Planning your caravan journey
Planning your journey can be part of the fun and it will also ensure that you reduce potential stress.
There are all sorts of ways of planning a route these days, but some digital route planning tools will need to be used with a degree of caution when you are towing your caravan.
- Sat Nav and internet based route planners, may not account for the fact that you are towing a caravan. This can cause issues (especially in Cornwall and in the countryside) in terms of hills, narrow roads, hump back bridges, one way systems and dead ends. So if you use Sat Nav to plan your route then check this out with a map and the specific site journey instructions to see that it does not take you to any of these hazards.
- Atlases, provided they are up to date, are a great way to check out the proposed route and a good back up to have in the car. Considder the whole journey with the route planning sections. Look at contours and steep hills indicated on the maps and a slight deviation might make life a whole lot easier.
Often the campsite website will have specific directions avoiding tricky narrow roads. There are several campsites that have narrow access roads leading to them in which case to manage the direction of flow on the access road ther may be specific times for the inbound traffic and outbound traffic. It is also worth checking the local radio station prior to departure and whilst en route for up to date traffic information. Some navigation aids such as Apple Maps, Google Maps and Tom Tom may give you up to date traffic information and sugest an alternative routes.
A second part of the journey planning is around timing, having established the distance calculate the journey time, approx 30 to 35 miles an hour. Most people find that towing a caravan requires considderably more concentration than normal driving and therefore more tiring. Ideally break the journey into sections about two hours in length, to give you and the family to a rest, ideally make sure the stops are at places where there is space to park. If you have a long way to go why not have an overnight stay en route, it may add a little something to your journey. The journey should be considdered part of the holiday and not an endurance challenge.
Top tip. Don’t be too ambitious with the length of the journey, be realistic
Think about the time of day that you are going to depart, with regard to local road conditions, traffic pressure points, road works to minimise getting stuck in traffic. It is also advantageous to arrive well before dark, as some campsites will direct you to a late arrivals area which then means you have to resite the following morning, also siting and setting up camp in the dark when you are tired is far less enjoyable.
Getting prepared, the tow vehicle needs to be checked out prior to setting of and this will include:-
- Check that the oil level is correct, and worth having a spare supply in the car.
- Ensure the windscreen washer bottle is full and has the correct washer fluid in it, a clean windscreen is essential for good driving.
- Ensure all other fluid levels in the car are at the correct level.
- Check the car’s tyre pressures, in conjunction with the car hand book, when towing the pressures might need to be increased, do the same exercise on the caravan!
- The wheel nuts need to have the torque checked to ensure that they are correct.
The day before if the caravan is close to home, and within reach of a power supply, then connect the caravan up and turn the fridge on to get the temperature down to ensure food is not spoiled during the journey (nothing worse than warm beer and Proseco). Also charge up the caravan battery. As with the car check the tyre pressures and wheel torques as per the car.
When loading the caravan think about the recommendations with regard to loading, both in terms of weight and distribution.
If you can hitch up the evening before then do so it saves a job the following morning. However if you have the electric hooked up then remember to remove the cable before driving away.
Top tip, ensure you get a good nights sleep to be at your best when towing.
Take with you in the car, things like glasses if you wear them, a supply of drinks, snacks, and if you have children things to keep them amused. Have your driving licence and insurance details to hand.
Most important of all is to have fun from beginning to end :-)
Before you hitch up
1. Each caravan can be different always check the manufacturers guide if applicable and don’t be afraid to ask for a bit of help first time round, we will always talk you through the first time.
2. If your caravan has a stabilising hitch ensure the towing vehicle tow ball is clean and grease free (sometimes new tow balls have a powder paint covering this should be removed with a fine sand paper). If it’s an ALKO tow hitch ensure you have a compatible tow ball (A few tow balls do not allow enough room for the coupled hitched head when turning).
3. Make sure the gas cylinders are turned off and disconnected.
4. Ensure all the cupboards, doors and windows are shut and secured. Roof lights are often forgotten (and often seen on the side of the road), make sure these are closed particularly if the roof light is above an extractor fan. Cooker hob covers must in the down or travel position ( these are often also forgotten and can smash whilst in transit.
