The humble caravan is well-loved in Britain - and for good reason. Cheaper than a hotel and more comfortable than a tent, the caravan lets you get off the beaten track and enjoy countryside and coast with complete independence.
Taking a caravan holiday might seem as simple as hooking up your caravan to your car, and heading for the hills. But it's important to ensure your caravan is in good working order before you set off - especially if you haven’t used it for a while.
You should also ensure you have sufficient breakdown cover - whether you're travelling in the UK or mainland Europe.
Checking tyre condition
Take some time to scrutinise your tyres and ensure they have the minimum 1.6mm tread depth. But unless your caravan has been used for many years on the same tyres, it is unlikely the tread depth will be worn. According to the Caravan Club, UK caravans have an average mileage of around 2,000 miles per annum.
However, old tyres should be replaced; once every five years, according to the British Tyre Manufacturers’ Association. However, you may find your caravan's tyres will last longer than this, particularly if they are only seldom used.
Look out for:
- Grit and debris lodged in the tyre treads
- Perished rubber
Ensure tyres are pumped to the PSI recommended by the manufacturer. This figure should be in the handbook, or alternatively available online. Note that caravans do not possess the elaborate suspension systems found on cars - they must do "more work" and so must be pumped to the optimum pressure.
Ensure caravan is properly loaded
It's a very bad idea to store heavy items in overhead lockers and cupboards since they could fall during transit.
Store heavy items over the axles
This should make the caravan more stable when braking or taking corners. If you can, place heavier items in the car, and lighter (and larger) items in the caravan.
Having first set off, it's a good idea to stop after a short period to check everything in your caravan is secure.
Invest in wing mirror extensions
While not legally required, these can help you get a much better view of the traffic behind you.
Braking distances are longer
Due to the extra mass behind you, it will take longer to stop. Be aware of this and give yourself plenty of time to stop at junctions etc.
Take a wide line on corners
This will reduce the chances of hitting the kerb.
Reversing into a parking space
To start turning, turn the steering wheel in the opposite way to the way you would normally, then turn the wheel the normal way, so the car can move in the same direction as the caravan.
Too much oversteer could result in a jack-knife. If you oversteer and you think you might not make the manoeuvre, brake, move forward and make another attempt.
Consider fitting stabilisers
Stabilisers help prevent your caravan from "snaking" - and from being generally unstable.
What is “snaking”?
This is when the caravan axles become out of sync with those of the towing car. If it isn't addressed, the caravan can start snaking from side to side, and control can be lost. To prevent this, maintain a straight line. Conversely, using counter-steer to eliminate snaking could make the situation much worse.
If your caravan starts to "snake":
- Move down a gear
- Take both feet off the pedals
If it happens on a downhill, move down a gear and brake very gently.
Note that hard braking may result in a jack-knife situation while accelerating could easily lead to a high-speed accident.