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Caravan Braking System
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.

Breakaway Cables
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.

Caravan Fuses

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 electrician.

Caravan Road lights

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 2.1m wide

Caravan Tyre Law

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 Britain.

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 kerbing damage.

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 any claim.


Caravan Insurance

Caravan Insurance Policies Explained
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 these details!

European Use
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 out!

Personal Accident
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 Hire
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 visiting.

Recovery and Delivery Costs
Another place to do calculations. If a limit is set make sure that sufficient funds are available.

Driver Cover
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?

Public Liability
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.

Family Cover
Basic covers usually cover both you and your partner, but check!

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 means!

Caravan Electric

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.

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Driving Licences
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 Agency (DVLA)

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.


The 85% Rule Explained

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.

Weight Explained

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.

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%.

Gas Regulators

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.

Caravan Heating 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 caravan.

Caravan 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.

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.

More About Caravan Tyres


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 to
the wheel rim. Example of a code is DOT A87C DEF 699, the final set of three, or four, numbers being the date code.
Tyres made between 1990 an 1999 use a three digit code followed by a triangle and indicate the month and year in
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 the
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 worth
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 the tyre
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 close,
careful visual check in good light may reveal the tiny hairline cracks spreading out like a spider-web over the tyre
walls. Average safe life for a tyre is around 7 years but if kept for long periods outside ageing cracks may develop after
only 5 years. Best advice is to start looking for ageing cracks after 5 years and after 7 years consider replacing them.
If in any doubt always seek the opinion of an experienced tyre fitter.

Load Index.
A tyre is designed to carry a specific load or weight, an overloaded tyre will quickly overheat and the risk of puncture
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 code.
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 the maximum
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 bracket.
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

Jockey wheel
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

Breakaway cables
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