Updated 6th September 2016
Introduction: why buy a touring caravan?
There are many reasons for buying a touring caravan – here are just a few of them:
- perhaps the first reason many people give is the simple freedom of being able to travel to holiday in any place you choose at any time (our own research shows that over two-thirds of Brits enjoyed a staycation in 2016, with caravanning being the second most popular choice of accommodation);
- a tourer gives you the chance to explore and discover different parts of the UK or abroad; it gives you the flexibility of enjoying your holidays in a different place each time – unlike a static caravan or second home;
- you are able to pack up and go at a moment’s notice, with a spontaneous decision – even if it is a day or two just locally;
- because many touring caravan sites are in picturesque locations, you might get to enjoy stunning scenery right on your doorstep;
- there is the chance to meet new people from neighbouring caravans or those on the same campsite;
- it may be a sociable way to take a holiday with a group of friends or family, knowing that you are all able to sit around with a glass or two of wine with your meals, without anyone having to drive home afterwards;
- the Camping and Caravanning Club – and several other associations for touring caravan owners – frequently hold rallies and other events in different parts of country, where you may compare notes, swap stories, and make friends with like-minded souls;
- towing your home away from home with you is typically much cheaper than paying for a hotel or bed and breakfast – allowing you to pursue your interests, hobbies or sports around the country;
- the initial cost of a new or second hand touring caravan is generally considered to be an affordable investment;
- there is a wide range of different makes, sizes and models to choose from;
- the return on your investment of course depends on how often you use it, but a touring caravan is more or less permanently ready to hitch up to your car to go;
- rates for storing your touring caravan when it is not in use may be considered to be reasonable and affordable – and may give you the peace of mind of it being kept safe and secure; or you may even be able to keep the caravan parked on your own driveway – provided it is not being used for living in and provided your property has no restrictive covenants preventing such a use of your driveway or garden.
The list of reasons is by no means exhaustive and you may have some others of your own. Whether buying for the first time, or even as a seasoned caravanner buying second hand, however, the actual purchase of the trailer that is likely to suit your and your family’s needs may present a bewildering array of possibilities.
What make and model, for example, is likely to fit the bill? Even when you have homed in on a particular possibility, to what aspects might you pay special attention and consideration? How about the car that you intend to use for towing your tourer – will it be up to the job? And what are some of the most appropriate ways of protecting and looking after your investment?
This Guide will give you some pointers on all of the above, helping you narrower down your choice.
The good news is that there is a huge range of different tourers from which to choose – the less good news, perhaps, is that it may prove quite bewildering choosing the particular make and model that best suits you and your family’s needs, requirements and interests.
It may seem obvious, but this may be the most important rule to keep in mind – you are looking for the tourer that suits your own purposes. However new, imaginative and tastefully designed is the model you are being shown, there is little point in buying it if it fails to meet you and your family’s hopes and expectations.
So, what are likely to be some of the key considerations in making your choice?
The size of tourer you are likely to need is typically determined by the maximum number of people you expect it to sleep – in other words, the number of berths.
This, in turn, is likely to determine the length of the caravan needed to accommodate that number of people. The length might also determine the level of amenities that may be incorporated. In its guide to buying a touring caravan, for example, the Caravan Club points out that in order to make room for its own toilet facilities, the modern caravan needs to be longer than 10ft (3m).
As important as the overall length is the way in which the designers have made optimum use of the space. The layout – and sometimes this is more imaginative and ingenious than others – may make all the difference and may even mean that you may be able to shave off a few feet from the overall length.
The weight of your tourer is likely to be determined by its length and the manufacturer’s choice of construction materials.
Although the weight is going to determine the size and power of the vehicle needed to tow your caravan, bear in mind that this weight might be multiplied several times over if you have packed a lot of kit into it. This is termed the payload allowance and in caravans manufactured since 1999, your caravan’s documentation needs to state the European Standard maximum permissible laden mass (MTPLM).
