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    As I found out to my cost several years ago when I started visiting shows I realized that for full enjoyment overnight and weekend shows were far more enjoyable. Having a family this meant buying the things I hate most on the road...............yep a CARAVAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Now before you leave, these ally cans on wheels do have there uses, somewhere to crash after a good night in the bar, somewhere to hide all the parts you've bought from the auto jumble from the wife.....the possibilities are endless.

    On a serious note towing can be daunting, my first van was an 18 footer of 57 vintage that fishtailed at every opportunity and that was with a stabilizer. I had no idea, so to help you here's a few bits of basic info:-

 

bulletCars registered after 1st August 1998 ('R' reg model year) must be fitted with a towbar that has been certified as type-approved.

 

bulletThe caravan has to be safe, in other words it shouldn't be so bad that it constitutes a hazard to other road users. Brakes must work. Overrun brakes (the ones that slow the trailer when you brake), as well as the handbrake.

 

bulletTyres should be fit, as on a car. The thing to check on caravans, especially old ones is for cracks in the sidewalls and general ageing.

 

bulletLights must work with the vehicle lights. There must be an audible or visual indication in the car that the trailers indicators are flashing. The Number plate must be to the correct standard and there must be a light to illuminate it when the sidelights are switched on as on a car.

 

bulletThe 'van mustn't weigh more than the cars kerb weight.  Secondly, the caravan manufacturer stipulates a maximum allowable weight  (MAW). This is the weight the caravan mustn't exceed when loaded with pots, pans, food, gas, battery, awning, etc. Exceeding this weight is illegal and is classed as overloading.

 

bulletA general consensus (not a legal stipulation) is that the towing vehicle will cope better and the outfit will handle better if the caravan or trailer doesn't exceed 85 per cent of the towing vehicles kerb weight. Of course if the manufacturers towing weight is lower than 85 per cent of the vehicles kerb weight, the lowest is the best.

 

bulletNose weight is the weight the hitch pushes down on the cars towball. Cars can have a wide range of nose weights specified. Things that have an influence on nose weight are the softness of the rear springs and the amount of rear overhang (the distance between the back wheel and the towball).

To adjust the nose weight, it's simpler if you imagine the caravan as a giant see-saw balancing on the wheels. If you put weight at the back of the caravan, the nose weight goes down, weight at the front of the caravan means more nose weight.

You can adjust the ratio of front to back weight to adjust the nose weight. But remember not to exceed the manufacturers maximum allowable weight and overload the 'van.

There are things that affect nose weight that can't be changed. You probably have to store the gas bottles at the front of the 'van. The heavy kitchen appliances may be at the back of the 'van.

Also remember to consider how the weight distribution affects stability when you are moving things around.  If you put something heavy at the back to lighten the nose weight, it might seem OK when on the level but when you are going uphill..... it could turn into a negative nose weight giving you all sorts of problems!

 

bulletYou can measure nose weight by different methods, but with ALL of them you should check the weight at the hitch, not anywhere else.

You can use a purpose-made nose weight gauge that you prop the hitch up with and it reads the weight.

As the typical nose weight is in the region of 55-75 Kgs (any lower is exceptionally low), you could even use a set of bathroom scales. Use a block of wood on top of the scales (cut to a length that puts the hitch at the same height it would be if hitched to the car). Put the hitch on the wood and read off the weight on the scales

 

bulletAutomatics can tow very well.  For a start there's no clutch to fry when you set off! But you must check in your owners handbook for any limitations. Towing vehicles with Automatic gearboxes may have different manufacturers limitations on towing weights. Check the handbook. You may have to fit a transmission fluid oil cooler above a certain weight of trailer or caravan. The consensus is it's safer to fit an oil cooler to keep the gearbox running cool even if you're towing below the weight the manufacturers specify for fitting one. (And it's cheaper than frying the gearbox). Also, if the transmission fluid hasn't been changed recently (ever!) then change it for fresh.

The myth that you can't tow with an automatic probably comes from owners handbooks warning about the car BEING towed. In this case, there are reasons why a car with an automatic shouldn't BE towed. There's no reason why a car with an automatic gearbox can't tow a trailer or caravan.

 

bulletThe stability of an car and caravan outfit is affected by many things. They all have a bearing on how stable the outfit will be. For instance, if the caravan has an end kitchen, think about having all that weight at the end of a pendulum. It will tend to exaggerate any swaying movement. So, concentrating the weight low down over the axle helps keep the outfit stable. Also, it's better if heavy items are stored lower, so tinned food and bags of potatoes should preferably be stored low down near the axle as well. The awning is the heaviest item in most 'vans, so don't store this in a rear locker.
Also check tyre pressures (car and trailer/caravan). These can affect stability too, especially if the pressures are different on either side.

Having a higher nose weight is also thought to make an outfit more stable, but don't exceed the car manufacturers nose weight limit.

Doing all the above, should lessen any swaying. Fitting a stabiliser should dampen any further tendencies to sway and
keep the outfit stable.

If you have a badly loaded and mismatched outfit, and then fit a stabiliser in an attempt to stop it swaying, you may find that one day the violence of the sway becomes so powerful that the stabiliser can't cope..... you are insured aren't you?

It's better to have a correctly matched and loaded outfit to keep the tendency to sway to a minimum to start off with and then fit a stabiliser to guard against the day you get a bad one. It should then be able to dampen the sway and not be overwhelmed.

 

bulletWiring up the electrical socket. For convenience click for full size picture.

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