David MottonSee other Advice articles filed in ‘General caravan advice’ written by David Motton
Modern cars and caravans come with lots of sophisticated safety equipment. From trailer stability control to Al-Ko's ATC system to the latest generation of autonomous emergency braking technology, vehicles and tourers are safer than ever.
There's one item of safety equipment without which all these clever electronics wouldn't matter a jot – the tyre. Whether accelerating, cornering or braking, everything a car or caravan does relies on the tyres.
As I write this, it's teeming down with rain outside (welcome to another British summer), and in the wet the condition of your car and caravan tyres becomes doubly important. The tyres will struggle to find any grip if there isn't sufficient tread depth to clear water from the road surface.
Most of us will have been away on a few trips already this year, and now June is here the chances are the caravan will be getting used more frequently for the next few months.
If you haven't done so already this year, it pays to give your caravan tyres a thorough check. In fact, checking the tyres regularly and before every long journey should be part of your maintenance routine.
Because they tend not to wear down as those on your car might, caravan tyres often get changed very infrequently and can suffer from cracking through age – check carefully for crazing of the sidewalls. Likewise, when left out in the sun for long periods they can also be damaged by ultraviolet light, shortening their lifespan.
If your tourer is only used occasionally, and tends to sit in one position for the rest of the time, periodically move it or jack it up and turn the tyres, to avoid deformation due to all of the weight resting on the same point for prolonged periods. Otherwise this 'oval' effect can lead to unpleasant vibrations on the road.
Just like car tyres, caravan tyres need to have a minimum tread depth by law. There has to be at least 1.6mm of tread across the central three-quarters of the tread around the whole circumference of the tyre. A tread depth gauge is the most accurate way to do this, but failing that use a 20p piece. If the outer band of your coin is still visible when you place it in the tread then it's time to change the tyre.
You should also check for any cuts or bulges in the tyre, and replace or repair it (if possible and practical) if you find anything wrong.
It helps to have the caravan lifted on a jack so you check the tyre thoroughly all over. Nigel Hutson has written a very useful guide on the best way to do this.
The chances are your tyres will still have plenty of tread. Caravans typically cover far fewer miles than a car (say, 2000 miles a year), so tyre wear is less of an issue. However, it's still worth checking them because you don't want the caravan to aquaplane on a wet road and take the car with it.
It's also worth checking the age of the caravan tyres. For a tyre made since 2000, you should be able to find four digits on the sidewall which tell you when the tyre was made. For example, '12 14' shows that the tyre was manufactured in the 12th week of 2014.
Some recommend that tyres should be replaced when they are five years old, even if they still have a legal tread depth and show no signs of damage. However, industry body Tyresafe advises that "there is no known technical data that supports a tyre's removal from service." That said, Tyresafe recommends checking with the tyre manufacturer and abiding by any age limit it advises.
So, let's assume your caravan tyres have plenty of tread left and are free from any sign of damage, and are still within the manufacturer's recommended lifespan. Now you should check your tyre pressures. Look in the caravan's handbook to confirm the recommended pressure and stick to it.
It's really important that caravan tyres are inflated correctly. Air will gradually escape over time, so there's a good chance that if you haven't checked the pressures for a while, they will be too low. Under-inflated tyres will wear quickly, and could fail completely. The consequences won't be pretty. While you're at it, be sure to carry out the same checks and correctly inflate the spare, too.
If you do find that your tyres are worn out or damaged, then replace them (to be on the safe side it's worth checking the condition of the tyres a couple of weeks before you go away so there's time to have them replaced).
Make sure the tyre or tyres you buy are of the correct load and speed rating for your caravan, and the correct size (rim diameter, width and aspect ratio). You can find this specification on the side of the tyre you are replacing, but just in case the wrong tyre has been fitted in the past you can check in your caravan's handbook to be absolutely sure.
With the right tyres, in good condition and correctly inflated, all those clever, high-tech safety systems will be able to do their job.