Home   Caravan purchasing basics - The correct layout
This set of articles will delve into the murky world of caravan layouts, but more importantly, how to pick the right one for you and your situation and how not to waste time and money on the wrong one.

Part 1

Why is getting the right layout important?

 When a customer has the right layout that works for them going caravanning will be a joy and something to look forward to. Buying a caravan is a significant investment so picking the correct one is very important.
On a number of occasions I have had people at the dealership who have for what ever reason, purchased the wrong layout so the pleasure of caravanning has been eclipsed by being uncomfortable. When this happens time and money has to be spent on rectifying the issue, normally resulting in a change of caravan.

 If we can avoid this by matching the customer to the correct layout, the experience of caravanning can be fully enjoyed.   

Why are there different layouts?

The simple answer to this is because we are all different, and we all want different things. If we took this to its logical conclusion there would be about twenty two thousand different caravan layouts produced each year as this is the average number of new caravan sold annually over the past decade or so. Because each person has their own thoughts of the 'perfect' caravan layout, and if the manufactures could afford to do it, we would end up with no two caravans looking the same and a mind boggling amount of choice. A bed here, a bed there, a bed coming down from the ceiling, a twenty foot washroom with no kitchen because "I don't go away to cook." 

 Luckily, one, the manufacturers couldn't do it, and two, (I cant believe I'm saying this) we are a fairly reasonable breed of people and except we may have to make some compromise when picking a caravan layout. 

 The other thing that helps this situation is the we like to form groups, I have worked out that there are broadly speaking, give or take, around eight different groups of people that caravan, each with a layout that suits that particular way of caravanning. (You can find out which one you are later). So there is a need for variation, we need different layout combinations to accommodate the different ways we use our caravans.

How many layouts are there?

 If we take Swift's current range, there are thirteen different layouts across the different model ranges. That's not to say that's all the available layouts in this years crop of caravans you will see. Other manufactures will keep hold of older, less popular layouts, and may come up with the next best thing that gets copied by everyone else next year. So let's say that there could be a range from thirteen, to twenty five different layouts of new caravans to choose from in any given year.
 If you take into account all the variations on these layouts over the years and all the ones that have their time and faded away from popular use, and all the one off experiments, there would be hundreds, if not thousands of different caravan layouts to choose from, but all the variations are broadly based around core criteria. 

So, how do I choose my ideal caravan layout?

 The probability of your perfect caravan layout being out there somewhere is quite high, equally, the probability of finding that particular caravan layout, it being of the right age, in the condition and at the price range you require, is quite low. You need to narrow it down a bit. Having a precise set of criteria fixed in your mind that is non negotiable will hinder this process, so a broad set of criteria is the way forward. 

 Having attended both major shows held each year in various locations for the past thirteen years, I have seen my fair share of people walk into the NEC on the first Tuesday looking to purchase their first caravan, only to be confronted with a bewildering array of choice. A look of panic sets in and they can easily fall into the trap of buying the wrong product because, more often than not, the sales person at the show isn't bothered if the product is right for the customer or not. (Obviously this doesn't apply to any of the people I work with!)  
 Using the broad criteria method mentioned above it is easy to narrow down the amount of caravan you need to look at, reducing the time wasted looking at products you don't want. This is the normally the way the process goes.

Size:

The general size of the caravan is normally the first thing that a customer will pin down. The two main categories are;
  1. Single axle: This is a caravan with one axle and generally ranges from 1100Kgs for a smaller two berth to 1600Kgs for a larger four or six berth.
  2. Twin axle: This is a caravan with two axles and generally ranges from 1650 Kgs to 2000+Kgs
 The main consideration for the size of the caravan available to a customer is the type of tow vehicle they have. (This is a whole other subject, the details of which are to follow.) Other considerations are storage and the process of towing itself. Some people opt for a smaller caravan as it is easier to tow and manoeuvre, however with a motor mover fitted the manoeuvrability of a caravan isn't such an issue.

Beds:

 The next decision normally made before the buying process starts is whether to have a fixed bed or not.
This is a personal choice and there are plus and minuses for both which I will go into later. Recently the trend for fixed beds has grown so I would say that ninety percent of caravan layouts now incorporate a fixed bed in some form. The main fixed bed types are:
  1. Island beds: This is a fixed bed that can be walked around on both sides.
  2. Single beds: These are a set of single beds normally parallel to each other.
  3. Side beds: These are beds that are against the side wall of the caravan.
  4. Bunk beds: These are designed for children and family layouts.
Non fixed beds come down to two main layouts, so if you don't require a fixed bed, the choice of caravans layouts is greatly reduced making the process a little easier. 

Washroom:

This is the third criteria that is normally set before the buying begins. Again it is a personal choice that will narrow down the potential layouts available. Most caravan layouts will incorporate a shower cubical in some form. But customers have quite set views as to whether they require a 'full' washroom or not. 

TV:

Believe it or not, this is a factor that can make or break a caravan layout. It is normally a sub factor that rules a particular caravan out once the above criteria have been met to the customers satisfaction. I have however had it as the criteria for buying a caravan. 

So, how do I choose then?

Well, that's down to you, but I suggest that before you set foot on a dealers forecourt, or visit a show and you are intending to buy, ask yourself what your main criteria are. Is a fixed bed a must? What can your tow vehicle pull? Do you want a washroom? Then put these things into order of importance, then at least you have a point at which you can start looking. There is no point looking at a large twin axle fixed bed caravan if you tow with a Mini, (if you tow with a mini, good luck by the way.) 

Next time.

I will go a little deeper into which layouts suit which situations, and look into some of the advantages and disadvantages of different layout attributes.