Summer is a great time to hit the road of the family or on your own … Before you head off, here’s some helpful tips for a safe journey.
Loading the caravan
It’s important to load the caravan correctly so that it tows well. Here are some tips:
- Keep the centre of gravity low by putting heavy items near the floor and where possible over the axle/s.
- When packing a caravan for the first time, check that its ATM/GTM and ball load is not exceeded; and that you meet all tow vehicle and tow bar specifications. If you do exceed the ball load, you can try re-stowing contents – but don’t simply move gear to the rear of the van, as this will affect the stability. If this doesn’t work, you may need to change the caravan/tow vehicle combination.
- Some caravans carry greater weight on one side (because of the fridge, stove, sink, etc.). Balance this out by loading portable equipment on the other side.
- Remove unnecessary items and use lightweight items wherever possible to reduce the caravan’s weight and save on fuel. Try not to carry large quantities of water (unless you’re going somewhere that water is unavailable).
- Rubber matting or foam on shelves will stop the contents from sliding.
- Wrap glassware and other breakables in towels or newspapers. Use plastics where possible.
- Don’t leave loose articles on the floor where they can roll around and cause damage.
- Store food and equipment that you will need when you first stop within easy reach.
- Carry all the tools and equipment you need for hitching and unhitching in an easy-to-access place.
Load levelling devices
Load levelling devices redistribute the load between the front and rear axles of the tow vehicle for greater stability, steering response and braking. Before buying one, know that:
- They DO NOT reduce the ball load of the caravan
- They should only be used on tow bars and vehicles that are intended for them, or else they may cause structural failure
- You should seek specialist advice from the licensed dealer or a caravan parts retailer or supplier before fitting a load levelling device.
If you are towing a caravan and can’t see the cars behind you (on either side), you must fit external rear vision mirrors.
Hitching the car to the caravan isn’t as hard as it looks. If you’re doing it on your own, you can get hitching aids from caravan accessories shops. If you’ve got an assistant, here are a few tips:
- Warm up the towing vehicle’s engine and transmission by taking it for a short drive (if you just leave the engine idling in the van park, you might annoy other campers)
- Apply the van brake and raise the van’s corner stabilisers
- Using the jockey wheel, ensure the front of the van is raised high enough to allow the tow ball to pass under the coupling
- Practice and agree on any hand signals that will be used by the assistant
- Make sure the assistant stands clear of the car’s reversing path.
- Once the tow ball is in place under the coupling, lower the jockey wheel to mate the parts; then connect the safety chain, electricals, load levelling hitch and brakes (as applicable) and remove or stow the jockey wheel
- Release the trailer’s handbrake.
A final check
Before taking to the road at any time, ensure that:
- Corner stabilisers are up and jockey wheel is stowed
- Coupling lock mechanism is firmly fixed
- Safety chains are attached
- Brake coupling / wiring is connected
- Light wiring has been connected to the car and the lights are working
- Tyre pressures of car and van are correct
- Wheel chocks are removed
- Windows and hatches are closed and locked
- Van step is retracted
- Electricity lead, water and sullage hoses are disconnected and stowed
- Inside, cupboard doors are closed and movable objects are packed to prevent sliding around
- Gas is off and fridge is turned over to 12v supply if fitted (note: gas pilot lights must be turned off when refuelling the towing vehicle)
- The TV antenna is removed or retracted
- The caravan door is locked and safely latched
- Outside rear vision mirrors have been adjusted and the windscreen has been cleaned.
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