Raymond James Caravans’ comprehensive guide to caravan terminology. Jargon busted!

Like many specialist interests, caravanning and motorhoming have lots of unique words, terms, and abbreviations that you need to understand. Some are very important, as they involve your safety and legality.

So, to understand why MiRO is different to MTPLM, and what the 85% rule is, read on…

13-pin socket
13-pin socket

7 and 13 pin towing electrics

The electrical plug on your caravan that attaches to the car. Your towcar has the female receiver, while the electric cable on the caravan contains the pins.
7-pins are the older design for caravans and trailers and don’t supply power to as many facilities as a more modern 13-pin plug.

7-pin plugs only power the lights, indicators, brake lights, and fog lights; while 13-pin sockets also power the fridge and reversing lights.

Once you have positioned the small plastic block into the groove and rotated the socket into place, your van’s lights should be operational. As well as the lights of the tow car. Occasionally, the block and groove can become misaligned, preventing the socket from pushing into place.

In this case, use a Plug Socket Alignment Tool to realign the two parts. Typically, these cost about £5 online.

The 85% rule (for novices)

This rule is not a law, but a recommended safety guideline for novice caravanners to match their tow car and caravan. The caravan’s MTPLM weight should not be more than 85% of your tow car’s kerbweight. Eg: a 1500kg caravan requires a tow car weighing 1765kg for safe towing by a novice.

The 100% rule (for experienced caravanners)

 Caravan A-frame

As you become a more experienced tow car driver, you can extend the 85% rule ‌to 100%. For example, a 1500kg caravan requires a tow car with a 1500 kg kerbweight.


The metal A-shaped frame at the front of a caravan, with the hitch-head on the end. As well as the tow hitch, you’ll find the breakaway cable, jockey wheel, handbrake, and‌ the ATC indicator light and AL-KO stabiliser here. Usually, they have a plastic moulded fairing.


The type of strong and resilient plastic used to make many caravan panels. It’s an abbreviation for acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene.

Actual laden weight

This number is the total weight of a caravan and its contents combined (when towed). This figure should not exceed the Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM) of the caravan. Or the police could pull you over, fine you, and have to remove weight from your caravan.

Air awning

air awning
An air awning

An awning that uses inflatable air beams instead of metal poles in its construction. These are lighter-weight, quicker, and easier to erect, and very sturdy when put-up properly.


AL-KO chassis
AL-KO chassis

AL-KO’s ATC (AL-KO Trailer Control) is an anti-snaking system for caravans. It detects the early signs of a caravan getting out of control and automatically applies the brakes to pull the van back in line.

AL-KO chassis

Most new caravans are built on a strong, but lightweight, galvanised steel chassis made by the German company, AL-KO.


A branded rolling water carrier, which you can pull along with a long handle, rather than carry. The name has become the generic term for water carriers that roll, but other brands are available.


A tent-like construction that attaches to the side of the caravan to give more living and storage space. They are made of fabric stretched over a frame. Frames once composed of steel poles are now built with rigid inflatable beams. more often due to their lightweight and the ease of inflation.

Awning length

The size of many awnings is expressed as their length in centimetres. It’s the total length of the roof and two sides combined – up one side, across t

traditional pole awning
The awning rail connects the awning to to the caravan

he roof, then down the other side to the ground. Typically, this might range from 750cm to 1100cm.

Awning rail

The rail into which the awning cord is threaded and pulled up, over, and down the other side of the caravan. Full awnings use the entire length of the rail, while porch awnings only use a section of the rail running across the top of the caravan. The rail has several entry points for the cord to be slotted in for porch awning use.

AWS – Approved Workshop Scheme

This National Caravan Council approval-scheme is for caravan engineers that have reached a high level of experience and service delivery. It’s your guarantee of quality service and maintenance.


See Driving Licences.


Beds are called berths in caravans. Typically, the number of berths will range from two to six.

Blown-air heating

Caravan breakaway cables
Caravan breakaway cables

A popular heating system in modern caravans. A powerful fan blows warm air through ducting pipes and vents to heat the caravan’s interior.


A German caravan chassis maker. In recent years, BPW has refocused its business away from caravans. But many used tourers will still run on excellent BPW chassis, especially those from the Elddis group.

Breakaway cable

This short steel cable links the caravan handbrake mechanism to the tow car’s towball. It either attaches to it with a carabiner clip or is looped around it). If by chance the caravan ever gets separated from the tow car’s hitch, the breakaway cable will activate the caravan’s handbrake, thus stopping it from moving.

Butane gas

Two types of liquified petroleum gas (LPG) are used in caravanning, for heating, cooking, and even to cool the fridge.

Butane and Propane gas bottles
Butane and Propane gas bottles

Butane is one, and it comes in Calor’s blue cylinders. Butane has a small energy advantage over the Propane alternative.

