Checks to Make Before Towing Your Caravan

31 Oct 2011

Everything is ready, you are about to escape the rat race as you head off with your caravan in tow to a perfect little camp-site you have found. However, there are a few things you may want to check and even double check before you hit the open road.

Some mistakes can just result in a mess inside your caravan or ruined items, some could damage the caravan itself and yet others could see you unwittingly infringing legal requirements. In any of these scenarios your vision of a carefree week or so could fade quite quickly. The following should help you stay clean, safe and within the law.

Legal requirements

  • Towing weight – Be sure that the vehicle you will be using to tow your caravan is legally allowed to do so. The car’s handbook or Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate will give you these figures. As a rough guide it is typically around 80-85% of the towing vehicle’s weight without passengers or luggage, known as the kerb-weight or unladen weight.
  • Driving licence validity – If you passed your normal driving test after 1.1.97 certain restrictions apply to towing vehicles without a specific driving test. This page on the Directgov website explains in further detail.
  • Width limits – There are width limits in place for any towing vehicle. They can also be found on the Directgov website here.
  • Towing mirrors – If your car is narrower than the width of your caravan it is a legal requirement that you fit towing mirrors so that you have a proper rear view.
  • Brakes – Your caravan must have brakes fitted and in full working order. If you can move your caravan easily with your car once the brake is applied then the brakes are not working properly.
  • Tow bar safety standards – if you are towing then you will obviously have a tow bar fitted but this must be an approved type which suits the car it is being fitted to and meets EU regulations. A tow bar of this type will have an approval number on it along with the vehicle’s details it is fitted to.

Full details regarding all legal requirements, along with extensive advice for those looking to tow a trailer or caravan, can be found via this link on the Directgov website.

Other checks

Some of the entries here apply to last minute checks which can only be done just before you leave home or a caravan site. Others will need to be done well in advance of leaving home to allow time to rectify any problems.

  • Tyres – Caravan tyres often degrade somewhat faster than normal vehicle tyres due to the fact that the caravan may remain in one spot for extended periods. This means tyres may degrade through continuous sun exposure (consider tyre guards) or lose their shape from pressure over one spot. Consider ‘winter wheels’ to avoid this. They take the place of the caravan’s wheels and are also a great security measure.
  • Even loading – It is essential to load your caravan correctly in order to keep you safe and stable on the road. Additionally, if the recommended nose weight of your caravan is exceeded you may find your insurance company refuse to pay out on any claim. A good rule of thumb is to put any heavier articles as low down as possible in your caravan and over the axle. Or, even better, put them in the car instead. Avoid weight in overhead lockers or at the caravan’s rear – both add significantly to a caravan’s instability on the road.
  • Hitch mechanism – Ensure it works smoothly and correctly and has no signs of damage or degradation.
  • Windows and roof lights – Check these are all closed and secure and the caravan door is locked.
  • Turn off your gas bottle – For obvious reasons!
  • Lights – Check these are all in full working order once your caravan is hitched to your car.
  • Steadies – Ensure all steadies and stabilisers are raised and secure, including the jockey wheel which will have to be removed or raised depending on your fitting.
  • Interior doors and cupboards – Check all dividing doors and cupboard/locker doors are closed. The fridge door is often forgotten but is often the heaviest, the most likely to cause problems and make the biggest mess.
  • Mains cable – Disconnect and store.
  • Release the handbrake - Or you won’t be going anywhere fast!
  • Padding – You may wish to place bubble wrap or tea towels around and between any fragile items such as crockery and the glass stove top.

Although last minute checks are both sensible and practical, by regularly servicing your caravan you can be sure that all major problems will be rectified long before you head off into the sunset. You will need to arrange separate servicing for the mechanical parts of your caravan (such as brakes, lights, tyres, tow hitch etc) to be road safe and also for habitation checks which concentrate on gas, electrics and individual appliances.

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