Updated May 2016
Choosing a caravan
Purchasing your first caravan is a big step and making the right decision is crucial if you are to get the most from your caravanning experience.
What sort of caravanner are you?
Before you can buy, the first thing you need to have clear is just exactly what type of caravanner you intend to be.
If the lure of the open road and travelling around is the main attraction for you then of course, a tourer or motorhome will be your solution.
Even here though, you’ll find that there are a couple of points to consider in choosing between a tourer and motorhome:
- with a touring caravan you have the advantage of being able to unhitch your caravan on site, giving yourself perhaps more flexibility to tour round the neighbouring countryside returning to your base at the end of the day;
- you may be interested to know that if you leave your caravan unhitched on a site, some insurance providers like ourselves at Cover4Caravans, may require that you fit both a wheel clamp and a hitchlock to help prevent its theft;
- a motorhome on the other hand has to go wherever you go but may have the advantage of being easier and quicker to set up when you arrive on site and when you are getting ready to leave.
On the other hand you may prefer the idea investing in a static caravan permanently set on a site of your choosing, which provides everything that you need for a perfect holiday. You know exactly what to expect when you arrive and don’t have to get to grips with towing a caravan or getting used to driving a bigger vehicle.
New or second hand?
Caravans can represent a significant investment – for example, here are some of our current average insured values:
- statics £15,000
- tourers £9,333
Your choice of caravan may typically depend on the size of your budget.
A good starting point for any decision on what to buy may be a visit to one of the numerous caravan fairs that take place throughout the year in just about every part of the UK. The Caravan Club lists events – http://www.caravanclub.co.uk/news-and-events/caravanning-shows/.
At events like this you will really be able to appreciate just how luxurious modern day caravans of all types can be.
Long gone are the days when caravan holidays conjured up images of cramped spaces, basic cooking facilities, no running water and a night time trudge through some windswept fields to the nearest toilet facilities.
Modern caravans can be fully connected to all services for electricity, water and even central heating – and if you are able to invest in a satellite system then it really will become your home from home.
If you decide to buy a previously owned model, bear in mind that not all insurance policies may operate in the same way with regard to new for old replacement for second hand models.
Insuring your caravan
Once you have completed the purchase of your new caravan, your thoughts may then understandably turn to how best to protect your new asset via insurance.
The product most suitable for you will obviously depend on the type of caravan you have.
You’ll typically find that providers have one type of policy for a tourer, for example, which covers those risks they feel are most pertinent as they see it. Then there will be those policies targeted specifically at statics or motorhomes etc.
An important aspect of your search for the most appropriate policy for you and your caravan is to remember to shop around. You probably looked at a whole lot of different caravans before making your final decision, so do the same for your insurance cover.
Bear in mind that one policy, for say a touring caravan, will reflect the views of the world of risk that that particular provider has and the cover provided may be very different to that on offer from a different provider.
Online policy providers such as ourselves provide easy access to a range of policies, one of which is sure to be suitable for you. (Our service is backed up by a telephone service, so you can speak to someone if you’d rather).
Static caravan site owners’ insurance
Although not usually an issue for touring caravans, with a static caravan you may come across some site owners who might prefer that you purchase your insurance cover from them. You’ll typically find that in most cases you are under no obligation to do this and are free to shop around. While the cover that they offer may be perfectly suitable for you, you won’t know this unless you compare it to other policies on offer and make an informed choice.
If you do decide to opt for an alternative policy to that on offer from your site owner, you may find that in addition to understandably asking to see details of your policy, they may also charge an administration fee. What you may also find though is that looking for a policy in the competitive marketplace may have provided you with savings more than adequate to cover any admin costs requested.
At Cover4Caravans we will be only too pleased to offer further advice on the principles of insurance cover for your tourer or any other type of caravan.
Happily the days when the small print relating to a policy was almost impossible to understand are long gone. These days, policies still carry terms and conditions but these for the most part are written in plain English and are easy to understand.
Also, check your Key Facts document, too, for further confirmation that you are getting the most appropriate cover for you. You can watch our short Key Facts video here.
