|The braking system on British caravans is rod-and-cable
actuated. The system also incorporates an over-run mechanism
connected to the coupling head, which in turn is mounted
on a sliding shaft connected to a hydraulic damper. Every
time that the caravan tries to catch up with the tow vehicle
– during downhill travel, for example, or when tow
vehicle’s brakes are applied – the rear of the
shaft pushes against a lever which in turn actuates the
braking system. The braking system also incorporates a mechanism
to deactivate the brakes during reversing.
|By law all caravans must have a breakaway cable to apply
the brakes if the caravan becomes uncoupled from its tow
vehicle while on the move. After the brakes have been applied,
the cable is then designed to break, allowing the caravan
to come to a halt away from the tow vehicle. The cable must
follow as straight a line as possible to be correctly connected
to the tow vehicle. It should pass through a purpose-designed
anchor point on the towbar and then be looped back and clipped
to itself. If there is no suitable anchor point on the towbar,
there is nothing in law to prevent it being looped once
round the towball before being clipped back on itself.
The 12V DC circuits in the van are controlled by the
same types of fuse found in cars – tubular glass
and blade. The blade type are usually housed in a fuse
block found under one of the seats, or as part of the
12V control panel and are coloured according to their
rating: mauve 3, brown 5, red 10, blue 15, yellow 20 and
green 30 amps. The glass type are more likely to be found
controlling individual items of equipment, their rating
being written on a label inside the glass. It pays to
know where all the fuses are fitted and to carry spares.
One common cause of fuses failing is overloading the circuit,
and another is as a result of a short circuit. If the
replacement fuse fails instantly, do not use the circuit
until the fault has been traced and rectified by a competent
Caravans must have flashing indicators fitted at the back.
A buzzer or other means of alerting the driver must be
installed to highlight the failure of any of these indicators.
Caravans must have two rear lights conforming to certain
size requirements and bearing the appropriate CE mark.
Marker lights must be fitted 'as high as practicable'
on the side or at the front and rear of caravans over
The Law says that it is
an offence to drive with less than 1.6mm of tread across
the majority of the tread area. Caravan, motor caravan
and trailer tyres don't wear quickly - unless there is
major damage to the chassis.
In some European countries the minimum tread
depth is 2mm, and it is expected that British Law will
be changed to this safer level some time in the near future.
The Law says it is an offence to drive with
a tyre pierced by a nail or other object, even if the
tyre isn't leaking. Some tyre sealant manufacturers have
tried to argue this isn't so. Tyres pierced by nails are
the same as studded rally tyres and they are illegal in
The Law says it is an offence to drive with
damaged tyres, and grazed sidewalls could be a sign that
there is internal tyre damage. There is a suspicion that
a high percentage of caravan tyre failures start with
Most insurance policies include a clause
requiring the insured to maintain his vehicle - and that
would include the caravan or a camping trailer - in a
safe and roadworthy condition. If an accident is caused
by a tyre fault that should have been spotted during routine
maintenance the insurer has the right to refuse to honour
First things first. If your insurance policy isn't explained
in plain English then don't sign it. It's up to the insurance
company to make sure that they explain themselves properly,
it's not your job to wade through paragraphs of complex
clauses and exceptions. Don't be afraid to ask questions
and require answers in writing, if they aren't prepared
to write it down then it can't be relied on ('a verbal
agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on').
Here are some things that you might come
across in the policies you look at:
New for Old
The company agrees to give you the current market value
of a new version of your caravan so that you can replace
it. Note that this may be less than the sum you have the
caravan insured for. The key point here is the replacement
of your caravan.
Accidental Damage, Storm and Flood
This is often missed out of basic policies, don't assume
that your caravan is covered and if not take extra care
when at risk.
Age of Caravan
Cost often rises for older caravans. If your caravan is
over 20 years of age expect to pay a little more with
some insurance companies.
Fire and Theft
This is pretty much what you'd expect but make sure that
you take appropriate fire precautions and that your caravan
has acceptable levels of security (click here for more
on caravan security). Be sure to check your policy for
You will probably be set specific limits in the length
of each trip and the total number of days per year you
and your caravan spends in Europe. Be careful not to exceed
these limits as it may invalidate your policy. If your
limit is 90 consecutive days then don't plan a trip that
lasts 89 days, you may be facing a string of lorries behind
a militant French tractor with your policy limits running
Usually only available on comprehensive cover this is
most likely to be linked with caravan related accidents.
Review the policy carefully and make sure you have alternative
cover if necessary.
