Basic advice for new caravanners'.

by John White, Kevin Clayton, Richard Cole and others.

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The things to check before buying.

Before buying. [Richard Cole].

It's important that your towing vehicle is up to the job of pulling your caravan. Before setting off to buy, look at the FAQ on towing weights and ask on the newsgroup 'uk.rec.caravanning' (now handled in Google Groups) or one of the many on-line forums.
Look around at lot of different caravans, at all of the dealers within reach of your home, look at how the internal layouts vary with straight and L-shaped lounge areas, fixed beds in seperate bedroom, side kitchens or end kitchens, side bathroom or end bathrooms, etc. etc.
Try to look at as many as many possible variations as you can so you can decide what you like and what suits you.

Buying. [Richard Cole].

If you don't know much about caravans, try and take along someone who does. Mechanical things like brakes, tyres, wheel bearings, electrics, etc. can all be fixed reasonably cheaply, but any damp can't, so ask them to look out for things like damp in the walls and floors, your friend may have a damp meter. If you do find damp, then it's best to just walk away.
Walk around inside the caravan if the floor feels spongy or squeaks as you walk, it's possible that the floor is starting to delaminate. Delamination can be fixed at home, but it's time consuming and involves removing carpets and possibly furniture. Service agents can fix this, but will not becheap, so make sure the asking price reflects this fault and if your buying from a dealer, get them to fix it as a condition of sale.

Tow-bars and Electrics. [Richard Cole].

If you are having a tow-bar fitted then look on The National Trailer and Towing Association FAQ for the address of a reliable qualified professional fitter near you.
If you already have a tow-bar on your car (perhaps already fitted to the car when bought it), but you're not sure that it is wired correctly then use the The National Trailer and Towing Association FAQ to find a professional who will check the electrics (I had mine done for the cost of a couple of pints) or have a look at the project page on testing the 12s & 12n sockets.
There was a change in the wiring of the secondary connector on caravans (to charge the battery and keep the fridge cold while you're towing) after 1998 and a completely new connector design in 2002.

Driving Licence. [Tony Haymes]

Does your current driving licence allow you to tow and is your proposed caravan within the weight limit of what you're allowed to tow.
See the appropriate page on the DVLA site for the full text.

"Drivers who passed a car test on or after 1 January 1997 are required to pass an additional driving test in order to gain entitlement to category B+E and all larger vehicles. In addition to the new driving tests, drivers of vehicles which fall within subcategories C1, C1+E, D1 and D1+E also have to meet higher medical standards." and don't forget that once you reach 70 you will lose your ability to tow larger caravans (requiring category C1 licence).

You've bought it, now take your time. [Kevin Clayton]

Take the van home and spend some time in the van working out what you need. Get everything working at home, as if on site (water, gas waste, battery, electric hookup). Try and spend a weekend or at least a night in it at home. It's surprising what will come up.
Make sure you know how the gas and electrics work. There's nothing worse than arriving somewhere to find that you can't put the kettle on or don't know how to get the gas to the cooker or that the beer in the fridge has got warm, because the car wasn't running it while you were driving.
In other words RTFM. (Read The Flipping Manual).

Servicing. [Kevin Clayton & Richard Cole]

A caravan need to be serviced every 1 or 2 years, depending upon how much it is used.
If you buy a second hand caravan from a dealer, then they should have serviced it for you (ask if they don't say that they have).
If you buy privately, then ask when the caravan was last serviced and if possible for the invoice for that service.
I've been assured that it is possible to service a van yourself if you're mechanically inclined (see the FAQ on Servicing for what needs to be done). I don't know how this works if you are not CORGI (or Gas Safe) registered.
If you don't want to do it yourself and it's not been serviced, then get the van serviced professionally, even if bought from a dealer. It's money well spent for peace of mind.
You'll know everything works as it should and find out if they cheated you on anything. Try and be there when the van is serviced, you can get a mobile service agent to come service your van at home and he should be a good source of knowledge about how things worked.

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