However, as it boils at just minus-2°C, it may not work efficiently at lower temperatures, so is therefore only recommended for caravanning in warm weather. All-season caravanners should choose Propane.


The UK’s major provider of bottled gas. The company has retail partners all around the country and its bottles are also sold at many service stations, DIY shops, and camping outlets.

Caravan Clubs

There are two main caravanning clubs: The Camping and Caravanning Club and The Caravan and Motorhome Club. Both have extensive networks of excellent sites and CSs/CLs, and they also offer members advice, information, events, training, discounts, and other services including travel-agencies, breakdown cover, and insurance.


Carver is a defunct brand of caravan heaters, that was very popular in the 1990’s and earlier. Carver made space and water heaters. Truma bought it in 1999.

A caravan toilet with electric flush and swivelling seat
A caravan toilet with electric flush and swivelling seat

Cassette blind

These roller blinds are fitted as part of the caravan window assembly, and the blind fabric is stored inside the casing when not in use. They often include a flyscreen.

Cassette toilet

A caravan toilet, where the waste tank sits underneath the loo, separated by a blade valve. The cassette is part filled with toilet chemicals and can be accessed through an external hatch. The cassette is removed for emptying and cleaning, then part-filled with chemicals again, before it is replaced in the locker.

Cassette toilet chemicals

Toilet chemicals help keep your cassette toilet clean and in good condition.
Pink chemicals go into the top ‘flush’ tank, while a small amount of blue or green chemicals go into the waste cassette.

The pink chemical lubricates the flush system, rinses the toilet bowl, and helps to keep things fragrant. The blue and green chemicals are designed to break down waste matter and toilet paper, and to prevent smells and the build-up of gases.

Some modern chemicals are considered more eco-friendly as they don’t contain formaldehyde.


CaSSOA storage facility
CaSSOA storage facility

The Caravan Storage Site Owners’ Association is a national body that oversees and rates security measures at caravan storage facilities. Member facilities have to achieve high standards of security, protection and convenience, and the best are recognised with Gold and Platinum status.

Chemical Disposal Point (CDP point)

Chemical Disposal Point or Elsan Points are the place on a campsite where you empty your toilet cassette and rinse it out.

Chemical toilet

A caravan toilet that is self-contained, not connected to the mains drainage. Waste material is held in a sealed tank, ready to be emptied when it’s full (usually indicated by a warning light). Thetford and Dometic are the main manufacturers. See: Cassette toilet

CS or CL sites

These small campsites have five pitches or fewer. Most have limited facilities. which is reflected in their prices. Some have washing facilities and hook-ups, but many are designed for off-grid caravanning.

Often, they are in the stunning, unspoilt locations, where planning permission for more extensive campsites wouldn’t be allowed.

Corner steady

caravan corner steady
A caravan corner steady

Most caravans have four corner steadies, wind down legs attached to each corner of the underside of the caravan floor. Once a caravan is levelled, the steadies are wound down to keep it stable.

CRiS (check)

The Central Registration and Identification Scheme (CRiS), sees every UK caravan (since 1992) given a unique ID number and added to a register. This ID is linked to the owner’s contact details, so the two can be reunited in the event of a theft.

Like an automotive HPI check, caravans with CRiS can also be ‘history-checked’, highlighting if, for example, they have ever been written off or stolen in the past. When buying a new caravan, always check that all the CRiS numbers on the windows or tamper-proof sticker match the documentation.


An organisation that evaluates the services offered by insurance policies, including those for caravanners, giving the best a five-star rating.


Delamination is when the bonded layers of a multi-ply/sandwich-construction panel, start to separate. Usually, water ingress, or poor lamination in the manufacturing process causes this problem.


A caravan side diner or dinette
A caravan side diner or dinette

Also called a side-diner, this is a compact dining area in a caravan with parallel sofas and a table in between, or a C-shaped sofa around a table. Usually, these dinettes can be converted into a large single or small double bed.

Driving licences

Up until 16th December 2021, if you passed your test on or after 1st January 1997, you had to take an additional B+E towing test to allow you to tow the same weight trailer/caravan as those drivers who passed their test before that date.

The government removed this restriction in 2021, meaning that anyone who passed their test after 1st January 1997, can now tow caravans weighing up to 3500kg… that’s every modern touring caravan.

Before choosing a car/caravan combination, check your tow car’s Gross Train Weight (GTW) – the maximum allowable weight of the car plus caravan plus payload.

Electric hook-up (EHU)

See: Mains hook-up.

Elevating roof (Pop-Top)

A caravan with pop-top roof
A caravan with pop-top roof

Some smaller caravans have a pop-up roof to increase the headroom inside for taller caravanners. These caravans generally have fabric-covered sides and a solid top. These aspects make them more aerodynamic when towed, resulting in better fuel economy, easier parking, and simpler storage.

Flame-failure cut-out

Caravan gas appliances should have these fitted. They stop the escape of gas inside the caravan if a flame blows out.


