They hark back to a time when holidaying was done at a different pace, but sometimes the retro beauty of a caravan is only skin deep, according to Otatara businessman David Horsham.
Mr Horsham, who runs DH Caravan Repairs Ltd, said as the holiday season wound down it was the perfect time to check the bones of caravans.
"By the time you see any sign of a leak, it's too late."
Most of his six-year-old business is removing the outer shell of caravans to expose the often rotten wooden frame underneath.
It was a common problem people were not aware of, Mr Horsham said.
Most mass production of caravans stopped in New Zealand in the early 1980s, meaning maintenance, particularly of the joins in a caravan's shell that potentially leak, was becoming increasingly important.
The only way effectively to ensure the joints were watertight was to remove and reseal them, he said.
"It's about preventive maintenance ... we had one caravan brought in that had broken at each corner after hitting a pothole. The frame had rotted and the impact broke its back."
The work cost up to $1000 to fix a rotted-out corner but, in some cases, the extent of the hidden rot meant a complete rebuild, Mr Horsham said.
And it was at the rebuild and custom-build stage that his business came into its own, he said.
"We pride ourselves on doing things that are a bit outside the square."
That included projects, such as building a replica classic "teardrop" caravan, through to complete restoration.
Teardrop caravans first appeared in the 1930s. Their popularity soared in the late 1940s, fuelled by plenty of war surplus aluminum.
At the restoration stage, most work involved stripping a caravan back to parts because of the way they were built, Mr Horsham said.
"If you liken it to a house, a caravan is built back-to-front."
That meant much of the interior including floor coverings was fitted before the outer shell of the caravan, he said.
One of his latest projects was restoring a 1961 Starliner from the ground up, keeping as much of its original chrome and Formica interior fittings intact as possible.
Mr Horsham said word of mouth meant his customers came from across New Zealand and internationally.
"Mine and my father's name is pretty well known."
His father operated a similar business from Ryal Bush for 25 years, before retiring 11 years ago, he said.
"That was pretty much my apprenticeship. Every time I went home at the weekend it was 'hey lad you've come at the right time'," he said.
- The Southland Times