About to buy your first caravan, camper or motorhome? Don’t be overwhelmed.
Despite what you've heard, it is still possible to get one and start exploring Australia your own way - just don’t buy a lemon!
Use this guide to help navigate your first caravan, camper or motorhome purchase.
THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO BUYING YOUR FIRST CARAVAN
Whatever you buy and however much you spend, you’re about to part ways with your hard-earned cash.
Not only do you want something you’ll love spending time in, it has to get you there and be sturdy enough to last a lifetime - or at least until you feel like an upgrade!
The outdoor lifestyle beckons. Credit: @tripinavan
From caravans and camper trailers you tow, to campervans and motorhomes that deliver that ‘all-in-one’ experience, it's worth investing the time to make the right choice.
It might not be a lemon, but it’s not 1972 anymore either.
If you don’t even know what to look for, where to get it or how to get the best value for money long-term, read our ‘get-the-basics-right’ guide to choosing a caravan, campervan or trailer!
already bought your first caravan?
What are you waiting for? Get a G'day Rewards Membership and start planning your first trip. Members get 10% off every G'day Parks booking on over 300+ parks around Australia, fuel discounts and savings on a range of household, camping and caravan brands.
This set up looks like it has something for everyone.
While there are a few brands we recommend, including campervan hire companies that will help you get a taste of the lifestyle before you fully commit, it's best to consider the reasons you want to get into the market in the first place!
If nothing else, please consider these four questions:
- Where do you want to travel to?
- For how long?
- How often?
- And with whom?
This model looks like it's done some solid family miles.
Did you Know?
A G'day Rewards Membership will get you up to 10% off the cost of hiring a range of campervans so you can taste the lifestyle before you commit. You can also take advantage of similair savings on spare parts and accessories!
Australia is big. Best to be prepared!
What type of caravan suits me the most?
The first and most obvious question to ask yourself is how many of you are likely to be travelling? Is it just yourself or do you have a partner, family or best friend who will be making the trip with you?
The answer to this question will tell you what size caravan or camper you need to start searching for. Is it 2-berth, 3-berth, 4 or 6-berth? We’ve heard of 8-berth but any more than that and you’re looking at a tour bus!
The Lotus Transformer might change your life.
The most popular size of today’s vans range from 11ft to 24ft. Anything smaller won’t be particularly comfortable for more than one person, and anything larger becomes a towing challenge that will take much of the fun out of the caravanning lifestyle.
Where layout is concerned the most popular configuration is a 15-16ft pop-top with front kitchen, island double bed at the rear, L-shaped dinette and small lounge seat opposite. This size and layout is offered at just about every caravan retail outlet around the country, but of course a custom build allows you to create your very own dream on wheels - just add time and money!
How long are you going to be in it?
When purchasing your first caravan, campervan or trailer, try to think long term. While you might be excited about that first weekend away with your bestie, it pays to consider other trips you might take in the future.
Relax. Take a load off. You're on holiday!
Once you’ve christened your new home and cracked the first champagne, you don’t want your purchase to become an eyesore taking up space.
Will it primarily be used for family holidays with the kids? Is it the lifelong dream of the big lap of Australia you're chasing? Or are you selling up and adopting a brand new lifestyle that keeps you on the road full time?
The answer to these questions will guide that all important first purchase.
What are your must-haves vs. wishlist items?
If you’ve already done a cursory online search, you’ll know that recreational vehicles come in all shapes and sizes. From basic and compact to huge and quite frankly, outrageous.
Decide what your must-have items are first, then start adding whatever you think is practical and affordable from the wishlist column.
Avida’s Fremantle features a luxurious dining nook.
At the top end of the caravan and campervan market, where 30-foot triple axle monsters with names like ‘Hollywood’ or ‘Excalibur’ reign supreme, things like hot showers, private toilets and Queen-size beds are pretty standard.
You can also add fully equipped kitchens with washing-machines, fridge-freezers, microwaves, cooktops and ovens - not to mention satellite-dish technology, movie theatres and spa baths! The sky really is the limit.
Lotus Caravans feature high-quality finishes.
All of these things add cost (and weight) to your purchase, so bear that in mind when you’re getting seduced by some of the ‘palaces on wheels’ that are out there.
It might be worth remembering that the more you spend on your rig, the less you might be able to afford to use it! PLUS, you can always upgrade down the line.
What type of travel am I looking at doing? On-road or Off-road?
