Basic advice for new caravanners'.

by John White, Kevin Clayton and Richard Cole.

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Things to check before Towing:

Tyres. [Richard Cole]

Check the tyre condition and tyre pressures on the van.
If the tyres are more than 4 years old think seriously about getting them replaced. They may look like new, but could be 6 or 7 years old and rotting internally.
Every tyre has a manufacturers date code on it, (see here for information on tyre markings). If you can't read it then take the wheels to a tyre fitter, who will be able to read the date code. Caravan tyres tend to become useless because of the effects of sunshine on rubber and because they are often being left with the weight of the tyre on one spot for weeks or months on end.

Packing. [Richard Cole]

Here's our suggested comprehensive list, that you can download and print as a basic packing list from the FAQ on packing.

Nose weight. [John White & Richard Cole]

Some cars and vans have different nose weight allowances. My rule of thumb [RC] is to lift the jacks up so the van is standing on its road wheels and jockey wheel. Then try to lift the jockey wheel off of the ground. If you can just lift it it should be somewhere near right. If it is impossible to lift move something to the rear of the van ( put jacks down first of course) if it lifts real easy move something forward ( jacks down of course). If you have the correct tools and weights use them to get it just right.

To ensure that you are fully legal, the loaded caravan nose weight should be the lighter of
the maximum permitted by the car manufacturer,
the maximum permitted by the tow bar manufacturer
and the the maximum permitted by the caravan manufacturer.
If you don't have all of these figures then look in your car and van handbooks and at the metal plate on the tow hitch and on the tow ball fitting or ask on the newsgroup 'uk.rec.caravanning' or one of the web forums.

Hitching. [John White]

After raising the steady jacks, hitching up to the car, plugging in the electrics and checking the lights all work, use the jockey wheel to lift the front of the van a little then shake the van firmly using the handles on each corner. This should make sure that you have the hitch correctly done.
Obviously if the hitch comes undone, it was incorrectly attached. Then wind up the jockey wheel and pull if completely clear of the ground, as high as it will go in the towing hitch on the caravan. This may involve undoing a pinch bolt and twisting the whole assembly not just winding the handle.
Make a check list of safety things to to do just before you set off. (Gas off, mains cable disconnected and stored, van door locked, steadies fully up, check cable attached, lights and indicators working, handbrake fully off, double check the hitch is firmly attached etc. etc.). Use that check list or get this one from the FAQs.

Brakes. [John White]

With the van hitched to the car apply the hand brake on the van. Gently try moving the van, a few inches, with the car.
If it moves easily the brakes need adjusting or servicing and I wouldn't suggest towing it anywhere (see the FAQ on Servicing for further information).
If the van won't move easily with the hand brake released then you have a problem. This can often occur if the hand brake has been left on for a long period of time, so when storing chock the wheels, lower the stedies and fully release the hand brake.

See what's coming. [Kevin Clayton]

Spend some money on a good pair of extension mirrors so that you can see the idiot behind who's about the to pull out and smear himself all over the front of the articulated lorry that's rapidly approaching that you can see coming round the next bend and brake to avoid getting involved. Seriously you have to watch out for the nutters and drive defensively and carefully. See the section on Mirrors in the FAQ.

Stabilisers. [Richard Cole]

There is a lot of argument regarding the use of stabilisers when towing (Use Google to search for some of these). Some will not use them and have never had a problem, others will not leave home without them. I would suggest that if you are new to caravanning, then you get and use one, I find that they will help, but only if you drive sensibly.

Setting off. [John White & Richard Cole]

If this is the first time you have towed a caravan (assuming the dealer / seller delivered it to you), then I would try to pick a quiet time of day. You will find that the car will not accelerate as quickly as it does solo and stopping distances will be much longer.
Don't worry too much initially about holding up other traffic. If you see there is a queue behind you pull into a lay-by and let the traffic pass.
Drive steadily especially down-hill, leave more room, look around more. Tell your passengers that if you don't reply to them immediately its because your concentrating more on your driving.
Leave plenty of time for your journey, especially if you've got to be somewhere by a certain time (ferry / tunnel).
Watch out for white van man, a Merc HiTop doing 90 down the fast lane of the motorway makes my van move far more than any coach or Artic with only a 3 or 4 mph advantage.
I always drive far more gently with the van on, this includes pulling away and of course cornering and stopping. For instance, instead of using the 2 second rule when following another vehicle, leave a 4 second gap or more. This also has the advantage that if others do want to overtake you, it gives them a gap to pull back into.
Remember that the speed limits are different when you are towing a caravan. Where without it, you could drive at 60 or 70 mph, now you can only drive at 50 or 60 mph. See Speed Limits in the FAQ for further information.

If you're tow vehicle has an automatic gearbox you may find it reluctant to go into the highest gears. This is to be expected if you are towing close to your maximum permitted towing weight.

What ever happens don't let the other drivers bully you into driving faster than you feel safe.
And at the same time be considerate to the other drivers, especially on single carriageway roads. Check your mirrors frequently and if you can see a queue behind you then try and pull into the next lay-by to let them past.

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