Looking to buy first caravan for 2020 season

Jul 16, 2019
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Hi all, great little community going on here, seems generally friendly and helpful! I've been lurking on the site for a few weeks now - reading and researching, watching loads of youtube content, etc.!!

I'm not completely new to camping/caravanning, we had a '90s Conway Cardinal Clubman (trailer tent with a hard-top) for several years which we loved. We sold it as the floor was getting very soft in areas (probably the reason we got it cheap!), but we also felt the family was outgrowing it and we'd always discussed getting a 'proper' caravan...

This summer will be our second without the Conway and I'm looking into getting a caravan so we can start to do more weekends/half-terms away with the kids next year as well as our main summer holiday to the continent. We are a family of 5 (including two teenagers) so I'm considering the best short and long-term purchase for us as the eldest is 5'7 and still growing!!

I will have around £10-12k to spend and seem to be able to find vans such as the Sprite Major 6, Bailey Pegasus, Swift Challenger Sport in and around this price range for 6 berths. Tow car will be a BMW 5 series and priority for us will be space/comfort, flexibility for future - I'm viewing this as a 5+ year investment - so probably outlasting the older lads interest in joining family camping trips!

But, I have a few questions to help me on my search:
- Am I best to look for a large 4 berth and use awning/bed pod for the eldest instead of a 5/6 berth
- When is generally the best time of year to purchase (bearing in mind I'd not be looking to actually use it this year - already have summer and Oct half term plans!)
- Dealer v private purchase (if I had a higher budget I'd go 'dealer') - are there highly regarded dealers I should be looking at (I'm based near Heathrow but don't mind a drive of up to 2 hrs to browse/buy)
- I'm sure brand preference is like buying a car (everyone has their own view) but am I generally in good hands looking at Swift/Baileys

Sorry, loads of info and questions for a first post, but I'm hoping to do some major groundwork to present my wife with some well thought out options before we start to go shopping!

Oct 12, 2013
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Hi Bazn ;

First of all welcome to the forum it is a great place like you said , secondly did you pass your licence for your car before or after 97 if after 97 you have a problem with weights where you can't tow combined over 35oo kg if you werr before 97 then let's crack on and get you a van !!

We started off doing camping pods before we saw how chilled out people were with their caravans which made us get one too , we started off small now we have a Sprite Major 6 Td ( twin dinette ) which will sleep 6 but we are only a family of 4 so we have plenty of space , ours consists of two diners , one at the front , one of the rear for the kids will which can be partitioned off on a night time to give them their own space and us ours !! We have two bunks for the kids who are quite tall and even I can fit in them and they have their own dining space at the back where the other two bunks will come down on top of that table and seats on the back which we dont use though .

Ours was bought new at a dealer so that we have warranty and come back if anything goes wrong , if I were you I would try and look at them first as you never know you could get a bargain and negotiate some starting stuff .
Mar 14, 2005
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Hello Barry,

First of all, welcome to the forum.

Not everyone welcomes my responses, but I hope (if nothing else) itr perhaps makes people think a bit more logically about their choices.

Let’s take your points, but in a different order.

No single caravan manufacturer has a monopoly on being good or bad, sadly it’s a reflection of the state of the UK and wider industry that models sold seems to be more important than attention to detail and quality. It's the lack of consistency of manufacture, it's entirely possible for two consecutive caravans off the production line for one to be nigh on perfect and the next to be dogged with problems. And whilst surveys may show 70 to 80% satisfaction rating in practice there are very few caravans built perfectly with ZERO problems. The buying public have been brainwashed into thinking that caravans do have problems so they don’t report some minor issues as faults when in fact their statutory rights says they are entitled to a perfect product every time.

In terms of quality and reliability there is little to choose between most of the manufactures, however (and this is not to be taken as an endorsement) there is one brand that does seem to generally have fewer major issues, but they are definitely at the more expensive end of the market. For this reason if you do decide on a particular model, you must go over the actual caravan you want to buy with a fine toothed comb and bring every non-conformity to the attention of the dealer, even the fact of finding an extra screw rolling about inside a locker - if it’s there and it shouldn't be - it’s a fault. If it’s not there and it should - be it’s a fault!

