The true cost of “van life” – Part 1: Driving home

Okay okay, I own a caravan and not a hip converted van so I don’t know if I’m allowed to use the phrase “van life”. But the principle is the same and there is a lot of content within this post series which will apply to true van-lifers, caravaners and campers alike.

Since picking up our caravan in early May, we have spent hundreds of pounds on things that I don’t feel like are publicised enough. I grew up with caravan holidays so I did have a vague understanding of the costs involved – but as camping and staycations are growing in popularity this summer – I wouldn’t want others to jump into the adventure without being fully informed regarding the costs!

This is the 1st in 5 posts that plan to write:

  1. Driving home
  2. The operational essentials
  3. The non-operational essentials
  4. The nice-to-haves
  5. Guide to choosing a pitch

Driving home

So you’ve found your new pride and joy – and you’re excited to pick it up! Caravan insurance isn’t required by law, but it’s certainly not something I would be driving around without. We purchased ours from the Caravan and Motorhome Club for about £450 for 12 months cover. On the other hand, if you’re considering a van you will need to be insured, taxed and make sure your MOT is valid.

Insurance is likely to require you to have certain security measures in place, such as a wheel clamp & hitch lock. You can pick both of these up on Amazon for approximately £30 and £15 respectively.

There seems to be a myth within the UK that those “new” driving licenses (after 2013) cannot tow a caravan. The website states “a full car license already lets you tow trailers weighing no more than 750kg. You can also tow heavier trailers with a car as long as the total weight of vehicle and trailer isn’t more than 3,500kg”. Without getting into too much detail, the restrictions only begin when the trailer plus car weigh more than 3,500kg.

If you like to check what your license allows you to tow, you can check here.You can work out the weight of the car plus trailer by adding the specified gross weights together. Although you may know your car and caravan are lighter than their specified gross weight – i.e. you’re travelling as two people instead of a full car – the max weight is what is used to determine the license requirements.

So you’ve checked that you’re legally allowed to tow the caravan, now you’ll need to check that your car is up to the task. The easiest way of doing this is checking the VIN plate in your car which will look a little like the photos below. The first number is the gross vehicle weight, and the second is the gross train weight. Therefore, to know the maximum size of what you can tow – take the first number away from the second.

Otherwise, a common guideline is to not exceed 85% of the “kerb weight” of the vehicle.

Put simply, there are two types of tow bars – swan neck & flange. From conversation, I understand that swan neck tow bars are preferable because they are less likely to confuse your reversing sensors & you can get removeable ones. My car is with Renault Finance, and they said we could install a tow bar but would be expected to remove the tow bar if we returned the car to them. We had a detachable swan neck tow bar installed at a local garage for £450. You’ll also be asked what electric hook up you require – 13 pin or 7 pin. Most modern caravans will have a 13-pin connection, but it’s something worth checking before having your tow bar installed/ buying your caravan.

There are also some smaller things you’ll need for your car: extended wing mirrors, a breakaway cable & a rear registration plate that corresponds with your vehicle. We spent £30 on these items combined, but after driving around a few times, we’ve realised the need to buy more expensive wing mirrors (the £12 twin pack from Halfords is okay, but they vibrate and awful lot and are difficult to adjust).

And that’s it, you’re ready to drive off! If you’ve never hooked a caravan up to a car before, this video is definitely worth a watch… it saved us a lot of embarrassment!

Lastly, you’ll have to consider storage for your new baby. You can’t park a caravan on the roadside and unfortunately some neighbourhoods ban caravans in driveways. If you do not have adequate parking, you can pay a local camp site to store your caravan long-term, or some storage facilities have spaces for caravans. Upon browsing in our area (Buckinghamshire), we would have been looking at £400-500 for the year.

If your caravan is going to sit for a while, it’s a good idea to get a caravan cover to protect from tree sap, bird poop and from the elements in general. We picked up a grey Quest cover in the Millets sale for £86.

So, there we have it – your caravan/trailer/van is in it’s new permanent residences, waiting for it’s first trip. You might be beginning to understand my point about there being a lot to pay for – just getting it the this point could have cost up to £1,561 if you add together everything I have mentioned in this post.

Up next: Part 2 – the operational essentials!

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2 thoughts on “The true cost of “van life” – Part 1: Driving home

  1. Most people tend to stick to motorhomes for making road trips and having more adventurous holidays, but that needn’t always be the case. Some manufacturers are now creating smaller adventure caravans that are ideal for towing all across the country so you can explore. Of course, the bonus of a caravan is you can pitch up and then explore for the day in your car before heading back to camp for the evening.


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