5. TV ariels should be in the down position and facing correct direction (often the forward direction denoted by a red dot on the shaft of the aerial internally).
6. All loads put away so they will not move around whilst being towed. Ensure the caravan is loaded so that the nose weight of the caravan is within the manufacturers guideline range.
7. The caravan should be loaded as a rule of thumb with heaviest items on the floor over the axle and just forward of the axle.
8. Make sure all water carriers are empty, including the toilet. Onboard water tanks should also be emptied. And toilet cassettes must be emptied.
9. Microwave plates must be taken out of the microwave and stored somewhere they cannot rattle around. This is true for all loose items in the caravan, make sure they cannot rattle around.
10. Lock the caravan door, check all locker doors and all outlet covers are secured (we often see outlet covers flapping whilst the caravan is being towed).
11. Check tyre pressure (the correct tyre pressure is often on a plate beside the door or in the caravans manual) to ensure you are road safe.
Getting ready to hitch
12. Whilst the caravan is not connected to the towing vehicle make sure the caravan’s handbrake is on and chocks are in place. Raise corner steadies.
13. Using the jockey wheel raise the hitch so it is slightly higher than towing vehicles tow ball.
14. A very useful piece of kit and good investment is a pair of walkie talkies allowing clear and simple communication between the driver and the person spotting for you.
15. Reverse tow vehicle into place, lining up hitch and tow ball (the spotter can guide the driver). Put the tow vehicles handbrake on.
16. Hook up the breakaway cable to the tow ball (or preferable to a designated hook up eye) . This should be the first thing attached when hitching and the last thing removed when unhitching. The breakaway cable will activate the caravans handbrake should for any reason the vehicles get separated.
17. Lower the hitch using the jockey wheel until it clicks into place. You may have to release the caravans handbrake before doing this depending on how close you got the tow ball to the hitch if you do be sure to put the handbrake back on until you are ready to tow.
18. Double check that the tow ball is secure, you can do this by winding the jockey wheel back down, the towing vehicle will raise up at the back with the caravan. ALKO hitches have a green button that shows when the tow ball is securely in place.
19. Engage the stabiliser if the caravan has one.
20. Wind up the jockey wheel to travel position locking it in place.
21. Connect the electrics up making sure the cable isn’t too tight or hangs to low, you want to be able to turn without it pulling the cable out but also need to make sure it’s not dragging.
22. If your caravan has ATC (or similar) you should hear it engage and see the led light turn green.
23. Check all electrics and lights are working. It useful if the spotter goes to the rear of the caravan with the walkie talkie and all the lights are tested in sequence.
24. Release the handbrake.
25. Ensure the car is straight with the caravan and fix in place your towing mirrors, adjust to give optimal view. Please note towing mirrors are a legal requirement.
26. Pull forward off the pitch stop, collect levelling ramps and check nothing has been left behind.
27. Please ensure your onward journey has been well planned and do not rely on sat nav (especially in Cornwall).
28. Off you go
Winterising Your Caravan
With the Summer season drawing to a close, it would be prudent to prepare your caravan for the colder months. Boxing clever at this time of the year can avoid unwanted repair bills in the Spring.
Touring Caravan Water System Drain Down
Frozen pipes and frost damaged pumps and water heaters can be expensive to rectify, draining the water system will avoid this. It also reduces the risk of bacteria building up in the stagnant/stale water sitting in the pipes. It is often in the small print of your caravan insurance that your caravan should be drained down between November and March. Please note sealed heating systems such as the Alde heating system does not need to be drained. It's easy just follow the steps below
- Turn off the water heater, and allow enough time for the water to cool
- Disconnect the water carrier, open the taps and remove the water filter if fitted (this should be replace at least annually).
- Open the drain valve on the water heater and allow all the water to drain out. The drain valve is often a yellow 'in line' tap that needs to be in the vertical position for the drain down. Keep all the taps open whilst doing this. The water will drain out of the bottom of the caravan.
