Top 20 caravanning questions

Everything you needed to know about buying and using caravans in the UK and overseas.

1) I am considering buying a caravan, but have never towed before. What is your advice to beginners?

Towing is not a difficult skill to acquire and can be picked up quite quickly through practice on your own. However, like many new activities, you will probably learn more quickly with some tuition, so book yourself onto one of the Club’s Practical Caravanning Courses, which are held at various locations countrywide.

They are designed for participants who are contemplating towing for the first time, or who have very little practical experience. 

2) What does the Club recommend as a safe outfit weight ratio for towing a caravan?

The principle must be to have the heaviest possible towcar for a given caravan, otherwise the chances of a snaking trailer becoming uncontrollable are very real. Aim for a towed load of around 85 per cent of the car’s kerb weight (KW), or the vehicle manufacturer’s towing limit, if lower.

The nearer the caravan laden weight approaches the one-to-one ratio, the more careful the driver must be.

Remember that the towed weight is the actual laden weight (ALW) that the car is asked to pull (empty weight of caravan plus what you add), not the theoretical Maximum Authorised Weight (MAW) or (from 1999 production models) Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM).

3) What is noseweight, and how important is it?

Car manufacturers quote a maximum permitted noseweight for each car model, which is the maximum caravan hitch weight permitted on the car towball. It is important that this is not exceeded; however, it is equally important for stability that the caravan noseweight is heavy enough, and it is recommended that the optimum for stability of the outfit when towing is generally found to be approximately 5-7 per cent of the caravan’s ALW (generally between 50 and 90kg).

You can appreciate that car manufacturers quoting a maximum noseweight of 50kg or less will restrict the choice of caravan quite considerably. Caravan manufacturers often quote a noseweight limit too - check this is compatible with the 5-7 per cent recommendation.

4) What’s the best advice for keeping caravan tyres in good condition?

Preferably replace any tyre more than five years old, but never exceed seven. They will have significantly deteriorated by then, whatever the tread depth. Tyres which require higher pressures (say 50psi and above) may be more susceptible to impact, cutting or penetration damage and it is recommended that such tyres are inspected more frequently.

As higher pressure tyres carry higher loads, they are working harder and hence their life expectancy may also be shorter (say 3-4 years). If the caravan is not used for a length of time, it is recommended that the wheels and tyres are removed and stored at normal inflation pressure in a cool, dry place and protected from direct sunlight, sources of heat, ozone concentrations and fuel/oil spillages. They can be covered with a natural material (e.g. hessian not plastic) for protection.

5) What sort of towbar do I need to tow a caravan?

To find out whether a towbar is suitable, there are several questions to ask. First, has the towbar design for your car been tested to the appropriate British or European Standard? Next, does the towbar mount only to the car manufacturer’s recommended mounting points? Then, has the towbar been tested on a rig representing the car’s mounting points? For cars registered before 1 August 1998, a bracket tested to British Standard BS AU 114b is acceptable.

From 1 August 1998 all new cars registered from that date must, by law, only be fitted with a towbar that has been tested to the EU 94/20 Directive/Regulation 55. Before fitting any towbar that is not the manufacturer’s own, first read carefully the small print of the warranty.

6) Do I need a stabiliser to tow a caravan safely?

Under most road conditions, a well-matched vehicle and trailer will not encounter stability problems. This assumes that there is a good outfit weight ratio, that the trailer when attached and loaded rides level or slightly nose down but never nose up, that the car also rides level and that tyres on both vehicle and trailer are in good condition and, most important, at the correct laden pressures.

Nevertheless, some caravan and car designs are inherently more stable than others and some form of extra assistance from a stabiliser may give an easier or more comfortable tow.

7) What are the advantages and disadvantages of towing with a vehicle with automatic transmission?

The advantages are greater reliability; less wear and tear on the driver, especially the left leg; less wear and tear on the car and easier mud/snow and hill restarts. Disadvantages include extra purchase cost; some performance lost in the automatic gearbox; acceleration marginally slower than a manual driven expertly; may need an extra oil cooler for towing - check with vehicle manufacturer; possibly slightly higher fuel consumption, but the gap is closing between modern automatics and manuals.

8) What is the difference between butane and propane?

Butane and propane have slightly different properties, the most important to the caravanner being the boiling point at atmospheric pressure. In other words, the temperature at which it changes from being a liquid to being a gas.

Butane will only readily change to a gas above 0C, so is generally suitable for the spring to autumn caravanner. Propane will become a gas down to -40C and therefore can be used in winter, or all year round if desired. In the UK propane is generally sold in red cylinders or green cylinders, butane in blue.

9) What precautions should I take against the risk of fire?

