As summer approaches many families consider going on a caravanning holiday and it is easy to see why. Once you pull up at your chosen destination you still have all of your home comforts with you, you still have the freedom of your own vehicle to travel around in once there and if you don’t like your current location or fancy a change of scenery you simply hitch the caravan back up and move on.
Towing a caravan will however place extra strain and demands both on your vehicle and driving ability, and with all the additional weight and size it can be very easy to get into a tricky situation very quickly, especially when travelling at high speeds on a motorway. Therefore before setting off on your journey you need to make absolute sure that the caravan is as safe and secure as possible.
If you are relatively new to caravanning you need to first assess the ability of your vehicle to carry the extra load. It is important to check the maximum permissible towing weight of your vehicle, this can normally be found in the owners handbook, but as a rough guide it is around 85 percent of the vehicles total kerbside weight.
When loading up the caravan keep the heavy items as low as possible and over the main axel, this is to keep the centre of gravity low and to ensure maximum stability of the caravan when being towed. If the weight is too far back then the caravan will sway violently at high speeds or even lift the rear wheels of the tow car off the ground.
If the weight is too far forward it may exceed the maximum permissible nose weight, which is the downwards force placed upon the tow ball at the rear of your vehicle by the weight of the caravan. The nose weight should be around 7 percent of the total weight of the caravan, although an accurate figure can be found in the owners handbook. Exceeding the maximum permissible nose weight will not only adversely affect stability but could also cause structural damage to the caravan or tow vehicle. Ideally the caravan should either be level or adopt a slightly nose low attitude relative to the tow vehicle.
Before setting off, walk round the caravan to check the jockey wheel and stabilisers are up and locked, all the windows are closed and locked, and that the gas bottle is off and secured. Ensure that the brake lights, indicator lights and reversing lights are all functioning correctly and remember that the extra weight of the caravan may require you to switch the headlight bulbs to a lower position to prevent dazzling oncoming drivers.
Finally just before you drive away on your caravanning holiday make sure that all of the tyre pressures are correct, your wing mirrors are correctly adjusted, and ensure that the brakes on both the caravan and tow vehicle are fully functioning.