This year – just as in most years – getting your caravan ready for the next season is likely to be a game of two halves. In the Spring you are likely to have a checklist of things to do as the caravan is brought out of hibernation; in the autumn you are probably preparing to put it into storage.
It might come around sooner than you expected – so don’t be caught on the back foot and ill-prepared for those first opportunities for getting out and about in the first fine days of Spring.
You might want to use the few months between now and then for a spot of caravan maintenance and tender loving care. The time spent on these tasks now may pay dividends when it comes to taking out a caravan that not only looks good but also has everything in tip-top working order.
So, here are our few tips and suggestions:
Keeping up appearances
- If your touring caravan hasn’t been stored under cover during the winter months, it is likely to be looking more than a little weathered once the winter storms, snow and gales have taken their toll – not to mention the inevitable bird lime or fallen leaves if you have had to pitch it up near any trees;
- as March or April come around, many people start preparing for that first outing around the Easter holidays;
- with the weather soon hopefully improving – and the Met Office is best placed to tell you just when – it won’t be long before you can give the caravan a thorough wash down and to apply a good quality wax to keep it glistening and pristine clean;
Interior spring cleaning
- what goes for the outside, goes just as important for the inside too;
- while dashing away with your brush, duster, and vacuum, you might also take this opportunity to look for any signs of damp;
- condensation tends to be one of the caravan owner’s worst enemies, with damp soon turning to corroding mould which eats away at the panels and furnishings of your caravan, leaving an unpleasant odour, unsightly stains and not to mention the serious health risks which might ensue;
- a thorough airing of your caravan is likely to be called for, with special attention paid to any soft furnishings which need to be dried out and a careful check of doors and windows for any signs of leaks;
- good ventilation is key in the battle against condensation, so make sure that the caravan remains thoroughly aired and that vents are free of any obstruction which might impair their proper operation;
- water tanks and appliances are likely to have been drained down for winter storage and may now have a musty smell and taste – annual sterilisation, flushing and refilling may help to get systems back into a usable state. There are lots of products you can buy online for this as well as useful videos detailing the correct way to do this;
- for similar reasons, the empty fridge might also welcome a thorough clean – some bicarbonate of soda mixed into the cleaning water may help to clear any lingering musty smell;
- check the cooker by lighting each of the jets to ensure that there are no blockages and replace the gas cylinder or cylinders if necessary;
Security and safety
- whilst working on the caravan’s interior, you might want to make sure that all locks and security devices continue to work as they should – including, for example, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers;
- modern touring caravans are usually fitted with a tilt sensor, so it is important to confirm that this is still in good working order and that the alarm sounds whenever it should;
- if you have taken the precaution of fitting a tracking device, now might be the time to test that it works by towing your caravan a little distance from its current location and then contacting the tracking monitoring control centre to make sure that the company can identify your caravan’s new location;
- the tyres of your caravan provide the only way of keeping it on the road, of course, but are especially vulnerable to wear and tear – an essential safety check needs to be made on their condition;
- even with the best will in the world and the regular rotation of the wheels while the caravan has been in winter storage, the tyres have had to support the full weight of the vehicle – sometimes for long periods on the same tread of rubber;
- the tyres must be checked very carefully, therefore, for signs of wear and tear, to avoid potential failure whilst under tow;
- before taking to the road, you will need to make sure that the wheel bolts are properly tightened – especially if they have replaced winter wheels that you used whilst the caravan was in storage;
- you might want to review our article on the subject: Tyre safety and your van;
- it is not only the tyres that play an important role in keeping your caravan in fully roadworthy condition – a condition which it is your legal responsibility to maintain – but brakes, lights, hitches, and other running gear all play their part and need to be carefully checked and maintained;
- if subsequent checks suggest that you are using your caravan in an unroadworthy condition, you might not only fall foul of the law but also have any insurance claim denied;
- some maintenance tasks might be so important that you may feel more confident in putting the task in the hands of experienced and qualified engineers – indeed, the manufacturer’s warranty on some makes of caravan might require that an annual service be conducted by such an approved specialist;
- if you decide to get these essential maintenance tasks done by a qualified service provider, the Camping and Caravanning Club, the Caravan Club, and the National Caravan Council all suggest lists of approved workshops;
- before you set out on your first outing of the year, close and lock all cupboards, wardrobes, and stowage compartments – securing anything that is loose or might shift about when you are underway;
- lock the fridge shut;
- close and lock windows and roof vents whilst on the move;
- check the caravan’s road lights;
- make sure the jockey wheel is secured in its raised position and check the breakaway cable is properly connected;
- check the caravan’s nose weight to check that you are not overladen;
- release the handbrake – and you are off!
Making sure you and your caravan are legal
Preparing your caravan for the new season, making sure that it is roadworthy, and actually towing it behind your car are not, in themselves, huge challenges and simply require a little practice and experience.
