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All About Caravans

Two types of caravan designs are available - the standard caravan and the pop-top caravan.

The standard caravan has a full frame. It can be set up quickly and easily. The caravan is simple to position on site, to level and to connect to power, water and drainage. Within minutes you are ready to enjoy your holiday or overnight stay. Many people prefer the convenience of a standard caravan as its headroom enables you to move easily within the caravan. The aerodynamic design of new caravans of this type ensures they tow easily and safely.

Pop-top caravans are a variation from the standard. They have a roof that can be raised and lowered. Once the roof is raised, a vinyl skirt between the top of the caravan and the raised roof section ensures a waterproof and windproof seal. This skirt has zippered sections that open to allow airflow through the caravan with flyscreens to keep out the "nasties". The roof is easy to raise or lower by using either gas struts or easy lift handles. This type of caravan is easier to store and has less wind resistance when being towed compared to a standard caravan.

SIZE AND INCLUSIONS

Caravans vary in size from just under three metres in length to more than ten metres in length. The various models come in a standard layout, or can be customised to suit any requirements. The entry door into the caravan can be positioned at the side, middle or back.

Modern caravans can have all the comforts of home - double or single beds, a kitchen with refrigerator, oven, hotplates and food preparation area, dinette, cupboards and other storage areas.

Other inclusions can be a microwave oven, television and video recorder - with many larger caravans also being ensuited. Many caravans are air conditioned to give total comfort during your holiday.

CARAVAN CONSTRUCTION

Caravans are built on either an aluminium or timber frame. Both have a long life expectancy. An aluminium framed caravan uses aluminium extrusion or tubing, which is either welded or riveted to form the frame. With a timber frame, seasoned meranti timber is normally used. Most caravans are insulated during construction.

TOWING YOUR CARAVAN

Most modern vehicles are capable of towing a caravan.

However, first check the manufacturer’s recommended towing capacity for the vehicle. This can be found in the handbook supplied by the manufacturer or obtained by contacting the manufacturer direct. This towing capacity is the maximum weight your vehicle is capable of towing. This includes both the weight of the caravan and items carried in the caravan.

Check with the Regulatory Body in your State regarding their legal towing requirements. Some States have a lower towing capacity limit than that recommended by the manufacturer of the vehicle. Remember, you must comply with the towing regulations from the State in which you are travelling.

SAFE TOWING

Setting your vehicle up for safe and easy towing requires specialised accessories and commonsense.
  • Choose a suitable towbar. The towbar is the steel frame that is bolted to the tow vehicle. The only visible section of the towbar is the tongue, to which the towball is connected. It is important to fit a towbar that is capable of towing more than the weight you wish to tow. The towing capacity of the towbar is indicated by an attached plate.
  • A 50mm towball must be used to connect the trailer to the caravan.
  • A quality towbar system will include a height adjustment ball mount accessory that can be secured to the tongue of the towbar. This allows the towball to be set at a position that allows the caravan to be level to the ground. This is often necessary when the vehicle and caravan have different sized wheels.
  • When connected to the tow vehicle, 10% to 15% of the gross weight of the caravan should be on the coupling point.
  • A weight distribution system that distributes the weight between the caravan and the vehicle should be fitted to caravans. This ensures the caravan and towing vehicle are level with each other. By doing this, the problem of the tow vehicle’s rear being down and the front upwards when driving is avoided - a very unsafe driving situation.
  • If your vehicle has automatic transmission, fit a transmission cooler to ensure overheating of the transmission oil does not occur.

TRAVEL CHECKLIST

Before leaving home or when travelling to your next Caravan Park, check the following:
  • In the interior of the caravan, make sure all cupboards are securely closed, the refrigerator door is locked, the windows and hatch are closed and there are no loose items in the caravan. All heavy items should be placed on the floor, near the centre of the caravan
  • Make sure the caravan is correctly coupled to the tow vehicle. Then ensure your safety chain/s are connected. Two chains are normally fitted. Criss-cross the chains and use ‘D’ shackles to connect them to the secure points on the towbar
  • Ensure the electrical plug between the caravan and tow vehicle is connected. Then, check the brake lights, tail lights, turn indicators, clearance lights and electric brakes (if fitted).
  • Before moving off, make sure the gas is turned off, the door locked, the jockey wheel removed, the levelling jacks fully wound up and the steps raised.
  • Release the handbrake
  • Finally, walk around the caravan to ensure the caravan is ready to move. It would be embarrassing to drive off with the electrical lead still connected!

CARAVAN TYRES

The choice of tyres for your caravan is important. To carry the weight and to ensure good road handling, light truck radials are recommended. Depending on the laden weight of the caravan, these can be either 6 or 9 ply tyres. When choosing tyres for your caravan, ensure their carrying capacity is greater than the weight of your caravan - including your luggage, food and personal items. The information on the carrying capacity of a tyre is stamped on the outer wall of the tyre. Always inflate the tyre to the maximum permissible pressure. Check the pressures before each trip - always in the morning when the tyres are cold.

CARAVAN MAINTENANCE

Wash and polish the exterior of the caravan. Clean the interior after each trip. Wherever possible, store the caravan undercover. If you must store the caravan outdoors, cover the gas bottle and coupling. In NSW, all caravans weighing more than 750 kilograms must pass an annual inspection if the registration of the caravan is to be renewed.

OFF ROAD CARAVANS

Caravans designed for off road are becoming more popular. Off road caravans are constructed with a ber chassis and frame, heavy duty suspension, off road coupling and have a higher ground clearance. Additional spare wheels and gas bottles, jerry can holders and an extra water tank are fitted to most off road caravans.

CARAVAN BRAKES

Electric brakes are the most common type of braking systems fitted to new caravans. The brakes are controlled by an electric brake controller fitted inside the towing vehicle and within easy reach of the driver. This is then wired back to the electrical plug at the towbar. When correctly adjusted, this enables the caravan brakes to be applied as the vehicle’s brakes are used. Also, the brake controller allows the caravan brakes to be applied independently of the towing vehicle’s brakes. Read carefully the instructions supplied with the brake controller to ensure correct adjustment of the caravan brakes.

HOLIDAY SAFETY

The following hints will make your caravanning safer.
  • Your caravan must have a fire extinguisher. All new caravans have one as standard. Be familiar with its location and use.
  • Use a 15 amp power lead to plug into the power source on your caravan site. Make sure the lead is free of obstruction from the caravan to the power source. Never join two leads to provide power - the exposed connection is not waterproof.
  • Make sure your LPG appliances are switched off after use. When travelling, turn off your LPG gas at the cylinder.

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