For many of us, buying a caravan, be it a humble pop-top or fully kitted out touring rig designed for weeks off grid, is a big step. As a crew of hard core campers and outdoor people, we’ve done our time in swags and tents, ground tents and roof toppers alike. But there comes a point where you’re ready to start exploring this beautiful country in a little more comfort, with a little more convenience and the amenities of home.
Who says camping on a remote beach in the far North-West of WA has to be anything short of a 5-start hotel stay, even if there’s no one else for a hundred k’s. At RV Solutions, we help everyone get out and travel Australia, whether they’re still loving the rooftop life, enjoying a custom-converted camper van or towing a mighty off road rig.
For many keen campers-to-be, buying the right caravan can be tricky. We’ve all experienced buyer’s regret when something’s just not quite how we thought it would be, and no one wants to experience that with an investment as large as a caravan. You’ll need to make a bunch of decisions, and those decisions will have to be balanced with the compromises of budget, towing capacity of your tow rig and what’s actually available!
When you’re making the decision on your first caravan, or even your fifth van, you’ll want to consider where you plan to go, the roads you intend to take, how long you’ll be away and who’s coming with you… plus a whole lot more. In this caravan buying guide, we’ll go over all of the most important things to think about when buying a caravan, to help you make sure you’re choosing the perfect one for your lifestyle, your budget—and your partner!
Read on for the RV Solutions’ ultimate caravan buyer’s guide.
Where do you want to go, see and stay?
The first thing to sit down and really think about, is where you want to go. How do you plan to get there? How long do you normally stay for? It’s important to really give this question the time it needs, do your research and above all—be honest.
The black top or off the beaten track?
If you’re away every weekend blasting along unsealed and corrugated roads, you’re definitely right to want a suitably equipped off-road caravan. But if you realistically never see dirt except the driveway to a campsite, do you really need a reinforced chassis, fully independent suspension with heavy duty shocks and air bags?
Being honest with yourself at this step could save you money that could give you options somewhere else, or prevent you from getting to the incredible secluded beach spot with the best views.
In essence, there are three different categories of caravan as they relate to dirt road potential.
On-road Tourer Caravans
The lightest of the lot, and the most common, is the caravan that’s designed to ride easy on regular sealed roads, and easily towed into most caravan parks. In truth, most travellers will be perfectly happy with one of these. They’ve got more basic suspension, smaller wheels and are generally lighter than the other options. The result is a van that’s significantly cheaper, generally a little better on fuel and requiring less power to tow.
Because they’re lighter, and need less power to tow, they can be towed by a much greater variety of cars. You won’t necessarily need a big Cruiser, Patrol or late-model Ranger to get where you’re going.
One of the most popular styles of caravan, semi off-road vans are an awesome option for most people. While not truly off-road capable, they have increased ground clearance and more advanced suspension paired with a beefed up chassis. This combo will get you to many camp grounds that a purely on-road van won’t quite get to. Think a few hours on corrugated roads (taking it easy), or sandy trails to stunning beach sites.
They won’t be up to the task of tackling the Gibb River Road, and they won’t quite follow your 4×4 anywhere it wants to go—but they’ll certainly open up new options for travel. Given Australia’s more rugged conditions and often somewhat remote sites, these vans are generally what we suggest to all but the serious off-road trekker.
Here at RV Solutions, fully capable off road caravans are something of our speciality. We’ve put many caravans through their paces, and finally settled on a few key brands with models we’re really confident in, and we don’t mean just the build quality. The caravans we offer are vans we’re sure of in terms of build quality, after sales service, warranty AND capability. They’re rigs we’ve put through the paces, tested and tried ourselves, and are happy to stand by.
These caravans all feature fully independent suspension and a solid ladder chassis. Coil sprung all around and often with air bags as well, they have excellent ground clearance and approach/departure angles, meaning they really can go just about anywhere the tow-rig can.
One of the big things that makes one of these caravans capable is the way the walls are built. It seems like a strange thing to consider, but what lies beneath your caravan’s skin makes a huge impact on where it can go. Our Wonderland RV and ProRV off-road caravans are built tough with solid construction by CNC cut marine grade ply and riveted aluminium frame respectively. You won’t find any stick-and-staple frames here, that are prone to fall apart at the first sight of corrugations.
Read our article on stick-and-staple vs aluminium frame, and the impact this makes on your caravan’s chances of surviving a rough outback road, for a deeper insight into why it’s so important.
