I confess that I became a fan of the caravan towing cover a couple of years ago, following a trip when the Beast from the East struck the UK.
Up to that point, my attitude (like that of many caravanners, I imagine) was simply, “the caravan will wash”.
But arriving at the campsite with the front of the caravan so filthy, we weren’t able to see out of the windows, made me start to change my mind.
It’s not only the aesthetics that make towing covers worthwhile, either. A flying stone can cause damage costing hundreds of pounds to repair. If you haven’t seen how much a new window would cost, perhaps it might be worth taking a look – you could be in for a shock.
One of the most well-known manufacturers of towing (and full) covers is Yorkshire-based Specialised Covers.
I recently paid them a visit, where I met Customer Service and Sales Manager Danielle Nicholson, and MD Katie Fishwick (daughter of the firm’s founder, Douglas Long), who gave me the history of the company and a factory tour to see the production process.
Back in the 1970s, Douglas was a successful hairdresser, and together with his wife Carole, a car enthusiast – they owned a much-loved Ferrari.
However, being parked under a tree, the car had to be cleaned on a very regular basis, until Douglas came up with the idea of making a cover for it.
When friends saw what he’d done, informal orders for car covers began to be placed, which eventually led to the founding of Specialised Covers as a business in 1981.
Today, manufacturing car covers still constitutes the main business for Specialised Covers, and they supply some extremely prestigious companies with those, as well as selling their products to individuals.
The company expanded into the caravan covers market in 1995, again as a result of being asked to make one.
These were the full covers that are used when the caravan is in storage, which the firm also still makes today.
Towing covers didn’t join the company’s portfolio until 2012, and they came about following the introduction of Bailey’s Alu-Tech bodyshells.
You might remember that those caravans had very little in the way of trim on the aluminium front panels, and were therefore prone to stone damage – especially in the Australian Outback, where the vans were being exported.
Thus was born the Tow Pro Elite, which features 8mm-thick Velcrotex fleece-lined foam that can withstand stone impacts. Several caravan manufacturers now supply these towing covers as official accessories.
Specialised Covers makes four versions of towing covers, to suit all pockets. The entry-level cover is the universal-fit Tow Pro Lite, which can be adjusted to fit almost any caravan.
Next is the Tow Pro, which is a tailored design for specific caravans. The firm has a huge list of models, but provided your caravan has two awning channels, it can manufacture a cover for any tourer not on the list, and has the facility for customers to take their vehicle to stay at the factory while the necessary measurements are made, to ensure it fits perfectly.
Next is the Tow Pro+, which is essentially the same as the Tow Pro but allows access to grab handles and front lockers. There’s also a choice of colours.
The three variations of the covers are made using strong but lightweight materials, which are UK sourced, and they do offer some impact resistance.
The top-of-the-range cover is the Tow Pro Elite. Not only does this offer great impact protection and access to grab handles and front lockers, but for overnight stops, you can fold down the window section without removing the cover.
Having had Tow Pro Elite covers for the past couple of years, I can confirm that they are really excellent.
I can fit ours single-handedly in a few minutes, and then look forward to arriving on-site with a clean (and undamaged) front.
Specialised Covers moved to its current premises back in 2012, and a couple of years ago, doubled in size when it bought an adjacent property to cope with the growing demand, particularly for car covers.
Until recently, all of the vans were painstakingly measured by hand, with a team visiting various shows. I have often seen them climbing up a set of steps with tape measures in hand, and a colleague with a clipboard and pen at the foot of the ladder!
These days, several caravan manufacturers supply CAD drawings of their products, so digital patterns can be made.
Although the car covers side of the business has seen the installation of a state-of-the-art cutting machine, which can cut 50 patterns an hour (this used to take a full day), much of the caravan side still relies on patterns being cut by hand.
The caravan covers are then sewn together by very skilled people using industrial sewing machines, although Danielle told me that these days, it is becoming more difficult to find employees with the right skills (both cutting and sewing).
Thankfully, staff turnover is low – they are a valued team and clearly enjoy their work.
Of the 87 staff, five focus on the Tow Pro Elite, which takes the longest to complete – only about five a day are made.
In total, Specialised Covers makes 600-700 covers per week, for all vehicle types.
Danielle said: “We’ve recently been accredited with ISO 9001 (quality assurance), and we don’t want standards to slip. We were really pleased that we didn’t get a single minor fault.”
With thanks to Danielle and Katie from Specialised Covers
Specialised Covers Ltd
Riverdale House, Dockfield Road,
Shipley, West Yorkshire
01943 864 646