Care of your caravan

Your caravan is a major investment so by having it serviced regularly you'll receive greater reliability and improved resale value.

But there are important safety and legal issues too. Every vehicle or trailer must, by law, be in a condition as not to cause anyone danger. If your caravan is not in legal and good condition, Northern Towing Services may not be able to tow it for you, but our call-out will still be chargeable.

Braking systems and the electrical and gas installations inside the caravan need regular checking by experts to ensure they are safe. But you can easily check some things for yourself, such as tyres and lights.

The main elements to keep your caravan in first-class condition are:

1. An annual service
2. Timings
3. Regular maintenance
4. Expert stuff
5. Preparation and maintenance for winter

Annual service
It is recommended that annual servicing should be carried out by qualified experts, ideally an independently assessed member of the Approved Workshop Scheme (AWS). The AWS was set up jointly by The Camping and Caravanning Club, the Caravan Club and the National Caravan Council (NCC) to guarantee consistent standards and good practice in the caravan repair industry.

Full details of the service and guarantees can be found at www.approvedworkshops.co.uk. It is worth checking with the terms and conditions as laid out by the manufacturer of your caravan for any warranty implications.

Not all items in your caravan will be covered by an annual service. You need to check with your manufacturer regarding, for example, fridges, cookers, hobs, showers, toilets and heating.

You must ensure that a damp check it carried out, with a moisture readings report. The workshop can help if resultant moisture readings are too high.

Timings
In keeping with any manufacturer warranty requirements, think about having your service during the winter when workshops aren't as busy. Definitely avoid early spring because everyone wants their service or repair then in time for the new season. Remember, if you caravan all year, tell the workshop or they may automatically drain down your water system during for winter.

Under the UK's wiring regulations, mains electrical systems will probably have to be checked (at additional cost) at least every three years and must be undertaken by qualified personnel. It is also something that some sites require.

Routine maintenance
There are things you can do during the year to help maintain your caravan, although there are certain technical checks and repairs you mustn't do yourself. You can and should check:
Road lights
1. Electrical connections between car and caravan
2. Tyre condition and pressures, including spare. Replace tyres more than seven years old regardless of wear
3. Wheel nut tightness (50 miles after servicing or wheel removal and before every trip)
4. Wheel rims for damage that might result in deflation
5. Coupling head grease (if without stabiliser hitch)
6. Stabiliser friction pads wear indicator on the hitch (if a stabiliser hitch head is fitted)
7. Condition of breakaway cable and clip
8. Battery charge state
9. Flexible gas hoses and regulator connections
10. Flame colour from cooker and gas appliances (should be blue - if yellow, consult an expert)
11. 12N, 12S (7-pin) or 13-pin connection cables, plugs and sockets for signs of wear or looseness
12. The RCD cut-out test switch works (check each time you hook up).
13. Water hoses and connection tightness
14. Ensure all ventilation and gas drop-out vents to are clear

Anything you discover during the year that doesn't work or is not right, get it fixed as soon as possible, otherwise you may either cause further problems or forget later, for example, if you discover a damp spot.

Expert stuff
You really need to leave the following things to the experts, unless you are qualified yourself. Even then, some aspects may require certification, so only ever attempt things within your ability and with the correct equipment so as to be safe. Do not drill the chassis.

1. Gas equipment and connections
2. Mains electricity supply
3. Chassis or brakes and certainly not dismantling
4. Damp checking; while you won't be able to cure it yourself, you will certainly be able to detect signs of damp ingress. However, if none is visible, get it checked professionally
5. Warranty work (you can invalidate claims)
6. Floor delamination (spongy floor)
7. Repairs to exterior bodywork
8. Fitting items directly to the chassis (for example a trailer control system)
9. Removal and refitting of brake drums

Winter preparation
Do prepare your caravan before the winter. When placing your caravan in storage, ensure all liquids have been drained down and removed and tanks and containers cleaned as appropriate and relevant - drinking and washing water, toilets, showers, sinks. You have to ensure that any water systems don't freeze, as expansion can cause very expensive damage, especially if it occurs in places with difficult access.

Fridge doors should be left open (with no food therein!), and don't forget to remove and dry any ice trays filled with water and disconnect any gas bottles.

When in storage, you should try and visit your caravan now and again to see that all is OK. Check for any damp patches that may have manifested in the intervening time. Hopefully your sense of smell will also help here.

