Caravans are as popular as ever, but it still pays to proceed with caution, says James Ruppert

The National Caravan Council (NCC) reports that 2004 was a record year for the industry. Over 32,000 touring caravans were produced and caravan holiday-home production reached a massive 27,940. Motorhome registrations were the highest ever recorded, at 8,487. In all there are 498,000 touring caravans, 112,000 motorhomes and 335,000 caravan holiday homes in the UK. In addition, government figures suggest that there are more than 76,000 residential (static) "mobile" homes in use.

When it comes to buying new and used, you are spoilt for choice. A trawl through the classified advertisements throws up a 19,000-mile Mercedes Benz motorhome conversion with rear lounge at £30,000; caravans with names like the Lunar Clubman and Hobby Prestige; and a one-year-old, 27ft Roma GT 882 with fridge freezer and all the mod cons which seems reasonable at £16,500.

You would think that buying a caravan would be a relatively straightforward thing to do. Unfortunately, you cannot afford to be so complacent.

"There are a number of fundamental precautions consumers should take when looking to buy a used caravan," says Alan Bishop, industry relations director of HPI, the vehicle information provider. "The first thing is to bear in mind that consumer protection is far greater when buying from an established dealer than in the private market. While there are good bargains to be had privately, there are also much greater risks. Even if intending to buy privately, it is always a good idea to visit some dealers to find out what they can offer and to compare prices.

"Second, do not judge a book by its cover. No matter how good a caravan may look on the outside, it could be carrying baggage that you can't see. For instance, it may be subject to an outstanding finance agreement, which means it could be claimed back by the lenders, leaving an unsuspecting buyer without their dream purchase and out of pocket. Similarly, it could have been written-off by an insurer or, worst of all, it could be stolen."

HPI's Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme has been a huge help. Used caravan buyers can simply call 01722 411 430 to conduct a CRIS check and pay £9.95 to ensure a caravan does not have a fraudulent history.

Bishop added: "Also, some caravan buyers don't realise that nearly all caravans carry a registration document similar to the ones provided for cars. The CRIS registration document is vital because it can be used to confirm the caravan's description and the identity of the seller, and any UK-made caravan 12 years old or younger should have one."

There is plenty that can be written about choosing the correct vehicle, but an underpowered car with four passengers and their luggage won't be able to cope with a caravan on the tow hitch. You need to match your car to the caravan. Get it wrong and you could be liable to a £1,000 fine, points on your licence and invalid insurance.

Thank goodness then for Towsafe, the UK's only computerised matching service that can inform consumers if their car can legally tow a particular caravan. The Towsafe one-to-one match gives customers a breakdown of the weights of the specified car and caravan and how they compare. For £15.95, Towsafe's multiple match enables caravanners to match up to five combinations of cars and caravans. HPI offers a one-to-one match for £9.95.

If you have never stayed in a caravan before you can visit a static one at a one of hundreds of sites around the country. Motorhome hire companies can provide all the equipment you need.

Buying a used caravan or motorhome is a lot like buying a car. Go to a reputable dealer and make the right checks and you should enjoy your new holiday home without breaking down or talking to the police.

The Caravan Club publishes a Getting Started guide, which can be ordered free of charge on 0800 328 6635. The Caravan Club also runs manoeuvring courses, which are open to everyone. Details available from 0800 328 6635 or online at

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