How safe is your pride and joy?

Join us as we discuss the basics of van safety from top to bottom.

A caravan provides a great home away from home for travellers within Australia, but many overlook the safety basics while caravanning.

Safety is always paramount on the road and towing a caravan increases the risk to yourself, your family, and other drivers.

This caravan safety guide will help ensure you have safe and happy holidays.

Many drivers ignore even the most basic checks on their vehicles.

Caravan fire safety

A fire inside of a caravan can have many causes, but there must be an emergency plan and escape route to make sure that all travellers can safely manage or leave the immediate risk.

Caravans must have working smoke alarms, and it’s vital to check and change the batteries before going on holiday.

Invest in two fire extinguishers and keep a fire blanket in the kitchen and use this to put out cooking fires. Place the extinguishers near the most likely source of fire such as the kitchen, and the other near the exit.

While travelling, disconnect all gas, electrical, and water connections in your caravan and listen to the local radio station so you’re aware of any fire warnings or other emergencies nearby.

These are the only fires any of us want to hear about. Location: BIG4 St Helens Holiday Park, TAS.

Vehicle maintenance

Preventative maintenance is like a safety inspection and should be done on a regular basis so that your caravan won’t let you down on the road, especially if it is pre-owned.

Your car should be checked over by looking at the oil, water, brakes, rear-view mirrors and battery. See the car’s handbook for the recommended towing tyre pressure, and check its condition regularly, as this will affect the ride and handling.

Monitor the caravan’s brakes during the trip for smoke or funny smells to make sure they’re not overheating. Test your braking system to make sure it’s working properly and ensure that you understand how to use and adjust electronic brake controllers.

Check the distance between refuelling points and invest in a good quality fuel can to ensure that it holds enough fuel to get you from point A to point B.

When the vehicle and caravan exceed 7.5m, the driver must swing to the right to turn left on tight corners, which increases the likelihood of getting hit while turning. Displaying a “Do not overtake turning vehicle” sticker means the driver towing the caravan is not responsible for the collision.

Your caravan and your tow-vehicle must fully comply with applicable Australian Design Rules and standards.

Check everything before you set off, then check it again for peace of mind.

Emergency communication and first aid

Those travelling in isolated areas within Australia should not depend on their mobile phones to keep in touch or to summon emergency assistance; since there may be no signal in remote locations, satellite phones are more reliable in these areas.

A well-stocked first aid kit is also essential when travelling and should include bandages, gauze, sharp scissors, tweezers, eye pads and rinse, and plasters.

You need your smarts out here. First aid is more important than network coverage.

Towing and driving

Confirm the ratings and actual masses of the caravan by obtaining a weighbridge certificate stating both the Tare Mass and the ball loading at the Tare Mass condition.

Ask a caravan equipment supplier if you should be using any towing aids such as a weight distribution hitch, anti-sway system, or extended mirrors. If you do implement any towing aids, make sure that you understand how to install and adjust them.

Perfectly matched ratings change everything in terms of safety and comfort.

Which gear?

With an automatic transmission, it’s as simple as accelerating gently to not overwork the engine. If you have a manual transmission, move with as little clutch slip as possible and increase your speed gradually and only change to a higher gear when the engine shows no sign of strain.

Choosing the best gear depends on things like:

  • Engine capacity
  • Power and torque outputs
  • Transmission design and gear ratios (both manual and auto)
  • Road conditions
  • Trailer weight
  • Caravan speed

The maximum speed for trailers over 750kg in Western Australia is 100km/h but when travelling at speed always consider a range of factors including:

  • The legal speed limit
  • Road conditions
  • Power of the towing vehicle
  • Driver’s experience

Lower speeds put less stress on the car and driver, but slow-moving vehicles can cause significant traffic hold-ups, so check your mirrors frequently and allow traffic to pass.

Regular road-trippers and grey nomads never - repeat, never - push their vehicles too hard.

General caravan tips

For further safety, have electronic stability control fitted to your electric-braked caravan by a certified installer.

If you wish to overtake, wait for an overtaking lane.

Allow extra braking distance between you and the vehicle in front.

Endeavour to organise all stops on level ground or a downward slope to make the start easier.

It can be a good life when safety is prioritised. Location: BIG4 Rollingstone Beach Front Resort, QLD.

Caravan security

Keep your caravan or motorhome and car locked up, install a safe in your caravan for valuable items, and update your insurance policy on your caravan and its contents.

Secure all items while driving by closing cupboards, doors, windows, and awnings to reduce the chance of flying collateral.

Getting there and relaxing is what it's all about. Location: BIG4 Borderland Wodonga, VIC.

This article was written by Ben Howard on behalf of the Caravan and Camper Megastore in WA and republished here with permission.

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