Ten commandments for caravan owners

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An eerily deserted campsite, yesterday
Pack your items centrally and above the axle to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible. However, be aware that the overloading above the axle will also cause undue stress on your caravan.
  • | by Dave Jenkins

According to the AA there are now over 500,000 caravans on the road in the UK, so there are plenty of people getting in on the action.

But the freedom of being able to cart your home wherever you choose does come with its responsibilities: caravans can be challenging to drive. They also need to be maintained regularly. And there's not unsubstantial matter of keeping your pride and joy safe and secure…

Whether you're a wizened caravanner towing the world of experience behind you, or a travel van virgin, these are the matters all caravanners should be aware of before, during and after their trip....

Thou shalt covet one's caravan insurance  policy

“Caravanners spend a lot of time, effort and money on their prized possession,” says Paul Green, head of communication at Saga. “Caravans truly are a home from home and as such are kitted out with all manner of expensive equipment, which can be a target for thieves. Therefore it makes sense to get everything covered to ensure damage and loss can be repaired quickly and people can get out on the road again.”

Thou shalt obey the law

If you've passed your driving test after 1997, check the weight of your caravan; if it's over 750kg including what you've packed in it then you'll need to take an additional driving examination, the B+E test. Other essential legalities include type-approved tow brackets and mirrors that allow you to see 20 metres to the rear and 4 metres off-and-nearside from your driving position.

Thou shalt ensure one's caravan is not overweight

The lighter your van and contents, the easier it is to drive. This goes for the weight ratio between the caravan and car; the lower the difference, the better. You're going to need to your personal effects, so weigh larger items on your bathroom scales. If you're unsure of the van's total weight, find your nearest weighbridge and find out exactly.

Thou shalt pack with care

Pack your items centrally and above the axle to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible. However, be aware that the overloading above the axle will also cause undue stress on your caravan. Heavier items should be packed in the boot of your car. Leave water tanks empty, pack plastic or lightweight crockery and cutlery, do your food shopping on arrival, secure drawers and cupboard doors with bungee cords. Remember; if your van is not packed correctly or overloaded, you may end up invalidating your caravan insurance policy...

Thou shalt be secure at all times

Your caravan insurance policy will be worthless unless you pay due care and attention. Security is vital on-site, off-site and on the road - even if you're only stopping for a quick break. Over 4,000 caravans are stolen each year, many directly from the owner's own drive! Only a quarter, however, are ever recovered. Be safe and clamp the wheels even if you're taking a two minute break.

“Professional thieves know what they’re looking for,” says Ian Crowder, spokesman for the AA. “They're well equipped and are looking for that unguarded moment. So make sure your caravan is secure even when in a busy parking area.”

Thou shalt plan ahead

A wise commandment for any road trip, but especially important when towing your caravan. Use route planners and avoid narrow B-roads wherever possible. Call the site you're visiting in advance and ask about any potentially irksome roads in the vicinity. Planning is especially important if you're travelling overseas. Call the ferry company for guidelines on caravan costs and, if you can, avoid Switzerland – many of their mountain roads render caravans useless. When it comes to taking your caravan abroad, check your caravan and car insurance  policies thoroughly before departing, and make sure that you notify your insurer if you’re travelling abroad in advance, even if you have overseas cover as standard.

“Recently, a customer lost his caravan down a French ravine,” says Crowder. “Only to discover that he had forgotten to tell his caravan insurance company (not the AA) he was taking it over the channel.” Whoops!

Thou shalt observe one's tyres

As your van is unused for most of the year, and your tyres are the van's only point of contact with the road, tyre maintenance is critical. Check the pressure, tread and condition (coastal-bound caravans are especially prone to tyre deterioration). Consider safety wheel bands (the most common are Tyron Bands) in the event of a blow-out they will reinforce the wheel and help keep the van steady as you pull over to safety.

Thou shalt not ignore maintenance

“The brakes should be properly serviced,” says Crowder. “Make sure there is still plenty of friction material and that nothing has seized while the caravan has been standing. Wheel nuts should be torqued to the correct figure. Lights should also be checked.”

Don't stop with mechanics. Check your carbon monoxide alarm, ensure the flue and air intake for gas are clear and check the mains electricity consumer unit and earth leakage protector.

Thou shalt care for one's caravan all year round

An unattended caravan should be secured by a wheelclamp, hub lock, hitchlock or a security post. Or a selection thereof If you store your van at a friend or relative's address, inform your insurer, and if you're using a caravan storage site, pick one approved by the Caravan Storage Site Association (CaSSOA)

“If it is to be stored at a storage site, generally we would expect storage that is securely locked and protected,” says Saga's Green. “But we would need to discuss this individually with customers to ascertain the security of the site before we could calculate the premium.”

Thou shalt drive with due care and consideration

The most important commandment of all. When using single lane roads, use those extended mirrors to check how much traffic is building up behind you. Avoid making enemies by pulling over in lay-bys appropriately. A tailback can often add pressure for you to up your own speed; which is a massive no-no on any road.

“Insurers will take a dim view of customers who end up scattering the contents of their holiday home all over the motorway if it becomes obvious that speed was an issue,” says Crowder. “Remember – the speed limit when towing is 50mph on single carriageway roads and 60mph on dual carriageways and motorways in the UK”