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.
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
Correct tyre pressure
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
Check your lights and indicators
Check that there’s no damage to your vehicle road lights or indicators, and that they’re all working correctly.
A breakaway cable is designed to engage the brakes of a caravan should it become detached from the tow vehicle.
It is a legal requirement for all caravans with brakes to be fitted with a breakaway cable.
There are two types of breakaway cable clips available:
- The spring clip, which must be attached to itself in a loop and never directly to the tow bar structure.
- The carabiner-style clip, designed for direct attachment to a designated point.
If there is no designated attachment point on the tow bar, the cable can be looped around the tow ball neck.
When fitting the breakaway cable, make sure there is enough slack in the cable so that it doesn’t pull on the brakes when turning.
Each time before towing your caravan, check the breakaway cable to ensure:
- the cable is not frayed, worn or damaged in any way
- there’s enough slack in the cable so that it does not accidentally apply the car brakes
- the cable will not drag on the ground when you’re driving
It is important to ensure that your caravan is properly loaded, so that it doesn’t negatively affect your towing performance.
Furthermore, overloading your caravan can be dangerous so make sure that you are not exceeding the recommended payload for your caravan - the MTPLM (maximum technically permissible loaded mass).
Caravan maximum load weight
It is recommended that the weight of your loaded caravan does not exceed 85% of your car's kerb weight.
Some car manufacturers advise a MTPLM that is lower than 85% of your car kerbs weight, as being the maximum your car can pull safely. If your car’s recommended maximum towing weight is lower than 85%, you should not exceed this as your upper limit for your loaded caravan’s weight.
To check your caravan does not exceed the recommended maximum weight, use a public weighbridge or a commercial weighing plate.
Ensure caravan is properly loaded
How you load items into your caravan is also important:
Store heavy items over the axles
When loading your caravan, heavier items should be placed over the axis, with lighter items being placed up and around this.
Weight distributions of your load should be spread evenly across either side of the caravan.
This should make the caravan more stable when braking or taking corners.
It's a very bad idea to store heavy items in overhead lockers and cupboards since they could fall during transit.
If you can, place heavier items in the car, and lighter (and larger) items in the caravan.
Check load is secure
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
You should fit suitable towing mirrors if your caravan is wider than the rear of your car.
There is a legal requirement for you to have mirrors that allow you to see clearly an area that is 4 metres wide from the side of your caravan at a distance 20 metres behind the driver.
You can be fined up to £1,000 and get 3 penalty points for towing without proper towing mirrors.
When on the road, bear in mind the following caravanning safety considerations:
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
Taking a wide line on corners 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 investing in a reversing camera to assist you with reversing when hitched up.
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.