Camping is total freedom during your holiday. In addition to this, camping is considerably cheaper than a hotel or a guesthouse. These are only a few reasons why camping becomes increasingly popular. Often, a tent will not do, causing the demand for a caravan or motorhome. The advantages of a caravan, what to observe at purchase as well as the caravan in traffic, its maintenance and legal aspects are described in this guide
1. Advantages of the caravan over a motorhome
Basically, a caravan is a small, fully furnished apartment. Bed, heating, refrigerator, cooker, sink and of course, shower and toilet are on board.
The advantage in comparison to a motorhome lies in the fact that you can move freely with the car at the holiday destination. The mobility for day trips with the motorhome on the other hand is limited. The disadvantage of a caravan is the speed limit due to towing a trailer. Depending on local condition, the allowed maximum speed lies at 80 – 100 km/h.
2. Legal and technical aspects (towing vehicle)
And this brings us to the legal aspects. For a caravan you need a tow bar and additional, wider side mirrors. Furthermore, you the right driving licence is required. If you passed your driving test on or after 1 January 1997, a full car driving licence category B with BE allows you to tow trailers weighing up to 750 kg. You are allowed to tow heavier trailers with the car as long as the total weight of the vehicle and trailer does not exceed 3500 kg.
With an average family car, caravans with a weight between 1400 and 1600 kg can be towed. The total mass of the trailer may not exceed the weight of the towing vehicle. For larger caravans you need a larger towing vehicle, like a luxury class car or an SUV. For larger trailers a driving licence category C1 with C1E is required, entitling you to drive a vehicle plus trailer with a total loaded weight of 8250 kg.
3. Costs for the caravan: insurance, parking location, maintenance
The caravan requires at least a liability insurance. Generally, additional costs amount to ca. 100 euro yearly. A camping insurance can be taken voluntarily. You need to take into account that toll charges for caravans are higher in other countries than for normal cars. Other costs to consider are those for its parking place. A caravan cannot be parked in the public traffic area for longer than two weeks. A parking space is therefore required. A roofed area is recommended as otherwise the caravan is exposed to the weather all year round.
4. What to consider when buying a used caravan
When buying a new caravan, you do not have to worry about possible defects. For used vehicles on the other hand, the opposite applies. The caravan must undergo a thorough technical inspection on the inside as well as on the outside. Furthermore, shock absorbers, the condition of the axle and the brake, tyres, lighting, drawbar and tow bar as well has hand brake must be checked. This also applies to the plug connecting the trailer to the socket of the towing vehicle. The plug is generally a 13-pole connector. If the towing vehicle has a 7-pole connection, you need an adapter. The tow bar must be checked on possible bending. The braking function must be checked on a test bench. For the tyre check it is not sufficient to measure the profile depth. As they are driven less often, their profiles are often still good after years. Possibly, the plasticiser in the rubber mix has escaped over the years. UV radiation and road salt accelerate this process. Therefore the age of the tyres is an important aspect.
5. Technical check of the caravan and gas installation
MOT inspection is required for trailers with an unloaded weight of more than 1,020 kg with powered braking systems (instead of standard overrun brakes and as well as the required parking brake). If you travel to Germany, Austria or Switzerland, you require an inspection log for the gas installation of your caravan. Owners of caravans and motorhomes wishing to travel to these countries, are advised to visit the website for information on required certification.
Checking the base plate, water and gas installation
The underbody of the caravan often consists of wooden plates on a metal frame. The wood must be checked for rot, the metal for rust. In the vehicle the carpets must be checked on moisture, especially in the corners, edge and at the entrance. The roof needs a moisture inspection as well, just as all gaskets of roof windows, doors and windows.
The condition of the water installation must be checked. All statutory certification must be present and valid. (Alternatively a new inspection is necessary, which might bring down the purchase price). The gas installation must meet the DIN EN 1949 standards. The condition of the entire gas installation as well as the electric wiring must be checked. This includes the battery, if present. Wire connections might be rusty.