It is important that you take the time to read through these before you purchase a policy to ensure that you are happy to comply with them.
Some tourer policies, for example, may require that you help keep your caravan secure by using a wheel clamp whenever the caravan, still attached to the towing vehicle, is left unattended. There may be a further requirement to fit a hitchlock if you decide to leave the caravan and spend the day off sightseeing somewhere.
Awnings are another area where there may be specific requirements relating to cover and you might find, for example, that:
- storm damage to the awning is only covered if you were are at the caravan at the time that it happened;
- belongings other than garden furniture may be excluded from your policy if they are left under your awning.
If there are any aspects of cover that you are unclear on, then talk to your policy provider for clarification.
Driving / towing your caravan
Setting out on your first holiday in your newly acquired touring caravan should be an enjoyable rather than a nerve racking experience. Read our basic guide to towing here.
There are courses you can attend that can help build your confidence and skills – find out more here: http://www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk/helpandadvice/courses/ .
You may find this useful.
Before you get behind the wheel of your towing vehicle or possibly your motorhome, you may benefit from running through a quick checklist:
- can you legally tow your caravan? The rules on what you can and cannot tow are different depending on when you passed your driving test – find out more here: https://www.gov.uk/towing-with-car/driving-licence-rules-and-what-you-can-tow
- have you driven it recently? Towing skills can be rusty when not used regularly and if yours are, take your caravan to a deserted trading park on a Sunday and practice things like cornering and reversing;
- have you planned your route? Some caravanners will know the horrors and embarrassment of finding themselves stuck in tiny lanes or streets which are totally unsuitable for towed vehicles. Good route planning should avoid that;
- are you sure your caravan is safe for the road? A thorough mechanical, electrical and gas safety check at the start of each season is highly advisable;
- is your insurance in order including contents cover? Things can lapse if you haven’t thought about them for a while;
- did you make a site booking? Even out of season, it’s possible to arrive at your chosen site only to find they’ve no space – so book ahead and get confirmation;
- are all drivers covered and accurately declared on your policy? If you have any doubts about entitlement you should call your policy provider.
A few moments preparation before departure might help avoid regrets!
It’s not unusual to find novice touring caravan owners who assume that driving and distances are much the same with a caravan as with a car alone.
Apart from the obvious fact that your maximum speeds might be reduced, towing a caravan can be tiring and demand extra concentration – particularly when you’re doing lots of manoeuvring on non-motorway type roads.
So, be realistic with your target distances in a single day and plan in more rest-stops than you would normally in a car.
Tourers suffer from one major image problem – and that is with other non-tourer drivers.
Some people tow their caravans inconsiderately, bordering carelessly. That can lead to frustration on the part of other road users.
Things to avoid include:
- cruising sedately in the middle lane of motorways (potentially an offence);
- trying to overtake other caravans where the speed differences are marginal – you’ll just block the second lane unnecessarily and frustratingly for others, as you and the other tourer dual over a difference of perhaps only 5mph;
- drive down exceptionally narrow lanes where widths and sharp turns are a problem – once again you could just block the road causing jams and anger;
- drive around in high winds. This causes wandering on the road and is possibly dangerous;
- take your tourer onto muddy or soft fields. You could just get bogged down, once again blocking accesses and causing yourself humiliation as you’re dug out!
Travelling in Europe – Driving tips and legislation
For many caravanners, one of the most attractive aspects of owning a tourer is the ability of being able to set off on a journey on the spur of the moment.
If you fancy a trip to the continent however, then there a few things that you may have to think about before you cross the channel.
One of the first things that you may wish to check is that your tourer insurance provides you with the cover you expect for travel outside of the UK.
At Cover4Caravans, for example, our policies provide up to 240 days of EU cover. Other providers may not cover travel outside of the UK at all or you may have to pay extra for it.
As with any trip, you should ensure that your caravan is in roadworthy condition and it may be prudent to pack a few additional spare parts that may be harder to obtain on the continent.
