As spring turns into summer holidaymakers will be filling their wardrobe with clothes suitable for warmer weather and searching out the best destinations. Some will be jetting off to the tropics, Australia or south-east Asia, while others might choose to stay closer to home.
The latter might even decide to take some of that home with them on their travels in the form of a caravan, and for the new caravan owner it can be quite nervy taking it out for the first time – here are ten checks that any owner should make before leaving the driveway.
1) The maximum permitted weight of the car, plus caravan, depends on when the driver passed their test. If it was after January 1, with an ordinary category B licence, the load cannot legally exceed 3,500kg, known as the Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM). That weight includes any passengers. The law is in place because exceeding the weight can run the risk of damaging the suspension and making the vehicle dangerous. The weight of your car can be found in the owner’s manual. You could also take your caravan and car to a public weighbridge, which will give a more accurate reading. Find out more about towing weights and driving licences here.
2) A quick check inside the caravan could save breakages or travel damage; make sure all windows and doors (internal and external) are closed, and locked if possible. Stow away any loose items so that they do not rattle about or break. It’s also worth checking that your battery is charged a week or two before you leave.
3) Caravan drivers must be able to see 20 metres behind them, and four metres either side of the van. With this in mind 95% of caravanners have towing mirrors fitted to their vehicles. Check that your vehicle complies with the law, and fit additional E-marked mirrors if necessary, as prosecution could lead to a £1,000 fine and three points on your licence.
4) Tow brackets must be tested to the appropriate British or European standard and use mounting points recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Hitching (fitting) the caravan is a simple process, and best completed with two people. One reverses the car into place while the second guides them so the tow bar is directly underneath.
Remove the towball cover and then secure the hitch – check they are coupled by using the jockey wheel to raise the car by an inch or two, before raising and stowing the jockey wheel safely in place. Some caravans have a green light to denote safe hitching.
5) The rear light panel of the caravan must be working, to show braking/indicating for any following vehicles. Road light plugs are easy to connect. There are two modes that can tell the driver if the electrical system is still working; positive (such as a dashboard light which flashes when the indicators are used), or negative (such as a light turning on if the connection fails).
6) In addition, the number plate of your car must be visible on the back of the caravan, and conform to the relevant British Standard. Drivers following should be able to see it in all conditions and at night, so a pencil sketch or pen on a piece of paper will not be acceptable.
7) Remember the maximum speed limits of 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageways. Braking times are longer, corners should be given more clearance, and the manoeuvrability of the vehicle is compromised as this driver found out to his cost.
8) If you’re not a confident driver, and/or have never driven a car with an attached caravan, then consider courses through the Camping and Caravanning Club, which show you how to manoeuvre and load the van. More advanced courses would benefit those who have towed caravans before but have experienced pitching.