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caravancampingsales – Top tips for first-timer caravanners

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Dec 23, 2020

More Australians than ever are choosing to holiday in a caravan, but there are a few things you need to consider before hitting the road

As more people consider buying a caravan for the first time, it’s important that novice owners get up to speed on towing and other RV basics to ensure a safe and trouble-free journey.

More experienced but out-of-practice caravanners might also need to brush up on safety tips and skills after an extended stay-at-home period.

To stay on the right track here are some tips to keep in mind before heading out on your next caravan adventure.

Choose the right tow vehicle

Well before setting off on your first caravan trip, it’s important to make sure the chosen tow vehicle is up to the task of hauling your shiny new caravan.

Make sure your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity is sufficient for the maximum loaded weight of the caravan, or Aggregrate Trailer Mass (ATM) rating specified on the trailer plate.

A tow rating well above the van's loaded weight is preferable. The tow ball mass rating needs to be sufficient too, and remain so even when the tow vehicle is loaded up.

Don’t forget that TBM is part of the vehicle’s payload, and also a proportion of the vehicle’s rear axle load. These have to be factored in your towing weight calculations.

It’s a good idea to buy a vehicle with as much towing capacity as you can get, even if you don’t think you’ll ever need it. Generally speaking, the vehicle will have more power in reserve and more weight to make it a more relaxed towing platform. It’ll also give you some leeway if you upgrade to a heavier van later.

Ideally, the tow vehicle should weigh as much if not more than the trailer, while diesel engines usually offer better overall performance and fuel efficiency when towing.

Consider tow vehicle upgrades

There are various ways to enhance your tow vehicle's performance and durability.

The transmission will run hotter when hauling a heavy trailer, so having an aftermarket transmission cooler fitted can be a wise move. Upgrading your vehicle’s suspension with heavy-duty springs and shocks, front and rear, or airbag rear helper springs can help improve the ride when towing.

As a significant towball download can cut into your vehicle’s payload, a gross vehicle mass (GVM) upgrade is also advisable in some cases.

Other towing upgrades include a heavy-duty radiator, long-range fuel tank, engine performance enhancements and fitting better quality brakes.

You might not think a lot about your braking system, with a well-adjusted disc/drum set-up on modern tow vehicles adequate in most cases (when the trailer brakes are properly set up at least).

However, slotted disc brake rotors and high-performance brake pads are not just for high performance cars -- they can also improve a tow vehicle’s braking consistency, especially when descending mountainous terrain where the brakes get a work-out.

One option is the Bendix Ultimate 4WD Brake Upgrade Kit from brake expert Bendix; available for fitment to all popular modern dual-cab utes as well as 4x4 SUVs like the latest Toyota LandCruiser models and Nissan’s Y61 Patrol.

“The Ultimate 4WD Brake Upgrade Kit is a comprehensive package which includes all the hardware to significantly improve the braking performance of your vehicle,” Bendix Product Manager, Ian Campbell told caravancampingsales.com.au.

“Our Ultimate Brake Rotors are vented and feature diamond-tipped slots that not only ensure consistent stopping power but are better at eliminating dirt build-up in off-road conditions.

“The high carbon material used in their construction, combined with the pillar ventilation technology improve thermal conductivity for consistent performance too,” Campbell explained.

Bendix Ultimate 4WD Brake Pads are in turn specifically designed for the slotted rotors on heavy-duty four-wheel drive vehicles, providing high-temperature stability and fade resistance while reducing brake dust and noise.

When paired with Bendix Ultimate 4WD Braided Brake Hoses (included in the brake upgrade kit), the replacement Bendix pads provide a consistently firm pedal. This is thanks to the fact the Bendix braided hoses are more rigid and expand less under high pedal pressures.

And, to keep the brakes in tip-top condition, the Bendix Ultimate 4WD Brake Upgrade comes with one litre of Bendix heavy duty brake fluid, a can of Bendix Cleanup and a tube of Ceramasil lubricant and a heavy-duty touring case.

Your regular mechanic can fit the Bendix Ultimate 4WD Brake Upgrade Kit.

Have a pre-trip checklist

While not all caravan owners use one, a detailed to-do list can ensure your next caravan holiday stays on track.

Many caravan owners only travel a few times a year, so you’re probably going to forget something: an essential item, or something you should have done before hitting the road with the family on board and up to three tonnes of caravan behind you.

