Top tips to become a master at towing

Avoid holiday headaches with these caravan tips

Reuben Van Niekerk
Consumer advice
holiday road trip

Many South Africans choose to holiday around the country with their caravan in tow and while this is a great way to experience different parts of our country, special preparation should be done before every journey to ensure that your holiday doesn't become a headache.

Check the tyres

While the mileage of your caravan might be relatively low, age and sun damage can cause the tyres to deteriorate to an unroadworthy condition. Tyres should be checked for cracks, bulges or depressions. If you spot any damage, it’s probably time for a new set. And if your rig has a spare, make sure that it, too, is in good condition and pumped to the correct pressure. Check the date of the tyre, which is indicated in a year and month format on the sidewall and replace the tyres if they are older than five years. Tyres that are new or in near-new condition will contribute towards better towing stability and improved fuel economy.

Make sure everything is tight

Make sure wheel nuts are tight, that wheel bearings are properly lubricated and turning freely and that the hitch between the tow vehicle and caravan or trailer is secure. Check electrical connections for rust, wear or damage and have them replaced if necessary.

Lights, camera, action

Test to see if all lights are working, including brake lights and indicators. Make sure that you have a supply of replacement globes in your spares kit. Ensure that you have the correct tools include jack and wheel spanner to replace the tyre of the trailer, in the event of a puncture.

Check the brakes

The brakes and handbrakes of your caravan require inspection, too. If caravans or trailers have been standing for long periods, their handbrake mechanisms will probably need lubrication. And while you’ve got the grease or oil handy, lubricate jockey wheels, hinges and locks, screw drives and any other metal components that move.

Check your licence

Ensure that you have the correct drivers licence for the type of rig you will be towing and that it is still valid as South African driving licence cards need to be renewed every five years. A normal Class B licence only allows for the towing of trailers under 750kg. The towing of larger trailers and caravans will require you to at least be in possession of and EB code licence. Also ensure that the licence disc of the trailer, which needs to be renewed every year, is valid as well as that of the tow vehicle.

Power to the people

Check the caravan’s battery – it should have been removed after your last trip, but test its charge to make sure that it is working properly. If in doubt, have it inspected by an expert. Also check the batteries of any devices or gadgets stored in the caravan. Check that all your gas cylinders are filled as these too do have a tendency to leak out over long periods of time. Gas-operated appliances will also need to be inspected. Check that the caravan’s oven, including hob rings, works and that the fridge functions.

Give the caravan a thorough once over

It’s easy to assume that because a caravan has been properly stored, everything will be perfect when you remove its cover. But you may have overlooked something before it went into hibernation – inspect awnings and plastics fittings for tears or cracks, and make sure interior fixtures are properly secured.

Seals on a trailer’s lid or those on a caravan’s doors, windows and pop-top roofs should be inspected for leaks. Generally speaking, the older the seal, the more likely it is to need replacing since it is likely to have deteriorated if it has been subject to periods of hot, dry or dusty conditions.

Give it a proper clean

Lastly, give your caravan or trailer a proper wash and shine. Even if it was polished before it was stored away, it’s still worth giving it another onceover before the season begins.

Pack correctly

When you are finally ready to hit the road, make sure that your luggage is correctly packed inside the caravan or trailer to reduce the risk of weaving, yawing or snaking. Ensure that the weight of the cargo is distributed evenly, with the load’s centre of gravity located about 10cm to 20cm in front of the trailer or caravan’s wheels. Additionally, all items should be secured with tie downs to prevent them moving while on the road.

The mirrors of your car will need to be adjusted so that you can see the trailer too. If you are towing a small trailer behind a large vehicle a good idea is to fit it with a flag to ensure easier visibility. Before hitting the open road make sure that you have the keys for the caravan as well as for any locks or accessories such as gas bottle holders or bicycle racks with you.

Be patient

Towing a caravan requires patience. One of the key things to remember when towing a trailer or caravan is that you need to allow more time and room for everything. Make sure you allow a gap of at least four seconds to the vehicle in front, anticipate junctions and stops to allow you time to brake early. Also, give yourself extra room for turning and maneuvering.