You’re probably thinking that summer 2020 was over before it even got started. Sad to say, with the winter nights inevitably drawing in, that’s already the case.
It’s that time of the year once again, therefore, to consider how – and where – you’ll be overwintering your touring caravan in a way that keeps it in as peak a condition as possible for the eve of what must surely be a longer and more satisfying season next year.
If yours is a static holiday caravan, that will also need preparing for the winter and the closed season typically operated by most parks and resorts.
If we do get a break in the weather these wintry days, however, you’ll no doubt be tempted to give your touring caravan an outing too. So, we’ll also round off with a few winter driving tips.
Let’s start with our tips and suggestions with a general background note before talking about how to prepare your caravan for the coming winter:
A little background
Caravan insurance, just like any other form of cover, is designed to cover policyholders against a range of unexpected mishaps ranging from perhaps the relatively minor right up to major catastrophes. However, virtually all forms of cover require that the policyholder takes certain minimum steps in order to reduce the obvious risks associated with their surroundings.
Just as household cover may oblige the property owner to fit certain door and window security devices, caravan insurance typically requires that you take steps to protect your caravan during the winter season.
If you fail to do so, you may find that you’re in breach of your terms of cover and that could put any future claim at risk.
Check your policy
There are many different types of caravan and an even greater variety of policies.
As a result, this reminder can’t be too specific because the risks and requirements here will vary depending upon the nature of your caravan and your policy. That’s why it’s important that you take the time to carefully read your policy’s terms and conditions.
Huge progress has been made in recent years in terms of making policies easier to understand through the use of plain English, so do make the effort. It really could prove to be important to do so.
Alternatively, if you are unsure of your obligations under your caravan insurance cover, contact your insurance broker who will be very happy to help.
If you have a static caravan, plan for the fact that you probably won’t be visiting it at all during the closed winter months. Given the need to comply with any conditions of your static caravan insurance cover, bear in mind that:
- your policy will probably require that you drain down all water and heating systems to reduce flood risks in the event of a freeze;
- don’t forget anchors and other recommended securing tethers to cope with winter gales;
- some policies might state that some types of goods are removed when your static is closed up for the winter – examples might include electronic equipment and so on;
- food should be removed from the refrigerator and all cupboards – some policies might stress the need for pest control measures too;
- double-check that all your seals on the doors and windows are in good order;
- once again, you may find conditions in your policy relating to enhanced security measures – some cover may only be valid if your site has 24/7 supervision, even in the closed season; and
- any gas supplies should be closed off at source. The exact mechanics of that may differ depending upon your installation and type of gas.
Storage for touring caravans
No responsible caravan owner should seriously consider “do nothing” as a viable option when it comes to winter storage of your touring caravan.
In the British Isles, winter tends to bring violent storms more often than bitterly cold and snowy weather, with all the risks that high winds and excessive rain can mean for a caravan. So, it’s important that your vehicle isn’t just parked up somewhere and then ignored for several months.
So, where are you going to store your touring caravan during the inclement winter months?
- if you remember how critical it was when choosing the home in which you live, finding where to store your caravan during the winter months could turn almost as important;
- your choice is likely to fall into one of two broad categories – your own driveway at home, or a purpose-designed storage site;
- your home’s driveway may have the apparent advantages of being conveniently close to home and cheap – but it might remain a winter eyesore as far as your neighbours are concerned and may be difficult to secure against vandals and other intruders;
- this leaves the option of choosing a purpose-designed, secure storage site – such as one in the network of more than 500 such sites around the country which are registered with the Caravan Storage Site Owners’ Association (CaSSOA);
- since 1999, CaSSOA has provided secure caravan storage sites, grading the level of security provided according to three main rankings – Bronze, Silver and Gold;
- these sites are regularly inspected and graded according to the level of security offered – being especially welcome as far as caravan insurance providers are concerned;
- so welcome, in fact, that here at Cover4Caravans, we offer an attractive discount on your policy (up to 15%) if you intend storing your caravan on a CaSSOA-approved site;
- when selecting a storage site, security is likely to be one of your principal concerns, so it is helpful that CaSSOA grades its accredited sites according to security standards and provisions;
- although you may prefer that your caravan is stored under cover, the Camping and Caravanning Club points out that storage sites providing such shelter are few and far between;
- if your chosen storage facility allows you access, it’s a good idea to try and periodically check out your caravan to make sure that all is well – you might spot tiny problems, perhaps weather-related, then nip them in the bud before they become something more serious;
- It might only consume a relatively small amount of time on an infrequent basis, but it could prevent a lot of heartache when you retrieve your caravan ready and eager for the first journeys in spring.
If your caravan is not stored under cover at your storage site, you might be tempted to cover your caravan with a tarpaulin or polythene sheets to protect it from the elements.
Longstanding advice from the Caravan Club, however, is to avoid such covers, which may end up preventing your caravan from “breathing” and therefore encouraging the growth of mould from condensation.
In addition, the restraining ropes and cords may also scratch or damage the windows and skin or your caravan. Besides, your caravan is going to breathe more easily if as many of the air vents as possible are left open to freely-circulating air.
Preparing the bodywork
Whether you have found a secure site that offers protected undercover storage, or somewhere out in the open, the bodywork of your caravan is likely to benefit from a thorough washing down to remove the summer’s grime and dirt before you apply any protective wax or put the trailer under cover.
