Buying a Used/Second Hand Caravan in 2019? Features & Inspection Tips


Hi, I’m Chris, I run Horton Common along with my father Robert.

We often have guests here at Horton Common who are new to caravanning. Some have gone down the route of purchasing a brand new caravan, while others have purchased a used/second-hand caravan. While most have been very happy with their purchase and felt like they ‘got a good deal’. Others have told me they feel they overpaid or purchased a caravan with problems. There is a huge range of things to consider if you are thinking of purchasing a used/second-hand caravan. If you are new to caravanning and have never purchased a caravan before, I personally would avoid private sellers. The chances of ending up with a deal (or caravan) your not happy with I think are just simply higher. However, even when you go down the of purchasing through a caravan dealer, you still need to know what features to look out for. Furthermore, you want to know some basic inspection tips. To make sure you don’t purchase a caravan that’s going to cause you problems.

Buying a Used Second Hand Caravan
Purchasing a used second-hand caravan can be confusing. You need to learn about the various caravan features found on older and more modern caravans. You can then work out what features you want and if the price of the used caravan is a good deal.

This post is not going to focus on layout, sizes of caravan etc when purchasing a second hand used caravan. I’ll cover those topics in a separate post. For this post, let’s presume that you already know the size and layout of caravan you want and that its suitable for your tow car. Within this post, I’ll discuss what features and facilities you want to check if the caravan does or doesn’t have. Not only will that help you work out if that particularly used caravan is going to meet your needs. But it will also help with price comparisons on different caravans.

For instance, you may look at the price of two caravans of similar size and layout. They are of a similar age but have a different price. You could just ask the dealer the reason for the price difference, but remember, they are a salesman. So you need to understand the different features of a used caravan to do your own price comparisons to get the best deal. This is a long post. So please feel free to use the Table of Contents below if you don’t have the time to read it all. Enjoy šŸ™‚

Introduction to Buying a Used/Second Hand Caravan – Video 1

As stated at the start of this post. If this is the first time you have ever purchased a second-hand caravan I only recommend going to a dealer. There are several reasons for this, first, to avoid any potential scams, stolen caravans etc. Secondly, a dealer will often provide you with some sort of warranty/guarantee on you used caravan purchase. Therefore, if something did break or go wrong they will address that issue. Finally, not all first-time caravanners are aware. But a good annual caravan service is an essential part of being a responsible caravanner. By taking the caravan back to the dealer every year, they will service the brakes, check the gas system for leaks etc.

However, I would never encourage anyone to go to a caravan dealership and blindly trust everything the salesmen said. You need to become an ‘educated consumer’ before you walk onto a caravan dealer forecourt. You will then be able to purchase a caravan that you’ll be happy with and you feel you got a good deal on. With that in mind, I want to begin this post with a video from Practical Caravan. It covers various things to consider when you are looking to purchase a second-hand caravan. Now, the caravan in this video may be older than the unit you are considering. However many of the same considerations apply to purchasing a newer more modern used caravan.

John discusses some of the features which older used caravans may be missing compared to newer caravans.

Does the Used Caravan have a Stabiliser Hitch?

So the first thing that John addresses in the video is the hitch on older used caravans. You may have noticed the several different types of hitches fitted to caravans and wondered what’s the difference? Well, older second hand used caravans from before the early 2000s will likely not have a plastic stabiliser handle as seen in the image below. As you have probably guessed from the name, a stabiliser hitch provides additional stability when towing. It reduces incidents of sway or ‘snaking’ on fast A-roads or motorways. Does that mean older second-hand caravans are not as safe to tow as a modern caravan? Not at all, because older second hand used caravans can be retrofitted with a stabiliser hitch head.

Caravan Stabiliser Hitch Head for Used Caravan

It’s quite a simple retrofit to upgrade an old used second-hand caravan hitch to a modern stabiliser hitch head: Image – Amazon

However, if you have checked the link to the image above you will have noticed that a new stabiliser hitch head is a pretty expensive retrofit. Therefore, an alternative blade type stabiliser can also be used. However, if you do find an older used caravan which has been retrofitted with a stabiliser hitch that carries value. Hence, when doing price comparisons between different used caravans it is worth noting.