Flogas is a nationwide distributor of gas bottles and products in the UK. Check online for your nearest outlet.

French bed

A French bed
A French bed

A double bed enclosed on two or three sides, meaning one occupant may have to climb over the other to exit the bed.

Full-service pitch

A premium campsite pitch which has a fresh water supply and a wastewater drain, along with a hook-up post and, sometimes, a TV aerial connection. Usually these are more expensive than standard pitches.


caravan garage
A Kanus caravan with its large garage hatch clearly visible

A large storage space for transporting bulky items like barbecues, bicycles , and other outdoor gear. They can be accessed from outside the caravan and are more common on motorhomes, though the Knaus Sport & Fun caravan does feature a large garage.

Gas locker

An external locker, accessible only from the outside of the caravan, where gas bottles are stored. Front-end gas lockers tend to be large and may contain other equipment like a spare wheel, while a small number of caravans have more-compact side gas lockers.

Grab handles

Large handles located at each corner of the caravan that are used to hand-manoeuvre the caravan onto its pitch or into its storage position.

Grey water

The wastewater from your caravan’s shower, basin and sink. This is collected in a grey-waste container outside the caravan and must be emptied in a dedicated disposal point wherever possible.

Gross train weight

This is the total weight of the tow car, caravan, and payload. It should not exceed the amount of the caravan’s MTPLM and tow car’s Gross Vehicle Weight combined (see below).

Gross vehicle weight (GVW)

The weight of the tow car loaded to its maximum safe level, as stated by the vehicle manufacturer.


Glass-reinforced plastic, a versatile and strong material often used to make the curved front and back panels of a caravan. It’s also known as fibreglass or glass-fibre.

It is hardwearing and resistant to small dents and scratches, but older GRP panels can suffer from ‘chalking’ when the material dries out, breaks down and becomes dusty.


A hard-standing pitch
A hard-standing pitch

A pitch with a base made from a hard substance including gravel, Tarmac or concrete. In winter, and in wet or muddy conditions, these pitches are preferable to grass pitches, as you’re less likely to sink into the soft surface or get your outfit muddy.


The mechanism at the front of the caravan’s A-frame that attaches your caravan to the towball on your car.

Hitch-head stabiliser

A type of towing stabiliser that’s incorporated into the caravan’s hitch. It clamps small friction pads tightly onto the car’s towball, when the stabiliser handle is pressed down, and works by applying friction to the tow ball.


hitchlock caravan
A high-visibility hitchlock is clearly visible on this caravan

This security device prevents the caravan hitch from being connected to (or removed from) a tow ball, by blocking access to the hitch-release handle. Usually made from strong steel, they are locked in place with a key.

When the caravan’s unhitched, the hitchlock can be combined with a towball blank to prevent another towball being inserted into the ‘cup’.


See: Mains hook-up.

Island bed

A bed that can be walked around on three sides.

Jockey wheel

The small wheel at the front of a caravan, fixed to the A-frame. It supports the forward end of the caravan and makes manoeuvring an unhitched caravan easier.

The jockey wheel can turn ‌360° and may feature a hard plastic wheel or a rubber pneumatic one. The wheel is on the end of an extending post and can be wound up and down with a handle to level the tourer.

When not in use, it is raised and locked firmly in position with a screw-in clamp handle.


The weight of tow car, including a tank of fuel, but excluding passengers. The weight in kgs is usually found on a data plate inside one of the front door jambs.

Leisure battery

leisure battery
A good quality leisure battery is essential

A 12v caravan battery used to power the lighting and other low-current devices when the caravan is not on mains hook-up. They often look similar to a car battery, but don’t have the high cranking power needed to start a car – instead they give a lower, consistent output for a longer time.

Leisure battery output/stored energy is expressed in ampere-hours (Ah). A smaller battery may be 65Ah, while one designed to power devices like motor movers, that require more current may be 110Ah.
Leisure batteries come in different forms, including lead-acid, AGM, Gel and lightweight/high-power lithium batteries.

Living Space

The living space is an integral part of a caravan, providing a comfortable and functional area for occupants to relax, dine, and sleep while on the move.

It refers to the interior space of the caravan that is specifically designed to meet the needs of travellers and recreate a cosy home environment within the confines of a mobile unit.

The layout and size of the living space can vary significantly depending on the type and model of the caravan.

Load index

Found on tyre side walls, this number indicates a tyre’s maximum, safe load-carrying capacity.

Mains hook-up

A pitch hook-up (EHU) with mains cable connected
A pitch hook-up (EHU) with mains cable connected

This is an outdoor power point found on a campsite pitch. Usually, the electric hook-up is on a post, which may have two points, including one for the next-door pitch.

Connect your caravan to the hook-up post with your caravan’s mains power cable. You’ll then receive 230v mains electricity in your caravan, meaning you can use the heating, microwave, and oven without flattening/damaging the leisure battery.