Check that your fully laden caravan still complies with the towing limits of your car and you may perhaps also wish to factor in that you might be carrying a bit more on your return journey – particularly if you plan on visiting some wine producing areas!
Driving on the right
Of course the most obvious difference when driving abroad is that it happens on the other side of the road. When you first get off the train or ferry this will be uppermost in your mind but after a couple of days you might start to get a bit complacent and mistakes may happen – particularly if the roads are quiet. So, make yourself a ‘drive on the right’ reminder to stick onto your dashboard or ask your fellow travellers to offer reminders.
Prior to departure familiarise yourself with the prevailing speed limits for towing a caravan in the countries you intend to visit. Bear in mind that some, like France, may have lower limits for driving in rain.
In many European countries, in the event of a breakdown, the use of a warning triangle may be compulsory and having a reflective jacket at hand to put on prior to exiting your vehicle may also be mandatory.
You may have heard about recent legislation regarding the need to carry a breathalyser in your vehicle in France.
These are for self- use to check your own blood alcohol level if you have had a drink but you still are required to have one on hand even if you never touch alcohol while driving. Remember too that these kits may have a use by date so potentially you may need to replace these on a regular basis to keep within the law.
As you will see if you visit the AA’s site* this is still mandatory although plans to introduce an on the spot fine have been delayed indefinitely.
Opening hours and paying for stuff
While the UK has typically embraced the concept of Sunday opening, on the continent this is still the exception rather than the rule. Most petrol stations will have card payment systems in place so make sure before you depart that your UK credit or debit cards are widely accepted in the countries that you intend to visit.
Your touring caravan may come with a high level of equipment as standard or it might be fairly spartan.
Nobody can really advise you what your tastes are in décor or what fittings you need in order to meet your lifestyle needs. They’re all very personal things.
However, a few general points might be worth thinking about.
The distress of having your tourer or its contents stolen can’t be overestimated.
In reality, a determined professional thief may be able to bypass or overcome just about any security system you install but there are some important points to consider.
- caravan thefts are opportunistic – in other words, thieves usually can’t plan them a long time in advance;
- the vast majority of thieves do not want to be disturbed in the act and they don’t seek confrontation. As a result, they want speed and ease;
- anything you do to put the above things at risk for a thief, may prove a powerful deterrent;
- make sure you park at designated sites and don’t park up for the night in a service station. As some media coverage from a few years ago highlighted, caravans parked in laybys and service stations are at high risk.
So, you should fit things like hitchlocks, wheel clamps, immobilisers, tracking devices, micro-chips and so on.
Remember to use only professionally-approved devices. Your insurance cover may demand that you take certain minimum steps to protect your property. At Cover4Caravans we’ll gladly explain that last point in more detail if you wish. Or in the meantime, watch our caravan security and insurance video
Safety & gadgets
Sometimes gadgets in your tourer might make the odd rainy day a little more bearable – but that’s a matter of personal taste. Suffice it to say that today there’s a vast range to choose from.
What is important is that your caravan contains some minimum safety devices and gadgets, perhaps including:
- a carbon monoxide detector;
- a smoke detector (this is different to the above gadget);
- a fire blanket and fire extinguisher;
- a good quality first-aid kit (and make sure you understand how to use it and provide basic emergency first-aid);
- a decent-quality tool kit.
For more information, read our article here: http://www.cover4caravans.co.uk/articles/quick-guides/caravan-safety
You can also download a poster to keep in your caravan, here: http://www.cover4caravans.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/caravan-safety-tips.pdf
Although modern tourers are typically relatively spacious and well-equipped, it probably has to be admitted that they are still sometimes a little constrained in terms of space.
It might be worth thinking about some form of awning to go with them – that will allow you to expand your living area outside if the weather permits. If you do select one though, as mentioned previously, be sure that you understand any special insurance conditions that apply.
As a general rule, it might be sensible to make sure that it is fully stowed away any time you leave the tourer to go elsewhere, as this press release explains.
It might also be worth thinking about a steerable or auto-find satellite dish. Although this might one day be replaced by 4G internet TV, right now it might prove to be a blessing.