Towing Electrics – 7 Pin or 13 Pin?

Depending on the age of the used caravan you are considering you may find it has two electrical plugs to connect to your car. Again, depending on the age of your car you may look and find only one electrical socket. That may at first appear to be a problem, but its not. You can simply use a towing electrical adapter as seen below on your vehicle to connect it up to the caravan.

Caravan7-pin Plug Adapter

Hooking up an older second-hand caravan to a more modern tow car set up with a single 13 Pin connection is simple with the use of an adapter: Image – Amazon

Older caravans used to provide power to the lights via one socket. Power to run the fridge and leisure battery was through a separate socket. Both single and double electrical sockets are still used on tow cars for several reasons. For instance, on our tow car, we still use the double socket setup as we also tow a small trailer which uses the 7 pin trailer plug. Again, in this post, we are talking about purchasing a second-hand caravan from a dealer. They will be well equipped to meet any of your needs to get the towing electrics between the car and caravan working correctly.

Caravan Bodywork and Window Scratches

When you are surveying the condition of the caravan you’ll obviously want to be looking for dents and scratches. You may want to avoid a used caravan which appears to have had significant bodywork repairs carried out. Sometimes lingering issues can remain potentially leading to leaks and internal damp. Let’s say you particularly like the caravan apart from small bits of damage to the bodywork. There may be an opportunity to try and get the dealer to repair it for free before you agree to the purchase. When it comes to the caravan windows and scratches try and also get the dealer to correct these issues. However, if they won’t repair the window scratches without additional payment, don’t let that put you off the purchase.

Caravan Window Scratch Remover

Don’t let a scratched window put you off your used caravan purchase. Using the right product and method you remove those scratches yourself: Image – Amazon

I recently wrote a post summarising the best advice on how to repair window scratches. Even a relatively inexperienced DIY novice can repair even deep scratches in caravan windows with the right products and a bit of care and attention. If the caravan dealer wanted to charge extra to repair the window scratches, try another approach. Request some form of discount to purchase the caravan as is, and then carry out the work to repair those scratches when you get home.

Try and Avoid Fitted Carpets in Used Caravans

As John references in the video above, older generation caravans from around the 2000s and earlier typically had fitted carpets. However, you’ll rarely find them in modern caravans and for good reason. If shoes are worn inside the caravan it can obviously make a lot of stains and marks. More modern caravans have removable carpets which can be taken outside to be cleaned. In a worst-case scenario, a more modern caravan can have the carpets easily replaced.

Caravan Carpet Stain Remover

You may be able to use applicable products to remove carpet stains on a fitted carpet, but its not guaranteed to work. Hence, try and avoid fitted carpets in used second-hand caravans: Image – Amazon

Personally, I would try to avoid purchasing a used caravan with built-in fitted carpets. Even if the condition of them appears pretty good on purchase. In the future, you may drop some wine or food which can leave a stain which is very difficult to remove. You can obviously get various off the shelf cleaning products which may work and even professional cleaning companies. However, getting the carpet back to a condition your happy with is a series of ifs, buts and maybes. Hence, when possible, try and purchase a used caravan with removable carpets.

Used Caravan Toilet Maintenance and Replacement

Now, for many caravan beginners, having to empty and maintain the toilet cassette is not something they are looking forward to. Well, that’s going to be even more applicable to a used second-hand caravan toilet. In almost all cases UK caravans use the Thetford toilet cassette. And if you dread the idea of having to use and empty the toilet cassettes of a previous owner you can get what’s called a ‘fresh up’ kit. Included in the kit is a new toilet cassette along with a new toilet seat.

Used Caravan Toilet Fresh Up Kit

If you dread the thought of using the toilet on a used caravan you can swap out the toilet seat and cassette with a ‘Fresh Up’ kit: Image – Amazon

When purchasing from a dealer they may have the Thetford Fresh Up kit in stock. Again, try and use that as a bit of bargaining chip to say you’ll agree to the sale if the fresh up kit is included. If they won’t include it free of charge, compare the price they want for the kit compared to the online price. If they want more, just change it when you get the caravan home. However, you do have to make sure you are purchasing the right cassette for that caravan. There are various different models fitted to used caravans such as the C250 or the smaller C200.