It might be as simple as ensuring that your gas bottles are turned ‘off’ for travelling, but it could be double-checking that your caravan connections allow its battery to charge, you’ve filled the water tanks, or that your rear lights are working.

You also don’t want to be out on the highway before realizing you’ve left a side locker door open, or the pop-top roof up. Or worse, haven’t properly secured the tow coupling so it bounces off over the first speed bump.

Ideally, a comprehensive checklist covers the different items before heading off from home, when setting up and packing up at camp, and at the end of your trip.

You also need to give some thought to packing; ensuring you can get all your gear in the van for the various needs of camping while not overloading it or upsetting towing balance while doing so.

It’s a good idea not to pack heavy gear in high cupboards; leave them for lighter items such as clothing. If in doubt, run the rig over a weighbridge; if your van is over its legal weight, you’ll have to shed some payload.

Learn how to tow

Towing a big caravan can be daunting, let alone potentially dangerous if you don’t follow a few rules. Like most things, practice makes perfect and it’s best to start slowly with a few shorter trips before attempting a Big Lap.

Watch your speed, and check the towing mirrors regularly to ensure the van is tracking safely behind.

Many caravan accidents occur when overtaking, so think twice before doing it.
While there are times when you can safely overtake when towing a caravan, the risks are magnified with something so large and often unpredictable behind.

Road conditions (and prevailing winds) can dramatically affect towing stability, and unless your rig is unbalanced sitting between 90 and 100km/h on the highway is often the sweet spot for most rigs.

Trucks passing can create huge bow waves of air that can push your van around, so try to keep as wide a berth as possible between your rig and large trucks.

If the caravan starts to sway, don’t panic. If it’s a gentle sway, slowly ease off the accelerator until the van begins to track true again. In the case of a more nasty sway, you should hit the override button or switch on the electric brake controller to activate the van’s electric brakes. It’s also recommended to keep some pressure on the accelerator.

Allow plenty of time for breaks when you’re towing. Don’t be overly ambitious about how far you’ll get in a day; remember, when towing you’ll be traveling slower than you do without the van.

Even if your van is fitted with a remote controlled, wheel-driven mover, you’ll need to learn the art of reversing a caravan. It’s not that hard, provided that you’re patient and practice. A large, empty car park with some markers such as safety cones is a good place to start.

Even better, a professional towing course is an invaluable confidence-builder when you’re new to caravanning. Ideally, do one with your travel partner so you’re both on the same page. You’ll get hands-on advice about basic safety checks and tips on how to reverse a van.

Setting up for holiday success

Well before you arrive at that bustling holiday campsite or caravan park, do a ‘dry-run’ at home or a nearby park to prevent potentially hours of frustration as you struggle to set the caravan up for the first time.

Practise things like opening and closing the awning, raising the pop-top roof, removing the jockey wheel and winding the corner stabilisers until comfortable with the procedure. Also know where any supplied tools are kept.

Have a read through any appliance manuals and have them readily available if you need to trouble-shoot any issues on-site.

Check you have all the essential bits and pieces like tap fittings and hoses to connect to mains water at the caravan park. After a few trips you should have an assortment of items like pliers, vinyl tape, cable ties and WD40 for your RV toolkit.

When pulling up at the campsite, take your time and have a look around, noting any obstacles such as taps sticking out of the ground.

Don’t forget to look up – branches that are well clear of your vehicle may well be too low for the van. And keep an eye on the front of your tow vehicle as well in case you’re going to hit something.

If experiencing problems, there’s often a friendly camping neighbor around with the right tool or who is willing to assist. Many caravan park operators will even back your van into a tight spot for you.

Don’t ignore basic campground or caravan park rules. Most caravan parks have a night-time curfew, and running a generator all day won’t make too many friends.

Stick within your site, and be aware of grey water run-off, noisy dogs or children that might irritate your camping neighbours.

Keep your caravan in good nick

Preserve your caravan’s exterior by keeping it undercover or protected by a weatherproof cover. In parts of NSW and Queensland, hail damage is a real issue, so ideally, you’ll want to cover your prized possession with a cover featuring an inner-foam liner.

A custom fitted cover is best, as some cheaper covers can scuff the caravan or motorhome bodywork in the process.

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