Grey nomads guide to purchasing the right caravan

Last updated on 21 December 2023

Older woman handing a cup to an older man with a surf board out of the window of their caravan.
There are many things to consider when purchasing a caravan, both new and second hand. [Source: iStock]

Key points:

  • Be prepared when going to inspect a caravan
  • Understand your rights as a buyer
  • Be thorough when buying a used caravan

These kinds of retirees are often called “grey nomads”, or retired people who spend their time travelling around the country, typically in a caravan or motorhome.

But finding the right caravan to take you on your long adventure from the East Coast to the red sands of Central Australia can be difficult.

A survey by consumer regulator Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found of 2,270 caravan owners, 80 percent reported experiencing problems after purchasing their new home on wheels.

This included widespread consumer guarantee failures, misrepresentations by caravan suppliers, and unexpected delays in the delivery and repair of caravans.

There has also been an increase in people buying caravans and travelling from caravan park to caravan park.

Owner of Milang Caravan Park in South Australia, Betty Werrey, says she has seen an increasing number of grey nomads from all over Australia flocking to Milang, particularly as the cost of living rises and it becomes harder to reside in the rental or real estate market.

“They like the freedom,” says Ms Werrey.

“A lot of them are saying it’s a cheaper way of living.”

With so many different motorhomes available, how do you avoid running into trouble when investing your money in a caravan?

Before purchasing

Before going out to see what is on the market, you should consider a few things and narrow your search accordingly.

Consider these questions and recommendations before your search begins:

  • Where do you wish to travel to?
  • How long for? Will it be used for short stays or long adventures?
  • Are you going to head off-road or stick to highway travel?
  • Your tow vehicle and the weight it can tow – this will dictate how big a caravan you can pull safely
  • Hire a caravan and make a short trip to gauge what caravan might suit your needs

Asking these simple questions can help you find the best, reliable caravan that suits your needs.

Know your rights when purchasing a caravan

Under Australian law, products and services that consumers buy come with automatic guarantees, called Consumer Guarantee Rights, which means that products you buy must work and do what it is supposed to do.

These rights apply to caravans and other recreational vehicles, such as camper trailers and campervans, and are separate to any manufacturer’s warranty.

According to ACCC, if your caravan fails to meet one or more consumer guarantees, you are entitled to a remedy from the supplier of the caravan, even if the warranty provided by the business has expired.

If a caravan fails to meet one or more of the consumer guarantees, you can ask the business you bought the caravan from for a remedy to your issue.

The supplier is usually the dealership you bought from, but can sometimes be the manufacturer or the business that made the caravan.

For example, if you purchase a caravan and it is not of acceptable quality or does not match the description made by a supplier, a remedy could be a repair, replacement or refund.

However, if a consumer guarantee failure is considered minor, the supplier may only choose to offer a repair.

If you think you have been misled when you purchased a caravan from a supplier or manufacturer, your first step is to contact the business to explain the problem.

If the business does not resolve the problem, you can report a problem to the ACCC who can investigate the situation further.

What is considered a minor or major failure?

A minor failure is generally easily fixed and does not stop you from using the caravan.

If the supplier refuses to offer you a repair for a minor failure, you are entitled to a refund or a replacement within a reasonable timeframe.

However, if a failure is major, or a failure that makes the caravan unfit for its purpose, you are entitled to your choice of a replacement or a refund.

Where there is a major failure to comply with a consumer guarantee, you have the right to ask for the choice of replacement or refund within a reasonable timeframe.

Multiple minor failures can be considered a major failure, which allows for the choice of a refund or replacement within a reasonable timeframe.

An example of a major failure would be a water leak or telling you the incorrect tow weight of a caravan, which could potentially put you and other road users at risk of serious injury or death.

Tips for purchasing a used caravan

While the right caravan may be a worthy investment, they are not cheap, which is why many grey nomads choose to purchase a used caravan.

However, buying a second hand caravan means it is your responsibility to ensure it is functional, undamaged and safe, as guarantees and warranties may not apply.

To avoid this, Big 4 Holiday Parks has offered some handy hints on what to consider before purchasing a secondhand caravan.

According to Big 4, being prepared for the initial viewing is integral to getting a good secondhand caravan.

When checking a caravan, you should bring:

  • A notepad and pen to list the pros and cons of the caravan
  • A tape measure to check measurements
  • A camera or smartphone to take photographs
  • A torch to check hard-to-reach spots, especially underneath the caravan
  • A damp meter to measure the moisture levels inside

It may be hard to know what you are looking for at the initial inspection, so it is suggested you should look for things like:

  • Rust, dents, scratches, or other marks
  • The condition of the tyres
  • Doors and windows opening and closing appropriately
  • Condition of the paint, including if a paint job is masking potential problems underneath like rust or other marks
  • Cracks in the chassis (base frame of the caravan) and the condition of the axle
  • Quality of wiring and piping underneath the van
  • Efficiency of the handbrake and tow hitch
  • How freely the jockey wheel winds up and down
  • Efficient opening and closing of any awnings

Inside, you should also look for things like:

  • Dampness in corners and cupboards
  • Condition of the floor
  • A smoke detector and fire extinguisher
  • Working appliances like the stove and fridge
  • water sources including the sink and shower
  • Lighting
  • Locks on doors

If things are looking good at first glance, what else should you ask the owner to find out more details about the caravan and help you decide if this is the right caravan for you?

Ask questions like:

  • How old is it?
  • Where has it been in the past?
  • Where does it ‘live’? Stored undercover or outside?
  • Ask for any proof of documentation regarding the caravan’s service and ownership history and whether the seller has a current weighbridge, gas, and electrical certificate (pre-check with relevant authorities in your State or Territory as to whether any of these documents are legally required when owning a caravan)

Some wear and tear such as cosmetic scratches, fading, or other superficial imperfections are to be expected when purchasing a second hand caravan, but any factors that may compromise your safety should be non-negotiable.

Getting on the road

Once you have found the caravan that fits your needs, you can finally start preparing to hit the road!

You may need to consider budgeting for your trip around Australia, how to travel safely during COVID-19, what you can expect life will be like on the road, as well as how to have a successful roadtrip if you are bringing a pet along for the ride.

You can read more about travel or retirement life on

What are the ideal features you want in a caravan? Let us know in the comments below.

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