Changing a wheel is much easier if you install a heavy-duty jack, says Nigel Hutson.

I must admit that I like to have the correct tools for doing any job, and that includes the facility to jack up the caravan should I have the need to change a wheel (or indeed while fitting our Al-Ko Secure wheel-lock).

In the past, I've carried a variety of jacks (trolley/scissor/bottle) in the boot of the car 'just in case', but of course, they take up valuable room (particularly in the case of the trolley jack) and need securing.

A few years ago, I invested in one of Al-Ko's side-lift jack kits. The company does two kits: an 800kg (for caravans up to 1600kg), and a heavier-duty version, the 1000kg (for caravans up to 2000kg). The 800kg and 1000kg refer to the static load that the unit is designed to lift.

Although the caravan for which we bought the kit 'only' had an MTPLM of 1500kg, I decided to buy the heavier-duty version, as it would be more than capable of lifting the caravan.

I'm glad I did, because our new van weighs in with an MTPLM of 1700kg. What's more, the heavier-duty kit is fitted with reinforcing sections, and in my experience, is more than up to the task.

As we have recently changed caravans, one of the jobs was to fit the jacking points. This is a relatively simple job, provided you have the strength to torque the nuts/bolts to the required setting in very limited space (caravan on its wheels/corner steadies).

Nuts and bolts

If you are transferring a side-lift jack from one van to another, the official line from Al-Ko is that new Nyloc nuts should be used.

Other than that, tools required for the job are very few:

  • 19mm ring spanner
  • 19mm half-inch drive socket, extension and ratchet
  • Half-inch drive torque wrench

The first step is to locate the mounting points on the caravan chassis. These are a pair of vertical holes in the main chassis member, situated between the rear of the wheels and the spare wheel carrier (if fitted). All caravans on Al-Ko chassis made after 1991 will have these holes pre-punched. With the mounting points located, position one of the inner mounting brackets (the ones without the slot for the jack) with the cutaway section at the top inside the chassis, and align the holes on the bracket with those on the chassis.

Put a washer onto each of the two bolts required on each jacking point, then insert the bolts through the holes in the inner bracket and chassis. Do this from the inside of the chassis, therefore ensuring the bolt heads are on the inner side.

I found it easier to put the bolts through the bracket before mating them up to the chassis, and then feeding them through the chassis holes.

Next, put the outer bracket's holes onto the ends of the protruding bolt threads on the outside of the chassis. The slot where the jack will fit will end up vertically at the bottom.

Then, put a washer and Nyloc nut onto the bolt threads. The top ones are rather fiddly!

Look for obstructions

Before starting to tighten the nuts/bolts, check for any wires or other obstructions that might become trapped or damaged. The manufacturer of our caravan had run wires across the area of floor where the offside outer bracket was to be fitted.

As there was not enough slack in the wires, I fed them through a section of protective ducting and, thanks to the shape of the outer bracket, I was then able to secure the wires/ducting between the bracket/chassis/floor, and out of harm's way.

With that done, the nuts need to be tightened to a torque setting of 86 Nm. I found that the easiest way of tightening the nuts was to use a cranked ring spanner on the inner bolt heads and use the socket/ratchet on the outer nuts, finally using the torque wrench to tighten the nuts as required.

When fitting the nearside brackets, I dropped the spare wheel carrier to the ground and swung it slightly towards the rear of the caravan, which allowed much better access than if it was in situ.

With both brackets fitted, it's worth checking the jacking operation at this stage, rather than in an emergency at the roadside, just in case something hasn't gone quite right.

Once the necessary precautions have been taken (the vehicle should be on suitable, solid ground, attached to a towing vehicle with all brakes applied, and the wheels chocked), slot the insert piece of the jack into the mounting bracket. Holding the jack with one hand, wind the handle in a clockwise direction until the base plate reaches the ground, ensuring it's directly beneath the insert/bracket slot.

Check none of the jack's components are likely to foul or damage any part of the caravan. On our previous caravan, unless I remembered to place a block (an inch or so thick) on the ground for the foot, the winder would hit a lower body trim panel on the caravan.

Check operation

If all's well, continue to raise the caravan until the wheel is just clear of the ground, then repeat on the opposite side.

If you get a puncture, a tip would be to drive the punctured tyre forwards onto a levelling ramp before jacking. That way you're starting from a higher position and the jacking won't require so much effort.

There are other makes of jack available, which operate in a similar way and use the specific mounting holes in the chassis.

Important note

Never drill any part of an Al-Ko chassis unless Al-Ko's specific instructions dictate otherwise, as this could cause a structural weakness in the chassis, and will invalidate any warranty.