Used Caravan Upholstery and Foam Replacement

Depending on the age and amount of use the second-hand caravan has seen it will dictate the condition of the upholstery. Caravan seats and cushions use various grades and densities of polyurethane foam. When you test the seat cushions in the used caravan you may come across the issue of ‘bottoming out’. This is where the foam has become over-compressed or degraded. It no longer provides suitable support and you can feel the wooden slats which support the cushion. The caravan dealer may be able to address this issue for you before or after the sale is completed. They may refer to you a caravan upholstery company. However, one of the main reseasons someone wants to purchase a used second-hand caravan is to save money. And getting the caravan upholstery professionally refurbished can be expensive. However, you can purchase replacement upholstery foam online.

Used Caravan Foam Replacement

A mixture of low and high-density foam can be used to create a balance between support and comfort: Image – Amazon

If you do want to replace the upholstery foam your self I would encourage you to read my post above through the link. You have to purchase the right type of foam for the right application. Furthermore, you need to purchase foam which is certified to EU safety standards.

Pre-Owned Caravan Example – Video 2

John and Practical Caravan produced a second video on features and various inspection tips when buying a second-hand caravan. Again as before, the relevance of some of these features will depend on the age of the second-hand caravan you are considering:

John has some additional tips on what features to look out for on a pre-owned second-hand caravan.

Check the Type and Condition of the Breakaway Cable

When purchasing a used caravan from a dealer I would expect that the breakaway cable was present and in good condition. However, never presume, and its important that before you tow that caravan off the forecourt the brakeaway cable is attached properly. I’ve recently written a post on caravan breakaway cables as the best practice has been updated. Not only on the type of breakaway you should have fitted, but also on how it should be fitted. So I would encourage you to read that post through the link above.

Caravan Breakaway Cable

Check if the used caravan has this type of carabiner breakaway cable. If not, get the deal to change it for you: Image – Amazon

Its likely a used second-hand caravan is currently fitted with a spring clip breakaway cable. I would highly recommend before you purchase any used caravan to get the dealer to change that spring clip breakaway cable to the recommended carabiner type. It will only take them a few minutes to change it and costs very little. So I would be surprised if you couldn’t get them to change it for free as part of the deal.

Second-Hand Caravan Jockey Wheel Replacement

When considering a second-hand caravan you may find the condition of the jockey wheel has seen better days. UV damage over time can destroy plastic jockey wheels. You typically will get 5 years out of one before it needs to be replaced. Our guests turn up with plastic, pneumatic and rubber jockey wheels. I’ve heard a range of arguments for and against the different types over the years. Changes in ground conditions can make a big difference in how the jockey wheel performs and how easy it is to manoeuvre the caravan. Over recent years ‘premium’ jockey wheels seem to be in fashion. And if you did want one on your used caravan the dealer should be able to oblige. But really its actually a pretty easy DIY swap.

Premium Caravan Jockey Wheel

Over recent years I’ve seen more of our guest go with ‘premium’ jockey wheels. They can easily be added to a pre-owned caravan: Image – Amazon

I’ve written a post on caravan jockey wheels based on my impressions of the different types I’ve seen in action over the years. Generally, I find air pneumatic jockey wheels should be avoided. Punctures can be an issue but also the tyres can come off the rim and be a real pain to deal with. Therefore, if the second-hand caravan your considering does have an inflatable jockey wheel I would personally try and get the dealer to replace it with a solid plastic or rubber wheel.

Gas Regulators: On the Bottle or Built-In?

On used caravans depending on the age, you may find that the gas regulator is fitted next to the bottle or is actually built into the gas locker its self. If it has a built-in caravan gas regulator as seen in the image below you can use both butane and propane gas bottles with the caravan.

If the used caravan has a built-in gas regulator which can be used with either butane or propane bottles it will probably look like this: Image – Amazon

However, if you are purchasing an older used caravan which does not come with a built-in gas regulator, you will need a bottle regulator to suit. Hence, if you want to use cheaper blue propane gas bottles you will want a blue regulator. If you want to use red propane gas bottles which provide better performance during the colder months you will require a red regulator. They are not interchangeable, so discuss the best options for you with the caravan dealer. If you only intend to use the caravan during the summer months of the year the blue gas regulator and cheaper blue butane gas bottles will probably meet your needs.

