Caravan Maintenance Tips from the CCA

Caravan Maintenance Tips from the CCA

CCA has written a brilliant article on the best way to maintain your caravan. They have provided excellent tips for caravan-owners to be prepared in case maintenance and emergencies occur.

You have invested a lot of money in your caravan, and it is important to protect your “second home”, by looking after it, and maintaining it in good condition.

Maintenance – or rather, “preventative maintenance” – is like a safety inspection, and needs to be done on a regular basis, so that your ‘van won’t let you down on the road, or when you should be relaxing in a park.

The most important consideration is that you and your family arrive safely at your destination, and arrive safely back home. Looking after your van gives you the assurance that it won’t let you down.

Both your caravan and your tow-vehicle must be legal, compliant, and in a safe condition. They must fully comply with all applicable ADRs (Australian Design Rules) and Australian Standards. If there have been any modifications to either the tow-vehicle or the van, the compliance may be invalid.

If you are not mechanically knowledgeable and experienced, you should have an accredited automotive engineer or mechanic conduct the technical aspects of the maintenance, and make any necessary replacements or adjustments. Only licensed gas-fitters and electricians are permitted to service gas and 230 volt ac electrical appliances and installations.

All dealers must supply all of the necessary information, in writing, for proper servicing and maintaining of their vans. If any information is apparently missing, or you do not understand something, do not hesitate to contact the dealer who sold the van.

Of course, with used vans, some of these information may have gotten lost, hence owners should try to obtain a copy of anything that has seemingly disappeared. The most important documents are the “Owner’s Manuals” – often jokingly called “Moaner’s Annuals” – for the ‘van, and all of the appliances and additional equipment fitted.

Again, if you do not feel confident in doing any of the inspection and maintenance items, have them done by an experienced technician, so as to prevent causing any personal or product damage.

Cleaning: This is the basic first-step in making sure your van is kept in good condition, and also for allowing proper inspection of components for any damage. Follow the instructions provided and do not use harsh chemicals, just soap and water are recommended. Likewise, do not use excessive force when rubbing various surfaces.

Cleaning covers three areas:
• Hard surfaces, such as all exterior surfaces and all interior surfaces of the ‘van, cabinets, appliances, toilet/shower, and vinyl and fibre glass surfaces.
• Soft surfaces, such as canvas, carpets, curtains, bedding, tyres, and all rubber seals.
• Under-side and running-gear, such as the chassis, floor, axles, suspension components, hub assemblies, brakes, wheels, tyres, stabilizers, jockey-wheel, and coupling assembly.

Do not use full pressure as a “jet”, but use moderate pressure as a “spray” – to simulate a severe rain storm as may reasonably be experienced – to tests all seals (around the ‘van door and compartment doors, windows, hatches, and body/roof panels) for effectiveness. Carefully inspect the interior panels and seams to see if any water leakage has occurred; if so, have the leaks professionally repaired.

Ratings & Masses: It is extremely important to understand all of the relevant Ratings and Masses. It is illegal to exceed any of the Ratings that are set by the manufacturers. If any are exceeded, there may well be prosecutions, civil actions, refusals of warranty and insurance claim, and of course, serious accidents and nasty incidents on the road.

• Confirm the Ratings & Actual Masses of the caravan
• Confirm the Ratings – Gross Combination Mass (GCM) /Towing Capacity & Maximum Ballloading of the tow-vehicle/tow-bar

It is highly recommended that you obtain a certified weigh-bridge certificate, stating both the Tare Mass, and the Ball-Loading at the Tare Mass condition. Record the readings and retain the certificate.

Measured Tare Mass: …………… kg
Ball-Loading at the Tare Mass condition: ……… kg

The Ball-Loading is critical regarding proper handling and stability.

It is also recommended that you obtain a weigh-bridge certificate, for both the Total Mass, and the BallLoading, when you are fully-loaded, just to be certain that you are not over-loaded.

Legal Load-Carrying Capacity (LLCC) = Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) Rating – Tare Mass

How much water do you really need to carry? Remember, water is included in the “Pay-Load”, and not in the “Tare Mass”.

Has the manufacturer supplied the “Ball-Loading at the Tare Mass (empty) Condition”, and the “Maximum Permissible Ball-Loading”?

Chassis & A-Frame: Are all structural members – and welds – free of damage, cracks, and rust? Is the underside free from damage, timber rotting, mud accumulations, and loose components? Are all tubes, hoses and electrical wires properly protected, secured, and in good condition?

Fill the water tank(s) using a hose at normal pressure. Check all lines and connections for leaks.

50 mm Ball & Coupling: Is the coupling in good condition and the mounting bolts in good condition and torqued correctly? Is the “anti-rattle” stud correctly adjusted? Is the ball nut tightened to the prescribed torque, and fitted with a lock-washer/nut? If a friction-type anti-sway coupling is fitted, is the ball physically prevented from rotating?

Safety Chains & D-Shackles: Are the safety-chains securely welded to the A-Frame? Do the D-Shackles have a stamped Load Rating? Never use light alloy spring-loaded tie-down hooks. Always use steel D-Shackles, that are as strong as the safety chains, and have a threaded securing bolt.

Tyres: The tyres are probably the most important parts of the caravan – and tow-vehicle – regarding safety, ride and handling. Maintaining the correct tyre pressure – for the particular load – is critical.

They are the vital items that connect the vehicles with the road surface, to provide traction for cornering, acceleration and braking.