Mains hook up posts usually feature a circuit breaker which will cut-out if you overload the post by using too many devices at once. Typically, a post will deliver between 6amps (on some sites in Europe) and 16amps (many UK sites), after which it will cut out and need to be reset.

Also known as electric hook-up or EHU.

Manufacturer’s braked towing limit

The maximum weight of a braked trailer that a tow car will pull safely. Pulling away on a 1-in-8 gradient incline confirms the figure. The ‘braked towing limit’ figure can be misleading, and‌ lead to unsafe towing. See: 85% rule.


(Mass In Running Order) – The unladen weight of a caravan before it’s filled with holiday payload – clothes, food, and equipment, etc.

Miro includes all standard fixtures and fittings, liquids (in the heater, flush and water tank), plus the gas bottle. Strangely, the weight of the leisure battery is not included.


(Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass) This is the maximum total weight (in kg) a caravan should be, with all your equipment, food, clothes, etc on board. You should never exceed this weight. You’ll find it on the weightplate near the door.


caravan motormover
A caravan motormover

A powerful electrical device used for manoeuvring a caravan when it is not hitched to a tow car. The motor mover rollers slide out and press into the caravan’s tyres. They can then be controlled with a handheld remote, to turn and propel the tourer.

National Caravan Council (NCC)

This caravan trade association represents manufacturers, suppliers and dealers in the caravan industry, and strives to improve many aspects of the caravanning lifestyle.

The NCC makes sure that new caravans follow safety regulations, and it manages a number of quality and security initiatives including CRiS and AWS.


The side of the caravan nearest to the pavement when travelling on the left- hand side of the road (the passenger side). In the UK, entrance doors are positioned on this side of the caravan.

Nose-down attitude

Most caravans tow most stably and safely if they are hitched with a slightly nose-down angle. Some pick-up and van-based tow cars require their towbars to be lowered to achieve this angle.

A Milenco noseweight gauge
A Milenco noseweight gauge


The weight pressing down on your tow car’s towball by the caravan’s hitch when the caravan is attached. It’s usually expressed in kg. Towcars and towballs have a noseweight limit which shouldn’t be exceeded.

Normally this is between 60kg and 120kg. You can manage the noseweight by moving the contents of the caravan around, for example. A very full front gas locker (containing, say, heavy wheel and hitchlocks) is likely to increase the noseweight. Moving these items nearer to the axle should lower it.

Noseweight gauge

A short, post-shaped device, that’s positioned between the hitch-cup and the ground. It displays the weight pressing down on the hitch (the noseweight) once the jockey wheel has been wound up.

Off-grid caravanning

Off-grid caravanners are totally self-contained, and don’t require electric hook-up or mains water/drainage to function. This is achieved by managing electricity and water usage, and by relying on solar panels and large leisure batteries to maintain an electric supply. Typically, off-grid caravanners do not use generators.


The side of a caravan away from the kerb when driving on the left-side of the road (the driver’s side). European caravans often have their doors on the (UK) off-side.


The term for a combined tow vehicle and caravan.

A 6kg Propane gas bottle
A 6kg Propane gas bottle

Overrun brakes

The braking system utilised on caravans. As the tow car slows, the caravan pushes forward, compressing the hitch mechanism. This in turn activates the caravan brakes via cables, slowing it down.

Pendulum effect

This is the effect created when too much weight is placed too far back in the caravan, causing it to start swinging back and forth like a pendulum. This can be extremely dangerous, but is usually easily remedied by moving weighty items around inside the caravan. See: Snaking


A pre-delivery inspection is the final checks made by a manufacturer or dealership before a caravan leaves its premises. These inspections should include hundreds of different checks, making sure the caravan leaves the facility in the best condition possible.

Pop top

See: Elevating roof.

Propane gas

Propane is a form of Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) that is bottled for caravanners. It’s an alternative to Butane and has a boiling point of -42°C, so can be used in the very coldest temperatures. It’s generally found in red gas bottles.


 A caravan enthusiasts' Rally
A caravan enthusiasts’ Rally

A caravanners meet-up or holiday, where a group of caravanners, say, from a club, all stay at the same campsite and have an agenda of events and activities.

Pic 29


A plastic storage box that attaches to rails on the roof of the car to provide extra storage on the move. Roofboxes are a valuable way to carry holiday equipment, as they keep weight out of the caravan for a better balance between car and caravan.


A window panel in the ceiling of the caravan, designed to let light flood in. Most can be opened to improve ventilation and incorporate black-out blinds and flyscreens.


SafeFill is a private company that supplies gas bottles designed to be self-filled at petrol forecourt LPG pumps. This gives access to much cheaper gas: on the forecourt, you typically pay around £1.20 per litre, whereas bottled gas costs upwards of £2 per litre.

Seasonal pitch

When you pay a campsite to leave your caravan on a pitch for an entire summer season, or some other agreed time.