If you do not intend to change your car, then that will be a very significant factor regarding the weight of the caravan. I’m sure you will have seen many posts about towing ratios, and how the UK industry recommends the ratio of the Caravans MTPLM/ cars kerb weight should not really exceed 85% for novices and should never exceed 100%. I must stress these are only recommendations and have no basis in law, The law actually says you must not exceed the cars specified Gross Train Weight when weighed, and the same applies to the other weight or load limits on the cars weight plate.

You don’t tell us your exact model BMW 5 series you have of car or its load limits, so I can’t offer any example calculations. But the difference between the cars stated Gross Vehicle Weight and the Gross Train Weight is the heaviest loaded trailer the vehicle can tow when the car is also fully loaded.

Once you have established the maximum towed weight from the above it sets a loaded weight limit for caravans you can look at. It’s simplest to use a caravans MTPLM to compare to the towed weight limit, though strictly its not using all the weight capacity of the outfit.

Number of berths. I suggest it’s probably better to have enough berths for all the family. Consider the occasions when you might need to go away for just one night. Or perhaps you have some relatives coming to stay for a night or two You might have room for the caravan on the drive, but no space for the awning.

Even if your eldest child no longer comes with you on holiday, there are not many 5 berth caravans. And I know from experience that sometimes a son or daughter may ask if a friend could come on holiday.

Other contributors may express some points of view about different layouts, but that won’t necessarily be the same for you - Only you can choose your preferred layout. I do suggest initially going to a number of caravan dealers and having a good look round all sorts of layouts, this will give you a feel for which might suit you, and you might even find a layout that you might have rejected on paper is actually the one for you.

Buying a caravan, if you are looking at a brand new caravan, then often dealers may discount last years models when the new models are released, Some quite good savings can be made. There can be a similar timed but less pronounced reduction in some second hand models at dealers as they try to make room for part exchanges etc.

Private purchases don’t seem to follow these trends so much. As for private vs dealer purchases, its swings and roundabouts. Private deals may seem to offer lower purchase costs, but then you don’t have access to after sales if things start to go wrong. If you do go for a dealer purchase, then for second hand (out of manufacturer’s warranty period) vans you should consider the fact that you may need to return the caravan to the selling dealer for any remedial work. (Do check up on your rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 concerning inconvenience)

Regardless of where you choose to purchase, do get the caravan independently inspected especially for damp issues, before you agree to purchase. Don’t be afraid to walk away if it’s not exactly what you were expecting.


Nov 12, 2009
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Hi Barry

In addition to the good advice already posted, I would add that between now and the 'caravan show season' which usually takes place around September / October it might be a good idea to spend a few weekends touring dealerships which are within reasonable distance from your home, to find out what sort of layout you like and what you don't like.
Make computer printouts of your matrix list to 'score' the various makes and models that you look inside to determine your essentials.
Try to build a good relationship with caravan sales staff, let them know what you're looking for and leave contact details in case anything suitable comes to a forecourt near you.
Don't make any snap decisions, take plenty of time to find out as much as you can about each make and model, and if in doubt ask on this forum.

Around August / September / October dealerships will often want to clear older stock to make room for the new models that they will be selling during the autumn, so look for ''events'' such as barbecues, live music etc at dealerships to receive good discounts.

When we bought our current caravan I'd already negotiated a pretty good discount when I noticed a sign advertising the last weekends barbecue event and all sales were advertised at £800 pounds off.

