet on board? (If you plan to stay mostly at caravan parks, it might be something you can do without to avoid the extra weight. However, if you have a family and feel it will make things more comfortable and easier in the long run, then it might be worth the extra weight and expense.)
Some optional features that families in particular may want to look for or think about as you view choices:
- Cupboard and drawer space
- Air conditioning capacity
- Lounge size (many families like the L shape or club)
- TV that can swing from one side to the other
- Fridge size
- Double or triple bunks (preferably with a window in each bunk)
- 12V outlets to charge iPads, tablets, etc.
A note for families: Caravans with bunk beds are becoming harder to find as the industry is catering to the large ’empty nester’ market. So if you’re wanting this type, then keep hunting and talking with dealers as it might take a bit more work to track down these makes.
Could I use a trailer or pop-top caravan instead?
Unless you have a large family or intend to take along your grandkids or just want the luxury of a full-size caravan (and have the towing capacity to match!), then the pop-top caravan or camper trailer with a wind-up canvas upper section and extendable sides for extra sleeping capacity might be the perfect choice for you.
One of the great advantages of either of these choices is the lower height, allowing these caravans to park inside most garages. When not in use, the pop-top caravan only reaches a height of 2.1 metres. This bonus also provides less wind resistance and better performance for towing purposes.
Keep in mind, though, that you won’t be able to pull up anywhere and immediately put your caravan to use. You’ll need to go through the process of extending sides and winding up the roof for a trailer or ‘popping’ up the top on caravans. But extra space for sleeping, easier towing package, better fuel economy and lower cost (compared to a full size caravan) makes this extra effort worth it—perhaps for different reasons for each— for young families and older couples.
Buying a new or used caravan?
Obviously, buying a used caravan or trailer sounds like it would be an economical route to go. However, if you’re planning to use this caravan for many years to come, you might reconsider that idea. Buying used means you won’t have the newest safety features, most recent design enhancements and better suspension available to you. That said, if you want to save some money and try out the caravanning lifestyle, then buying a used caravan might be a great option. A word of advice: Be sure to purchase used from a licensed dealer so you can be sure the title is clear and there aren’t any hidden issues.
Take your new (or used) caravan and come visit Broken Head!
Whether you bring your family, partner, friend or just yourself, point your caravan towards Byron Bay and plan to stay at the Broken Head Holiday Park for your first holiday with it. We feature powered and non-powered campsites and excellent facilities to fit any caravanning needs. So go out and purchase your caravan and start living the dream!