Beginners' guide to buying a new or second-hand caravan

car towing caravan


Posted December 05, 2023

Want to give the mobile-home holiday a go? Here’s all you need to know about buying a caravan.

There’s a bewildering range of caravan sizes, styles, layouts and construction materials on the market, so you need to do your homework. Those wanting to take the kids for weekend trips are in the market for a totally different style of van from those who intend to tow their caravan up serious 4WD tracks. Some caravanners will need to consider the unit's ride height and the ability of the sides to withstand repeated scrapes from trees and bushes.

Here are some top tips to help you make the right choice if you’re buying your first van.

A caravan parked in the bush

Caravans provide self-contained accommodation anywhere you choose to park them. Image: Getty

Things to consider when buying a caravan

Choose a caravan size

Firstly, consider who will be using the van to determine what size, layout and features you need. Are you a retired couple, a family of five, or a solo traveller with a pet?

Smaller pop-top caravans, where the roof literally winds up (and on some models the ends fold out for more internal space) are popular entry-level options, but rarely have showers or toilets. Larger units offer more layout choices, bigger kitchens and more storage.

Beds set across the width of the van save space but require one person to climb over the other to get into and out of bed, while beds running length-wise offer better access but soak up valuable real estate.

Make a list of your wants and needs, and be prepared to cut from the bottom should it blow out your budget. Think toilet and shower, air conditioning, leather interiors, slide-out barbecue, coffee maker, washing machine, or rear-view cameras.

Don’t forget to consider the size of your carport or garage when purchasing a caravan. The best way to prevent caravan theft is to store it in a secure garage. 

Choose your own adventure 

Newcomers often prefer to hop from one caravan park to the next, enjoying on-site power, communal facilities and kids’ playgrounds. An on-road van with standard suspension and body protection, kitchen, living and sleeping space will suit nicely.  

But for those wanting to venture off the beaten track, an off-road style van offers self-reliance with bigger water tanks, solar panels and a souped-up battery management system for off-grid power. They also offer greater protection for the front and undercarriage – usually in the form of checker-plate aluminum cladding – and a heavy-duty suspension system for rough tracks.


Woman patting her dog beside a caravan

Your pets are always welcome when you holiday in a caravan. Image: Getty

Caravan weights and towing

One of the most confusing things about buying a caravan are the myriad of towing weights involved, which are designed with safety in mind.

Basically, you must ensure your vehicle can legally tow your van. Start by checking your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity, whether that’s 1,200 kilograms for common four-cylinder cars, 1,700 to 2,500 kilograms for 4WDs, or up to 3,500+ kilograms for heavyweight tow-tugs.

The legal maximum loaded weight of your caravan is called the Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) and is dictated by the manufacturer. The ATM is the combination of the tare weight (the van’s unladen weight without gear, water or gas) and its payload (the maximum weight of equipment, food and so on that the manufacturer deems safe to be added). Your van’s ATM must be less than the vehicle’s maximum towing capacity to be legal and safe.

Your vehicle manufacturer will also specify a Gross Combination Mass (GCM), which is the maximum combined weight of the car and the caravan. The GCM can be found on your car’s documentation. This number is set so that you don’t overload your car or caravan with too much gear, and it is illegal to exceed it.

You also need to be conscious of the ball weight, which is the maximum pressure you can put on the towball of your vehicle.

Check with your dealer or manufacturer about weights (it’s a complex topic) and check how heavy your combination is at a public weighbridge to be certain.

The smart way to buy a caravan

Do your research carefully when purchasing a new or used caravan. Investigate each brand to check whether they are members of RVMap, the Caravan Industry Association of Australia's national accreditation program.

Be wary of new or used models that have water damage or rust, and always ensure a second-hand van passes an inspection from your state’s transport body, which is required for registration. Consider getting an inspection prior to purchasing a second-hand caravan.

Caravans are made from a variety of materials, from lightweight and generally less expensive timber frames to more durable aluminium frames and composite panel construction. Carbon-fibre is a lightweight construction material used by a only a handful of manufacturers as it does hike the price. Look for strong warranties and great customer feedback.

You can always ask other owners for their opinion via caravan social media groups and forums - or try a few out for yourself. There are several peer-to-peer platforms such as Camplify and Outdoorsy where you can rent someone’s pride and joy for a weekend to road-test different layouts and styles.

To buy, seek out your local dealerships, manufacturers (visit the factory if possible) or online marketplaces such as TradeRVsCaravan Camping Sales, or even Facebook Marketplace if buying second-hand.

Before you head away, make sure your emergency roadside assistance subscription includes caravan and trailer assistance, too.


4WD towing a caravan over a river crossing

Some caravans are designed to handle extreme off-road conditions. Image: Supplied

Know your budget for a caravan

Buying a caravan is a substantial financial investment that often requires financing. Prices for basic entry-level vans start at around $50,000 up to more than $120,000 for deluxe models fitted with all the comforts of home.

Here are the general price brackets for caravans in Australia:

  • Up to $50,000: For new caravans, expect smaller models with fewer bells and whistles. You’ll probably get a kitchen, sleeping for up to four, a dinette, and possibly a shower and toilet - although you’re unlikely to find the last two in an entry-level pop-top. Second-hand, up to $50,000 will get you decent older models for the family or even a van for two suitable for touring Australia.
  • From $50,000 to $70,000: In this price bracket you'll find new family caravans that are longer, with a bigger dinette, lots of bathroom space, and better finishes throughout. Standard items may include air conditioning, a TV and bigger water tanks. This price will also get you a good, three to 10-year old caravan, which will often come with extras included that its previous owner/s purchased and installed. You should be able to get a family bunk off-road van in this price range, but be sure to get an inspection from a professional who knows what to look for.
  • From $70,000 to $120,000+: New, fully tricked-out off-road vans live in this price range, as do on-road models with top-of-the-line suspension, full kitchens, a washing machine, luxury upholstery and even voice-activated lights. Second-hand models will be nearly new in many circumstances, without the long wait time and depreciation of a buying a new van - and it will still likely have all the bells and whistles.


Insurance for your caravan, whether you’re hitting the open road with a caravan in tow or staying in one place.
Discover more →


The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s)issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Ltd ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.