Hotel Accommodation and Replacement
Again usually limited to comprehensive covers. Make sure
that the amount allowed will actually get you suitable
accommodation or replacement in the country that you are
Recovery and Delivery Costs
Another place to do calculations. If a limit is set make
sure that sufficient funds are available.
If only one of your group can drive you need to think
about how to get home yourself and how to get your car
and caravan home if the driver is incapacitated. Will
your cover match the costs?
You can hurt other people and damage property when using
your car and caravan. The sums insured sound massive (usually
between £1million and £2 million) but are
set that high for very good reasons. If you were responsible
for a permanent injury to someone that required their
receiving medical care for the rest of their lives £1million
suddenly doesn't seem quite that much.
Basic covers usually cover both you and your partner,
The level of excess on a policy has a large effect on
your premiums for good reason. Most accidents will be
relatively minor and have a low cost attached. Insurance
companies save a small fortune by persuading you not to
claim for the first £50 to £200. For you it's
a balancing act, how much are you prepared to pay towards
repairing your caravan after an accident yourself and
how much do you want to pay each month.
Free Legal Helpline
This sound impressive but can, in reality, be rather disappointing.
Make sure you know what you are actually entitled to here.
Does the legal advice include European Law? Can you be
given examples of incidents and consequent advice?
Exclusions - Exclusions - Exclusions
This one needs repeating!!! This is where a small disaster
can lie waiting for you. You must read these thoroughly
and if any seem a little fuzzy ask for clarification (in
writing). For example 'Any liability that arises only
because of an agreement.' Even we aren't sure what that
Today, all caravans use 12 volts direct current –
DC. Additionally, over the past 20 years or so, 230 volts
alternating current – AC – electricity has
become standard. The 12V supply comes from the leisure
battery and is used to power such items as the lights,
water pump, 12V sockets, TV aerial booster and caravan
mover if fitted. Theoretically, you can power the 12V
equipment using the mains, which is then distributed via
the battery charger, but it’s possible that some
items may become damaged if powered in this way. The mains
is used to power the battery charger, mains lights, fridge,
gas/electric water heater, the heating elements in blown-air
heating systems and any mains appliances. However, parks
and sites often limit the amperage, so it is likely that
you will only be able to use a certain number of mains
appliances at any one time.
|Caravan Law, Caravan Safety,
Caravan Tyres , All caravan information
Caravan Covers by Kampa
Motorhome Covers by Purpleline
a look here for your outfit Caravan
and Car Matcher
A full (not provisional) driving licence is required to
tow a caravan. From 1 January 1997, new category B (generally
held as 'normal' car entitlement) vehicles may be coupled
with a trailer up to 750kg Maximum Authorised Mass allowing
a combined weight of up to 4.25 tonnes MAM OR a trailer
(for example a tourer) over 750kg MAM provided the MAM
of the trailer does not exceed the unladen weight of the
towing vehicle, and the combination does not exceed 3.5
tonnes MAM. This would mean that many drivers who possess
only a category B on their licence would be able to tow
a caravan provided it was not heavier than their car,
and that car and caravan combined, does not weigh more
than 3.5 tonnes.
New drivers of outfits over these limits must take a category
B + E test.
Further information from: Driver and Vehicle Licencing
Towed outfits may travel at up to 50 mph on single
carriageway roads and up to 60 mph on dual carriageways
and motorways. Towed outfits are not permitted in
the outside lane of a three or more lane motorway
unless other lanes are closed.
If you are new to caravanning, here are some basic
tips from our experts to help get you started
How to correctly match a towcar to your caravan
For an ideal towing balance, your caravan's MTPLM (maximum
technically permissible laden mass) should ideally equate
to 85% of your towcar's car's kerbweight, as in the simple
example below. Experienced caravanners may be able to
exceed these guidelines slightly, especially if they load
their caravan well short of the maximum (MTPLM) figure.
However, for safe towing, the loaded caravan should never
be heavier than the towcar.
How much is 85%?
Here's how you can work out 85% of your car's kerbweight
* Car's kerbweight ÷ 100 = 1% of the car's kerbweight
* 1% of car's kerbweight x 85 = 85% of car's kerbweight
For example, if your car weighs 1300kg: 1% of the kerbweight
is 13kg which, when multiplied by 85, gives an 85% kerb-weight
of 1105kg. So your loaded caravan should ideally weigh
1105kg or less.
- Some manufacturers will state a maximum towing figure
less than 85% of the car's kerbweight, so always check
in the handbook.
- In some cases manufacturers will zero rate their cars
for towing, meaning that you can't tow a caravan of any
weight. Again, check your handbook.