The electric installation of the caravan
The electric installation is often suitable for supply by the 12 Volt network from the towing vehicle or its own battery, but also by the 230 Volt electricity supply from the grid. Very often, the refrigerator can be switched from gas to electricity. When all these checks are concluded, you can check the rest of the equipment on functionality. These include the folding table, the conversion of the couches into a bed, the functioning of the storage space doors, etc.
6. Maintenance (in case of long-time parking) and holiday preparation of the caravan
Several points need to be considered with respect to long-term parking of the caravan. Enthusiasts will jack up the vehicle to spare the tyres and the shock absorbers. The hand brake needs to be applied with care. If the caravan is standing on an even space where it cannot roll away, wedges under the wheels are sufficient. You can use the hand brake on condition that you release it every few weeks. In case of long-term parking the use of the hand brake is otherwise not recommended as it might seize up due to corrosion.
Water supply maintenance in the caravan
The water supply is an ongoing issue for campers. Some insist on draining the whole system in case of longer parking periods. This implies however, that the system needs to be fully dry in the literal sense. Therefore some caravan owners trust chemistry. The system is filled with potable water, to which several chemical substances are added. Special water connections with a floater and a pump ensure the system always being filled up.
Some caravan owners argue about the use of chlorine dioxide. This has to be mixed according to the manual of the manufacturer. Before winter (danger of freezing) everything should be drained. The system is rinsed and cleaned with fresh water and otherwise the corresponding chemicals shortly before use. Silver nitrates only work in water which has already been cleaned. In case of frost, water must certainly be drained from all hoses, boiler and taps. Do not forget the waste water tanks. Depending on composition, the waste water (chemical toilet) must be separately removed.
The gas installation – inspection and observing the rules
As previously stated, the gas installation must meet DIN EN standards. The gas cylinder should be standing in a special space, separated from the interior, where it can be fixed. In the gas room, hoses for the gas are allowed. They cannot be older than 10 years. In the caravan interior, gas pipes e.g. from copper must be installed.
Inspection periods for the installation should not be surpassed. During the period when the caravan is not in use, the gas cylinder must be removed and stored safely. There are return cylinders as well as owner cylinders, for which the common size should be considered. Before the holiday the validity of the gas installation inspection should be checked. The connection must be timely installed as well, so that possible repairs can be performed if necessary.
Electricity, fridge, storage space, etc.
Caravans are equipped with a battery which must be disconnected. If the caravan stands outside during winter as well, the battery needs to be stored sufficiently warm and dry. The refrigerator door should be left standing ajar to prevent mould. All storage spaces must be opened as well to avoid mouldy smell. Matrasses, cushions, etc. must be stored in a dry place.
7. General check before the holiday
The caravan has to be timely prepared for travelling. For the trailer itself this preparation includes the tyre pressure check, possibly greasing the coupling, checking the brake function and of course the lighting. Inside the caravan, after cleaning the water installation, the connection of the gas cylinders as well as the functioning of all other components must be checked. Plan your maintenance always allowing sufficient time for repairs.
Even though the driver has the proper driving licence, a test drive must be planned. Most caravan owners do not drive all year round with a trailer, but only on the trip to and from the holiday destination. Therefore, practising driving with a large trailer before the holiday is strongly recommended. This includes driving backward and parking manoeuvres. These test drives are especially useful for technical check of the caravan.
8. Leave nothing to chance – legal regulation and weight
When your camper is ready for travelling and loaded, we recommend having your caravan weighed. This applies to the travel-ready and loaded towing vehicle as well. Special caravan checks constantly take place here as well as abroad. If maximum weights are exceeded, the police can stop the caravan on-site. Furthermore, being aware of all legal stipulations with regard to caravans in transit and destination countries is part of a thorough preparation. Many fines and penalties are considerably higher abroad.
Weblinks: Caravanguard, AA, VCA
Foto: ABC Photo, Nednapa Sopasuntorn, Tadeas Skuhra, PATIWIT HONGSANG, kostasgr, Vereshchagin Dmitry, yrjö jyske, Charles Dawson, Tadeas Skuhra, Brian A Jackson, Nicky Rhodes /shutterstock.com