Does the Tyre Placard state the fitted tyre size; Minimum Load Rating; Minimum Speed Rating? Does it also state the recommended tyre pressures for both the empty and fully-loaded conditions? If not, consult a specialist tyre supplier for advice on tyre sizes and inflation pressures for the various tyre loadings.

Important to have a good tyre pressure gauge

Recommended Tyre Pressure (empty): …………….. kPa
Recommended Tyre Pressure (fully-loaded): …………….. kPa Copyright

Carefully inspect all tyres (entire treads & side-walls) for any damage, cracks or unusual wear.

Wheels: It is important that the wheel-nuts are fully compatible with the wheel hubs and studs, and are tightened in the proper sequence, to the correct torque… using a torque-wrench.

Recommended Wheel-nut Torque: Nm: ……………

It is strongly suggested that pencil (or water-proof felt pen) marks be drawn on each wheel-nut, with mating marks on the wheel, so that a quick glance will show if a nut has started to become loose.

Check wheel nuts & allignment

Carefully inspect all wheels to ensure they are properly located on the hub, are undamaged, and are in sound condition.

Caravan/Trailer & Tow-Vehicle Wiring: Are the socket and plug – and the break-away switch assembly – in good condition, and positively latched when connected?

Lamps & Reflectors: Do all lamps work correctly? Are all reflectors clean and in good condition?

Appliances: Test all appliances and systems properly… on gas, 230 volt ac, and 12 volt dc.
Important: If you suspect even the slightest problem, have a licensed technician inspect the ‘van.

LPG: Is there a valid certificate of compliance with AS 5601 for the LPG system?

Electricity: Is there a valid certificate of compliance with AS 3000/1 for the electrical system? Is the Residual Current Device (RCD) operating correctly? Are extension leads approved and in good condition? Ensure that each battery and solar-panels are serviced as per the manufacturers’ requirements.

Wheel Hub Assemblies: Are the hubs, bearings, stub axles, cap and seals clean and in good condition? Are the bearings correctly grease-packed, correctly tensioned, and secured with split pins?

Suspension Components: Are all springs in sound condition and positively located? Are all pins, bushes, hangers and shackles in good condition and lubricated as required?

Tow-Vehicle Inspection: It is highly recommended that you have a qualified mechanic inspect all of the safety-related items on the tow-vehicle, as would be done for a Road-Worthiness inspection.

• Are the tyres – including the spare – in good condition, and at the correct inflation pressure?
• Can each of the road wheels be easily removed from the caravan?
• Is the spare wheel(s) supplied suitable for the caravan?
• Does the spare wheel(s) supplied fit the caravan axle hub?
• Are the wheel nuts compatible with the spare wheel(s)?
• Are the brakes in good condition, and provide straight-line stopping on a hard stop?
• Is the Tow-Bar in sound condition?
• Are the mounting bolts of high-grade, in good condition and correctly tightened?

Connect the Combination:

• Is the vehicle leveled (in a side view)?
• Are the safety-chains, D-shackles, jockey-wheel and coupling working properly?
• Is the Jack approved, in good condition, and suitable for raising each tyre from the ground?
• Is the jack suitable for raising a deflated tyre to a sufficient height to enable a fully-inflated spare tyre to be fitted?
• Test-drive the vehicle combination at reasonable speeds on various road surfaces, to ensure the handling and stability seems OK.
• Ensure the brakes are working correctly, on both dry and wet roads.
• Appreciate the time and distance it takes to accelerate (to over-take another vehicle), and to decelerate.
• Appreciate the handling characteristics of the combination when cornering.

Braking System: Because of the higher mass of the combination, the braking systems of both the ‘van and tow-vehicle, must be in sound condition, and adjusted correctly to provide the best possible straightline braking. It is imperative that you test the braking system for proper “balance” – before you head off on vacation – on a safe gravel or wet road, before testing them at a higher speed on a dry sealed road.

It is important to know what brake pedal effort is required to provide the required stopping performance.

• Check that the sliding mechanism of an over-ride braking system in the coupling is in good condition, and lubricated to provide consistent and smooth braking.
• Check that the drums/discs and shoes/pads assemblies are in good condition.
• Check that the cable system in a mechanical over-ride braking system is in good condition and adjusted correctly.
• Ensure that you fully understand the operation – and adjustment – of electronic brake controllers.

If the over-ride braking system is hydraulic-actuated, check that the fluid in good condition, the hydraulic system is free of leaks, and the brakes are adjusted correctly. If in doubt, have a trained technician replace the fluid with new fluid, and bleed the system of air.

Towing Equipment: Ask a specialist caravan equipment supplier if you should be using any towing aids:

a. Weight-Distribution Hitch (WDH)
b. Anti-Sway System
c. Extended Mirrors.

Check safety chain

If you are using a towing aid, ensure that you understand how to install – and correctly adjust – it.

Personal Protection: Do you have suitable current insurance for the caravan and tow-vehicle? Do you have a fire extinguisher, smoke-detector, CO [carbon monoxide] -detector, and a First Aid kit? Are they accessible and in good condition?

Ensure that everyone who will be in the caravan reads and understands all safety notices, and knows what to do in an emergency.

Happy & Safe Travels!!!

Note: Detailed articles on “Caravan – and Tow-Vehicle – Inspections” and “Tyres” can be downloaded from: http://www.caravancouncil.com.au/#!technical-articles/cbu9

Disclaimer: This information is not to be deemed to be legal advice. It is supplied in good faith and is believed to be correct. However, no liability whatsoever is accepted from the use or reliance of this, or other information available on the CCA web-site.

You can contact the CCA direct or visit their web site via the links below.

www.caravancouncil.com.au      [email protected]
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