Buying a caravan can open up a world of possibilities, whether you’re planning travel adventures or a major lifestyle change.
But as with any big purchase, it’s really important to do your research first so you don’t get caught out by any nasty surprises.
We’ve put together this guide on things to keep in mind when buying and budgeting for a touring caravan or motorhome.
What to look for when buying a caravan or motorhome
There are three main types of caravan: touring caravans, static caravans and motorhomes, so if you’re planning to buy one, you’ll need to think carefully about which type suits your plans the best.
A touring caravan is a lightweight mobile home on wheels that does not contain an engine, meaning you tow it around with your car or another vehicle. Costs can range from around £15,000 for the most affordable, basic models to near £40,000 for more luxurious models (when buying new).
A static caravan, on the other hand, is typically only moved once, from the factory where it is built to a campsite where it stays permanently or semi-permanently. They are most commonly used as holiday homes. Prices tend to range from about £30,000 to over £100,000 on new static caravans.
A motorhome is a self-contained vehicle and living space – essentially, it is a vehicle that is designed to be lived in as well. A new model will generally cost you upward of £50,000 with pricier models clocking in at over £100,000.
Of course, these all become significantly cheaper when buying second-hand.
If you are buying a touring caravan, then it’s crucial to make sure it’s a sensible weight compared to the vehicle towing it. This is because towing a caravan that’s too heavy for your car can present legal and safety issues, as well as making driving difficult.
As a general guideline for beginners, your caravan should weigh no more than 85% of your car’s kerb weight – that is, your car’s weight with a full tank of fuel and all standard equipment, but no passengers, cargo or extra equipment. This may be listed in the vehicle’s manual, in the V5C, or on its vehicle indication number (VIN) plate, which is usually stamped into the chassis of your car. The first part of the VIN number tells you which country the car was manufactured in, along with who the manufacturer is, while the second section gives the vehicle description, and the final part is the identifier for that particular vehicle.
Car manufacturers also usually provide a towing capacity for each model of car they make, which denotes the maximum weight the vehicle can tow legally. This is also usually in the vehicle’s handbook or specification sheet, or on the car’s VIN plate as a “gross train weight” (the legal limit for the weight of both the car and the trailer combined).
There are also overall limits to the weight you can tow, though the parameters change depending on when you got your licence. If you got your licence before 1 January 1997, you can drive a vehicle and trailer with a combined weight of up to 8,250kg. If you got your licence after this date, you can tow a trailer that weighs up to 3,500kg.
Buying a caravan or motorhome second hand
As with a car, you can often save a lot of money by buying your caravan second hand instead of shelling out for a brand new model. A touring caravan bought second-hand can quite easily run below £20,000 and sometimes even around £6,000 to £10,000, though of course this will range considerably depending on age, model, condition and so on. However, it goes without saying that you need to be careful not to get scammed or saddled with a vehicle that needs a lot of repairs. If you are buying second hand, make sure to check the following very carefully:
- Tyres: Check the condition of the tyres very carefully – an older caravan is likely to have racked up a lot of miles, which could mean scuffed or cracked tyres if they haven’t been replaced recently.
- Vehicle Identification Number: A caravan is a vehicle, meaning it comes with a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The owner should be able to provide this or tell you where it is.
- Windows: Ensure that the windows open and close properly before buying, as faulty windows can jeopardise an insurance claim in the future.
- Service history: Get as much detail as possible on when the vehicle was most recently serviced, along with receipts if possible.
- Possible scams: If you are buying a motorhome, you risk encountering many of the same scams as if you were buying a regular car. These include clocking (lying about a vehicle’s mileage), cloning (changing a vehicle’s number plates) and more. Read more about these scams and how to avoid them in our guide 12 tips for buying or selling a car. If you suspect that a caravan might be stolen, the Caravan and Motorhome Club maintains a database of caravans reported stolen; you can call them with the caravan’s details to ask them to run a free check.
What are the costs of living in a caravan?
The costs involved with using a caravan or motorhome will range depending on how you use it. For example, if you are just using it for a one week holiday each year, the amount you spend on it will be quite different compared to if you are planning to live out of it permanently.
Insurance company Ripe recently surveyed over 850 caravan owners to find out their annual spend on their caravans, based on the average use of 60 nights a year. We’ve included the figures they found below.
Beyond the upfront cost of buying the vehicle, some costs you will need to consider include:
- Pitch fees: a charge paid to the owner of a campsite where you park your caravan or motorhome. These will depend on the location, the size of your vehicle, and any additional amenities offered by the site (such as water and electricity).
- Average cost: £949
- Insurance: You do not legally need insurance on a touring caravan (though you will need it for the car that you tow it with). You do need to have insurance for a motorhome. More information on insurance for your caravan or motorhome is provided below.
- Average cost: £219
- Servicing: Having your caravan regularly serviced to make sure it is both road-ready and safe to live in is essential. This should include checking the chassis, tyres and brakes, various systems (electric, gas, water), ventilation, fire safety and bodywork. You can search for servicing firms and workshops in the Approved Workshop Scheme, which is run by the National Caravan Council, The Caravan and Motorhome Club and The Camping and Caravanning Club, on the scheme’s website.
- Average cost: £334
- Gas: Gas is needed in many caravans to use the heating, cooking appliances and fridge, even if you are hooked up to the electric mains at a caravan park. Most caravaners will need canisters of either propane or butane gas to hand.