I pressed the sales staff on this and after much humming and ahh-ing we got the extra £800 discount...... Result! :lol:
If you don't ask you won't get.
As for private sales, after the various caravan shows like the one at Birmingham's NEC, some owners will be hoping to sell their part ex for a better price than the dealer will offer.
Check them out by all means, but with all private sales, buyer beware!
Jul 18, 2017
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Hi Barry,and welcome.Not much I can add to the above advice,but,go have a look at all styles and layouts,don't discount any.Think how you'll use it now vs how you'll use it minus your eldest kid(s).?For instance,we have a full awning with an annex and both mine(15 yr boy and 13yr girl )prefer to sleep outside with their own space,I run an extension lead out to charge phones.So do you get a medium size van and big awning with one or both end annexes? Or big twin wheel where you can all fit inside with no need for a large awning?
Lots of decisions,that unfortunately only you and the family can decide,get out there and get trying them out,happy hunting,let us know when you narrow it down a bit.
May 7, 2012
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I tend to agree with the advice given so far. There is not a lot of difference in the UK makes but the magazine does an annual customer survey and generally Coachman are the best and Eldiss bottom, but having said that Coachman do turn out the odd rogue and Eldiss produce some perfectly good ones. Adria get a good right up generally for reliability but they can be a bit basic and the designs I find not as good but that is a personal opinion.
For a family van we would go for one with bunks for the children at the back and a central toilet as a toilet at the back can mean disturbing the children if you use it after they have gone to bed. Others manage with a rear toilet though which will normally be a bit bigger so your priorities there might be the deciding factor.
Buying is a bit like buying the car. You should get a cheaper price privately, but you will get no guarantee and your rights will be far more difficult to pursue if things go wrong. Wit a second hand caravan whatever else you do though make sure there is a recent damp check and make sure that the seller demonstrates how to use the equipment and that it works.
If buying privately get the serial number and do an HPI check and one with NCC to make sure it is not on HP or stolen. Check on seeing it that the number you were given is correct.
As Parksy says late August onwards is when you should get the best deal from a dealer for the reasons given.
Ideally the caravan should not have an MTPLM of more than 85% of the cars kerb weight although the BMW is regarded as a good tow car and should be able to handle a bit more safely. I would be reluctant to say anything over 90% for a newcomer is a good idea though.
Good luck.
Nov 16, 2015
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The kids will prefer the awning rooms, they will be away in a year or two, pick the van to suit yourselfs, we like the side fixed bed, we prefer to kip together. Some like the individual beds, go around lots of dealers and see whats available. We had an end island bed , the shower kept getting the duvet damp if we didnt fully put it away. Side kitchen, not enough room if one of us was cooking and the. Other is passing by.

Walk around the vans , pretend your living in it , try passing each other , lay in the front benches, are your legs too long, all this makes me want to get away this weekend , but have house decorating to do.
Enjoy it though.
Jul 16, 2019
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Thanks all for the warm welcome and great tips, it's reinforced in my head a bit of the approach I need to take in getting my wife out to a few dealers to take a look around a few models!

Craig - I passed my test in '97 so just missed the 'grandfather' rights for towing! So taking my test is definitely in-scope as I wouldn't want my wife to do all the driving on longer trips (continental summer trips would be on the cards) - she beat me to the entitlement by a few months!!

ProfJ - our 5 Series is a 520d SE (saloon), I need to check the plates on the door when my wife gets home from work as the good old internet is confusing me. My online research shows the kerb weight at 1,620kg, with a max braked towing limit of 1,800kg (111% of kerb weight), but a Sprite Major 6 with a MTPLM of 1,468kg would put me at 90% which driving sensibly would be acceptable. I need to do more work here to understand this piece of the puzzle!

In terms of layout, I've been considering a fixed bunk rear layout with dinnette as this would give maximum flexibility for the family.

Parksy - I love the idea of pulling together a matrix of essentials and 'nice to haves' for when out looking at caravans. It will help us get a feel for what really matters to the family.

Brasso530 - a decent awning is essential for us as a family, we used to have a great one with with our cardinal that got used for everything - storage, toilet annex, lounge and dining area, etc. I like the idea of being able to double the living space for relatively little additional investment.

Raywood - I think a central wash area would work for our plans. We wouldn't be going 'off-grid' and would be using site facilities as much as possible so something to consider.

EH52ARH - Lol at the decorating! There does always seem to be too much to do to get away as much as we'd like...

Another quick question - when we had the Conway, I informed our car insurance we were towing and they said generally anything under 7m length (think the cardinal was 4.5m) they didn't need to be informed about. Does towing a full outfit affect your car insurance - or do you even let them know...?!

Many thanks again for the welcome and all the great input.
Nov 11, 2009
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You should let the insurance company know if you modify the car by fitting a tow bar but I guess you have this already for the Conway. Otherwise no need as you will keep your outfit within the legal norms.
May 7, 2012
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Most insurers will not charge extra as statistically we are a better risk. If they do they are having you on and I would change at renewal.
If they asked you to notify them if you tow a caravan over 7 m and you buy one, then tell them. It is not clear from what you say if this is body or overall length, but I suspect body as that is the legal limit for a car, you may need to check this with them.


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