You may have noticed that some tourers have twin axles rather than the standard single axle. These are likely to be reserved for only the largest caravans which need to support an especially heavy laden weight. In almost every other instance, however, a single axle is perfectly acceptable and makes handling considerably easier.
Principal considerations as far as internal amenities are concerned are likely to focus mainly on the kitchen, shower and loo. The extent to which they are equipped is, of course, largely a matter of taste – and the depth of your pocket – but remember, too, that they all add weight to the trailer you are going to be towing.
The above considerations may already have pointed you in the direction of certain makes and models of tourer. You may already have formed a preference for one manufacturer over another simply through word of mouth or examples you may have seen elsewhere.
When choosing a make, it might be worth reminding yourself once again that the best one is going to be the one that is most appropriate to the individual needs and expectations of you and your family.
Given the relatively long list of considerations that may go into choosing your touring caravan, it may be a good idea to try to test drive a few models and persuade the vendors to let you take a weekend break or two in any of those you are thinking of buying.
Things to check when looking at a caravan
Things you might want to check when looking at any caravan you are thinking of buying are likely to depend on whether it is new or second hand – if it is new, the list may be somewhat shorter or the inspection rather less rigorous than if you are buying second hand.
Caravan Talk has published a helpful checklist for those about to buy a caravan and the points raised may be useful whether you are buying new or second hand:
- ask to look at it in static mode, set up on site just as you might find it pitched during your holiday;
- check the documentation that comes with it – including proof of ownership or the vendor’s authority to sell;
- check the age of the caravan against that declared in any documentation provided by the Central Registration and Identification Scheme (CRiS), the national register for caravan owners, together with any plates or other coding that might indicate the year of manufacture;
- the more documentation you can be shown about the caravan’s history the better. The original handbook and service log, for example, may give a fair clue to it having been looked after by any previous owners;
- when making your external inspection, you are likely to be looking for scratches, bents and other broken surfaces;
- it is also worth taking a close look at all the sealants, taking into account that oil-based sealants may be expected to last 5 years, acrylic 10 years and silicone-based sealants 20 years;
- outside fittings, such as windows, handles, wheels, lights, towing hitch and electrical connections, also need to be inspected carefully;
Chassis and towing gear
- these may prove expensive features to repair, so it repays to check the chassis especially carefully for any signs of corrosion or buckling – bearing in mind that over-enthusiastic use of under-seal might be hiding problems;
- make sure that the hitch moves freely and that the jockey wheel moves freely up and down;
- test the handbrake to make sure that it works effectively;
- on the inside, the principal enemy is likely to be damp in the walls and floor;
- this is the first stage of a rot that may eventually lead to the structure simply falling apart;
- a tell-tale sign is a pervading smell that may mask a host of potential health hazards;
Doors and windows
- just as you did on the outside, check doors and windows are watertight, their hinges are secure and that they open, close and lock properly;
- check any roof vents from the inside and pay attention to any problems causing condensation to form on the inner surfaces of double-glazed windows;
Gas and electrics
- appliances and supply lines need to be thoroughly checked in order to prevent potentially fatal fires or gassing of occupants in future; and
- finally, check all of the fitted equipment, including any fires, water heaters, fridges, cookers and microwaves.
Matching your caravan to your car
Now that you might have your heart firmly set on a particular caravan, you need to match the caravan to your car (or the one you intend to buy) to ensure it is up to the job of towing it. You also need to take into account the rather complicated rules about the weight of the trailer you may tow on your current driving licence.
Your driving licence
The rules are set out in the official government website, which sets out the two possibilities:
- if your licence to drive a car (category B) was first issued after the 1st of January 1997, you are allowed to tow a small trailer weighing no more than 750kg, unless the weight of your caravan and the car you are using to tow it is less than 3,500kg Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM);
- if your licence to drive a car was first issued before the 1st of January 1997 you are allowed to drive a vehicle towing a trailer where the combined weight of the two is up to 8.25 tonnes MAM.