Some sites are rural and terrestrial TV signals may be weak. That might be a particular issue if you have children with you and don’t have a dish to switch to satellite!
Internet access while travelling
It might be a fair bet that only people over a certain age will equate the concept of getting away from it all to be an essential part of any caravan holiday.
For others though, spending a couple of weeks without access to the internet for keeping in touch with friends and family, as a source of entertainment or just for keeping abreast of emails or world events, would be unthinkable.
Many sites these days have their own WIFI hotspots linking to internet service providers that caravanners can access using their own wireless equipment. It is often then just a question of using a credit or debit card to pay for the level and duration or services that you need.
Sites like these are becoming more widespread and you can access lists of some of these here.
Boost it yourself
You can, of course, get yourself your own equipment. There are devices which boost WIFI signals meaning that you can stay connected even in more remote and out of the way locations.
These are typically small antenna that you rig up and which then boost nearby signals to provide you with a connection. There are options available for single USB connections or for connecting up a number of appliances.
Depending on your technology, there are also gadgets available which can create your own WIFI hotspot and allow you to even watch Freeview TV on your device.
Are you covered?
If you do plan to take along your laptop or other valuable gadgets to provide yourself with that all important internet connectivity, you may wish to cast an eye over any limits that your caravan insurance provider may impose on your contents cover – either on an individual item or on an overall basis.
Remember too that some cover providers may expect you to take certain steps to help protect your own possessions, so policies may understandably contain requirements in this regard within their terms and conditions.
These may include making sure that valuables are not left in plain sight, that you have approved locks or alarm systems in place and so on.
It might also be wise to bear in mind that even if your possessions are covered while they are inside your caravan, that cover is not likely to extend to articles left under your awning. So if you have spent the afternoon browsing your e-mails in the shade, make sure that your laptop is securely stowed away when you are finished.
This type of technology seems to be changing on an almost daily basis and you can be sure that if you can’t do it this season, then it may be available next!
Storing your caravan out of season
With the value of an average touring caravan sitting at over £9,000, as a tourer owner you may understandably be very concerned about the safety of your caravan when you are not using it over the winter months.
One option is to keep your caravan on your drive or in your garage, if you have one that is big enough, and that is what many caravanners do.
You may find that some providers might typically offer discounted premiums if you are able to park your caravan off of the public highway and perhaps fit approved alarm systems and locks. As an aside however, note that some may not accept off-season parking-up on the road or even your own driveway.
While these precautions may have reduced some elements of risk and helped to deter many thieves and vandals, a determined thief may still succeed.
Rather than adopting a fatalistic approach though, there are other possibilities open to you and that’s why we at Cover4Caravans are prepared to offer significantly discounted premiums if you arrange to store your caravan off season in a CaSSOA approved site.
CaSSOA stands for the Caravan Storage Site Owners Association and they provide secure parking for caravans over the winter season. The association’s sites can be found over most of the country and you can find lots of useful information on their website.
Sites like these typically offer parking in a secure, fenced and gated area with CCTV and security lighting plus strictly controlled access. Some may also offer garaging and service facilities as well as catering for long and short stay durations.
To find out more about the discounts we offer if you store your caravan on a CaSSOA-approved site, read our article here
Of course, out of season security is only half the battle and you’ll typically find that caravan insurance providers might also ask you to take additional precautions while you are out and about as well.
Out and about
Some, for example, may ask that you use a wheel clamp to help immobilise your caravan if you leave it unattended on site but still attached to the towing vehicle. If you unhitch and go off somewhere then a hitchlock may also need to be fitted.
In a similar vein, remember that however useful an awning is in providing additional living space, it is not a secure location for your possessions which may not be covered for theft or damage if they were under your awning at the time the event happened. Neither are they particularly robust structures, so you may find that storm damage to an erected awning that took place while you were not there, might similarly not be covered
Always be particularly careful at motorway service stations both in the UK and abroad and never leave your vehicle or caravan unlocked while you are paying for fuel. This is particularly important if you are travelling alone.
Caravanning should be enjoyable, and with a little care and attention to your surroundings, it generally is.
