Buying Your First Caravan – Traps For Young Players

all the things that can go wrong the first time you buy a caravan or camper. Photo of people towing a van in red dirt

Caravanning around Australia – the best way to test if you had a heavy vehicle and were surrounded by desert suitable for dumping a body….would your spouse make it back? Wait, no. Caravanning around Australia – the best way to spend your retirement travelling on budget. That’s what I meant. For sure. So you and the love of your life set out to buy your first caravan and hit the open, dusty road. You pull up the top contenders; Jayco, Apollo, Jawa, JB and a few weird caravan brands that are clearly better at showing up in searches. Shut those tabs right now. OMG. There’s enough to take in without time wasting. And, off the bat, you’re hit with a whole new language, and maths. Imperial maths. Motor capacity maths. Good times.

First, The LIngO

Caravan Vs Motorhome – Both general terms for a subset of other terms. If you have to tow it, it’s a caravan. If it’s got its own engine, it’s a motor home. Let’s assume you’ve decided on a caravan for the sake of this exploration, moterhomes, RVs etc are a whole different ball game with their own challenges – including, how annoying it is to have to take the WHOLE SET UP to the shops. Think about your local Woolies carpark and how FUN it would be to navigate it in a mid-sized truck every time you want eggs.

Modern Caravans are also known as Campers.

What’s a Caravan? The difference is generally in features it offers. Caravans are usually bigger, bulkier and have hard tops. They’re the big, slow, gas-guzzlers of the road home. If you’ve ever been stuck behind someone towing a small office block up a hill at 40kph, that’s probably a classic caravan.
Pop Top or Hybrid Caravans: These are caravans that are exceptions to the rules. Pop-top caravans (also pop out for extra girth), also known as hybrids are caravans that “pop up and or out” to give you more space. This makes towing easier and boosts the amount of space you have when parked. Hybrid Caravans are the most popular option as they offer the best of both worlds.

Caravans are generally “self-sufficient” with their own kitchen, toilet, shower and living areas.

So what are campers? Frankly, they’re caravans only with better design. There, I said it, I’m totally going to be shunned at campsites across Australia for that controversial opinon. Seriously, the grey nomad gang are worse than the Lorna Jane school gate bitches for cliquiness. Depending on the design technology used, you can now get campers that have all those things, or many of them at least, but they’re smaller and lighter and easier to tow than a caravan. The engineering on the caravan or camper is the difference between an amazing road home and one that turns the other campers into judgy-mcjudgefaces.

Then what is a camper trailer? There’s also the “camper trailer” which is a towable box that “pops out” into a glorified tent. With these knees and hips? HARD NO. They’re for the 25-year-olds on a boys’ drunk fishing weekend. You know EXACTLY who I mean.

Caravan Maths

Who knew you could have high school maths PTSD 40 years later? And yet, here I am wondering what 15 feet means in meters and if my TARE is going to need surgery. My biggest piece of advice…. DO NOT TRADE IN YOUR KIA JUST YET. Sit tight. You need to choose your camper FIRST and then choose your tow car.

Imperial Maths: OK, Caravans and Campers are measured in feet. The smallest is about 10 feet, easy to tow, easy to store, and awesome if you want to spend every moment of your retirement in smelling distance of your spouse. The law in Australia says the biggest dimensions for a caravan are maximum trailer width: 2.5 metres, maximum trailer height: 4.3 metres, maximum combination length: 19 metres – let the maths begin. A 22-foot caravan is just about the biggest you’re going to get. The most popular caravans and campers are the 15-footers, because they give you the right balance of enough space to not want to kill your spouse, balanced with practical towing considerations. If in doubt, ask the caravan sales person to help with the maths.

Towing Maths: Look, I’m not going to lie, GVM, TBW, TARE, Payload, ATM, GTM, GCM are all terms that someone needs to understand. It’s not me, and maybe not you but if it is, here’s the towing cheat sheet so you can at least feel like you know what’s going on.

Safety Maths: You’ll need to read up on tyre pressure because you’ll need the right tire pressure to handle the kind of road you’re driving on, and to minimise your fuel bill. You’ll need to learn about hitching, load balancing, suspension, sway control and other fun safety stuff. You’ll also need to learn some basic caravan maintenance you know, if you don’t want to die out there.

Some of this stuff you only need to know when choosing your first caravan or camper. Some of it is vital for ongoing safety and enjoyment of your trip. This is where the real RED HOT TIP kicks in. Buy your caravan or camper from a proper dealer. Don’t buy from some offbrand dusty place on the side of backstreet. This whole industry is under investigation for shonky sales folk with zero follow up service and dodgy paperwork. BUY FROM A REPUTABLE CARAVAN DEALER ONLY.

First Timer Errors

  1. Support You Can Trust: The caravan and camper industry sometimes falls short of consumers’ expectations. When buying a caravan, you want to go with a company that will be there for you when you need them. We chose these guys.
  2. Function Over Looks: Getting caught up in how sleek and modern a caravan looks is easy. But it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Ensure your caravan has a strong build and practical features, like good insulation for colder nights and a sturdy chassis for rough terrains.
  3. Adventure for All: You don’t have to be an adrenaline junkie to enjoy a caravan holiday. With a well-equipped caravan, you can explore at your own pace, from slow scenic drives to camping in national parks. An off-road caravan allows you to create your own adventure, whether a laid-back beach holiday or a rugged mountain trek.
  4. Size Is Important: The size of your caravan should match your lifestyle. A small and compact caravan might be perfect for solo travellers or couples. I mean, does your dog actually need his own bunk? (Yes, he does)
  5. First-Time Owner Essentials: As a first-time owner, you’ll need a few essential items. These include things like towing mirrors for safe driving, a weight distribution hitch to keep your caravan steady on the road, and a quality suspension system for a smoother ride.
  6. Knowledge Is Key: The more you know about caravanning, the better your experience will be. Take time to learn how to maintain your caravan, understand its features, and know what to do in emergencies. Learn more here.
  7. Quality Matters: Like buying a car or a house, quality is key when purchasing a caravan. Ensure you’re investing in a well-made caravan that will last years – unfortunatley, price in this industry doesn’t indicate quality. Research, ask other van lovers, talk to other first time caravan owners about regrets and insights. This is a big investment, not just financially, this purchase will determine the quality of your “trip of a lifetime”.

Older and Wiser