Free Camping or Powered Caravan Park Sites?
Similar to off road vs on road, where are you planning to stay with your caravan? Here at RV Solutions we’re specialists in outfitting caravans for extended off grid adventures with everything from an extra set of batteries to a complete solar system to grey water tanks. Soon, we plan to offer even desalination systems for turning salt water into fresh.
For many Australian caravanners, staying in caravan parks every night is perfect. There’s something special about the Aussie caravan park, with the sense of community and holiday feel. If this sounds like your cup of tea, remember that most caravan parks have great amenities—toilets, showers, washing machines and powered sites. For the adventurer that enjoys this style of caravanning, you won’t need serious off grid capabilities.
Similarly, if you’re more into weekenders and the occasional week away rather than extended trips, you likely don’t need a washing machine, serious power generation or massive water tanks. Save the space and save the weight, enjoy fuel savings and a lower price tag for your perfect caravan.
On the other hand, going remote for weeks at a time—tackling the Gibb River Road or parking up at the beach at Ningaloo Station—requires some serious preparation and equipment. We’ve been building and using these sorts of vans for years, and have it down to a fine art. From balancing the weight, ensuring you’ve got plenty of power to run everything and enough fridge space for food and essentials, going off-grid is exhilarating when you get it right.
The sort of caravan that makes going off-grid truly rewarding needs a few more upgrades and caravan accessories than the standard van, and more than a little bit of planning to get right.
For more on going off-grid, check out our article on everything you need to know about taking your caravan off the grid.
Once you’ve figured out what your perfect holiday looks like, and what you’ll need to make it happen, you should have a pretty good idea of the non-negotiables. For those planning to vanish for months at a time, being fully self-sustained and self-contained is pretty important. Your list of absolute musts might look something like;
- Washing machine & dryer
- Extended water storage
- Solar power
- Lithium battery
- Grey water tanks (so that you can get into campsites requiring full self-containment, such as the stunning winery stays in the Margaret River region)
For the bigger family though, your list of must-haves might include something like a bedroom door, or enough bunks for all the kids. You might need a separate shower and toilet, or you might not need a shower at all if you’re planning on always staying in parks.
Don’t forget resale value!
While we’re doing our best to help get you thinking about the important decisions you’ll need to make BEFORE you even need to make them, it’s important to think about resale value, too. No one really keeps their first caravan forever, because even if you absolutely nail it and get everything right, your ‘perfect’ caravan will likely change.
You might start a family, if you haven’t already—and need more space. You might discover that after everything, you actually do want to go seriously off-road.
We’re not suggesting you buy the biggest, wildest caravan you can right now if you don’t need it. What we are suggesting though, is potentially selecting a feature or two you might not need, but might make selling your caravan easier when the time comes.
For example, opting for a semi off-road rig even though you never expect the new caravan to see a dirt road could be a really good idea if the difference in price isn’t too much. By upping the capability a little, you’ll expand your market when it’s time to upgrade—meaning you should be able to sell your caravan easier, and for more money.
Generally you won’t need to think too much about this sort of thing, but if you’re finding that your ideal caravan is hard to find or somewhat of an ‘odd request’, consider if you might be hurting your resale potential.
Most people don’t overlook this critical step, and have a pretty good idea of where they’re going to store their new caravan—but have you actually measured it to make sure you’ve got room? Storing caravans is pretty straightforward but ideally you’ll want somewhere out of the weather, or at the very least out of the sun.
Think about access to your chosen storage area; if it’s a tight fit and complicated to both park your van and get it out, the subconscious apprehension will make you less likely to go on spontaneous trips. Is there somewhere better to put it? Should you potentially consider a small caravan?
Without a doubt the best place to park your caravan is in a dedicated caravan shed with enough clearance around the sides—so you can actually get in, or install caravan accessories—and plenty of roof height. Many people who buy the caravan then have a shed built to accommodate it, don’t factor in that a roller door’s opening height is lower than its total height. Meaning you might not get the van in there, or might not clear your caravan’s aircon unit.
Really think about how much room you’ve got to store your caravan, and whether or not a new caravan shed is something you should invest in. You might find that your ideal caravan has to be a compromise with something you can actually keep at home, or you might discover you’ve got room to spare and size isn’t an issue after all!