The work also provides an excellent opportunity for checking for external damage generally – just be careful when reaching from steps or ladders across the roof, which is not designed to take your weight.
The underside of the chassis may also benefit from the same kind of attention, especially if you have been out and about when roads have been salted to deal with ice in the winter.
While working on the exterior of your caravan, make sure that the tyres are sound and inflated to the correct pressure – preferably, turn the wheels every month or so to avoid their being left resting on the same tread of rubber throughout the winter.
The ideal solution may be to use axle jacks and supports so that the whole caravan is off the ground – but secured still with steadies on each corner and with the handbrake off (to prevent it sticking into the applied position).
Unless your caravan has been jacked up on axle supports, you might also want the added security of wheel clamps.
Lubricate and protect
If it moves, grease it – this is a way not only of ensuring adequate lubrication of all moving parts but also an element of protection against the corroding effects of wind, rain, ice, and snow.
Check the electrical connection between your caravan and the car that is going to be towing it.
Inside your caravan, it’s important to take steps to close down or shut off various supplies and electrical systems. The exact nature of these will typically be specified in your owner’s manual.
It’s also only sensible to remove any portable valuables you have in the vehicle. Examples might include electronic equipment and any higher-value appliances – provided that they can be easily removed, of course.
Specific precautions and safety measures include:
- disconnection of the gas cylinders – but with the supply taps left open so that no gas is trapped within the pipes;
- the cylinders then need to be stored away from the caravan in a separate, secure storage compound – a security measure upon which most storage sites are likely to insist;
- when reconnecting the service come spring, remember to check – or have professionally checked – the integrity, safety, and good working order of the gas appliances;
- be sure to leave air vents open so as to allow air to circulate and help prevent condensation – and the mould it may cause;
- you might consider removing cushions and other light furnishings to prevent them from absorbing the moisture in the air;
- a further aid to dehumidifying the air is to create a “water-trap” in an open space in the caravan using a bowl of salt and rice or bags of silica gel;
- drain down the water system and empty it thoroughly, taking special care to dry fittings and fixtures which are vulnerable to freezing when it gets really cold;
- in addition to the heating and drinking water systems, also remember to clean and drain down the toilet – again to prevent it from freezing and to keep bugs and germs at bay too of course;
- a guide to overwintering published by the Camping and Caravanning Club, warns that batteries continue to discharge when not in use, so recommends that you take the caravan’s battery home with you, where you can recharge it from time to time.
If you decide to put your touring caravan into storage or shut down your static caravan this winter, these are just some of the precautions you might take in preparation. For extra reading, you might want to review our Guide to Caravan Storage and Security.
So, you’ve worked your way through our suggested list of tips – it’s neither unduly long nor onerous, after all – and everything is now prepared for your caravan’s winter “hibernation”, pending its reappearance in tiptop condition come the spring.
That is all but for one exception, of course – the glorious unpredictability of the British weather. Just as you’ve finished tucking up your caravan for a warm and cosy lockdown against the worst that winter can throw at it, the skies brighten, the sun comes out, and you’re raring to get back out on the road for some mid-winter outings.
For many hardier caravanners, of course, winter is no longer a no-go time. There are plenty of opportunities out there for you to use your caravan through the wintertime and that brings with it a number of advantages including quieter sites and tourist attractions.
Winter driving tips
Caravans these days tend to be made for all weathers and towing your tourer in the wintertime is likely to prove perfectly safe and hassle-free. Road conditions are likely to be different, of course, so here are a few winter driving tips that just might come in handy one day.
At the heart of those tips, is a recognition that a little bit of common sense and advance preparation can make all the difference when it comes to safer winter motoring:
- think about fitting tyres that are specially designed for winter conditions and which might offer you a lot more road-holding when it’s a little icy and snowy out there;
- remember the antifreeze – yes, it’s incredibly old advice but every year lots of people forget it and end up with potentially disastrous results for the engines of their cars;
- if you are in any doubt about the seriousness of road conditions, however “borderline” they may be, don’t take the chance of venturing out with your caravan in tow – listen to government, police and motoring organisation advice from the Met Office and if they say to stay at home, then make sure you do;
- check your windscreen wiper blades – it’s dangerous if they are not efficiently clearing the rain off your windscreen and much more so in slushy and muddy conditions when your glass may get plastered very quickly if your blades aren’t doing their job. Keep your washer liquid topped up for the same reason;
- stick to main roads. Much as we might all love our favourite short cuts via small side roads and country lanes, in wintry conditions they can become quickly impassable – so give them a miss even if you think they just might be clear;
- be cautious about fords and floods. Remember that the depth of a ford might be much higher in winter than in summer. Floodwaters on the road might also be much deeper than may appear at first glance. So even if you have a big 4×4, exercise extreme caution and try to avoid going through the water if you can; and
- check your battery – this advice is almost as old as remembering your antifreeze and it’s also just as likely to be overlooked until it’s too late.
Even when driving on short urban journeys, when there is snow around make sure you keep extra warm waterproof clothing somewhere in the boot of your car in case of emergencies. Likewise, keep a good sturdy pair of waterproof boots in the car at all times, plus a shovel and a torch.
If you are driving in isolated areas, some experts recommend keeping some non-perishable food in the car plus some matches and a couple of candles – the heat from one or two candles might keep you alive in an emergency, though remember to make sure the inside of your car is well ventilated and watch out for flammable materials if you need to use such a solution if you are marooned in a snowdrift.