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How to avoid buying a stolen caravan

 It’s every caravan buyer’s worst nightmare. You think you’ve got the bargain buy of the year, and you're just about to take your new pride and joy out on the road when disaster strikes. You realise that your beautiful new caravan is in fact somebody else’s beautiful caravan…it’s been stolen.

Over £45 million caravans and motorhomes are stolen each year and many end up on the second hand market where innocent people run the risk of buying them in good faith.

When this happens, the buyer often ends up losing both the caravan and the money they paid for it. If the original owners put in an insurance claim for their stolen property, which most do, the ownership automatically transfers to the insurance company who might offer the duped buyer the opportunity to buy it (again) at the trade price. If they choose not to do this then the insurance company will reclaim it. The duped buyer will be very lucky indeed to get their money back from the seller, and if they should hope for the best and attempt to sell it on, they could then be arrested and charged with handling stolen goods.

The fact is, while buyers need to be aware that stolen caravans are out there – just as there are plenty of stolen cars on the second hand car market – there are steps they can take to avoid becoming the unwitting owner of one.

My new caravan's a bargain - but is it a steal?

The first thing is to bear in mind the old adage that if something is too good to be true then it probably is. Never leave your common sense at home when you go to look at a private sale – this is one instance when it really pays to be over cautious. Adopt the ‘buyer beware’ mindset; ask to see proof of purchase and ownership, ask which dealership sold or serviced the caravan and give them a call to verify the information, don’t be afraid to ask questions and to keep asking if you don’t feel you are getting a detailed enough response, don’t ever feel pressured into buying something you don’t feel 100% sure about and don’t fall for a sob story – thieves are very good liars and will tell you anything to get you to reach for your wallet.

As well as relying on your instinct, you can rely on the Central Registration Identification Scheme (CRiS) - your best friend when it comes to making sure that all is above board. CRiS is the official national database of touring caravans and is the only database that contains details of caravan keepers as well as identities of the caravan itself.

CRiS is run by the National Caravan Council and was established in 1992. It lists every caravan manufactured since this date and older caravans registered by their owners under the CRiS ‘Pre-92’ facility. Caravans are assigned a unique 17 digit ID code, a VIN number, will usually starts with the letters SGA and is stamped onto the caravan’s chassis and etched onto the bottom right hand corner of its windows. Caravans manufactured since 1996 are fitted with an electronic tag that contains the same VIN number. If it looks like something’s been scratched away from these areas, or the number has been tampered with, walk away from the purchase and don’t look back.

Before parting with any money make a note of the VIN number and contact CRiS on 01722 411 430 with the full code. They’ll run a full check on the vehicle and will be able to tell you if its been stolen, whether any insurance claims have been made on it and whether there’s any finance still outstanding on the vehicle. They’ll charge you approx. £15 for this service but it could be the best money you have ever spent. Most caravan insurance companies now require a valid CRiS number before they will provide cover. If you’re happy with this report and decide to go ahead with the purchase, ask for a written receipt including your full name and address, the seller’s full name and address, the make and model, the VIN number, as well as the date and price. Both you and the seller should sign this.

Finally, make sure you get a copy of the caravan’s original registration document as an extra guarantee. Remember, the vast majority of sellers are honest and decent people, just like you, so they won’t be offended if you follow take precautions. A caravan can be one of the most important investments you’ll ever make and it does no harm to exercise a little caution.

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