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Caravanning problem? Our panel can help!
WHICH VANS ARE BEST FOR NEWBIES?
QI am hoping you can help us, please! We have had VW campervans for years now (mostly T2 and early Bays), but we have got rid of them as ours cost a lot of money to maintain.
I now fancy a caravan, but it will have to be one that is easy to tow because I have never towed before.
I would also like something retro and cute – so it matches my dog! Can you help please? Sarah (surname withheld)
Peter Baber replies…
You are in luck, Sarah, as the trend among designers these days is very much towards producing lighter caravans that are easy to tow.
One small manufacturer, Wheelhome, has even brought out a van called the Dashaway, which is so narrow that when all its extending bits have been put away, you don’t need towing mirrors. This has an unladen weight of only 720kg.
However, you’ll need to think about the interior, too – if more than one of you (plus dog) will be travelling, the Dashaway might feel a bit cramped.
If you are after something retro, how about Eriba’s special edition Troll 530 Rockabilly and Ocean Drive models?
Eriba is known for producing diminutive caravans, and these two hark back to the 1960s, with their stylish interiors and
| MAY 2021 two-tone exterior – in red and white for Rockabilly (rather like a diner from the period) and blue for Ocean Drive. You and your dog should love these.
If your budget won’t stretch to that, try Polish-built Freedom caravans. Some find them a bit basic, but others love their look, and they have unladen weights starting at 650kg.
For a more mainstream van, you could consider the Xplore 304, by Erwin Hymer UK. This four-berth is only 5.54m long, but includes an L-shaped lounge at the front – plenty of space for your dog to stretch out. Xplores have non-fitted carpets (so pet hair should not be a problem) and funky interiors, particularly if you can find a 2019 model with ‘Shoreditch in Citron’ upholstery.
If you decide that you need something bigger, try to find a model that has Al-ko’s ATC trailer control system fitted.
This makes a huge difference to how easy it will be to tow.
CAN I RETROFIT AN AL-KO ATC SYSTEM?
QI tour in a 2001 Swift Challenger 520 SE, which I currently tow with a Land Rover Discovery 3.
Last summer, the car and caravan started to snake on a downhill stretch of motorway. I eased off the accelerator and both came back under control, but the incident has made me nervous. I want to make sure the outfit is as stable as possible, so I’m wondering, can I retrofit the Al-ko ATC system?
David Motton replies…
It is possible to retrofit Al-ko’s ATC to the majority of caravans with an Al-ko chassis. However, Al-ko doesn’t supply ATC as a DIY kit. It must be fitted by a caravan servicing centre. It will cost a few hundred pounds, but should give you peace of mind.
You might also want to think about how you load your outfit. Keep heavy items in the van low down and close to the axle, and secure the load so it can’t move around. Milenco’s telescopic cargo bars are one way to stop things moving about under acceleration and braking.
‘These days, the trend among van designers is very much towards producing small, lighter caravans that are going to be easy to tow’
IS MY BATTERY BEING CHARGED ON THE GO?
QI’m new to caravanning and go out in the van all year round, once a month at least, pandemic permitting!
Could you please tell me, is the battery charged when the caravan is being towed and when it is hooked up, or do I have to take it out to charge it?
It has been out of the van, charging in the garage, over the winter, but it’s heavy and awkward to remove, so I’d like to avoid this if possible.
Peter Baber replies…
This is a classic ‘ How long is a piece of string?’ question!
A lot depends on the age of your car, how the towbar wiring is set up, and the van’s electrical set-up, so we could do with a bit more information to provide a definitive answer.
With that caveat in mind, once the car engine is running, a properly configured towbar electrical installation will charge your caravan battery while you’re on the road.
Whether the battery charges when your caravan is hooked up on-site depends on whether it has a charger in the circuit. Anything built in the past 20 years will have a charger as part of the mains installation, although they might need switching on to do anything.
If you have them, refer to the caravan handbooks or simply have a look around the van. The only way to really know what is happening is to hook up a multimeter to the battery when you think it is being charged.
Presuming you do have a charger, it will charge the battery as well when you are hooked up to the mains. If this is the case, and you are using your van regularly, it shouldn’t be necessary to remove the battery for charging.
It’s not a bad idea to get the battery onto a standalone smart-charger periodically, which will cycle the voltages during charging to provide a thorough charge and a degree of conditioning, to keep it in good shape and check it over.
Good battery care is a proper rabbit-hole – head to practicalcaravan.com for more in-depth advice about this.
HOW CAN I COMBAT TOWING ANXIETY?
QI’ve been caravanning for a few years, but I seem to spend a lot of time worrying about other road users when I’m towing. So much so, it’s affecting how often we go away. It’s now been more than a year since I’ve hitched up the van, because of the pandemic, and I’m feeling a bit anxious about it now. Does anyone else get anxious before they hitch up? I’d love any tips or advice to give me a little more confidence on the road.
Sarah Wakely replies…
There is no shame in feeling a little apprehensive after not towing for a while. Familiarity definitely breeds confidence and you’ll soon be back in the swing of it. There are some things that you can do to de-stress the driving, though.
For many, the big stressors are the things you don’t know. Not knowing where you are going and not being able to see properly are two big ones you can do something about.
After a long spell off the road, make your first journey to somewhere you know, so that you aren’t navigating unfamiliar roads. Relying on sat nav is guaranteed to give tow car drivers at least one coronary per trip!
Many caravanners are perceived to hesitate before manoeuvring and that’s often due to poor vision. Spend some time before setting off tweaking your mirrors, so you can change lanes and turn with confidence. On the road, signal earlier than you would solo.
If some halfwit feels they must get past the caravan, they’ve got time to get by, and you have more time to react afterwards.
When backing onto a pitch or going through a gate, get out to look first, if you are worried things are a bit tight. Overcaution is preferable to an insurance claim. Every time.
A good habit is to care less. When a farmer pulls a tractor in front of a line of traffic, one thing they rarely do is care what the people behind think. Your priority is you.
Travel at a speed you’re happy with. If you glance in your well-adjusted mirrors and see a few cars behind, pull into the next safe sliproad and let them by. Be considerate, but don’t be bullied. You aren’t there to keep other motorists happy. Your job is to get where you’re going, safe and sound.
If you really are struggling to get your confidence back, both of the major touring clubs offer towing courses, and, they aren’t just for newbies. They are a great refresher on the latest rules and best practice, and brilliant for reminding you there is nothing to be scared of.
For more on safe towing, see p84 of this issue.
‘After a spell off the road, make your first journey to somewhere you know, so you aren’t navigating unfamiliar roads’