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1. Know your weights
Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) of your caravan permitted by the manufacturer. This relates to the total travelling weight, including payload, such as water, gas, food and luggage and is usually stamped on a plate to the A-frame.
Tow ball weight of your fully loaded caravan. This is the weight on the back of your car (or on the jockey wheel if the van is uncoupled). You can measure this on a public weighbridge.
2. Van is level when hitch
Load your caravan where heavy items should be stored as low and as close as possible to the axle line and never in the tail. Overhead cupboards are for lightweight items such as clothes and packaged food. If you keep the weight evenly spread across the axle line, your ball loading and hence your caravan’s towing and braking stability should not be disturbed. Ensure that the van is then level when hitched.3. Select an appropriate tow car
Now that you know the caravan ATM and tow ball weight, you need to look at the specifications for your potential tow vehicle: the tare (TARE) weight it is built to tow; the gross vehicle mass (GVM); the gross combination mass (GCM); its tow rating and the ball weight rating.
The caravan’s ball weight should be less than the tow vehicle’s maximum ball weight rating, and the caravan’s ATM should be less than the tow vehicles maximum tow rating. Add the trailer ATM to the tow vehicles GVM, and the combined weight should be less than the GCM. If the total of the ATM and GVM is higher than the GCM, you may still be able to tow the caravan if you don’t load the caravan and tow vehicle to their permitted maximum.
4. Check tyres
- Wheel alignment can change and chop out your tyres if you nudge a few kerbs, while tyre sidewalls deteriorate due to standing around all day in the sun, wind, rain and cold.
- Take a look at the tyre sidewall ‘stamping’ to find out when they were made (this could be on the outside or the inside of the tyre and generally after a DOT or between two DOTS).
- As a rule of thumb, they are good for only 5-6 years before the rubber becomes hard and loses its grip, which is all the more important when you are trying to brake in the wet. Remember that they could have been manufactured a year or more before they were fitted to your van.
- Tyre pressures are another set of numbers you should be aware of. If you can’t find any other information, set them at the car manufacturer’s fully-loaded highway pressures for the rear wheels if you are travelling on bitumen, remembering that high temperatures and fast cruising will cause their pressures to rise about 6-8psi. Over-inflation in very hot weather can just as easily lead to problems as can under-inflation. Also, ensure that the pressures match on each side of the caravan, as an imbalance here will cause the van to pull one way or the other under heavy braking.
5. Maintain brakes
It is recommended to have your caravan serviced every 12 months, even if it hasn’t travelled far. Brake seals can perish over time and rust, if you have previously towed through fresh, or even worse, salt water, can do a lot of hidden damage.
Brake linings and the electric magnets that operate them can also wear out and we know of some off-road caravans that need new brake pads every 12 months.