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Towing the lie: Caravan myths debunked

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When it comes to caravanning, there are things you do, and things you don’t do.  You do allow extra space when cornering and overtaking, you do check the nose weight and torque wheel nuts regularly, and you do watch out for width and height restrictions, etc. What you don’t do is overload your caravan, or tow a caravan that is too heavy for your vehicle.

But, in an age of fake news, gossip and rampant rumour-spreading, it comes as no surprise that there are also a few myths about towing. These can cause trouble and confusion in both inexperienced and long-time caravanners.

So, this month, the team at Caravan & Outdoor Life put all our expert knowledge together to separate the facts from the fiction.

YOU MUST HAVE 10 PER CENT TOWBALL MASS

This piece of misinformation comes from the 70s, when it was a “rule of thumb” in Europe. Back then, for instance, it was believed that if your caravan weighed 1 200 kg, the nose weight had to be 120 kg.

In South Africa, the law actually states that the mass of a caravan or trailer measured at the tow hitch has to be between 25 kg and 100 kg. So, if you were to apply the 10% myth, you would actually be towing illegally!

The optimal nose weight for a caravan varies between makes and models, as well as between different tow vehicles. A good average to aim for is a nose weight of around 75 kg.

DECREASE TOWBALL WEIGHT BY LOADING THE CARAVAN’S REAR

If you are standing still, this makes sense. However, if you were moving with too much weight behind the caravan’s axle, and there was a gust of wind, or you had to swerve suddenly, your rig could start snaking.

Carry as much of your trailer’s load as you can on the axle line, or as close to it as possible.

ACCELERATING CORRECTS A SWAYING CARAVAN

Unless your caravan has electric brakes and you can take control to slow the trailer manually (in which case, accelerating may assist in correcting the sway), putting pedal to the metal won’t work.

Since electronic brakes are almost non-existent in South Africa, the best thing to do when your caravan starts snaking is to take your foot off the accelerator, and brake gently until the combination of car and trailer has come to a complete stop.

Before you hit the road again, find out what caused the sway in the first place.

TYRES THAT HAVE LEGAL TREAD DEPTH ARE FINE

Most caravans are parked for long periods between holidays. Thus, unlike the tyres on your vehicle which you probably drive every day, there’s not much tread wear.

But, rubber degrades! Once a tyre is five years from the date of its manufacture, it can delaminate and blow out, which is dangerous to you and other road users. Keeping tyres on too long is one of the greatest mistakes an inexperienced caravanner can make.

Keep tyres fresh by replacing them at five-year intervals; and store them covered, or out of the sun, and preferably off the ground.

BEARINGS NEED TO BE CHECKED ONLY ONCE A YEAR

Check your wheels before every trip! All you have to do is jack up your caravan and check for bearing-play. If a wheel feels even slightly loose, it’s time for a proper check-up.

Checking only once a year might be safe if you have fresh bearings that are properly tightened, and if you drive only on good roads. But, after a few thousand kilometres on the roads in South Africa – not to mention gravel roads – you can pick up problems.

For extra safety, you could also brush your hand over the wheel-face or bearing cap when at a rest stop. If it’s too hot to touch, you could have a bearing or brake problem.

YOU DON’T NEED TO TRAVEL WITH YOUR WATER TANKS FULL            

There’s nothing wrong with travelling with half-full tanks, but if the water is free to move from side to side, it may intensify the sideways movement of the caravan.

Water tanks are generally near the axle and fitted underneath the caravan, which lowers the centre of gravity and makes it safer to tow.

SLOW DOWN WHEN BEING OVERTAKEN BY A TRUCK

Every new caravanner has experienced that nervous moment when a big truck is overtaking, and you feel your rig being “pulled”. Your gut reaction is either to move away from the truck as fast and as far as you can, or to hit the brakes to allow it to pass more quickly.

Although moving away or slowing down is not wrong, either can be dangerous if not done smoothly and gently.

The safest thing to do when being overtaken by a truck is gradually to move as far left as there is space, while maintaining your speed − or slowing down just a little, also very gradually.

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