Consider a moisture trap (cheap, plastic, silica gel-filled humidifier) placed in storage spaces where you will eventually keep clothing and bedding when your caravan in is back use.

Bedding, cushioning and clothing really shouldn't be stored in your caravan when it is not in use, as these will act as a damp trap. Bring them into the house if you can, or failing that, if you haven't the storage, consider using those vacuum packing bags for bedding and blankets that takes up far less room.

Leave the handbrake off as this prevents the drums rusting and binding to the linings - a very expensive job to repair.

It might be worthwhile removing your leisure battery and storing it at home so you can regularly charge it with a proper leisure battery charger to keep it in top condition. If it does drain out, you won't be able to charge it to full capacity again

And don't forget to remove any portable valuables! Back to top

Caravan awnings - maintenance and care

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An awning makes a great addition to any caravan in terms of extending your living room in the caravan.

However, it's not just a case of arriving at site, attaching it and getting the BBQ up and running. You must treat it with respect if you expect to get the best service from it, as it won't take care of itself.

Pitching and striking
If you can, don't put up or take down your awning in the wind windy, but if you have no option, have enough helpers to ensure the awning doesn't break loose, or it could possibly cause damage or be damaged itself. Try to avoid doing it on your own. Position and tension all guy ropes correctly and securely peg down the wall as appropriate.

Zips
The first thing is that you must never force any zips to close or fasten. Make sure all zips are closed when you attach the awning, as this will provide a tension guide for you. If zips are stubborn, it means that something is potentially too tight, so perhaps relocate any ground pegs or slacken ropes, and if you are still having trouble, don't use force - seek out some zip oil or use soap or a candle along the zip teeth. Do not use proprietary oil as it may stain the awning.

Plastic windows
When packing your awning away, try to do so when it is dry and don't fold any rubber tension straps against a window, as these can stain the window. Any creases that form in the window material should disappear when you have put your awning up.

Groundsheet
There are mixed rules dependent on where you caravan. Some sites say ‘no’ to a groundsheet, others tell you to lift it daily. However, a little thought about the grass before you do will go a long way. Any groundsheet should preferably be made from breathable material if you use it for anything more than a day or two on grass. Make sure it is smaller than the awning floor area. However, for hard-standing, a plastic one will do the job, but do make sure it doesn't protrude under your awning or you'll find a nice pool of water in your living area when it rains!

In general
- Correctly tension your awning to minimise damage by adverse weather, or accident
- Always use guy ropes, even in still air - this helps hold the awning shape
- Fit any draught skirt and wheel cover - this prevents the awning from ballooning in wind blowing under the
caravan.

Awning rail
While not really part of the awning, most can't be used unless you have one. Ensure it is free from kinks or dents, and keep the channel clean. To ensure the awning material itself will slide smoothly through the channel, remove any sharp metal burrs at the ends of the channel or where there are joint in the rail., Perhaps spay a little furniture polish into the slot, remembering to wipe through with a small piece of rolled up kitchen roll or similar to remove any excess so as not to stain your awning when you put it up. Back to top

We all know that the great British weather is, at best, rather unpredictable, and owners of caravan are well aware of the potential impact this can have on their holiday.

But when you're not on holiday, what exactly might the weather be doing to your holiday home on wheels?

A good option is to consider a caravan cover, and these have come a long way over the years in design, effectiveness and ease of use. No longer do they just provide a convenient way of ensuring existing moisture is trapped inside your caravan; neither are they made of tough, unwieldy material that damages your caravan bodywork.

Modern covers are manufactured to a much higher quality level nowadays, both in terms of construction to allow internal moisture to escape, preventing fabric penetration by either water or particulates, and even offer UV resistance for paint protection (and reduce internal fixture fading and warping from bright sun through the windows!) to avoid fading during the heat of the summer, which can also be as damaging as the wind and rain. Many also help prevent filth and mould from building up on your caravan bodywork, as seen on occasions by the deposits of Saharan sand and dust that sometimes arrive in the UK.

For those without the luxury of under-cover storage, a caravan cover is the best way to protect your investment when not in use.

When you choose a cover, ensure it has air-breathable qualities, as this contributes to preventing water vapour from being trapped as well as preserving your paintwork.

When not in use, and if stored outside, bird droppings are one of the single biggest problems. A caravan roof is very attractive for birds wanting to take a break, and if those birds make a deposit while relaxing, that can cause havoc with your paintwork, bit from the damaging effect of paint contracting and hardening around the droppings, to the abrasions left after you remove it.

