Owning a caravan grants you exceptional freedom. You can pack up and head off onto the open road with all the ease of hitching the van and turning the key. You don’t have to set up tents, you don’t have to fiddle about with tarpaulins and guy ropes, and you certainly don’t have to worry about a bit of rain or wind!
But – with great power comes great responsibility. Owning a caravan requires a bit of upkeep and maintenance to ensure that your van continues to function beautifully year after year. It’s nothing huge, just some ongoing work which when done regularly will ensure that your caravan continues to run well for years to come.
We’d like to look at the top three maintenance issues that face caravan owners and look at how you can combat them. Considering the growth of the caravanning industry and the increase in popularity, we know that more people than ever are hitting the roads, and we want everyone to stay safe out there.
Considering your caravan doesn’t have an engine, it does make the overall maintenance a lot easier than for a motorhome, but you do still need to be very thorough with your checks of your caravan. Specifically, you need to ensure that your mechanic (or you, if you are doing the maintenance yourself) checks your wheel bearings thoroughly.
If you have a specialised caravan mechanic, they’ll know what to look for, of course. Your bearings need to be examined every 10,000 km or so, or every two to three years if you aren’t doing that much travel. A caravan wheel bearing needs to be checked more frequently than a car’s wheel bearings because unlike in a car you won’t be able to hear the whining noise that indicates a failing bearing.
Bearing failure is often hard to pick up until it’s too late – sometimes they’ll give you a warning sign (like noise), but the most likely indicator is that the bearing will get hot. So if you want to check your caravan’s bearings while you’re on the road, you can brush your hand over the bearing cap. If it’s too hot to touch, there’s a very strong chance that your bearings need changing. It’s far better to err on the side of caution with your bearings, lest you suffer the alternative, which is to have the whole wheel and assembly let go on the road. Yikes. Not the best option.
Second behind our wheel bearings are the brakes of your car. You need to ensure that you have adjusted the brakes on your caravan so that they are sharing the load with the car. The problem is here that if you have the brake controller set up too much to rely on the brakes of your caravan that they can overheat. If the brakes on your caravan overheat, they can score, crack and/or glaze. This is not good for ongoing operation, naturally.
Two of the best controllers on the market today are the Prodigy and the Red Arc Tow Pro. These are both proportional brake controllers which means that they’re going to be adjusting the braking power on the caravan – depending on how your car is slowing down. We don’t recommend that you use a steady state controller if possible, as they are difficult to get right. Far better to go with modern technology and invest in the safety of your caravan.
If your brakes heat up the hub enough, your wheel bearing grease can boil out and then you have a second and bigger problem again, with dry bearings which will eventually seize or fall apart.
What you need to do is examine the remaining brake pad or shoe and ensure that the brake drums aren’t scored. You want to ensure that there’s no grease on the linings, and if you are in any doubt at all about the brakes lasting the distance of your trip, get the drums replaced or machined if they’re scored.
The same sort of logic applies to brake magnets. While brake magnets are usually long lasting (around 50,000km), they’re also pretty cheap to replace if something does go wrong.
Don’t forget your suspension! Even though it’s tucked away out of sight, you still need to ensure you check it out. Let’s look by type.
At the end of each of the leaf springs, you’ll see an eye mount, and you need to check these every 10,000km for cracks in the spring, and for wear on bushes, bolts, pins, the springs and anything else down there that moves. These usually only last around 70-80,000km and then they need to be changed.
Independent coil suspensions
This is the leading type of suspension on the market today and with good reason. This system provides an unparoled level of suspension for your caravan and vehicle. This system incorporates shocks and coils and gives superior driving performance, for both your caravan and in the car. The maintenance you need for this system is the alignment, and you need to check it every 10,000km. This is a much more reliable system than the leaf spring.
Slipper leaf springs
Pretty much the same as the leaf spring, these reduce wear by replacing the eye mount with a slipper mount. This reduces the stress on the spring. Check these the same way as you’d check the leaf spring.
There is a rocker suspension system that is commonly used in tandem axles, and this can be prone to bush and pin wear. If they are sufficiently worn, they can break springs. Get your mechanic to check these types of suspension out to ensure you’re safe on the road.
This has been in used in Australia and Europe for many years, and the IRS (Independent Rubber Suspension) is simple to maintain: it only needs to be re-rubbered after several years.
Don’t forget to check your undercarriage, your tyres, your wheel nuts, your windows, your batteries, your hot water system and anything else vital BEFORE you leave – because once you’re on the open road, things get a whole lot more expensive, fast. Caravan maintenance is key to enjoying a long-lasting caravanning pastime for many years to come.