Car Care: Caravan and trailer maintenance
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Do a thorough check before heading off
Not many owners can afford the luxury of having their caravans or trailers being tucked up in a cosy covered shelter during their spell of inactivity. Instead they are mostly left outside.
While they are required to undergo a Warrant of Fitness (WoF) inspection, if registered anywhere on or after January 1, 2000, that inspection is now undertaken every 12 months, instead of every six months.
Plus, from July 1, 2014, for any new light vehicle (which includes caravans and trailers) the initial WoF is issued for a three-year period before reverting back to a once-per-year inspection thereafter.
For even the most loved caravan and trailer then, there can be long gaps between road worthiness checks and the potential for mechanical issues to develop during hibernation is high.
Caravans can look in great nick on the surface but there can be a host of mechanical issues waiting to spoil any holiday road trip or provide a reason for a WoF rejection when the inspection does finally roll around.
Tyres are the one area for concern. If left for long spells underinflated and carrying the full weight of the caravan, they can develop unhealthy and potentially very dangerous flat spots while being left exposed to the elements and/or left sitting in puddles of water can hasten deterioration and create on-road safety issues.
Caravan and trailer tyres are far more likely to require replacement due to sidewall damage or deterioration than they are for tread-depth wear.
Over a long, cold and wet winter, wheel bearings can also start to freeze up and the lubricating grease can solidify which renders it useless.
Wheels, tyres and bearings are designed to turn and not left to sit stagnant for long periods.
Brakes are another potential problem area. Hands up how many readers have had to deal with seized brakes on a laden trailer or caravan?
And it's often not until the journey has started that the brakes decide to bind and the tell-tale signs are usually a burning smell or a sudden and distinct lack of pulling power from the tow vehicle.
With the hydraulic brake calliper system, it's usually the calliper piston that won't retract back into the calliper body after the brakes have been applied that's the problem.
The fix is rarely easy. Brakes don't like being left unused for long periods and are best given an occasional stationary workout to keep things moving and adjustments made where possible to do so.
Leaving the brakes off can be another way to help avoid problems but obvious caution is required and finding suitable ways to chock the wheels is critical - especially so if the van/trailer is parked on any sort of slope.
Lights are another safety-critical item that are often taken for granted by owners, especially if left exposed to driving wind and rain for long periods.
Caravans are subjected to numerous shocks and flexing when being towed which can create pinhole openings around seals and sealant.
The end result is corrosion within the light assembly or connections.
A full light check should always be made once the van/trailer is connected to the tow vehicle and before heading on to the open road.
While it's not a mechanical problem or WoF issue, dampness and minor water leaks can also enter the interior of a caravan when left sitting in the one position for long periods or because of body flex when towing, so the occasional interior inspection is recommended.
Most of the modern fleet of caravans and trailers have galvanised chassis so rust is not such a big problem, but a thorough hose down once home from the holiday with fresh water can remove unwanted salt, dirt and grime from the complete underbelly and get the downtime off to a good start.
And finally, those all-important adjustable levelling legs and that useful jockey wheel that helps manoeuvre a caravan/trailer to its parking spot.
Make sure they are well lubricated and the jockey wheel tyre is pumped up.