What to look for when buying a used caravan

Don’t fall for these common traps.

Most people are aware of the risks of buying a stolen car, but not many know that caravans are also popular theft targets and ca be subject to the same perils that apply to private car sales.

Private sales, whether they be for cars or caravans, are unregulated and you have little, if any, protection if something goes wrong. For this reason, RACQ always recommends buying from a licenced dealer.

If you’re prepared to take the risk on a private sale, here are the top things Caravanning Queensland recommends prospective buyers look for.

Check for signs of rebirthing

Rebirthing is changing a caravan’s (or car’s) unique characteristics to disguise its identity. Some common forms of rebirthing are outlined below but they all have one thing in common - if you purchase a rebirthed vehicle you may not be able to register it and it may be seized by police.

If this happens, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever see your money, or the caravan, again.

Altered or missing chassis or VIN numbers

This involves altering or removing the caravan’s original vehicle identity number (VIN). Caravans manufactured in Queensland are required to have the VIN number stamped or welded into the drawbar. This is not required for caravans manufactured outside of Queensland, however, most manufacturers do it anyway. Look for evidence of tampering and fresh paint in the area where the number would usually be. 

Write-offs

A subset of rebirthing is reidentifying written off caravans to disguise their history. A favourite ploy is to remove the original identifiers and register it as ‘home built’. In this case, a new identity is provided by the registration authorities. Be suspicious if a seller claims their caravan is home built but it looks and feels like a professionally built model. If this is identified after the sale, the registration will likely be cancelled and the buyer will be stuck with a caravan that can’t be registered.

Trailer plate

Manufacturers are required to fit a trailer ID plate to their products. Even home built trailers are required to have an ID plate fitted. The plate lists details such as the manufacturer, vehicle model, VIN number and date of manufacture. Look for signs of tampering and ensure the information engraved on the trailer plate matches the registration papers.

Decals

Most professionally built caravans have graphics, including the manufacturer or model name, on their exterior. If branding has been removed, or it has the manufacturer’s graphics but claims to be home built, it could be a rebirthed caravan.

Cost

If the price seems too good to be true, it generally is. People in possession of a stolen or rebirthed caravan will generally try to sell it quickly at a heavily discounted price. Compare the prices of various models and check the market to get an idea of correct prices.

Steps you can take to protect yourself

The best protection is to buy from a licenced dealer so that you’ll have legal recourse if something goes wrong.

Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) search

Before purchasing a used caravan (or car), do a PPSR search to determine if it has ever been written off, stolen or registered in another state or territory across Australia. Be warned though, if the identifiers have been altered a PPSR check will offer little protection.

Inspections

There are several companies which can perform pre-purchase inspections on caravans for that extra level of security.
For more information on purchasing a used caravan try the Queensland Government’s Van Aware tool which helps you identify a caravan’s identity before you purchase. Click here for more details.