Sammy FairclothSee other Advice articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by Sammy Faircloth
All road users have a legal obligation to ensure their tyres are in excellent order and fit for purpose. The consequences of failing to comply could lead to a conviction, but much worse, might potentially be fatal.
So before embarking on your next summer adventure, just follow these simple checks and take immediate action if there are any problems.
Caravans tend to use car tyres or light van tyres. However, you should not assume that you can fit any old car tyre.
Check with the caravan's wheel manufacturer or supplier that the tyre is suitable for your van. Make a note of the original tyres that were fitted to the caravan and reorder the same specification when needed.
Every tyre, whether it is for a car or a caravan, comes with its own unique markings on the sidewall. These provide key information that will help you understand the age of your tyre, the manufacturer's identity code, tyre size and much more. Visit TyreSafe for a detailed analysis of these sidewall markings.
There is no exact science as to calculating your tyres' life expectancy, and manufacturers' opinions differ.
In practice, the service life of your tyres will be influenced by many factors, including temperature, humidity, load, speed, inflation pressure, road damage and so on.
Generally, tyres have a life expectancy of no more than 10 years, according to trade body the British Tyre Manufacturers' Association. However, it is also recommended to change your tyres every five to seven years, particularly if the caravan has been standing in storage for any length of time.
The age of a tyre can be determined by checking the four-digit code found on its sidewall, which denotes the calendar week and year of its manufacture.
For example, '2617' means that the tyre was manufactured in the 26th week of the year in 2017, or June of that year.
When it comes to purchasing a new caravan, it is important to check the age of the tyres. Not all manufacturers will fit tyres of the same age as the release date of the caravan.
Caravans that are stored for the winter or not used very often are far more likely to suffer deterioration in their tyres, and at a more rapid pace than those that are used regularly.
The reason for this is that, while the caravan is stationary for long periods, a small section of the tyre wall is taking all of the strain, which will cause long-term damage. Eventually, the tyre sidewalls start to crack or bubble. To help prevent this, regularly move the caravan back and forth - every month or so - to release the pressure on the sidewall.
UV rays from the sun can cause the rubber in your tyres to degrade, resulting in cracks and premature ageing. To avoid this damage, protect the tyres with a wheel cover or store your van under cover.
The rubber in old tyres that are not used much can also harden, which leads to surface crazing. Similar damage can be caused by overheating, which is a result of under-inflation or overloading.
Visit your local weigh bridge to ensure your caravan is within the MTPLM or Maximum Authorised Mass - the legal maximum weight for your fully loaded caravan. This information can usually be found on a label next to your caravan's door, or in the manufacturer's handbook.
Tyre treads are designed to give good grip on wet roads and, to comply with regulations in Europe, their minimum tread depth should be 1.6mm.
To check the depth, place a 20p coin into the main tread groove of the tyre. If the outer band on the coin is obscured when inserted, the tread is within the legal limit.
Erroneous tyre pressure readings can not only damage your tyre over time, but also adversely affect the handling of the leisure vehicle and ultimately cause tyre failure.
The pressures of tyres should be checked regularly when they are cold - the recommended setting should be given in the manufacturer's handbook.
There are many tyre pressure gauges available on the market, from compact pencil gauges, to digital gauges that are small and cheap, and dial gauges that come in lots of different sizes, but can be costly.
An analogue tyre inflator, for example from Halfords, will help you to regularly check and top up your tyres.
For those times when you are touring, you might consider TyrePal or Smart-Trailer, a tyre-pressure monitoring system that continuously monitors tyre pressure while you are driving.
The tyre sensors are easily locked onto the tyre valves, which in turn register with the monitor. TyrePal's monitor will alert the driver visually and audibly in the event of any puncture, low or high pressure, or overheating.
Most new caravans will come supplied with a spare wheel, usually positioned underneath on a telescopic, tubular wheel carrier. However, you might find some pre-owned caravans are missing their spare.
It is always advisable to carry a compatible spare wheel and to check that the wheel carrier is serviced annually, as they can become rusty. The last thing you want in an emergency is to find that the carrier is stuck and you can't retrieve your spare wheel.
Spare wheels can be quite heavy and tricky to access, so if you have any doubts about your ability to retrieve, inspect and replace the underfloor spare, have this carried out by a dealer or roadside assistance. A spare's condition should be routinely evaluated during the annual service, but it's actually better done more often than that. You never know when you are going to need it!
- Regularly rotate the wheels when your van is in storage for long periods of time
- Always remember to check the tyre pressure before you start out on a journey and when the tyres are cold
- Check the age of the tyre, because it needs to be replaced every five to seven years
- Fit the correct tyres
- Check the tread is within the limit and remove trapped objets that might penetrate the tyre
- Remove any oil, fuel or paint splashes from the tyres
- Check the condition of the tyre valves
- Look out for any indications of premature ageing, cracks, bubbles or bulging
Remember, the only things between you and the road are your tyres, so it makes sense to ensure they are in the best condition, to guarantee your safety. Look after your tyres and they will look after you!