In the UK, the Construction and Use Regulations 1986 define
kerbweight as the weight of the towcar with a full fuel
tank, liquids (lubricants, oils and water) adequate for
normal operation, plus its standard set of tools and equipment,
but not the weight of the driver, other occupants or load.
The EU Directive 95/48/EC defines kerbweight as the vehicle’s
weight when it leaves the maker with its fuel tank 90
percent full, all necessary fluids for normal operation,
nominal driver weight of 68kg and 7kg of luggage. Both
definitions are legally acceptable, but to be on the safe
side you might want to stick to the UK definition.
A caravan’s noseweight is the weight that it applies
to the towball. The maximum noseweight must not be exceeded.
This tends to range from 50-100kg but you should really
work to either the caravan chassis or tow vehicle manufacturer’s
figure – whichever is less. Generally speaking,
the heavier the noseweight the better the caravan will
tow. But finding the right noseweight for optimum towing
performance is a matter of trial and error. One way of
calculating noseweight is to take seven percent of the
MTPLM, or you could alternatively use a noseweight gauge.
Short for gross train weight or maximum train weight,
this is the maximum weight that a car can tow (its own
weight plus any weight of the van) on the road, as stated
by the manufacturer.
The user payload is the weight that you may add to your
caravan before it exceeds its maximum technically permissible
laden mass – in other words the amount of luggage
and other items you can load it with. It is found by subtracting
the mass in running order (MiRO) – the caravan’s
unladen mass – from its MTPLM.
The way the caravan and car are loaded can affect the
handling of the outfit. Heavy loads should be placed over,
or immediately in front of, the axle. The load can also
be balanced by placing equivalent loads immediately behind
the axle. Medium-weight items should be placed towards
the front of the van, under seats and in floor cupboards.
Only light items should be placed in the roof lockers.
Medium and heavy items should never be placed at the rear
of the van, since they can cause instability. For the
same reason, make sure that water and toilet tanks are
empty before towing. Remember, too, that the caravan’s
noseweight, as stated by the manufacturer (or by the towcar
manual – whichever is less), must not be exceeded.
If the caravan is loaded correctly, with light items stored
in the roof lockers, medium items placed in the floor
cupboards and under the seats, and heavy items lying over
the axle, and it is towed by a well-matched tow vehicle,
instability is unlikely to happen. However, such things
as a badly-matched outfit, incorrect tyre pressures and
travelling too fast – especially downhill –
can cause instability and even a dangerous ‘snake’
where the caravan swings in a pendulum motion.
SAFE WEIGHT RATIOS
For stable and safe towing we would always recommend that
you choose the smallest and lightest possible caravan
suitable for your intended use. The less the laden weight
of the caravan is in relation to the weight of the towing
vehicle, the safer and more stable the outfit will be.
The Caravan Club, for example, advises that you should
aim for a towed load that is no more than 85% of the car's
kerb weight for stability and safety. The CC advice is
NEVER to tow above 100% of the car's kerbside weight.
N.B. The car manufacturer's specified maximum permissible
towload is always the absolute towing limit regardless
of any 85% or 100% weight ratio guideline. This is especially
important in those cases where the manufacturer's figure
is particularly low - in a few cases even below 85%.
Caravans made before 2004 were supplied without a
gas regulator. Two types are available, one suitable for
butane LPG, the other for propane LPG. The butane regulator
is set for a gas pressure of 28m bar, while the propane
one operates at 37m bar. The regulators are also been
designed so that they are not interchangeable. However,
all the gas appliances in the caravan are suitable for
use with both butane and propane without alteration.
From ’04 on, butane and propane supplied throughout
the European Community will be at a pressure of 30m bar.
As a result, all vans will be supplied with a 30m bar
regulator as standard, which can take either gas. However,
the two gases do require different types of flexible connecting
hoses, so it’s up to buyers to choose which type
of gas and hose to use, or to keep both types of hose
on board. Regardless of the type of regulator it must
be checked regularly by a competent gas technician, since
if it fails, it could allow gas at too high a pressure
to enter the system.
Most vans have space heaters in which the combustion
chamber is sealed off from the living area. Hence, no
living area oxygen is used, and the carbon monoxide produced
during combustion is exhausted outside. Some heaters also
have a blown-air option, where the warmed air is fed through
ducts around the van by a 12V fan on the back of the heater.
Often, the blown-air system incorporates heating elements
– up to 2kW – for use when the van is connected
to the mains. The number of controls will depend on the
sophistication of the heater. Ignition is either push-button
or electronic, and these days is incorporated in the temperature
control dial, while the blown-air system is operated by
a second control. Both are fitted on the top of the heater.