Single-axle caravans

A single-axle caravan
A single-axle caravan

Tourers with two wheels, one on each side. These are easier to manoeuvre on site as you can turn them on the spot. They’re also cheaper to maintain and service. Also see: Twin-axle caravans.


A small number of caravans have sides that slide-out electronically, to create more space inside. Slide-outs are most popular in fifth-wheeler caravans and in the USA.


Snaking occurs when a caravan becomes unstable at speed and begins to oscillate from side to side in a sort of pendulum effect. Poor caravan loading and speeding, high winds or other vehicles can cause it overtaking, at speed and destabilising the van with their deflected wind.

AL-KO ATC is designed to correct uncontrollable snaking.

Stabiliser (AL-KO)

An AL-KO stabiliser
An AL-KO stabiliser, pushing down the handle clamps the towball tightly to minimise swaying

A hitch-head safety device which minimises unwanted movement of the caravan by controlling how easily the caravan hitch can pivot on the tow ball.


Thatcham is a security enterprise which tests and rates alarms, trackers, locks, and other security devices. Thatcham-approved devices are considered the best by many and can deliver insurance discounts if used.


The 50mm metal ball on the back of your tow car, which slots into the receiver-cup on the caravan’s hitch head and allows the van to pivot when it’s being towed. Towballs should be bare metal and not rusty or lubricated, especially if using a stabiliser as the friction pads can become contaminated.

Tow hitch

The ‘cup’ part of the caravan that clamps onto the tow car’s towball, creating a secure connection for towing. It’s also the point where you measure the caravan’s noseweight.

Tow matching

Online services which help you match your tow car to a suitable caravan. They compare kerbweights and MTPLMs to find suitable matches.

Island bed

An island bed
An island bed

An island bed is accessible from three sides with the ‘headboard end’ against either a side wall or end wall. When the bed comes off one of the caravan’s side walls, it’s known as a transverse island bed.

Twin-axle caravans

Twin-axle caravans are more stable than ‌single-axle tourers; and less likely to suffer from snaking. Twin-axle caravans are considered easier to reverse as their response to the car’s steering inputs is slower and more accurate.

Twin-axle caravans are more expensive to insure, maintain, and service than single-axle vans.

Tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS)

 A tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS)
A tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS)

These smart devices relay tyre-pressure information to the towcar instantly, allowing the driver to see the state of inflation of their caravan tyres, and if any have deflated or have lost some pressure.

Underfloor heating

Underfloor heating in caravans is growing increasingly popular, with systems made by Whale and by Truma. They’re considered to give a more even heating effect than blown-air heaters, and take up less space than Alde heating with its radiators.


This is the amount of kit, food, clothes, etc you can load into the van without exceeding the MTPLM weight. Subtracting the MIRO weight from the MTPLM can calculate it.

Typically, it’ll be 100-200kg. Adding appliances like motormovers, air conditioning units, and satellite dishes uses up your valuable ‌payload allowance.

VIN number

This unique 17-digit identification number is typically etched on windows, printed on a caravan’s registration documents, and die-stamped into the chassis. Avoid buying any caravan if it seems these have been tampered with.

See: CRiS.

Waste-water container

A portable water carrier that collects grey-waste water from the caravan for disposal at the CDP.

Water carrier

An Aquaroll water carrier
An Aquaroll water carrier

A container for transporting water from the site tap to your caravan. The best are barrel-shaped with a long handle, making them easy to roll along, even when full. See: Aquaroll

Water ingress

When water finds its way into the caravan structure through damaged or deteriorated seals, screw and bolt holes or panel joints. Once inside, it can cause untold damage, rotting absorbent materials, including wooden framing, and causing mould and mildew.


A Caravan weightplate
A Caravan weightplate

The weightplate is found next to the door on most caravans and displays all the key weights and other important information. You’ll find those crucial MTPLM and MIRO weights here.

Avoid buying if the weighplate is missing or has been tampered with.

Wet locker

A waterproofed storage area, usually isolated from the rest of the caravan, and accessible through an external locker door. They’re perfect for ‌storing wet, dirty, or muddy items.

Wheel lock

caravan wheel locks
A range of wheel locks from Fullstop

A lock that affixes securely to a caravan’s wheel, preventing it from being moved. Some wrap around the wheel and clamp in place, while others bolt through the wheel spokes into a receiver plate behind the wheel.

This type, like the AL-KO wheel lock, is considered the best and attracts the biggest insurance discounts.

The author John Sootheran

John Sootheran is a seasoned caravan and motorhome journalist who previously edited Caravan magazine, and now writes for Britain’s best-selling caravan magazine, Practical Caravan, along with Practical Motorhome and the Camping & Caravanning Club magazines. He also works with a number of major caravanning brands.


choosing a caravanThe ultimate guide to choosing the best touring caravan for you and your family

Ready to dive into the world of caravans and unlock the secret to finding your perfect match? Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sea of options out there, and not sure where to start? Hey, I get it! Choosing the right touring caravan can feel like navigating through a maze of possibilities. But fear not, because I’ve got your back!