Even you don’t have a whole lot of space for a covered in storage area or a new shed, don’t stress. Opting for a quality caravan cover means you can store your new caravan in the driveway, on the front lawn or really anywhere you have space to park it. Alternatively, off-site storage for caravans is an awesome option that many people swear by. Storing your caravan off site, at a secure facility, can be a little more involved for planning but will save you space at home and expand your options in terms of caravan size.
What are you going to use to tow your new caravan?
This might be one of the most important questions that will really determine your constraints when it comes to choosing your perfect caravan. Your current vehicle will have a few different weight-related limitations and important numbers, being;
- Tare or Kerb Weight: How much your car weighs unloaded, with 10 litres of fuel and completely stock. Basically, how it was when it arrived off the boat or on the truck.
- GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass): The absolute maximum your car is legally allowed to weigh. This includes fuel, accessories, passengers AND and cargo.
- Your vehicle’s maximum payload, how much weight you can carry in passengers, fuel, cargo and accessories, is the GVM minus the kerb weight. You’ll often find this is a much smaller number than you expected.
- For a 200 Series Landcruiser, say the top of the range Sahara model, the kerb weight specified by Toyota is 2,740kg. It’s GVM is 3,350kg. Which means your maximum payload is only 610kg.
- Maximum Braked Towing Capacity: Exactly what it says on the tin, how much your car can legally tow, if the thing you’re towing has brakes of its own (virtually all but the lightest pop-top caravans will have brakes).
- GCM (Gross Combined Mass): Again a legal maximum, this is your total maximum weight included vehicle AND caravan.
Back to our 200 series example, the GVM is 3,350kg and the GCM 6,850kg, and the maximum braked towing capacity is 3,500kg. In this case, the cruiser’s GCM is exactly the GVM + braked towing capacity, but this isn’t always the case. A GCM that doesn’t follow this formula catches many people out, so always double check it.
There’s also ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass) to consider, which is your caravan’s maximum weight. Basically, this is as much as your caravan is allowed to weigh, ever, including cargo and any accessories. Includes the actual weight the caravan will be putting on the car, through the tow-ball, and is measured when perfectly horizontal.
This is the important number, the ATM, in combination with your vehicle’s towing capacity and GCM. These three numbers will determine exactly how large a caravan you can tow with your existing car—and whether your dream caravan will need a bigger tow rig.
Towing a caravan that’s outside of your vehicle’s legal capacity isn’t just a recipe for trouble when it comes to demerit points and fines, but should something happen, even if everyone’s fine, you’re unlikely to be covered under insurance.
If you’re unsure about towing capacity, weights and whether your current vehicle is going to be up to the task, give us a call or come down and see us. We’ve been through this with different combinations of cars and caravans countless times before! There are plenty of companies that specialise in weighing caravans, and can give you a full & accurate picture. We can put you in touch, or provide recommendations.
Buying New vs Buying Used?
When it comes down to it, buying new vs buying used are both equally viable but for different reasons. If you buy a new caravan, you’ll enjoy the pleasure of being the first to own it. The new van will be pristine, untouched and ready for you to enjoy. You’ll also be able to order the van exactly how you want it.
On the flipside, buying a second-hand caravan will be cheaper. That’s just how the game goes. It’ll also be lived in before, which might mean small scuffs and wear marks, but also that small quality of life improvements have likely been made already. It’ll be broken in, and ready to go. Any issues from manufacturing have probably already been addressed, and the hiccups ironed out.
If you’re not sure what you’re after, or whether you’d prefer a new van built to your specifications or one ready to roll, come down to our showroom. We’ve got a range of caravans and can show you some of the new options with an idea for different layouts in our new caravan sales Perth, or take you through our second hand vans. Buying a new caravan really is a visceral experience, and to work out exactly what you want it’s best to see as many as you can!
For more great information on what to look out for in a second-hand caravan, check out our article on the topic. We’ve taken everything we’ve picked up from decades in the industry and distilled it down to a punchy guide that’ll show you exactly what you need to know!
In summary; the Aussie Caravan Buyer’s guide
Buying your perfect new caravan shouldn’t be hard, and we hope that with this caravan buyer’s guide you’ll be confident in choosing exactly what you want without getting caught out. And remember, if you need a hand don’t hesitate to call. We’ve been helping first-time caravanners get into a rig that’ll take them places they never want to leave, rather than can’t wait to get home. Do it right and you’ll have the time of your life exploring this beautiful country, good luck!
Check out our socials to find out more on recent builds and to keep up to date with us.