With the open road, the beautiful countryside, some peace and quiet, and your temporary home following behind you – caravanning can be a holiday like no other. However, if you’re new to driving one it can be a little daunting to get started.
A little prep and practice should have you safely on the move in no time – here are the main things to consider before setting off on your adventure.
Before you hit the road
First things first make sure your caravan is safe before you go:
- Do you have the right towing weights?
- Have you got the right license?
- Are your tyres the right pressure?
When you load up your caravan, organize the space so any heavier items go first at floor level to avoid objects knocking around while you drive.
Towing a caravan can be a tricky business at any time, but by dark you need to be extra-alert, so make sure you have the following lights before you set off on your journey.
- Direction indicators
- Number Plate Light
- Two red side lights at the rear
- Brake lights
- At least one rear fog light (if the trailer is more than 1.3m wide)
- Two red triangular reflectors
Try Before You Drive
It can be a good idea to practice a few manoeuvres in an open and quiet space without the pressures of the road. You could have a go at reversing, try to get a feel of the weight and size of your trailer, and familiarise yourself with the distance between front and back. To help build your confidence, there are some introduction to caravanning courses online which can be worth doing – this way you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your holiday, doing your nerves a huge favour in the process.
Take Time And Space
Caravans are much longer, wider, and heavier than a normal car, which means your maneuverability is limited. This makes it important to remember to give yourself more time and space when driving – for example, build up your speed gradually and allow extra time for braking.
In zones with speed limits of up to 50mph there is no difference between the restrictions on cars and caravans. Once you get into 60mph zones then cars towing a caravan are restricted to 50mph, and on the motorway the maximum for a car towing a caravan is 60mph. Any vehicle towing a trailer is also not allowed onto the third lane of a motorway. For more detailed guidelines on motoring laws for caravans and trailers, read this guide.
Drivers new to towing will often find reversing to be the trickiest of all manoeuvres. Give yourself enough space to start reversing in a straight line, then flick the wheel – remembering to counter-steer – to get the caravan going in the appropriate direction. When the back end is where you want it, turn the wheel on to opposite lock so the car is following the caravan back – a shunt or two can help you position it perfectly. For more help with reversing a caravan, try reading these tips.
How To Avoid Snaking
Snaking happens when the caravan starts to move from side to side in a swaying motion. This could cause the caravan to tip over, possibly even taking the car with it. One way to avoid snaking is with a well-matched outfit – in simple terms this is the making sure the ratio of your car to caravan weight is right.
Going Down the Hill
When driving downhill it’s important to ensure you don’t start hurtling down and losing control – stay in charge by changing down a gear as you approach the slope. And, remember not to leave the gear change until too late. Using the lower gears throughout the decent will reduce the strain on your car’s brakes. If you are driving an automatic car it is possible that you might need to manually change to a lower gear in anticipation of the gradient.
Avoid Uphill Struggles
When going uphill, change gear in good time. If your car is running short of power or is behind a slower vehicle, keep well into the nearside and out of the way of other vehicles. And although some hills may look easy, if you come to a standstill in traffic, you’ll be met with an unexpected challenge of having to re-start from scratch.
When you’re sitting behind the wheel of your home from home, enjoying the freedom of the road and that warm sunshiny feeling, it helps to spread the love by giving a thought to the other vehicles on the road. You know what it’s like to be stuck behind a lumbering slow vehicle for miles on end? The nice thing to do is to let them pass – a few flashes on your left indicator gives them the signal that they can go ahead. But only do this if the road is clear for long enough. If not, just slow down slightly to ensure the move is made safety – you’re on holiday, there’s no rush. Give them a wave and a smile and everyone’s happy.
Caravans can be great fun for the whole family, but even the best vehicles might still run into some trouble. While you’re on a driving holiday, why not make life easier for you and your car – AA Automyze acts as your vehicles personal assistant, and its online tools make owning and maintaining a car hassle-free, so you can concentrate on relaxing and enjoying your break.