Here are the Top 10 things to consider when choosing the ideal caravan to suit your needs.

They include: size, cost, berths, fixed or make-up beds, tow weights, layout, wear and tear, new or used, type of heating and whether you buy privately or from a dealer.

These are all crucial factors that will affect your choice…and that’s before you get onto the details, like bed length and the height of the microwave!

Choosing the best touring caravan for you, involves a mix of all these factors, and they are all interconnected – the layout affects the bed choice, which in turn affects the caravan length, which might have implications for storing the tourer – it’s just a case of deciding which elements are most important to you.

So, let’s get started…

choosing a caravan

Think about: your part-exchange or deposit, increasing interest rates, the type of finance

Ah, the $64,000 question – sometimes literally these days!!

How much you can afford to pay for your touring caravan may dictate whether the caravan you buy is new or used, large or small, and a luxury or budget model.
It’s easy to get carried away at a show or in a shiny showroom, so, set a total budget, or an affordable monthly provision, and stick to it. If the price sounds too good to be true, then step back before you make any rash decisions.

Your deposit or part-exchange caravan will affect the deal, as might the APR interest rate you’ll be charged for finance. If your finance deal is based on a variable rate, you should make sure you can afford increased monthly payments if the interest rate rises.

Negotiate hard, and be fair on the price, but don’t mess the dealership around, especially if you’re ordering at a show.

If you’re buying with finance, you can often flex the deal by altering the loan length or tweaking the monthly payments…just don’t get carried away – the longer the repayment period, the more interest you’ll pay in total.

Also, remember to factor in extra start-up costs like camping accessories, a gas bottle, a leisure battery, and you may also have to buy a bigger tow car!

For a full explanation, see our Caravan Financing Guide (coming soon).

choosing a caravan

2. Caravan Size: What Will Suit Your Needs?

Think about: Berths, Space, Width/Length, Axles, Weight, Where you store it

How big does your caravan need to be? Usually, this will be dictated by the number of beds you need, but it’s also affected by the amount of internal space you require‌ for kids or dogs. Typically, families go for four or more berths, while couples might select a two to four-berth van.

An extra-wide, eight-foot tourer offers immense space inside, but just check it’ll fit on your drive! I’ve towed various eight-footers and that extra few inches makes a much bigger difference inside than it does outside.

It could even be argued that the extra track width makes for a more stable tow. I certainly barely noticed the width when towing.

Of course, more beds usually means it’s a longer and heavier caravan, which can affect manoeuvring, towing and storage…and, possibly, the number of axles.
The largest caravans tend to have twin-axles, and because of this, they are‌ easier and more stable to tow. But of course you’ll have extra servicing costs, and possibly higher insurance, storage and pitch fees.

Click here for a full guide to caravan types (coming soon).
Click here for a guide to caravan layout options (coming soon).

Lighter is generally better, as lightweight tourers are easier and more fuel efficient to tow, plus they give you a greater choice of tow car. Here’s why…

choosing a caravan

3. Caravan towing weights: What Can Your Vehicle Tow?

Think about: Matching your tow car, fuel consumption, maths!

In recent years, the towing rules (especially around the B+E driving licence category requirement) have been relaxed. But there are still some sensible rules to follow.

The main one is that your loaded caravan shouldn’t weigh more than your towcar. In fact, the caravan clubs and the National Caravan Council have agreed on the 85% rule.
This states that novice caravanners who’ve recently passed their driving test in their first year or two of ownership should only tow a caravan that weighs no more than 85% of the towcar’s kerbweight.

choosing a caravan
Your caravan weight plate will help you make the right caravan choice

The caravan weight used in this calculation is the MTPLM (Maximum Technically-Permissible Laden Mass). You’ll find this on the small weightplate, usually located on the outside of the van, near to the door.

The MTPLM is the maximum weight the caravan can be when it’s fully loaded with all your possessions, food, water and gas bottle, etc.

Meanwhile, the car’s kerbweight can be found on a sticker in the door jamb, or in the manual.

Here’s an example (image to the right).

You want to buy a Bailey Phoenix+ 440 caravan with an MTPLM of 1347kg.

As a novice, that weight should be 85% or less of your towcar’s kerbweight, so your car must weigh 1585kg or more. Your Vauxhall Insignia Estate has a kerbweight of 1633kg, so you’re good to go. In fact, you could tow a caravan weighing up to 1388kg.

Tow car weight in kg x 0.85 must be higher than the caravan’s MTPLM.

Once you have gained some good towing experience, the Clubs say that you can increase that weight ratio to 100% – but never above.


choosing a caravan
Car dataplate info helps to match your towcar and caravan

Taking the same example, your towcar kerbweight only needs to be 1347kg to pull the Phoenix, a VW Polo for example.

Based on this information, if you buy a bigger caravan, you should factor in the possibility that you might have to buy a bigger towing vehicle, too.