If mains elements are fitted, there will be a wall-mounted
control panel to enable the owner to set the required
power – usually 500, 1000 or 2000 watts –
and the desired room temperature. During hot summer days,
the fan can be used to circulate cool air throughout the
MICROSWITCH WATER SYSTEM
At the base of the taps and the shower control system
are microswitches. When the control is turned on, the
switch allows electricity to flow to the water pump. The
disadvantage of the microswitch system is that the switches
sometime fail and have to be replaced. But unlike the
pressure switch system, microswitches are not affected
by a drop in voltage.
PRESSURE SWITCH WATER SYSTEM
The pressure switch water system is the alternative to
the microswitch system. Here, a pressure switch in the
waterline detects a drop in pressure when a tap is opened,
instantly allowing current to flow to the water pump.
One disadvantage of the system is that even a tiny leak
or a tap left slightly open will cause a drop in pressure,
which will, in turn, cause the switch to activate the
pump. Another disadvantage is that the switch is susceptible
to a drop in the leisure battery’s voltage, although
this problem can often be solved by adjusting the switch
via the knob on top of it.
CARAVAN TYRES, IMPORTANT SPECIFICATIONS
In addition to pressure and size there are two other
specifications critically important for tyres
used on caravans:- The Date of Manufacture and the Load
Index or weight limit. Both can be found on the tyre sidewall.
Date of Manufacture.
Is important because tyres deteriorate with age. Organizations
such as the Tyre Industry Council and the British Rubber
Manufacturers’ Association advise a tyre life limit
of between 7 and 10 years
Date of Manufacture is shown on the tyre wall as part
of the DOT (U.S. Department of Transport) code found close
the wheel rim. Example of a code is DOT A87C DEF 699,
the final set of three, or four, numbers being the date
Tyres made between 1990 an 1999 use a three digit code
followed by a triangle and indicate the month and year
which the tyre was made (699 being June 1999). From 2000
onward a four digit code is used to show the week and
year (0102 being the first week of 2002). A small number
of tyres may not have the DOT code but in these cases
date of manufacture may still shown elsewhere on the tyre,
for instance if you see as a separate group of letters
4202 that is definitely 42 nd week of 2002.
It is known that new tyres often remain in storage for
several years before being sold to the public so it is
checking the date of manufacture when buying replacements.
Manufacturers add anti- ageing chemicals to tyre compounds
but theses become active only when the tyre is rotating
. Continuous exposure to rain, wind, sunlight and airborne
pollutants combined to cause a breaking down of the rubber
structure. Rain washes out the loosened particles to leave
behind minuscule gaps which then join together to form
small, fine hairline cracks. With time the hairline cracks
will spread throughout the sidewall structure to weaken
until it is no longer safe to use.
According to tyre engineers the cracks are not always
visible but usually may be seen when well developed. A
careful visual check in good light may reveal the tiny
hairline cracks spreading out like a spider-web over the
walls. Average safe life for a tyre is around 7 years
but if kept for long periods outside ageing cracks may
only 5 years. Best advice is to start looking for ageing
cracks after 5 years and after 7 years consider replacing
If in any doubt always seek the opinion of an experienced
A tyre is designed to carry a specific load or weight,
an overloaded tyre will quickly overheat and the risk
increases accordingly. For single axle caravans it seems
hardly worth mentioning the importance of avoiding punctures.
The Load Index is shown large on the tyre wall immediately
behind the size coding and in front of the speed letter
A typical example will be:- 165/70/R/13 79T.
165/70 is the tyre width and height ratio in millimetres.
R indicates a radial type construction
13 is the wheel diameter in inches
79 is the Load Index
T is the speed code.
To be legal, and safe, a single axle caravan must have
tyres designated as suitable to carry at least half of
allowable weight or Technically Permissible Laden Mass
(MTPLM). The Load Index number represents the tyre maximum
weight limit in kilograms. A pair of tyres index coded
79 may not used on a caravan having a MTPLM in excess
of 874 kg.