- Average cost: £236
- Fuel: Naturally, you will have to consider the cost of buying petrol or diesel for a motorhome, or for the vehicle towing the caravan. Bear in mind that the extra weight from a touring caravan will increase your vehicle’s fuel usage.
- Storage: If you do not have a garage or place to keep your touring caravan when you are not using it, you may have to pay to store it somewhere.
- Average cost: £345
Financing a caravan
Like financing a car, financing a caravan or motorhome is a common option for those who don’t have savings available to cover the cost outright.
Caravan finance is a catch-all term for any kind of loan that works as an alternative to buying full price on the day of purchase. The three main kinds you will encounter are Hire Purchase (HP), Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) or Personal Contract Hire (PCH), though simply getting a personal loan is also an option.
- Hire Purchase: with hire purchase, your lender effectively buys the caravan and you pay them an upfront deposit. You then pay them on a monthly basis to hire it, until the loan and interest is paid off and you become the owner.
- Personal Contract Purchase: like hire purchase, you pay a deposit and make regular repayments with interest to use the caravan, but these repayments are usually smaller. At the end of the term, you can either pay the remaining amount to own the caravan outright, return it if it is undamaged, or possibly exchange it for another caravan from the same dealer if you agreed on this when you made the deal.
- Personal Contract Hire: with this option, you never end up owning the caravan. The lender owns it, and you simply pay them each month to hire it.
- Personal Loan: you could also simply get out a personal loan and use it to buy the caravan outright, making repayments with interest to the lender over a set period of months until the loan is fully repaid. Read about some of the best personal loan rates on the market in our article Balance transfer credit cards and personal loans compared.
For more details on how each of these finance options work, read our article Everything you need to know about car finance.
Do I need insurance on a caravan?
Insuring a touring caravan
There is no legal requirement to get insurance on your caravan. However, with 4,000 caravan thefts a year (according to the AA) and the risk of accidental damage, you may well decide that it’s worth getting caravan insurance.
Caravan cover can be tailored to suit your needs, but a basic policy should cover loss or damage cover for theft, fire, flood and storm, contents insurance, and accidental damage cover for when you are towing. It should cover your caravan both when it is on the road or at home.
Your insurer may require that you use a hitch lock and clamp to secure your caravan when it is stationary, making it harder to steal.
The costs of caravan insurance will depend on how much your policy covers, your caravan’s make and model, level of security, where it is kept when not in use, how much the contents are worth, your age and where you live.
Insuring a motorhome
As a motorhome is a car, you are legally required to have insurance to take it on the road. While many aspects of motorhome insurance work in the same way as car insurance, you will still need to get a specialist motorhome insurance policy, since they require elements of cover that a car may not. For example, contents insurance will likely be more important for your motorhome than your car, since you will probably keep more valuables in it.
Like car insurance, the cost of motorhome insurance is affected by factors such as the make and model, mileage, your age, where you keep it and how safe it is, your driving history and any other drivers you want named on the policy. You will also probably pay less for motorhome insurance if you have another vehicle, such as a car, that you use for everyday purposes, and only use your motorhome on holiday.
Insuring a static caravan
Static caravan insurance isn’t a legal requirement, but some caravan parks will insist that you have it if you want to keep your caravan on their site.
Even if it is not required, it is probably worth considering getting insurance to cover damage or theft to your static caravan. In most cases, a static caravan is a holiday home, so taking a policy out to protect it could give you peace of mind even when you are not using it.
Do I need a special driving licence for a caravan or motorhome?
In most cases, no. If you are using a normal car to tow a caravan and are sticking to the weight limits outlined earlier, then you don’t need anything other than a valid category B driving licence for that car.
Similarly, as long as your motorhome weighs 3,500kg or less, you should be able to drive it with a category B licence. Most manufacturers build motorhomes under this weight limit.
However, if you want to tow your caravan with a larger vehicle or drive a motorhome over 3,500kg, you will need to obtain a higher category licence. A category C1 licence is required to drive a vehicle weighing between 3,500 and 7,500kg with a trailer up to 750kg, while a C1E licence allows the trailer weight to exceed 750kg. However, the combined weight of both vehicles cannot exceed 12,000kg. You will need to sit and pass a driving test to add the C1 category entitlements to your driving licence.
GOV.uk offers a useful tool that allows you to enter your licence information and find out what kind of trailer you are able to tow if you are still uncertain.
Where can I park my caravan in the UK?
A touring caravan can be parked at a caravan park, in your driveway or garage, or – technically speaking – on the road, as long as it is not causing an obstruction.
While it is not illegal to park your caravan on the side of the road, some local councils do frown upon it, and there may be local authority rules that prohibit the street parking of your caravan. Local authorities may take legal action against you if they think you are breaching their rules, so it’s best to do your research first.
In areas where it is allowed, you must make sure your caravan does not block other vehicles or pose a safety issue. The caravan must be positioned so that its rear lights are visible to oncoming traffic, and it must be lit as a safety precaution.
Some insurance companies will not insure your caravan if it is stored on the road. It may also invalidate your claim if something happens to your caravan while you leave it on the roadside. In most cases, it is best to find somewhere more secure to keep your caravan while you are at home, and to use caravan parks while on holiday.
If you need a place to store your caravan while you are not using it, you can use the Caravan Storage Site Owners Association (CaSSOA) website to find a caravan storage site.