Kick those tyres first...
Here are the risks when you’re buying a secondhand caravan
The market for second hand caravans is positively booming. Have a look at websites such as Gumtree and Carfind – they’re filled to the brim with offers. But you can’t always be sure what you’re letting yourself in for when you buy a caravan from a complete stranger.
We chatted to Pretoria-woonwaens, as well as workshop manager Lourens Matthysen, who pointed out what you should look out for when you buy a second hand caravan.
1 Appearances matter
Pay attention to the general condition of the caravan exterior. The outer layer of most caravans is made of aluminium – this easily picks up scratches and can even dent if the caravan is knocked by a branch.
But don’t be putt off if the caravan has an unsightly scratch. Most caravans’ side panels consist of three layers on top of each other.
Chances are good that a mark on it won’t go deeper than the outside panel. In that case, you only need to replace that panel.these days, caravan noses and sterns also boast fibreglass panels that can be repaired easily enough.
2 It’s not inside...
The previous owner may have damaged the caravan’s roof when he misjudged the height of a low awning. You’re not going to see this if you stand next to the caravan, so climb a ladder and inspect the roof.
Caravans that were built after the nineties have fibreglass roofs than can be repaired easily. Older ones have roofs made from thin sheeting. This type of roof is not only more expensive to repair, but can also leak where sheets were joined.
3 Fresh as a daisy?
Even if a tyre’s tread looks acceptable, it doesn’t mean that its lifetime hasn’t expired. Pay attention to cracks in the side walls to give you an idea of the tyre’s age. As a rule, tyres should be replaced after five years, irrespective of the condition of the tread. 4 Lighten up
Ensure that the housings of the all the lights are intact. It may sound like a nuisance, but a cracked lens means your caravan isn’t roadworthy.
5 Legless throne?
Interested in a caravan with a cassette toilet? Then you need to ensure that you have all the necessary components. ( For obvious reasons – Ed.)
All the current models on the market are imported and it can be expensive if you have to replace parts.
6 Shock absorber shock
If you can push and pull the head of the coupler back and forth without any effort – the coupler’s damper is kaput. It usually costs about R880 to be replaced.
Also make sure that the rubber gaiter over the coupler’s draw bar is in one piece. This is important as it keeps dust away from the axle.
7 Is your case watertight?
Don’t be alarmed if you see stains next to the aluminium strips where the caravan’s panels join together. This is a good sign – it’s dust that builds up on the sealant being pushed from below the strip. These stains show that there’s still sealant between the panels. The excess sealant washes off easily.
8 Are things running smoothly?
Check for any damage on the fibreglass
planel over the draw bar, especially on the side of the coupler. A handbrake that’s pulled up too high can easily damage the panel and a new panel will cost you around R1 300.
You can ask a caravan dealer to repair the damaged panel, but for a few hours’ work – at R375 per hour, plus spare parts – you’d really have to consider whether it’s worth your while.
9 No softy
A caravan’s battery is supposed to last a few years without giving problems, but the batteries of most of the second hand caravans that are brought to dealers are dog-tired. So make sure it still has some life left in it before you buy a caravan. These days sealed batteries are the norm and it’s therefore difficult to see what it looks like on the inside.
Rather take the battery to a battery dealer, who has the right equipment to test it properly.
10 Through the looking glass
Caravan windows scratch pretty easily and it doesn’t take much to crack them either. What’s more, they ain’t cheap! Depending on which window is damaged, it can cost anything from R2 000 to R6 000 to replace it.
So make sure that all the windows are intact. Generally, the rubber seals between the coachwork and the windows that open don’t give any problems. 11 Stretch that neck
Lift the pop-up roof and make sure that the canvas is still in good nick – these parts of the windows usually give out. Thankfully, you don’t have to replace the entire canvas structure if a single window is damaged – only the affected panel.
12 The cold, hard truth
A fridge gives you a good indication of how well a caravan was looked after. A few rust marks here and there on shelves are not the end of the world and can easily be fixed with a coat of paint. But a fridge that doesn’t cool food anymore is a different ball game. It’s also difficult to know if a second hand fridge is doing what it’s supposed to do if you only have half an hour to have a look at the caravan. If you’re dealing with a private seller, ask them to switch it on the night before so that you can make sure it works properly. Caravan dealers will check the fridge before they display the caravan on the sales floor.
13 Watch out for wood rot
The biggest problem a caravan could possibly have is wood rot – and it’s difficult to detect.
Almost all road caravans’ panels are made of wood. If water gets into a panel for whatever reason, it’s not a train smash, but if the panels are regularly exposed to moisture, the wood will begin to rot and eventually disintegrate. Even a relatively new caravan can succumb to this.
Dealers use a moisture meter to test for water, but it’s not always 100% accurate – if a rotten part is already bone dry, it won’t register on the meter.
It’s near impossible to detect wood rot with the naked eye. But if you touch the outside panels and press hard on them inside the caravan and it feels uneven – almost as if the panel gives – it’s a red flag, and then the wood is rotten inside.
Remember to also check the insides of all the cabinets in the caravan, especially the areas around the windows and air vents. If wood rot is in an advanced stage, the surface of the panel will wrinkle and you’ll be able to see it quite easily.
Wood rot amounts to big damage and it costs a lot of money to repair: You’ll probably have to replace the rotten panels.