CARAVANNING

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10 common caravan myths debunked

The events of 2020 have led to an acceleration of the Australian public’s thirst for caravanning.

And with this activity comes a van-load of opinions, advice, and do’s and don’ts.

The team at New Age Caravans has heard them all before. So, they’ve compiled some of the most common caravan myths, misconceptions, or definitive statements that, as it turns out, aren’t so absolute after all.

If you’re thinking of embracing caravanning, being aware of these common caravan myths is a great starting point.

Keen to caravan? Below are just some of the things you need to know.

1. The advertised size of a caravan is its total length

That’s not exactly true. And it’s not to suggest there’s an industry-wide false advertising culture at play. Rather, it comes down to the existence of two different thought processes determining a van’s length.

While most manufacturers advertise a caravan length governed by its internal living space, there are some that measure the total length of the caravan, including the A-frame and read bumper. This measurement is referred to as the travel length.

Only the travel length accounts for a caravan’s A-frame and rear fittings, i.e. bumper and/or spare.

Why is all this important? Well, the absolute total length (travel length) of a caravan is a crucial marker when it comes to storage, particularly if your van is likely to be parked in a garage or undercover space. And, if this is the case, the van’s height is also important to note.

There's more to it than just the internal space when it comes to a van's length.

2. You need a special licence to tow a caravan

If you have a special caravan licence, you’ve been taken for a ride!

A valid full driver licence is all that’s required to tow a caravan from a legal viewpoint. Well, in most cases…

In Victoria, as an example, you can legally tow a caravan with a valid, normal full driver licence, provided your vehicle does not exceed a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 4.5 tonnes. You can also tow a trailer up to nine tonnes or to manufacturer’s specifications, whichever is less.

So, if you are looking to tow a bigger rig, it is best to check the regulations with your state road authority – and/or the one you are planning to travel in when state borders reopen.

Of course, preparation is essential before you head out and tackle the highway. And caravan towing courses are helpful if you’re after practical assistance prior to departure, or just peace of mind.

In most cases, a valid full driver licence is all that’s required to tow a caravan from a legal viewpoint.

3. My caravan has independent suspension, so I can drive it on any road

This can be a potentially dangerous and costly presumption.

To start, there are two definitive road types:

1. Sealed roads: where the roadway has been properly formed and the surface has been permanently sealed by the use of some form treatment, i.e. bitumen.

2. Unsealed roads: paths that have been formed and are accessible by vehicles but are not sealed or graded, such as fire trails, bush tracks, and paddocks. Within the unsealed category, roads can vary from dirt track and sand to lightly corrugated; all of which could be considered off-road.

While independent suspension does allow for travel on dirt or bumpier roads, it does not necessarily mean the van is equipped for any surface. The advantage of independent suspension is that each wheel can move independently of the others, which lessens the impact on the other wheels when travelling over bumps and corrugations.

Independent suspension isn't a free pass to travel on any and every road.

So, how do you know if you can tow your caravan off-road?

A lot of it may come down to your choice of van. Yet even with the right rig, there are a lot of considerations to account for. These include:

  • Ground clearance: the depth of potholes and height of bumps.
  • Speed: how fast/slow you need to travel to safely traverse the roadway.
  • Movement: how is the road surface forcing the caravan to behave? I.e. bounce or sway.
  • Experience: travellers should always seek advice from others before heading along unsealed roads.
  • Preparation: similar to above, homework and planning is essential.

Do your homework before going off-road.

4. A weight distribution hitch (WDH) is a must-have caravanning item

This is an oft-polarising topic, and we are going to steer clear of a complete dissemination. To be clear, we are certainly not suggesting these devices aren’t useful. Instead, we are merely stating that there is no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to fitting a WDH.

The first step before heading off on any adventure is making sure that your caravan is loaded legally, not overloaded, and that the weight is distributed evenly across the van. The heaviest proportion of the weight should be spread across the caravan axles, and evenly on both sides.

Weight is everything in the caravanning world.

5. I have a 4WD, so I can tow any caravan

This is a crucial area of consideration, and it’s important to note that not all 4WDs are built and tow the same.

The van and vehicle have to be compatible. In fact, legally, it is a must, as an unbalanced caravan can be dangerous to tow.

Much of it is down to various weights, and this article is a great starting point to better understand the relationship between car and caravan.

So, in summary, this is another false presumption.

Your tow vehicle and van need to be on good terms.

6. Single axle caravans are more dangerous than tandem axle ones

A myth perpetuates that single axle caravans are dangerous to tow and tandem axle vans are much safer.

Simply, it’s to do with points of contact on the road: More wheels equal more stability, or so goes the school of thought.

In reality, technology has become so advanced and improved caravans’ weight distribution, so the chances of sway and destabilisation have been significantly reduced.

Neither option is better or worse than the other, and the single versus tandem axle difference largely comes down to the size of the caravan.

Axle variation largely comes down to a van's size.

7. I have a reversing camera, so I don’t need towing mirrors

This is another presumption fraught with danger. A reversing camera may be an adequate substitute for a rear-vision mirror but not for towing mirrors. Essentially, both have different roles.

A reversing camera allows you to see what is behind the caravan whereas side mirrors have a separate task – providing visual access to the sides of your caravan.

Each complements the other, rather than ‘covers’ for the other.

And, in many states, you may find it is a legal requirement to have mirrors fitted when you are towing anything wider than the tow vehicle. 

In some instances, towing mirrors are legally required.

8. My caravan’s tyres have legal tread, so they’re good to go

In most cases, a caravan’s tyres aren’t seeing as much of the road as the vehicle that is towing it. And caravan tyres can indeed be durable and long-lasting.

However, it is not that simple. While caravan tyres might have the minimum legal tread depth, this doesn’t account for another consideration…

Tyres are made from rubber. Rubber ages and degrades. And old tyres can lead to nasty blow outs.

The best general advice is to service your caravan as you would a car, especially after a big trip. 

It pays to have tyres looked at more regularly than you might think.

9. You should (or shouldn’t) tow a van with full water tanks

There are common assertions that you should either drive with or without full water tanks, obviously with differing logic.

Neither thought is entirely wrong, it’s just that neither is absolutely correct, either.

One argument for full water tanks is that they improve a caravan’s stability by lowering its centre of gravity and creating better even weight distribution. However, the point may be mute if the van is loaded well to begin with.

But full tanks can add weight, so for those with minimal wriggle room, it might be best to drain the water before departure.

What is commonly agreed upon is that half-full tanks that invite water to slosh around are a no-no and are likely to create towing instability.

In short, driving with our without full water tanks is best decided on a case-by-case basis.

Some keen caravanners could argue the merits of a full or empty tank until the sun goes down.

10. The tow ball weight should be exactly 10% of a caravan’s total weight

Firstly, to get your ahead around towing weights and other caravanning terms, this jargon-busting article is a great starting point.

For a long time, a tow ball weight of 10% has been viewed as a common ballpark figure to adhere to. It’s a good rule of thumb, but it shouldn’t be seen as an absolute one.

Caravans have evolved, and most manufacturers spend the time and energy designing caravans that are weighted evenly, whether empty or fully loaded. This includes extensive thought into the caravan layout, position of axles, battery boxes, and appliances along with storage capabilities at the front and rear of the caravan.

Caravans have evolved and so much time is spent on their design.

We hope these tips help you if you’re preparing to join the caravanning club.

For all things caravanning, visit New Age Caravans

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