Most of us at some stage asked Uncle Fred or Dad to come and check out the car we were looking at and in the sales game these “inspectors” were referred to as Eddie the Experts. Generally Uncle Fred was a butcher or a plumber and really had no technical experience in the automotive industry but he did have an idea of what noises to listen for and where to check for oil leaks etc. This knowledge was garnered from experience and probably a bit of backyard mechanic activity. After a while the NRMA’s and RACQ’s came along and a pre-purchase inspection became, and still is, almost compulsory.
If you are looking to purchase a Used Caravan, pre-purchase inspections can be arranged but inspection companies are few and far between and it’s a bit difficult to arrange the van to be towed to an inspection station. All is not lost though as checking out a caravan isn’t as difficult as it seems and they don’t have the mechanical componentry that a car has so don’t panic too much. Caravans are basically a little house on a trailer so you can see what’s going on in most cases.
The first place you want to look at is the interior walls as water stains and marks are a good indicator of water ingress/damage. Inspect around the windows and along the ceiling line. Make sure you check in all cupboards and wardrobes, especially the back wall of the area as water will often discolour or damage the sheeting in the back of the cavity. If the van has a front window ensure you have a good look around it inside and out, check the exterior seal on this window especially as rain will make it’s way in if the van is being towed in inclement weather. If you spot any marks or stains then feel the area to see if it is soft to the touch, this can indicate long term water damage or whether it’s just a stain from a one-off occurrence. Sometimes a window could have been left ajar which can stain the wall surrounding the window and this wouldn’t normally cause a major issue.
Chassis: The chassis is the trailer component of the van and as such needs to be structurally sound. Check for any serious rust, surface rust is pretty common as most chassis are not gal dipped and in most cases surface rust isn’t a structural issue and a wire brush and rust inhibitor will sort it out. Look for holes and cracks, normally a serious rust issue will present as a hole or what looks like cracking. Check the welds, especially around the A-Frame/Draw Bar, to ensure they are sound and not cracked.
Tyres: Tyres are a concern but your roadworthy safety certificate cover cracks, wear and any safety issue with the tyres fitted. They will even check load ratings etc so you can rest easy in that department.
Appliances: The main offenders here are fridges and air conditioners. The only way to check these is by switching them on. Have the seller switch the fridge on using gas and wait until you feel the inside of the freezer starting to cool, some gas fridges have a gauge that will indicate operation. The needle will go into the green if all is ok. Run the fridge on 240v to make sure it’s operating properly. if you can have the seller run the fridge and air conditioner on 240v for a while prior to you having a look, this way when you arrive the air con should be cold and so should the fridge. Don’t forget to switch the A/C to heat and check that as well. The microwave, radio and other appliances can be tested quite easily by simply running them.
External: make sure the van isn’t hail damaged by looking down the sides and checking the front, front curve and the rear panels. Any dents that have a sharp indentation are normally stones etc so if you see a bit of a chip or a sharper dent it probably isn’t hail damage. Hail damage will normally be on one side and maybe the front and rear. Existing hail damage can affect your insurance in the future so be wary and have a good look.
I hope these tips help you find the van you are hoping for and if you do your homework you shouldn’t have too much trouble doing it. There are plenty of beaut vans on the market and at reasonable prices considering the state of the nation. Research away and get ready to do a runner as soon as they open the gates. Stay safe.