Check our our caravan storage and insurance video here
Going on holiday
So, you have your tourer and are raring to go.
The next question is – where to?
Here are a few things to think about before selecting your final destination:
- what facilities does the site have and can you find an objective review of it/them http://www.caravansitefinder.co.uk/ ? Sites with poor facilities are no longer common but they do exist and they might ruin your holiday;
- is there likely to be something to do locally for all the family? You and perhaps younger children might enjoy rural isolation but teenagers might find that terminally boring;
- how important is the weather? For some people, a wet holiday is not a problem but for others the prospect is a nightmare. If you’re in the second category, it might influence you to start looking south as opposed to north;
- are there shops, restaurants and pubs nearby? Constantly getting the car out to go anywhere might be a nuisance – particularly if you enjoy the odd drink or two;
- is the site child-friendly (if applicable)? Young children and sites that directly front onto a river, lake or the sea might result in you being a nervous wreck.
The bottom line is that it makes sense to choose your destination and site carefully. Note even the best tourer can compensate for being in the wrong place for you and your family’s needs – though you could move on of course!
Here are a few quick ideas about where to go:
- Scotland and the North of England. Stunningly beautiful scenery and superb history. On the risk side, the weather is rarely trustworthy and it’s a long drive if you’re based in southern England;
- Ireland. Beautiful and with a friendly and unique culture on both sides of the border. Remember to check that your insurance cover is valid for outside of the UK or off of the mainland – at Cover4Caravans we can help with appropriate policies. The downside is that ferries and cost and unfortunately, yet again the weather can be an issue;
- France and Spain. Two vast and magnificent countries and classic caravan holiday destinations. If you head south of a line roughly defined by the river Loire in France or Madrid in Spain, you should be more or less guaranteed good weather in summer. However, the southern parts of France and all of Spain are a combination of long drives and ferry costs. That adds significant cost to your holiday;
- Wales and the west of England. Stunning beaches and landscapes, ancient laws and Celtic traditions. From many parts of the UK, these two areas are also comparatively easily reachable. Things to be aware of are, yet again, unreliable summer weather and in the case of the West Country, crowding around major resorts and sites in summer.
However, with a tourer, the world’s your oyster so get out and about!
For many owners of touring caravans, the idea of going over to the continent of Europe is one that is hard to resist.
Here at Cover4Caravans have put together a few thoughts based on a number of individual countries. We hope you find them useful!
There are a huge number of pros in terms of touring around France.
A quick summary of these might include:
- excluding the Republic of Ireland, it’s the closest country to the United Kingdom and easily reached by a combination of ferries and the channel tunnel;
- it is rich in history and culture and an absolutely superb place for an extended tour;
- if you exclude or one or two of the major cities such as Paris and Marseilles, traffic jams in much of France are virtually unknown (though watch out for the first weekend in August when everybody goes on holiday at the same time);
- the weather just about everywhere is usually better than that in the UK though if you really want to be guaranteed reasonably good weather, even in the summertime, you will need to think about going to the Loire Valley or further south;
- diesel prices are typically lower than they are at home – though in fairness petrol prices might be marginally more expensive.
It’s really very difficult to identify any cons. You may wish to be aware of the fact that spot-checks by the Gendarmes are perhaps more commonplace than they would be with the police in the UK. The weather in Northern France isn’t something you can rely on even at the height of summer.
That’s about it!
This is a marvellous destination and a traditional favourite with British caravanners.
On the plus side:
- prices are typically lower than in the UK or many other European countries;
- the weather should be more or less guaranteed unless you are very unlucky;
- Spaniards are typically one of Europe’s more naturally friendly and outgoing nationalities;
- this is a beautiful country to explore, particularly if you avoid sections of the Mediterranean coast at the height of summer when crowds might be an issue.
Things to consider might include:
- it can be very hot in July, August and September;
- traffic congestion on roads during the peak season is relatively commonplace;
- it is a fairly long drive from the channel ports.
