Easy rider: Three lesser-known RV and caravanning tips

Jan 09, 2021
If you own a caravan or RV, these helpful hints will keep you rolling. Source: Getty.

With a caravan comes great responsibility. It also comes with a bunch of unwritten rules that you need to wrap your head around before you hit the road. And while the most common rules – such as performing regular servicing and maintenance on your vehicles – are well understood, there are some lesser-known tips that are still vitally important.

Starts at 60 chatted to James Field, chief technical officer at Caravan Industry Association of Australia, to find out what every caravan enthusiast should know before they put their pedal to the metal.

1) Avoid doing fit-outs yourself

What most people don’t know is that, although doing caravan fit-outs yourself might seem like a good idea, the DIY fitting of accessories such as toolboxes, pole carriers, bike racks, jerry-can holders, water tanks and aerials could actually make your caravan non-compliant and, more importantly, unsafe on the roads.

The issue is that altering a van could affect a number of things – including the weight and load distribution. “[You’re] adding the weight of the accessory itself, as well as what the accessory may be designed to store or hold (e.g. jerry cans at 20L in capacity = approx. 20kg),” James said. “This also needs to be considered in terms of the overall load carrying capacity of the trailer. If the weight is added to the rear (for example), this may then impact the load distribution and cause stability issues.”

What’s more, it could create dimensional issues, including extra length, width and rear overhang that could exceed what’s legally allowed on roads. DIY fittings can also obscure essential lamps or reflectors, which won’t just impact your safety on the roads but also that of everyone around you.

2) Know your limitations

Understanding the limitations, or ratings, of your vehicles before hitting the road is absolutely vital. These ratings include: the vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM), the trailer’s Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) and the Gross Combination Mass (GCM), and can change from vehicle to vehicle, so it’s important to never make assumptions.

“Once you know these ratings, you can check that you don’t exceed them when you load up,” James said. “These ratings are very important as they indicate the limitations of the vehicle/trailer. Complying with these is the key to remaining safe on the roads.”

3) Reverse safely with a caravan in tow

Although it might seem intimidating, there’s a simple way to reverse safely with a caravan (or anything else) attached to the back of your vehicle and that is using the five Ps.

  • Process: Reversing a trailer is a process. Make sure you take the time to understand how it feels and how the trailer reacts to different vehicle movements. Also get used to using your mirrors extensively to follow the trailer. Once you know how that feels, you can create a set process for yourself to follow each time. This process may differ depending on whether you have someone guiding you (a spotter) from the rear. If you do have someone guiding you, make sure they use clear, concise directions that both parties understand (e.g. “left hand down”).
  • Positioning and Pivot Points: Starting a reversing sequence in a good vehicle position is key. Strategically placing both the car and tow vehicle in a set way at a strategic angle will make the reversing process so much easier. Pick out some visual markers (or set some up) for where you are trying to reverse into and use these visual markers to turn or ‘pivot’ around. Over time, you will learn when the best time to turn is to seamlessly pivot around those visual markers you’ve set yourself.
  • Patience: Don’t be in a rush to hook it in first time. Take your time and pull forward to re-adjust as many times as required – it’s not a race.
  • Practice: Reversing proficiently takes time and practice.
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