For a full explanation, see our Ultimate Caravan Weights Guide (coming soon).

4. Caravan Layout: Which Layout Will Work Best for You?

Think about: Lounge style, bed options, fixed, or make-up beds, washroom position, privacy, dining, kitchen space

There are probably a dozen popular caravan layouts which are the really big sellers, though, from time to time, a manufacturer will experiment with a new arrangement.

The fact is, you can’t have everything, so you need to prioritise your requirements and be prepared to compromise on a few things that aren’t so important to you.

The biggest questions are:

  • Would you prefer a traditional lounge with parallel sofas and a cabinet, a wraparound U-shaped area, or something rarer, perhaps ‘L-shaped’?
  • Do you want fixed or make-up beds?
  • Do you need double beds, single and/or bunk beds?
  • How big a kitchen do you require? Do you need plenty of worktop space?choosing a caravan
  • What level of storage is needed?
  • Do you prefer a single washroom or separate shower and loo facilities?
  • What about a compact washroom with shower and loo spaces combined? These are fine as a back-up if you normally use the site facilities.
  • How much aisle space do you need? Where will the dog(s) sleep?
  • What about a separate lounge for the kids?
  • How about a separate diner space?
  • Privacy-wise, do you want the washroom to separate you from the front of the van (and the kids)?

Agree on your priorities and select a caravan accordingly, though you may find that your priorities change over time, once you’ve lived in a van.

Remember, adding a large porch awning or a full awning can transform your living, sleeping, storage and pet options.

For a full explanation, see our Ultimate Caravan Layout Guide (coming soon).



choosing a caravan

5. Caravan Storage: How Much Space Do You Need?

Think about: Space for storing clothing, provisions, accessories, hobby kit, and wet stuff

The amount of locker, drawer, wardrobe, and cupboard space you have in a caravan is crucial, and shouldn’t be overlooked or sacrificed, as I guarantee you’ll come to regret it.

A decent amount of hanging space is important, if you spend extended time away in your tourer and need more formal clothing from time to time. Consider the length of the clothes you’ll be hanging, too. Many caravan wardrobe spaces only have hanging-length for shirts, not longer dresses, or coats.

Outdoors and watersports fans may appreciate the inclusion of a wet-locker for storing wetsuits, sports equipment, or even sandy buckets and spades. Usually, these storage spaces have external access and feature a plastic liner.

Front gas lockers offer great storage potential, but several recent caravan ranges have done away with them. Where will you put your power cable, spare wheel and steady wrench, etc?

Fixed beds usually conceal lots of usable storage space underneath. The best designs offer spring-assist when you lift the bed base and mattress to access this space.

Just remember that storing heavy contents under beds that are positioned behind the axle(s) can enhance the pendulum effect when towing, which can be dangerous.

Move heavy contents, such as awnings, to the centre of the van, over the axle, when towing.

Click here to see our safe caravan loading feature (coming soon).

choosing a caravan

6. Caravan Features: What Do You Need and Want?

Think about: What standard and supplementary accessories and components you need on your caravan

There are many choices to make when it comes to features. Some are essential, like heating, while others are nice-to-haves like solar panels and auto-levelling.

Take heating, would you prefer Dometic or Truma blown-air heating, or does Alde’s ‘wet’ radiator system tickle your fancy? Blown-air is reckoned to be quicker to heat the caravan interior, but Alde heating does it more thoroughly and evenly. Or maybe you’d prefer underfloor heating?

And what about things like fridge and cooker/hob sizes? Is there a microwave and plenty of fridge/freezer space? What about extras like solar panels, air-conditioning, motormovers, satellite dishes and auto levelling.

Four-season touring fans, should also consider the level of floor and wall-panel insulation, for a warmer and cosier (and cheaper) winter-caravanning experience.

Some features (appliances and components) can help to extend your caravanning lifestyle, by taking the legwork and elbow grease out of caravanning. Read about them here (coming soon).

7. Caravan Condition: New or Used?

Think about: Would you be happier with a higher-spec used tourer for the same budget as a lower-spec new one?

Obviously you’ll get more for your money if you buy a pre-owned tourer, so explore both options.

Typically you might get a three or four-year old luxury, second hand caravan for the same price as a new mid-range one, and, given that many caravans are hardly used – especially following the Covid sales explosion – there are some absolute bargains out there.

If you really want a brand new caravan, but want to save a few bob, too, you could consider buying an end-of-year or previous-year’s model. These may have sitting on the forecourt for six months to a year, but have never been used, and they can be picked up with thousands knocked off the price.

That’s because dealerships need to clear space on the forecourt for the next-year’s models coming in, so will often take a hit on the price.

Dealerships generally sell new and used caravans, but you can see touring caravans for sale privately off the likes of Autotrader, Ebay or Facebook Marketplace.


choosing a caravan

8. Dealership or Private sale?

Think about: Are you willing to take the increased risk of buying privately to get more caravan for your money?

