Caravan towing requires skills that regular driving doesn’t. Starting with hitching up the caravan to driving on multi lane highways and negotiating winding roads, there are some skills and tips you’ll need to master if you’re just starting out. But don’t worry, eventually it becomes second nature.
For your first few caravan adventures, it’s a good idea to have a pack-down checklist of things to do before you set off. It’s surprising how easy it can be to forget something important.
Hitching Up For Caravan Towing
Before you leave, walk around your caravan to check for any obstacles, and make sure antennas and doors are secure. Do a full check of the inside of your van and turned off waste pipes and gas.
Hitching and unhitching is easier and safer on flat ground. Try to find ground that is as flat as possible.
When hitching up:
- Wind the jockey wheel so that the coupling is above the height of the towball.
- Reverse your towing vehicle so that the towball is under the coupling.
- Lower the jockey wheel so that the coupling fits over the towball.
- Secure the coupling with the lever or latch.
- Test the coupling is secure by trying to lift the drawbar.
- Raise the jockey wheel.
- Attach the safety chain. Make sure it is not twisted or kinked.
- Connect the electrical lead to the towing vehicle.
- Disengage caravan handbrake.
- Remove all wheel chocks.
Once you are ready to go do a check to make sure your lights are working.
Reversing With A Caravan
Reversing with a caravan can be a bit tricky at first. But here’s a few tips to get you started.
- Drive forward and point the car in the direction that you would like the caravan to go (the idea is to create a ‘V’ shape).
- Start reversing and turn the wheel in the opposite direction to the direction you want the caravan to go (i.e. if you want the caravan to move left, turn the wheel right, and vice versa).
Take it slow and be patient. Having someone outside the car to assist is handy, but if you don’t have a spotter, get out of the car and check for yourself. Eventually, you will get a ‘feel’ for how much you need to turn the wheel to get the caravan to go in the direction you want. Caravan reversing cameras are also now available and can make reversing a lot easier.
Driving On The Road
When you drive on the road towing a caravan, there are different hazards to driving on the road in a car. Your rig is much longer, wider, and heavier than a car and potentially more unstable under certain conditions.
Basic driving tips when towing a caravan include driving slower than you normally would in a car. Do not brake or accelerate quickly. Steering should be gradual, rather than sudden or jerky.
Caravan Towing Around Corners
Because your caravan is long and wide, when you turn a corner – even if your car does not cut the corner – your caravan will. To avoid your caravan cutting onto the wrong side of the road, you need to take a wide path around the corner and turn as late as you can. Eventually you’ll get a ‘feel’ for the size and behaviour of your rig on the road.
Avoiding Sway When Caravan Towing
Caravan swaying and pitching can result in serious accidents on the road. Caravans are built with extra safety components these days, but it’s important to understand the causes, how to reduce your risk and what to do if your caravan starts to sway.
Weight Distribution: One cause of caravan sway is errors with weight distribution. It’s important that your vehicle is matched to the caravan you are towing and that you do not exceed towing limits. Make sure your caravan is evenly packed and that you don’t have too much weight towards the back of the caravan.
Wind: Cross winds and the wind currents caused by overtaking or being overtaken (particularly by larger trucks) can lead to caravan sway.
Make sure you observe warning signs for high winds and drive slowly. Avoid driving between or next to large vehicles. When overtaking or being overtaken, adjust your position so that you are not too close to the vehicle beside you.
Tyres: Make sure your tyres are inflated correctly before you leave on any trip.
What To Do If Your Caravan Starts To Sway
If you feel that your caravan starts to sway, the first thing to do is to stay calm. Avoid breaking suddenly or attempting to steer out of it. Maintain your speed until the swaying stops and pull over to the side of the road to check your van.
For extra safety, an electronic stability control system can be installed on your caravan. This electronic system monitors the movement of your caravan and if it detects sideways movement that could lead to dangerous sway, it will apply the brakes to bring the caravan back into line.
Safe caravan towing takes some time and concentration. The more you are on the road and experiencing different conditions, the more confident you will become in manouvering your rig and driving on the road. But no matter how long you have been driving, remember that when towing your rig you are towing a heavier and more unstable weight. You must adjust your driving to suit your conditions.
Proactive Caravan Safety
If you want to stay safe on the road, it’s important to get your caravan serviced regularly. Make sure that when you are choosing a caravan or towing vehicle that you understand the towing limits and ATM, and how to match your caravan to your vehicle.
Emu Caravans can fit electronic braking systems to your caravan to prevent swaying. Find out more about caravan parts and accessories for safety, caravan modifications and caravan servicing for safety. Emu Caravan Repairs is located in Ferntree Gully, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. We service caravans for customers across Melbourne’s east, as well as Gippsland and the Yarra Valley.