Heading away in your caravan? Caravan travel can be the ultimate family adventure but it’s very important to make sure your vehicle is safe to drive and tow, your items are secured and you have packed all the essentials to make your adventure comfortable! Use our caravan travel pre-trip checklist below as a guide:
Caravan and Car Pre-Travel Checklist:
First thing’s first: is your vehicle roadworthy? Make sure your services are up to date, so you can be confident the vehicle has been given a good once over. If your vehicle hasn’t been serviced lately, it’s well worth getting a service done before a big trip. The last thing you want is for your car to break down in the middle of nowhere!
2. Vehicle Load
How much weight can your car tow? Make sure you know your towing limits and check that your vehicle can tow what you need it to. There are penalties in each state if you are towing over the limit – not to mention it could be extremely dangerous.
The load capacity will be partially taken up by the weight of the trailer’s hitch. All vehicles have a Maximum Tow Ball Mass, which limits how much weight can be directly applied to the tow ball. For some vehicles, this limit is on a sliding scale, which means the more load you have in the towing vehicle, the less you can have on the ball.
Use tow ball weight scales to check the weight on your tow ball. You simply lower the caravan coupling onto the tow ball weight scales.
Pro Tip: A general rule of thumb is to have a minimum 10% of your total caravan or trailer weight resting on your car’s tow ball for safe handling.
3. Load Mass
Make sure your towing load is under the limit – especially because you are likely to accumulate extra items, meaning more weight, as you travel.
Pro Tip: Weigh your caravan at a public weighbridge for the most accurate results.
Getting the right tyre pressure is important, as properly inflated tyres will give you the best safety and fuel economy from your towing vehicle. Check the recommended tyre pressure for your vehicle when towing. As a general rule, all tyres (including your spare) should be inflated to about 15kPa above normal tyre pressure.
Next, check the caravan/trailer tyres. Refer to the manual for the correct pressure or contact your local caravan repair centre.
Depending on where you’re travelling, you may need to adjust the pressure along the way. Buy an air compressor and/or a tyre repair kit to keep your tyres at the right pressure.
5. Wheel Bearings
Don’t forget to add this important step to your caravan checklist. Wheel bearings are something people don’t think about until it’s too late. To check the wheel bearings, jack up your caravan, one side at a time. Grab the outside of a tyre and give it a wiggle at the top, bottom and both sides. If you feel any movement, it’s time to get the bearings checked out, so book the caravan in for a service.
Do your brakes work smoothly? Do you have an electric brake controller? Hitch up your caravan and do some very controlled, low speed brake tests to make sure that your caravan brakes are functioning properly. Trust us – you do not want to be travelling at full pelt down the highway before you realise your brakes need adjusting.
Remember, braking can be slower when towing. But the right electric brake controller can help you stop safely.
Legally, any caravan towed in Australia above 750kg GTM must be fitted with brakes and if it’s above 2,000kg, these brakes must be electric. If you have an electric brake, you're required to have an electric brake controller.
Wherever you’re travelling, it’s essential you have fully functioning lights on your towing vehicle and caravan. Check your brakes, indicators, park lights and high beams.
Do you have the right lights for 4WD tracks, if that’s where you're heading? Check out the wide range of LED lights by Bushranger 4×4 or Great Whites.
Then think about all the other lights too – check your awning, grab handle, doorway, cupboards, fridge, bathroom and more. Check EVERY light!
Pro Tip: Always carry spare globes, especially for brakes and indicators.
8. Caravan/Trailer Coupling
Are the coupling and safety chains securely fastened? The coupling is the point of connection between the caravan and the tow vehicle, so it’s important they are completely secure. If you need extra security, look at buying new coupling to suit your trip, such as electric coupling, heavy duty coupling or extreme off road coupling.
Pro Tip: If you have two safety chains fitted, make sure they are crossed to prevent your drawbar from making contact with the road if your van gets disconnected.
9. Chain Fixing Shackles
Shackles are a backup link to the towing hitch and connect your trailer’s safety chains to the tow vehicle. That’s why, just like the coupling, you need to be confident that your shackles are reliable. If you use D shackles, make sure they have enough strength to hold the ball weight.
Pro Tip: Always buy highly rated shackles.
Check your car battery. Are your headlights dim or do you struggle to start the car? It could be time for a new battery. If you get your vehicle serviced, this is something the mechanic will pick up on for you.
If you have an auxiliary battery or camping battery, always charge it fully a few days before you head out to make sure it is holding its charge
11. Secure Your Load
Make sure that your load is evenly distributed in your caravan and, as far as you can, limit the amount of load in the front boot. Be sure to secure any cupboards and appliances. Use specialist straps to secure heavier items like jerry cans.
Pro Tip: The more you store in the cupboards, the less you need to worry about things moving around.
12. Towing Mirrors
Don’t scrimp on your towing mirrors – cheap towing mirrors simply won’t last for long trips. Choose quality towing mirrors from a reputable brand, like Milenco, Camec or Dometic. Next, take the time to secure your mirrors properly. Simply follow the instructions on your chosen model.
13. Caravan Windows & Hatches
Before you head off, put up your awning and check it thoroughly. Do all the straps and fittings work? Are there any tears or damage? You can buy replacement parts from Caravan RV Camping or your manufacturer, depending on the brand. Alternatively, a brand new awning could be a good investment – just think of all the time you’ll spend outdoors!
Pro Tip: An Anti-Flap Kit will help protect your awning from damage during high winds.
15. Electric Jack
Do you need an electric trailer jack? If you want a caravan jack to unhitch your caravan from your tow vehicle, check out an electric jack. This means you don’t have to break a sweat pumping a jack to lift the van off the tow ball.
16. Jockey Wheel
Don’t underestimate how much you will use your jockey wheel. If you don't have a quality jockey wheel, now is the time to buy one. Take a look at the Trail A Mate Jockey Wheel and Jack Kit, which is designed for use with caravans and makes easy work of hitching and unhitching.
Pro Tip: Don’t leave your jockey wheel in your driveway! Store it in your designated storage area or, if it is on a swivel mount, lock it into position before you drive away.
17. Caravan Weight Distribution Hitch
A weight distribution hitch is a great way to make sure the load is evenly distributed to all four of the vehicle’s wheels. Do you need one? That depends – a weight distribution hitch is recommended whenever the weight of your caravan or trailer exceeds 50% of your vehicle’s weight. If it doesn’t, you should still consider buying a towing hitch if your vehicle seems to be pointing upwards when the trailer is connected.
Caravan RV Camping offers a huge range of weight distribution systems to suit different vehicles and budgets, so take your time to research the right one.
If you're worried about your caravan rocking in the wind or you plan to camp on uneven ground, stabilisers are the answer. The right stabilisers will make sure your caravan doesn’t budge.
Pro Tip: Before you head off, lock your front and rear stabilisers up into their travel position and store the winder somewhere easy to access.
Last but not least, always release your handbrake right before you start your journey!
Are these all ticked off? Now you’re ready to enjoy your caravan adventure safely and comfortably!
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