Surely one of Europe’s more interesting countries and good reasons to go there include:
- people who just seem to be naturally inclined to enjoy life;
- stunning history, scenery, weather and culture – including the cuisine;
- some fantastic roads and outside of the major cities, relatively few traffic hold-ups – particularly if you avoid peak holiday weekends.
Of course, nowhere is perfect so you may have to consider:
- as is the case with Spain, it can be very hot during peak summer periods;
- yet again, even the northern parts of Italy are a long drive from your port of entry to the continent;
- unfortunately, Italian driving standards sometimes may leave a lot to be desired!
This country is often hugely under-rated as a holiday destination. In spite of some stereotypical myths to the contrary, parts of Germany, particularly in the south, enjoy very good weather during the summer months.
Other good reasons to visit include:
- some spectacular scenery including fairytale castles and friendly people;
- a great history and some very charming towns;
- although you shouldn’t make too many assumptions, broadly speaking, many people will have at least some understanding of English;
- as you might expect, things here will work and do what they say they will do. Places that should be open at a given time will be open at that time, which isn’t necessarily always the case in other European countries;
- northern Germany is well within easy driving reach of the channel ports.
On the negative side:
- the traffic in some parts of northern Germany can put the UK’s traffic problems into context. It can, at times, be horrific;
- prices might be higher than in many European countries though perhaps that is rather overstated.
Of course, this is only a quick overview of four European countries. At Cover4Caravans we have produced several full destination guides to whet your appetite. You can read each one by clicking on the title:
- Caravanning for Adrenaline Junkies
- Complete caravanners’ guide to mainland Europe
- Caravanning for History Buffs
- Caravanners’ guide to theme parks in and around the UK
- Caravanning for Adults
- Coastal campsites for Caravanners – where to go and where to pitch up.
You and your touring caravan will have many others to choose from!
There are a whole host of reasons why it may be important to get to grips with some routine caravan maintenance.
Your primary aim may be to safeguard the investment you have already made in your caravan. There may be little argument that a well-maintained caravan might have a higher resale value than a poorly maintained equivalent.
The amount of maintenance that you can do yourself might naturally be limited by the amount of time and or expertise that you have. Of course, if you recently bought your caravan from new, then an annual check by the dealership may have formed part of your purchase contract.
There are, however, a number of routine tasks that can easily and safely be carried out by most, if not, all caravan owners. You may wish to bear in mind that all caravan insurance policies are typically based on the assumption that your caravan is in a good and safe condition.
Caravans need to be able to withstand most of what Mother Nature throws at us in terms of the weather.
While keeping out rain and wind might immediately spring to mind, so should protecting the external skin of your caravan from excessive sunlight (unlikely as that may be for the much of the time in the UK). Regular cleaning to remove dirt and grit which may damage bodywork followed by a coating of good quality caravan wax to protect it should go a long way to offering needed protection.
Door and window seals also need to be wind and water tight – if they are not, have them replaced.
Keeping the inside of your caravan clean is just as important – particularly if it is going to be out of use for some time.
Cleaning out the fridge and having a thorough ‘autumn’ clean may mean less potential causes for unpleasant odours to accumulate over winter, as some smells can be very hard to get rid of. Reducing possible food sources for mice and insects may also help to keep your caravan infestation-free.
If you have a tourer then when you have a flat on the motorway is not the time to find out that your tyres are not up to scratch.
A regular check to ensure that your tyres are in roadworthy and legal condition is critical for safety as well as important for overall touring fuel consumption etc. A visual check will help you spot damage but don’t forget to check pressure too, just as you would for the towing vehicle.
If you’ve ever been behind a caravan or trailer that has turned suddenly without any indication then you’ll appreciate just how important it is to regularly check that the electrics controlling the caravan rear lights and indicators and working and connected properly.
That’s also imperative for legal terms, unless you like the idea of lengthy discussions with the police!
What to take
Finally, once you are out and about, you want to ensure that you have essentials to hand, just in case something unexpected happens – read our free checklist here and you should be prepared for just about anything! http://www.cover4caravans.co.uk/articles/quick-guides/caravan-safety/caravanning-checklist