If your dream trip involves getting dirty, rocky or sandy, first of all, you’re in the right country - Australia is as diverse as it is big - so it's first worth considering whether the off-road version of the caravan, campervan or trailer you’re looking at exists.
Camper-trailers are generaly more off-road ready.
On-road caravans and trailers are best suited to leisurely trips down the coast. They are mostly lighter, have a smaller wheelbase and lower ground clearance, making that treacherous rocky road into a little-known national park just a little bit out of reach for most.
Off-road caravans and campers are designed to take you further. Able to deal with corrugated tracks, dust and water, and built to enable a self-sufficient lifestyle in the Australian outback, there’s not many places you won’t be able to explore.
Meet the Avida Fremantle. Nice to meet you!
From a technical point of view, off-road models will have higher clearance as standard, independent suspension and will generally be heavier to tow, depending on the size.
Always remember that outback travel with a caravan is still about using commonsense. Read the conditions of the road, watch the van and if things appear to be getting too rough, turn around. Check weather conditions before you leave to ensure that you don’t get stranded, and if you want to disappear into the real wilderness for a few days, leave your van on site and take a tent!
Do I need a caravan, trailer, campervan or what?
The best family holidays are built around a reliable set up like this.
Before you decide which type of recreational vehicle suits your on-the-road lifestyle, it's good to know a little about the different categories available. What’s the difference between a caravan, camper van or motorhome? And what are these strange things called ‘pop tops’?
The classic Aussie caravan is perhaps the most comfortable and capable way to travel around Australia. While off-road models are available (see above) on-road models generally suit those who want a luxurious way to rule the highways of Australia.
Full time travel family @tripinavan know where it's at!
With a wide range of floor plans available and typically stretching 11-25 feet, the caravan is still the largest and most popular category of recreational vehicle, and are represented by hundreds of dealers in Australia alone.
These days, most caravans are fitted with a double bed, an extensive kitchen, a comfortable dinette/lounge area and a shower and toilet of some description. In the larger caravans the bathroom will have a separate area for the shower and toilet while smaller caravans might combine the two.
Canvas pop tops are a subcategory of the caravan market, providing additional interior space that ‘pops up’ while saving on weight and fuel. These are ideal if you want to store your caravan under your carport or garage.
Pop Top Trailers and Caravans. Not to be confused with Choc-Top ice creams!
Pop-top owners who spend time in the tropics, for example, love the superior ventilation created by the canvas upper wall section with zippered flaps. The low profile of the pop-top also offers the advantage of less wind resistance when towing, delivering superior economy and better performance.
These are the ideal solution for Aussies who want versatility in their adventure and don’t mind saving some money and space. Most camper trailers are off-road ready, feature a kitchen, varied storage spaces and can be completely customised to suit your needs. Not all come with a toilet or shower.
What scenes! This could be you.
Camper trailers feature canvas walls and extendable tent sections which form the camper’s outer shell, and are often rolled out in combination with a smaller tent or awning.
For families with young children, the camper trailer is great. The ability to fit numerous beds into a small towing package, the relatively low cost per unit compared with a caravan, plus the trailer’s driving economy will appeal to this part of the market.
Like a mini-motorhome, campervans are converted vans usually with a bed and living space where car seats would normally be.
Often including fold-out kitchen amenities, campervans are a popular option for tourists and backpackers (not to mention a whole new breed of Instagram influencers calling themselves ‘van-lifers’) and are an affordable, easy way to camp and drive without needing to pitch a tent every night - perfect for an impromptu weekend away!
Also known as 'winnebago's,' there's a long association with brands like Volkswagon!
It really can’t be underestimated how much the freedom of not having to tow a heavy caravan adds to the ease of travel, and for this reason campervans have become the number one way to get around Oz.
Check out Mighty Campers article about how to take a cheap campervan trip in Australia.
Ranging from the compact to the extreme, motorhomes also remove the worry of having to tow heavy loads by combining your trailer and truck in one vehicle - like the campervan but generally with more tricks and features, making them better suited to long-term travellers.
Motorhomes usually include at least one double bed, a kitchenette, bathroom and as much storage as possible. The ideal jump in and drive option for those keen to explore in a way that’s economical and efficient but misses none of the convenience or luxury.
Days like these won't be few and far between when you're chasing the sun.
Most people buy a motorhome because they’re either sick of towing, or reluctant to do so. They come in all shapes and sizes and offer all different abilities.
