You need to check that the caravan is functioning correctly and is of a standard you expect before buying, particularly if it is a private sale as there will be no going back later. Go through all the motions of using the caravan to see if it suits you and it works.
Sit and bounce on the lounge seats – do they give enough support or have they lost their resilience? Seating upholstery can be replaced but it can be expensive. Do the cupboard and door catches work? Pull out bed-making slats and check the functioning of any retractable bunk beds. Are there any areas of the floor that seem to be spongy? Such give in the floor could indicate delamination of the floor construction, which often occurs in older caravans especially in the doorway and by the kitchen. It can be repaired, but it’s a job best left to a caravan workshop.
Ask for the water system to be demonstrated to show the pumping system and taps work. Similarly ask to see the gas appliances working. And don’t forget the smallest room – cracked shower trays are not uncommon and can be a problem to replace.
Externally, check the grab handles are secure, look for signs of damage. Is the awning rail deformed? Are there any cracks in the GRP or ABS end panels of the caravan? End panels are susceptible to cracking and can be especially expensive to replace.
The presence of external dents and scrapes on the bodywork can be expected to reduce the value of the caravan depending on their extent, but this should not necessarily deter you unless the damage is so severe as to cause a split in the body shell or enough damage to have caused structural damage. Whereas if you find small pin-prick holes in the aluminium bodywork or areas of crumbly white powder then this could be a sign of aluminium corrosion and will have a limited life.
It’s worth opening cupboards and bed lockers to get a good look for anything untoward. Evidence of regular servicing will give you some confidence for anticipating little or no water ingress damage, having a caravan fit for the road and with the habitation equipment (including gas and electrical equipment) being safe to use. If a caravan is suffering from water ingress and this has not been picked up the resulting damage may cost a great deal of money to put right.
Remember, you can’t always smell damp, often only the most severe and neglected cases tend to show up with smells and black patches. With very old caravans you can almost expect there to be a problem of floor delamination or water ingress. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is not fit for purpose, it can still be road worthy and useable, but it will have a limited life.
If there are no service records go elsewhere or get it checked out by a qualified caravan technician. But remember if the deal seems too good to be true it probably is.