Install a smoke detector made to the appropriate British Standard (BS 5446 pt 1). A portable fire extinguisher should also be carried. We recommend that Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) is the most effective for use on a caravan site. Take extra care when cooking or smoking in the vehicle.

10) What advantages does a leisure battery have over a car battery for use in a caravan?

An automotive battery is designed to supply a high current for a short time in order to start the engine. For the remaining time it is either at rest or being charged by the vehicle alternator. It is not designed to supply a few Amperes over several hours, which is the kind of output a caravan requires.

Leisure batteries are designed to supply currents of a few Amps for longer periods and to be discharged and recharged many times. Battery life is enhanced if it has little work to do, so the use of a suitable charger is advisable if a mains hook-up is available.

11) How can I run my refrigerator on ferry journeys?

The short answer is you can’t! For short crossings of an hour or two, the contents should remain adequately cool until you are able to re-connect, provided the refrigerator was pre-cooled sufficiently beforehand.

For longer journeys it is best to purchase fresh produce on arrival at your holiday destination. You can help the fridge stay cool by using ice packs, as used for cool boxes, and of course do not open it while the power is off.

12) Does the Club recommend the use of covers to protect the caravan from the weather during the winter?

A polythene or tarpaulin sheet shouldn’t be used to ‘seal’ a caravan against the elements as condensation or mould growth may be encouraged, and flapping material could scratch the windows. If you use a cover, perhaps due to where the caravan is parked, use one made of ‘breathable’ material with a scratch-free inner surface.

13) How do I know if a second-hand caravan purchased privately seller is stolen?

We have compiled a database of known stolen caravans, and if you provide us with the caravan make, model, year and serial number, as well as the full name and address of the vendor, we can run the details through the list. This is not intended to replace the CRiS scheme, but as another layer of security prior to the purchase of a new caravan.

14) Where is the safest place to store my caravan, and what security devices are available to protect it from theft?

Nowhere is safe from a determined thief. The majority of caravans are stolen from storage compounds, closely followed by the home address. Thefts occur all year round, with newer caravans seeming the most vulnerable.

To avoid becoming another insurance statistic, and to meet most insurers’ acceptance conditions, certain precautions should be taken. Many security devices are available, from wheelclamps to hitchlocks, alarms to sophisticated tracking systems.

15) Will my television function abroad?

The UK’s transmission technology is one of the more advanced in Europe, meaning that digital televisions intended only for use in the UK might not be able to receive terrestrial signals in some other countries.

A multi-standard TV (which most sold for caravanning use are) will help, but in some countries a satellite system may be preferable, especially if you wish to receive English-language broadcasts.

16) What is the best type of aerial for my motor caravan?

As a general rule a directional aerial is preferable to an omni-directional, and in the past was often the only way to receive analogue signals in many areas of weak transmission.

17) Do I need a warning device in the car indicating that the direction indicator system is functioning correctly when towing a caravan?

Yes. Lamps must flash at a rate of 60-120 flashes per minute, whilst a warning device in the car must inform the driver, by means of a visible or audible signal, that the system is functioning correctly. This is a legal requirement. Some new vehicles have a different system, which does not show that the indicators are working correctly but only that they are not

18) How do I know what appliances I can use on a mains hook-up?

A useful calculation is amps equals watts divided by volts. Therefore, if you have a 1000-watt kettle, and a 230-volt supply, you must allow for 4.3 amps to be drawn when the kettle is in use.

19) Does it matter what type of chemical fluid I use in my portable toilet?

Our policy is that all chemical fluids should be bio-degradable to assist the biological treatment of sewage. Blue fluids on the market may contain formaldehyde, dependent upon the manufacturer. Green fluids are all formaldehyde-free but may not be so efficient at breaking down sewage waste in holding tanks.

Both green and blue fluids are acceptable for use on Club sites and with the correct dilution should not affect any sewage treatment method.

20) Do I need to use towing mirrors?

Almost certainly yes. The law requires that you have an adequate view down both sides of the outfit, and there are very few likely combinations of car and caravan which will give a legally ‘adequate’ view without extension mirrors, even if you tow with a large 4x4. In any case, the addition of extension mirrors will always improve your view, and thus your safety and that of other road users.

The legislation controlling the design of mirrors is very complex, but in essence, the mirrors used on any car first used on or after 1 June 1978 must comply with certain EC Directives or ECE Regulations, and be marked accordingly with an appropriate ‘e-mark’. Check the manufacturers’ specification carefully before you buy.

Essential Guide to Touring

Free when you take one of our training courses. This can also be purchased in the Club shop.

Jam-packed with heaps of useful information to get you started with touring

order a copy