- Open all the taps and run the pump for a very short time to ensure all the water is out of the pipes. You can get a device called a ‘Floe’, that will extract the last few drops for you.
- If you have an onboard water tank this will also be fitted with drain valves, ensure you open these and drain the tank down.
- During the winter ensure that the taps are left open (if you have a mixer tap it should be in the half way setting between hot and cold) so if there is any residual water it has room to expand if it should freeze.
- The other place that water is present and should not be forgotten is the toilet, the cassette needs to be emptied and left clean, and empty, the rubber tank closer needs to be lubricated either with a silicon based lubricant.
- The toilet flush tank, needs to be emptied by pumping any water out via the toilet tank, when this is done the final drain of the tank needs to happen. Inside the locker that holds the cassette there will be a rubber drain pipe, this will be tucked into a corner, and will need to be unclipped the drain plug removed and the water drained out. In the spring or before use ensure all the drains are closed, then sterilise the system using one of the cleaners specifically for this task prior to use.
Inside the caravan, lockers should be emptied and any items likely to be damaged by cold should be removed, all foodstuffs should be removed. All bedding and linens should be removed, as should any clothing.
The fridge needs to be emptied and cleaned using a solution of bicarbonate of soda and water, this will remove any smells and prevent any moulds forming. Completely dry the inside and leave the door with the catch to allow the fridge to vent.
The oven and hob need to give a good clean and dried. All cupboards and lockers should be emptied and hoovered out, if possible leave some of the doors open to vent. Any woodwork would benefit from a polish treatment. Upholstery should be hoovered and if possible stored in a warm dry place in the house. If these are to remain in the caravan then try to store them on their sides, is best for them. Blinds and fly screens should be left closed otherwise the springs will need to be rewound.
Should your caravan have a TV fitted then it is best removed from the caravan, stored in a dry place.
If you wish to shield the inside of the caravan from light, you can use car windscreen protectors or pieces of cardboard cut to shape, too cover the windows. Carpets to be rolled up if loose laid, cleaned as necessary, and left rolled up, the vinyl underneath will benefit from a wash with a mild soap and water solution.
The inside of the washroom should be wiped down with a mild soap and water solution, do not use household bathroom cleaners as these can damage the plastic of the fittings. Shower curtains if fitted will benefit from a wash, and left down till the following season.
The gas bottles should be turned off and disconnected at the bottle.
Water and waste containers to be cleaned and left to drain, stored with the caps off to prevent any mould developing inside, stored ideally with the openings facing downwards.
The exterior of the van will benefit from a wash and a polish with a good quality car polish, to help protect it over the winter.
Ideally the caravan should be moved once a month to keep the tyres from developing flat spots, (or the wheels rotated for a quarter of a turn).
The use of caravan covers is a matter of debate, there are various things that do need to be observed if a cover is to be used. Firstly the caravan cover needs to be breathable, any openings I.e. for the door should be fastened using Velcro and not zips as these can damage the body work. If using a cover the caravan will need to be ventilated once a month to prevent mould developing. The cover needs to be fixed correctly with any straps in place to stop the cover from ribbing against the caravan body. Before fixing any cover the caravan must be cleaned and dry, any dirt or grit will otherwise rub against the side of the caravan. The cover should be one of a size correct fo the caravan being covered with provision for things like aerials and other protrusions on the caravan.
Depending on where the caravan is stored all security devices like hitch locks and wheel clamps need to be fitted. If an alarm is fitted, then whether or or not to use it depends on if the battery is to be kept charged, or remaining in the caravan. Also will anyone be close to hear it should the alarm activate?
Batteries, the caravan battery will need to be charged on a regular basis to ensure that it performs properly for the next season. If the caravan is stored close to a power supply then it can be charged via the caravan charger. If the caravan is not near to a power supply then it maybe necessary to remove the battery and charge it on a regular basis.
In preparation for the spring, it is worth booking your caravan in for its service now before they get too booked up with people wanting to do the same thing. Good preparation for winter ensures that not too much work is required at the service and to get the van ready for the road again.