Nose Weights on Second-Hand Caravans

John touches on a very important topic in the video around caravan nose weights. If you are looking to purchase a second-hand caravan, particularly one where the spare wheel is stored in the front locker, getting the noseweight right may be an issue. Therefore, before you go to the caravan dealer you should check what your tow vehicals nose weight limit is. The dealer should be able to direct you to suitable second-hand caravans within your cars noseweight limit. For instance, I’ve got a post on electric tow cars. It shows how PHEV’s typically have lower nose weight limits than their internal combustion cousins.

Used Caravan Tyre Inspection and Replacement

I’ve written a couple of posts now on caravan tyre safety to do with how long caravan tyres last and the what is the correct pressure. When it comes to purchasing a second-hand caravan its likely you are going to need to factor in the cost of a replacement set of tyres (including the spare). With a car, you may quickly inspect the tyres and see significant tread depth remaining and think all is well. Well with caravan tyres tread depth is very rarely the main reason the tyres need replacing. A far more common reason is sidewall cracking.

Used Caravan Tyre Replacement

As John states in the video. If you are looking at a used caravan produced prior to 2001 it will feature a 13″ wheel apposed to 14″ wheels fitted to more modern caravans. As a result, sourcing suitable 13″ caravan tyres may be difficult: Image – Amazon

When the tyres are not replaced around every five years they could be unsafe to tow on. Potentially leading to a blowout accident. Through clicking the link above to read my post on how long caravan tyres last you will learn how to check the age of the tyres. If you spot the tyres are over 5 years old this is a prime piece of information to haggle on the price with the dealer. You may be able to get a discount on the caravan to cover the cost of replacing the tyres or the deal may swap them free of charge. Either way, make sure you leave that dealer forecourt with caravan tyres that are safe to tow on. Also, pick your self up a caravan tyre pressure gauge. Its important to frequently monitor the pressure in the tyres before each trip.

Caravan Microwaves are an Easy Retrofit into Pre-Owned Units

If the second-hand caravan you are particularly interested in does not have a caravan microwave no need to worry. Its easy to source a suitable microwave for a caravan. However, you do have to be careful, don’t just purchase any microwave designed for a domestic kitchen. If you do its likely to demand more power than the mains electrical hookup to the caravan can provide. The same applies to caravan kettles.

Water Pumps and Filter Replacements

Unfortunately, when looking at used caravans on the dealer’s forecourt your probably not going to have the chance to check out whether the taps work for instance. However, you do need to confirm whether the caravan has an onboard diaphragm pump or an external submersible pump. If it is a submersible pump check that’s its included with the purchase and its in good condition. Does the pipe look to be in a poor condition with cracks etc? These pumps are simple aftermarket items to replace. But again, if you do have concerns on the condition of the water pump, try and get the dealer to replace it as part of the deal.

Caravan Water Pump

Its easy to source a replacement water pump online such as this Whale pump: Image – Amazon

The second thing to check is if the caravan comes with an integrated water filter. These may be located on the external wall of the caravan as part of the pump connection, or internally, typically under the sink. Water filters are a consumable item. So you may be able to get a couple of filter replacements included as part of the deal.

Conclusions on Buying a Used/Second Hand Caravan

I’ll be honest, there is a lot to learn when it comes to caravanning. However, if you take the time to watch the videos and read the content in my linked posts above that will help you to become an educated consumer. That way when you step on the caravan dealer forecourt you can at least have some confidence you are going to walk away with a deal that both parties are happy with. In the future, I do intend to write more posts about buying a used caravan. On the various layouts for instance, and the other checks to carry out if you are considering a private sale. For the moment you can use the search function or just generally browse my posts page to learn as much about caravanning as you can.

Once you are all set up with your caravan I hope you consider coming to pay us a visit here at Horton Common. Our fully serviced pitches are appreciated by many of our guests. Many of our guests return due to the facilities but also for our stunning views. Thanks for reading. šŸ™‚

Chris - Site Manager

Hi, Iā€™m Chris, I along with my father Robert we operate and maintain Horton Common.

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