A caravan cover simply eliminates the bird-dropping problem.

Things to bear in mind
You need to consider purchasing your cover from a caravan accessory specialist. It goes without saying that you will need to have your make and model number with you, together with the correct measurements - including any external fittings and fittings (e.g. bike mounts) that are not removable.

You can often find specific covers made for certain models of caravans, and these are worth the extra investment. Most should have adjustment straps to ensure the correct fit, especially if they are designated as ‘'Universal' fitting. Some covers have a zip near the door to save you having to remove it altogether in order to gain access to your caravan.

Some useful ‘nice to have’ cover features to bear in mind:

1. Waterproof, breathable material - most covers should be water resistant. Higher quality covers are three-layer breathable to allow moisture escape and mould reduction
2. UV protection - helps to prevent fading and discolouration both inside and out
3. Non-abrasive - helps to reduce scratches to paintwork and windows
4. Corner zips - makes fitting easier and provides easy access to caravan interior when in place
5. Quick release fitments - these offer easy fitting and removal
6. Lightweight material - easier to handle
7. Storage bag - very useful for storage when not in use Back to top

A caravan cover makes the perfect protection

The new caravan season

Even if you've had your caravan serviced and well looked after during the winter, there are still some extra checks you should make before starting the new season. These are, in no particular order:

1. Open all windows to air your caravan
2. Switch on your gas supply and ensure there is no smell of gas
3. Turn on main 12V switch and check the battery voltage on the meter. A fully-charged battery will read 12.7V and if showing less than 12V it is best to charge it with a battery charger
4. Make sure all 12V internal systems are working
5. Connect to the car via the 12N or 13-pin plug and ensure all road lights are operating correctly
6. Also check your caravan leisure battery. Although it will charge from your car when it is towed, it really cannot be relied upon to have sustainable power after just a few hours on the road
7. Close drain down valves and taps and refill and sterilise the water system according to instructions in handbook
8. Replace your water filter, but only after sterilising the system
9. Check for any water leaks, especially if you find any water stains
10. Check road light lenses for water ingress, which can short out the lamp
11. Test the smoke alarm
12. Check handbrake operation by applying and releasing
13. Check for cracks or other deterioration in wheels
14. Check and adjust the tyres to the correct pressure
15. Use a torque wrench to check wheel nuts are tightened to the manufacturer's recommended settings
16. Remove fridge vent covers if the temperature is above 10C
17. Check all vents for leaves and debris
18. Then before Northern Towing Services arrive to tow your caravan, close all your windows

It is worth mentioning that, before you connect your caravan to a 230V electricity supply, check the cable, plugs and sockets to ensure they are not damaged and check the RCD test button works before you switch on any device.

If you have been using your caravan during the winter period, most of this will have already been done, but it is always a good idea to run through a few checks each time you take it out again, even if it has only been decommissioned for a short time.

Remember, your caravan represents a very substantial investment, and like anything, if you neglect it, it will decay. Also, as equipment for caravans becomes more sophisticated, the DIY element shrinks - however, this doesn't mean that new technology and innovation does not need looking after and checking regularly.

If you are a DIY person, take care. If something goes wrong or then doesn't work at all, it may cost you more in the long run that if you'd called in the expert in the first place! Back to top

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PDF

Left click logo above to open or right click and “save as” for your copy of “Care of your Caravan”

did you know that

The maximum trailer width allowed is 2.55 metres

PDF

Left click logo above to open or right click and “save as” for a copy of “The new Caravan Season”

did you know that

The maximum trailer length allowed is 7 metres up to a 3,500kg towing vehicle and 12 metres over 3,500kg (but then trailer must have four wheels)

PDF

Left click logo above to open or right click and “save as” for your copy of “Caravan Awnings”

did you know that

If the towing vehicle weighs more than 3,500 kg the maximum combined length of towing vehicle and trailer is 18 metres

PDF

Left click logo above to open or right click and “save as” for a copy of “Caravan Covers”

did you know that

If the towing vehicle weighs more than 3,500 kg the maximum overhang of load the from rear of trailer is 3.05 metres

Caravan Tyres

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Q: How often should the tyres on my caravan be changed?

A: 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 you do a lot more than average caravan towing, this will obviously also have an impact.

Q: What advice do you give for tyre care during the winter months when the caravan is not in use?

A: 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 (eg hessian) for protection, but not plastic. Back to top

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