You can buy a motorhome that’ll survive a zombie apocalypse or another that will comfortably potter around the seaside. How to choose a motorhome that’s right for you will depend on your idea of comfort and your budget.
Check out Maui Motorhomes tips on choosing the right motorhome!
What’s the tow limit of my current vehicle? Do I need to upgrade?
Bear with us while we get technical for just a second!
Unless you're purchasing a caravan and vehicle together, you need to check the tow capacity of your current car or 4WD, as this will set the maximum weight for your dream mobile escape.
Avida's caravans come in a range ofsize and layouts.
Remember that exceeding towing limits set by manufacturers is illegal!
Check out this article from the RAC which covers this off, gives you the low down on terms like maximum braked towing limit, weight distribution and gross vehicle mass.
To start you off, Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM for short) is the term given to a fully-loaded trailer when not coupled to a tow vehicle. If your vehicle’s listed towing capacity is equal to or greater than the ATM of the trailer you like, you should be fine. It’s a good idea to inquire with the seller as to whether your vehicle is cut out for the job if you’re not sure. We’ll have a few more must-ask questions for salespeople later.
Australia. Why would you be anywhere esle?
WHERE SHOULD I LOOK BEFORE I BUY?
There are many ways to purchase your first caravan.
Once you’ve done the obligatory searches online and been blown away by how many makes, models and price ranges there are, the most obvious one is to head down to the next caravan and camping show in your capital city. This is where dealers flock to show off their latest and greatest models, and do everything they can to convince you that their model will suit you best!
Where caravans go to live!
The good thing about these expos is that you can get all the information you need in a competitive environment directly from the manufacturer's mouth. You might even be able to arrange a test drive or ‘hire before you buy’ to make absolutely sure.
Check out this list of Camping and Caravan Expos near you!
It doesn't have to be top of the line to be amazing.
The next best alternative is to stalk the showrooms of the manufacturers themselves. Although this may not be convenient depending on your location, if you do this, it's important to be armed with a set of questions that differentiate each brand.
Remember that a salesperson wants to sell you on their product, so this is your opportunity to brush up on your negotiating skills and potentially get some extras thrown in!
Here’s five to start you off:
- What level of roadside assistance and ongoing customer service do they offer?
- What does the warranty cover?
- Have these vans/campers/trailers been returned in the past?
- Why is this model superior to last years?
- Where is this van made and can I access spare parts?
Did you Know?
You'll fall for the caravan and camping lifestyle.
NEW OR USED?
If you do buy a used caravan we highly recommend using a licensed dealer. This guarantees that the ownership is unencumbered and that the parts have gone through a thorough mechanical check.
Check out these tips on buying a used caravan from Caravan & Camping Sales.
Not this used.
New caravans have all the benefits of brand new safety features and the comforts of up to date design including things like independent rear suspension and durable, lightweight construction materials. You can also customise floor plans and the level of spec right down to your favourite taps, kitchen laminate and signature towels!
Avoid these common mistakes
Of course, there are booby traps and pitfalls to avoid when making such a large purchase. You won’t be the first (or last) person to feel ripped off if you do walk away with a lemon.
Like any industry there are unscrupulous operators out there, so to avoid this happening pay attention to this short list of things to avoid when buying your first caravan, camper or motorhome:
Remember that Cabin Fever is a thing
As much as you love someone now, remember that when things get hot or wet, it can still be challenging if you need to be cooped up in an undersized caravan 24 hours a day. Size is important in these matters!
always consider where you’re going
Australia is a big old country with lots of nothing and then heaps of something! Roads are rocky, wild, dusty and long, so don’t oversize your rig because you wanted that home entertainment system and lounge area. You’re buying this to explore the outdoors, not park up and binge Netflix!
Breakfast is on you.
always cater to growing children
If you're travelling with children or grandchildren, they’ll need their own permanent sleeping quarters, ideally at the other end of the van to yours and close to the toilet and shower. In this scenario things like a washing machine ceases to become a luxury with dirty kids and their friends on board.
REMEMBER its illegal to tow something your vehicle isn’t rated for
All cars have tow limits set by their manufacturer. Exceeding them is illegal in Australia and will put an end to your trip quicksmart when you are pulled over by police for endangering yourselves and others on the road!
don't be ill-informed about your purchase
Because getting into the market means you’re about to hear hundreds of opinions about the best brands and models, there’s really no excuse for making an ill-informed purchase decision. One look online will expose you to all manner of guides, so be sure to do the due diligence before you part with your money.
Good Luck everybody!