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Product focus: Crisis Control

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Words by Godfrey Castle.

AL-KO Trailer Control (ATC)

While most caravans are designed to tow exceptionally well, there may come a time when outside factors beyond your driving capability come into play and you need to initiate drastic evasion manoeuvres to maintain, or regain, control of your car and caravan.

Imagine being stuck behind a slowmoving truck, you finally manage to overtake with your caravan in tow, only to find the truck is now speeding up… and that you are both heading downhill at ever-increasing speed. You are white-knuckled as you grip that steering wheel tightly.

And then the high pressure “bowwave” generated by the vehicle you are overtaking gives your caravan a sudden mighty sideways shove, sending you fishtailing from one side of the road to the other. Your wife and kids check their safety belts and make a desperate grab for anything solid in preparation for what seems a sudden end to their holiday… or maybe worse.

Do you take that split-second decision to stomp on the brakes? Do you accelerate in the hope of pulling the caravan straight? Or do you try and outwit the violent fishtail action by judging and timing the counter steer?

A situation like this requires urgent driver-input to prevent disaster. And there are many others: From sudden strong side winds, a badly-packed caravan that’s causing an uncomfortable waltz or fishtailing action, a blow-out on a tyre, a swerve to avoid a pothole… and that’s just naming a few.

This raises the question: If motor manufacturers have installed ABS brakes and Electronic Trailer Control devices into their vehicles to promote safety, what has technology done for caravan manufacturers?

In about 2007, Caravan & Outdoor Life was privileged to visit the Al-Ko factory in Germany, where we were exposed to the latest innovations from this world-leading trailer component manufacturer.

They had a wide variety of interesting products, ranging from tow hitches with built-in anti-sway clamps that grip a towball tightly, superior caravan chassis designs, and even jockey wheels with a built-in weight scale. But one device that really caught our attention was the ATC – the Al-Ko Trailer Control. In short, it’s an ABS system for caravans.

Since then, the ATC has become standard equipment on several UK and German caravan manufacturers, while others have opted to offer this clever device as an optional extra.

The system also can be retrofitted on Al-Ko rubber suspension axles only, by selected caravan dealers. It even won Which magazine’s Accessory of the Year in the UK in 2008!

This is why we at Caravan & Outdoor Life were so excited to hear that apparently the new caravan’s planned by Hoefer Group (an American manufacturer busy setting up production in Swaziland), will fit all their units with Al-Ko Trailer Controls.

Let’s take a closer look at the ATC…

How it works

Unlike ABS which requires driver input, the ATC device automatically senses when a caravan or trailer is becoming unstable, and then gently applies the brakes so as to pull the vehicle and combination into straight-line towing, before disengaging again.

It is an electronic safety system that applies equal braking force to both caravan and trailer wheels simultaneously. For this reason, it has to be the next best thing to the old friction-type stabiliser, as it introduces a braking resistance to side movement by retarding the speed at which the caravan is travelling. In a way, it’s equal to the benefits of having electronicallyoperated caravan brakes, which for some reason, authorities in South Africa fail to recognize for their safety.

The advantage of Al-Ko’s ATC is that the original braking system remains in place, and that the caravan brakes are still manually applied on an over-run system.

So, if a caravan or trailer starts to fishtail or oscillate, an integrated lateral acceleration sensor reports the dangerous driving status to the control unit in the electronic stabilisation mechanism. At this point, a high torque electrical actuator applies the caravan’s brake, which stabilises the caravan’s brakes.

Easy to fit

The ATC simply bolts onto two points already on the axle, and faces to the rear of the caravan with a push rod that connects to the brake rod. There is no drilling, welding or clamping required, as the ATC is bolted to the Bowden Cable Abutment, which is standard on all ALKO braked axles.

Power supply

All the unit requires is a continuous live, 15-amp electrical source through the 7-pin electrical socket to the car. This uses the No 4 pin on a 7-pin plug, with a 20A fuse if this is the only device running from here, or a 25A fuse if you are also charging the caravan’s battery from this pin.

For device safety, there is a warning light which indicates that the unit is up and running, and when it is active. Another sure-fire way is to listen to the unit when you connect the caravan or trailer lights to the towing vehicle – you will hear the electric motor start up and run through a self-testing procedure, before you set off.

It’s priced at about R8 000 (excluding fitting) and will be available on caravans coming from the Hoefer Group later in the year.

 
 

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