You can save a few quid by buying a used caravan from a private individual rather than a dealership, but, as the price drops, the risk of buying a problem caravan goes up, and, of course, there’ll be no warranty.

Privately-retailed caravans are sold as seen (Caveat Emptor, buyer beware – applies), and there could be any number of issues that are invisible to the naked eye. The biggest risk is water ingress, which could be in the structure, but not immediately noticeable.

Of course, buying ‌a model from a well-known caravan manufacturer from a reputable dealer, minimises these risks, as your caravan will have been serviced, PDI’d and will come with a warranty.

Also check if there is any outstanding finance on the caravan if you buy privately.

Again, the choice is yours, but only buying from a dealership gives total peace of mind…and what’s that worth.

choosing a caravan

9. Service history and warranties

Think about: How much can you deduce about the history of your potential purchase through all the paperwork supplied?

A used caravan that’s been properly prepared for sale will often look shiny and new, but may be hiding some serious issues beneath the surface, such as undeclared body repairs, signs of damage or signs of damp.

Minimise your chances of buying a dud, by carrying out the following checks:

  • Check the caravan owner is who they say they are by carrying out a Caravan Registration and Identification Scheme (CRiS) check. This check is quick and easy, with just a small fee payable, and it will confirm who the registered owner of the caravan is. You can check this by calling the CRiS desk at HPI on 01722 411430.
  • All legitimate caravans should have a CRiS registration document, and the vehicle’s 17-digit Vin number should either be etched into each window, or, since 2015, found on a tamper-evident VIN ( vehicle identification number) Chip sticker on windows and the gas locker. Scannable RFID chips are also hidden randomly inside the caravan. If the stickers have been removed, or the chassis number and window etching ground off, you should avoid the caravan at all costs.
  • Sensible caravan vendors will have kept the paperwork and log-book related to their tourer. You should take time to look through the service record and invoices to make sure the vehicle has been serviced at regular intervals, and that there are no signs of serious issues with the caravan, especially water ingress.
  • When buying from a dealership, make sure you are clear on what warranty is being offered. Reputable dealerships will be keen to put right any issues quickly and efficiently, and I recommend spending a night or two close to the dealership, so any small issues you discover can quickly be sorted out.

choosing a caravan

10. Condition – Has the caravan been cared for?

Think about: Investigating the tell-tale signs that indicate how well your caravan has been cared for

In general, you’ll be able to tell whether a tourer has been looked after. As well as a full service book, some other indicators include:

  • Did the original owner care enough to invest in Paint Protection from Paintseal or DiamondBrite?
  • What age are the tyres (see the four-digit number on the tyre wall, for example ‘1020’ means the tyres were made in week 10 of 2020). Tyres over five years old should be changed, and, if they’re three or four years old, you may want to try to negotiate a discount.
  • Likewise, the orange or black 8mm gas pipe from the gas bottle is standardised (EN16436) and date-stamped in a similar fashion. Typically, gas pipes should be replaced after five years, unless they are made by Truma or GOK, in which case it’s 10 years. If any pipe is cracked or brittle, it should be replaced immediately.
  • A well-looked after and PDI’d tourer should have signs of lubrication and/or grease on the moving parts of the A-frame and corner steadies.
  • Are the (alloy) wheels scraped and damaged?
  • How is the upholstery foam fairing? If it’s sunken, it may need replacing sooner than you think.
  • Are there signs of wear or damage on the interior ‘woodwork’, particularly the exposed edges.
  • What condition is the kitchen sink in? Are there signs of wear from scrubbing? Also check the hob surface, burner caps and pan trivets for signs of heat damage/wear. Many caravan kitchens are barely used.

choosing a caravan

Embrace Your Caravan Adventure

As you can see, choosing the right caravan for you, will often involve some compromises, and only you can make those decisions. It’s also quite normal for caravanners to evolve the layouts they select over the first few years of ownership, as they realise which criteria are most important to them.

That’s why many caravanners start off buying a used tourer, while they discover what layout, size and weight, etc suits them best. It can make swapping the caravan easier and cheaper.

Brandwise, you can choose from the top British manufacturers like Bailey, Coachman and Elddis; major foreign brands like Adria, Knaus and Hymer; or one of the smaller manufacturers. There are also lots of used vans on the market from defunct manufacturers like Lunar and Abbey.

Simply take your time to find the right combination of factors to suit your needs, and then visit a top dealer like Raymond James Caravans to check them out and create a shortlist. The experienced staff at high-quality dealerships will make buying a caravan that’s right for you easier.


The author John Sootheran

John Sootheran is a seasoned caravan and motorhome journalist who previously edited Caravan magazine, and now writes for Britain’s best-selling caravan magazine, Practical Caravan, along with Practical Motorhome and the Camping & Caravanning Club magazines. He also works with a number of major caravanning brands.

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