Beyond these essentially practical measures, there are obligations under the law which you also need to follow in order to ensure that you and your caravan remain street legal:
Your driving qualifications
- your driving licence determines the type of trailer – your caravan in other words – which you are entitled to tow;
- unfortunately, the situation is less than crystal clear because of changes in the law, but might be summarised with reference to the rules published on the official government website;
- quite simply, the rules have seen steadily increasing restrictions on the type of trailer you may tow behind a vehicle, although even the latest rules – allowing a combined weight of car and trailer of up to 3,500kg Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) is likely to include the vast majority of caravans;
- nevertheless, the caravan must still be less than 7 metres in length (excluding the length of the tow bar) and be no more than 2.55 metres wide;
- staying within the law is important, of course, not least because of any possible invalidation of your caravan insurance – an issue which you might want to check further with us here at Cover4Caravans;
Your caravan/car combination
- perhaps one of the most widespread and significant areas for confusion or concern to those new to touring with a caravan is matching the trailer to the towing vehicle;
- at first sight, the calculations and the plethora of technical terms describing the relevant weights might appear overwhelming – although the essential limits for the caravans you may tow are in practice relatively straight forward;
- expressed most simply, there is a maximum weight that your car is designed to tow – a weight that is typically stated in your owner’s manual or other specification;
- if it remains unclear whether your car may legally tow your caravan, you might want to refer to the Gross Train Weight of your car and caravan combined – namely the fully laden weight of both the car and the caravan, which is typically expressed on your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate;
- for further information, please read: Caravan towing tips;
- if you are towing your caravan in Europe, there are further precautions you may need to take in order to stay street legal – and these may vary according to the local laws, rules, and regulations of the country in which you are driving;
- some of these rules may be familiar to British drivers – such as the prohibition against using a mobile phone whilst at the wheel – but other local laws may be less well-known;
- in France, for example, it is necessary to have onboard an alcohol breathalyser kit and it is worth remembering that in many European countries the blood alcohol limit when driving is much lower than in the UK;
- the cities and towns of some European cities and towns now have low emission zones for vehicles entering them;
- speed restriction signs might catch out some British drivers since they may be indicated simply by the name of the town or village which you are entering – the 50 kph (approximately 30 mph) restriction continues until you are leaving the built-up area, with the name of the town or village on a sign with a black edge and the name crossed through with a red line.
Although the local laws, rules and regulations when driving in Europe may not be difficult to comprehend, it is important to remember that they may be different from those to which you are accustomed in the UK and that they may vary from region to region and country to country.
Keeping yourself and your caravan on the right side of the law, of course, not only helps to avoid on the spot fines – or worse – but also plays its part in ensuring that your holiday proceeds smoothly and without a hitch.
You’ll recall our reference to getting your caravan ready for the new season being a game of two halves – preparing for the first outings and, at the end of the year, getting ready to store it once again?
Hopefully, the careful preparations you made at the beginning of the season meant that you had many trouble-free days of caravanning. Although you encountered no problems during the summer, however, it is still important to prepare just as carefully when laying up the caravan for winter – especially if you hope next season’s outings to go without a hitch.
The immediate question, of course, is where the caravan is to be located for its winter hibernation. In a choice between your own driveway, an unused farmyard, and a purpose-built caravan storage facility, the last is likely to win hands down. The Caravan Storage Site Owners’ Association (CaSSOA) has a network of member sites throughout the country, with each one graded according to the security and facilities present – winter storage at a CaSSOA site may also earn you a discount in your caravan insurance premiums and is something we recognise and encourage here at Cover4Caravans.
Although the security measures may help to put your mind at ease, it may still be a good idea to visit the storage site in advance to check whether your caravan is going to be on hard standing or concrete, under cover or in the open, and ease of access for you and the vehicle being used to put the caravan into storage and retrieve it again in the spring.
Whatever your chosen location for winter storage, there is a checklist of precautions to take:
- it is important, for instance, to thoroughly clean and wax the outside of the caravan, removing birdlime, oil stains, black or green mould – all of which may leave permanent marks if left untreated;
- in your enthusiasm to clean the exterior beware of using pressure washers warns the Camping and Caravanning Club, which suggests that more damage than good may be done by such pressure jets;
- the Club also urges caution and a regard for personal safety when using step ladders or stretching over to clean the roof of your caravan – it might well not bear your weight;
- as we have mentioned elsewhere, tyres are especially vulnerable to wear when left to bear the weight of your caravan in the same potion over a long period of time;
- you may want to consider replacing the normal road wheel with winter wheels – especially the lockable type, for added security;
- where possible, store the caravan with the corner steadies lowered and the handbrake off, to reduce the chance of it sticking;
- probably the most important preparation inside the caravan is to completely drain down all water systems – whether freshwater, the toilet flush or heating system – to prevent damage caused by pipes, fittings or valves freezing during the winter;
- special care needs to be taken over the storage of gas cylinders, which need to be turned off and disconnected from the caravan’s supply;
- your caravan storage site may have specific policies relating to the storage of gas cylinders and you may not be allowed to keep them close to the vehicle for the duration of the winter.
Whether it is preparing your caravan for a well-earned rest during the winter months or the anticipation of enjoying yet another summer on tour, the care and attention you give to getting ready for the next caravan season may prove well worth your while.