If you want to drive towing combinations in excess of these limits, you may need to pass the separate practical test to gain the “+E” suffix denoting your ability to tow heavier loads.
The caravan and car combination
The same government website also notes the maximum weight of a trailer that may be towed by a car.
This is expressed by the manufacturer as the maximum weight of trailer that the car may tow or is recorded as the vehicle’s gross train weight. Usually, this is stamped into the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate on the car. The gross train weight is the combined weight of the fully loaded trailer and the fully loaded car.
The maximum width of any trailer, such as a caravan, towed by a vehicle weighing up to 5.5 tonnes is 2.55 metres (approximately 8ft 3in), and the maximum length 7 metres (approximately 23ft).
The above limits are the maximum permitted combinations. In practice, of course, most people generally prefer to stay well within the upper limits and do so by following somewhat easier to follow rules of thumb.
Those simpler rules are based on just three basic principles:
- by keeping the weight of the caravan being towed, in relation to the size of the car, the safer the combination is likely to be;
- however much you put in the trailer caravan, its weight must not be greater than the kerbside (unladen) weight of the towing vehicle; and
- the closer you get to the trailer and the vehicle weight being the same, the more careful you need to be when driving the combination.
So what does that mean? At its simplest it means that the lighter the caravan compared to the weight of your car the better. It means that you are more likely to have enough power to overtake other vehicles, climb hills and continue to cruise at optimum speed on motorways.
For this reason, the Caravan Club, for example, distils all of the advice on matching your caravan to your car in the simple rule of thumb that the weight of the caravan and everything in it should not be greater than the kerbside or unladen weight of the car towing it.
Having settled on the appropriate balance between caravan and towing vehicle, you might also want to ensure that you have fitted to your car the appropriate mirrors to enable you to negotiate all of the hazards you are likely to encounter.
You can read our helpful guide on towing mirrors for more information.
Protecting your caravan
Having found the caravan to satisfy your dreams, matched the car to tow it, spent a fair amount of time and effort to buy it – not to mention the cost of your investment – you probably want to make sure that you are able to protect it the best that you are able.
On this score, one of the most effective means of protection is likely to be insurance.
It might be tempting to think, for example, that the motor insurance you have already arranged for your car is going to cover the risk of loss or damage to any caravan the car is towing.
In reality, your motor insurance is likely to extend only to third party damage caused by your caravan and not to the caravan itself. For the latter, you are likely to need purpose-designed touring caravan insurance. It tends to be a specialist form of insurance about which you might want to consult specialist providers – such as ourselves at Cover4Caravans.
Touring caravans are a special form of insurance risk not only because of the potential for damage to the trailer itself, but also because of the risk of theft of such a mobile piece of property and because of the risk of theft of its contents. Both risks may be covered by the appropriate form of insurance.
Although insurance may be in place, there are still measures you may take to mitigate the risks of loss or damage.
Many insurers, for example, may insist that whenever the caravan is left unattended that a hitchlock is used (if it is still hitched to the towing vehicle) or wheel clamps fitted (if it is not). Indeed, security precautions such as these may contribute to your qualifying for discounts on the insurance premiums you need to pay.
Other sensible precautions include paying careful attention to such obvious weak points as windows and doors, by ensuring that they are properly secured when you are away from your caravan for even a short period of time.
For further information, read our Guide to Caravan Storage and Security.
An increasingly widely used security measure is the installation within your caravan of a tracking device. It is purposely unobtrusive and typically hidden within the structure of your caravan, but constantly reports its whereabouts to a central control room – an invaluable service if ever the caravan might be stolen.
When storing your caravan, note that we will provide up to 15% off the cost of your cover if your tourer is stored at a CaSSOA-approved site.
While this is only a brief guide to the considerations you need to make when buying a tourer, we hope it has helped given you some food for thought. Don’t forget to check the rest of our website for further hints and tips.