Kick those tyres first...

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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 that­ese 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.

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