Load Index Chart
Index kg Index kg Index kg Index kg
60 250 76 400 92 630 107 975
61 257 77 412 93 650 108 1000
62 265 78 425 94 670 109 1030
63 272 79 437 95 690 111 1090
64 280 80 450 96 710 112 1120
65 290 81 462 97 730 113 1150
66 300 82 475 98 750 114 1180
67 307 83 487 99 775 115 1215
68 315 84 500 100 800 116 1250
69 325 85 515 101 825 117 1285
71 345 86 530 102 850 118 1320
72 355 87 545 103 875 119 1360
73 365 88 560 104 900 120 1400
74 375 89 580 105 925 121 1450
75 387 91 615 106 950 122 1500
|Buying A Second Hand Caravan
Check all the corners, bed boxes and roof lockers and
cupboards for signs of damp. This can be done with a damp
meter, available from DIY stores and could save you time
and money. Check the grab handles and give them a hefty
tug. If they appear to be loose, it’s a sure sign
that the seals have gone and water has entered the van.
Beware, as a damp caravan could cost you twice as much
to repair as you paid for it.
To replace the whole front end panel would cost approximately
£3000; smaller repairs start from £300.
Possible cost £300-£3000
Various types of sealant are used in caravan production;
acrylic, silicone and oil-based, which can last between
five and 20 years. Have a good look around the panels
for signs of perished, missing or penetrated seals, water
ingress and rusting screws. To re-seal a whole caravan
would cost approximately £940.
Possible cost £940
Doors and Lockers
Check that all the doors open and shut properly, including
the main door and the lockers. Do they fit snugly or can
you see daylight through the seals? Check the hinges are
secure and that the locks work and turn freely. Spare
cupboard doors on a caravan more than 10 years old would
be hard to find, Modern equivalents can be purchased through
the dealer from £60. Hinges and screws are available
from your local DIY store.
Possible cost £60 per door
Check around for cracks in the windows and seals.
A common problem is that the plastic trim around the inside
of the windows cracks as it gets older. Check the window
locks. Make sure they work and watch out for signs of
rust round the screws. If the windows are double-glazed,
look for signs of condensation between the layers. Replacement
windows aren’t cheap and start from £180 for
the smallest window.
Possible cost £180
Take a walk round the caravan to see if the floors are
weak or sagging. Pay particular attention around the door,
kitchen and seating areas, as these are the main areas
of use. These signs would indicate the floor is starting
to de-laminate. This is expensive and not easy to repair.
The usual method is to inject an expanding foam material
every 4in throughout the floor. This is a very labour
intensive and costly business, best carried out by a caravan
repair centre. Prices start at £150 for a small
section, up to £600 for the whole caravan. Our advice
is to stay aware unless the price reflects it and you
have the budget to get it fixed.
Possible cost £150-£600
Get the dealer to check that the gas and electrics comply
with safety standards. Get him to show you how the appliances
work. Spares for old water heaters are scare and a replacement
including taps and fitting would cost £600.
Check that all the gas appliances operate and burn with
a blue flame. This indicates that the gas is being burnt
efficiently and is free of carbon monoxide. Also check
that all the gas flues are in good condition on appliances
such as the fridge and heater.
Possible cost £600
Hitch and chassis
Although the hitch and chassis should have been serviced
by the used dealer, it doesn’t hurt to check that
the mechanism moves freely, the push bar moves correctly
and that they are both well-lubricated. Check the condition
of the rubber gaiter that covers the push bar between
the hitch and A-frame. If the caravan has an AL-KO hitch
stabiliser, this should not be greased or lubricated or
else it will be rendered ineffective. A replacement hitch
would eat £200 from your budget, including dampers
and fitting. As for the chassis,
check the steadies wind up and down freely and that the
A-frame isn’t bent. Modern chassis are designed
not to be drilled – check that there is a stabiliser
Possible cost £60
Replacement pads are available on some models but they
need to be set at the right torque to be effective. New
stabilisers retail from £60.
Possible cost £60
Check first that the winding mechanism is functioning
correctly and is well-greased. Check that the wheel is
not worn or punctured if it’s an inflatable, and
check that the securing pin or bolt that attaches the
wheel is intact and allows the wheel to rotate freely.
Possible cost £30-£70
When checking tyres you need to be concentrating less
on the tread and more on the condition of the tyre walls.
Severe cracking of the tyres’ walls means the side
walls are damaged and could blow any time. The cost to
replace would be £30 to £70 per tyre.
Possible cost £30-£70
Does the handbrake move freely and is effective? Also
check that the breakaway cable is in good condition and
has secure connection to the base of the handbrake. Put
it on and off and watch for signs of drooping or bucking
when the handbrake is released. This could show that there
may be a problem with the brakes such as binding. Your
caravan would have been serviced before collecting, but
expect to pay from £120 for a full service which
will include the brakes.
Possible cost £120
These are often overlooked, but are a vital point of safety
if the caravan comes detached from the car. Make sure
they are secured and replace if rusty.
Possible cost £5