Jul 28 2009 Steve Hughes
Caravanners beware of snakes
AS the holiday season gets into full swing, make sure your caravan doesn't do the same!
Association of British Drivers spokesman Paul Biggs warns that drivers must learn how to avoid a 'snaking' situation where the caravan swings from side to side. In the worst case scenario, the caravan can swing right round and hit the side of the towing vehicle causing the outfit to spin and overturn.
First and foremost, the caravan and car combination should be well matched. A fully laden caravan should ideally not exceed 85% of the weight of the car, particularly for beginners. The optimum nose weight for a caravan is generally regarded as being 7% of its laden weight.
Towing stability is dependent on how the caravan is loaded. Heavy items should be placed over and in front of the caravan axle, but not towards the rear of the caravan or high up in lockers. Fit a stabiliser, but remember that a stabiliser is no substitute for a carefully loaded caravan.
Ensure that the caravan tyres are in good condition and inflated to the caravan manufacturer's recommended pressure. Unlike car tyres, caravan tyre tread rarely wears out due to the low mileages travelled.
However, other dangerous defects can develop due to lack of use and ageing. Look for signs of cracking, splitting or flat spots due to standing in one position. Replace the tyres every five years as a matter of course, even if they look okay. Don't forget that the car tyre pressures may need to be inflated for towing - front and rear tyre inflation pressures will specified in the car handbook.
On the road, remember that your car-caravan combination will take longer to stop.
Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front and brake gently unless an emergency stop is required. In 70mph limits caravans are restricted to 60mph, and to 50mph in 60mph zones.
Try not to build up too much speed and momentum downhill as this is when snaking is most likely to occur. Being overtaken by a large vehicle can also induce snaking. Crosswinds can affect stability and may dictate a lower speed.
If the caravan begins to snake, don't accelerate or brake. Lift off the accelerator to allow engine braking and loosen your grip on the steering wheel until the snaking is brought under control, then gently accelerate back up to speed.
Finally, a caravan should be professionally serviced every 12 months regardless of how few miles have been travelled.