A caravan can give you almost unrivalled freedom and flexibility when you make your holiday plans: it is more comfortable than camping, and cheaper and more flexible than staying in a hotel. With a little preparation, caravans can give you freedom and a little bit of home comfort when you go away.
There is more to taking a caravan on holiday than simply hooking it up to your car and driving off. Caravans don’t need to pass any kind of formal roadworthiness test like an MOT so before you set off it’s wise to make sure the caravan is in full working order, particularly if it’s been unused for a period. And whether you are travelling in this country or abroad, make sure you have the right level of breakdown cover should the worst happen.
As with cars, the minimum tread depth for a caravan’s tyres is 1.6mm. However as caravans only average around 2000 miles a year according to the Caravan Club, their tyres are unlikely to wear beyond the legal limit. But they do feel the effects of age. Although there’s no hard and fast rule about replacing them, the British Tyre Manufacturers’ Association advises caravan tyres should be renewed every five years.
Check for perished rubber, debris caught in the tread or bulges, then test the pressure. This is very important for caravan tyres. Caravans have much less sophisticated suspension than cars so their tyres have to do more work and should be at the correct pressure to perform at their optimum.
Watch for poor loading
Many of the problems associated with towing a caravan are a result of it being badly-loaded. You should try to put all the heavy items over the axle, and make sure they are secured to prevent any movement when you turn corners or brake sharply. If possible, put heavier items in the car and larger, lighter items in the caravan.
Loose items inside the caravan should be stowed securely. Whatever you do, don't stow food tins, glass bottles or heavy items in the overhead lockers. Before you set off, make sure the caravan is properly attached to your car. Ensure all the lockers and cupboard doors are closed and secured. It is easy to miss one, so after a few miles of driving, have a quick stop and check inside the caravan to make sure everything is still well-secured.
The majority of caravan owners also buy wing mirror extensions before long journeys to improve rear visibility.
On the road
Once you are on the road, remember that the extra weight you are towing will mean that stopping distances are much longer than when driving in your car, so allow extra space between you and the vehicles in front. Start slowing down in good time when approaching junctions.
To avoid hitting curbs or driving off the road, take a wide line around corners and remember to allow for the extra length and width of the caravan. When reversing into a space, turn the steering wheel the opposite way to normal to start turning, then slacken off and turn the steering wheel the right way to enable the car to follow the caravan. If you over-steer your caravan it could jack-knife and cause damage, so if things are looking a bit tight, stop, pull forward and try again.
Unless you are already confident in manoeuvring a caravan, it is a good idea to practice in a large open space before you set off. Alternatively, consider taking some training. The Caravan Club offers this.
You may want to consider fitting stabilisers to your caravan if it doesn't already have them. The main purpose of a stabiliser is to stop a trailer or caravan from becoming unstable and 'snaking'.
Snaking is when the axles of the caravan move out of the line of the towing vehicle. When this happens, the caravan tries to move back into line, but goes too far. This action starts a cycle of movement from side to side. Unless it is stopped, it will increase and cause the driver to lose control.
To stop snaking, even if you have stabilisers fitted, keep the vehicle steering in a straight line. Don't try to steer out of the situation as it is very difficult to read the snaking action and it can make it worse.
It is best to change down a gear and take both feet off the pedals. If the snaking starts while you are going down a hill, change down a gear and very gently apply the brakes. Don't brake hard or you may cause the caravan to jack-knife. Whatever you do, don't try to accelerate as this could end in disaster.